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The Upside-Down Kingdom

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Rev. Philip Miller | May 29, 2022

Selected highlights from this sermon

Tests and trials in life are something we all would prefer to avoid. Not just because we prefer comfort and ease, but because these can be moments of accountability when we’re exposed for who we really are. And let’s face it, we don’t want to realize we’re not all that we ought to be, that we are, in fact, frail and faltering beings.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” He was showing them, and us, how to prepare for life’s tests.

Pastor Miller shows us how this prayer helps us through life’s tests in four ways by calibrating reality, defining the enemy, running to our Father, and looking unto Jesus.

It’s great to be back with you today. I bring greetings from our brothers and sisters over in Europe. We had a great conference over there and made lots of really good connections, connecting with our ministry partners over there. And I’m telling you, God is doing something special in Europe with a remnant of faithful believers who are in the fire but serving the Lord with excellence and glory, and it’s wonderful. (Applause) Yeah, let’s clap. I’ll share more details in the coming weeks but it was a really special time.

I want to thank in particular Pastor Bill Bertsche for doing a great job last week opening up God’s Word. Can we thank him together this morning? (applause) Yeah!

In college I dreaded pop quizzes. I had one professor who particularly loved to spring them on us. If you were doing your reading and keeping up with your work, it was no big deal, but if you were (clears throat) behind for one reason or another, these quizzes turned out to be quite perilous. It was interesting that the very same test revealed the strengths of some people and exposed weaknesses of others, right? Those tests helped my professor know how the students were coming along, and it helped us, the students, realize where our gaps were in our learning. And we might think we were on top of the material, but this test showed us reality. This test was a sudden moment of pressure that revealed the reality of what was really in us. Right?

Now, if you think about it, that’s what tests are for. That’s what they do. If you feel like your heart is fine, you go to a doctor and they put you on a treadmill and you get a stress test. Right? How many of you have had one of these? Yes? And you find out reality. How healthy are you really? And then you change your habits so that you can live based off the reality of what you find, or maybe you’re on a diet, and you feel like, “Boy this is going really well,” and then you step on the scale. (Laughs) “Oh no, the test!” Right? And you have to face up to reality of what’s really going on.

Sometimes I avoid the scale because I know I’ve not been eating well. How many of you do that? Don’t put up your hands, never mind! Sometimes we don’t want to know how we really are. The reality is, if we’re honest, we often avoid tests because they’re moments of accountability. They’re moments where we are exposed, where we have to face reality of who we really are. And we all know deep down that we’re not who we’re supposed to be, not fully. We’re frail beings. We’re faltering beings, and so when the tests come there’s nowhere to hide. We often avoid them.

Today we come to an intriguing phrase in The Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Greek word for temptation in this verse is peirasmos. Can you say that with me? Peirasmos. Yes! It’s a particularly difficult word to translate. The core idea is that of a test, a test, a pressure-filled test in real life that reveals who we really are on the inside. So it might be suffering, or hardship, or a temptation, or a persecution, or a sense of loss. All of a sudden there’s a real life test, a moment of pressure that reveals the reality of what’s really going on inside.

The reason this word is hard to translate is that the test can turn out so very differently, depending on us. So for some people a test could be a trap. It could be a trap that catches you unprepared and takes you down. Or for other people a test might be a temptation, a moment where you’re tempted to give in and compromise and do anything you can to get out from under the pressure. And for others it could be a moment of triumph, of triumph, where the strength of the character God is forging in your life is revealed and you are tested and proven, and you pass with flying colors.

So a peirasmos, a test, can be a trap. It could be a temptation. It can be a triumph. It depends on us. How will we respond under the pressure of the test of life?

So the question is, “How do we approach these kinds of tests?” Life is full of them. How do we live under them? And Jesus shows us the way in this prayer.

So grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Matthew, chapter 6 this morning, looking at verse 9 down to 13. This is the whole of The Lord’s Prayer. As has been our habit in this series, let’s say the prayer together as we read it. Jesus begins this prayer saying, “Pray then like this.” Let’s say it together.

Our Father in heaven,

  hallowed be your name.

  Your kingdom come,

  your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

  Give us this day our daily bread,

  and forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors. 

  And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from evil,

  [For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Amen.]” Amen.

So our phrase today is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” There are two dimensions to that phrase: “Lead us not into temptation.” “Father, lead us away from, not into these tests of life, these troublesome tough spots where we might end up failing and faltering and falling. We’re frail and weak beings. We know we can’t handle much pressure in life and so, Father, steer us clear from these tests of life. But if we, in fact, have to face them, deliver us from evil. Keep us safe through the tests to the other side. May these tests in life not be a trap where we fall, not the temptation where we fail, but a triumph where we prevail. Preserve us. Sustain us. Keep us. Deliver us.”

See, we know we’re going to face all kinds of tests in life, and Jesus is teaching us to pray first for protection from those tests, and secondly for preservation through those tests. Protection from those tests—preservation through the tests, because we need God’s grace to keep us from and to preserve us through the very hardest things we’ll face in life.

Now, when it comes to these tests of life, this prayer helps us in four ways in particular. And this is our outline for this morning. This prayer helps us: Calibrate Reality, Define the Enemy, Run to Our Father, and Look Unto Jesus.

Calibrate reality, define the enemy, run to our Father, and look unto Jesus. So let’s jump in but before we do that, can you pray with me? Would you do that?

Father, this is the stuff of real life. There are so many hard things that we don’t plan but they kind of come along and smack us upside the head in life. We’re, all of us, just a phone call away from these kinds of tests. And so, Father, since we don’t know when you are coming, we need you to prepare us now. Get us ready. Forge us into the kind of people that these tests will not destroy but will confirm, and make us resilient and strong. We need your help, your grace. We can’t do it alone, so we pray this in Christ’s name and for for His sake. Help us, we pray, Amen. Amen.

Number one, this prayer helps us calibrate reality. Jesus is giving us, in this prayer, and His disciples a kind of template. Right? A template. He’s teaching them how to pray, not that they have to pray these exact words each and every time they pray, when they do their daily prayers, but because He’s giving them the categories of thought that are important for them to keep in mind as they pray day by day. In other words, this prayer, this phrase, “protection from and preservation through the trials of life,” is the very grace we need if we are to survive this life. We need to pray this kind of prayer. We need this on a daily basis because the tests of life, if you think about it, are everywhere. They’re everywhere. Little tests, big tests. There are tests everywhere, and in many ways life is a series of tests, isn’t it? Tests of character that we either pass, or we fail.

So what do these tests look like? Well, let’s say someone cuts you off in traffic. (chuckles) This is Chicago. It’s a test! Right? How will you respond to rude aggression? Right?

  • Let’s say you get stuck in the slow line at the grocery store. Oh man! Can I get an Amen? Is this the worst? And there’s always somebody writing a check. Who writes checks anymore? Right? But there they are! It’s a test! It’s a test.
  • Let’s say someone rips you off, or insults you, or lies about you behind your back. It’s a test.
  • Let’s say you have an opportunity to take a sketchy tax deduction. It’s a test.
  • You’re on a business trip and no on one will find out. It’s a test.
  • Your rival gets the promotion you felt like you deserved. It’s a test.
  • Someone comes along and points out your flaws. It’s a test.

And in each of these scenarios, you see, the question is “How will we respond?” Will we respond with honesty, and courage, and kindness, and integrity, or will we respond in selfishness, and anger, and cowardice, and deceit, you see?

See, the test reveals the inner character of our life. It shows what we really are. It proves it out. And Jesus is teaching us to pray our way through this life that is full of tests, because they’re everywhere. They are everywhere. Life is full of tests, so we expect them. Life is full of tests and we expect them.

You remember what Jesus said in John 16:33. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Trouble is coming. According to Jesus, trouble is coming. The tests of life are coming. Don’t be surprised by them. Don’t let them catch you off guard. Expect them. And take heart because Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him you can overcome these things too.

First Peter 4, verse 12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial (that’s our word, peirasmos)… do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Peter is saying, “Look, don’t be surprised when life is full of tests. It’s not something strange when they come. It’s normal. It’s expected. You’re not being singled out.”

By giving us this prayer, Jesus is preparing us for the reality that life’s tests are an ordinary part of what it means to follow Jesus. This is so important, because I think most people are genuinely shocked and caught off guard when the tests of life hit. We tend to think, “Well, if I’m a pretty good person I’ll have a pretty good life.” Right? And then along come the tests of life, and we face pressure and disappointment and setbacks and frustrations and persecution and hardship, and it knocks us off balance. We’re like, “I can’t believe this is happening. Why me? Why God? Why would you let this happen to me? I’m trying to serve you. Why am I going through this hard moment?”

And don’t you see, so much of our discouragement in the trials of life comes not from the circumstances themselves, but from our shock that we’re actually facing them. But the problem lies with our assumption. Do you see that? We tend to assume that good people have relatively good lives, and bad people will have relatively bad lives. But is that how the world really is? No, there are plenty of people who end up with, they’re good people, but they end up with pretty lousy lives. And there are other people that are pretty lousy human beings, and they end up with pretty good lives.

But see, friends, if we’re grounded in the Scripture we know better because we are followers of Jesus, and Jesus led a life of perfect goodness (Right?) and had one of the worst lives ever. He was poor, He was homeless, He was a victim of injustice. He was crucified on a cross. And He says to you and me, “Come, take up your cross, and follow me.”

See, the Bible normalizes hardship, suffering, and difficulties. It teaches us to expect the tests of life. It doesn’t make them necessarily easier to face, but it should keep us from being so caught off-guard when they do come.

See, this prayer helps us calibrate reality, to remember that these tests are normal. They are expected. They are a part of what it means to live a life that is following Jesus. We are to take up our cross and follow Him, because, friends, the cross is the fundamental structure of the universe. The cross is the fundamental structure of the universe. In Jesus, death leads to resurrection. A seed must fall into the ground and die if it is to live and bear much fruit. Coal is crushed under the pressure of rock in order that it might become a diamond.

This is the life of the Upside-Down Kingdom. The way up is down. The way to life is through death. The way to freedom is through surrender. The way to self-fulfillment is through self-denial. The way to glory is through the cross.

And so, do you see? Life is full of tests, and we are to expect them.

And so this prayer says, “Father, lead us not into the tests of life.” We don’t want to face them unless we absolutely have to.  If it’s possible, let all of this pass, but if the test must come, we aren’t surprised, you see, and we pray for deliverance through the test to the other side. So this prayer helps us calibrate reality. You see that.

Secondly, it helps us Define the Enemy, define the enemy, because our greatest enemy is not pain. It’s evil. Our greatest enemy is not pain. It’s evil. Notice Jesus did not say, “Deliver us from the painful, tough circumstances that we’re facing,” but “from evil.” He’s not praying, “Get me out of the test.” He’s praying, “Keep me from evil in the test.”

In the midst of a test, even one that’s excruciatingly painful and tough, friends, it is not the pain that can really hurt us in the end. It is evil that can destroy us. That’s our greater enemy. When the test comes and the pressure mounts, it is not the test itself that is of the highest consequence. It is how we respond that makes all the difference in the world. If we respond to the pressure of the test by abiding deeply in Christ, and harnessing the power of the Holy Spirit, responding in grace and courage and integrity and obedience, friends, we pass the test with flying colors. But if instead we rely on on our flesh, and in self-reliance respond with bitterness and selfishness and deceit and meanness and self-pity, don’t you see that same test can take us down and ruin us? It’s not the circumstances of the test itself that will take you down. It’s the evil that can take hold of you in the test. That’s the real enemy.

If you’re a lump of coal and you’re under the rock (Right?), you think the rock is your biggest problem, don’t you? “Get this rock off of me! I don’t like it.” That’s the solution. “If you just take the rock away, God, everything would be better.” But what if that rock is making you into a diamond? It would not be loving for God to take the weight off, if that very weight was making you into the person you were meant to be. See, the rock is not the ultimate problem. It’s the evil that can arise in these kinds of tests and pressures. That’s the real danger.

Now, the phrase that Jesus prays here, “deliver us from evil,” can be translated two different ways. If you translate it, “deliver us from evil,” or from “the evil one.” It’s kind of ambiguous in the text, which I suspect is purposeful on Jesus’ part. If you think about it, evil can come from within and without. Both are dangerous. We need God’s grace to deliver us from the evil that arises within us, in our own hearts in the midst of suffering, pain, and in trials and tests of life, and we need God’s grace to deliver us from the evil one’s intentions for us in this trial. And either way, we desperately need God’s preserving grace to keep us safe through the trial to the other side (Amen?) because here’s the reality. Sin is crouching at our door and it seeks to devour us. And the sin of selfishness dwells deep in our hearts and under pressure, it can raise its ugly head, can’t it? And Satan is like a roaring lion, prowling around, seeking someone to devour. And the real danger to our souls, brothers and sisters, is not wrongful termination, or getting sued, or estranged relationships, or bankruptcy, or chronic pain, or cancer, or even death. The real danger to our souls is the evil that can overtake us in the tests of life. That’s the real enemy. And so this prayer helps us define the enemy. To face the evil within and without, we are going to need the grace of God.

Third, this prayer helps us Run to Our Father, run to our Father. This request, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” like all the requests in The Lord’s Prayer, it’s addressed to “Our” (Say it) “Father.” Our Father. Jesus is teaching us that when the tests of life come, and evil rears its ugly head, what do we need to do? Run to our Father. Don’t look to yourself. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Don’t try to face it alone. You have a Father who loves you, and you’re never alone, and so you can run to Him and take refuge in Him for He is our help and our strength in our time of need. And if we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us, these tests are not punitive. They are purifying.

These tests are not punitive. They are purifying. The distinction here is vital. It’s vital for us to understand. If you are in Christ, friends, God is 100% for you. Not 99%, 100%! (applause) Your sin has been atoned. You are forgiven. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, which means, listen to me here: He’s 100% for you. He’s not 99% and with that one remaining percent He’ll give you cancer. He is 100% for you in Jesus Christ, which means that all the hard things you face in life, if you are a follower of Jesus, all those hard things are not punitive. They are not punishment. Jesus paid it all. These are purifying things. God is using these hard things for a purpose—to refine us and grow us and transform us, and change us. In all of these things God is conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. He’s growing us in resemblance with our Father, and He’s transforming us into the glorious sons and daughters of God that we were always meant to be.

In Hebrews, chapter 12, one of my favorite passages (Hebrews, chapter 12) God is addressing people who are suffering a great deal. And the writer of Hebrews says...he calls them to endure hardship as sons because God is treating them as sons. He’s training them up. He’s disciplining them, which feels unpleasant at the time, but the writer of Hebrews says God is doing this for your ultimate good that you might share in His holiness and the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In First Corinthians 10:13 Paul writes, “No temptation, (peirasmos, the same word) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

James 1:2–4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials (peirasmos, same word) of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

So what this means, friends, is that when we face the trials of life as children of God, all of those hard things, as hard as they are, have been filtered through the loving hands of our Father, and are designed not to take us down, but to grow us up. And it’s all about our highest good and everlasting glory. It is the forge that is making us into the people we were created to be.

And so this prayer, don’t you see, helps us run to our Father, to come into His presence, to depend on His grace, to trust in His hand in what He’s doing in these moments. “God, I don’t like it, but I trust that you are good, and that even this will be working for my eternal good and your glory. I don’t know how but I trust you.” And so when we yield (Do you see?), we yield to His delivering power through the tests of life. He is present, and He is with us.

Now, you say, “What would that even look like?” If you need an example look unto Jesus.

Look unto Jesus. That’s our fourth point: look unto Jesus.

Not only is Jesus giving us an example in these words, He’s also giving us an example by His life. And as Jesus prays this prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” both He and His disciples would have sensed the irony of these statements because just two chapters earlier in Matthew, chapter 4, it says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Do you see the parallels? The Spirit led to temptation. This is an immediate context. In chapter 3 Jesus is baptized: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

Chapter 4, He’s led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Forty days He’s there. He returns. He calls the disciples to Himself, and then goes up on the mountain and gives the Sermon on the Mount, including this prayer.

In other words, the immediate backdrop of this prayer is the temptation that Jesus faced. And what has Jesus been doing? Jesus is teaching us to pray that we won’t have to face what He faced, that we won’t have to go through what He just went through. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” because Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one himself. He squared off against the devil, one-on-one, face-to-face, and three times He was tempted and prevailed. And of course, that was only the precursor to the ultimate and greater temptation and test that Jesus would face in the Garden of Gethsemane to save Himself, to forsake the cross. And through the agony and bloody sweat of tears, what did Jesus pray in the Garden of Gethsemane? What did He pray? “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me. I don’t want to go to the cross. If there’s any way out, don’t lead Me into this test, but if it’s not possible, deliver Me from evil. Not My will but yours be done. I surrender to you.”

Do you realize this is the same prayer? What Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane is basically the same prayer as this. “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. Let this cup pass from me, but not my will but yours be done.” Don’t you see, friends, that Jesus, the rightful Son of God, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased, if Jesus faced the ultimate test and temptation. If He faced down the evil one, if He bore the ultimate cost of our sin and our shame and our death, and if He rose victorious over sin, death, and Satan, and had been crowned with majesty and glory on high, if Jesus did that for you, if you had faced the ultimate test, it would have taken you and me down. But He triumphed over temptations and trials that we can never withstand on our own. If He prevailed in our place and for our sake, if He’s our substitute in every way, and we have now been brought to His Father, and have been given all the resources of grace and the Gospel that are ours in Jesus Christ, all the resources of heaven, if God brought His true Son through trials and temptations to glory to the ultimate test, friends, He can deliver you and me from evil as well. (applause)

Our Father can take us through the cross to glory because we are His sons and daughters, and He turns our tests into glory. And friends, Jesus is victorious and we follow Him. We follow Him. (applause)

In Hebrews 12 it says this in verses 1 to 3: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the [majesty] of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary and fainthearted.”

Do you see the logic? Fix your eyes on Jesus, the one who faced the ultimate test, who bore the ultimate cross that looked like it would crush Him, and yet turned out to be a diamond. He turned out to be a diamond. The rock of the cross crushed Him and He was revealed in glory. Do you see that? God delivered Jesus from evil through the cross in the resurrection life.

And now Jesus looks at you and me and He says, “Come, follow Me. Take up your cross and follow Me. Walk with Me into the fire. Walk with Me into the cross. Walk with Me into the hardest tests and trials of life. Follow Me because I know the way to glory, and if you follow Me, that glory will be yours too.”

Friends, I know of no greater source of courage and strength in the midst of the trials of life than to look to Jesus. Friends, if He walked through the fire for me, I can walk through the fire for Him. Right? (applause) If He took up His cross for me, I can take up my cross for Him. “If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

Friends, Jesus knows the way. He knows the way through the tests of life. He knows the way of the cross. Everything that goes on to glory must first pass through crucifixion, and Jesus alone can lead us. He can guide us, and keep us, and protect us, and shepherd us, and befriend us. And no matter what kind of tests in life come our way, Jesus is with us to the very end, from here to eternity.

You see, life is full of pop-quizzes, tests. Our Father is our professor. Jesus is our tutor and guide, and the exam is in session. It’s called life. By God’s grace, may we fix our eyes on Jesus and endure the cross so we might share in His resurrection glory. Amen? Amen. (applause)

Would you pray with me?

“Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Father, there are so many hard things we don’t want to face in life. They are painful. They are excruciating. They’re tough. And if you would, would you protect us from all that stuff? We know ourselves. We are so frail and fickle. It would be really easiest for us to just lose it if the pressure mounts too swiftly. So protect us, we pray, from the trials of life, but if they do come, deliver us from evil. Protect us. Shore us up. Give us strength and fortitude. Make us courageous and strong. Help us cling to Jesus, live from the power of your Spirit, abide in Christ, cling to the promises, hold fast to our faith. Help us to be immovable and strong.

Father, in all of that, we just surrender ourselves to you because we know you’re up to something with all of the pain and hardship and difficulties we face in life. They are not pointless. They’re going somewhere. They are making us like Christ. They form us to your image. And Father, more than anything we want to be like you. We’re the worst! You’re the best! Change us. Make us new, and even if it hurts, Father, we trust you. We’re never alone. Help us to remember that. You have good purposes in all of these things, and so we follow you. We pick up our cross and we follow you.

In Christ’s name we pray, Amen. Amen.

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