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The Lord’s Prayer: Lead Us Not Into Temptation, Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4

Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4

In his book Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon, author Michael P. Ghiglieri chronicles the nearly 700 deaths that have occurred in the Grand Canyon since the 1870s. Now, most people aren’t shocked that fatal mishaps occur there. I mean, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and is over a mile deep (6,000 feet) at its deepest point. The extreme temperatures (which often exceed 100 degrees) can quickly lead to heatstroke and dehydration.

So how did most of the deaths occur? Air crashes account for the largest number of deaths at the Grand Canyon. Floods have claimed the lives of some of the river rafters. Other despondent souls have taken their own lives. But according to Ghiglieri, a number of people have gone “over the edge” and fallen to their death through their own carelessness. Specifically, they ignored posted warnings and confidently walked out on to dangerous precipices.

So, in 1992, a 38-year-old father jokingly tried to frighten his teenage daughter by leaping on to a guard wall. He flailed his arms as he pretended to lose his balance. Then he comically “fell” on the canyon side onto a ledge he assumed was safe. But sadly, after ignoring numerous warning signs, and a lot of common sense, he lost his footing and fell 400 feet into the void below.

Then in 2012, an 18-year-old woman who was hiking on the North Rim Trail decided to venture off the beaten path to have her picture taken at a spot known as Inspiration Point. As she sat down on the ledge of the 1,500-foot deep canyon, the rocks gave way, and she plummeted to her death.

These deaths were not just tragic; they were also completely avoidable. Does anyone truly want his or her last words before “AAAAHHHHHH” to be, “Look at how close I can get to the rim without fall …. ?” Call me overly cautious, but without a hang-glider or parachute attached to my body, I can see the Canyon just fine 10 yards back from the precipice. And by the way, I will never attach a hang glider or parachute to this body.

And yet many of us approach sin by asking the question, “How close can I get without crossing the line?” We avoid God’s warning signs and then edge right up to disaster, confident that we – unlike other people – can avoid the crash. Like the child who listens to a parent’s warning and then does everything to push the boundaries, we rush to the edge of sin with a false sense of security.

As we continue our fall series walking through the Lord’s Prayer, we come to the line, “And lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13). Luke actually ends the prayer with this line. “And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4). Which begs the question, “Does God EVER lead us into temptation?” Because that’s where this petition seems to lead. Does God dangle temptation in front of us, trying to get us to fall, to fail? Does that sound like a good Father to you? Because it doesn’t to me. Sure, there are many very broken human fathers who either intentionally, out of malice, or unintentionally, out of their brokenness, do things that hurt their children. But for God to do that? That isn’t the kind of God Jesus reveals to us. And in John 14:9, Jesus makes it clear, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (7:11). If I, as a broken, sinful, human father know how to give good gifts to my kids, how much more will our good heavenly Father give good things to his children? Does that sound like a Father who intentionally leads us into temptation? Who tries to trick us or get us to stumble and fall? Absolutely not!

And Scripture is absolutely clear. God does NOT tempt his children. James 1:13 says, “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.” God doesn’t tempt. Period. So what exactly is happening here? To really understand what we’re praying when we pray, “And lead us not into temptation,” we have to understand that the word translated as temptation here can have both a positive and a negative meaning. On the negative side, it can mean a temptation as we usually think of temptation, and attempt to trick someone into doing something they shouldn’t, as the serpent did with Adam and Eve.

When my brother and I were growing up, we did our best to torment our sister endlessly. Brad and I are two years apart, and then Sarah is father back. She’s 4 years younger than Brad and 6 years younger than me. These days that isn’t that much. But in elementary school and middle school, that kind of gap means she’s at least a developmental stage or two behind us. And man, we were brutal. It’s a wonder she can function at all.

Well, one of the things we tried to do was trick her into saying words that she shouldn’t say, at least as a 6 year old, and then run and tell mom that Sarah was cussing. And we’d make it a game. And she’d play along every time because we were actually giving her attention, instead of pretending she didn’t exist, which we also did. So one of us would say, “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with ‘duck.’ And Sarah and the other brother would have to come up with words that rhymed with ‘duck’ until we got to the word he was thinking of. You know where this is going. The other brother knew not to say, well, that word. But Sarah would keep throwing words out there until she said … well, you know what word she said. And then we’d run and tell mom. Of course, mom usually rolled her eyes, but we got a huge kick out of hearing such filthy language coming out of our 6 year old sister’s mouth. That’s temptation in the traditional sense, the way we usually think about it, right? That’s the word being used in the negative sense.

But it can also be used in a positive sense. And the word translated as “temptation” here has more the sense of a test when it’s used positively. When a teacher gives a test to his or her students, they aren’t trying to trip the students up or tempt them to do something wrong. They may use trick questions to test your mastery of the subject, but they aren’t trying to trip you up. They don’t WANT to fail you.

In this sense, your driver’s test was a temptation. Do you remember your driver’s test? Parallel parking, or maneuverability, as they called it when I got my license. And then the road test. Lane changes, turning right on red, turning left out into traffic, railroad tracks, knowledge of road signs and what they mean, and they take you through some tough situations to make sure you at least understand the basics of operating a motor vehicle on roads and highways. In Ohio, when I took my test, it was with a fully uniformed state trooper with weapon in holster. Talk about intimidating. It had the feeling of, “If you mess up, not only will you not get your license, you could wind up in jail.”

A legitimate test has two purposes. One, to see how far we’ve come, or what you already know, and two, to see where we still need to grow. It reveals where God is at work in our lives, and where God will be at work in our lives. Much of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is dedicated to the story of Abraham, the father, both in the human sense and also in faith, of the people of Israel. After spending his entire life, a full 100 years, childless, God promises a son to Abraham and his wife, Sarah, who was 90 and had never borne a child. And then, a few years later, as the child was growing up, God asked Abraham to do something interesting. He asked Abraham to head out into the wilderness with his son, Isaac, and build an altar, and sacrifice his son Isaac, the son God had promised him would be the first of many offspring for Abraham, on the altar. And of course we know that Abraham bound Isaac and laid him on the altar, and right before he plunged the knife through Isaac’s heart, the voice of God’s messenger called out and stopped Abraham, and Abraham noticed the ram, caught in the brush, and sacrificed the ram in Isaac’s place, and he and Isaac returned home.

This was a test of Abraham’s faith. But God wasn’t testing Abraham to see what he would do, or how far he would really go in his obedience to God. The test was an opportunity for God to reveal himself to Abraham, and to Isaac, as Yahweh Jireh, the God who provides. The point of the test wasn’t God finding out something about Abraham. He knew Abraham better than Abraham knew himself. God knew exactly how far Abraham was willing to go in his obedience to God. And God also knew that Abraham also had a tendency to give in to fear and take matters into his own hands when he was afraid. This test was God’s opportunity to reveal his faithfulness, his goodness, and his provision to Abraham in the moment of obedience. It was a lesson to Abraham and to Isaac on the faithfulness of God, the one they were being asked to obey. The test wasn’t about the great faith of Abraham, or about Abraham’s willingness to obey God, no matter what. The point of the test is God’s provision of the ram, not because Abraham obeyed God, but because God had already decided to provide the ram.

Through the rest of Abraham’s life, and Isaac’s life, and passed down through the ages in the inspired pages of Scripture is the truth, “we can always obey God, because God has already provided.” He is Yahweh Jireh, the God who provides. God didn’t provide because Abraham obeyed. Abraham could obey because God had already provided the answer. For the rest of Abraham’s life, whenever he faced a challenge in being obedient to God, in his mind he could say, “remember the ram.” Throughout Isaac’s life, whenever he doubted whether he could obey God, in his mind, he could say, “remember the ram. God has already provided the way out.”

We can obey God because God is faithful. We can trust God because God is good and trustworthy. We can place our faith in God because God is faithful. The point isn’t Abraham’s faith. Abraham showed a persistent lack of faith and faithfulness plenty. The point is God’s faithfulness. Like a weight lifter lifting weights in the gym, testing can strengthen us, make us stronger, make us more able to obey, if we approach the testing humbly.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul is writing to the Corinthian Christians about the temptation to give in to idolatry, to succumb to the culture around them, to blend in for safety’s sake. In Vv. 12-13, he says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation (the same word for temptation in the Lord’s prayer, it can mean temptation in the negative sense or test in the positive sense) has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” What is Paul saying here? First, he says that arrogance, even spiritual arrogance, thinking you can stand against temptation in your own strength, thinking you are spiritual enough, mature in your faith enough not to fall, is the pathway to giving in to temptation or failing the test. “Let anyone who things that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Second, he’s saying that we’re all tempted, and we all face tests, and none of us faces something that hasn’t also been faced by someone else. We aren’t alone in this. We aren’t the only ones going through this, whatever “this” is. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” Every temptation you will face, whatever it looks like, is common to all humanity.

Back in 2022, a study tracked the top temptations Americans face. The people surveyed said they struggled with the following temptations either “often” or “sometimes”:

Worrying or being anxious – 60 percent
Procrastinating or putting things off – 60 percent
Eating too much – 55 percent
Spending too much time on media – 44 percent
Being lazy – 41 percent
Spending more money than they could afford – 35 percent
Gossiping about others – 26 percent
Being jealous or envious of others – 24 percent
Viewing pornography or sexually explicit material – 18 percent
Abusing alcohol or drugs – 11 percent

What other temptations do we face? The temptation to self-reliance. The temptation to self-security. The temptation to deny Christ to save face, or in some places of the world, to save our lives.

Third, Paul is saying that God is faithful. He will not let us be tested beyond our ability to obey God, and he will always provide a way out. We can obey, because he has already provided the ram.

So how do we stand? How do we rely on the one who is faithful, who provides the ram? Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, tells his disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Watch, and pray. “Watch” pictures a soldier on guard. The soldier is alert, observant, paying attention. Not caught off guard. Temptation in the negative sense, a trick or a trap, can come from inside my own, sinful heart that doesn’t want to obey God. And it can come from outside of me, from our sinful, fallen, broken world and the systems at work in it, economic systems and power structures. And it can come from Satan, the adversary. Be watchful, Jesus says … and pray.

Pray for strength in the face of temptation. Pray for strength in the time of testing. One of the marks of a follower of Jesus is a willingness, a desire, to ask for help, for rescue, rather than trying to face things on our own. When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we’re asking for strength to face the temptations that come our way, and we’re asking to be delivered, if at all possible, from times of severe testing. Testing isn’t easy. It isn’t pleasant. And we’re encouraged to ask God not to lead us into a severe test of our faith and obedience.

When WE pray this prayer, WE are praying for OUR brothers and sisters around the world who ARE facing severe tests of their faith and obedience. Those who, with guns pointed at their heads and swords at their necks, are faced with the decision, deny Christ, or die. We pray that they will be strengthened in this time of testing and temptation. The temptation that Peter faced to deny knowing Christ. We are praying alongside those tempted to give in to the forces of greed and power at work in this world. We are praying alongside those who face tests and temptations of all sorts. And they are praying for you.

Jesus faced the temptation to deny his calling too. To deny his identity. To turn his back on the cross and all that it represents. In the Garden of Gethsemane, even as he encouraged his disciples to watch and pray, he asked, if possible, for another way. And he heard the word “No,” so that we won’t have to. There was no ram to be provided, because he was the ram, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was led INTO temptation, and was NOT delivered from evil, so that we could pray, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.”

We are to watch and pray, and we can obey, because God has already provided the ram. Let us pray.