In October 2011, 56 wild animals terrorized the town of Zanesville, Ohio. The owner of an exotic animal park, troubled by legal challenges and neighbor complaints, had lashed out against the community by deliberately opening his cages just before dark.
Local authorities responded by warning neighbors, barricading roads, and closing schools. After a couple of failed attempts to tranquilize the animals, armed deputies were told to shoot on sight any dangerous animal before something worse happened.
In the hours that followed, what happened was heartbreaking. Forty-nine of the animals, including a wolf, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, and 18 Bengal tigers, died. The owner of the park took his own life.
Such tragic outcomes make this an important news event, but there is another reason I’ve found myself thinking about what happened in Zanesville. It reminds me of the words and story of the apostle Peter, who wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV).
Why would Peter liken Satan to a roaring lion? How does our spiritual enemy roar, and why?
With such questions in mind, let’s look together at what Peter goes on to say. Regarding the devil, he urges, “Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are” (5:9 NLT).
Whatever the roar sounds like, Peter links it to suffering. While he doesn’t say that all pain comes directly from the devil, his warning seems to be in line with what many of us know to be true. In times of fear, failure, and suffering, we can panic and give in to the lies of the accuser who is stalking us.
Simon Peter’s own story gives us a vivid picture of how that happened to him. On what must have been the darkest night of his life, he heard Jesus say, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32 NKJV).
It didn’t take long for Jesus’ words to come true. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter fell asleep while his Teacher agonized in prayer. Then suddenly, as if in some terrible nightmare, he saw his Messiah arrested, bound like a criminal, and taken into custody by religious leaders who wanted Him dead.
The lion was moving. At the arrest, most of the other disciples ran for their lives. Soon Peter was alone. In the cold and dark of the night, he was confused and afraid.
Ironically, the next time the lion roared, at first it only sounded like the voice of a young woman who recognized Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples (Luke 22:56-57). But the disciple who believed he was ready to go with Jesus to prison or to death now felt a panic he didn’t see coming. He never expected this kind of an outcome. If they were willing to kill Jesus, they’d kill him too. Suddenly he was cursing and denying he ever knew the Rabbi from Nazareth.
In that moment, Peter was like a weak animal, separated from the herd, chased by a predator that was determined to devour him.
The Bible does not describe what Peter was actually thinking or feeling. But what is clear is that a once-courageous disciple had failed to live up to his own expectations.
If we try to imagine ourselves in Peter’s place, we might guess that he was temporarily consumed by the emotions of self-contempt, worthlessness, guilt, and shame.
If that’s what was happening to Peter, it was consistent with the strategies of his enemy. Satan is a liar who wants us to believe the opposite of what our God is actually doing or thinking about us.
Peter’s enemy was real. But he is an enemy who specializes in illusion. The roar of the lion was a deceptive scare tactic. If he could devour Peter, it would be with lies.
The truth, however, was about to resurface. As Peter agonized in the face of his own failure, Jesus rose from the dead to begin openly countering the lies of His enemy. Over the next 40 days, Jesus repeatedly appeared to Peter and the other disciples.
In one of those appearances, Peter discovered that his betrayal was not the end. His cursing denial of Christ did not make him useless to his Lord. His faith was not destroyed.
The outcome was better than he could have hoped for. Jesus reassured Peter that his opportunity to love Christ, and to help those for whom Christ had died, was just beginning (John 21:15-17).
Father in heaven, please help us to remember that our enemy is as real as his ways are deceitful. When we hear the roar of trouble, please help us to run to the reassurances of our Advocate rather than allowing ourselves to be devoured by the lies of our adversary. —Mart DeHaan