Don’t lead us into temptation (Luke 11.4c) [Sermon 09-04-2016]

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September 1, 2016 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, September 4, 2016. Week four of a four week sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11.2-4.

An audio link is embedded below for those who would rather listen.


The Bible is a strange place sometimes

When the disciples came to Jesus for praying lessons, the last words he taught them to pray were: And don’t lead us into temptation.

I don’t know about you, but I find it rather odd that we would need to pray for God not to lead us into temptation. After all, isn’t temptation The Other Guy’s job?

The letter of James is one of the earliest commentaries ever written on Jesus’ teachings. And James tells us that:

No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. (James 1.13-14)

According to James, it’s not God leading us into temptation. Not only that, according to James, not every temptation comes directly to us from the satan, either. Apparently, we do a fine job of leading ourselves into temptation a great deal of the time.

So why would we pray that God not do something the scriptures tell us God won’t do anyway? 

Sometimes, the Bible is a strange place.

We’ve just heard James assert that God doesn’t tempt anyone. On the other hand, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all assert that Jesus was led into temptation, and that God had everything to do with it.

Luke 4.1-2, for instance, says that just after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. Of course, you could just take that to mean that Jesus was led into the wilderness, and the devil just happened to be there and decided to tempt him. So God’s Spirit didn’t actually lead him into the temptation. God’s Spirit just led him to where the temptation happened to be. You could just about make that case, except for Matthew’s version of the story. Matt. 4.1 says the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him.

So, we have James saying that God doesn’t tempt anyone. But Matthew, Mark, and Luke saying that the Holy Spirit led Jesus the wilderness to be tempted. God’s Spirit did that. The Third Person of the Trinity. But then it seems that Jesus tells us to pray that what happened to him won’t happen to us. Anybody else the slightest bit confused by all this?

Like I said, the Bible is a strange place sometimes. But we can find our way around in it, and even find a home in scripture. We just need to be generous and patient with the scriptures. The same way our heavenly Father who feeds us and forgives us is generous and patient with us.

And if we can begin to unravel this pile of seeming contradictions, we’ll have a better idea of what Jesus meant when he taught us to pray don’t lead us into temptation.

Jesus (and Israel) in the wilderness

So God the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. But it was the devil who did the tempting. So far, James has technically been proven right. God didn’t tempt Jesus. The devil did.

But that still leaves us with God leading Jesus into a situation where he’s going to be tempted. Knowing that Jesus will be tempted while he’s in the wilderness. In fact, leading Jesus there so that the devil can tempt him. And then Jesus teaching us to pray that God won’t lead us into temptation.

What gives?

Then again, maybe What happened? is a better question than What gives? What happened when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness?

Jesus had just been baptized, and the Holy Spirit led him to the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days. The devil came and tempted him three times. First, he tempted Jesus to feed himself by turning stones into bread. Then he tempted Jesus with political power. He offered to give Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus would just bow down and worship him. Finally, the devil took Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. He dared him to jump off, and quoted Psalm 91: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.

The letter of James says: Resist the devil, and he will run away from you (James 4.7). That’s exactly what happened when the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted. Three times, the devil confronted him. Three times, Jesus resisted the devil. And Luke tells us that, After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity (Luke 4.13).

On the surface, this is a story about Jesus resisting the devil’s temptations. But it’s much more than that. Jesus was reliving the story of God’s people, Israel.

Remember, the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness right after he was baptized. Baptism was Jesus reenacting Israel crossing the Red Sea. In 1 Cor. 10.2, Paul writes that, All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. The Red Sea crossing was Israel’s baptism, and Jesus lived it out in his baptism. Jesus leads the way into the hope and promises God has for his people. But that way leads through the wilderness—for Jesus, just as it did for Israel. Israel was in the wilderness forty years. Jesus was in the wilderness forty days.

Here’s what Moses told Israel when they were finally about to leave the wilderness to take the land God was giving them:

Remember the long road on which the Lord your God led you during these forty years in the desert so he could humble you, testing you to find out what was in your heart: whether you would keep his commandments or not. He humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you the manna that neither you nor your ancestors had ever experienced, so he could teach you that people don’t live on bread alone. No, they live based on whatever the Lord says. (Deut. 8.2-3)

Jesus quoted from this passage when the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread: People don’t live on bread alone. Jesus refused to use his power in a self-serving way, independent of his Father’s will. Elsewhere, Jesus will say: I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing his work (John 4.34). Like Israel, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tested. Israel often did not stand up to testing. Not only in the wilderness, but many times later, as well. But Jesus endured every temptation.

Another one of the passages Jesus drew upon when the devil tempted him was Deut. 6.16: Don’t test the Lord your God the way you frustrated him at Massah. This refers back to an event that happened in Exodus 17. The people came to a place where there was no water, and were afraid God had left them to die of thirst. They lost faith in God, and were about ready to kill Moses. Testing God means refusing to trust that our Father is good and generous and just, and at work in our lives and in his world. It means giving up on God and going our own way. If Jesus had succumbed to any of the devil’s temptations: turned the stones to bread; enforced his will through political means; or stunned people into submission with self-promoting miracles; if Jesus had done any of those things, he would have been testing God. Because that’s not the way God had made for him. God gave Jesus the way of suffering with people and serving them. Not the way of self-promotion and self-service. Jesus still had to go through the Exodus of death and resurrection. To lead us all through the Red Sea of his blood to set us free, and bring us to the home God has promised us.

The Bible uses the same clusters of words to refer to temptation and testing. Testing means being put on the spot, being challenged. Showing what you’re made of. Temptation means being enticed off the way God has made for you. Giving up on God’s way and going your own.

James was right. God never tempts anyone. The world tempts us. Our desires and passions tempt us. The devil tempts us. But God tests us. Thing is, both can be happening at the same time. That’s what we see when Jesus relived Israel’s story in the wilderness. What the devil used to tempt Jesus, God was using to test Jesus. The same thing happens in our own lives.

When Jesus teaches us to pray don’t lead us into temptation, it means that we don’t want to end up like Israel in the wilderness, testing God. We don’t want to find ourselves refusing to trust God; refusing to listen to God; and giving up on God to go our own way.

The template for temptation

Jesus was reliving Israel’s story in the wilderness. But unlike Israel, Jesus did not put God to the test. And putting God to the test is what Jesus was telling us to pray won’t happen when we say don’t lead us into temptation.

But Jesus was also doing something in the wilderness even more fundamental to his mission than undoing Israel’s unfaithfulness in the wilderness. Jesus was doing battle with the old snake, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (Rev. 12.9). It is by his cross and resurrection that Jesus will ultimately confront the Adversary and his forces, and defeat them. But out in the wilderness, Jesus had his first showdown with the devil. And Jesus began his earthly battle against the cosmic forces of evil by going all the way back to the beginning. He relived the old snake’s temptation of Adam.

Luke wants to connect the dots between the serpent tempting Adam and the devil tempting Jesus. For instance, when the devil came to tempt Jesus in Luke 4, he would begin by saying: Since you are God’s Son. The devil called Jesus the Son of God. You know who else is called son of God in Luke? Adam. Just a few verses before the temptation story, Luke traced Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam. And Luke called Adam son of God (Luke 3.38). Adam the son of God gave into the serpent’s temptation in the garden, so humanity was exiled from God’s presence, to go into the wilderness. But Jesus resisted the devil’s temptation in the wilderness, so that he could bring humanity back into God’s presence in the garden city of the New Jerusalem.

The devil tempted Jesus through food, through trying to grab power for himself, and through trying to get him to mistrust his Father’s will. Every option the devil offered Jesus was a way to bypass the cross. A man who can turn stones into bread doesn’t have to die a shameful death to save the world. A tyrant who makes the world bow to his will won’t be rejected or suffer. A man who can jump off the top of the temple and live doesn’t need to die. Do you see what the devil did there? He tried to plant seeds of doubt in Jesus’ heart. Saving the universe is a good thing, but why do you need to endure the cross to do it? You can feed every hungry person. You can obliterate all the bad guys. And you’re indestructible. That’s what the devil tempted Jesus with.

It was the same way with Adam. The serpent tempted the first humans through food—the fruit that grew on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He tempted them with power—he told them: God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3.4). But Adam and his wife were already like God. They were created in God’s image and likeness. The serpent told them they could grab God’s power on their own, for themselves. They didn’t need God. And notice how the serpent frames the temptation: Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden? … God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God (Gen. 3.1, 4). He wanted them to be suspicious of God. To believe God was withholding good things that rightfully belonged to them.

The temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden; or Israel in the wilderness; or Jesus in the wilderness; are not just things that happened. These temptations happen to all of us, every day. They’re the template for temptation. We are tempted to go an easier way than the one God has made for us. We are tempted to do evil that good may come. We are told there are better ways to achieve the good than the ones God gave us. Temptation comes to us as a gift the devil wants us to think we can’t live without. Temptations show us the easy way out. Most of all, at the heart of temptation is mistrust. The devil wants us to think God is holding out on us, has forgotten about us, has abandoned us, and has left us on our own.

And because mistrust of God is what leads us to put God to the test, Jesus has taught us to pray words that reaffirm our trust in our heavenly Father: don’t lead us into temptation. When we pray these words, we are saying that we trust our Father to lead us. Knowing the stories of Adam, and Israel, and Jesus, we know that we will be tested wherever we are led. But we also trust that our good Father will be who brother Paul says he is: God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10.13). When we pray the words Jesus taught us, we learn to trust that God will not lead us into temptation, but will lead us through temptation.

In fact, that’s exactly what Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer says. I love how Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message: Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil (Matt. 6.13). Amen to that! In the wilderness, Father God delivered Jesus from evil. And when we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we learn to trust that our Father will do the same thing for us.


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