It came in the dark, the night terror. I am not sure you have ever had one of these experiences. You awake in your bed in the middle of the night, but you can’t open your eyes, you can’t move, you are paralyzed. And you feel an evil, a terror, approaching. I have had such an experience a couple of times in my life. Most recently, it occurred when I was living at Richmond Hill, a retreat center and intentional community of prayer. My time there was one of the most fruitful times with the Lord in my life. But this night I couldn’t move. And I felt a darkness approaching. In the past when I had experienced night terrors I found the only thing I could do was cry out, “in Jesus name,” in my mind. When I did this the terror would break and I would wake up. I had done this a couple of times before and it had worked so this time I did the same thing. As I felt an evil presence approaching I cried out in Jesus name! And right before the terror broke I heard a voice whisper into my ear. The voice said;
“He’s not listening.”
I awoke startled and afraid. How could I be attacked in such a Holy Place during such a peaceful time in my life? But notice in our text today that the ending of our last text;
“This is my beloved Son, With Whom I am well pleased” is directly followed by;
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. “
Often we gloss over that part of the Lord’s prayer, we don’t understand what we are saying;
“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
I say evil one because that is what the Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, says. In my life I am certain of two things;
Jesus Christ is Lord, God incarnate, the only begotten Son of God, the source of all light and truth.
And there is a personal spiritual Evil, the scriptures call the slanderer, the accuser, the tempter, the Father of Lies.
Yet, praying the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” suggests the rather strange possibility that the one True God, in whom there is only goodness and truth, can lead us into temptation. If not, why pray to God not to do something that by God’s very nature, he cannot do? Doesn’t James 1:13 say, “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. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” How can this scripture be true when we have this scripture in Matthew that clearly states that Jesus was led in into the wilderness for the express purpose to be tempted by the Devil? It does seem like these two scriptures cannot get along in the same book.
The two key words to understanding this text are the word for, “to be led” and the word, “to tempt.” The Greek word for “to be led” has several uses, any of which could be applied to this context. The word can mean, “to lead or bring from a lower to higher point, to bring up for judicial proceedings, to bring up an offering, or to launch a ship out to sea. The Greek word for ,”to tempt”, can mean anything from, “to tempt to improper behavior”, “to endeavor to discover the nature or character of something by testing,” depending upon who is doing the testing.
Thus we come to understand how the Lord can lead us into a time of trial and yet not tempt us to sin. To quote the New American Commentary, “An important interplay between the work of the Spirit and that of the devil appears here. The same Spirit who has anointed Jesus in 3:16 now leads him to the place of temptation but does not himself cause the temptation, which is attributed instead to the devil. By this phrasing, Matthew warns against two common errors-blaming God for temptation and crediting the devil with the power to act independently of God. In the New Testament, God is always so dissociated from evil that he is never directly responsible for tempting humans. Yet the devil is never portrayed as an enemy equal with but opposite to God; he always remains bound by what God permits.” ( The New American Commentary, pg 83). So while God tested Jesus to reveal his heart to follow his Father, the Devil tempted Jesus to disobey his Father. The testing is initiated by God though the motivations of God and the Devil are different.
Richard Foster, author of Prayer Finding the Heart’s True Home, comments on the petition, “lead us not into temptation,” by saying this; “ How can God tempt us or lead us into temptation? The Greek word itself means “trials” or “trying circumstances”, and the only time God tries us is when there is something that needs revealing. For example, Judas was a man who had difficulty with money, which was precisely why Jesus made him the treasurer of the apostolic band. In time, what was in the heart of Judas came to light.
Therefore the prayer “lead us not into temptation” means this: “Lord, may there be nothing in me that will force you to put me to the test in order to reveal what is in my heart.” We want to be progressing in the realms of transformation with no hidden sins so that God will not be forced to put us to the test.” (Prayer, pg 188).
There has been some debate among theologians as to whether Jesus was actually tempted. If maybe he was just playing along with the Devil’s game but was never tempted. But Hebrews 4:14-16 is clear, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heaves, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
To quote Russell D. Moore, author of “Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ;” “The temptations themselves are, as the scripture puts it, “common to man” (1 Cor 10:13), and in Jesus’ desert testing we see how true this is. Here Scriptures identify for us the universal strategies of temptation. You will be tempted exactly as Jesus was, because Jesus was being tempted exactly as we are. You will be tempted with consumption, security, and status. You will be tempted to provide for yourself, to protect yourself, and to exalt yourself. And at the core of these three is a common impulse-to cast of the fatherhood of God.” Moore goes on to explain;
“ God’s fatherhood is embedded in pictures we see all around us in the creation order, especially in our human nature. In some ways a human father is, essentially, a second parent, doing some of the same functions and callings as a mother in raising of children. But there are important distinctions too, in most human cultures’ understanding of what it means to be a father. Most human peoples have seen fathers as bearing a unique role in provision, protection, and the passing on of an inheritance. This isn’t to say that fathers-or biological parents- are the exclusive carriers of those roles. It is only to say that these archetypes of fatherhood, expressing themselves in various ways, show up repeatedly in human civilization. Some would attribute this to evolutionary natural selection. I would argue, instead, that this ideal of fatherhood persists because of something distinctively true about the fatherhood of God in his care, discipline, and husbandry of his creation and creatures.
Temptation is so strong in our lives precisely because it’s not about us Temptation is an assault by the demonic powers on the rival empire of the Messiah. That’s why conversion to Christ doesn’t diminish the power of temptation- as we often assume- but actually, counter-intuitively, ratchets it up. If you bear the Spirit of the One the powers rage against, they will seek to tear down the icon of the Crucified they see embedded in you. Ultimately, the agony of temptation is not about you or me. We’re targeted because we resemble Jesus, our first born brother. WE all, whether believers or not, bear some resemblance to Jesus because we share with him a human nature in the image of God. As we come to find peace with God through Jesus, though we begin a journey of being conformed more and more into the image of Christ. The demons shriek in the increasing glory of that light, and they’ll seek even more frenetically to put it out of their sight.” (Tempted and Tried, pgs 20-21).
We are tempted.
Tempted to believe the lies.
The lie that He’s not listening.
The lie that we can’t be forgiven and we can’t forgive.
The lie that we are not good enough and are broken beyond repair.
The lie that the treasures of this world are worth anything compared to the glory of the pearl of great price, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But we can overcome.
As we learn how Jesus overcame.
We can overcome.
As we cry out Abba, Father and allow our Father to give us a new name.
We can overcome.
As streams of living water overflow from our hearts and transform us so we are never the same.
We can overcome.
As Revelation 12:11 says by the blood of the lamb and the Word of our Testimony.
In the name of the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit. Amen