During Lent we are going through The Lord’s Prayer. Like many churches, this prayer is part of our worship every Sunday and I am preaching these sermons so that we know what we are praying when we pray this. I hope we are also learning better to pray. Today we come to “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
“Lead us not into temptation?” Does God lead us into temptation? I find I can get myself into enough tough spots without his help. It is hard to think of God leading us into temptation.
But there is a second part of this petition: “but deliver us from evil.” It shows that God does not want us to fall but is able to deliver us from what can harm us. “Lead us not” and “deliver us” go together. The Father can deliver. The sense of this prayer is really “keep us clear of temptation.”
This particular word for “temptation” that is used throughout the Bible can mean both “temptation” and “test”. They are close but different. Whether the word means temptation or test depends on the context.
For example, in John 6 before Jesus feeds the multitudes he asks Philip how they are going to feed all these people. It says that Jesus said this to test him. The same word as in the Lord’s Prayer is used. Jesus wasn’t tempting Philip but was testing him to see what kind of faith he had.
Peter writes in I Peter that we suffer various trials so that the genuineness of our faith may be proved and tested by fire. The word refers to a piece of metal which is tested for its strength and durability.
James says that whenever we face trials of any kind we should consider it nothing but joy, because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance, which will produce maturity in us. Going through stuff can help us grow up.
James goes on to write that anyone who endures temptation is blessed. And no one when tempted should attribute it to God because God can’t be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.
If God tempts no one, then to pray “lead us not into temptation” must mean something else. It must mean something more like “steer us clear from all the wrong ways we can go.”
Whether the word means “test” or “temptation” is determined by its context. A test is positive. It is to help us see what we are made of. A test proves our character and strengthens us. The Father tests us because he wants us to become stronger in endurance and faith.
But whether it is test or temptation also depends on who is behind it. Satan will take the test and turn it into temptation. He wants to see us fail and move away from God. Temptation is meant to make us fall. It is designed to cause us to sin. The evil one seeks to make our tests a time of temptation. He wants us to be disheartened and destroyed.
Whenever we sense we are in a time of trial, testing or temptation we need to keep close to God and persevere. James writes that we are blessed when we persevere through a trial.
One way we might think about this part of the prayer is like when a small child is learning to dive into water and swim. He is fearful of the experience and what might happen. He stands on the edge of the pool, about two feet from his mother, her arms outstretched to him. The mother is standing right where she can help him once he jumps. “Don’t drop me. Don’t back away. Stay there and catch me,” he says.
Of course, the mother isn’t going to drop him. She won’t back away so he can drown. And the child knows this is a person who loves him and that he can trust. But he still speaks his request, “Don’t drop me” because he feels so vulnerable and needs the reassurance of his mother’s faithfulness.
In the same way when we ask our Father in heaven to not lead us to temptation, we are admitting our vulnerability and our deep need for God.
Remember that Jesus knows what it is to be tempted by the devil. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
The Spirit himself put Jesus there, but it was the devil who did the tempting. We may find God puts us in places where we have to make choices as to how we will respond and live. God intends it for our strengthening. The devil intends it for our failure.
And don’t assume that it is always hard things that is our greatest trial or temptation. Sometimes it is when all is calm that the greatest temptation comes. Prosperity, wealth, and ease can be so dangerous. It is when everything is going our way that the evil one can sneak in and strike.
We say, “deliver us from evil.” You’ll notice some Bibles read “deliver us from the evil one.” The most accurate translation is “the evil one.”
Dr. Bruce Metzger was perhaps the most knowledgeable New Testament scholar of the late 20th, early 21st century. When CNN, or USA Today or Time magazine needed a comment on the Bible they would often call Bruce Metzger.
Bruce Metzger led the translations of the Revised Standard and New Revised Standard versions of the Bible; two major translations in the last century. I don’t know if anyone has done that.
Nancy and I had the privilege of being with Bruce Metzger a couple of different times. One time was a conference and Bruce Metzger ended his five days of talks by referring to this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “and deliver us from the evil one.” He spoke of how the scholars faithfully working on the Bible debated how to translate this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. Should it just read, “and deliver us from evil” or “deliver us from the evil one?”
Metzger, who few would argue with given his expert knowledge of the language and ancient texts of the scriptures, told us that he insisted that the NRSV read “deliver us from the evil one.” He said evil doesn’t just come from nowhere but from one who causes it in our world and lives.
Then he picked up his Bible, gathered his lecture notes from the podium, and ended his five days of teaching by stepping down, looking straight at us and saying, “I know this from experience.”
Dr. Metzger knew the spiritual struggle with Satan from his own personal experience of trying to walk with the Lord he sought to serve.
We are not just struggling against some vague cosmic force called evil. The Bible portrays evil as coming from Satan himself. Peter, who knew a thing or two about what it was to fail in the time of trial, wrote this, “Keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the evil one prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith…”.
Jesus prayed this to the Father on behalf of his disciples, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
One time Jesus told Peter, “Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail…”
We are in a battle. Life is a minefield of temptations planted by the evil one who is against God and against us.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray for deliverance from the evil one.
Prayer is a key weapon in the battle against whatever temptations that come our way.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul says that we are to take the shield of faith to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And he follows by telling us to pray in the Spirit at all times and to always persevere in praying for others.
Isn’t evil tremendously visible? We see mass shootings, human trafficking, and wars. We see destruction, anger, and violence in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our world.
Year by year we have seen an increasingly poisonous atmosphere settling down upon our globe. We see how real and tangible evil is with “an invisible hand passing an invisible cup of poison from nation to nation, person to person, and throwing them into confusion.”
We need deliverance from the one who is behind it all.
Some of us might be repeating to ourselves that great verse in the Bible that says, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” The only problem is that isn’t in the Bible.
What God’s Word does say is this, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.!”
We all go through stuff. And each of us experiences different temptations and trials. But God is faithful. He will never let us go through what is beyond our strength. Yes, there are times we don’t stand the trial. But the faithfulness of God always allows us forgiveness so that we can get back on our feet and walk on.
Satan condemns. The Father forgives.
God does not stand far off in our struggle against temptation and the evil one. In Hebrews it reads, “Because [Jesus] himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” “…we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is our help. He will give us mercy and grace when we need it most.
Jesus tells us to pray to the Father because we don’t have the strength or ability to stand by ourselves. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” is a prayer of dependence and reliance. We are like that little boy on the edge of the pool. We need God to be right there.
We can never put too much trust is Jesus, and we can never put too little trust in ourselves.
The one who teaches us to pray this prayer is the one who has won the battle against the evil one. The cross and the empty grave are the battlefields of this war and that is where the victory was won.
The battle is still going on. We still see evil all around us. But it is winding down. The game has been decided, though the clock still hasn’t run out. Perhaps the evil one is causing greater havoc because he knows his time is short.
Our strength in the face of evil is Jesus Christ who has won the fight. So pray remembering that God is faithful.That he will keep us from the evil one because he is our Deliverer.
 J.B. Phillips translation  6:6  I Peter 1:6  James 1:2-3  Matthew 4:1  I Peter 5:8,9  John 17:15  Luke 22:31  Ephesians 6:18  The Prayer That Spans the World, Helmut Thielicke, p.133  I Cor. 10:13  2:18  4:15-16  Thielicke, p.127  Earl Palmer, The Enormous Exception, p.99