Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Very quickly, we’re winding down in our time together in the Lord’s Prayer. There’s a lot we’ve already talked about, a lot more to come, and even more that we, for the moment, have had to move past so that we can at least touch on each of the petitions. As a prayer to be repeated, and as a prayer to use as a model for our prayers, the Lord’s Prayer encourages us to pray to God as our heavenly Father. Before we even think about asking for what we think we need, we make sure to re-tune our hearts and minds to focus on what matters above all else: that God’s name would be holy among us and throughout the world, that He would reign and rule in our lives and the the lives of people everywhere, and that His will would be done here and now, just like it’s done around God’s throne.
Only then do we turn our attention to ourselves, first focusing on our physical needs. That’s what we looked at last week with, “give us this day our daily bread.” In this petition, we pray for not only the food on our table, but for everything we need to get it there and enjoy it in peace, which turns out to be a pretty long list. On Sunday, we touched on the fifth petition, dealing with forgiveness. Not only do we ask for forgiveness for ourselves, we as that our hearts would be softened so that we would forgive those who sin against us. While this is much easier said than done, it’s also of the utmost importance. When you and I refuse to forgive others, it’s like we’re throwing God’s good gifts back in His face, as Jesus described in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
Tonight, we make it to the sixth petition, “lead us not into temptation.” With these words, we pray that we would not experience, let alone succumb to any form of temptation. But how do we deal with this petition? To pray that God wouldn’t lead us into temptation sounds a lot like God usually does lead people into temptation and that we have to ask Him not to do it. In tonight’s epistle reading, we heard James flat out say that God tempts no one, but is tempting the same thing as leading to temptation? A lot of ink has been spilled trying to make sense of this all. But to me, most of it sounds like an attempt to explain away something people are uncomfortable with. And that’s fine, unless that discomfort comes from God’s Word.
Way back in November of 2017, we were studying the book of Romans in our Sunday morning Bible Study, when we felt this same discomfort. In Romans 1, Paul described how God chooses to work in some extreme cases. Men and women rebel against God. They want nothing to do with Him and reject His influence all together. So God lets them go. Three times, Paul repeated, “God gave them up” to “impurity,” to “dishonorable passions,” and even to “a debased mind.” There are some times that God, at our request, leads us into temptation. It’s not because He is tempting us. It’s not because he wants us to be tempted. It’s not because God is evil. It’s because God does not force anyone to believe and is at work, even in the midst of a desire to sin, to draw His people back. Rather than trying to explain away God’s Word, let’s take it seriously and let God handle His own affairs.
With that in mind, what are we praying for in this petition? We pray that we would not be so deluded by our sins that God would have no choice but to let us have our way. We pray that God would protect us from Satan’s temptations, our own desires, and the allures of this world. We heard for us tonight what those temptations sound like in the reading from Proverbs. Temptation, foolishness is personified as a prostitute. As Solomon looks on from above, he describes her temptations: a plush bed, ritual purity, intoxicating smells, no chance of getting caught. “All at once He follows her. Just as an ox goes to the slaughter, just as a stag is caught fast, and just as a bird rushes into a snare, he has no idea it will cost him his life.” Temptations are much more serious and much more deadly that we give it credit for.
That temptation is all around us. It’s even necessary, Jesus says, that temptations come, because they won’t stop coming until we’re dead. From within and from without, you and I are in danger every hour, for, you know, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Left to our own devices, we lose every single time.
Yet in Christ, there is hope. Only in Christ there is hope. You are not left to your own devices. Even in the midst of your sin, there is hope and salvation. Jesus faced every temptation and came away without sin. Yet at the same time, He paid the penalty for your sin and mine by dying on the cross. There, He put our sin, our guilt, our giving in to temptations to death. And as proof that He is stronger than they, He triumphed over them when He rose from the dead on Easter morning. In Christ, you and I have hope— hope to overcome not only sin, but temptation as well even in this life.
How that works, how you tap into that, how that victory becomes a reality in your life is only by the grace of God. I wish I had an easier answer than that. I wish I could tell you to just try harder, but that doesn’t work. I wish I could tell you to just have more faith, to just pray more, or to just come to church more, but that’s no guarantee. Instead, I have to tell you that in spite of your identity as a baptized and redeemed child of God, you will still give into sin this side of heaven. You will be driven back to the cross time and time again. You will constantly and continually need forgiveness. But for those of us in Christ, we know that no sin we commit can tear us away from God’s love. When we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. All the while, we make this prayer our own: “Father in heaven, lead us not into temptation. Amen.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell