Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Lead us not into temptation. . .

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, preached on Sunday, February 21, 2021, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

               Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Lead us not into temptation.”  It’s an odd thing for us to pray because we know God tempts no one (Jas 1:13).  Recently, the Pope approved changing the wording of this petition to “Do not let us fall into temptation,” so that it apparently will make more sense.  It’s true that God doesn’t tempt us, but we still need to pray this petition, a petition Christ Himself gave us to pray.  We need to pray it every day.  We need to pray it multiple times a day, because temptation will come our way.

               Temptation is inevitable.  Talking about temptation, St. James said “when it comes,” not “if it comes.”  The devil is alive and he’s out there, prowling around like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8-9).  He wants to tempt you away from God, and too often, we don’t even notice it. 

               When we think about Satan and his temptations, we often think about those “big” sins.  We think he’s out there trying to create complete and utter chaos, anarchy that’s lived out in theft, abuse, fornication, and murder.  We picture devil worshipers cloaked in black gathered in secret underground temples with stone altars for ceremonial sacrifices, at least, that’s how it’s portrayed in the movies.  But that’s not how the devil tempts. 

               Satan isn’t looking for active worshipers.  He couldn’t care less whether or not you bow your knee to him.  What he wants is for you not to bow your knee to the Lord.  And if that means you get to live a peaceable life, never aware of his temptations and sin, never knowing how much you need the forgiveness and life of Christ, well then, so be it.

The devil tempts with small things.  He tempts with things that look good and innocent.  He tempts through the world and culture around us.  He tempts by questioning God’s Word, twisting it just enough, convincing us that God wants us to be happy, that He wants our desires and wishes to come true.  Just look at how he tempted our first parents.  He didn’t try to convince them to murder each other.  He simply asked a question and spoke a lie.  “Did God really say…?  You won’t die.  You’ll be like God.”  That’s his M.O.  That’s what makes resisting temptation so difficult, it doesn’t look like temptation. 

St. James wrote, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (Jas 1:14-15).  It’s our wants and desires that Satan tempts with.  And we all know how easy it is to convince us of something that we want.  Satan doesn’t have to twist our arms.  We willingly give in.  We can’t say, “The devil made me do it.”  No, we did it; we do it.  We give into temptation.  We trade the truth of God’s Word for the lies of Satan.  But not Christ.  He endured Satan’s temptation and tricks and He overcame them.  He had to, because we can’t. 

It’s easy to miss it, but did you catch what the Spirit of the Lord did immediately after Christ was baptized?  Listen again, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And [Jesus] was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:12-13).  The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness where He’d be tempted.  Christ’s temptation was part of God’s plan of salvation.  Jesus had to be tempted.  He had to stand where the first Adam fell.  God tempts no one because He allowed Himself to be tempted, so that He could defeat the tempter for you. 

Christ endured temptation for you.  He stood against Satan in the wilderness for you.  He overcame the devil’s twisted lies for you.  He did this so that He could take your sin upon Himself, so that He could sacrifice His righteous life for your sinful one, so that He could shed His innocent blood to redeem you from sin and death, so that He could rescue you from the devil’s claim, so that He could claim you as His own through the waters of Baptism.  By Christ’s victory on the cross, with the help of the Spirit, with the forgiveness of sins, with the gift of faith, with the truth of God’s Word, you can confidently endure against Satan’s temptation; knowing you belong to the Lord.

               But this doesn’t mean life will be easy.  This doesn’t mean trials won’t come your way.  St. James encourages us by saying, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12).

There will be various trials that we face as Christians.  Nowhere in Scripture does God promise us an easy life.  We’ll endure difficulties, maybe even more so than unbelievers.  Not only do we endure temptations, but we also endure testing, and these aren’t the same things.  Temptation comes from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  Satan attacks us hard, trying to lead us away from God, that’s the purpose of temptation.  But testing comes from God, and the purpose of it is to lead to God.

Tests aren’t easy, otherwise they wouldn’t be tests.  It’s difficult to endure, but these are good and for our benefit.  They’re for the strengthening of our faith, like the testing of Abraham. 

We have a difficult time understanding this test from God.  Why would God tell Abraham to sacrifice his son, his miracle son of promise conceived and born in Abraham’s and Sarah’s old age?  This doesn’t make sense, and I think it’s safe to say that at the time, it probably didn’t make sense to Abraham either.  And yet, this test revealed something.  It revealed how the Lord saves us.  God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, but He did spare His.  God the Father gave up His Son so that He could have us. 

By faith, Abraham trusted in the Lord.  He didn’t have to understand it.  He didn’t have to know what God was thinking.  What he knew was that God was faithful, and somehow He’d do what He promised to do through Isaac.  And that’s how it is for us.

When we go through the trials of testing, we don’t always understand it.  It’s hard and we ask why: Why did I lose my job?  Why did I get that diagnosis?  Why did that young child suffer in that way?  Why are all these natural disasters happening?  We don’t know these answers, but we know that the Lord is faithful.  We know that He gave up His Son for us.  And because of that, by faith we know He’ll give us that crown of life that He promised through His Son.

               We endure trails: temptation and testing.  Temptation comes from Satan, the world, and our sinful nature, but testing is from the Lord.  Both are difficult, but we're not alone in them.  The Lord is with you, giving you the strength to endure, strength through His Word, strength through His Sacraments, strength through your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, you are enabled to remain steadfast, holding fast to your Savior.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.    


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