A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on March 25, 2012.
O God, we have offered our prayer and song already, but we add the prayers of our hearts today to ask that by your strong hand you would deliver us. Deliver us from the darkness that surrounds our lives. Protect us from the forces, both those that we can see and those that are invisible, that would ensnare us and destroy our lives. Direct our paths around the people, the values, the circumstances, and all of the temptations which would harm us. Delivery us as well from the evil within. We pray that you would help us to be spiritually aware to know when we are trying to explain away our own intentions or rationalize our own actions. Help us to see when we turn a blind eye to our sinful desires in the hope that we might fall and have to call upon your forgiveness. Don’t let us be satisfied by presuming upon your grace. Deliver us from the temptations that we have thought many times, from the pride that we can see or the envy that we dare not admit, and from the materialism which we have disguised in our own minds as the just reward for people like ourselves. Deliver us from selfishness or apathy. Forgive us and deliver us from the things that would harm us as much as hate or addiction. Deliver us from all the things that reduce our usefulness to your kingdom or your church, and most of all, deliver us from being content with anything that is less than you. We pray that you would replace the most powerful temptations in our hearts with the desire for the good things that we find only in your presence and in your love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
The petition “Lead us not into temptation” really does show us that life is dangerous, that it is something that can trip us up and ruin us, a place where we can stake everything on the wrong card. —Helmut Thielicke in Our Heavenly Father
It seems that Jesus had been preparing for this moment all his life. It seemed logical that he might have anticipated that it was going to take place in Jerusalem. Perhaps he could never have imagined the Garden of Gethsemane, but in some way, he had been preparing for this moment all of his life.
His family liked to tell of the story when he was twelve and went to Jerusalem for the first time, and the caravan of family members was leaving to go back home. Jesus was preoccupied and was there in the temple precincts talking to all the scribes and elders of the temple. The thing that stuck out in his mind was how he observed the way they worked. He observed the pressures and the way they exerted authority over certain people. There was something in it that was preparing him for a future return when he would have to deal with pressures that they would exert on him. He knew that it could be serious and it would take a lot of strength to uphold and stick to his course. There was a sense in which it seemed he had been preparing for this moment always.
After he had been with his cousin John at the Jordan River and been baptized, he took 40 days to go into the wilderness. He thought he had already settled all these things in his mind, but he found that he needed another period of time to have a gut check, to go over them one more time, to make sure that he understood clearly, that he was entirely focused, that nothing was going to distract him. First and foremost was the mission that God had given him. First and foremost was the will of God. First and foremost was the message to the people to repent, and those who would repent would receive full and free grace. He knew, in some way, that he had the power. How would he use it? He once again came to the conclusion as he faced the tempter there in the wilderness that he would not use it to draw attention to himself. He would not use it to prove himself to anyone. He would never use it simply because he was asked. He would only use the power to enhance the message of forgiveness and to tend to his sheep, but never would he use it for himself.
Here he is in the Garden of Gethsemane three years after that, and he is dealing with the same temptations over and over again. Is there a way to save the people without dying? Maybe he could die, but just put it off a year.
God love the disciples. They just did not seem to get it. If he only had one more year to work with them. Peter seemed to have so much potential. At dinner, they had been arguing over who was the greatest. Maybe he could die but just not die this Passover. Maybe he could find a time where he could get away with them, teach them one more year, and then maybe he could entrust the work to them at that point.
As soon as the words form in his mind, he realizes how wrong it is. So there, he begins to pray. He remembers the prayer that he and his disciples have said together so many times. When he comes to that place where he says, “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” he knows that God, his Father, is able and he is ready.
One more time, he has pushed back the temptations that would sidetrack him from his mission. He hears the sounds outside the garden and he knows that his accuser is at hand and with him are the guards from the temple. He decides it is about time to get these disciples up. God was not going to deliver him from this hour, but he would deliver all people because of it.
We really cannot get in the mind of Jesus, and there is no way to know, but this is true to scripture. It does seem that he was dealing with the same temptations over and over again. People are constantly putting in front of him the opportunity to use his power for himself. The temptation is coming to somehow withdraw from the garden that night, to avoid the cross, and to avoid death. “If it is possible, take this cup from me.”
The writer of Hebrews says very clearly, “He is like us in that he was tempted in every way we are, except that he did not sin.” We quickly want to jump over the temptation part, and we want to get to the part about how he didn’t sin because that is a way of confirming the divinity of Christ. We want to make sure that everybody understands that Christ was sinless. But when we skip over that part about the temptation, we do Christ a disservice and we certainly do ourselves a disservice because we could learn from Christ. This is not play acting. This is not Jesus shielding himself through his relationship as the Son of God from the same kinds of temptations. This was a real temptation to him. The other Gospel writers said it was like he “sweat drops of blood.” Why is he sweating drops of blood if this is not true and genuine agony?
Our sermon series during the Lenten season is on the Lord’s Prayer, and there are the pieces of the Lord’s Prayer that we learn from very readily. The language is so simple and direct. If only we could feel free enough to be as direct and simple when we address God as Jesus does. If it is a model for the things that we pray for—bread, material things, for the other things we think we need in life—we have learned that piece of the model. When it comes to forgiveness, there is probably a rare time when we sit down to pray that we don’t, in some way, ask God to forgive us of our sins. We are not always keen on the part about forgiving others, but we do usually mention forgiveness, particularly as it pertains to us. Whenever it is that you pray, how many of us have learned from the model prayer to include, as a portion of that daily communication with God, a time to say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Why is that not a common part of our prayers if we are not repeating the Lord’s Prayer? Is it because spiritually we are sensitive enough to the reality of sin? Sin is right there ready to trip us up. What is it that God says to Cain? “It is outside the door and it is waiting to catch you.”
Do we really think that, in some way temptation, is not real? If we think temptation is not real, it is only because we don’t have a deep appreciation for sin. If we start thinking about temptation, we think about all the things we heard in revivals as we were growing up, the old standards that, quite honestly, de-sensitize us to the genuine sins that beset us every day. The truth is that sin is real; temptation is always there. If we recognize the model of Christ, many times it is the same thing we have been dealing with all our lives. All of our lives, we have been dealing with things like peer pressure. Our parents told us, “You cannot yield to peer pressure. If all your friends jumped off a building, would you go and jump off a building, too?” There never seemed to be much of a lesson in that for me. As I have become older and a parent, I have had to talk to my children about peer pressure. The amazing thing is that at age 30, 40, 60, and evidently at 70, people are still dealing with peer pressure.
Remember when we were at a much younger age and everybody judged us by the labels on our clothing? It doesn’t change. People continue to want to yield and make decisions in their lives based on what they think other people are going to do. Remember when we ourselves, or someone we knew when we were young, could be so cruel? It doesn’t change. People in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond still yield to the temptation to be cruel. We could go on and name sin after sin of things that beset us and have been so much a part of our lives forever that we have de-sensitized ourselves to the awareness that they are even sins or that we are tempted to do them.
We hear about pride being the basic sin, and everybody shakes their head and nods, but which one of us goes away thinking that we have been tempted to pride today? Pride demonstrates itself as selfishness, as setting priorities that are strictly designed for us and not caring about what anybody else does. When you hear the list of the seven deadly sins, we often hear about sloth which sounds so foreign to us, more than simply laziness as our parents tried to tell us on Saturday mornings when they wanted us to get up and do something. It is apathy and not caring, and particularly not caring about the things of God. Perhaps there is no greater sin in the culture around us today than to simply not care about the things of God and to choose everything else in the world before we choose God.
How long have we been dealing with materialism? We come in November and we have our stewardship emphasis. Everybody fills out a commitment card and once a year, we think, “Good. I am so glad I have dealt with materialism.” Then we find out we still value people on how much they have. We still cannot control our spending. We still relate to our families in ways that are economic instead of based on love. We are dealing with the same temptations over and over again. Yet when we pray, have we learned from the model prayer to pray, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Some people are bothered in that it sounds like God is the one who is tempting us. Quickly, the word for temptation can mean test. In essence, Jesus is praying, “Put us on a path around the test of life. Deliver us from the evil that is always there, ready to trip us up.” God is the deliverer. It is not that we need to worry about what God might do and say, “God, don’t do that to me,” but that indeed God would put us on a path where we could avoid the deeper test, the great temptations, and be delivered from the evil.
Do we pray in our prayers to be delivered? Is it because we don’t take temptation seriously enough and because we don’t take sin seriously enough? The model of prayers is not just in calling God “Father.” It is not in a few short phrases and then being done. Yes, it is in these things but not only in these things but also the subject matter. For bread and the material goods of life, yes. For forgiveness which I think is the No. 1 spiritual dilemma that most of us face but also to recognize that every day there is the opportunity to choose the wrong thing. Every day, there is the opportunity to choose something that will harm us and trip us up. Every day, there is a chance to hurt people around us by making the wrong decisions. Evil is real in this world, and what would be pray for if not to deliver us from it?
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.