Lord, Teach Us to Pray (4)

            This morning, we bring our study of the Lord’s Prayer to a close.  It all began when the disciples of Jesus came to him in Luke chapter 11 and they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1).  And Jesus taught them to pray using these words:

“Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4)

            Jesus said that we should begin by saying.  “Father, hallowed be your name.”  “Uphold the holiness of your name.  May your name be exalted.”  And not only does God do that, but we do that by living in a way that brings honor and glory to God. 

            And then Jesus told us to pray, “Your kingdom come.”  That kingdom is God’s reign, and so, we pray that God will reign in our hearts, and we pray that God’s reign will come into the lives of people we know and love, and we pray that God’s reign will come into the lives of everyone on the face of this earth – “Your kingdom come!”

            And then, in our last lesson, we saw how Jesus taught us to ask for food and forgiveness, recognizing how dependent we are on both God’s provision and his grace.  And we saw that God also expects us to share both food and forgiveness.

            And now, Jesus comes to the end of his prayer.  The last words he taught us to pray were these:  “And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:4). 

            The Bible can be a strange place sometimes.  I don’t know about you, but I find it rather odd that we would need to pray for God not to lead us into temptation.  I mean, after all, isn’t temptation the other guy’s job?

            The letter of James is one of the earliest commentaries we have on Jesus’ teachings. And James tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:13-14)

            According to James, God is not the one who is leading us into temptation.  Not only that, according to James, not every temptation comes directly to us from Satan, either.  Apparently, we all do a pretty good job of leading ourselves into temptation a good deal of the time.

            So why would we pray for God not to do something the scriptures tell us that God won’t do anyway?  Sometimes, the Bible can be a strange place.

            We’ve just heard James tells us that God doesn’t tempt anyone.  But, on the other hand, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that Jesus was led into temptation, and that God was the one responsible.

            For example, Luke 4 tells us that just after his baptism, Jesus “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1).   And, of course, you could just take that to mean that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, and that the devil just happened to be there and decided to tempt him. So, God’s Spirit didn’t actually lead Jesus into the temptation.  God’s Spirit just led him to where the temptation happened to be.

            And you could probably make that argument, if it weren’t for Matthew’s version of the story. Matthew 4:1 tells us that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Or, as the Contemporary English Version puts it, “The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him.”

            So, we have James telling us that God doesn’t tempt anyone.  But then we have Matthew, Mark, and Luke telling us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.  God’s Spirit did that.  

            And now, here in the Lord’s Prayer, it would appear that Jesus is telling us to pray that what happened to him won’t happen to us.  Does anybody here find all of this just a little bit confusing?

            Like I said, the Bible is a strange place sometimes.  Now, I do think there’s a good explanation that will help us to begin to unravel what seems to be a bunch of contradictions.  And I think it will help us to better understand what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray to God, “Don’t lead us into temptation.”

            From what we’ve read in the gospels, we know that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.  But we also know that it was the devil who actually did the tempting.  So, we could say that technically James was correct.  God didn’t tempt Jesus. The devil did.

            But that still doesn’t explain for us why God would lead Jesus into a situation where he knew that he was going to be tempted.  God knew that Jesus will be tempted while he was in the wilderness.  In fact, he led Jesus into the wilderness so that the devil could tempt him.  So, what’s going on here?  Let’s take a closer look at this story.

            All of this takes place before Jesus began his ministry.  At the age of 30, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  And it was right after that that the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness, where Jesus fasted for forty days.

            During this time, the devil came and tempted Jesus three times.  First, he tempted Jesus to feed himself by turning stones into bread. Then he tempted Jesus with political power. He offered to give Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus would simply bow down and worship him.

            And then, finally, the devil took Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. He dared him to jump off, and he quoted Psalm 91:  “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’(Matthew 4:6).

            Three times the devil tried to tempt Jesus.  James tells us to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7).  And that’s exactly what happened there in the wilderness. Three times, the devil tempted Jesus.  Three times, Jesus resisted the devil.

            And Luke tells us that “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4.13).  Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “the devil…left him until the next opportunity came.”

            Now, on the surface, it would appear that this is nothing more than a story about Jesus resisting the devil’s temptations. But I think it’s actually much more than that.  In a sense, Jesus was reliving the story of God’s people, the Israelites.

            Remember, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness right after he was baptized.  In his baptism, Jesus was doing something that symbolized Israel crossing the Red Sea.  In 1 Corinthians 10:2, Paul describes that Red Sea crossing as a baptism.  He says that, “All [the Israelites] were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” 

            When the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea, they were baptized, or immersed, in water.  They had water on their right side, water on their left side, and with a cloud over them, they had water above them as well.  They were surrounded by water, immersed in water, baptized in a sense.

            The Red Sea crossing was Israel’s baptism, and Jesus was also baptized, literally.  In water.  After the Israelites were baptized, they headed for the Promised Land, but that journey had to go through the wilderness.  After his baptism, Jesus’ journey also had to go through the wilderness.  After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years.  After his baptism, Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days.

            Listen to what Moses told Israel when they were finally about to leave the wilderness, ready to cross over into the land that God was giving them: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

            I’m sure you recognize this as the exact same passage that Jesus quoted when the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread.  Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Matthew 4:4).  Jesus refused to use his power in a self-serving way.  Later, Jesus would say, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4.34).  Like Israel, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted.  Unfortunately, the Israelites didn’t do a very good job of resisting their temptations.  Not only in the wilderness, but later, as well.  But Jesus resisted every temptation.

            And then, the second passage Jesus quoted when the devil tempted him also came from the Israelites’ time in the wilderness.  Jesus said in Matthew 4:7, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  That quote comes from Deuteronomy 6:16, where God said to the Israelites, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

            God was referring back to an event that happened in Exodus chapter 17. The Israelites came to a place where there was no water, and they were afraid that God had left them in the desert to die of thirst.  They lost their faith in God, they no longer trusted in him to take care of them, and they were ready to kill Moses.  Testing God in that situation means refusing to trust that God our Father is good and generous, and that he is at work in our lives and in this world.  Putting God to the test means giving up on God and going our own way.

            If Jesus had succumbed to any of the devil’s temptations: if he had turned the stones to bread, or if he had forced his way onto the throne through political means, or if he had stunned people into submission with self-promoting miracles; if Jesus had done any of those things, he would have been testing God.  Because that’s not the way that God had laid out for him.  God sent Jesus on a path of suffering with people and serving them.  Not a path of self-promotion and self-service.

            So, is it accurate to say that God tempted Jesus is the wilderness?  For that matter, did God tempt the Israelites while they were in the wilderness?

            To answer those questions, it’s important for us to understand that the word “temptation” has two slightly different meanings.  Sometimes, as the Lord’s Prayer, the Greek word is translated as “temptation”.  Other times, though, it is translated as “a time of testing”.  For example, as we’ve already seen, James wrote in James 1:13, “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

            But, just a few verses earlier, James said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4).  James uses that very same word for “temptation” to describe “the testing of your faith” and James says that we need to count it all joy when we are tested.

            So, the New Testament uses the same basic word to refer both to temptation and testing.  To show you how they’re related, but different, let me give you an illustration.  As you all know, when you go to school, one of the things that you have to deal with on a regular basis are tests.  Tests come in a variety of forms.  There are pop quizzes, chapter tests, mid-terms, finals. 

            And I would suggest that tests are given with different motives.  I think there are some teachers – probably not many, but some teachers – who give tests with the purpose of trying to get their students to mess up, to show them just how little they really know.  But there are other teachers – I think the vast majority – who give tests to their students to give them an opportunity to show just how much they really know.

            Now, it may be the very same test, with the exact same wording.  But one teacher gives it trying to get the students to mess up.  The other gives it to give them an opportunity to excel.

            And I think this concept of testing and tempting in the scriptures operates the same way.  There are times when we are tested, when we are challenged, when our faith is put to the test.  And that test is an opportunity for us to excel, an opportunity to show what we’re made of.  And so, James tells us that tests are a good thing because they help us to grow, they help us to mature.

            But the purpose of temptation is just the opposite.  Temptation is given with the hope and the desire that you will fail, that you will be enticed to leave the way that God has told you to live. That you will be led to give up on God’s way and go your own way.

            And James was right.  God never tempts anyone.  God doesn’t want us to fail, so he never tempts us.  The world tempts us.  Our desires and passions tempt us.  The devil tempts us.  But God doesn’t tempt us.

            He will, however, test us, because he wants to give us an opportunity to excel, an opportunity to demonstrate just how much faith we have.  But, here’s the thing – while temptation and testing have two very different motives, they can look exactly the same.  In fact, both of those things can be happening at the same time.  

            We see that with the Israelites in the wilderness.  What the devil was using to try to tempt the Israelites, God was using to test them.  You may remember that’s what Moses said to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8.  He said that God had them spend 40 years in the wilderness, “testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”  What the devil was using to try to tempt them, God was using to test them.

            We see it again with Jesus in the wilderness.  What the devil was using to try to tempt Jesus, God was using to test Jesus, to give him an opportunity to show Satan and to show the world that he was committed to doing his Father’s will.

            And I would suggest that the same thing happens in our lives.  There are times when the devil is trying to tempt us, and there are times when God is testing us.  And they may look very much the same.  It’s just that the devil is hoping that we’ll mess up, while God is rooting for us to succeed and to demonstrate our faith to the devil and to the world around us.

            But we still come back to the question, why would we pray for God not to do something that we know that he’s not going to do anyway?  God will never lead us into temptation, so why would we ask him not to?

            And I think the answer is this.  My guess is that you haven’t noticed something in the Lord’s Prayer that should have been obvious.  Every single line in the Lord’s Prayer is asking God to do something that we already know he’s going to do.

            We pray, “Father, hallowed be your name.”  Why would we ask God to do what we already know he’s going to do?  We already know that God is going to hallow his name.  God is always going to act in a way that brings honor and glory to his name.  But we pray for that in a desire to bring our will in line with God’s will.  It is our way of telling God that we intend to live in a way that brings honor and glory to his name.

            We pray, “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We don’t need to tell God to expand his reign in this world.  That’s already his desire.  It’s always been his desire.  But, when we pray this, it brings our will in line with God’s will.   It is our way of telling God, “We want to see in our lives and in this world the same thing that you want to see.”

            We pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.”  Why would we ask God to do what we already know he’s going to do?  God is our heavenly Father.  He takes care of his children.  God doesn’t need for us to tell him to do that!  But, when we pray this, it serves to remind us that we are aware of what God already does, and it reminds us that we have a responsibility to do what God does and take care of the needy people around us.

            We pray for God to “Forgive us our sins.”  Why would we ask God to do what we already know he’s going to do?  Our God is a gracious God who has promised to forgive.  He doesn’t need for us to tell him to do that!  But, when we pray this, it serves to remind us that we are aware of what God already does, and it reminds us that we have a responsibility to do the same thing for the people around us.

            All of this shows that the purpose of prayer is not to bend God to my will and get him to do what I want him to do.  The purpose of prayer is not to bring God around to my way of thinking.  Rather, the purpose of prayer is for me to bend my will to the will of God.  It is intended to bring me around to God’s way of thinking.

            So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we come to this part of the Lord’s Prayer where we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Or, as the version in Matthew’s gospel adds, “but deliver us from the evil one.”  Why would we ask God to do what we already know he’s going to do?  It’s because we need the reminder of what God has already promised to do for us.

            This is an instinctive cry as we understand our weakness and the realization that we live in a dangerous environment.  It’s not much different from all the prayers throughout the Psalms pleading for protection, for God to be a hedge, for God to put His wing of covering over us, for God to be a hiding place, for God to be a refuge, for God to be our protector. 

            This is the kind of prayer that grows out of my inability to trust myself.  Because I know myself.  I know that I can be in situations that could be tests for my strengthening, but they become temptations and sometimes it even becomes sin.  I’m afraid of my weakness.  I’m afraid of my inabilities.  I’m afraid of the shallowness of my devotion.  I’m afraid of the weakness of my love.  

            Because I can think back to my past sins.  I know that my flesh is weak.  I know I live in a fallen world which is a constant threat to my virtue.  I’ve seen it in my life in the past and I’ve seen it all around me.  We sin and we are surround by an evil world. 

            And then you can Satan to the mix, going about seeking whom he may devour, like some lion.  So, we live in this very dangerous environment.  And we know our own weakness so very well.  And we are aware that if we don’t have someone watching out for us, we are in some serious trouble.   But we do have someone, and that’s God, who is our refuge.

            And so this prayer says, “Lord: Be my protector.  Don’t ever let me get into a situation that will devastate me.  Don’t ever let me get into a situation that will ruin me.  Be my rock.  Be my shelter.  Be my refuge.  Be my hiding place.” 

            And I’ll add a footnote to that.  If you’re crying that from your heart honestly, then you’re going to be very careful where you go and what you do because you’re going to take your responsibility by doing everything you can to stay out of those places that would push you over the edge into sin.  Right?  Otherwise this prayer is hypocritical.  

            God isn’t going to deliberately lead you into temptation.  God is not going to attack your spiritual well-being.  And Jesus knows that.  He’s not asking God not to do something that he might do.  He’s simply telling us to ask God to do what he’s already committed to do and that’s to protect us.  

            You see, God doesn’t tempt anybody, but, in order for us to grow in our maturity, we all have to be tested.  And every time we pass a test that comes our way, we get a little bit stronger and a little more like Jesus Christ.  

            God will test us, but God doesn’t tempt anyone.  Satan does.  Just like he did with Peter.  Satan came after Peter.  Peter failed the test and committed the terrible sin of denying Jesus.  He should have done what Jesus told him.  Jesus told Peter in Matthew 26, “I’m warning you, you better watch and you better pray lest you enter into temptation.”  

            But instead, what did Peter do?  He went to sleep.  We are so susceptible.  We live in a dangerous world.  We have to go through trials.  And we need to take all the means of grace made available to us, at the same time crying out to God from the depths of our hearts, “Lord, please don’t send a test our way that would become for us a temptation more than we can bear.  Be our protector.”

            Prayer – “Father, we thank You this morning for being faithful as our protector, our shelter.  May we in turn be faithful in our prayers, in our watchfulness, in our knowledge of the truth so that we might not sin.  And, in the end, we pray that our lives will bring you glory, not just eternally, but even here on this earth.  In Jesus name, amen.”

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