Get Thee Behind Me!
Matthew 26:41/Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What a strange way to pray about temptation: “Our Father…lead us not into temptation.” Couldn’t Jesus have done a better job of wording this? Perhaps we might improve the prayer by saying something like this: “Father, keep temptation from our doorstep,” or “Don’t let temptation ever touch us.” But this is not what Jesus said. In the Garden He did not warn His disciples, “Watch and pray so that temptation doesn’t come near you.” No, what He said was this: “Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.” Again, we observe a very clear connection between the Lord’s Prayer and the Lord’s Passion. On this Maundy Thursday we want to take at look at ourselves in the light of the Passion of our Lord, so we can understand that we, too, are faced with temptation on all sides. We hear our Lord’s warning to His disciples, and we hear His command to pray about temptation in the prayer He has given us. All of this leads us to cry out, “Father, do not forsake us in Temptation.”
Temptations are inevitable. If Christ’ disciples were tempted and fell, and if our Lord Himself was tempted, who do we think we are to walk around with the attitude that it could never happen to us? We know about temptation. We know how Moses, and David, and Solomon succumbed to temptation. But when temptations converge on us, we sometimes fail to recognize that they have hit us, even when we fall to them! We can never hope to be exempt from temptation. In fact, Jesus prayed on the very night He was betrayed by one who was tempted and fell.
When our Lord Jesus Christ brought us to faith in Himself, He did not remove us from all the grit and grime of this life. Instead He set us right back in the middle of it. He did not demand that we give up our emotions and passions and loves and concerns of life. We were not puppets or robots. He has not commanded that we be confined in a kind of pietistic, sanctimonious isolation from life. No. We are to be “lights” shining brightly in a world full of temptations. Of course we must not walk into them deliberately. But neither do we have the right to pray, “Lord, keep all temptation from us.” The truth is, because we are children of the heavenly Father, we will be subjected to temptation all the more. After all, unlike unbelievers, we recognize them and want to overcome them. We want to say with Jesus, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”
Actually, temptation has a certain value for us. James put it this way: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience…Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” If our faith was never put to the test, we would either lose it completely, or it would become horribly weak. Of what value is a faith that has never been tested? And then, too, we must know the source of temptation. Luther described this as “the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.” These sources of temptation attack us in different ways and at different times in life. Flesh and blood are no match for Satan. There is but one defense, and that is Jesus Christ.
Our Father in heaven knows us well. He knows our helplessness in facing and overcoming temptation on our own. Lovingly and willingly He offered His Son to become our flesh and blood Substitute. As we read in Hebrews: “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Satan tried everything to get Jesus to succumb to temptation. He even moved men to nail Him to the cross. There the temptation was terrific. At the ninth hour of the day, Jesus experienced what it meant to be separated from the Father by a wall of sin. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Had Satan won after all? Was Jesus weakening in His resolve to finish the Father’s work of redemption for us? The next moment He cries out again in great relief and triumph, “It is finished.” Once and for all, the work of salvation is complete, and by His victory we are set free from the sin we fall into when we give in to temptation. We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and we know that in Him they are certainly forgiven. Now He bids us pray as well, “Lead us not into temptation.”
Of course, the flesh is weak. We confess that fact every time we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” But as we pray, we can be absolutely certain that our Father will not allow us to enter into any temptation or trial that He will not also enable us to bear. As St. Paul said: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” We will find such strength in Word, in prayer, and in that wondrous blessing of the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for the remission of our sins. He who endured the great temptation to give us these gifts, He will not forsake us in temptation. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.