February 21, 2021
St. Matthew 4:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Greek the word for tempt doesn’t always mean to seduce toward evil. It can also mean to test. God never seduces or tricks people toward evil, but He does test His Son. He tests Him by leading Him to Satan where He is tempted. The point might seem subtle, but it is important. God is not the source of evil. Satan is. God uses Satan to punish unbelievers, to chastise His children, and to drive them to Himself and He uses His Son to overcome Satan for us.
The Son resists temptation where we fail. He clings to His Father where we doubt. We get credit for His good works and for His faithfulness even as He takes responsibility and punishment for our sin.
But don’t let anyone tell you that since Jesus did this for us, it isn’t an example. Of course it is an example. In terms of substitution and what Jesus has done for us, there is nothing more central than His crucifixion. He dies there in our place and atones for our sins so that we don’t have to. We are declared innocent and spared punishment because of this. We are freed from the accusations that were against us because of our sins. Nonetheless, Jesus tells us to pick up our crosses. His death is for us. It is how we are saved, the way that God has loved us. But His death is also an example. It shows how to live and how to die. Jesus is always an example.
We should learn from His temptation not only what He has done for us but also how to use Scripture and prayer to drive off Satan. Our goal is to subordinate the old Adam in us and to redirect our passions to the things of God. We don’t do this because we want to impress God or think that we can earn His favor, but we do this because we love Jesus. We admire and respect Him. We want to be like Him. We don’t want to hurt ourselves or others by sin. We hate our sins for we hate what God hates. And we want to do good works and please God by loving our neighbor because we love what God loves.
The sixth petition “lead us not into temptation” rings strange in English ears. In the first place, God tempts no one. We aren’t asking that God refrain from seducing us to evil. We are asking that we not be tested even as Abraham and the Syro-phonecian woman and Jesus, Himself, were tested. But we know that we will be tested. The brother of Our Lord writes:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2–3, NKJV) and again Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12, NKJV)
The petition “Lead us not into temptation” is a bit of indirect speech. It is similar to what Jesus meant in the garden of Gethsemane when He asked that He be spared the suffering that He could not be spared. Think about that for a moment. What did Jesus mean? He was not asking to be let off the hook and to be spared the cross. That was His mission. It was necessary. What He actually meant was something like “I am deeply hurting, Father. I will suffer it, but I want You to own what You are doing to Me. I also want You to comfort and reassure me that You know what You are doing and that You will use it for good. Finally, I also want You to promise that You will await Me on the other side.”
Prayer is often a kind of wrestling with God. The Psalms speak this way frequently. We need to learn how to pray like this also — because Jesus is an example. In prayer, we speak to God not as strangers or outsiders, but as His own children. We hold Him to His word. We converse, complain, cajole, praise, thank, discuss, etc.
So when we say “Lead me not into temptation” what we mean is “We know that we are to be tested, that we will have trials and sorrows. We also know that without You we would fail completely and that we have no right in ourselves to ask for help. But You are our Father. We are placing ourselves into Your hands. Lead where you will. Lighten the load as much as is good for us. Provide the Lamb. Strengthen our faith. Let us overcome and win the victory according to your promise.”
So that is what the thing means and how we should proceed, how we should wrestle with God in prayer and wait on His promises. How we should resist temptation with every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. But there is another problem I want to address.
You might recall that almost 2 years ago the pope authorized a new paraphrase of the sixth petition. The Roman Catholic church now sometimes says “Let us not fall into temptation” instead of “Lead us not into temptation.”
The pope’s theologians told him that people were mishearing the phrase “lead us not into temptation” as if God might tempt them to sin. The pope admitted they were changing the words completely to avoid this confusion. He said that they were doing it because it was wrong to ask God to do something that a father wouldn’t do.
Now, it is true that God doesn’t tempt us to sin. It is also true that indirect speech is harder to understand than direct speech. But this argument about figuring out what God do based on what we think a father would do is a demonic approach to Holy Scripture. Who decides what a father would do? What is the criteria? I can’t imagine a father who would sacrifice his innocent son for those who hate Him! If you did that to your son, I would hate you and ask for justice against you.
God is not like us. We don’t get to tell Him who to be or how to behave. We certainly don’t get to edit His Word to make Him more like us. Faith grows, along with humility, by working through the hard bits of Holy Scripture not by platitudes and cliches.
This approach to Scripture is the way that Satan proceeds with the first temptation. He is saying to Jesus, “What kind of a god would go hungry while providing for ungrateful people all over the world? If you’re God, then act like it.” This was also the line of attack that he used on Adam and Eve. He suggested that God was holding out on them and that if He really loved them and wanted what was best for them, He would give them the forbidden fruit. In both cases he was claiming that God wasn’t acting the way that we know He should act and therefore He wasn’t really God and we should act accordingly.
Now, of course, the pope didn’t take it that far and in the end his paraphrase is innocuous. But he got there in a precarious manner. How you read Scripture matters. How you pray matters. Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer for this very reason. It is a gift. It not only teaches us how to pray, it also prays for us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.