For some reason, I’m always excited about getting the mail. When I was young, I would make the long walk up our driveway to the mailbox with great anticipation, even though I seldom received anything in the mail. As an adult, that anticipation continues to exist, although it’s generally bills and junk mail that await me in the mailbox. But there are two times each year when I get extra-excited about the mail, because I know what will soon arrive.
Every spring and every fall this catalogue – the Sweetwater Pro Gear catalogue arrives in the mail. It is a musician’s wish book, and for me, it is 600+ pages of pure temptation. While I was on sabbatical I traveled to Fort Wayne, Indiana to visit here, and while there was able to meet a few of my musical heroes, one of whom is Paul Reed Smith, founder of Paul Reed Smith Guitars. PRS is the largest guitar manufacturer, after Gibson and Fender, and they are wonderful, beautiful instruments. I was very excited to meet Paul Reed Smith and to have my picture taken with him. He was very kind and gracious to me, which made it more embarrassing for me to realize – after he left – that I was wearing a shirt that said, in big letters – Fender Guitars.
Each of us has something that provides a regular source of temptation. Maybe you have a catalogue that comes in your mail, or a store that you cannot pass without your feet carrying you through the door. As we continue our series of messages from the Lord’s Prayer, our topic is temptation, as we come to the phrase and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
When we talk about temptation today, there are two common reactions people will express. Some people hear the word temptation as a product of a bygone era, as little more than a quaint reminder of a time when people worried about such things. Or, temptation is viewed as a rather benign force that doesn’t have all that much power in the world or over our lives. To them, temptation is little more than a question of whether or not we should have that second donut in the morning.
But like the other phrases in the Lord’s Prayer, the words we study this morning are neither simple nor easy, and they serve as a reminder that temptation is far more serious than admiring a guitar in a catalogue, desiring a piece of clothing in a store window, or being able to walk away from a plate of donuts.
Let’s read the Lord’s Prayer, and a parallel passage from the book of James, and then we’ll talk more about our topic.
9 “Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in 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: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.
15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
1. Temptation is a manifestation of the evil that seeks to destroy our lives.
Notice that Jesus connects two words in this sentence – temptation and evil. Some people see this sentence as containing two separate and unrelated phrases – And lead us not into temptation as one phrase and but deliver us from evil as another. But these are not two separate phrases; they are a single, powerful reminder given to us by Jesus, and it is this – temptation is something far deeper and far more destructive than what we often think. Temptation is a manifestation of the evil from which we should pray to be delivered.
It is a mistake, a very serious mistake, to see temptation as something that is relatively mild, as though it is little more than trying not to eat a donut or staying out of a store that will tempt us to spend money. The truth is that temptation is a force that is bent on destroying our lives.
Genesis 4:6-7 tells us part of the story of Cain and Abel. In these verses, God comes to Cain and speaks to him, noting the anger that has welled up within him. God says to Cain, 6 Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.
I find the words – sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it – to be both fascinating and troubling. Fascinating because of the manner is which temptation and evil are portrayed – as an active force that is aggressive in its attempts to wreak havoc on our lives – and troubling because we are reminded that temptation is always working against us.
2. Temptation is subtle.
At one of the Louisville hospitals there is an elevator with a button that has had me wondering for several years. I can’t understand the logic of why this elevator has been designed in such a way, but when you look for the button to call the elevator, it’s actually a bit hard to find. But just above it is another button, very easy to find, and it looks like the button you should push to call the elevator. But the button is labeled Code Blue. I stood there looking at that button the other day, like I have many other times, and wondered what is a code blue? I think I know a way to find out. Push the button. I have a suspicion that it doesn’t do anything; it’s just there to tempt people like me. I think that, if I push it, a big gotcha sign will pop out (thanks to the people who reminded, after the services, that a code blue means that someone’s heart has stopped. So I guess if I push that button the hospital staff will come after me with a crash cart, so on second thought, I don’t think I’ll yield to the temptation of pushing it!) It’s just a button, but it intrigues me to the point that it stays in my mind and I think about it.
Temptation is very subtle. Temptation is sometimes very obvious, but it is many more times very subtle, just sitting there, quietly drawing us in.
Reading the gospels, I often feel sorry for Peter. He gets a lot of things right, but he gets a lot of things wrong as well. In Matthew chapter 16 we read of the time when Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, and there asked them the question who do people say the Son of Man is? (verse 13). Peter, in a moment of great insight, answered with his famous confession, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God (verse 16). After Peter’s response, Jesus went on to tell the disciples these words -
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
Doesn’t it seem reasonable what Peter said? It does, in one sense, but Peter didn’t understand what he was really saying to Jesus, in spite of his earlier flash of insight that Jesus is the Son of God. I’m sure Peter felt he was doing what was right, but he wasn’t. Peter was not helping Jesus; he was standing in the way of the mission of Jesus. Temptation can be so subtle that it often presents itself as not only a good option, but the correct option.
3. Temptation draws us slowly in.
I don’t remember sermons very well, including my own. But there are a few that have stayed with me over the years. One of those was a message about temptation, and though I can’t tell you many of the details, the outline has stayed with me for many years. It’s a very simple outline, but serves as a powerful reminder of what temptation does to us – temptation always takes us further than we want to go, keeps us longer than we want to stay, and costs us more than we want to pay.
The classic example of this, I believe, is the story of David, in particular, the story of David, Bathsheeba, and Uriah. David, for all of his virtues, had some great struggles in life. For all of his accomplishments, David had some great tragedies as well, and some of them came as a result of temptation that slowly drew him in.
In II Samuel 11 we find this story, and it tells us of how David found himself very much drawn into the reality of the fact that temptation always takes us further than we want to go, keeps us longer than we want to stay, and costs us more than we want to pay. One step at a time, David walked further and further down the road to temptation, until he eventually found himself in a place where so many lives had been hurt. From the first step of watching Bathsheeba, to becoming involved with her, to the point of having her husband put to death, David was drawn slowly into the trap of temptation.
The danger of temptation is that we sometimes don’t see it coming our way, and we find ourselves in the position where we ask how did I get here?
4. Temptation is a test of our faith.
I only played one year of organized football, and that was way back in junior high school. I still remember, though, our coach telling us that the key to building muscle was resistance. Resistance is the basis of many exercises, and certainly the basis for building physical strength. In a sense, temptation is how spiritual muscle is created, as we face resistance on a spiritual level.
Interestingly, the word the Bible uses for temptation can be translated as test. When Jesus was led into the wilderness, after his baptism, it was a time of testing. To be tested in such a way is not just temptation, but a way of testing the depth of our faith and character, so we can call it a test of character and faith. The book of James tells us that God does not tempt us, but temptation is certainly a test of our faith, and as we push back against those tests and temptations, it helps us to build a stronger faith.
Sermons are often a work in progress, sometimes right into Sunday morning. For me, the hardest part is the conclusion, finding a way to wrap up the thoughts I share and to make a final emphasis on the points. I will often remark to Tanya during the week that I can’t find my way out of this sermon. Last night I told her I couldn’t figure out how to get out of this one, and she said she would try to think of an idea. This morning, she told me that she hadn’t come up with anything, and in the early service I could only manage to sum up a couple of thoughts. As I sat in the early part of this service (our 11:00 worship), I continued to think how do I get out of this? It suddenly struck me that those words – how do I get out of this? – are words we often mutter to ourselves when we have yielded to temptation. Temptation, after completing its destructive, subtle work, brings us to a place where we are surprised to be, and where we say how do I get out of this? The simple answer, of course, is to keep ourselves from arriving at such a point. In order to protect ourselves, never forget that temptation is a powerful, powerful force, active and seeking to destroy our lives. But remember also that we love and serve a God of life, who is always seeking our best and provides the strength to resist temptation!