We began our series on the Lord’s Prayer, four weeks ago, by reading about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. As we learned to pray “our Father” with the only-begotten Son of God, we watched as Christ turned away each of the devil’s tempting offers: turn bread into stone; worship me, in exchange for power over this world; test God to see if he’ll really protect you. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, the new Eve, the Son of Man who overcomes temptation. But today, as we near the end of our series on the Lord’s Prayer, we meet Judas Iscariot, the old Adam, the man who gives in to temptation, the man who cannot resist what Satan has to offer.
Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” yet I can’t help thinking that we have lost our grip on the word “temptation.” Some of us live as if there’s no such thing as temptation. We do “what feels good for us” all the time, without thinking about it. We’ve built up a way of life that says, “You don’t need to bother thinking about what you are doing before you do it.” So instead of being vigilant and watching out for temptation, we just live our lives on cruise control, sailing down the highway of life as if there are no curves in the road, no decisions worth making, no pitfalls that could mess things up for us. We simply don’t give most things a second thought.
At the same time, the tendency in many churches has been to glare at people with warnings about temptation over petty things without drilling down into deeper issues. This is the church that says over and over again, “Watch out for temptation,” but never, ever prays, at least, not with any sincerity, “Deliver us from evil.” Don’t you dare smoke! Don’t you dare take a drink, unless it’s for health reasons! Don’t even think about swearing! Church-folk obsessed over these petty temptations, and sometimes we still do, but the same folk who wagged their fingers on Sunday mornings about cussin’ were happy to deny voting rights to blacks at the polls on Tuesday afternoon. Beware of Christians whose temptations are only skin-deep.
Now I’m not saying that God doesn’t care about petty temptations, but I am saying that there are deeper issues. Judas did not betray Jesus because he started off sneaking cigarettes during the Sermon on the Mount and things just went downhill from there. Judas was tempted into far more damaging sins, and the truth is, every day, we are, too. And if we’re not watching out for these greater, more awful temptations, then we may end up, like Judas, betraying Jesus, crucifying him again, not delivered from evil, but friends with evil.
It’s the temptations that lead us into evil that we need to worry about, because our prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We need to keep both parts of the petition together. Without “deliver us from evil” the prayer to avoid temptation is just another way to build up our false sense of moral superiority. Without “lead us not into temptation,” the prayer to “deliver us from evil” can make it sound like evil is only what happens to us and not also something we do. Our sins, the ones that really grip our lives, that hold onto us most tightly, lead to evil: the evil of broken and abusive relationships; the evil of hatred and violence; the evil of disobedience to God’s law; and the evil of refusing to love God with all our heart, mind, strength, and spirit. So what are some of the temptations that lead us into evil, and how are we delivered from them?
Well, one temptation is to believe lies about ourselves. We may be tempted into pride. Pride is when I want to believe that I am someone special, that I am unique and extraordinary and superior. I want to believe that the world revolves around me. I want to believe that my successes matter and my failures don’t count. I want to live in a world that respects me, yields to me, does things my way. Pride is sinful. Pride leads us into evil. And delivery from pride hurts. We have to be humbled, humiliated even, in order to be delivered from pride.
On the other hand we may be tempted by the lie of self-hatred. My body isn’t attractive enough, I’m not thin enough, I don’t have enough money, I don’t matter to anyone, I’d be better off dead, the world would be better off without me. This is what happens when we become captive to the pride of other people, and for this we need to be lifted up, raised from the ashes, elevated by God. God has called us his daughters and sons; we matter to God. Every life is sacred.
The temptation to believe lies about ourselves is so damaging, but it’s only one temptation. We are also tempted, daily, to do things that damage our relationships with other people. Damage can come in many forms and from many different behaviors, but the thing is, once we have damaged one relationship, our tendency is to do it over and over again. That’s the great evil of the temptation to damage our relationships. The damage spreads, like an out-of-control infection. For example, pornography, whether in magazines or on the internet or on television, tells us other people exist only for our pleasure. Pornography makes us think of others as tools, things to be used and then ignored or thrown away. Maybe you haven’t looked at a dirty magazine in ages, but once you’ve given into this temptation, it can shape your relationships for years, even decades. Prejudice does the same thing. If you have ever caught yourself thinking, well, that’s what black people do, or, that is so gay, or why do women always do things like that, or anything of that kind, you’ve broken your relationship with people because of their skin color, or sexual orientation, or gender. And again, it may have been years since you had a conscious thought like that, but giving into the temptation even once can have an effect that lasts for a very long time, even for a lifetime.
Delivery from the evil of damaged relationships is very costly. It involves swallowing our pride. It can be awkward and embarrassing. Delivery means we need to confess, not just to God but to the people we’ve hurt. Delivery means allowing others to hold us accountable to new ways of living, so that we don’t fall back into old patterns of damage and abuse.
Believing lies about ourselves and damaging our relationships with other people always results in a broken relationship with God, too. But we also face daily temptations that specifically target that relationship. We are tempted to violate the Ten Commandments, to steal, to dishonor our parents, to take the Lord’s name in vain. Oh, we justify these things in all sorts of ways—I was angry, she hurt me, I deserve what I want! But when we break a commandment, we always damage our relationship with God.
But I think the hardest temptation to avoid is the one that says, “God doesn’t care.” God doesn’t care what you think about yourself. God doesn’t care whether you’ve cheated on your spouse. God doesn’t care if you secretly hate your neighbor.
And the only way to be delivered from the evil of this temptation is to turn to the cross. The cross confronts the lies of this temptation: God doesn’t care?! God cares enough to die for you!
And the cross, it turns out, is the secret to our deliverance from all evil; the cross is God’s answer to our prayer, “lead us not into temptation.” If we lose sight of the cross, we have no hope of having our prayer answered. If we do not fix our gaze upon the cross and upon Jesus Christ crucified, we will never see a path away from temptation, nor a road that does not lead to evil. The Lord’s Prayer leads us to the cross; if we pray it faithfully, we will find ourselves at the foot of the cross, day after day, week after week, year after year. The Lord’s Prayer leads us to Jesus Christ crucified, tortured and killed for our salvation. We cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer without the cross; we can only pray the Lord’s Prayer because of the One crucified on the cross.
In the next two weeks you will have many opportunities to turn back to the cross. Palm-Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday train our sight upon the cross, upon Jesus Christ crucified. You may want to skip out on these services, to jump right to Easter Sunday and the joy of resurrection. But if you do skip the crucifixion, if you do choose to miss worship at the cross, I just don’t think you should bother praying the Lord’s Prayer on Easter Sunday. It will be a hollow prayer that day; it will be like ash in your mouth.
To pray is to change. To pray the Lord’s Prayer is to change in the light of the cross and of our crucified Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How will you change in this season of dwelling at the foot of the cross? How will you change as we pray the prayer Jesus gave us?