The Lord's Prayer: And lead us not into temptation, Part 7

Preached: August 10, 2008

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Dear Father, Give Us the Strength to Resist Temptation
1 Corinthians 10:12, 13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens us is 1 Corinthians 10:13, 14.

So let the one who thinks he stands firm watch out, lest he fall. No temptation has come upon you except the human kind. God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you're able, but along with the temptation he will make the way out, that is, the ability to bear up. (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

K2 has been in the news this week. That's the name of the second highest mountain in the world, probably the most difficult and dangerous mountain to climb. It's on the border between China and Pakistan. Tragedy struck there in the last couple weeks. Two climbers died on the way up; nine more on the way down.

On that perilous descent an ice wall sheered off, sweeping away the lines needed to cross a gully. Many of the climbers panicked. One of the leaders who survived recounted from his hospital bed that people were running down in wrong directions. He screamed at them to work together, but they didn't listen. Most died. (;_ylt=AhVj4HFAAk_M_FGnHhmVzXN34T0D, accessed on: August 05, 2008)

Isn't that what temptation does to us? Instead of listening to our Leader, we run in our own directions. And without our leader only death and hell are ahead. So we pray to our Father in heaven. We pray that he lead us not into temptation, that is, that he gives us the strength to keep on following our Leader, our Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We pray that he gives us the strength to resist the temptations to turn away from Jesus, running after what the devil, the world, and our flesh dangle in front of us.

That brings us to our theme today: Dear Father, give us the strength to resist temptation. Open our eyes to see what a clear and present danger temptation is. Then strengthen us to bear up as we watch and pray.

A. Open our eyes to see what a clear and present danger temptation is

1) What temptations surround us?

God had richly blessed the church in Corinth. He had blessed them in their speaking and in their knowledge. But Corinth was also a crossroads of trade and luxury goods. Whatever vice money could buy, you could find it in Corinth. If you look up Corinthian in a dictionary, it can mean luxury-loving, dissolute, like a playboy.

How dangerous to blindly walk among such temptations confident that your knowledge by itself can keep you safe! That would be like juggling bee hives thinking you won't get stung. No wonder the Apostle Paul warns them: “So let the one who thinks he stands firm watch out, lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We too live in an age of leisure that can blind our eyes to the temptations all around us. We too are part of a church that the Lord has blessed with a right knowledge of his Word. But do we rely on our own ability to recite Bible facts instead of relying on our Leader, the Lord? We too need the warning: “So let the one who thinks he stands firm watch out, lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:13). We too need to pray, "Dear Father, open my eyes to see what a clear and present danger temptation is."

2) Describe the role our flesh, the world, and Satan have in tempting us.

Now God does not tempt anyone to sin. Rather these temptations come from the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. All three play a role in every temptation, yet we could say each one has their specialty. This opens our eyes to see what a varied arsenal of temptations are out there as a clear and present danger.

First our flesh, that sinful nature within us. This is probably what we think of first when we think of temptation. For our flesh covets and wants what it should not have. So greed, envy, jealousy, lusts, appetites, laziness, pride, self-pity and selfishness tempt us from within. They drive us on to take advantage of others, to cheat them, to neglect our responsibilities, to waste our time, to escape with drugs or alcohol, to overeat, to put down others, to get even, and so much more.

Working hand in hand with our flesh is the world. The world parades before us all its stuff. "You need it. You deserve it." Advertisement after advertisement bombard us. So we run after the world's stuff trying to outdo the Jones' next door. Anger, frustration, self-pity tempt us when we fail to get what we think we should have. And along with the world's stuff comes cares and worries. We worry if we don't have the stuff, and we worry if we do, because we might lose it. Like the seed among thorns in Jesus' parable (Mark 4:7, 18, 19), the world with its stuff tries to choke out our faith.

And if the carrot of all this stuff doesn't tempt us away from our Leader, then the world has its stick. It makes you feel funny for being a Christian. It makes you feel isolated, alone, laughed at. You do the right thing, yet you suffer for it, just as Joseph in Egypt suffered prison even though he did the right thing by refusing Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:6-20). On top of that we Christians still suffer the same troubles and tragedies that the people of this world do. In fact, they often seem to have it better than we do! So what advantage is it to follow our Leader? It just brings us more trouble from this world. Like the seed on the stony ground in Jesus' parable (Mark 4:5, 6, 16, 17), the world tries to dry up our faith .

And then you have Satan himself, the devil, the father of lies. Even if we somehow control our flesh and shut out the world, Satan will still tempt you. He needs only a small opening, for once his head is in, his whole body slithers afterwards, like the snake he is. Here is one way he tempts us: When things are going well and we think we are doing a good job in resisting temptation after temptation, then he tempts us to spiritual pride. "You can do it," he says. "Just dig deep down into yourself and you can be a good Christian. 'God helps those who help themselves.' Right? So just keep helping yourself and you'll make it fine on your own." With those lies he isolates us from our Leader, and on our own we are easy prey for him.“So let the one who thinks he stands firm watch out, lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But that's not the only kind of lie Satan tempts us with. When we know our weakness, when we see how easily we wander from our Leader and fall into temptation, when we are rightly convicted of how poor and miserable we are before God's Law, then Satan unleashes his most diabolical weapons, his weapons of mass destruction, namely, doubt, despair, and false belief. "God couldn't really love someone like you. It's all a pipe dream, a mirage. Don't be fooled. The only way to get on God's good side is if you try as hard as you can, but you're just going to fail anyway."

Like snowflakes in a blinding blizzard on top of K2, temptations swirl around us, pelting us on every side. With all these temptations, Satan seeks to separate you from your Leader. He wants you alone so he can sink his teeth into you and drag you into hell with him. Only stubborn foolishness refuses to see how dangerous these temptations are every day. Heavenly Father, preserve us from such foolishness. Open our eyes to see the clear and present danger of temptation.

B. Strengthen us to bear up as we watch and pray

1) What strength comes form knowing that God is faithful?

With all these temptations flying at us, all might seem hopeless, and like those mountain climber on K2 seeing their lines gone, we too feel the urge to run aimlessly, no longer listening to our Leader. Lest we do that, the apostle quickly assures us: “God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you're able, but along with the temptation he will make the way out, that is, the ability to bear up” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

"God is faithful." So often we are faithless. We wander into temptation. But God is faithful. He calls us wandering sheep back, back to our Shepherd. And what a Shepherd he is! Remember what he did for you, dear friends? Instead of abandoning us to save himself, he laid down his life for the sheep. He died for you. Then he took up his life again. He is your living Shepherd, risen from the dead. Not even death could stop his faithfulness to you.

“God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you're able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Yes, sometimes temptations seem overwhelming. We just don't have the strength in ourselves to resist. But that's the point. Don't look into yourself. Look to your Leader. Look to your heavenly Father. Look to his Son, Jesus Christ, your Shepherd. And where do you look to find him? In his Word and Sacraments. That's how your Father in heaven answers this prayer: "Lead us not into temptation." Through his Word and Sacraments. That's how he gives us his Holy Spirit to strengthen us to resist temptations. For through the Gospel in Word and Sacraments our Leader speaks to us to comfort, to strengthen, to fortify us. Through the Gospel in Word and Sacraments he gives you the strength to bear up. For our faithful God will never allow a temptation to attack you that he isn't able to give you the strength to bear. So pray to him for he has promised: “God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you're able, but along with the temptation he will make the way out, that is, the ability to bear up” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

2) What does it mean to watch and pray?

So watch and pray. Watch not only in the sense of watching out, being on the alert, having your eyes open as we talked about in the first part. But also watch in the sense of keeping your eyes on your Leader. Watch Jesus and his cross. Pay attention to his word.

Now as you watch Jesus' cross and pray for his help against temptation, use the strength he gives you. Use his strength to stay away from temptation, if possible. If certain places or people, certain movies or TV programs, certain websites or games, lead you into sin, stay away from them if at all possible. That's how we flee temptation, running away from it like Joseph did (Genesis 39:12). Don't put God to the test by willfully putting yourself into temptation when you know you could avoid it.

Yet as we live on this earth carrying out our god-given responsibilities and enjoying his blessings, we cannot avoid all temptations. That's why we must continue to watch and pray each and every day, even when all seems safe.

Think of when Jesus spoke those words. It had been a quiet evening for Jesus' disciples. They had fed their bodies and souls at the Passover meal. Jesus' words had comforted and encouraged them. What a quiet night in Gethsemane to drift to sleep. But Jesus knew what was coming. He knew that soon they would face the greatest temptations in their lives. They would see their Savior arrested and crucified. One would deny him; all would abandon him. So after his own fervent prayers to his heavenly Father, Jesus tells Peter, James, and John, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41 (NIV)).

Jesus speaks those words to you. Temptation can ambush us at any time and any place. Watch and pray. Watch your Leader. Keep your eyes focused on his cross always. Keep your heart and mind filled with his word and Sacraments. Yes watch! And also pray. For we cannot resist the devil, the world, and our flesh on our own. Pray for the strength to resist. Pray with the confidence that your Leader hears and answers you, giving you the strength to bear up. For God is faithful.

As you watch and pray, temptations will still come. As we said before, as long as we're in the world, we will feel temptations as they fly around us. But just as birds fly around us, but we keep them from building a nest in our hair, so keep temptation from nesting in your heart. They may tug at our feelings, but don't dwell on them, thinking about them, weighing them, contemplating them. Rather watch your Leader. Fill your heart and mind with Jesus and his Word, so that temptations have no room to take root. In him you have the strength to bear up as you watch and pray.

K2 has claimed many lives. So also Satan, the world, and the sinful flesh have buried many under the avalanches of their temptations. Keep you eyes open. See the clear and present danger. But don't despair. For your Leader is still with you. He is present in his Word and Sacrament. He gives you the strength to bear up, no matter how heavy the temptation feels. So watch and pray. Yes watch your Leader and prayer: "Lead us not into temption, heavenly Father; rather, give us the strength to resist." He answers that pray. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313