In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
The collect for this week directs us to pray: “O God, who sees that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended against all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.” This prayer is perfect because from the beginning it acknowledges that we have no strength, no ability to protect ourselves, not just physically, but especially spiritually. If it weren’t for God’s Fatherly care, for His holy angels who guard and keep us, and for His Holy Spirit who protects us spiritually, we would have no hope. We would be plagued by physical ills all around, but worst of all, we would be spiritually dead, led off into unbelief.
It is against this unbelief that we must be especially vigilant. Just like we sing in “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the Kingdom ours remaineth.” We can exist with countless diseases, aches and pains in every joint and muscle, hunger, sleeplessness, and every other physical malady, but we can’t survive without faith. It is only by faith that we can endure every adversity which happens to the body. By faith we know that whatever this sinful, dying world hurls at us, it will all end. One day we will stand in heaven, free from sin, free from the devil and his attacks, free from pain and sadness, tears and heartache. Faith is the only thing that sees us through.
But it is this faith, the gift we need the most, that the devil attacks mercilessly. If he can’t get us to renounce the faith through physical maladies he’ll try to get us to renounce the faith by bravado and false security. That is what we see clearly in the disciples, and especially Peter. As we heard last week during the institution of the Last Supper, Jesus warned that one of the Twelve was about to hand Him over into the hands of sinful men, setting into motion what Jesus had told them of many times: mockery, insults, spitting, scourging, and ultimately death. They should be on guard, they should be watching in wonder as Jesus goes through all of this, the Shepherd taking the place of the sheep who love to wander. But instead the disciples are caught up in a battle over who is the greatest, and then Peter brushes it all off as no big deal, thinking he can endure it all with Jesus and then some. But as we found out at the end of the Passion reading for tonight, they all couldn’t care less. Jesus asked them to watch and pray with Him, to pray that God would keep them from temptation, but they gave into their heavy eyes and Satan-induced false security and slept.
We know that what the Twelve endured is a clear picture of ourselves. When faced with temptation, we all give in. We each have our own triggers; what tempts me may not tempt you. Though the devil is not omniscient, he certainly knows how to press us. He knows from observation where we like to fall, so he works hard to lay those things in front of us. He laughs when we resolve to avoid our temptations, whatever they may be. He knows that truth we will pray soon: of ourselves we have no strength. We are no Abraham or Isaac. He laughs because when we say we’re going to avoid our weaknesses on our own, he knows that we’ll come right back to them and then fall into sin all the harder. It is as we confessed in our Psalm tonight: “My enemies would hound me all day, for there are many who fight against me…their thoughts are against me for evil…they lie in wait for my life.”
Repent. Each day we all trick ourselves, thinking that the devil isn’t out to get us or that we can avoid his deadly temptation on our own. We go out to battle without armor. We think our faith to be like Abraham’s, willing to sacrifice all for God, when in reality it is weak and cannot defend itself.
It is only with Divine aid that we can endure this battle. David teaches us the key to success: “When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me.” It is only our Triune God, who keeps us both outwardly and inwardly, that gives success in temptation’s battle. We can only have Abraham-like faith to obey the most testing of God’s commands, and Isaac-like faith to trust solely in God even when it seems the most daunting, when we hate our sinful nature and throw ourselves solely upon God’s mercy. We are only successful in battle against the devil when we acknowledge that we can do nothing to help ourselves. When we drop the act of self-reliance, then we are victorious.
That is why it is good for us always, not just during Lent, to keep Our Lord’s cross and passion before our eyes. When we look to Jesus on the cross, His arms outstretched in the greatest act of love the world has ever seen, the Holy Spirit refocuses our attention. It is as we sang just a bit ago: “Should some lust or sharp temptation fascinate my sinful mind, draw me to Your cross and passion, and new courage I shall find. Or should Satan press me hard, let me then be on my guard, saying, ‘Christ for me was wounded,’ that the tempter flee confounded.” If we resolve to fight temptation on our own, we fail. But when we resolve to have temptation fought for us by God and His angels, we are victorious.
But as long as we are in this body and life, we will give into temptation. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). When we are unable to avoid the world’s seductive, sinful vices, there is forgiveness. Jesus’ all-atoning passion has won your soul’s salvation. He knows how sharp the temptation is, how merciless the devil is, because He endured it, too. So He sympathizes with you. When you repent and confess your sin, He gladly forgives you. He gives you every benefit of His death and resurrection. He heals your wounds by His wounds, revives your fainting spirit by His cross.
This life will always be full of enemies, full of temptation from the devil. But it is also full of Divine protection. You are Baptized into Christ. In Christ’s death, death has lost its power over you, its head crushed in the dust. In this life Christ is your Rock and Tower, your Protection and in the life to come He is your Light, your Life, and your Resurrection.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).