Maundy Thursday

Preached: April 5, 2012

Watch and Pray
Matthew 26:39-41

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God which brings us our Savior tonight is Matthew 26

Going forward a little ways, Jesus fell on his face praying, “My Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He came to his disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So are you not able to watch with m for one hour? Keep watching and praying, so that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:39-41).

This is the word of our Lord.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV84). I wonder, as he wrote those words, whether Peter’s thoughts drifted back to this night in Gethsemane. The lion was certainly lurking. Soon the Shepherd would be struck down. Then he could prey on the scattered sheep, devouring their faith and hope, one by one.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41 NIV84). How Peter was tempted that night to give up all hope in Jesus! Yes, he would deny even knowing Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. He failed to watch and prayer.

What temptations are lurking ready to pounce on you? Maybe the type of temptation this text brings to mind is spiritual sleepiness. The disciples thought all was okay, at least for the moment. It was, for sure, a somber time. The Passover had been celebrated. Jesus had spoken weighty words, but he had done that on other occasions. They knew the Jewish authorities were out to stop Jesus, but surely they wouldn’t do anything during the Passover. If they wanted to arrest him, they could have earlier in the week while he was teaching at the temple. Weren’t they for the moment in the calm of the dangerous storm that swirled around them?

How often isn’t our guard down when we think things are okay? When there’s sickness or trouble or tragedy, we know where to turn. The Lord is our Help and Strength. But when things are okay, can’t I just let life flow along? Do we need to be on spiritual alert all the time?

Satan waits. He sees your faith nodding off. Your devotion to gladly hearing and learning God’s Word lessens. Your prayer life grows shallow. You do the religious actions without much thinking or pondering. Without even realizing it, you’re relying more and more on your strengthens or on the happiness of the circumstance rather than on the Lord. Let the good times roll on. Lady luck’s smiling on me.

As you nod off, Satan may just wait, letting your faith fall asleep entirely. You drift off into spiritual deadness still imagining that all is right between you and God, like a victim of hypothermia drifting off to death imagining that they finally feel warm. Or when Satan figures you are no longer alert enough, he could attack you with that particular temptation that will bring down your weakened faith, like a lioness taking down the weak antelope that can’t keep up with the herd. That’s what happened to Peter. He thought he was strong. He did not watch and pray. Satan took him down.

So watch, dear Christian. Be alert. Coffee or 5-hour energy drinks won’t give you this kind of alertness. The stimulants of this world, whether that’s power, competition, excitement, entertainment, education, or the arts, won’t do it either. How do we stay spiritual awake? How do we keep on watching continually?

God’s Word and sacraments are the caffeine that stimulate faith to watch and be alert. But the Gospel in the Scriptures and the sacraments does so not by pumping us up or by giving us an emotional high. Rather the Gospel holds Jesus before eyes and says, “Here, dear sinner, is your God and Savior. See how much he loves you! Taste his love in the bread and wine that bring his body to eat and his blood to drink. He went to that garden even though he knew Judas would come. He went there for you. He knew the horror that was in that cup -- the filth of sin, the guilt that brings death. How the pureness of his being shuttered and cringed in repulsion at the thought of drinking it! Yet he did it for you, dear sinner. He did it for you. See love flowing from his thorn crowned head, his pierced hands and side. He longs for your salvation.”

Such Good News spurs on faith to eagerly watch. “Jesus has loved me so much. I don’t want to take my eyes off of him. I don’t want to fall asleep and lose sight of him.” Like young lovers gazing into each others eyes, like children peering out the window for grandpa and grandma’s car to come, like a wife straining to see through the crowd of soldiers longing to catch that first glance of her dear husband returning from war, so our watchfulness, our alertness, is driven by our love for Jesus, who first loved us.

And as we watch, we pray. We know our utter weakness and helplessness. We turn to the One who alone can keep us in the true faith and protect us from Satan’s jaws. We submit to his will.

Look at how Jesus submits. He is God over all, yet as true man he submits to the Father’s will even though all power and authority has been given to him. How much more so are we to pray: “Not as I will, but as you will. Your will be done, O Father in heaven.”

For you see, dear friends, prayer is not bargaining or negotiation. Prayer is not a wish list of what I want from God. Rather prayer, Christian prayer, is a beggar’s plea to our mighty Lord. For we have nothing to offer that he hasn’t graciously given us in the first place. Prayer turns away from our own imagined strengths and abilities, giving up on our own power and wisdom, and instead leans our full weight on his everlasting arms. We throw ourselves onto his mercy, submitting to his will.

And how do you know God’s will? Not by searching our hearts. That’s where you find your will, not God’s. Not by searching out the insights of others. God’s will is found in his mind. But how can we know the mind of God? He has revealed his mind and makes his will known through his Word, the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. Referring to God the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2 says, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God … This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2: 10, 13 NIV84). Through the Scriptures, which the Holy Spirit inspired word for word, God has revealed his will.

So even as we pray in humble submission, “Thy will be done,” we search the Scriptures for it’s answer. And as we put God’s will into practice in our lives, trusting his wisdom and power, Satan is held at bay. That lion cannot penetrate our Shepherd’s protective care as listen to his voice and follow him.

So watch and pray, dear Christians. Watch and pray today and always. It will be a continual struggle because your sinful flesh wants your faith to fall asleep. But through the word and sacraments the Holy Spirit strengthens your spirit to watch and pray. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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

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