Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Lord's Prayer-Petitions VI and VII"

Text: Matthew 6:13, James 1:12-16

Matthew 4:1-11

                 In my opinion, the most difficult petition of the Lord’s Prayer inpractice is petition V which we talked about last week: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” Forgiveness in the Biblical sense is very hard, letting go of those offenses committed against us, and releasing the offender from the penalty he or she may well deserve.

In fact, such forgiveness is all but impossible without first acknowledging and accepting the fact that God has so forgiven us, and released us from the penalty we may well deserve.

                This morning, we come to the petition which, in the opinion of many, is the most difficult theologically. Jesus teaches us in petition VI to “pray then in this way:…… do not bring us to the time of trial.” This translation is actually a softening of the more ancient translation, the one we generally use when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and one we might struggle to understand: “lead us not into temptation.” The question which naturally arises is this: why would we even have to ask that our God who so loves us “lead us not into temptation,” or for that matter, to “not bring us to the time of trial”? Wouldn’t these be the furthest things from God’s mind, to tempt us or to try us? If that’s so, thetheological dilemma this petition raises is where trials and temptations come from. Our first thought might be: It’s the devil who tempts and tries us. We are told after all that when Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness following His baptism, He was “tempted by the devil.” And the O.T. Adam and Eve saga is a classic. That should settle it, right?

                Yet we cannot ignore a passage such as we’ve just read from the Letter of James. It first assures us that “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God”’ for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” James then goes on: “But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it….” That then should settle it, right?

                In the face of what appears to be a contradiction within Scripture, our understanding of Jesus’ meaning in this sixth petition hinges on the force of the Greek word peirasmon (peir-as-mos), the word used by Matthew in the Lord’s Prayer, and again by James in his letter. Aswe’ve talked about before, Greek words often don’t have a one-on-one match with a word inEnglish. Peir-as- mos, for example, has a range of meanings: temptation, enticement to sin, trial, test, affliction difficulty, struggle. In light of these multiple uses of the word, are Jesus, and later James, suggesting that God will not test us, or that God will not entice us to sin?Clearly, it would be against the holy nature of God – which we affirm in the first petition, “hallowed” (or holy) be your name” – to lure us into sin, as a trial or test, or for any other reason. On the other hand, God just as clearly permits or allows us to be tested by adversity, which is part and parcel of life. In that sense, no one gets a pass, as sooner or later, all of us come to times of trial and testing.

                The key point is what we do with these trials and tests which God, in God’s providence and for God’s purposes, permits. I would suggest that it is out of these trials and tests, to which everyone is sooner or later subjected just as a matter of life, that temptation or enticement to sin are born. Such temptation is not from God, but from either the devil or from our own desires. Going back to the story of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, we are told that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Was Jesus’ temptation in and of itself sinful, whatever its source? Certainly not. Yet how Jesus dealt with these temptations, choosing to either acquiesce or resist, was His real test. And that test may very well have been permitted by God as a way for Jesus to be purified and strengthened for His mission. On one level, it’s like with my son-in-law David as he was going through grueling preparation to become a soldier in Special Forces. He was tested and tried in many ways just as a matter of course in his training. It wasn’t the intention of the U.S Army to set him on a course of destruction and defeat. Yet it was expected that he would be brought to many days of trial for the purpose of his being purified and strengthened for his mission. What he chose to do in the face of adversity – what he did with the option to either go on or the temptation to give up – was the true test of whether he was Special Forces “material.” Those choices were his, not the military’s.

                I believe this sixth petition must be weighed against other teachings we find in the New Testament. For example, Peter writes in his first letter: “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” In the face of the trials of life, and the temptations which grow out of the option to either go on or give up, Paul writes this to the church in Rome: “…but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” There are many other passages which follow this same line of thought, that tests, and trials, and temptations are – from God’s standpoint -- for the purpose of refinement, not defilement.

                All that having been said, when Jesus teaches us to pray “do not bring us to the time of trial,” or if you prefer, “lead us not into temptation,” it is neither stated nor implied that it is within God’s desire or purpose to lure us or entice us into sin. Yet it is implied that while we may pray for God to keep us from stumbling and falling along this difficult road of life, it’s bound to happen as God permits our free travel. And the road is what the road is. Yet this is where we cannot separate petition VI from petition VII: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

                From the testing of Jesus forty-day isolation in the wilderness arose those lures to sin; to act contrary to God’s will. We could debate wherefrom that enticement originated– what proportion of it came directly from the devil [or we could just as well call him the “evil one”] and what proportion came from Jesus’ true and genuine human desires. After forty days, Jesus was in a weakened state of body and mind, but fortified in His spirit. The first enticement to sin was “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus’ defense: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The next enticement to sin: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus’ defense: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The final enticement to sin: “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor….I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus’ defense: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” “Then the devil left him.” In all three instances, Jesus invoked the name of Almighty God and the word of God to, in effect, “rescue” Him from the wiles of the “evil one”; the one who was seeking to turn this “time of trial” into an occasion to fall into sin.

                Having gone through this just weeks or months before delivering the Sermon on the Mount and the words of His great prayer, how could Jesus teach His original disciples, or us, to pray one petition without the other? So He teaches to pray like this: Keep us from life’s trials, but knowing that life will sooner or later try us, rescue us, by the power of Your very name and by the power of Your very word, from the wiles of the evil one and from our own desires which can quickly and easily lead us into sin.

                As we well know, life is not easy. In many ways, it’s a daily battle. Trials like sickness, loss, and failure can crush our spirits. False witnesses and easy promises which surround us can lure us and even destroy our souls. The call from our culture to travel the low road of irresponsibility, ease, self-satisfaction and polluted values tickles our ears at every turn. We are often led to believe that our rescue, our salvation, our hope and our future lies in the efforts of our own hands. This is both alluring and deceptive. Our Lord’s Prayer, from beginning to end, calls us to a higher road; a road navigated by faith and trust which acknowledges God as Sovereign Power, as Author and Authority, as Perfect Goodness and Righteousness, and today, as Divine Rescuer from sin. So we can pray this day with confidence and boldness: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

                These words abruptly conclude the Lord’s Prayer as found in the earliest manuscripts and editions of both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. Yet in our prayer practice over the centuries, the church has added words of doxology, an expression of praise and thanksgiving, to cap off this greatest of prayers. We will wrap up our sermon series next Sunday with that doxology.