Luke 14:25–33 25Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. He turned and said to them, 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, if he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, everyone who sees it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build, but was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, as he goes out to confront another king in war, will not first sit down and consider if he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if he is not able, he sends out a delegation and asks for terms of peace while his opponent is still far away. 33So then, any one of you who does not say farewell to all his own possessions cannot be my disciple.
At the beginning of every adult confirmation class, I give the people three warnings. First, I warn them that there are 14 lessons in the class. That’s a 3 ½ month commitment. Second, I warn them that there’s homework. (I don’t tell them about the homework until they sign up for the class.)
The third – and most serious – warning is that the devil is going to come at them hard. I’ve seen it for over 20 years of teaching these classes. I tell them that if they weren’t Christians before, the devil wasn’t concerned about them because they already belonged to him. If they were only nominal Christians before, the devil still wasn’t all that concerned about them because, although they were in the Enemy’s camp, they weren’t doing anything over there.
But now they are committed to an in-depth study of the Bible, devoted to receiving the Sacrament soon, having their children in our Lutheran grade school, worshiping the Lord and excitedly inviting others to worship him, too. That ticks off the devil. He’s going to lose ground in his kingdom here on earth. He is going to come at them hard with temptations.
At the end of our classes together, we discuss it. They admit that they faced troubles and frustrations and temptations unlike anything they had faced before.
In the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” What is temptation? St. James gives us a good definition: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire” (James 1:14).
When Cain was angry at God and jealous of his brother, God warned Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
Temptation is pictured as a wild animal lying in wait to pounce on you, sink its claws and teeth in you, drag you away from Jesus and consume you. Temptation is an urge, a desire, a compulsion – a strong satanic hand clawing and clutching at you.
Satan is not all-knowing, but he has been around a long time and he knows what works. He understands that a full-frontal attack on a strong Christian like you may not always work. Enticing and seducing will be more effective. The serpent used this tactic in the Garden of Eden. He twisted the good fruit God had made into a harmful lure to trap humanity.
The devil is not just trying to trick you or tantalize you or trap you. He is attempting to drag you to hell with him.
The devil is not alone in these temptations. He has willing and capable allies in the world around us and our sinful flesh inside us.
Jesus teaches what it means to be a faithful, committed disciples of his: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). But we are not able to be faithful, committed disciples of Jesus because we keep falling for temptation.
We don’t want to bear the cross. It is heavy and painful and ugly and bloody. We don’t want to lay down our life for others. We don’t want our sinful desires to die, but rather to have them fulfilled. We don’t want to renounce our family and friends (Luke 14:26). That’s too hard. We would rather give up and give in. We don’t want to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:28-33). We prefer our Christianity with no accountability or cost at all.
Satan and his allies are too strong for us. Not in physical strength, but in temptation, deception and seduction. Satan cannot force us to sin, but he knows very well how to take advantage of our specific inclinations to sin. He knows our every weakness. He knows what works best on each of us.
In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther astutely points out that we all feel temptation, but not all in the same way or at the same time (Large Catechism, Part III, The Lord’s Prayer, par. 107). The unholy trinity of the devil, the world and our flesh offer different temptations at different stages in life. For example, when we were children, we were tempted by toys. When we were young adults, we were tempted with the lusts of the flesh – sex, possessions and pleasures. When we are older adults, we are back to being tempted by toys – just faster, bigger and more expensive toys.
We are going to fall for temptations. We are weak Christians. Dim Christians. Unsalty Christians. Bored Christians.
But there is One who does make you into the kind of Christian God wants you to be and you need to be. One who did count the cost … and determined that you were worth it. One who did battle against the unholy trinity … and won. One who was tempted in every way as you are, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15, 16). One who renounced his family and friends and even his own life – for you. One who took up his heavy, painful, ugly and bloody cross … and then laid his life down upon that cross.
In doing all that, he provided you with the forgiveness for your failure and sin. He fulfilled what you are unable to do. He is your hope and help to resist temptation. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we understand that God does not tempt anyone to sin. St. James states clearly: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone’” (James 1:13). Martin Luther puts it this way in his Small Catechism:
God surely tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins; and though we are tempted by them, we pray that we may overcome and win the victory.
We can take no refuge in ourselves to overcome temptations. That is looking internally. But that’s where our sinful nature resides. The way to overcome temptation is looking externally. Christ’s cross. God’s Word. The Spirit’s Sacraments. The Gospel armor of the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the buckle of truth, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14-17).
The other day, someone asked to speak to me because he was troubled by his daily temptations. I told him that it was good that he was troubled by temptation. I would be concerned if he wasn’t troubled anymore. St. Paul gives a stern warning: “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Paul continues: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Whatever temptations you are experiencing, you are not alone. Others have and are experiencing them, too.
Jesus has experienced your temptations, too.
There is a little verse in Luke that I think we often overlook. Because we study Jesus’ baptism and his temptation in the desert at different times, we often miss the way St. Luke connects those two events. He writes: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). We pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” but Jesus was led into temptation. That’s exactly why he went into the desert!
In the desert and later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was tempted to abandon his mission of going to the cross. How did he overcome that temptation? He prayed to his heavenly Father. We need to do the same.
We cannot overcome temptation on our own. So in this petition, we are praying for the Holy Trinity to be with us, his Sacraments to sustain us, his armor to protect us, and his weapons to allow us to go on the offensive.
Luther gives this wise advice:
So there is no help or comfort except to run here, take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and speak to God from the heart like this: “Dear Father, You have asked me to pray. Don’t let me fall because of temptations.” Then you will see that the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered. If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head [Revelation 12:9]. If it finds an opening into which it can slip, the whole body will follow without stopping. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back. (Large Catechism, Part III, The Lord’s Prayer, par. 107)
As we face daily temptations from the unholy trinity, we have this biblical comfort: “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 you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I remember a Lutheran professor describing three zones of temptations.
There is the Peace Zone. We pray to be in this zone where God keeps temptations away from us so we are able to live in peace.
There is the War Zone. This is the zone we are in most often. God fits us with his gospel armor to go into battle against the unholy trinity. But God also gives us the strength to overcome.
The professor called the third zone the X-Rated Zone. This is a zone where there is nothing good or holy. God provides an exit, an escape. Don’t even go there.
Some Christians have the misconception that the longer they are Christians, the easier and better their Christian life will become.
That’s not the case at all! Faith begins as child-like but becomes more rugged and mature. The cross does not become lighter as we mature in our faith. It becomes heavier and harder. Look at the saints of the Bible as examples – Abraham, David, Elijah, Jeremiah and the apostles.
We own our rugged, bloody cross right now. But we have the promise of exchanging it one day for a glorious golden crown.
Jesus does not prepare us for the cost of discipleship by putting his gospel armor on us and then leading us away from the battle. The more mature we become in the faith, the closer that Jesus, our Champion, brings us into the battle.
New Christians and seasoned veterans of the faith need to know and understand the same thing about temptation. When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are praying that the Lord help us to run away from the devil’s snares and run to Christ’s cross. We are praying to run away from the serpent and run into the arms of our Good Shepherd. We are praying to run away from the desires of the flesh and run to the Redeemer who became flesh for us. Amen.