Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers – Sermon #1 (March 22, 2017)

MARK 14:32-38

...When You Face Temptations.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Simon Peter and the apostles all made great boasts about their faithfulness.  In the safety of the upper room, it was easy to do.  Jesus had warned them: “You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'” (Mark 14:27; Zechariah 13:7)  The disciples had the words of the prophet, and they had the admonition of Jesus.  If they had taken both divine words seriously, they would have entered the evening with much more humility and vigilance.  But in the safety of the upper room, it was easy to boast of their allegiance.  Peter said to (Jesus), “Even though they all fall away, I will not.  And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”  But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  And they all said the same. (Mark 14:29-31)  They would all be faithful.  They were sure of it.  Their spirit was willing, even zealous.  In the upper room, among friends, in safety, it was easy to make great boasts.  Boasting is easy; producing is not.
     We are no different.  If you have gone through the Rite of Confirmation, you have vowed that you would be faithful and suffer all things, even death, rather than turn away from Jesus.  Those promises were sincere when they were made—just as the apostles were sincere in the upper room.  The spirit was willing, even zealous.  But boasting is easy; producing is not.  When trials press hard, when temptations are relentless, when faithful service becomes inconvenient, when there is actually something to lose for having allegiance to Jesus, then it is hard.  Then the flesh proves that it is weak.
     A few hours after Jesus' warnings, the disciples faced arrest in Gethsemane.  A little later, Peter was identified as one of Jesus' followers in the courtyard of Caiaphas with soldiers around him.  Arrest and flogging and death became real possibilities.  When the cost became real, the boasting went mute, the allegiance shriveled, and faithfulness died.  The disciples fled.  Peter distanced himself from even knowing Jesus.  The flesh proved itself to be weak, afraid, and unfaithful.
     The temptations you face reveal two things about you.  First, they reveal what your sinful nature likes.  Temptations are always attractive.  You are not tempted to do what repulses you.  You are tempted to do what appeals to you, even though you know it is wrong.  We all have our weaknesses, and the devil knows them.  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you, and he will continue to attack where he knows you are prone to sin.  Second, temptations will also reveal what you fear.  You will give into temptation because you fear what you might lose if you fight against it.  You might fear losing friends, so you go into sin with them.  You might fear losing the praise of the world, and so you go along with the worldly attitudes so that a room full of people will not turn against you.  You might fear losing your money, and so you scheme or cheat or despise those in need so it will not cost you anything.  While we may be willing to do God's will, our flesh is weak and afraid and corrupt.  The flesh has a different will, and it is all too willing to concede God's will for its own comfort and convenience.  Repent.
     Repent, and turn to Jesus when you face temptations.  He tells you: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  Jesus calls on you to keep watch because your enemy is always seeking to draw you into sin.  If you know your weakness, that is good.  Then you can be vigilant against your enemy, knowing where he is most likely to attack.  But Jesus also calls on you to pray.  Merely being vigilant is not enough to overcome your enemy.  You need your Lord's strength for that.  Jesus is your strength in the hour of temptation.  Satan knows that he cannot overcome Jesus because Jesus has overcome him.  When you remain in Christ, you remain safe.
     Repent and turn to Jesus when you face temptations.  For Jesus is the Valiant One who fights for us.  Although Satan is the strong man who has held us captive and still seeks to overcome us with temptations, Jesus is the stronger man who has overcome Satan and delivered us from him.  But when you pay attention to Jesus in Gethsemane, you will notice that the battle was not easy.  Jesus knew that he would suffer a mortal blow in the battle.  He would suffer anguish and sorrow, desertion and betrayal, lashes and bruises, brutality and finally horrid execution for us.  Although Jesus knew all things are possible for his Father to do—including that he could possibly provide another way to save mankind—Jesus did not reject what had to be done for us, no matter what it cost him.
     Jesus' temptation was to refuse the cup and avoid the cross.  After all, he did not owe us this.  However, the solution was not to escape, but to seek strength to receive the cup of the Lord's wrath and consume it for us.  Jesus prayed so that he would do what was given him to do: to take up the cross and be condemned for us—the Righteous One taking our place so that the guilty would be pardoned.  Jesus called on his Father to strengthen him so that he would do the will of his Father, no matter how painful, inconvenient, or unfair it would be for him.  Jesus prayed to overcome the devil and to fulfill the love of God.  Therefore, Jesus did not regard it repulsive to suffer and die for sinners.  He served us and saved us willingly.
      We repent and turn to Jesus when we face temptations.  We repent and turn to Jesus when we fall into temptation.  He is a refuge for sinners; for Jesus' body has taken the blows for all of our sins.  In him, we are spared and we are safe.  Jesus' blood has been shed to atone for us.  In him, we are cleansed and made blameless.  Jesus has consumed the cup of God's wrath and has appeased him.  Therefore, we flee to his altar where the body and blood of Jesus are given for our blessing and forgiveness.  We feast on Jesus who transforms us and our will so that we become repulsed by the devil's temptations.  He makes our hearts clean.  He strengthens and renews our spirits so that we love and pursue righteousness.  And he even mortifies our sinful flesh by giving us a cross to bear, even making us willing to suffer.  For we find it repulsive to turn from our Lord, but not to suffer for his name.
     When our days are finally done and Jesus delivers us from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, Jesus will at last make our willing spirits perfect and our weak flesh glorious.  Until that day, we will continue to repent and turn to Jesus.  We remain vigilant against our enemy and diligent in seeking God's strength.  Jesus is our strength against temptations.   He is our refuge against Satan.  He is the one who conquers, who comforts, and is our confidence for our salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.