the real battle
Midweek 3 – 2022 LSB #’s 436, 423
Text – Luke 22:53
When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, & the power of darkness.
THE REAL BATTLE
I happen to be a big fan of stories from more than 100 years ago by a British author named Arthur Conan Doyle. All told, this series has 56 short stories & four novels, written between 1892 & 1927. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this might help: Sherlock Holmes. (If you still don’t recognize the stories, that’s OK – bear with me.)
Holmes is the main figure in the series; a private detective in London who is the master of logical thinking, careful reasoning based on evidence, solving crimes, & so on. I first read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a teenager, & he was my hero.
At one point in the series, Holmes reveals that behind a crime wave in London – murder, blackmail, & so on – behind it all is a single connection – or better, a single person – “Professor Moriarty.” Everyone else involved in the crime wave is just a two-bit figure. Like a spider weaving a web, Professor Moriarty is the root cause & the guiding mind.
Holmes is intent to find, outwit & defeat his great enemy. The other people involved play their roles but the real enemy is that one person. He’s never visibly present at the scene of a crime but he is behind it all.
Why do I bring this up, when we are reading & pondering Jesus’ agony in the garden, His arrest, & Peter’s denial? To answer that question, let me ask another one. How many people are key to these verses from Luke 22?
One person comes to mind right away of course – the Lord Jesus. Others are there – twelve apostles, counting Judas, some of the chief priests & the temple guard, a servant girl, a couple of others & several crowds of people. They all play their part, so to speak, but Luke’s Gospel reveals in a unique way that behind it all is one figure, one person if I can use that term. Satan. There’s Jesus & there’s His great enemy, who is not even named in the verses that we read tonight.
Let me show you what I mean & let me also say that these verses I’m going to mention are found in Luke’s Gospel, & remarkably, only in Luke’s Gospel. Like Matthew & Mark, Luke tells us that early in His ministry the Lord Jesus was directly tempted by Satan. When that event is over, however, only Luke makes this direct statement:
“And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until an opportune time.” Satan would be back. Here’s another one, you might remember it from the Ash Wednesday reading: Luke begins to tell the events of that Passover meal when Jesus was going to be betrayed.
First, he says that the chief priests & their allies were looking for a way to destroy Jesus. He wrote, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot ... & he went away & conferred with the chief priests & officers how he might betray Jesus to them.”
John’s Gospel has a very similar statement. But Luke is making clear that now the moment for which Satan has been waiting – that opportune time – has come. Satan is behind the plot to arrest Jesus. And then there is this, from last week’s reading, verse 31: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you all, that he might sift you all like wheat.”
Next comes Jesus’ promise of Peter’s turning back again after it’s all said & done. But the fact remains – Satan is going to separate, sift, winnow, shake the apostles to see who is “wheat,” & who is “chaff,” blown away by the wind.
So, yes, in this reading tonight, there is Judas, & there are the chief priests & their allies.
There’re the apostles, but Satan is directing, influencing, attacking all of them. He’s behind every bit of the evil. In a way, there are really only two figures, two “persons” who matter. Satan ... & Jesus. And Jesus knows that. He knows it. He is the one who warns the apostles in the garden that night, He warns them: “Pray.”
“Pray,” He says. “Temptation is coming against you; the tempter is coming after you; Satan is coming against you. Pray so that you won’t enter into it. Because if you do, you won’t be able to stand. You’re not solid enough, you’re not strong enough; you’ll blow away like chaff.” Jesus knows that Satan is behind it all & under it all.
The chief priests & their group think it’s their clever, secret plan that made it all work. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss, & they bring force against Him. It looks like it was all their plan, & that their plan worked. But Jesus knows better.
He says, “I used to be in the temple courtyards every day, & if you wanted to arrest me as if I were a robber, you could have done it then. But it’s happening now because this is your hour & even more ... this is the power of darkness.” The power of Satan.
When the disciples ignore Jesus’s warning for them to pray, how do they fare when Satan attacks? They scatter like chaff. While Jesus is praying in an agony that none of us can come close to imagining ... the apostles fall asleep. And then one of the twelve betrays Jesus with a kiss, while Jesus has to undo the violence of another one.
Then Peter – who promised that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison & to death, is following ... from a distance. Speaking through a servant girl & two others, Satan comes at Peter, & Satan sifts him. Peter comes undone. Jesus said it would happen, & on His way to stand before the Sanhedrin Jesus looks straight at Peter ... & Peter remembers.
But Luke tells us that Peter only remembers the bad news. He didn’t remember Jesus’
promise that Peter would turn back again. By not remembering, Peter is undone. He goes outside & weeps bitterly. Not until the 1st Easter morning will Peter be restored ... as Jesus promised he would be. In a way, every other human figure in this reading gets thinner & thinner, less & less substantial – until they almost disappear.
Of course, the religious authorities still have Jesus under arrest – but the power behind their evil is the evil one. And so, this reading shows Jesus vs. Satan, with Satan out to destroy Jesus. And if it doesn’t sound too dramatic to say it, on one level Satan will win. The devil will succeed & the truly amazing thing about that – Jesus knows that too, & He willingly accepts it.
While the apostles were sleeping, Jesus was praying & praying, in an agony that no one else has ever known. He knew what was coming, & despite the mystery of His struggle & agony, His prayer & His choice were clear: “Father, your will be done. I will drink the cup.”
This cup is full to the brim. It is full of God’s response to evil & sin. It is full of God’s rightful & righteous judgment. It’s a cup prepared for people who are guilty, people who are evil. The OT prophets spoke fairly often of this cup – it’s for God’s enemies to drink. But Jesus will drink it, though He’s the only person ever to live who deserves not one drop from that cup.
The path to drinking that cup runs through arrest & trial, unjust & unfair accusations, spitting & beating & suffering & death – all the while carrying on His shoulders the weight of evil, Satan’s hatred & the cowardice & the failure of His disciples. That’s enough to destroy anyone. It’s enough to destroy everyone. And Satan, & his allies, are out to destroy Jesus.
In a way they succeed. The perfectly innocent Jesus will be numbered among the transgressors, & He will die, commending His spirit to the Father. The wages of sin is death & Jesus will die.
Friends, this much is crystal clear: Satan hates God, & he hates Jesus. Without a doubt
we say that that night, Satan meant all of this for evil – evil against Judas, against the other apostles, against everyone. And Satan meant this for evil against Jesus. But here is the glory & here is the wonder, & here is the praise – God meant it for good. He meant it all for good.
Pause with me over one small piece of this reading, something that goes by so quickly we might overlook it, we might miss what it means. Verse 61: “And the Lord turned & looked at Peter.” Jesus is bound. He is arrested. He is on His way to death, yet Jesus makes the effort to look at Peter.
In the cramped quarters of ancient Jerusalem, Peter in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, as they lead Jesus out of that house. Jesus can turn & see the man who has just denied that he even knows Jesus. And at that moment, Luke tells us, all that Peter can remember is the prediction that Peter would deny His Lord; that is what Peter remembers.
What Simon Peter does not remember yet is that Jesus prayed for him. What Simon does not remember is that the time will come when Simon the traitor, the turncoat, will turn again, as Jesus said. Jesus said it, & Simon’s faith will return, he will strengthen the others who, like him, have been sifted like wheat.
Simon doesn’t seem to remember the promise, but Jesus does because He made the promise. Jesus knew that God meant all of this for good. For Simon’s good, for your good, & for mine, but for now Simon cannot see that.
All the evil, & all the authority of the evil one, came against the innocent Son of God. Every sin, every accusation, every temptation came against Jesus like a storm. And like a storm, it had an end; the evil spent itself, expended itself, & Jesus died.
But then, because God is the God of life & reversal, the God who takes evil & uses it for good, God the Father raised His Son from the dead – never to die again. Even death itself has no power any more in the case of Jesus the Lord, God’s Son. And if death has no power, that means that sin has no power either. And if death & sin have no power, that means that Satan is defeated. God wins in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The Gospel of Luke moves us toward that seeming defeat & destruction, that perfect victory. We see Jesus & Satan & we know how the contest was finished. God wins on Easter & all God’s children win on Easter, too.
Friends, Satan is still working for evil in our lives, in our world as the war in Ukraine makes so very clear. Yet, 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 & science – godly gifts of human reason. But all of that, I suspect, can influence our thinking & partially blind us so that we go for long stretches without taking seriously Satan’s power or his attacks. How can we remember, & be more vigilant? 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 7th & last petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil,” we pray. In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther correctly reminds us that this really says, “Deliver us from the Evil One,” that is, from Satan. So, every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, let that be a good reminder.
Two more helps also come from Luther. They are the “little prayers” in the Small Catechism that we can pray at morning & at evening. Both prayers end the same way: “Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” Be aware. The question of how Satan’s attacks come against us is a huge topic. No time to explore that fully.
For tonight, just two words will be enough: Temptation & Accusation. Satan wants to turn us from God’s will, God’s ways; he wants to turn us to his ways, to sin. And he wants even more to take our sins – after he has succeeded in tempting us – & condemn us with them, to discouraged us, & if he can, to make us despair over ourselves & over our entire life. Those are big topics. What to say about them tonight?
Remember in the reading how Peter was following Jesus ... but from a distance? Well, when you realize that Satan is tempting you to sin, by faith claim the promise that you are not at a distance from Jesus. No, you are right up there, right up close, right behind Jesus, & say:
“In the power of the new life that I have with my Lord – 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 murder someone else with gossip. No. I am right up here, right behind Jesus. I am baptized into Him & I will follow Him.”
As Christians we do, of course, still sin – you may have noticed. When Satan takes the sins you’ve committed – & he seems to remember them all – & throws them in your face, then you do the same thing as before. You claim your place right there behind Jesus, you grab hold of your baptism, & you hide there.
That way, all of Satan’s accusations strike Jesus ... but they fall to the ground, they disappear, because they strike the risen, living Jesus who took your sins into the tomb & left them there. Satan’s evil came against Jesus, & it killed him, but God His Father raised Him from the dead.
Jesus chose that path, knowing that Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. As for you & I – we stay right there today & forever, right there behind Jesus. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Amen. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. LSB 436:1 & 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet