Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | October 4, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 6:13a

This sermon continues the series on the Lord’s Prayer, following Dr. Luther’s outline in the Small Catechism.  This week, the Sixth Petition.

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen.

Lead us not into temptation.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

A shift occurs in the Lord’s Prayer.  The first petitions aim upwards.  Hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done. “Your.”  “Your.”  “Your.”  We speak to God about God’s great concerns – His Name, His Kingdom, His will.  The last petitions focus downward.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts.  Lead us not into temptation.  Deliver us from the evil one. “Us.”  “Us.”  “Us.”  “Us.”  We plead for our great concerns:  food, forgiveness, and protection.

It’s protection we pray for in the Sixth Petition, Lead us not into temptation. Because we need protection.  We need it desperately.  Not from God though.  Do not misunderstand this petition.  We are not blaming God for temptation nor saying that He is the one tempting us.  James made that clear:  No one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.

If not God, the Lord of the universe, then who are we praying for protection from?  James, Jesus, and others answer that.  James wrote:  each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Jesus spoke familiar words:  Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Peter warns, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. And Moses proved Peter true when He recorded the sad events of Eden.  The protection I need is not from God, it’s from me.  It’s from the world around me.  It’s from the devil.  Those three look for ways to devour me.  Those three look for ways to cause me to fall.  And it’s not the merest possibility of danger.  It’s not an outside chance.  Luther understood this. Although we have received forgiveness and a good conscience and are entirely acquitted, yet our life is of such a nature that we stand today, and tomorrow we fall. Therefore, even though we are godly now and stand before God with a good conscience, we must pray again that He would not allow us to fall again and yield to trials and temptations. Though washed in the blood of Christ, I still fight the battle that Paul describes when he says, Nothing good lives in me! Though freed from sin, though no longer a slave to this world and its desires, though no longer a servant of Satan, still I am tempted, and still I fall.  Luther hit the nail on the head when he preached in 1519:  After God has forgiven us our trespasses nothing is so important as being on guard against a relapse.

And so we pray, Lead us not into temptation, not indicting a God who seeking our fall, but rather pleading for mercy to a Savior, “Don’t leave me alone, Lord!  Alone, I fall!  With you I stand!”

It doesn’t take much to convince us of this.  If perfect Adam and Eve were unable to resist temptation, if Jesus’ disciples, taught for three years by God in the flesh, were unable to resist temptation, how can I, living so far outside of Eden, having never seen Christ in the flesh, hope to resist?  Like Adam and Eve, I listen to whispering voices, “Did God really say?”  And I don’t just listen, sometimes it’s me whispering, isn’t it, as I justify my latest little sin or try to prove how mine is the exception to the rule?  Like James knew, I wasn’t tricked into all these things, it’s my evil desires that get me going, that rev me up, that find ways to get around God’s holy will.  We fool ourselves if we say, “It’s not my fault, I’m surrounded – it’s on TV, the Internet, the movies, my friends.”  We fool ourselves if we think we wouldn’t do those things without all them.  We fool ourselves if we think it’s not our own decision to surround ourselves them.  Like the disciples, no matter how vigilant I want to be, no matter how willing my spirit is, my weak flesh betrays me time after time after time.  It’s resolutions kept for only hours or days.  It’s life changes that last a moment.  No, God doesn’t cause this.  He doesn’t need to.  I walk into it.  I fall into it.  I run into it.  Thoughts become desires.  Desires become words and deeds.  Sin gives birth to death.  My death.  Forever.  In hell.  Alone without hope or a Savior.

So we pray, Lead us not into temptation. “Don’t leave us alone Lord!”  We’re not praying that God give us a temptation-free life, for, as St. Augustine says, No man knows himself unless he is tempted.  No man can be king unless he wins and no man wins unless he fights.  Neither can he fight unless he has enemies who challenge him. How can we get stronger unless we train?  How can we battle devil, world, and flesh, unless we lift temptation’s weight?  For temptation is not the sin.  Temptations are birds flying around our head.  The sin is letting them nest.

And so we beg our Father to stand with us, to help us through temptation.  We also ask Him to relieve it and end it and prevent it.  We ask Him to keep the devil at bay, as He did for Job.  We ask for weapons.  And He gives. Your God does not leave you alone against this unholy trinity.  Adam and Eve were not alone.  They had the word of God – “Don’t eat from that tree!”  His command protected them.  This weapon you have as well, a weapon to strengthen you, as it strengthened Joseph, who cried out when tempted to sleep with his boss’s wife, How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against my God? And not only do you have the Word in words, but you have it visibly.  You have the Word that washed you clean in Baptism, that flood of water to drown your sinful nature, that rascal who can swim.  But that once-done Baptism offers an eternal protection, an eternal source of comfort, hope, and help as you slip and fall through your sinful life.  Not only that, but you have the eternal energy source to provide strength in this battle – the body and blood of Christ.  Jesus assures us that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood in faith remains in Him and lives!  He is the bread of life that keeps us from ever, ever, ever going hungry!  And then He gives us this flesh to eat and blood to drink.  To energize us for battle after battle after battle to come until the battle ends in heaven

He also gives the examples of those who’ve gone before.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the falls into sin of the Israelites and said, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us….[I]f you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. God has made a promise:  No more than you can handle!  There is always a way out!

And while it’s tough to see those ways out, we have one incredible trump card.  We relapse daily.  We rise, but so quickly fall.  We acknowledge that the Church isn’t filled with perfect people.  We humbly say, “Christians aren’t people who don’t sin.”  But we say humbly, “When we sin, we know where to go!”  Before all else fails, we have Christ!  Listen to Hebrews:  Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted….Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

In Christ, through Christ, and because of Christ, we can boldly go to the throne of God, plead with Him for protection against temptation and know that we will receive mercy and find grace.  He will relieve us.  He will help us fight.  Because He already fought.  And He won.  He didn’t leave us alone to battle sin.  He didn’t leave us alone to die in our sin.  He came and stood by our side.  He came and fought the battle.  He died our death.  He led Christ into temptation and Christ conquered it – conquered sin, conquered devil, conquered even death – so that we are free from sin, we are free from death, we are free from hell.  Amen.

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