“The Real Battle” (Luke 22:39-62)

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 16, 2022

“The Real Battle” (Luke 22:39-62)

When I was a kid, and still to this day, I have been a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories: Sherlock Holmes, the great detective solving crimes in London around the turn of the last century. At one point, Holmes realizes that behind a crime wave–blackmail, murder, and so on–behind it all is a single man: Professor Moriarty. Everyone else is just a pawn in his schemes, but Professor Moriarty is the guiding mastermind. “The Napoleon of Crime” you could call him. And so, Holmes is out to outwit and defeat his greatest enemy. The other people involved play their part, but the real enemy is Moriarty. He is never visibly present at the scene of a crime, but he’s behind it all.

Why bring this up tonight, when we’re pondering Jesus’ agony in the garden, his arrest, and Peter’s denial? Well, consider this: How many people are involved in our reading from Luke 22? One person comes to mind right away, of course, and that’s Jesus. Others are there–the disciples, Judas, some chief priests, the temple guard, a servant girl. And they all play their part. But behind it all is one figure: Satan. There’s Jesus, and there is his great enemy, who isn’t even named in our text. But Satan is involved, and he’s been active throughout Jesus’ ministry, as we see earlier in Luke’s gospel.

Early in his ministry, Jesus was directly tempted by Satan. When that event was over, however, it says: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” In other words, Satan would be back. Or just that evening, on the night when Jesus was betrayed, the chief priests were looking for a way to destroy Jesus. And it says, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot . . . and he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Jesus to them.” Now the moment that Satan has been waiting for–that opportune time–has come. Satan is behind the plot to arrest Jesus. And then there’s this, from last week’s reading: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you all, that he might sift you like wheat.” Satan is going to sift, winnow, and shake the disciples, and see who is wheat, and who is chaff, blown away by the wind.

In our reading tonight, there is Judas; there are the chief priests and their allies; there are the disciples. But Satan, the mastermind, is directing and influencing them all. He’s behind it all. In a way, there are really only two figures who matter: Satan and Jesus.

And Jesus knows it. He warns the disciples in the garden that night: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Again, he tells them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Jesus is warning them: “Pray, because temptation is coming upon you; Satan is coming against you. Pray that you won’t enter into it. Because if you do, you won’t be able to stand. You’re not strong enough; you’ll be blown away like chaff.”

Jesus knows that Satan is behind it all. The chief priests and their group think it’s their clever plan that made it all work. It looks like it was their plan, and their plan worked. But Jesus knows better. He says: “I was in the temple courts every day. If you wanted to arrest me, you could have done it then. But it’s happening now because this is your hour, this is the power of darkness.” The power of darkness–Satan’s power.

After the disciples ignore Jesus’ warning for them to pray, how do they fare against Satan? They scatter like chaff. While Jesus is praying in agony, the disciples fall asleep. Then one of the twelve betrays Jesus with a kiss. Then Jesus has to undo the violence of another. Then Peter, who promised he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and to death, follows–but follows from a distance. And then Satan comes at Peter and sifts him. Peter denies Jesus and is undone. Peter goes outside and weeps bitterly.

In a way, every human figure in this reading gets thinner and thinner, less and less substantial, until they almost disappear. The religious authorities still have Jesus under arrest, but the power behind their evil is the evil one. And so, this reading shows Jesus and Satan, Jesus vs. Satan, Satan out to destroy Jesus. And on one level, Satan will win. Satan will succeed. Amazingly, Jesus knows that, and he willingly accepts it.

While the disciples were sleeping, Jesus was praying, in an agony no one else has ever known. He knew what was coming, and yet his prayer and his choice are clear: “Father, your will be done. Father, I will drink the cup.” This cup is full to the brim. It’s full of God’s righteous judgment. It’s a cup prepared for those who are guilty, people who are evil. This cup is for God’s enemies to drink. But Jesus will drink it, even though he’s the only person who’s ever lived who deserves not one drop from that cup.

Drinking that cup will mean arrest and trial, unjust and unfair accusations, spitting and beating and suffering and death–all the while carrying on his shoulders the weight of evil, Satan’s hatred, and the cowardice and failure of his disciples. That’s enough to destroy anyone. And Satan and his allies are out to destroy Jesus. And in a way, they will succeed. The perfectly innocent Jesus will be numbered among the transgressors. And he will die. The wages of sin is death. And, carrying our sin, Jesus will die.

This much is clear: Satan hates God, and he hates Jesus. That night, Satan meant all this for evil—evil against Judas, evil against the other disciples, evil against everyone. And Satan meant this for evil particularly against Jesus. But here is the glory in this: God meant it for good.

Think of when Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, and they were leading Jesus out. It says, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Jesus is bound, he’s on his way to death. But he turns and looks at the man who has just denied that he even knows him. And at that moment, Peter remembers the Lord’s prediction that he would deny Jesus. That’s what Peter remembers.

What Simon Peter doesn’t remember yet is that Jesus has prayed for him. What he doesn’t remember is that he will turn again, as Jesus said. Peter’s faith will return, and he will strengthen the others who, like him, have been sifted like wheat. Simon doesn’t seem to remember that promise. But Jesus does, because he made the promise. Jesus knew that God meant all of this for good.

All the evil and all the authority of the evil one came against the Son of God. Every sin, every accusation, every temptation came against Jesus like a storm. But like a storm, it had an end; the evil spent itself, and Jesus died. But then, because God is the God of life, the God who takes evil and uses it for good, the Father raised his Son from the dead, never to die again. Death has no more power over Jesus. And if death and sin have no more power, that means Satan is defeated. God wins, in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Our reading tonight moves us toward Christ’s seeming defeat and perfect victory. We see Satan and Jesus, and we know how the contest ends. God wins on Easter, and we win too.

Satan is still working for evil in our lives, in our world. Even in the reading tonight, you have to look carefully to see Satan at work; he’s behind the scenes, but he is there. In our day, we have amazing technology and science and gifts of human reason. But all of that can influence our thinking and partially blind us, so that we go for long stretches without taking Satan’s power or his attacks seriously. How can we be more vigilant, and how can we respond when we see Satan’s power coming against us?

To help you remember that Satan is still at work, slow down when you get to the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil.” In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther reminds us that this really says, “Deliver us from the evil one,” that is, from Satan. So let that be a reminder. Likewise, Luther’s morning and evening prayers in the Small Catechism: Both end the same way, “Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” Be aware of Satan’s schemes.

Satan’s attacks can come against us through temptation and accusation. Through temptation, Satan wants to turn us away from God’s will; he wants to turn us to his ways, to sin. And then through accusation, he wants to take our sins and condemn us, to make us discouraged, to make us despair over our lives and over God’s mercy.

We saw how Peter was following Jesus–from a distance. Well, when you realize that Satan is tempting you, remember that you are not at a distance from Jesus. No, you are right up there close to him. So, say to Satan: “In the power of the new life I have with my Lord, I say no to your temptation! I am baptized; I am grafted together with Jesus. So no, I’m not going to get even, I’m not going to be selfish, I’m not going to harm someone else with gossip. No, I am right up here with Jesus. I am baptized into him, and I will follow him.”

As Christians we still sin–you may have noticed. But when Satan takes the sins you committed and throws them in your face, then claim your place right there with Jesus. Grab hold of your baptism, and hide there. That way, all of Satan’s accusations strike Jesus, and they fall to the ground, they disappear, because they strike the living Christ, who took your sins into the tomb and left them there. Satan’s evil came against Jesus, and it killed him, but God the Father raised him from the dead. Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. And you and I–we stay right there today and forever, right there with Jesus.

Published in: on March 16, 2022 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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