Online Worship Midweek Lenten Worship, March 3, 2021
Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service – Prayers of the Passion #3
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Matthew 26:41 (NKJV)
41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Who prays for sinners and urges them to pray,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Precious Blood –
Why don’t people listen?
Why don’t people pay attention?
I wonder this from time to time when I see certain signs:
NO PARKING – FIRELANE – but there are cars parked right there in front of those signs.
DANGER – CLIFF, DON’T CROSS FENCE – but there are people standing on the other side of the fence, looking down.
BREAKWALL – STAY OFF IN SEVERE WEATHER – but we have to add an additional fence because people go on the break wall when the waves are crashing over it.
Why don’t people listen?
Why don’t people pay attention?
(It seems they don’t think that sign applies to them, that the danger isn’t a danger to them.)
It isn’t just street signs. We may wonder the same thing when we read in the Old Testament Scriptures. On a number of occasions God specifically forbade something only to have His people do that very thing. Examples abound.
God said, “Don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Adam and Eve ate.
God warned the Israelites upon entering the Promised Land, “Don’t let your children marry into the existing Canaanite nations, because they will be tempted to adopt their false gods and turn from me.” They let their children marry the Canaanites anyway.
God warned the Israelites not to forsake him for other gods. They did anyway.
Why don’t people listen?
Why don’t people pay attention?
(Did they think it wasn’t a danger to them?)
This evening we again take up another Prayer of the Passion. We thus far heard Jesus’ prayer for Peter and for the other disciples. We have heard Jesus pray for Himself. This evening we will hear Jesus urge His Disciples and us to pray. He will tell us why it is so vital that we stay alert and pray. We may think that we can handle temptation, that it won’t hurt us because we are strong enough…but that is far from the truth. We will come to see that one of the greatest hindrances to an active prayer life is our own self-confidence and sinful pride.
We pray that God the Holy Spirit help us to see and admit our weakness and to come earnestly to our Heavenly Father for the strength to stand when tempted. Amen.
When reading the portion of Scripture leading up to these words, we may find ourselves asking, again:
“Why didn’t the disciples listen to Jesus?”
In the Upper Room, Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him. They were caught off guard, shocked even.
On the way to Gethsemane, Jesus warned them again, saying (Matthew 26:31-32):
“All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Rather than soberly accepting and considering Jesus’ warning, Peter argued with Jesus. It was as if Peter forgot who was talking to him. Wasn’t he paying attention? Jesus, the Son of God, said that ALL of them would be made to stumble, but Peter replied (26:33):
“Even if all are made to stumble because of You,
I will never be made to stumble.”
Jesus didn’t respond as we might (Who do you think you are talking to young man?) Jesus turned to Peter and personally warned him of what lay ahead of him. He would deny Jesus three times before a rooster could sound off twice.
Once more, instead of accepting the warning, Peter corrected his master again…and the rest of the disciples agreed with Peter, and did the same (Matthew 26:35):
“Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”
And so said all the disciples.
Why didn’t they listen?
Why didn’t they pay attention?
Now before we climb the Mount of Hypocrisy, we ought to ask ourselves the same questions. Why don’t we listen? Why don’t we pay attention?
After all, our God warns us beforehand about the nature of our enemies, saying through the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV):
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Our enemies are NOT flesh and blood, but spiritual hosts of wickedness. Our enemies won’t show up on a security camera aimed at the front door. Satan and his host are invisible spirits.
Moreover, we are warned to be watchful, because our enemies are led by a dangerous spiritual carnivore (1 Peter 5:8):
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
We are further warned that there is a traitor within each of us, a fallen nature that opposes the things of God.
Still, despite all of these warnings we daily plunge into life with barely a thought of those enemies. We swipe through our Facebook feeds without the least concern that the enemy may approach us on the phone or on the news or in planting evil thoughts in heart and mind through television and movies. The enemy may pass evil thoughts into our hearts and minds by means of familiar music. Are we alert and aware or indifferent?
Are we listening? Are we paying attention?
In contrast to our blindness to the danger, our refusal to seek help before temptation comes…our Lord Jesus was different. Jesus knew the trials that would come upon Him and His Disciples, so He prepared Himself and warned His Disciples.
Jesus prepared by means of prayer, by seeking help and support as a man from His Heavenly Father. He asked his disciples to sit with Him, to at the very least support him by being with Him, by watching and staying awake. Jesus prayed earnestly for himself, for strength, for support as a man. They were able to neither watch or stay awake.
It was after a gentle rebuke that Jesus urged them to watch and to pray, to do what he had been doing. Moreover, Jesus told them exactly why they (and we) should be doing both:
41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.
I don’t know about you, but when I face a problem, a stressful time, I tend to think only of myself. I tend to focus on what I’m going through and how I’m feeling. I can’t seem to look beyond myself.
So, let’s not miss the amazing love of Jesus. Jesus was earnestly praying and seeking strength to endure the weight of human sin and the suffering He was about to endure. But, despite this, Jesus was also concerned for His disciples. He wasn’t self-centered as we often are…but was concerned for everyone else too. It’s why He was focused on the Cross.
Jesus didn’t want his disciples to attempt to face their trial alone. He wanted them to seek strength from above for our prayers are always to be addressed to God. He wanted them to be prepared, to be strengthened, to be certain that God was with them to support them.
Jesus didn’t only speak these words to Peter, but to James and John as well (the plural imperative is used). He urged them all to keep watch and to keep on praying…so that they might not enter their test unprepared. It was important that they stay alert. It was even more important that they seek help from above if they were to face and endure the spiritual test about to fall upon them.
Jesus didn’t have a fallen nature to contend with, but we do. For us, tests to faith and temptations to sin come upon us from outside of us and from within us. So Jesus teaches us in His model prayer to seek help from above by praying (Matthew 6:13):
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
In so praying we are asking that God either keep temptation away from us or give us strength to endure it. We need His Strength to turn from temptation to sin. We need His support to endure trials.
It wasn’t just Peter, James and John either. We too need to watch out for temptation and make use of prayer to prepare for and in the day of trial.
How often doesn’t it happen that we are tempted to sin when our minds are unoccupied and left to wander? How often don’t we find ourselves turned away from the things of God to the things of sin?
God help us to be on guard, to watch and pray! God help us to soberly seek God’s help before temptation comes and in all things.
What is the one thing that hinders most from praying? Isn’t it often our own sinful pride? Think about this for a moment. We sometimes don’t even want to ask help of one another in earthly things…when we need it because we figure we should be ‘self-sufficient.’ We believe that we can take care of ourselves, fix our own problems, get out of our own messes.
So that’s what we try to do first…and when we fail…then we seek help and pray. Instead of preparing, watching and praying, we think we are strong enough and won’t fail. We imagine – like Peter – that we are stronger than everyone else. We pretend that we’ve done it before.
The trouble begins when we don’t listen to Jesus. It is compounded when we don’t pay attention to His warnings. We can see from Scripture and from our own personal experience…what happens…and it’s never good.
What’s the foundational problem? Why is it so vital that we prepare daily, that we watch and pray? It’s because our personal desire, our perceived strength cannot defeat temptation; because the power doesn’t lie within us.
We don’t want to hear it but…we need help. We need strength from an outside source, namely God Himself.
Jesus explains the root problem:
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
We human beings are two parts; soul and body. The soul is within us; the body the outward shell.
We are as Christians also two parts --- spirit and flesh; the new man and the old Adam; faith and sinful nature. As those who are born again, made spiritually alive through faith in Jesus, part of us wants to do what pleases God. We, having been reconciled to God by the death of His Son earnestly desire to show our thanks to God for what He has done for us.
However, our desire to do what pleases God is hindered by our flesh, not the body but our fallen nature. We want to watch and pray but our fallen natures distract us and turn us away from God to self and to sin. Spiritual desire is hindered by our fallen hearts.
Have you ever noticed how easy I tis to do what you know is wrong?
There is no brake when it comes to sin with the flesh.
It isn’t just that our flesh is ‘weak’. Jesus isn’t saying we need a vitamin now and then. We are spiritually ‘without strength, without power, without ability.’ We need to prepare and face temptation with strength, the strength of God. God provides the strength that we need in His Word and through the Sacrament of the Altar. It is there that the armor of God is provided us, and we are equipped for temptation, as it is written (Ephesians 6:10-13):
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
May God, by His Spirit, help us to listen carefully to His Word and paying attention to His warnings, prepare for temptation before it comes…by watchfulness and prayer.