Lead Us Not into Temptation

The text for today is Luke 22:39-46:

And [Jesus] came out and went, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him.  And when He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me.   Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”

And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping?  Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

On the night when He was betrayed the Lord institutes the Holy Sacrament of His Body and His Blood.  His Supper.  His last will and testament.  A pure gift from Him.  He promises that it is for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. 

And then, He’s off to Gethsemane.  A garden.  A place of temptation.  You remember Eden, don’t you?  Another garden.  Where Satan tempted Adam and Eve, and mankind gave in to the temptation and fell into sin.  And now the Second Adam, Jesus, is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Tempted to not drink from the cup His Father has set before Him.  The cup of bearing the world’s sin.  The cup of bearing God’s wrath against the world’s sin.  The cup of offering Himself as the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice. 

In the Garden of Gethsemane your salvation is at stake.  And Satan knows it.  So does Jesus.  And the temptation to avoid Good Friday is immense.  “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me,” Jesus prays.  But He adds this important caveat: “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”   

If there is no Good Friday, there is no salvation.  There is no forgiveness—for you or for anyone!  So Satan’s been working overtime to lead Jesus off the road to Good Friday.  To avoid the cross at all costs.  To stop God’s kingdom from coming.  To halt God’s will from being done.  To stifle the hallowing of His name. 

But let’s back up about 3 years to right after Jesus’ baptism, where, as we just heard in our Gospel reading, Jesus is led into the wilderness.  After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus is hungry, and, no doubt, and at His most vulnerable.  Then the tempter comes, drawing from the same old time-tested playbook, the same basic sources of temptation that have worked ever sin the Fall: of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil.  “Go ahead Jesus,” he says.  “If You’re the Son of God, feed Yourself, satisfy Your hunger.  If You’re the Son of God, throw Yourself down from the temple and the whole world will see how special You are.  Bow down to me, Jesus, and I will give You all the kingdoms and their glory, without the pain and suffering of the cross.” 

All three of those temptations are intended to knock Jesus off the path to Good Friday.  But Jesus replies with the correctly interpreted Word of God.  Satan fails.  And so the old serpent leaves Jesus alone for a more opportune time.

At Caesarea Philippi, the devil goes back to work as Jesus foretells His suffering, death, and resurrection.  Wanting to derail Jesus from going to the cross, Satan uses Peter as his mouth.  Peter takes Jesus aside and reads Him the riot act:  “All that suffering and dying talk is nonsense, Jesus!  We won’t be having any of that!  No way will we allow you to be a dead christ.  Dead christs won’t do us any good!”  And Jesus has to rebuke Peter:  “Get behind me Satan!”

The pressure builds as Jesus draws near to His cross.  The disciples argue about who will be the greatest on the very night at the table where Jesus is among them as Servant of all.  Peter’s idealistic claim of loyalty is met by a dose of Jesus’ reality.  In the garden, Peter, James, and John can’t stay awake and watch with Jesus for even one hour.  Judas arrives with soldiers to give Jesus the kiss of betrayal for some quick cash.  The time has come to drink the cup. 

And then as Jesus hangs on that cross on Good Friday, Satan viciously attacks again!  With a huge temptation.  A delicious temptation offered through the two robbers and the chief priests and scribes.  Through them Satan hides and yet speaks:  “Come down.  Get off the cross.  Save yourself!”  “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe!” 

Wow!  Brilliant temptation!  After all, Jesus came down from heaven so that sinners would believe in Him.  And now, if He will just show some divine power.  Gloriously descend from the cross.  Miraculously hop right off and save Himself.  “Do that Jesus and we promise—we’ll believe in You!”  

In that temptation your salvation is at stake.  For if Jesus will come down from that cross alive, your sin will not be atoned for.  But Jesus will not give in.  He stays put.  He hangs fast.  Until He dies and atonement is made.  Salvation is achieved.  Death is put to death.  There is now no condemnation for you.  Jesus delivers you from all that.  He drinks the cup of the Father’s wrath to its dregs. 

Jesus is your Great High Priest, tempted in every way as you are, but without sin.  Whereas the first man and woman sought to be like God and fell into sin, Jesus, being in nature, eternal God Himself, humbled Himself to born a mortal man.  Whereas David gave in to the temptation to abuse his position of authority, the Son of David, set aside the use of His full divine power and submitted Himself even to earthly authorities.  All of this, that you might live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. 

Whereas God’s children Israel rebelled in the wilderness, grumbled against God, turned to idolatry, indulged their flesh, and were destroyed by serpents, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, remained faithful, trusting in the power of God’s Word.  “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” He said.  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.  You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”  Armed solely with God’s Word, Christ overcomes temptation, resolutely setting His face to Jerusalem, where He would crush the serpent’s head.   There, at Calvary, Jesus exchanges His perfect obedience and righteousness for your disobedience and sin. 

Christ’s resistance to temptation is your salvation.  Therefore He teaches you to pray: “And lead us not into temptation.”

Throughout this series on the Lord’s Prayer, you have heard about what toil and labor is needed to keep all that you pray for and to persevere.  This, however, is not done without weakness and stumbling.  Although you have received forgiveness and a good conscience and are entirely acquitted, yet your life is of such a nature that you stand one day and fall the next. 

Therefore, you must continue praying that God would not allow you to fall and yield to trials and temptations.  When you pray, say: “Lead us not into temptation.”  Jesus is your help in times of temptation.  And believe me, you need His help.  For Satan and his allies have turned their attention to you!  To deceive you.  Into false belief especially after you’ve prayed: “forgive us our trespasses.” 

Although you have been born again and are accounted as righteous for the sake of Christ and His work of redemption, you are not free from temptation.  You dwell in the flesh and carry the old Adam with you like an ugly, malignant, conjoined twin.  Your sinful nature exerts himself and encourages you daily to unchastity, laziness, intemperance, greed and deception, to all kinds of evil lusts, making you more susceptible to the pressures of society and other people.

This opens the door to the world, which drives you to anger and impatience, competition and covetousness, unfaithfulness and slander.  No one is willing to be the least.  Everyone desires to sit at the head of the group and to be seen by all.

Along comes the devil, pushing and provoking in all directions.  But he especially agitates matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs.  He leads you to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works.  He tears you away from faith, hope, and love, and he brings you into misbelief, false security, and stubbornness.  Or, he leads you to despair, denial of God, and blasphemy.  All so that you despair of Jesus and His salvation for you.  So that you might despise God’s Word.  Turn to yourself or other false gods.  Great and grievous, indeed, are these dangers and temptations, which every Christian must bear.  You bear them even if you could somehow isolate yourself from outside contact.  Every hour that you are in this vile life, you are attacked on all sides, chased and hunted down. 

By God’s grace, you are moved to cry out and to pray that God would not allow you to become weary and faint and to fall again into sin, shame, and unbelief.  For otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the least temptation.

This, then, is what “lead us not into temptation” means.  It refers to times when God gives you power and strength to resist the temptation.  However, the temptation is not taken away or removed.  While you live in the flesh and have the devil around you, no one can escape this temptation and lure.  But we say this prayer so that you may not fall and be drowned in them.

To feel temptation is, therefore, a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it.  We must all feel it, although not all in the same way.  Some feel it in a greater degree and more severely than others.  In general, the young most often suffer from temptations of the flesh.  Afterward, when they reach mid-life and old age they feel it from the world.  Those who are occupied with spiritual matters, that is, strong Christians, feel it from the devil. 

Such feeling, as long as it is against your will and you would rather be rid of it, can harm no one.  For if you did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation.  Temptation itself is not sin.  But it becomes sin when you consent to it, when you give it the reins and do not resist or pray against it.

Therefore, you must be armed and daily expect to be constantly attacked.  Do not go in security and carelessly, as though the devil were far away from you.  At all times you must expect and block his blows.  Though you are now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into your heart that you can scarcely stand.  For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired.  When one temptation stops, there always arise others. 

It’s a battle that you cannot win on your own!  But that does not mean you are without hope or help.  As St. Paul writes in our Epistle for today: “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  Toward this end Christ has given you His very own Word, His own prayer. 

You must take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and speak to God from the heart like this: “Dear Father, You have asked me to pray.  Don’t let me fall because of temptations.”  Then you will see that the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered.  If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space.  For he has a serpent’s head.  If it finds an opening into which it can slip, the whole body will follow without stopping.  But prayer can prevent him and drive him back.  So pray!

And, when you pray, say: “Lead us not into temptation.”  This is how faith talks.  Especially when the temptations come pouring in.  Come bombarding in.   For these words are your ammunition.  Your missiles against Satan’s assaults.  Against the world’s charms.  Against the seductions of your own flesh. 

All the temptations drive you to Jesus.  The flesh and blood Jesus of the wilderness, Gethsemane, and Golgotha, who withstood all temptations and gave Himself up on the cross to pay for your sin.  The very same Jesus who gives you His Body and Blood in the Sacrament as the very promise of His victory over all your sin and the wicked powers of the world and Satan. 

The very same Jesus who teaches you to pray as a baptized child of God to your loving heavenly Father.  The very same Jesus who sends His Spirit to help you in your weakness, who intercedes for you according to the will of God.  The very same Jesus who speaks to you week after week through His called and ordained servant, your pastor, lavishing you with these words of pure grace and mercy, love and absolution: “You are forgiven for all of your sins.”  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

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