“Standing Strong”  Matthew 6:13

The fall into our weakness, and the devil’s lies, can make us like Esau when he gave up his inheritance and his birthright for a bowl of stew.

The Lord’s Prayer  July 29-30, 2023

“Standing Strong”  Matthew 6:13

Rev. John R. Larson  Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado

             The next two weekends I will be preaching about the spiritual battles that all of us face in our souls.  This weekend, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Next weekend, “Deliver us from the evil one.”

            We all have temptations to become weak in our soul and to live life and faith in a poor way.  We all have temptations.  What is yours?  Is it pride and arrogance?  Is it living with a judgmental attitude toward others?  How about addictions – sexual, alcohol or drugs?  Has greed taken over your soul leaving you poorer than most?  Do you use vindictive words or filthy language?

            Some years ago I met the President of our Synod, Pastor Matthew Harrison, at our District Convention in Denver.  As he was passing, I took a bold step and reached out my hand to him and said, “I’m John Larson, pastor at Ascension in Littleton.”  Harrison is a large man.  He is tall and broad and carries a loud voice.  He looks like a leader and speaks like a leader.  After my humble greeting, he looked at me and said, “Larson, I’m preaching about sin today.  Tell me, what are some of yours?”  I didn’t tell him.  I let him guess.  But when I listened to him preach that day he guessed right!

            We have a spiritual battle in the very core of our being.  That is why we pray against the intrusion of temptation into our lives.  Paul, in Ephesians 6 says, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  (Verse 13)  I’m going to talk about standing strong today.

            First, we must recognize that God is NOT the one who leads us into temptation.  He may test our faith, as He did with Abraham and Isaac, Job and his sufferings, Peter and his three denials, Paul and his thorn in the flesh, but God is not the bringer of temptation.  Testing is not the same as temptation.  In the book of James we are told, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each of us is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  (James 1:13-15)

            The temptation to fail in life is strong.  Temptation can draw us away from Christ and the will of God for our lives.  The fall into our weakness, and the devil’s lies, can make us like Esau when he gave up his inheritance and his birthright for a bowl of stew.

            Our demand of God is that we are not led into temptation.  In his book on the Lord’s Prayer Pastor Helmut Thielicke says, “The petition “Lead us not into temptation’ really does show us that life is dangerous, that it is something that can trip us up and ruin us, a place where we can stake everything on the wrong card.”  (Our Heavenly Father, Page 119)

            Don’t underestimate the power of temptation in your life.  In Matthew 26 we have the account of the conversation that Jesus had with His disciples just before His trip to Gethsemane and His arrest.  Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me.”  But you know their words.  You know of their overconfidence.  “Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.’”  Later the others joined with boastful Peter – “And all the other disciples said the same.”  (Matthew 26:31, 33, 35)  You know how that ended.  “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.”  (Matthew 26:56)

            What trips us up?  We call it the evil three – the devil, the world and our sinful nature.  Next week I’ll speak about the work of the devil.  Today – the world in which we live and the points of weakness in our life. 

            We live in a world that messes up the Christian mind and life.  It doesn’t respect life that makes its beginning in the womb of a mother.  It doesn’t treasure the purity of marriage.  It promotes a life of pleasure.  In James 4:4 the brother of Jesus says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”   John, in his epistle has these words, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.”  (I John 2:15-16)

            The outcome seems to be so dire.  We live in a world filled with temptation.  We know that we struggle to do the will of God within our own lives.  And the devil is at work.  It all seems so hopeless.  But that is not the case. 

            Temptation attempts to draw us away from God.  And at times it happens.  But, then, something worse can happen.  Our failure attempts to draw us away from the cross and the faithful reception of forgiveness from Jesus.  Like Judas and his despair.  This weekend we conducted a memorial service for Elle Lambert.  Elle was quite the colorful character.  No grays or neutral colors in her wardrobe!!  On her 60th birthday Elle legally changed her name.  For the first 60 years her name was Marilyn.  But she didn’t think that was the right name for her.  She chose Elle.

            Late in life she also changed religions.  For about 70 years she was a Mormon, a member of an LDS church (ward).  But one of her neighbors, one of our members, Charlotte Wilkinson, invited Elle to the Tuesday Morning Bible Class and she came.  Then she wanted to know if she could come to a church service.  We let her!!  When she entered this sanctuary she fell in love with it.  She especially loved the cross.  She had lived the majority of her life in a sanctuary with no cross.  When she was baptized here I marked her with the cross of Christ forever.  When she confessed her faith she said that she believed in Jesus who was crucified, died and buried and on the third day He rose again.    

            Why is the cross missing from every LDS Ward or Temple?  Why is the cross of Jesus so prominent here?  Why?  Because the cross of Jesus Christ is the answer for our failure.  It is the word of God’s love for all of us who have struggled and sinned.  It is the gift of a new beginning. 

            “Lead us not into temptation” tells us that we live in a world that has many roads that can harm our lives.  “Lead us not into temptation” tells us that the devil would always try to keep us away from the cross of Jesus Christ and lead us into despair and hopelessness.

            We are led, instead, to the strong hands of Jesus.  We are forgiven of all failures, all sins by Him.  We, then, are led into the path of a wise and good life.  I Corinthians 10:13 reminds us, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to men.  And God is faithful; he will 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 stand up under it.”  As Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”  (John 17:15)

            Luther reminds us that we have an ongoing struggle against the devil, “For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired.  So when one temptation stops, there always arise others and fresh ones.”  But as wicked as he is, our God is ever stronger.  And He allows us to stand strong.

            Thielicke writes, “He does not spare us suffering, but he is on our side.  He does not free us from the burdens of life, but he helps us carry them.  He does not simply banish death; he permits the last enemy to remain; but he helps us in our death, and though we must depart, he never departs from us.  He does not spare us the valleys of the shadow, but he goes through them with us, always a shepherd who leads us and a rod and staff that will not let us stumble.”  (Page 125)

            Today we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  We ask for our God to make us strong – to stand against all sin and to be bold in knowing the deep love of Jesus for us.  As Paul says, “So that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  May we be led everyday into the arms of Jesus.  Amen!!









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