A few decades ago psychologists conducted a very interesting experiment to determine how human beings respond to temptation. Here’s how it worked. A psychologist would leave a small child, say four or five years old, alone in a room with one marshmallow on the table in front of him. Before he left, the tester would say to the child, “I’m going to leave the room for a few minutes. As you can see, there’s one marshmallow here in front of you. That’s your marshmallow. You can eat it if you want, but if you don’t eat it and instead, wait until I get back, you can have two marshmallows.”
Well, the results were as funny as they were predictable. Some of the kids obviously believed in delayed gratification, because they were able to hang in there and enjoy two marshmallows. But many of these children just could not withstand the urge to gobble up that one little white cube of soft, mushy sweetness.
And the fact is, no matter what our age we all struggle with some form of self-control. All of us have our own “marshmallows” in life, those temptations we have a hard time withstanding. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker that says, “Lead me not into temptation, I can find it for myself.” Well, there’s truth in this bumper sticker statement, because we all struggle with things that tempt us. We have no trouble whatsoever finding something that entices us to do things we shouldn’t. As a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13 puts it, “If you think you are beyond the reach of temptation, be careful because temptation is common to man.” And it is! Even mature Christians, even believers who make it their goal in life to walk as close to God as they can, even they wrestle with temptation every single day. Like the rain, temptation falls on the just and the unjust. C. S. Lewis once said, “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only good people only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.” So all of us are tempted. The monk who lives behind cloistered walls wrestles with it just as much as the salesman out on the road.
In fact, let me stop and ask you, What is it that tempts you most? What’s your “marshmallow” in life?
- Maybe it’s that round “holey” food they sell at Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme.
- Maybe your “marshmallow” is the letters S-A-L-E.
- Maybe it’s an adult site on the Internet or the flirtatious advances of a co-worker.
- Maybe your “marshmallow” comes in a bottle of alcohol or pills.
- Or, maybe your “marshmallow” is the joy of passing judgment on other “marshmallow eaters.”
This brings us to our text for this morning, the last portion of The Lord’s Prayer, because in this verse Jesus says that prayer is one way for us to confront this struggle we all have with temptation. Let’s read it out loud together, beginning where we started six weeks ago in verse 9 of Matthew chapter 6. Jesus says:
9 – “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name,
10 – Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 – Give us today our daily bread.
12 – Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And here’s our text for this morning:
13 – And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Now, as David Jeremiah points out in his book on prayer, this section of the Lord’s Prayer has caused “more head-scratching than any other. It has prompted more commentators to suggest more possible interpretations than any other part of the prayer.” And the reason this verse perplexes so many people is because, whereas we understand that it is God’s nature to feed us to give us our daily bread, and we know our Abba loves us and longs to forgive us our debts or sins or trespasses, we are confused at this next part! We think, “Surely God would never lead us into temptation so why do we have to ask Him not to?” James 1:13 comes to mind where it says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.”
At first glance, this part of this prayer template that Jesus has given us seems to contradict texts like this one from James’ little epistle. Why would we have to ask God not to do something that His Word already says He does not do?
The answer to our confusion is found in a little Greek lesson. The word that we often translate as “temptation” in this verse is the Greek word, “peirasmus.” And, “peirasmus” can be translated in two ways. It can mean “a test or trial” or it can equally mean, “enticement or temptation.” The proper translation depends on the context in which the word is used.
We find both meanings in chapter one of James. In verse 2 “peirasmus” is translated, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Since we know we’d never rejoice when we succumb to temptation, we know that in this verse “peirasmus” refers to the trials and tribulations of life on a fallen world, another of those things that are “common to man.” But in verse 13 the same Greek word is translated a different way. There it reads, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God'” This time it refers to an enticement to do evil. So, context determines how to translate this Greek word. And, we have the same thing in English, as I’m sure our ESL students will soon notice, if they haven’t already. You see, in English we have tons of words that mean more than one thing, and like Greek, many times the only way to determine their meaning is to look at the context.
Let’s use the word, “bag” as an example. A hunter might say,
“I bagged the squirrel that was up in that tree! He fell to the ground and I put him in a bag. I sure hope my wife Gertrude isn’t upset with me the old bag! Why, I can see the puffy red bags under her eyes already. Uh-oh here she comes. I suppose it’s too late to hide the squirrel because the cat’s already out of the bag.”
Do you see what I mean? In that paragraph I used the same word: “bag” five times and each time it meant a different thing because each time it’s used in a different context.
That’s the way it is with this Greek word: “peirasmus.” Now, please understand, these two translations: “trials” and “enticements” are closely related because usually when you face a trial or ordeal you are almost always tempted to do the wrong thing. For example, and be honest here, as you have been enduring the trial of getting your taxes done over the past few weeks, if you realized that you were going to have a tough time scraping together enough money to pay Uncle Sam his due, weren’t you tempted to cheat a bit on your itemized deductions? You don’t need to raise your hands but do you see what I mean? When we face trials and tribulations, when we go through times of testing, we are tempted to do the wrong thing if we believe doing the wrong thing will get us through the test.
As you know, we host AP tests for Magruder High School here in the Spring, and teens who take those tests receive very detailed instructions as to what they can and cannot bring to the exam and where they can sit. Adults come to monitor the test takers. All this is done to keep these teens from yielding to the temptation to cheat as they go through this very difficult time of testing. Well, the truth is however old we are, whenever we go through a trial or an ordeal, our response will either be pass or fail. We’ll either respond in a way that makes our Abba proud. or we’ll succumb to the temptation to sin and in so doing please our adversary. We’ll respond in ways that further God’s kingdom or in ways that make the devil rejoice.
In any case, with this understanding of the different meanings of this Greek word we can safely say that with this context one thing Jesus is not saying in this part of His model prayer is that God would ever lead us to sin. Our Holy Abba would never do that. No, in this verse Jesus is teaching us is that part of prayer is asking God to help us respond to the trials of life in ways that further His kingdom. We need to say, “Abba, I’m too weak on my own. I need Your help when I encounter trials or I’m sure to yield to sinful shortcuts. Abba, please protect me from the temptations I encounter in my life so I don’t blow it. Empower me to respond in ways that display Your glory.”
This is one time I like The Message paraphrase because it words verse 13 like this: “Keep us safe from ourselves and the devil.” And you can be sure that the devil wants us to respond to trials in sinful ways. He’s hoping we’ll be weak. He’s hoping we’ll slip up when we go through the difficulties of life.
God promises to help us deal with this form of temptation. As Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of the Godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.” (TLB) So effective prayer includes saying, “God I know the devil wants me to stumble. He wants me to slip up. So, help me. Help me to stand up to his temptations in ways that further Your kingdom.”
With this background, does verse 13 become less perplexing? Say it with me and see if the meaning of this part of the model prayer doesn’t seem a bit clearer: “[Abba] lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'”
You know, the exciting truth is, we can pray this prayer with confidence, because God can always turn the tables on Satan. Our Abba has the wisdom and power to take the trials and tribulations that come to us in life, the tough times that Satan loves to use as his tools–our completely sovereign God takes these ordeals and Satan’s foolish plans and uses them for His purposes. If you doubt this, then look at the Bible. It’s full of examples!
Remember Abraham’s wife Sarah? She was promised a child but the crib remained empty for decades and Satan used that to stir up dissension and doubt. I’m sure the adversary wanted Sarah to serve as proof that you can’t trust God. But in the end she modeled the opposite. As Lucado puts it, “The thought of this ninety-year-old in the maternity ward has instructed millions that God saves the best for last.”
Think of Joseph. I believe many of our ladies studied about him this past Tuesday. Joseph’s older brothers sold him into slavery but by continually responding to this trial in a Godly way, Joseph eventually became the Prime Minister of the Egyptian empire. Then one day, his brothers traveled to Egypt looking for food. This was the perfect opportunity for Joseph to punish his brothers. And we would understand his doing so. After all, they did him wrong he could have repaid in kind. I’m sure Satan whispered that debt rule we learned about last week in his ears: “They owe you Joseph, make them pay!” But with God’s help Joseph weathered this temptation and said to his siblings: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20) He had his brothers return to fetch their father and the rest of the family and in this way God’s chosen people were saved from starvation. So Joseph faced this temptation in a way that furthered God’s kingdom. Moses is another example. I’m sure Satan was pleased when Moses committed murder and then fled, leaving the people he was supposed to deliver from Egyptian bondage. But God used this trial to humble Moses. He used his wilderness years to train him. Forty years later a mature Moses who had learned to listen to God stood before Pharaoh. Then with four decades of desert survival experience under his belt Moses led the newly-freed Hebrew people through the desert to the promised land. I can almost hear Satan doing a “Homer Simpson” saying, “Doooope!”
Speaking of Satan, I imagine he was tickled-pink when Paul was put into a Roman prison thinking it would finally silence his powerful pulpit. Well it did silence his public preaching, but it unleashed his private pen! The letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians were all written in a jail cell. Can you imagine how frustrated ole Satan has been over the millennia as he’s seen all the ways those letters have been used to further God’s purposes?
Peter is another example. Satan sought to discredit Jesus by provoking Peter to deny Him. But that plan backfired as well. Rather than be an example of how far a fellow can fall, Peter became an example of how far God’s grace extends. God used a forgiven and restored Peter to preach on Pentecost and thousands came to faith in Christ. I can almost hear Satan screaming, “No! Not again!”
But that’s the way it always is. Over and over again God has answered prayers that were modeled after verse 13 by enabling His children to withstand the trials and tribulations of life, delivering them from the evil one, short-circuiting the adversary’s plans, and instead furthering the Kingdom of Heaven. Lucado refers to this part of the prayer and writes, “Like a confused basketball player, every time Satan scores a basket, the other team gets the points. Over and over again the Bible makes it clear Who really runs the earth. Satan my strut and prance but it’s God Who calls the shots.”
In his book, The Serpent of Paradise, Erwin Lutzer says:
“The devil is just as much God’s servant in his rebellion as he was in the days of his sweet obedience. We can’t quote Martin Luther too often: ‘The devil is indeed God’s devil.’ Satan has different roles to play, depending on God’s counsel and purposes. He is pressed into service to do God’s will in the world; he must do the bidding of the Almighty. We must bear in mind that he does have frightful power, but knowing that those powers can only be exercised under God’s direction and pleasure gives us hope. Satan is simply not free to wreak havoc on people at will.”
When we learn to pray this portion of the Lord’s prayer, we are saying God’s sovereignty extends even over Satan’s plans. We’re saying we believe 1 John 4:4 that, “God’s Spirit Who is in you, is greater than the devil who is in the world.” And if you still need further proof of this principle, look to the cross. I mean think of it. Jesus was beaten mercilessly, paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. He was nailed to a Roman cross and taunted by His executioners. The sinless Son of God was covered with the sins of all mankind. Then, the Author of life was placed in the cave of death. I’m sure Satan rubbed his hands in glee thinking his victory was sure. Lucado writes,
“Finally the devil thought he had scored on the right end of the court. And not only had he scored, he’d slam-dunked the MVP and left him lying on the floor. But all of a sudden there was a light in the tomb and a rumbling of the rock; then Friday’s tragedy emerged as Sunday’s Savior and Satan knew he’d once again been a tool in the hand of the gardener. All the time he thought he was defeating Heaven, he was helping Heaven. God wanted to prove His power over sin and death and that’s exactly what He did. Once again Satan’s lay-up became a foul-up. Only this time he didn’t give heaven some points, he gave heaven the championship game.”
Well, the truth is, whenever we gather around this table we celebrate that victory God won for us. And, if you are our guest this morning and are a Christian we invite you to join us at this table. Celebrate the cross where God delivered us from the power of evil and proved once and for all that His is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Join us in this because after all, even if you are not a member of this church, if you are His, this is yours.
Before we partake of this bread let us remember Colossians 2:13 where it says,
“When you were dead in your sins God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. And having disarmed the powers and authorities [of the adversary], He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Eat this and remember, Jesus’ body was broken so that you and I could be made whole.
Let us give thanks for all this cup symbolizes.
Before we drink from this cup listen to Romans 8 where it says:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Drink this and remember the blood of Christ washes away our sin.
In closing, let me ask you a question. Are you going through an ordeal of some sort? It could be a financial struggle, or a health problem. It could be some sort of relational trial a dispute with a spouse or friend or co-worker. Maybe you’re having a problem at work or in school or are going through a time of grief. Well, I hope that after our study you’ve come to see that God can indeed always turn tables on our adversary and use even our response to the trials of life in ways that further His eternal kingdom. This is a prayer He yearns to answer, so let’s take a few moments to ask Him. Let’s all bow our heads and talk to our Abba about the ordeal we are enduring whatever it is and let’s ask Him to help us resist the temptation to sin, and instead respond in ways that He can use to further His kingdom.
Let’s all pray silently and in a moment I will close.
No matter how old we are, .life in this fallen world can make us feel like children, because problems come that we are just to small to deal with on our own. And so many times instead of waiting for Your help we respond in childish, sinful ways. Forgive us Father and help us to do better. Help us to withstand the temptation to complain or criticize. Enable us to forgive our enemies. Help us to understand that sometimes the best witness we can give is in our response to life’s difficulties. Mature us Father, such that our reaction to the trials of life turns the tables on our adversary and instead advances the Gospel. I ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen