"and let us not succumb to the trial"

March 1, 1998 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Luke 4:1-13

"...lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."(Mt. 5:13) Those words were upon our lips only a few minutes ago, echoing the voice of our Lord when he spoke on prayer. What do you mean when you repeat that phrase? Are you asking God to keep away from you all the enticing ‘candy jars’ of life, the things that temp you? Does "our Father in heaven" really do that? Or, if you think about it, is it God who tempts us in the first place, that we have to ask him not to? In the book of James it is written: "No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it..." (1:13-14)

With Jesus, we prayed "...lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The word "temptation" can also be translated as "trial" or "test." The temptations we face in life can be a test of our character, a trial that shows what we’re made of. Why then would we be asking God not to lead us into such a test? Are we "scaredy cats?" Are we so afraid of failure that we want protection from whatever life may send our way? Is that what we mean when we pray those words? I would hope not, though I must confess there are times when that is more true for me than I’d care to admit. How about you?

"...lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Scripture says that Jesus was himself led into a time of testing. It happened right after he was baptized, before he taught or healed anyone. With water John the Baptist did his work, and then the heavens opened and God did his work. From the Jordan river, it says that Jesus, "full of the Holy Spirit ... was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil."

Profound religious experiences, times when we have known God to be very real to us and have responded back to God with our "Yes," for many of us these periods in our Spiritual Life are followed by trial, test, temptation. It is true that the most dangerous time for a new Christian is right after he has committed himself. The pressure of "life as usual" returns with full force, and she is tempted to go back to the way she was, to doubt that any of this Jesus stuff has any significance in a dog-eat-dog world. Actually, that’s a trial we all face, every day, but early on in this life we have in Christ, the testing is especially difficult, perhaps because we initially think that once we place our lives in God’s hands, there will only be smooth sailing.... Not!

If, indeed, we seek to pattern our life after our Lord, we cannot ignore his own journey. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tested. Recall that Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, out of the waters of the Red Sea, into the wilderness. There they wandered for 40 years, tempted to turn back many times. Those were formative years which God used to fashion them into a people of faith, to build their collective character before leading them on. This biblical pattern was repeated in Jesus, who was led out of the waters of baptism into the wilderness where he was tempted, tested. Would his ministry after those 40 days have had the same integrity had he not experienced the wilderness?

There, it says, he was tempted by the devil. Now, before we get all bent out of shape by the mention of this wily character, realize that the Bible describes the evil one in a variety of ways. A common picture in the Hebrew portion is of a "prosecuting attorney," who puts God’s people on trial to test their faith. For instance, in the beginning of the book of Job, Satan has a conversation with God, and convinces the Almighty to allow him to test Job, one of God’s righteous believers. Will this faithful man give up his faith when everything that ever had any meaning for him is taken away? That’s the question Satan was trying to have answered. In a sense, Job is put on trial, he is tested. Of course, after the first few chapters in the book of Job, once everything that can go wrong does, the prosecuting attorney fades away - Satan is out of the picture. In the end, it is the Judge (God) who has the final word, speaking out of a whirlwind.

The New Testament reveals more evil in this character that it calls the devil. However, in the wilderness with Jesus, the voice of evil is more like that prosecuting attorney, trying to get Jesus to waver on the witness stand. If the truth be told, this was the real trial for our Lord. Later on Jesus would stand before the Sanhedren, before King Herod, before the Roman Procurator Pilate. He would be put "on trial" in front of all these religious and civil authorities. But the real trial was over long before those individuals had their day.

"Cut a deal with me." That was the steady offer of the devilish D.A. Over and over again. The written account lists three temptations, but it also says that "for 40 days Jesus was tempted by the devil." The evil one was relentless. This image of a prosecutor, someone we want to think of as a good guy normally out to get criminals, I use it on purpose. You see, often in this world, evil can be mistaken as good. Some of life’s worst temptations for us are the ones which seem right. That was the case for our Lord. At the very beginning of his ministry, the devilish D.A. offered a pretty good case.

"If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Was this just a personal temptation? Jesus hadn’t eaten in weeks. He was definitely hungry. However, was the pitch to our Lord’s stomach or to his heart? The world is dying of hunger, and Jesus’ mission involves that world. What sort of ministry will he have? Isn’t that what the devil is after. "What sort of Messiah are you, Jesus? Are you only interested in stomachs. If so, have I got a deal for you!"

What’s interesting about this episode is that Jesus answers every tempting offer with a quotation from the Hebrew Bible. All those years of Sabbath school, all the studying of the Torah, the Prophets, the other Sacred writings of God’s people, the daily walk of our Lord with the Word was put to the test. You don’t think the answers he gave just sort of popped into his head out of nowhere, do you? Yes, he was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, filled with it even. God was very much present in the place. But there was no little voice speaking into Jesus’ telling him what to say. We often have a mistaken notion of inspiration that involves no perspiration. Though God can create ex nihilo (i.e. "out of nothing"), God more often inspirits us with a word we have already heard. What I’m saying is that a regular walk with God’s Word pays off when push comes to shove. It’s in such times as these that that Word really begins to take shape in us, to make sense, to define us, to become more than just words on a page, but rather the very breath of God in us. This happened for our Lord.

"It is written," he replied, "One does not live by bread alone." In Deuteronomy, Moses spoke to God’s people, "Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna ... in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (8:2-3) Those words here shaped Jesus’ ministry. Yes, feed the stomach, but in ways that lead to the heart.

In the next test, the devilish D.A. offered his big deal. "Turn state’s evidence and you’ll have what you need to accomplish your mission, Jesus. Authority, glory, power - those are the means it takes to get by in this world, if you really want to make a difference. All that I can provide," said the devil, "if only you’ll worship me, that is: become a witness for the state." Wait a minute, is it Jesus on trial, or God? Ah! That’s the 10 million dollar question! Jesus answered again with a quote from Deuteronomy, "It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’" (Dt. 6:13) That kind of power is not the way.

By now, the devil was catching on to this quotation stuff, and pulled from his briefcase a bit from the Psalm we began our worship with this morning. They made a little field trip to Jerusalem, up to the very pinnacle of the Temple. "See the crowds down there? They’re looking for a Messiah. Throw yourself down, if indeed you are the Son of God. His angels will rescue you in front of them all." That devilish D.A was getting to the heart of Jesus’ mission. What sort of Messiah was he going to be? If Jesus did what the devil suggested, who could dare oppose him? People want miracles, just like they want bread, or at least so they say. Give ‘em what they want and they’ll follow you anywhere - even to hell and back. Exactly. The devil played his hand, and it wasn’t enough, at least for that round. "It is said," Jesus again pulled from Deuteronomy, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." (Dt. 6:16)

Funny thing about this whole episode, whether it was intentional or not, the devil was actually serving God, for by testing Jesus he helped to clarify our Lord’s mission. After those 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was ready to begin his ministry. Of course, as the story says, "the devil departed from Jesus until and opportune time." The testing is not over.

"...lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The early followers of Jesus knew a lot about testing. They faced many a trial where earthly courts, religious or political, forced them to choose between their faith and their lives. Would they be tempted to relinquish what they believed, to deny Jesus and thus turn state’s evidence against God, in order to save their necks? Biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias asserts that the earliest version of this petition in the Lord’s Prayer is the plea, "and let us not succumb to the trial." In other words, help us to remain faithful, even if we must pay for that faithfulness with our lives.

Whoa! Maybe we do mean, "please don’t lead us down that road, Lord." I don’t know about you, but a lot of confession stands between me and that kind of trial. Would I, would you, remain faithful if it was at the cost of our lives? ... There are many trials, many tests in life. Whether they are big or small, they serve a larger purpose. God makes use of such times, whether he deliberately wills them to happen, or helps us to face into them when they come. Such tests serve to build the character of God’s people: you and me, us together. They sharpen our mission in this world. They help to define who we are and whose we are. Remember this, as Jesus was full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit when he faced into his time of testing, so (as we sang earlier) God is with us all the time in our own. Keep the faith!

1998Peter L. Haynes

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