Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sermon - "Lead Us Not Into Temptation" - Matthew 26:40-42

Maundy Thursday – April 13th, 2006
Matthew 26:40-42
“Lead Us Not into Temptation”

I. Introduction –
We began our Lenten journey to the cross with Ash Wednesday, as Pastor Poppe began a sermon series on the Lord’s prayer. And over the past weeks, we have heard sermons each Wednesday focusing on the parts, or petitions, of that great prayer. Often, we have connected these petitions of the Lord’s prayer with a prayer prayed by our Lord himself. Tonight we will do the same.

“Lead us not into temptation” – the 6th of 7 petitions. Tonight, Maundy Thursday, is an appropriate occasion to think about this. For it was a night fraught with temptation. Hear these words of our text - from Matthew’s account of Maundy Thursday, in the Garden of Gethsemane: Matthew 26:

40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
42He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

II. Spirit Willing, Flesh Weak
One hour. That’s all he asked of them. One single hour. If they only knew who little time they had left, they might have tried harder. But Jesus prayer habits far surpassed his disciples, and while he passionately prayed in blood, sweat and tears – they took a nap. While his work on our behalf began in earnest – they rested. Perhaps a little too much wine at the Passover feast they just finished. Maybe a “food coma”. Or maybe just another long, busy day trying to keep up with Jesus.

They wanted to stay awake. Perhaps they even tried. “The spirit is willing,” Jesus says, “But the flesh is weak”. And here we see more than the drowsy disciples. We see ourselves.

Spiritually “asleep at the wheel”. We want to be good people. We want to live the Christian life, walk the Christian walk, talk the talk…. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. There are so many distractions, so many temptations. We want to pray. We want to read our bibles. We want to be kind and loving and forgiving and… yet…. We don’t.

For the New Creation within us is willing, but the Old Adam within us is not even willing. To borrow some clarification from Paul, in Romans 7:

19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Part of us doesn’t even want to do good. That’s the sinner. The flesh that is weak. But in our “inner being” as Paul says, we want to please God. The spirit is willing. So how do we solve the problem? “who will rescue me from this body of death?” God does. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

III. Prayers Against Temptation
Jesus sees the real problem is not sleeping or staying awake, but temptation to sin. The tempter would be hard at work. This “hour of the power of darkness” would bring many temptations. Peter, for his part, would be tempted to deny his Lord. And he would fail the test. The other disciples would be tempted to scatter and desert. And they too would fail. All would be tempted to believe that this was the end – that Jesus death meant “no more Jesus” – tempted to doubt his clear predictions of resurrection on the third day. It would take “many convincing proofs” for some of them to finally believe – even after Jesus rose from the dead.

And it doesn’t take much for us to fall. Since the first humans fell, we humans all fall too easily to the devil’s scheming plans. We are lead into temptation, and the sinful muck and mire that follows. We fall and we fail. Sometimes we even now as we are doing it, that what we do is wrong, that we shouldn’t be doing it, that it will bring us a world of hurt, that it is against God’s clear will, and… we do it anyway. We could say with Paul, “what a wretched man I am!”. Sure, we talk big, like Peter, “I would die with you, Lord!”, but when temptation comes, all it takes is… well, not much. We fall, and we fall again. Sin comes so easy.

For his part, Jesus is being tempted. He is being tempted to assert his own will over his Father’s. Yet as always, Jesus is without sin. He passes the test. He defeats the Tempter.

The movie, “The Passion of the Christ” agrees that Satan was clearly assaulting Jesus during the passionate prayer of Gethsemane. In that scene, Satan whispers to Jesus that the suffering is too much for one man to bear. No one can bear the sins of the world, he taunts. Then, as Jesus prays face down on the ground, a serpent slithers toward him in a graphic depiction of Satan’s eerie taunting. But suddenly, Jesus stands and stomps on the snake’s head – in a marvelous allusion to the promise of Genesis 3:15 “he will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel”.

The Bible does not spell it out that the devil was in Gethsemane, but Satan’s influence can certainly be seen – in Judas, in the Jews and the Romans, in all those who would jeer and mock the Savior. And in the crowd that cried, “crucify!”

IV. Drinking the Cup
But all is not lost, for as we said, Jesus defeats the temptation and the Tempter. Jesus has work to do, a cup to drink – suffering and death to face. That’s the point, you see. And in doing all this for us, in dying on the cross for the sins of the world, he provides for those who have fallen into temptation. By submitting to his Father’s will, by taking our place of punishment, he frees us from the hold of the Tempter, and the consequences of our failure in temptation.

And so the same Jesus who predicted Peter’s denial, would later restore him with the commission, “Feed my lambs”. The disciples who had scattered in fear he would seek out and find in the locked room, breathing his Holy Spirit on them. And to those that doubted his resurrection, he showed them his hands and side, he said, “Touch and see that it is I. Stop doubting, and believe”. Jesus is always about restoring those who have fallen into temptation. His blood shed at the cross makes is possible. And our faith in his promise makes that forgiveness real to us!

One of the ways he gives his gifts is also a highlight of this night. And it also has to do with a cup. Only now, not a cup of wrath, but a cup of grace! Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins! Yes, Jesus who drank God’s cup of wrath gives us, this night, his own cup of forgiveness, his own bread of life – blood and body – here in the sacrament of the altar. And drinking such a cup brings benefits to us!

The chief benefit of the cup he gives, is of course, forgiveness of sins. Along with forgiveness, we also receive new life and salvation. But another blessing of His Supper is strength to withstand the temptations of the evil one. Regular reception of Christ’s body and blood reminds us that we are God’s children, strengthens our faith, and helps us in our daily struggle with the foe. “Lead us not into temptation” is more than a prayer, it is the Christian life – created in the Water, strengthened by the Word, fed by the Supper.

Like the disciples, our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak. Thanks be to God for the Body of Christ, sacrificed at the cross, and given us to eat in his meal. Thanks be to God for the blood of Christ – the cup of suffering he drank, and the cup of forgiveness he offers. “Lead us not into temptation”, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

V. Conclusion
While Jesus prays in Gethsemane, he instructs his disciples to pray also. For all of us, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. But Christ drank of the cup, and gives us His cup – that we might be free from the tempter’s power.

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