Last week in our Gospel reading, Jesus reminded us of what it means to be the ultimate friend. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And that is exactly what He did. He laid down His life for us, for you and for me. He did this, because, as Paul tells us, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). The price for our sins is death and that does not mean simply physical death, that means eternal death, hell. Jesus shows His great love for us in this, that He took all our sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place. He died so that we might live.
Our text for this morning is sometimes referred to as Jesus “high priestly” prayer. Jesus is praying for His disciples and He is praying for us, His close friends. Jesus is praying especially that we would be protected in times of temptation. And we must admit that temptations to do evil abound in this world. We are constantly being tempted by the devil. And although we are tempted by the devil, we cannot blame our sins on the devil. He does not have that much control over us. Yes, he can tempt us, but he cannot force us to do anything. The devil tempts us in many ways. He knows our weaknesses and that is where he attacks. Usually his attacks come in the most subtle of ways. The devil does not tempt us to do the things he knows we would not normally do. He does not say, “bow down to idols,” “lust after other people,” “steal this item or that item,” “murder that person,” “don’t go to church,” because he knows that those temptations will not work. Instead, he uses more subtle ways of tempting us, such as putting other things into our life which become our gods such as money, drugs, alcohol, power, greed and the like. He tells us that “window shopping is okay” in other words, “it is okay to look lustfully at another person, just don’t touch.” He tells us “it is okay to work slow and to ‘borrow’ things from the company without worrying about returning them, especially because we are not being paid as we should.” He fills our time and our lives with so many other things to do other than go to church, so that we do not have time for church. Yes, the devil does tempt us.
But, not only does the devil tempt us, we are also tempted by the things of this world. Friends, or rather, those who seem to be friends often tempt us. You know how it is, they say something like, “come on, everyone else is doing it . . .” At times we want to blame our spiritual life on our parents, “they always ‘made’ me go to church, so now I am rebelling against that and not going,” or “my parents let me choose if I want to go to church or which church I want to go to, so now I am looking for a church which conforms to my human nature and urgings.” And one of my favorite temptations comes all the way from the beginning when we hear Satan ask the question of Eve, “Did God really say . . . ?” and “Did God really mean . . . ?” and you can fill in the blank, in other words when we are tempted to question God and His Word rather than question humanity and the word of man. God in His Word tells us the truth. The world and our culture tell us that truth is relative, which really means there is no truth. The temptations of the world are great indeed.
We are tempted by the devil; we are tempted by the world; and we are also tempted by our own sinful human nature. Our minds are constantly in battle against the sins of thought, envy, lust, greed, hatred, and the list goes on. Sin comes natural to us. Although we might deny it later and have regret, we like to sin. It is easy. It does not take any practice. And usually, at least at the time, we probably think it is fun.
And yet, here in our text we are told that our best friend, our true best friend, is praying for us. Jesus is praying that we might be protected and kept safe from temptation and sin. Very much like a loving parent or guardian wants protection and safety for their child, so our best friend Jesus wants only the best for us. And more often than not, while we are in the midst of sinning, we do not ever realize what we are doing, not that this not knowing what we are doing gives us an excuse, at least not before God.
Yet, Jesus is realistic. He knows that we will undergo temptation and that we will sin. He does not pray that we will be taken out of this world, which He knows is the only way in which we would never suffer temptation and sin, rather He prays that through the trials we may face that we will be made better. Which reminds us of the possibility of what might happen as a result of the trials and temptations we face in this life, that is that through our trials and temptations we might be strengthened in our faith. You know, when we face trials there are really only two ways to turn. Either we get mad at and turn away from God or we are drawn closer to Him knowing that He is, really, the only one who can help us. It is this being drawn closer to Him which gives us the strength to face what is ahead and this desire is Jesus’ prayer.
Another result of trials and temptation is that we might be moved beyond ourselves to depending on Jesus alone. Trials and temptations are intended to strengthen us in our faith, to move us to depend on Jesus alone and to give us hope (Rom. 5:1-5). It is through Jesus alone that we have deliverance from sin, death and the power of the devil. It is through Jesus alone that we can resist and overcome the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful human nature.
Yes, we will have temptations while we are in this world, but we do not have to face these temptations alone. God’s promise is that with temptation He will also give us the help we need and that help comes in one of three ways. One way the Lord helps us in time of temptation, when we come to Him and pray to Him, is that He will remove the temptation, especially if He knows that we will not be able to handle it, that we will sin.
If the Lord does not remove the temptation from us, another way He has of helping us to overcome is by giving us a way out. He opens a door so that we might escape the temptation. Instead of going along with the crowd and doing something wrong, maybe God gives you a different choice, a way out of the sin. God gives us the courage to walk away from the temptation to steal, to hurt or harm someone, to join in speaking evil against someone, to covet, and even to misuse His name.
Finally, if He does not remove the temptation and if He does not open a door out, He will give us the strength to bear up under the temptation so that through this temptation we are drawn closer to Him and strengthened in our faith. This is probably the hardest of the three ways in which God helps us in times of trial and temptation, however, we are reminded by Jesus that God knows what we can handle and He promises never to give us more than we can handle. So, if you are going through some trial or temptation and you do not think you are able to handle it, evidently God knows you better than you and He knows you can handle it and He will be there to help you.
Today, Jesus continues to be our best friend. Along with His being with us every day, He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven where He is watching over us, interceding for us, that is He is praying for us, and He is ruling over us. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, He knows. He knows everything there is to know about us and He loves us anyway.
Jesus is our best friend and He has shown that He is our best friend in the most profound way, by giving His life for ours. He is the one who is true God. As true God He was enjoying all of the glory that was His in heaven. He gave up the glory that was His in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood, to be born as one of us except without sin. He lived for us, perfectly. What we could not do, live perfectly, He did. Everything we are supposed to do he did for us in our place. He took all our sins upon Himself, freely of His own choosing. He suffered and died the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place so that we might not have to die, but so that we might live and have life eternal with Him in heaven. He has made us right with God. He most certainly is our best friend.
And Jesus continues to be our best friend. He sends His Holy Spirit to help us “work out” our sanctification, that is, to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. Any work we do that is a good work in God’s eyes are only those good works that are motivated by God, done in and through us by the Holy Spirit, and are done to give glory to God. Which simply means that more often than not we do not actually know when we are doing a good work.
Very often in this life we have a hard time seeing things, at least seeing things clearly. Sometimes the reason we cannot see clearly is because we are too caught up in and involved in any given situation or relationship and we cannot see straight. True love, true friendship is something that is not blind, as some would suggest, but true love sees perfectly. The faith that we have, that has been given to us is also not a blind faith as some would suggest. Our faith is a faith based on a true, real, person, a person attested not only by time and history, but by His Holy Word. We have one best friend and yet, too often, we are so involved in this world and our life in this world that we miss Him. Sometimes we need to stop and with His help take a closer look and then we can see Him. Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas were, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Blessed are we when we have not physically seen Jesus, yet we have seen Him in faith through eyes that can see.
God never promised that life would be easy, as the saying goes, even beautiful roses have thorns. However God has and continues to promise that He will be with us always. He has called us to faith, through His means of grace. He has put faith in our hearts through His means of grace. He has put His name on us at Holy Baptism. He forgives us through Holy Absolution. He continues to strengthen and keep us in faith through His means of grace, His Holy Word and His body and blood in His Holy Supper. He has promised and continues to be with us always, even to the end of the world. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will continue His work so that when the final hour arrives we might all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.