Lenten Service 6
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 14:32-38 Sermon
March 29 & April 5, 2017

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
446 "Rise My Soul To Watch & Pray"
144 "Jesus Grant That Balm & Healing"
175 "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross"
554 "Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow"


TEXT:  "And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And [Jesus] said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.'  And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.   And he said to them, 'My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.'   And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.   And he said, 'Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'   And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'" 

            It hasn't been too long ago, in fact not quite four weeks ago that I preached a sermon on temptation.  It was the theme for the first Sunday in Lent, which it has been ever since the infancy days of the early Christian Church.  It's the way we begin this whole penitential season.  We begin this season with the topic of temptation, because that's the way Jesus began his ministry.  Matthew chapter 4, verse 1 says, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."  

            For forty days and nights, Jesus was in the wilderness, and Satan unleashed his worst upon him.  He attempted to attack Jesus at what might be his weakest links, and then tried to lure him away from his intended purpose with all sorts of temptations that would make even the strongest of human will collapse.  We couldn't hold up like Jesus did if we were to be left on our own.

            So I talked about temptation that week.  As an opening illustration, I mentioned that Las Vegas,Nevada is the city of temptations.  The flashing neon signs literally highlight temptations, and target people at their weakest moments.  I don't want to berate the city and its residents either, but I think you know what I'm talking about.  And here I am again, addressing the same subject, trying to figure out what else I can say about that word we all know too well:  temptation.

            Perhaps you've seen those old cartoons, where a character will have an angel sitting on one shoulder, and a devil on the other shoulder.  The angel is telling the character what is the right thing to do, while the devil is telling the character what is the wrong thing to do. 

            In a rather comedic way, this illustrates what we all experience in our day-to-day lives.  The Apostle Paul knows this too.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, he explains this to them in chapter 10, verse 13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.”  Even though comedians and humorists use cute little angel and devil figures to illustrate this, we understand the picture, because temptation is a very real fact of life.

            Temptation has been with us since that awful day in Eden when our first parents traded in their righteousness for a bite of forbidden fruit.  It rears its ugly head on a daily basis down to this very day.  Perhaps the cartoonists and other comedians are on to something.  It certainly is easier to laugh about temptation than it is to resist it!  We laugh, but deep down we know that temptation is no laughing matter.  And sad to say, far too often the laughing face is hiding a guilty heart and sorrowing soul.

            In a very short while, we will join together in the Lord's Prayer.  It's something that most of us know right off the bat.  In fact, if I were to say "Let's pray the Lord's Prayer right now," I don't think you'd have to look at a hymnal or bulletin to do it.  We say it at worship services, church council meetings, Bible studies, funerals, weddings, and virtually any other occasion.  In fact, I can remember my mother teaching it to me as a child when we said our bedtime prayers.  And I remember saying it with her during her last fleeting moments on earth before the Lord called her home.

            So consider this:  We pray “Lead us not into temptation.”  But looking around our world, do you ever wonder if God is still listening to that petition?  Remember those words I quoted a few minutes ago from the Apostle Paul: "No temptation has overtaken us except what is common to mankind."   But yet I have to wonder whether or not we might be living in an age of unusually severe and awful temptation?   Let's see how temptation measures up against some of the 10 commandments.

            We are to remember the Sabbath Day, yet only 1 in 5 Americans attends a house of worship every weekend.  And that number is getting worse every year.

            We are to honor our father and mother, yet that can be tricky when roughly half of our nation has a father and a mother AND a stepfather and stepmother and perhaps a second stepmother and now mom’s new boyfriend.  Honor them?  What is a child supposed to do?  It's no wonder they become exasperated.

            Adultery is a huge temptation, yet I can go and grab my cell phone right now and within a few minutes find personal ads that would indulge about every fantasy there is.  One pastor opined that some of the stuff on the Internet would make David and Bathsheba blush.

            Commandment after commandment is all grounds for temptation.  We say that we have no other gods.  We don't pray to idols or graven images.  But yet, we replace our God with meaningless earthly objects.  We say that we don't take the name of the Lord in vain, but stub your toe on a table leg in the middle of the night, and it goes right out the window.  And we go on.  We hate, we lie, we gossip, and we covet (or lust) after things we shouldn't have.

            I could go on, but I won’t.  You get the picture.  Temptation is no laughing matter.  As long as we live in this world, the devil has home field advantage.  Temptation is all around us everywhere.  As long as we have a body, we live with a sinful nature. Temptation is within us. Until that day when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, the devil will never tire of tempting us.  His fury is great, for his time is short!  Satan’s temptations will not stop.  Where should we turn for help in temptation?  That's the question we're addressing tonight.  So here's the only solution: "Repent! Turn to Jesus When You Face Temptations."

            Turn to Jesus when you face temptation.  Why?  Jesus knows all about temptation!  At the beginning, I gave a brief rundown of what happened to Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.  He was in the wilderness for 40 days and nights being tempted by Satan.

            Jesus went nose-to-nose and toes-to-toes with the devil.  The devil had three very special temptations that he wanted to throw at Jesus.  Perhaps they seemed soft and subtle, but they were in fact very bold. He tempted Jesus’ hunger pangs; make these stones into bread. He tempted Jesus to put the Father to the test by taking a flying leap off the pinnacle of the temple. He tempted Jesus to forsake the Father’s saving plan by giving the devil his due by bowing down to worship him.  The whole world would belong to Jesus!  Think about it.  Satan is bold enough to tempt the very Son of God.  In his temptations, he is brazen enough to misuse God’s Word against Jesus.  His only purpose was to derail God’s plan of salvation before it ever left the station.

            Oh yes, Jesus knows all about temptation, and it didn't stop after those 40 days and nights in the wilderness.  Satan was there still tempting Jesus on the final night of his ministry in Gethsemane’s garden, tempting Jesus, again and again, to abandon the Father’s saving plans.  Now Satan was tempting Jesus with raw fear!  He felt the fear of complete rejection by his followers and even his Father, the terror at the thought of the next day’s torture, the dread at the thought of his coming death and the reality of hell.  And he experienced the disgust at the thought of drinking the contents of the cup he would gulp down.

            Yes, there's that cup, that metaphorical cup.  Jesus prayed earnestly for the Father to take the cup from him.  Now what’s so bad about a cup?  That depends on what’s in the cup!  So what is in the cup in Jesus’ trembling hands?  There was the rebellion of an Adam, the drunkenness of a Noah, the lies of an Abraham, the deceit of a Jacob, the adultery of a David, the greed of a Matthew, the denial of a Peter, the betrayal of a Judas, and the murder of a Paul.  All of it was in the cup. And yet there is much more. 

            There are those sins of my past that I am desperate to keep secret.  They’re in that cup!  The thoughts in my head that would make Satan blush if beamed upon the front wall.  They’re in the cup.  The words I’ve spoken to hurt others.  They’re in the cup.  The deeds I’ve done to please myself and make others miserable.  They’re in the cup.  

            What have you thought, said, or done today that’s in the cup?  And our Saviour, the very one who knew no sin, willingly drank the cup and made these sins his very own out of nothing but pure love for you, and me, and all humanity.

            When I teach confirmation class, I always tell my students about the "unholy three," which are:  the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.  It's a good way to remember what we're up against.  And the unholy three come complete with three all-inclusive consequences:  death, judgment, and wrath.

            When the unholy three are staring at us directly in the face, then we have something else right there too.  We have our Saviour Jesus, the sinless Son of God, who takes the world’s sinfulness and makes it his very own.  The eternal Son, who is himself life, now faces death by crucifixion.  The Son, who is the very definition of love, who loves the Father with a perfect love and is loved by the Father with a perfect love, now subjects himself to his Father’s wrath!  Jesus is true God and true man.  In spite of strong temptation, in spite of his true human nature, he remained perfectly pure and perfectly in tune with the Father’s will.  So he earnestly prays as Mark records in verse 36 of this evening's text: "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

            You see what happened.  Jesus turned to his Father in prayer.  Temptation was trounced.  That bitter and painful cup was drunk down to the dregs.  Jesus left the garden and carried his cross toGolgotha.  

            In Romans chapter 8, verses 2-4a, Paul writes: "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us..."        

            On Mount Calvary, in Golgotha, God condemned sin in the likeness of sinful flesh.  In Christ, God’s just judgment is perfectly served in his Son.  Through Christ, we are served with mercy, forgiveness, and healing!  

            Think of it this way:  In a garden, the Garden of Eden, our first father Adam, sinned and then ran.  In a different garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ, our brother, remained holy and stood firm!

            Going back to our text for this evening, Mark records in verses 37-38  what was happening close by:  "And [Jesus] came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep?  Could you not watch one hour?   Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'"

            Oh yes, Peter, James, and John were there. They had a special relationship with Jesus.  They were the inner circle of the 12 disciples.  They had seen amazing things.  For example, they had seen the raising of Jairus' daughter, and Jesus' Transfiguration.  They assured Jesus that they too could drink the cup that Jesus would drink!  Peter even promised Jesus that if everyone else fell away from him, he never would.  Peter said he was willing to die for Jesus!

            But yet, they couldn’t keep their eyes open to watch and pray with Jesus.  Jesus had only asked one thing of them: Stay here and keep watch.”  But instead of being a source of comfort for Jesus in his humanity, their heavy hearts and eyelids were proof that the flesh is weak!  They did exactly the opposite of what Jesus asked.

            Those instructions are words for us too.  Watch and pray.  Be vigilant and watch for Satan's tricks.   We procrastinate in our worship life; we become dull in listening to the Word; we become lazy with holy living; we become apathetic in our life of prayer.  And so, our eyelids droop, our vision blurs, and our souls go to sleep.  Satan prowls closer and closer, circling for the kill!  The Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 5 verses 14-16: “‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”

            And so we watch and pray.  Our flesh is indeed week; but thanks to God the Holy Spirit, our own spirits are still willing.  So when temptation comes, we turn to the Lord in prayer.

            There's an old riddle I've used to stump people from time-to-time.  It goes like this:  What is stronger than God, worse than the devil, the poor have it, the rich don't want it, dead people eat it, and if you eat it, you die.  What is it?

            The answer is, "Nothing."  Nothing is stronger than God, or worse than Satan.  And in the words of that old riddle, we find hope.  We know that Jesus has overcome the worst of the worst by his defeat of death, hell, and Satan.

            God is also stronger than temptation.  The Apostle Paul gives us some encouraging words in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13:  “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

            So when we tremble in weakness in the face of temptation, we turn to Jesus, and place ourselves completely in the hands of our Saviour who triumphed over temptation.  He has the strength and the will to keep us standing firm in times of temptation.  We turn to Jesus with prayers of repentance, and we rest our souls in the wounds of Jesus for forgiveness and healing for those times when our weak flesh has fallen.

            Temptation is no joking matter.  It rears its ugly head again and again, day in and day out.  Martin Luther once said regarding temptation: “You can’t keep the birds from flying overhead, but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.”  

            So turn to Jesus in times of temptation.  Whenever you do, you are telling Satan’s birds to go nest elsewhere.  Remember that there's nothing worse than the devil, but nothing is stronger than God.  Through faith alone, Jesus saves you from Satan's grasp.  Thanks be to God!