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"When I saw that no one was between me and the basket, I took off. With the style of an MVP-to-be, I made a lay-up worthy of air-time on ESPN. My surprise at the ease of the basket was surpassed only by my surprise at the silence of the crowd. No one applauded! Rather than pat me on the back, my team buried their faces in their hands. That's when I realized what I'd done. Wrong basket! Big bummer! I'd aided the enemy! I'd helped the wrong team. No wonder no one tried to stop me - I was helping their side!"
You got to hate it when that happens, don't you? Lucado comments: "It's bad to lose; it's worse still to help your opponent win!" (The Great House of God, p. 143.)
Has that ever happened to you? You've helped the wrong side get ahead? Several weeks ago, I was playing pool with my daughter Natalie. I was playing brilliantly, if I do say so myself - getting the right balls into the right pockets on the table. I was beating her by at least 4 balls. I took another shot - aimed carefully, moved my cue stick with skill. This was going to be a spectacular play. It started out great, and I was ecstatic . . . until the eight-ball, you know that black one that's suppose to be the last ball in, was mistakenly hit by another ball, and it suddenly sprouted feet, ran straight toward and then jumped into a side pocket. I was sick! To paraphrase the official rule book, page 4, paragraph 2: "You lose, sucker!" My "spectacular" play gave her the win! My mess-up helped the wrong side.
This is a crucial issue, not just in games, but especially in our spiritual lives. Do you know why? As we've learned from Jesus' model prayer, the Lord's Prayer, the Disciples' Prayer, our whole focus in life is to bring honor and glory to the Father. That's what life is all about. Giving Him the praise and worship He alone deserves. Our calling is to help Him and His Kingdom win in the battle with Evil.
That's why we need this final part of the prayer. Today's petition, this prayer passion, brings us full circle. We end where we began. The focus is on God and His honor. Let's look at it together. Matthew 6:9-13:
"(9) Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. (10 Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (11) Give us this day our daily bread, (12) and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (13) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
So what is this part of the prayer really saying? What are the issues here? What's this petition all about? I mean, it almost sounds like God is the One who's tempting us, who's leading us into temptation. But could that be possible? Let's notice several things.
First, the Bible is clear that God tempts no one. He's not in the business of enticing people into sin. James 1:13 makes that very clear: "When people are tempted (same word here as in Matt. 6), they should not say, 'God is tempting me.' Evil cannot tempt God, and God Himself does not tempt anyone."
The point is, why would God bring people into the very sin He's trying to destroy? He's in a battle against evil and the Evil One. So why would He try to help the enemy? No, God does not lead us into temptation.
Then what is this petition saying? As it turns out, the form of this verb, "lead us not," has a permissive force to it which literally says, "allow us not to enter." In other words, "Don't let us be brought into temptation."
Now that's curious, too. Because the reality is that since we live in a world of sin, it's impossible for us not be faced with temptation. The fact that the second half of this petition begins with the words "but deliver us" indicates that temptation is inevitable. You can't live on this planet without being faced with sin and enticed by sin.
So second, the point of this petition is a passionate desire to not be overwhelmed by temptation, to not succumb, a deep passion to stand strong when faced with temptation.
The old Jewish evening prayer, based a lot upon this Lord's Prayer, puts it this way: "Do not bring me into the power of a sin, a temptation, a shame."
So who's trying to bring us into temptation? If it's not God, who is it? The next phrase clarifies it: "Deliver us from, literally, the evil." Most scholars recognize that this noun "evil", with the definite article "the" in front of it, should be translated as "the evil one."
So third, this petition is a definite reference to the Devil, Satan. After all, Satan's the one who entices people to sin. He's the one who does whatever he can to lead us into temptation and overwhelm us. Because he's the one who's locked in a mortal battle with God and God's Kingdom.
So what this prayer is saying is, "O God, Do not allow us to be so led into temptation that it overwhelms us, but rescue us from the evil one." And I like this translation: "Do not allow us to enter temptation that's beyond our endurance, but when the temptation does come, deliver us from the Evil One and his purposes."
Maybe you saw The Family Circus cartoon back in January. A little boy is praying, "Lead us not into temptation." And then he looks up and says, "But deliver me close enough to evil so I can feel good about walkin' away."
That's the way a lot of people are, isn't it? They want to get as close as they can to sin, to kind of feel its passions and desires, as long as they can still walk away. Trying to keep a foot in both places, God's Kingdom and this world.
But not God's children, says this prayer. God's Kids want to be completely delivered from evil. They want to stay as far away as possible. But when they do come face to face with the Evil One, as inevitable as it is, they are passionate about rescue and deliverance, for God's sake, not just their own. See, they're concerned about His honor and how their lives reflect upon Him.
I'm reminded of Joseph in the bible. Remember his encounter with Potiphar's wife who tries to seduce him into going to bed with her? How does he respond to this temptation? First he says, "How can I do this great sin and sin against God?"
He's concerned, not just for himself, but how such a thing will reflect upon God's honor? He has the big picture in mind.
And then, second, he runs. This is a great strategy when faced with evil, isn't it? He refuses to stick around and keep one foot next to evil and the other next to God. He gets out of there quickly! Why? Because he knows himself well and he knows the power of evil.
So how does this work in real life? How does the nature of sin and temptation work in your life? How well do you know yourself and the power of evil?
Sir James Barrie, the English playwright, has a play called The Will. Mr Devizes, a lawyer, notices that an old clerk, who has been in his service for many years, is looking very ill. He asks him if anything's the matter. The old man tells him that his doctor has informed him that he's suffering from an incurable disease.
"Oh I'm sure it's not - what you fear," Devizes replies. "Any specialist would tell you so."
"I've been to one, sir - yesterday," the old man informs.
"It's - that, sir."
"He couldn't be sure."
"Yes, he is, sir."
"But an operation - "
"Too late for that, he said. If I'd been operated on long ago, I might have had a chance."
"But you didn't have it long ago."
"Not to my knowledge, sir. But the doctor says it was there all the same, always in me, a black spot, not as big as a pin's head, but waiting to spread and destroy me in the fulness of time."
"Oh it seems damnably unfair!"
"I don't know, sir. He says there's a spot of that kind in pretty nigh all of us, and, if we don't look out, it does for us in the end."
"No, no, no," Devizes cries out.
"Yes," the old man says. "He called it the accursed thing. I think he meant we should know of it, and be on the watch."
That, my friends, is what everyone of us faces today, too. Sin that lives in us. In every person there's a weak spot, which, if we're not on the watch, can ruin us. Somewhere in every person there's a flaw, some fault of temperament, a weak link, sometimes inherited, sometimes developed, a weakness of character, some instinct or passion so strong that it can take control and wreak havoc and bring destruction. Not one of us is immune.
That's why the text we looked at earlier in James 1, goes on to say in verses 14-15, "(14) But people are tempted when their own desire leads them away and traps them. (15) This desire leads to sin, and then the sin grows and brings death."
The point is, Satan knows us all intimately well. He knows our weak links. And he's a master at pushing those right buttons. You and I are no match for his wily enticements and traps! That's why this prayer is so absolutely vital to our spiritual lives! We not only want to be forgiven for our past sins, we need to be delivered from the power of the Evil One, from the tyranny of sin, in the present and the future.
Here's the way Dr. John R. W. Stott, puts it: "The sinner whose evil in the past has been forgiven longs to be delivered from its tyranny in the future . . . It is the devil who is in view, who tempts God's people to sin, and from whom we need to be 'rescued' . . . So behind these words that Jesus gave us to pray are the implications that the devil is too strong for us, that we are too weak to stand up to him, but that our heavenly Father will deliver us if we call upon Him." (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 150)
So how does this work in real life? How can you and I find deliverance from the Evil One? How can we keep from being overwhelmed by temptation? What's your major concern when you face it?
Remember Jesus' experience recorded in Matthew 4? Right after His baptism, He retreats to the wilderness where He encounters the Devil face to face. Satan's been waiting for Him to capture his arch-enemy in a moment of weakness. Trying to find a weak link, he pushes some significant buttons, hoping to overwhelm Jesus.
"If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread . . . jump down off the pinnacle of the temple . . . If you are the Son of God!"
What's the basis of Satan's temptations? What foundation is he trying to shake? What roots is he trying to pull up? Satan knows that if he can just get Jesus to question this point, to get hazy about this issue, he'll have him in his trap. And the dominos will fall. What's the issue?
"If you are the Son of God." Satan's casting doubt on Jesus' identity, Jesus' relationship with God. "Are you really who you think you are? Do you really belong to whom you say you do? Is God really your Father? Can you really trust Him as Father?"
You see, my friends, the whole foundation of sin is a doubting of our relationship with God. It's seeing someone or something other than God as our real helper, as the one who can really meet our needs, who can really satisfy our desires. That was the problem with Adam and Eve - that's why they finally took the fruit and ate it. They couldn't trust that God and His way could fulfill their desires and satisfy their inner needs.
And that's what happens with you and me, too. That's our real temptation. And Satan knows just the right buttons to push to get us to doubt and distrust God as our loving Father.
So how does Jesus respond to the Evil One? How does He find deliverance? What's Jesus really interested in when faced with temptation? The first thing that comes out of Jesus' mouth is scripture. He's not going to trust His own wisdom. He's not going to trust in His own wit to answer Satan. He's going straight to the Father's words:
"It is written," Jesus replies, "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the Father's mouth."
In other words, "Satan, I trust in God as my Father. I believe what my Father says. I stake my life on His words and His will. And my Father tells me that I am His Son! And that's good enough for me! And as His Son I'm more concerned about His honor than about my needs!"
So do you see the issue? In reality, my friends, this prayer Jesus gives to us in Matthew 6 ends where it begins. With a reaffirmation, a reconfirmation of who God is and who we are in relation to Him. He is our Father and we are His children. Period! Nothing can ever take that identity away. And the more solidly we allow God to build our lives on that foundation, the greater our deliverance from evil and the more our honor to Him.
Jesus experienced it. And so can you and I. Isn't this your passion today? "Oh God, don't allow us to be overwhelmed by temptation, but deliver us, rescue us from the Evil One by empowering us to be your children, sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, whose name is hallowed and honored above all names, whose will we long to have lived out in our lives and in our world. You supply our daily bread so we don't need to turn the stones into bread. We can use our energies to live out our identities as Your children because we're secure in Your embrace. We can forgive those who hurt us, because we've accepted Your mercy and we've accepted our status altogether as Your children, secure in Your embrace. We want to be delivered from the Evil One because we want, above everything else, to give You Your honor. We want to be children whose loyalty and devotion give praise to their Father and Him alone. We don't want to help the Enemy! We to trust in Your grace to win the war against Satan!"
And that's why some manuscripts add the triumphant ending. The early church picked it up and used it as the doxology to end this glorious prayer. We always end where we begin: "For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen!"
Have you ever heard the name "Benedict Arnold?" It's become synonymous with someone who betrays another, who helps the enemy, a traitor. Benedict Arnold was a general in the American Revolution, highly decorated for his significant victories over the British. He later became the commanding officer of West Point, a fort which overlooked the Hudson River and essentially had control over all Hudson Valley commerce.
In fact, the Americans had stretched 1,000 links, weighing 60 tons, in a great chain across the river to block British warships from going upriver to resupply their armies. West Point was a strategic American possession.
During that time, General Arnold began to make secret overtures to the British. He offered to give them the plans of West Point along with a list of its military inventory. His asking price was £20,000 - and half that amount if he failed.
His accomplice, Maj. John Andre, was on his way to the British forces when he ended up being captured by the American militiamen. The papers describing the fort, sent by Gen. Arnold and signed by him, were discovered in Andre's boots. The betrayal had now become public. Andre was condemned and later hung as a spy.
Meanwhile, Gen. Arnold happened to be waiting at the fort for a visit from George Washington. He was planning on his deception to continue holding up. He wasn't worried about the visit.
But then word got to him of Maj. Andre's capture. Just as George Washington was arriving at the fort, Arnold escaped West Point, made it to a British warship down the river and joined the British war machine. A blow to the American Revolution.
One officer who had served with Arnold wrote these dark, searching words: "Treason! Treason! Treason! Black as hell! ... we were all astonishment, each peeping at his next neighbor to see if any treason was hanging about him. Nay, we even descended to a critical examination of ourselves."
That kind of personal examination is crucial, not just in war, but in life. The Lord's Prayer is that kind of examination. Whose side am I really helping? The right side or the enemy? Where am I placing my ultimate loyalty? Can I be trusted to give honor to the right King?
I don't want to be a spiritual Benedict Arnold. Do you? I want my life to count for God and His Kingdom! I want to give honor and glory to Him alone, our Father and our Lord! What do you say today? Is that what you want?
Greg Nelson, CVC Senior Pastor
February 26, 2000