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It is at this point in our NRSV Bibles that the Lord’s Prayer ends. “Do not bring us to the time of trial.” This is Luke ends the prayer. “Do not bring us to the time of trial, but deliver us from the evil one,” in Matthew What are we to make of this? This hardly seems like the line to end on does it? The early church added the ending and we’ll be looking at that next week. There was good reason to add the ending and there’s good reason to pray it. What are we to make of this rather dark seeming ending, that’s all about trial and temptation and evil and the evil one. Is it in fact dark? Let us look at these lines of Jesus’ prayer this morning and hear what God has to say to our hearts.
This Christian life is hard. It’s not for the faint of heart. It requires perseverance. It requires holding fast – both Jesus Christ holding on to us and us holding onto our hope. It requires staying awake. It requires paying attention. It requires us being in constant contact with our Lord. This is why this prayer is repeated so often. This is why we’ve been talking about praying this prayer daily, perhaps multiple times per day. This is why we’ve been talking about what each line means and reflecting on the prayer as a whole and pondering it in our hearts.
We are in a battle. We are in a fight against trial and temptation and evil and the evil one. The greatest error the world can make is to deny the presence of evil. People do horrendous things that cannot simply be blamed on pathology or nurture. “He came from such a good home,” we often hear, when someone has committed some unspeakable act, “I just don’t understand.” Sometimes there is just no understanding. Some may look at the world and hold the belief that some person, some system, will save us. When these people or systems fail, we may fall into a kind of nihilism where we don’t believe in anything or start believing that we all make our own truth. To look honestly at ourselves is to see evil in our own hearts. When we ask God to make His name hallowed, to make his Kingdom come, to make his will done, we realize that we fail to do these things that we fail to make ourselves open to them. We ask for forgiveness and thank God that he is forgiving. We’ve been praying to our heavenly Father and asking for his name to be made hallowed, for his Kingdom to come, for his will to be done, for our daily needs to be provided, for forgiveness.
And in the midst of all of this we are in a battle. As the Kingdom of God is coming, other Kingdoms are fighting against it. The Kingdoms of the world. The powers and the principalities. We pray “Lead us not into the time of trial, but deliver us from the evil one” because it is an admission that we need help. It is an admission that Jesus is Lord.
Which is what this whole prayer is about. We talked about two reasons to pray when we began this series. The first was – we pray because we haven’t seen God’s kingdom come fully. We await that day. We look forward with patience and perseverance to that day. The second is that we pray to come to know God more, and in coming to know God more to come to be like him. To be made more Christ-like. To know the love and the peace and the joy and the hope that are found in Christ.
Who is Lord.
To say this phrase with meaning – “Jesus is Lord.” It’s so easy to say. It takes a lifetime to figure out what it means. If Jesus is Lord, then everything depends on him. Too often we in the church act like functional atheists. We say “Jesus is Lord” and act like everything depends on us. I’ve spoken of the prayer for poverty of spirit – for the ever deepening heart knowledge that we need God. I’ve spoken of the need for prayerful dependence on God – to come to God in wonder that we can come to him at all in the name of his son. To depend on Him. And so we pray “Lord teach us to depend on you.”
This whole prayer is a sign of trust. It’s a sign that the promises of God are promises we can depend on. It’s a sign that points us back to Jesus in line after line. Do these final lines about trial and evil seem dark? They’re not at all. They point to Jesus and they’re signs of grace. How can this be? As one writer puts it – “The awkward syntax of ‘do not lead us into temptation’ seems to blame God for putting us in unbearable situations… No wonder interpreters have bent over backwards to smooth out the language. Many assure us that Jesus really means ‘keep us away from temptation’ or ‘remind us that you never tempt us.’ Of course none of these things is what Jesus actually said. He told us to beg God not to put us to a test, presumably because we would fail it. What a vote of confidence in us! What a vote of confidence in God! What a way to conclude a conversation!” As a pep talk it leaves something to be desired.
Is it a pep talk though? We need to remember that each and every one of the things we pray in the Lord’s Prayer is God’s doing. God’s name being hallowed. The kingdom coming. Provision. Forgiveness. Not bringing us (or carrying us) to the time of trial. These are not things that we need to wonder about. These are not things that we ask for as if there’s a chance they might not happen.
So what are we to make of this request? This request should remind us that there was a trial that God would not bring us to. There was a trial that was meant for Christ alone. He told his followers that they would fall away from him. Christ asked his Father to remove this trial from him if it were possible, but nevertheless “not my will but yours be done.” Christ went to this trial and prayed and sweat drops of blood, so great was his anguish. We couldn’t have done it. We didn’t need to. When we pray “Do not bring us to the time of trial” we’re reminded that Christ willingly went to the time of trial. That he went in the presence of his Father and the company of the Holy Spirit. That Christ was ministered to by an angel. That even so he faced being forsaken by God (whether or not he was he certainly felt it as he cried out those words) so that we would not have to.
No matter what we faced. Our Lord has been before us. Our Lord learned what it was to be tested, to be tempted. To be tempted to go his own way. To pray this prayer is to look into Jesus’ face. When we do we see the one “who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God (and some ancient authorities read here “apart from God”) he might taste death for everyone.” (Heb 2:9)
We’re in a battle. This is the one who’s gone before us. Who goes with us. Who’s waiting for us crowned with glory and honour.
We’ve been delivered. We’re being delivered. We’ll be delivered. The God in whom we trust has shown time and time again that he brings life from what looks like disaster – from the time of the Exodus through the time of the exile to the birth and life and death and resurrection of Christ our Lord who does not bring us into that time of trial but bears it for us. We will face trials in life. Things will test and tempt us. Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder. It’s usually the tough things that test us isn’t it? I had a prof in seminary who told our class about a colleague who said that the fact that the historic timelines in Chronicles and Kings didn’t cohere with one another was a real test of his faith. My prof replied that it was more of a test to his faith when he had heard about a local tow-truck driver and father of two had been killed by a car coming out of an alley in the town they lived in. We are oft made to wonder. As we wonder we pray “Bring us not to the time of trial” knowing that Christ has gone through the ultimate trial before us and proved himself faithful and will enable the same faithfulness in us. We can rest in knowing that there is no disaster from which God cannot bring life.
Knowing that in Christ we have deliverance from the evil one. The liar. The accuser. This is another great paradox of the Christian faith. The serpent’s head has been crushed. The devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. It is said that Martin Luther went to bed each night praying “Forgive us our debts” and woke every morning praying “Lead us not into temptation.” He was also known for throwing inkwells at the devil.
If we dismiss this as medieval superstition, I believe we do so at our own peril. CS Lewis put it this way in The Screwtape letters – “There are two equal and opposite errors in which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” To not believe in the deceiver or the powers and the principalities at all. Or to think too much about them. “I was under satanic attack this morning when my car wouldn’t start.” Maybe I just need to perform regularly scheduled maintenance.
But we are being attacked. We are in a battle, as I said at the beginning. There are things all around us that tempt us. Things that would cause us to put our trust in something other than God. We call them idols usually. We talked about this when we looked at the book of Judges last year. Back then they were quite obvious and visible – altars and poles. Sometimes they’re less visible. When I was young there were these comics put out by a company called Spire. Spire Christian Comics. I quite liked them, especially the one about Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys. There was one about Adam and Eve which portrayed them as a modern couple (that is modern for the 70’s). When they are expelled from the Garden of Eden (which I found a little terrifying) they end up in a city. All around them are temptations. They’re obvious. We still fall prey to them. There are practical steps we can take. Flee from it. Flee from the worship of idols, Paul tells the people of Corinth. If alcohol is problematic – if it’s hard to stop after two – it’s probably not good to hang out in bars. That’s what 12 step is all about. If you’re an all or nothing type person, go with nothing. If consumerism is problematic, leisure time at the mall is probably not the best idea. You know what I’m talking about and can fill in your own blanks here. We can help each other with these things. We should be able to talk about things with which we struggle and help one another not in the spirit of judgement or “Thank God I’m not like that guy” but a spirit of love and compassion. We’re all comrades in this battle. Paul puts is like this to the Galatians – “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Bear one another’s burdens. This is why we’ve been praying in the first person plural this whole time!
Some temptations are not so obvious. They seem like good things. When Christ was tempted in the wilderness he was tempted to turn stones into bread. That’s a good thing right? Christ didn’t want to be hungry. Christ didn’t want people to be hungry. Throw yourself off the Temple. God will protect you right? That’s what God does. Such a sign will cause thousands to follow you. That’s what we want right? I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you worship me. None of this “kingdom of God is like a mustard seed or yeast” stuff. None of this hard work and perseverance and one on one time and relationship building and all the things that are involved with following Christ. Worship me and these kingdoms of the world will be yours.
Temptations come in the guise of things that seem really good. Let goods and kindred go, Martin Luther writes in the hymn we’ll sing. Goods. How can goods be a bad thing? When we make them the focus of our existence. When we let things like vocation, career, and acquisition of stuff – turn us away from God. “Kindred?” you say. When we let care for our family be our overriding concern. How can this be a bad thing? When it turns us away from God. When it keeps us from hearing the voice of truth. This is the key thing in this story. This is why Satan is known as the liar, the accuser. “If you are the Son of God…” If you are the beloved son. Prove it. Jesus had nothing to prove. He’d just heard his Father’s voice as his cousin John brought him up out of Jordan’s waters. “This is my son, the beloved.” This is my beloved son. He carried that with him all his life.
We’re to carry that voice of truth with us friends. The liar’s voice is everywhere. Your worth is in what you produce/consume/look like. You’re not worthy of this grace. There must be something wrong with you. You need to rely on yourself. All lies. We must listen for the truth. One writer puts it like this – “Those who are struggling in battle ought always to keep their souls free of tumultuous waves of distraction. If they do this, the mind will be able to distinguish among the thoughts that come to it. The good thoughts, sent by God, they can store in the treasure house of their memory. The evil thoughts, sent by the devil, they can throw out.”
The devil goes about like a roaring lion sure. Here’s some truth though. One little word will fell him. This is not our fight. Christ has fought it. He’s won. We’ve been delivered. We need only stay awake. Be vigilant. Keep praying often and meaningfully. The victory is ours friends. Knowing this what else is there to say but “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever, Amen.” Pastor Abby will look at that with you next week as we finish. Of course it’s not the finish. We’re just getting started! May God grant us vigilant hearts as we rest in Christ’s victory.