Matthew 6:13

Matthew 6:13

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

 

R. Kent Hughes tells an interesting story about two men who were condemned to die for their faith:

            History records the fate of two men who were condemned to die under Queen Mary.  One of them boasted very loudly to his companions that he would be a man at the stake.  He was so grounded in the gospel that he knew he would never deny Christ.  He even said he longed for the fatal morning like a bride for her wedding.  His prison companion was a poor trembling soul who, though determined not to deny his Master, was much afraid of the fire.  He said he had always been very sensitive to suffering, and he was in great dread that when he began to burn, the pain might cause him to deny the truth.  He urged his friend to pray for him and spent his time weeping over his weakness and crying out to God for strength.  The other man continually rebuked him and chided him for being so unbelieving and weak.  When they both came to the stake, he who had been so bold recanted at the sight of the fire and went back ignominiously to an apostate’s life, while the poor trembling man whose prayer had been “Lead me not into temptation” stood firm as a rock, praising and magnifying God as he died a cruel death.

How very interesting that is, and how very like life as we know it.  Our braggadocio normally turns to whimpering, does it not?

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

However, we often find, in our weakest moments, when we throw ourselves on the mercy of God (an action, I note, that we should not wait to do only in our weakest moments), that the strength of our King is more than sufficient to see us through the test.  In commenting on the story of these two men, Hughes beautifully notes,

The proper prayer for protection is soaked with the awareness that we are profoundly weak and liable to fall.  There is a danger in pious bravado that assumes we are too strong to stumble of fall.[1]

Eugene Peterson put it like this:

We need help. And we need help even when we don’t know we need help. Especially when we don’t know we need help.[2]

That, too, is well said.  We do, indeed, need help.  It is no wonder, then, that the Lord Jesus concludes His model prayer with a cry for help:  “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

I. “Lead us not into temptation”:  A Cry for Endurance and Preservation in Trial

What can this mean?  Let us begin with the first petition, “Lead us not into temptation.”  This is a frequently discussed and debated statement, as we shall see.  Many interpretations have been proposed, some of which we can rule out immediately.  For instance, we can rule out the rendering of one Liberian translation of the New Testament that translated, “Lead us not into temptation,” as, “Do not catch us when we sin.”[3]  It is hard not to laugh at such an absurd rendering, though, if we are honest, we have probably secretly prayed that before:  “Do not catch us when we sin.”

No, it does not mean, “Do not catch us when we sin.”  Furthermore, “Lead us not into temptation” cannot mean, “Do not entice us to sin.”  Whatever is meant by “temptation,” it cannot mean that.  Why?  Because God’s Word says He never does such a thing.  In James 1, James put it like this:

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.

As we seek the meaning of this petition, the rejection of this idea is most helpful.  When you pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” you must not think, “Lord, do not tempt me to do evil.”  God is good, He does not tempt us to do evil.

When, then, does “temptation” mean in this context?  It is important to realize that the Greek word we render “temptation” actually has more than one meaning, and, in fact, it is most often not used in the sense of, “tempt to evil.”  Most often it refers to “testing” somebody.  In  this passage, that is the better rendering.  “Temptation” is better rendered as “test” or “trial.”  And God certainly does test us, does He not?  For instance, in Genesis 22:1 we read, “After these things God tested Abraham…”

This is very helpful.  It means that, “Lead us not into temptation,” cannot mean, “God, do not tempt us to do evil,” but can mean, “Lead us not into tests and trials.”  That seems clear enough.  We are praying, as we will see, that the Lord will spare us certain kinds of tests and trials at certain times.  But first let us note that although God’s testing of His people does not mean God actively tempting His people to evil, there is, in fact, a connection between divine testing and temptation in the sense that God sometimes tests us by allowing the devil to tempt us.  Conceptually, this is a crucial distinction to make.  God tests His people.  The devil tempts God’s people.  But God may test us by allowing the devil to tempt us.  For instance, we find this idea in the startling beginning of the book of Job.  In Job 1, we read,

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

Here we see the distinction between testing and tempting.  Satan wants to tempt Job to curse God to His face.  So He asks the Lord if He can do so (interestingly, after God brings Job to Satan’s attention).  The Lord agrees to this, but, in the divine economy, this is a test.  God agrees to test Job’s faith by allowing Satan to tempt Job to evil.  But God does not tempt Job to evil, for God tempts no man to evil.

So God tests us, to be sure.  Sometimes He tests us directly with trials and sometimes He tests us by giving Satan permission to tempt us.  But that is interesting because in the prayer we are asking that God not do so:  “Lead us not into temptation.”  In fact, as Jesus is the one instructing us in the prayer, it is interesting to think that God is instructing us to pray that God would not test us.  What is fascinating about that, however, is the fact that, as we saw in Job, God does test us at times.  So the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” also cannot mean that God never wants us to be tested.  For one thing, He tested His own Son.  In Matthew 4, we find this introduction to Jesus’ wilderness temptation:

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

In Mark 1, Mark puts it even more dramatically.

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

So God tests His own Son by allowing Him to be tempted.  Jesus was tested throughout His entire incarnation, and it was crucial that He be so.  It was crucial for us that Jesus pass the test…and Jesus passed the test!  So the Father’s testing of the Son means that this petition cannot mean, “God, never test us.”  Furthermore, we find this amazing statement in James 1:

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Here we are told to “count it all joy” when we are tested because these tests have a good result in that they produce steadfastness which leads to maturity.  And here we begin to see the meaning of this petition.  Tests can produce good fruit, but only when we pass them.  To be sure, a failed test can be a good teacher as well, but it can also cause much damage and pain.  But a passed test is a good thing, bearing good fruit.

Our problem, though, is that we are weak and we oftentimes do not pass the test.  Oftentimes we fail.  Oftentimes we face tests we are not ready to handle.  And these kinds of tests that hit us when we are unprepared can wreak havoc in our lives.  So, “Lead us not into temptation,” must mean something like this:  “Lord, do not allow us to be tried beyond our capacities.  Do not allow us to be tempted to the extent that we fall.  Do not let tests hit us for which we are unprepared.  Lead us not into these!”

The Greek scholar A.T. Robertson explains:

“Bring” or “lead” bothers many people.  It seems to present God as an active agent in subjecting us to temptation, a thing specifically denied in James 1:13.  The word here translated “temptation” (peirasmon) means originally “trial” or “test”…But God does test or sift us, though he does not tempt us to evil.  No one understood temptation so well as Jesus for the devil tempted him by every avenue of approach to all kinds of sin, but without success.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus will say to Peter, James, and John:  “Pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Luke 22:40).  That is the idea here.  Here we have a “Permissive imperative” as grammarians term it.  The idea is then:  “Do not allow us to be led into temptation.”[4]

New Testament scholar Craig Keener points out that “possibly the Aramaic wording behind this verse suggest[s] that the first line means: ‘Let us not sin when we are tested’ – rather than ‘let us not be tested.’”[5]  F.F. Bruce offered the following as possible translations of this phrase:  “Grant that we not fail in the test,” or, “Grant that the test may not prove too severe for our faith to sustain,” or, “May our faith stand firm in the time of trial,” or, “Save us in the time of trial.”[6]

This is a prayer, then, that we not be crushed under trials and temptations that we find too difficult to handle and too severe to endure.  The prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” is a prayer for timely protection against trials in which the allowed temptations may prove too much for us.  It is also a prayer for needed strength in the midst of trials and that we not fall when tempted.

In teaching us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” Jesus may, once again, have been working off of a traditional Jewish prayer that went like this:  “Do not bring us into the power of temptation.”[7]  Meaning, do not let us be overpowered by temptation.  N.T. Wright put it like this:

To say “lead us not into temptation” does not … mean that God himself causes people to be tempted. … First, it means “let us escape the great tribulation, the great testing, that is coming on all the world.” [Second], it means “do not let us be led into temptation that we will be unable to bear.” … Finally, it means “Enable us to pass safely through the testing of our faith.[8]

A very helpful, related passage is found in Luke 22, when Jesus says something frightening but also comforting to Peter.

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Here, again, we find the idea of testing and tempting.  Just as Satan asked the Lord for permission to tempt Job, so, too, did he ask the Lord for Peter.  Satan wanted to tempt Peter to deny Jesus, and the Lord God agreed to test Peter in this way.  What is most compelling is that Jesus tells Peter that He, Jesus, is praying for Peter, “that your faith may not fail.”

This is exactly what I think the petition, “Lead us not into temptation,” is driving out:  “Lord, keep us from trials in which our faith may fail.”  We know those trials will come, but it is good to ask the Lord for protection nonetheless.  And the significance of this passage in Luke 22 is that we know that Jesus is praying alongside us.  Meaning, as we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” Jesus is praying, “and help his/her faith not to fail in the midst of it.”

Our King prays with us and for us!  This drives us to dependency on our great King!  We pray for protection against overpowering temptation, but we know that the King who was never overpowered by temptation is with us!  It is a beautiful and comforting truth.

II. “Deliver us from evil”:  A Cry for a Father’s Protection

The second petition, “deliver us from evil,” goes, of course, hand-in-hand with the first.  This is a prayer that God would keep us from experiencing the power of Satan in such a way that he gets a victory over us.  In many ways, the second petition is a commentary on the first:  “Lord, keep us from trials and temptations that may overpower us so that the devil does not get a victory!”

It is important to note that the second petition can be translated, “deliver us from evil,” or, “deliver us from the evil one,” meaning, Satan.  It is likely that the second translation, “deliver us from the evil one,” is the better translation.  Regardless, this is a prayer for divine protection against the devil and his demonic minions.  It is a prayer that God will keep us safe in the midst of the spiritual storms we face.

This is why the Luke 22 passage I just mentioned is so crucial.  Jesus tells Peter that Satan wants to sift him but that He is praying for Peter.  That means that Jesus is not only praying for Peter, He is standing with Peter.  If Jesus stands with Peter, He also stands with us.  And if Jesus stands with us, that means that, in Christ, there is never a trial or temptation that we cannot survive.  In Christ, there never is!

Brothers and sisters, when the devil knocks on your door, let Jesus answer.  Under His wing, we are safe.

This is why we must remember that it is Jesus who teaches us to pray and that we pray together in His name!  We pray in His name because it is only in and through His name that we can avoid being crushed the devil.  Listen very closely to me:  Jesus always offers us a way out of temptations and He always offers us to the strength to endure.

I will never forget when, as a little boy, my dad opened my Bible, pointed to 1 Corinthians 10:13, and told me to memorize it.  I did, and I have never forgotten it.  For some strange reason, my dad thought that I, his son, needed to set these words to memory.

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Now, he made me memorize that because, as a boy, I expressed my frustration that I was unable to be good and to do good.  “Why do you keep doing bad things,” he asked.  “I don’t know, dad,” I replied, “I just don’t think I’m able to do good things.  The devil tempts me and I do bad.”  So he made me memorize that verse.  It is a vital verse, and one I would challenge all of you to memorize.  Hear it again, will you?

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

I believe this verse should stand alongside our text this morning, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Others have seen the connection too.  Interestingly, the fifth-century Easter Orthodox Liturgy of St. James actually combines the two verse, Matthew 6:13 and 1 Corinthians 10:13, when it offers this prayer:

Yes, O Lord our God, lead us not into temptation which we are not able to bear, but with the temptation grant also the way out, so that we may be able to remain steadfast; and deliver us from evil.[9]

Yes!  Yes, that’s it!

Oh God!  Keep us from those temptations that crush us, that we, in our weakness, are unprepared to face.  We are weak, God, but you are strong.  So give us Jesus, Lord, the One who never gave in to temptation, the One who never sinned!  May our strong Brother stand with us!  We cannot overcome Satanic attack…but He can.  We are not smart enough to outwit the devil…but He is.  We cannot come back from a full onslaught of Satan’s fury…but He did!  Oh God, lead us not into temptation.  Would you spare us those trials that threaten our weak, mustard-seed faith.  But, oh God, if they come, if You choose not to spare us such trials, may we feel the strong arm of our King around us in the midst of them, reminding us and comforting us with the thought that you do not lead your sheep to senseless slaughter.  We have a Shepherd, and the wolves of Satan dare not come against our Shepherd.  Deliver us from evil, Lord.  Would You grant us rest for our weary souls, healing and peace?

We love you, Lord.

We love you, Jesus.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Come quickly.



[1] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), p.196.

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/may/33.54.html

[3] http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/print.php?id=25-02-029-f

[4] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.1. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p.39.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.62.

[6] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,), p.368.

[7] Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, Brauch, p.367.

[8] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/may/33.54.html

[9] Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, Brauch, p.367.

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