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“Jesus said, ‘Pray like this, Our Father in heaven… lead us not into temptation.”
I. The Connection Between The 5th and 6th Petitions
A. Forgiveness comes before Trespasses
One of the benefits of doing a sermon series on a particular part of the Catechism, is that after a few weeks, you begin to see connections that you might otherwise not see.
I can’t help but see a very close connection between the 6th Petition and the 5th Petition that we considered last Sunday. The 5th Petition deals with the forgiveness of sins and the 6th Petition deals with temptation to sin.
What strikes me as odd though is the order of these two. Doesn’t it seem as though the Petition about temptation to sin would come first and then, if and when we fall into it, we move to the Petition on the forgiveness for our fall.
But that’s not the way that Jesus gives it to us. He puts the Father's forgiveness first. Like we said, God's forgiveness always comes first. Before we even get to the topic of temptation and how weak we are to stand against it and how often we fall into it and how stupid and naïve we can be about just how dangerous it really is, we already know that we are forgiven.
And when you think about it, that really changes the way we treat the Petition – “lead us not into temptation.” We’re not asking God to keep us from falling into temptation so that He doesn’t have to go to the trouble of forgiving us and lifting us up and washing us off again, and again, and again. He’s already paid that price up front, in advance, in full.
B. The Response of the Grateful Soul
What this means then is that this petition, “lead us not into temptation,” is the prayer of the GRATEFUL soul who wants to glorify God by not falling to temptation ever again.
We could respond to this grace of God by saying, 'well since God is so good and gracious to me and forgives me all of my trespasses and sins FIRST, EVEN WITHOUT OUR PRAYER, why should I be so concerned about the temptations that have my name written all over them? In fact, why shouldn't I pray, “Our Father in heaven, LEAD ME INTO TEMPTATION so that Your forgiveness may increase and Your grace may abound? Why not?
Why not? Because you know as well as I do that that's an abuse of God's grace. It's an abuse of His love. It’s an abuse of Christ’s blood. It's an abuse of your baptism. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Heaven forbid! Surely not! You can't be serious! Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death… in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, WE TOO MIGHT WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE.” (Rom.6:1-4)
“Lead us not into temptation,” is the prayer of the grateful soul who, in loving response to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, counts himself responsible for His Lord's suffering and death on the cross. It was for my sins that He was crucified, died and was buried. He shed His blood to wipe the slate of my sinful life clean. The only proper and appropriate gratitude that I can show is to resist and flee from every temptation to sin continue to sin.
C. Example of Adulterous Woman
St. John tells us about the woman who was caught in adultery. The Pharisees brought her to Jesus and said, “in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?” Jesus replied, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus was the only one who is without sin. Which means that He could have chucked the first stone at this woman. But He spared her. “Neither do I condemn you.”
He could have gone on to say, “My Father will condemn me in your place. I will take your sins upon myself and take the punishment worse than stoning for you so that you may go unpunished for your sins.” But all that He said to her was, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11).
What do you think that this woman did? How did she respond? Unfortunately John doesn't tell us and this woman disappears from sight. Maybe she went right back to her adultery. Hopefully she was so thankful for Christ's gracious treatment of her, that she repented and turned from her sin and lived in the 'newness of life' that Jesus had given to her. That would be the appropriate response, the honorable response, the faithful response. Hopefully she prayed something like, “Our Father in heaven… lead us not into temptation.”
II. The Nature of Temptation
A. Temptation is Inescapable.
Temptation’s goal is to cause us to sin. And sin separates us from God. If you can avoid 'temptation,' you stand a good chance of not sinning. If only it were that simple.
In one of his expositions of this petition, Luther said, “We are beset before and behind by temptations and cannot throw them off.” Luther identifies the sources of temptation as the devil the world and our own sinful nature. That pretty well cuts off every way of escape. You can't escape the world, you can't escape yourself, you can't escape the devil.
This also means that anything, absolutely anything, can become a temptation to sin. We tend to think that temptation to sin is located in the ‘bad things,’ the ‘evil things,’ the ‘sinful things.’ If only it were that simple.
Listen, if something as innocent and pleasing to the eye as a piece of fruit can become the temptation to turn away from God, then certainly anything can.
This is the thing that makes our pilgrimage of faith through this life so dangerous. We may think that we have charted out the safe path to follow and identified the obvious snares and traps that have been set along the way to catch us.
B. Temptations to sin are sure to come.
The truth is, we cannot escape the temptations that surrounds us – EVEN THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST! In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prays to the Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world…” (John 17:15). Jesus does not say that “if you follow Me, if you are My disciple, then temptations to sin will go away.”
No, in fact He promises that we will continue to be surrounded on every side by temptations, even as He claims us as His own. To His disciples He says, “Temptations to sin are sure to come.” (Luke 17:1). “SURE TO COME” because this world is fallen and corrupt and we are fallen and corrupt and temptations to sin beget temptations to sin.
You don't have to go looking for temptations to sin, they'll come looking for you sure enough. Luther liked to tell the story that he picked up from his reading of the early church fathers, this one comes from Jerome. Two hermits were walking working together and the younger one mentioned to the older one how he would like to be rid of all of his selfish and sinful thoughts and desires. The older hermit replied to the younger saying, “My dear brother, you cannot prevent the birds flying over your head. But you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” If only it were that simple.
C. Danger of thinking we can avoid temptation.
It really does us no good to think that if only I was a better Christian, then I would be free of the temptations that dog me to sin against my Lord. In fact, that idea in itself can become a great temptation to sin. “If I REALLY believed, then I would not struggle so much with the temptations that surround me. THEREFORE I must not really believe. Maybe I am not really a child of God and maybe God really does not care about me after all.”
Really? What about St. Peter, who was tempted to deny that he was a Christian, even while even as Jesus was on trial for Peter's sins? What about St. David, who was tempted by his eyes when he saw Bathsheba bathing? And Joseph who was tempted by Potiphar's wife to commit adultery? And what about Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of God's creative work. Even they were confronted with temptation to sin.
III. The Path Through Temptation
No, it is not those who have discovered the secret to escape all temptation to whom Jesus says, “Pray like this, Our Father in heaven… lead us not into temptation,” it is those who know what great danger they are in and who also know how totally weak and helpless we are to even identify it let alone stand against it.
A. Lead Us.
First and foremost, it is to those who are followers of Jesus Christ, the little lambs of His flock, that Jesus directs to pray that we may be LED by the Father. “LEAD US…” “Lead us…” Let those two words sink in. Only believers, only followers, only the sheep of the Good Shepherd pray that they would be led by God.
To pray, “LEAD US” is to confess that we are blind and deaf and dumb, in the IQ sense of the word. We cannot lead ourselves. We need to be taken by the hand, lifted on eagles wings. The Shepherd needs to go in front of us to 'LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPATION.'
And isn't that just what God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world to do. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted.” (Mat.4:1). So much for that theory that faithful people aren't confronted by temptation. God the Father sent God the Son into this world to be led by God the Holy Spirit into the temptation that surrounds us all.
With His divine sight, Jesus sees every temptation to sin clearly. And by His almighty power, He falls into none of it.
It is only good, right and salutary then that we learn to pray this petition from the only One who has faced every temptation known to man and withstood it successfully.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who, IN EVERY RESPECT, HAS BEEN TEMPTED AS WE ARE YET WITHOUT SIN.” (Hebrews 4:15).
B. We pray to be led by Jesus.
To pray that Our Father would not lead us into temptation is NOT to pray for the power to chart our own course safely through the minefield that has been set against us. It is the prayer that Jesus Christ, who has walked the minefield successfully would lead us through it and that we would follow Him.
It is true that we are surrounded by temptations that come from the devil and the world and our own sinful nature. And there is no way that we can escape these. But isn't this just the list of things that Jesus Christ has brought completely under His control through His death and resurrection? By His cross, He has conquered the devil, and overcome the world, and given us the Holy Spirit, Who brings us to Our Father, as people who are grateful for His grace and desire to resist every temptation to sin so that we may glorify Him.
In other words, Christ has turned everything around so completely, that now, every temptation that once threatened to lead us into sin and separate us from Him, has now become the very thing that drives us to Christ and to cling to Him all the more tightly.
The more we are tempted, the more we flee to Christ. The more we pray, “Our Father, lead us not into temptation.”