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Gracious heavenly Father, we come to You again, not merely because that’s what we normally do before a sermon, but because we really need Your help, I need Your help, that I would speak clearly, humbly, that Your Spirit would be at work to give unction and power to this Word, and we need help that we may hear and not be hearers only but doers. And so speak to us just what we need to hear, to correct us, to warn us, to encourage us, to save us. And we pray that Jesus would be glorified, and we pray in His Name. Amen.
For some strange reason, or at least it will seem strange to many of you, ever since I was in middle school I have really liked running. Yes, not just having run, but most days the actual act of running. I played one year of football in junior high and I realized I much preferred to be running away from people that running into people, and so since then, now for decades, I’ve been fairly consistent, though certainly not spectacular, runner. And over those decades I can think of several times when I realized almost too late that I was in somewhat serious danger.
One time was just a few years ago. I can’t recall if it was vacation or a pastors’ retreat. We were up by Ridge Haven, so in the western part of the state in the mountains, and I was running down a lonely dirt road, up and down hills, and went by a house that was sort of a house you might expect to see out in the hills and the mountains somewhere, and I noticed, now I’m not an expert on animals, but it seemed to me a pit bull was steadily marching toward me and no one in the house from which it was coming seemed to be concerned that their dog was running away or chasing down a pastor with many children to provide for.
I can never recall if it’s dog or a bear or when you’re supposed to seem really big and scary and when you’re not supposed to seem intimidating, but I stopped running, started slowly walking backward. It wasn’t sprinting at me, it was just a steady march with a sort of low growl and I started to think how hard could I kick. Probably not hard enough.
I turned around and sort of briskly started walking in the other direction and I could hear the pitter patter that the dog was following me and still sort of a low rumble. I didn’t dare to look back until eventually he must have figured that I was at a safe distance from his domain and he broke off his trot and turned around and went back to his home and I lived to tell the tale.
Another time I was running in a beautiful section of woods between Gordon Conwell, where I went to seminary, and Gordon College, where Tricia went to college. It was a crisp, sunny, beautiful, late fall afternoon in New England. It was an idyllic setting that I jogged off the trail and was scampering among the trees for some time. And at that time of the year, very late fall, the sun begins to set in New England around 4:30.
I remember one time the pizza place that I would always go to was mostly staffed by Muslims and I got to be friends with some of them and they said, oh, and Ramadan happened to fall in November or December, and talking to my friend about it, he said, “oh, it’s great to celebrate Ramadan here in New England in November, the sun’s never up, so I just sleep in and then I wait a few hours and I can eat.”
So the sun was setting and the shadows were getting long, and I realized that I had no idea where I was. Now this is before the days of GPS watches and smartphones. I didn’t have any running lights. I started to panic a little, wondering how cold I would be in my shorts as I had to, if I had to sleep under a pile of leaves. Decided that I would move as fast I could in whatever direction seemed to be going downhill. I was thinking if I go downhill, there’s a stream or a path or something that will eventually lead me back to something familiar, and so that’s what I did. I hit a gravel road, was able to follow it back until I sort of had my wits about me. But I was about 10 minutes away from needing a group of brave trail life boys to come find me, or build me a hut, or kill something and cook a meal for me.
One last story. This was probably, thinking back, the most serious danger I was in. I lived for one summer in college in Colorado and way back into the mountain range and it was somewhat primitive and rustic, but beautiful. Hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest and you could see snowcapped peaks. I was running one day down a dirt road and I decided to go up the hill, off the path. You can see a pattern here when I decide why don’t I explore and go off the path.
So I was running up along this ridge and I came across a large deer, an elk, something that was dead on the ground. And it didn’t have bugs, it hadn’t been picked apart, so it hadn’t been dead for very long. And my powers of deduction figures whatever was fast enough to catch that and big enough to kill that, would probably be very quick to get me and I would end up like that and my heart started racing. It was an area that was known to have lots of bears and so I made as quickly as I could, with my heart pounding, down the ridge, down the hill, back to a path.
Later I was telling people who lived there. They said you saw an animal that had recently been killed. You were probably in very serious harm’s way and you’re very fortunate you didn’t meet whatever mama bear was trying to protect her cubs.
Thankfully, in all three circumstances, and now some of you are going to say “and that’s why I never run, I always knew there was a reason.” Thankfully, in each circumstance, I realized before it was too late that there was danger.
What’s true with running in the wilderness or running off the beaten path, is even more true in our spiritual lives. We seldom realize the danger we are in and sometimes we do not realize it until it is too late.
The last thing that Jesus wants to teach us here in the Lord’s Prayer is that we need our Father’s help because we live lives full of danger. Danger within, and danger stalking about us.
The sixth petition we find in Matthew chapter 6, verse 13: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
Some people divide this into two petitions. You can see that: Lead us not in to temptation, deliver us from evil. But we’ll see in a moment that the two requests are really the same request, expressed in typical Hebrew parallelism.
This is not only the sixth petition overall, but if you remember our structure, this is the third in the second set of three requests. The first three focus on God’s glory, the second three focus on our good. And you can almost see a trinitarian structure here in the second set of three requests. God the Father is our creator, sustainer, He gives us our daily bread; God the Son is the atonement for our sins, to forgive our debts; and God the Spirit leads us and fills us with power to live a holy life.
And notice, too, the progression that from our sins being forgiven it does not lead to complacency. As I heard someone say one time, it’s a great arrangement between me and God, I love to sin, He loves to forgive. That’s not the logic, but rather just the opposite. Once we have been forgiven, our debts have been set free and we have been cleansed, we don’t want to be polluted again. We want to walk in the light as He is in the light.
Psalm 130, verse 4: But with You there is forgiveness that You may be feared.
That’s the progression.
The Lord’s Prayer, in addition to teaching us how to pray, is always teaching us about ourselves. These last three requests give voice to the three things that every human being needs. Maybe not all that we want, but really all that we need. Provision, pardon, protection.
We have stomachs to be filled, we have sins to be forgiven, and we have evil to be fought. Or if you want one more alliterative triad, these three petitions remind us we live a life of dependence, a life of debts, and a life of danger.
The request, “lead us not into temptation,” seems simple enough until we stop and try to define “temptation.”
There are at least three different kinds of temptations in the Bible. One, sometimes the Bible thinks of temptation as trial, or testing. These trials are not in themselves sinful, but the suffering they entail can tempt us to doubt God, to compromise with the world, to give up on the faith. You understand that. When you are enduring profound suffering, there is a temptation, “God, I’ll do whatever it takes, I’ll even renounce you if I can just be out of this pain.”
We’re coming in a few weeks, Lord willing, in the evening to James, actually next week, and then we’ll get to the section in James, and I think I’m preaching that Sunday, where he talks about temptation. So we’re going to bounce back and forth here this morning and hopefully we’ll come to it in more detail in a few weeks.
James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
That word “trials” is the Greek word “peirasmois” which is in the noun form later found in the verb form in verse 13 of James 1, and there it’s translated several times as “tempted” or “tempts.” So it’s the same Greek word translated “temptation” or translated as “trial.” That’s one form of temptation, comes to us in suffering, in tribulation, in trials that we are meant to endure.
Two. Sometimes the Bible thinks of temptations as an enticement to sin. That is, temptations that arise from without, external to us. Think of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus had no sin nature. Yes, Jesus was tempted in every way as we are yet without sin. He was a true human, and yet that doesn’t mean that His experience of temptation was in every way identical with our experience.
John Owens said that Jesus had the suffering part of temptation, we have the sinful part.
He was tempted by external entreaties from the devil. Likewise, we also can be tempted by the lies of the evil one or by the world’s false promises. Temptations outside of us.
And then there’s a third category: Those temptations that arise from within, those allurements to sin that are internal, that originate from the power of indwelling sin. This is what James means when he says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured, enticed, by his own desire.”
So clearly these are the kinds of temptations that Christ did not experience. He had no sinful lusts. He had no misplaced desires in His heart. Jesus was tempted with the first category, sufferings and trials; He was tempted in the second category by the devil’s entreaties outside of Him; but He was not tempted as we are in the third category with His own fallen desires. Jesus was tempted by the first two, we are tempted by all three.
What, then, does it mean when Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation”?
Well, it does not mean, “God, don’t entice me to sin.” God never entices us to sin.
James 1:13: “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.”
We know from Psalm 11, verse 5 the Lord can test the righteous, but He does not tempt us. That is, He does not present before us sin as an attraction. It would be inconsistent with God’s character for Him ever to present sin to us in order to entice us.
So notice the Lord’s Prayer does not say, “Father, don’t tempt me.” That would be inconsistent with His character ever to do that. It’s unnecessary to pray that.
Rather, it says, “Do not lead me.” That means, “God, do not allow me to be even near the allure of sin. God, do not bring me near to the devil. Do not permit me to be in situations where the enticement to sin will be greater than I can bear.” That’s what Jesus is teaching us to pray.
If you have your Bible open, turn back two chapters to Matthew 4, because we can see from this near context what Jesus probably has in mind. You’ll notice the same language used in Matthew 4, verse 1: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
That was the unique experience of Jesus because He had a unique mission to fulfill. He had to succeed where the first Adam failed. The first Adam did not pass the test. Jesus is the second Adam. Or, to use a different biblical category, the first Israel sinned in the wilderness and was made to wander for 40 years. Here’s Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, recapitulating what Israel did, but now He will prove faithful where Israel proved faithless.
The Spirit led Jesus into a place of testing and temptation. Jesus has us pray, “Father, do not lead me into that same haunted wilderness.”
Now this does not mean that God never providentially arranges for trials in our life. Surely, He does. We see in Job He allowed Job to be tested.
We are not praying for a life set apart from suffering. We are praying for a life set apart from sinning.
This is why we should read “lead us not” in conjunction with “deliver us from.” Typical Hebrew parallelism says one thing and says the same thing with different language and the two help reinforce one another. So “lead us not into temptation” is a poetic way of expressing the same thing as the second half of the verse, “deliver us from evil.” At its most basic level, this sixth petition is asking for spiritual protection.
This is why I think evil, you see that the last word in verse 13, chapter 6, should probably be translated as “the evil one.” You see there’s a footnote in the ESV, “or evil one.” The Greek is “tou ponerou,” genitive noun. It can be either a neuter noun or a masculine noun. They look exactly the same, so either is grammatically correct.
If you translate it as a neuter noun, you would translate it as “evil.” So that’s certainly not wrong. If you think it’s a masculine noun, then you would translate it as “the evil one.” And in either case, it really nets out the same. Either you’re praying about evil and chief in that evil is the evil one, or you’re praying about the evil one and all the evil that he entices you to commit.
But given the connection we’ve already seen with this petition and Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, I think the most likely referent is to the devil. God, don’t lead me as You did in that unique situation for Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one. Lead me not into temptation, deliver me from the evil one. Keep me out of the path of sin and keep me safe from the devil’s snares. That’s the prayer.
When you pray that from your heart, think of all the things you’re expressing to God. You are making known your hatred for sin. You’re confessing your weakness to overcome it. You’re counting on God to never leave you or forsake you. We are trusting in the power of the Spirit to be our strength and our shield.
You notice Jesus didn’t tell us to pray for more willpower. Now, yes, our wills are engaged in the fight against sin, but the prayer is not first of all, “God, make me courageous and strong,” but “God, rescue me.” Not just airdrop some supplies, but send a rescue helicopter and come down and lift me up and get me out of this. Be my rock, my refuge.
Remember, we’re praying to our heavenly Father. He’s not too busy to care. He’s not too impotent to help.
All of you who have kids, or anyone who’s been around kids, you understand this. I think of the times that my young children have said to me, “Daddy, don’t let my head go under water” when you’re teaching them to swim in the pool. “Daddy, don’t leave me in the store by myself. Daddy, you’ll sit next to me on the airplane, right?”
What parent wouldn’t be happy to get requests and pleas like that? They honor me as a father. They’re not hard for me, and it brings me delight to guide and to guard my children.
Some of you will remember, may even bring emotion, a tear to your eye, to think of the times gone by when a little child would reach up and grab your hand. Yes, would you be with me as we walk?
That’s what we’re doing. God, my Father, help me. Guard me. Guide me. Protect me.
And if we who are sinful parents are eager to do so for our children, how much more does our heavenly Father love to guide and guard us?
I want you to think about temptation. Think about what Jesus faced in the wilderness, because the sort of things that the devil presented to Jesus are the same things that He will present to us.
Jesus was tempted in the wilderness with three things: He was tempted by pleasure, by pride, and by power.
Pleasure. You can see what the devil’s up to. He says, “You’re hungry, Jesus. You’ve been fasting 40 days and nights. Have a bite to eat. You’re the Son of God, aren’t You? Give Yourself what You want. It’s just bread. Eat. Turn these stones into loaves.”
It’s not that pleasure is necessarily sinful, just like eating is not wrong. In the Gospel accounts it says the angels came and ministered to Him. Probably the angels came and brought Him food, just like the angel of the Lord brought food to Elijah in the wilderness, so eating per se was not the problem. The question was whether Jesus would listen to the devil. Would Jesus try to assert His identity on the devil’s terms? Did Jesus love God more than food? Did Jesus trust that God could satisfy His hunger another way?
That’s why you remember Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8 to the devil: Man does not live by bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.
In other words, I don’t need your food, not in your way, Satan. God will sustain me. God will be with me. Better is one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere. His love is better than life. In Him, my soul will be satisfied as with rich food. There is nothing on earth I desire besides Him. My flesh and my heart might fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Jesus fought pleasure with pleasure. You’re presenting to me the immediate pleasure of bread, but I have from My heavenly Father greater pleasure in His Word.
Then he tempts Jesus with pride. Prove yourself, come on, Jesus. Show what You can do. Put on a big show. Jump off of the temple and command Your angels to be a heavenly parachute for You. Just think of it. People seeing Your body fall, oh, no, what’s happening to Jesus? And then the angels come and they lift you up. Everyone will be talking about You. You’ll be famous. This will be the most amazing thing these people have ever seen. There’ll be no doubt in their mind that You’re the Son of God.
Satan even quotes Scripture, Psalm 91, but he doesn’t apply it correctly. People can bring to you Scripture and that doesn’t mean that they’re telling you the truth. He turns a text of promise into an opportunity for pride. And again, it wouldn’t have been wrong for Jesus to give a display of His glory. It wasn’t wrong for the disciples to worship Him. After the resurrection it wasn’t wrong for Jesus to be transfigured and for His glory to be shown on the mountain.
But Jesus is saying, “no, no, no, I’m not here to be a carnival attraction.”
God does not exist to do tricks for us. God wants heartfelt worship, not mere fame.
Jesus quotes again from Deuteronomy: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Satan, don’t put God on trial. Don’t back God into a corner. Do not insist that God fill out your final exam. Some of us are like that with God: “Here you go, God, I have a few questions for you. If you could get back to me as soon as you can. I’ll grade your answers and I’ll let you know how you’re doing as God.” Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” I’m not going to fall for your temptation to pride.
Then the third one is power. You notice the devil proposes a shortcut to glory. He says, “Look at all the kingdoms of the world. You see them? If You worship me, just fall on Your feet, You don’t even have to mean it in Your heart, just do the action… It will be all yours.”
Now again, this was not wrong, the end. In fact, the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” All the kingdoms will be His, what the devil proposes is the right end through the wrong means. The devil wants us to take shortcuts. He says, “Look, Jesus, all the kingdoms, they’ll be yours. No suffering, no betrayal. No cross. No cup of the Lord’s wrath. If You would just do this my way, it’ll be easy. It’ll be comfortable. You’ll have the whole world. You’ll have power. You’ll have glory. Just fall at my feet.”
The temptation was to power. It was a temptation to take shortcuts. Satan is always tempting us to take the easy way out. He’s offering us a crown without a cross, pleasure without pain, success without sacrifice, admiration without affliction. He promises us, “I will give you everything God can give you, except I’ll get you to the top of the mountain without having to go through the valley.” And it’s a lie and Jesus knew it was a lie.
Again He quotes Deuteronomy: You shall worship the Lord alone.
Jesus understood that God’s end must always be accomplished by God’s means. The devil will lure us with legitimate things: Influence, purpose, marriage, family, even money, success. He will tempt us to get them by illegitimate means, or sometimes he will get us to go after the wrong things. But then here’s where he’s at his worst, when he gets us to go after the right things but to do it in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. He excels in presenting half-truths. He masquerades as an angel of light. He promises what he cannot deliver.
And you can make a very good case, and you may recall I did this several weeks ago when we were in Genesis 3, that these three temptations that Jesus faced in the wilderness are in fact the same three temptations that Adam and Eve faced in the garden.
Genesis 3:6: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes, that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Again, Adam and Eve wanted God’s blessings on their own terms. They wanted a shortcut. They wanted what looked beautiful. They wanted the right to decide for themselves good from evil. They wanted the influence that came from wisdom. Adam and Eve wanted pleasure, pride, power.
We hear echoes of the same three things in 1 John 2:16: For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and pride and possessions is not from the Father but is from the world.”
You see, the world promises you everything. The world dangles the bait and hides the hook. The world says, “Love me, not God. Love me and your flesh will be satisfied. Love me and your eyes will have whatever they want. Love me and you can be rich and famous.” The world promises pleasure, pride, power. But it never lasts.
So you can be confident that when the devil tempts you, he’s going to come with some form of these same three basic temptations and you and I must ask ourselves: Okay, where am I weak?
You could be decked out in the best armor, but if you have one open spot of weakness, the rest of the armor won’t do you any good.
Where are you most prone to the devil’s enticement?
Some people don’t care about being famous. They aren’t interested in being in control. They simply want to feel good. They want to be happy. They want ease. They want comfort. They want pleasure. That’s where the devil will come at them.
Other people want recognition. Oh, they’re willing to sacrifice, they’re willing to work hard, they could be disciplined. They don’t even care so much about having authority and control. They simply want to be known. They want people talking about them. They want to nurture their pride. They want likes and follows and people to pat them on the back and think they’re amazing.
And then there are those who they don’t really care what people think about them. They may even fancy themselves sort of above all of that. They aren’t trying to be liked or impressive. They aren’t trying to go at things the easy way, but they want what C.S. Lewis called “to be in the inner ring.” They don’t care if they eat, sleep, drink. They just want to make it to the top. They want to be in the know. They want to be in control. They want to have authority. They want to be calling the shots. They want power.
Where are you most likely to be tempted? Because we’re all different. And you may look at someone else’s temptation that they struggle with and say, “Well, why would you even care about having that?” and fancy yourself to be immune from temptation, when actually there’s some other area of sin that your friend is not drawn to and you are daydreaming about it all the time.
Or if we can ask the question with a different metaphor, in which room is the devil most likely to whisper in your ear? Is it in the bedroom, with all the pleasure? Is it in the boardroom, with the promise of power? Or is it in the bathroom mirror, with pride?
You must know your enemy and you must know yourself, and you must know from whence our help comes.
So here’s what I want to say in closing. Perhaps more than anything else, this last petition reminds us that we live perilous lives. There are dangers within, there are dangers without.
We all know too well, we have stories to tell, of people who seemed to be very strong, seemed to be walking with the Lord, and what happened? I think of a young man I knew who seemed to be on fire for the Lord and earnest in his faith, and he had had a father who walked out on their family when he was younger and he was determined not to do the same thing. But some years later he did exactly the same thing, though calling himself a Christian convinced himself that there was a reason to walk out and leave his wife, leave his kids, go on to something better. He had believed some lies about himself, about where happiness comes, about what God is like and wants.
Friends, do not be caught unawares.
I love this line from Hermann Witsius: Whoever has God for his friend will find Satan to be his enemy.
You can count on it. And in fact, if you never find Satan to be your enemy, you might want to think whether God is your friend.
The road, Jesus said, that we have to travel is narrow. The enemies on the path are fierce and cunning. Most of us, if we’re honest, we live lives too serious about casual things and too casual about serious things. We fret about clothes and calories and we fuss about diets or about decorations. Or our whole week can be ruined by something that 19-year-olds do on a ball field, or 43-year-olds if you’re Tom Brady. And some sporting event sends us into some great tizzy.
We are supremely concerned for these relatively unimportant matters, and yet we start each new day as if we were in no spiritual danger, as if we had no enemy. As if we were not at war with the flesh. We know we need daily bread. We may even know that each day we need forgiveness, but do we know how much we need this prayer each day?
If we are to pray for daily provision and for daily pardon, then surely we must also pray for daily protection. And I say it to challenge you and also to challenge myself: How many times do we go about each day thinking that there is no battle, blissfully ignorant, sometimes willfully ignorant, of the danger that we will face?
When I think of this petition, I always think of the story of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph didn’t know when he woke up that morning the temptation that he would face. Now, yes, Scripture tells us that it wasn’t the first time that Potiphar’s wife had tried to coax him into sexual sin. He had faced it before, but never so brazenly. He didn’t know that morning that he would later that day be seduced in secret by a beautiful, powerful woman, but he was, and when he was, he was ready. He did not ponder the temptation, he did not nurture the temptation, he did not stand there and reason with the temptation. He made the only right choice in the face of such evil, and that is to run away from the temptation.
Now that may or may not be your particular temptation. You may say a Potiphar’s wife or a Potiphar with such seduction would not be any allurement to you. Well, in whatever way the temptation takes shape, are you prepared? Are you getting ready each morning for the possibility of a Potiphar’s wife, in whatever form that may take in your life? Are you pleading with God, “do not present to me such temptation, do not lead me in the path where such allurements can come my way.”
Will you be ready? Are you praying for that protection?
You probably know that on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 the Japanese military launched a surprise attack on the US naval fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Americans were not as prepared as they should have been, even though there were signs of imminent danger. A Gallup poll taken just a few days before Pearl Harbor showed 52% of Americans expected war with Japan, only 27% did not. The American public was expecting something. Everyone knew something was coming.
On December 6, the day before, US Intelligence intercepted a Japanese message asking about ship movements and the location of naval vessels at Pearl Harbor. A cryptologist, someone who deciphers code, gave the message to her supervisor who said he would look at it after the weekend and get back to her on Monday. Early on the morning of December 7, a radar operator on Oahu spotted a large group of airplanes hurtling toward the island. He told his supervisor, who said it must be American B-17 bombers out on a training run.
The danger was there. People saw the signs, but they did not take them seriously. They were not ready.
Listen, there is no way to fully escape sin in this life. You could be like the monks of old and live your life on top of a column or in a cave somewhere and you would still have the devil attacking you and you would have your flesh to battle. We cannot avoid suffering. We cannot avoid human trials. But we can pray for divine deliverance.
Do you know that you need help? And do you know that there is help?
He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world, 1 John 4:4.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you, James 4:7.
So mark it very well. We carry within us by the Spirit, and we have His Word outside of us and working within us, to enable us to overcome the darkness. There is power available if you will pray, if you will pray. Will you and I wake up each day? Will you go about this day and this week knowing that there is a battle? Knowing that you and I are in spiritual danger?
But we have a heavenly Father who would love to give us all the protection we need, all the air cover we need, to guide us and to guard us and to protect us, if we would pray.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we do come before You asking for Your leading, that You would keep us out of the path of sin, that You would protect us from the snares of the evil one. Lord, we don’t come before you because we think we’re strong, but because we know we’re weak. We don’t pray that we would have greater courage, though we need that. But that You would be our rescue. O Lord, we are prone to wander. We can feel it. Prone to leave the God we love, and so we pray for Your ever present power and protection in our lives, that we may live, and when we are called to, die for you. In Jesus we pray. Amen.