The Greatest Prayer – Our Temptation
March 29, 2013 – Lenten Sermon 6 of 6
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio
On the night that we gather to remember the crucifixion of Jesus I begin by reminding us that much of the anti-Semitism over the millennia is rooted in the belief that the Jewish people killed Jesus. Just to be clear, it was the Romans that killed Jesus.
It is not helpful, nor accurate, to say that the Jews killed Jesus. They are not to blame for his crucifixion. Martin Luther in his treatise titled, “On the Jews and Their Lies” added anti-Semitic fuel to the fire in 1548. The ELCA, a little over a decade ago, rejected all of Luther’s crash and harsh words against the people of the Jewish faith. It was an apology that was a long time coming and joyously received by our brothers and sister in the Jewish faith.
With that out of the way, tonight I would like to pick up on the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer that we have been working through this Lent.
The final petition has to do with temptation. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
As you remember “Our Bread” and “Our Debt” dealt with very specific items. I had said these were to be taken more literally than metaphorically. These had to do with everyone having enough bread for today and not having crippling and enslaving debt for tomorrow.
This last petition about temptation is also, I believe, rather specific. I think when we pray this petition most people are thinking about temptation in a very broad way. If we would make a list of temptations, it could be a very broad, and long list, I suppose. But as with daily bread and debt, temptation here is more specific than generically broad.
Before I say what specific temptation, let us remember when Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. In the gospel of Matthew it says, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (4:1) When the devil is used here I do not believe in a transcendental spiritual individual, but as Temptation personified anthropomorphically.
So do you remember what the three temptations were? Turing stones into bread, satisfy your needs. Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple, God will save you. Gaining all the kingdoms and glory of the world, just forget God. Jesus is tempted to do certain things, but refuses to do them.
As I’m sure you remember, when Israel was tempted and failed, during their 40 years of wildness experience. Jesus does not fail in the 40 days in his wilderness experience.
I’m trying to keep this to a homily length, so this is not the time to explain each temptation in depth and interpretation. For tonight, suffice it to say, that Jesus overcame the temptations of Power, Testing God, and Glory of Worldly Kingdoms.
In the Lord’s prayer Jesus has been teaching his disciples that we are to work collaboratively with God until everything on earth reflects heaven. We are to bring about God’s will of distributive justice where all have enough; “As is heaven, so on earth.”
We are to bring about God’s kingdom through our actions and our deeds, so that the messy looking earth of the 6:00 pm news is replaced with the kingdom of God that reflects God’s will for the world. This is Jesus’ vision for the world. And it is a grand vision. Now here is where the temptation comes in.
We live in a world where the ends often justified the means. And those means, have often been related to violence and force.
Jesus and the Jewish people lived under the occupying power of the Romans.
The Romans talked a good game about the Pax Romana, The Peace of Rome, but they achieved that peace through violence and force. And they were not unlike the great and powerful civilizations that came before and after; they too ruled by violence.
Jesus lived in a lull period of Roman violence but he knew of the violence of Rome. Right around the time he was born, legions of Roman troops came to suppress a Jewish revolt. The Romans had a motto: When you come; you come with such power that you will not have to return for two generations.
In 4 BC, right around the time that Jesus was born, the major city of Sepphoris, about 10 miles from Nazareth, was destroyed. Jesus knew the stories of Jewish revolt and of the Romans crushing revolts, and killing the people, with violence and power.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Various Jewish movements before Jesus had given in to the normal way of dealing with your occupier or enemy – take up arms and, with and through violence, win.
I’m sure that Jesus, at times, had others come to him and suggest using violence to get their way and to accomplish God’s will in the world using violence to usher in and establish God’s kingdom. But Jesus refused this evil and did not give into this temptation of the normalcy of civilization. Violence was evil.
The means do not justify the end. Tempting as this might be. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Violence and overcoming through violence is a strong temptation.
Now do we have any signs that Jesus was violent or ever called anyone to use violence? I don’t know of one place in any of his teachings. In fact, his teachings talk about turning the other cheek and loving ones enemies.
Do you remember what happens in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper with his disciples? He takes his disciples and asks them to pray so that they won’t be tempted. Jesus prays to gain strength for what lies ahead. His disciples fall asleep three times. (Mark 13:41)
As they are leaving the garden, those that come to arrest him come before him. Do you remember what happens next? It’s a little different in each gospel account, but one of his disciples takes out a sword and cuts off the ear of the salve of the high priest.
What is Jesus’ response? He tells his disciples that this is not the way. Violence is not the way. He could have told the disciples to get the crowds that lined the streets on Palm Sunday to gather and prepare for a battle. He could have signaled to them to regroup and build a small army to come and break him out of prison and rescue him.
It must have been tempting for both Jesus and the disciples, but Jesus had been praying for God’s will to prevail, not his will. If God’s kingdom was to manifest itself in the world, it would not, could not, be through violence and force, but rather through love and serving.
On this night, as we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, I don’t believe Jesus wanted to die, nor did God require that he die, but the powerful forces of Rome were against him. The violent ways of the world protecting their power and control were against him, and Jesus was crushed onto a cross.
Jesus was crucified and he had taught his disciples not to fight with violence, but rather to fight with selfless love – the type of love that he had shown through his entire ministry.
Jesus offered a way, God’s way, of bringing about God’s kingdom, and God’s way was not through violence and force. Jesus was a revolutionary but he was not a violent revolutionary.
Rather than encouraging more violence in the garden of Gethsemane he reached out to bring healing to the one who suffered violence at the hands of one of his disciples. He reached out to heal the ear of the high priest’s salve.
Jesus showed us quite literally, that if earth would ever finally look like heaven, it will be accomplished through non-violence it will happen through love not war. In Jesus’ world the ends are important, but so are the means. The fully manifested kingdom of God will only come about through the means of love and self-sacrifice.
Tonight we witness Jesus’ non-violent response to the violence of the world.
Jesus did give his life “for us” as he allowed himself to be sacrificed for that which was greater than even himself – God’s will and the kingdom of God.
We weep tonight because our Savior is crushed upon a cross, the terrible and tragic symbol of violence. And we pray that we will not be tempted by the ways of the world, especially the way of violence.
We weep because our most precious treasure is put to death. But we wait – for violence and death do not have the final word.