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Text: Lk.11:4c "And lead us not into temptation."
I wonder what comes into your mind when you hear the word "Temptation". It could be a song that Bing Crosby sang way back in 1933 – or perhaps you know one of the cover versions sung by Perry Como or the Everly Brothers. Maybe you think in the plural of the motown group and their most famous hit "My Girl".
Some of you might immediately think of chocolate.
Others of you might prefer a more humorous approach such as the words which Oscar Wilde put into the mouth of one of his characters in a play he wrote: "I couldn’t help it. I can resist everything except temptation."
If you want something a little more serious then what about this for a definition?
"Temptation is a fundamental desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment that threatens long-term goals."
More informally, temptation may be used simply to mean "the state of being attracted and enticed".
Nothing particularly religious about that is there? You see, it is not only believing people who know something about temptation – we all do.
When Jesus answered his followers’ requests for help as to how they should pray he was careful to include instruction about temptation. The final line of the Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer concerns temptation and you know the words well:
"Lead us not into temptation"
Matthew in his gospel records the fuller and more familiar version by adding another phrase:
"but deliver us from evil" (or, as the Greek original allows, "from the evil one".) Mt.6:13
And so as we continue working our way through Luke’s gospel our subject this morning is temptation, or more precisely, our need to pray not to be led into temptation.
No respecter of persons
If we read our Bibles with any care at all we will have to admit that temptation abounds even if the actual word doesn’t always appear in the text.
Adam and Eve were created morally perfect but in their original state of innocence it didn’t take the ancient serpent long before he was tempting them to mistrust God and to follow their own appetites.
As the Puritan writer Richard Sibbes put it:
"Satan gives Adam an apple (fruit), and takes away Paradise. Therefore in all temptations let us consider not what he offers, but what we shall lose."
Another Puritan author, Thomas Adams, memorably described this sort of activity when he wrote that:
"Satan, like a fisherman, baits his hook according to the appetite of the fish."
And down through the centuries Satan has proved himself to be a very gifted angler indeed. He has had success with very nearly everyone he has met and he has met each of us!
Just think of the great men of the Old Testament and you’ll find that each and every one of them has succumbed to Satan’s clever ploys:
Noah did so well for so many years in standing alone in a wicked world until one day a grape got the better of him and he sank in a drunken stupor.
Abraham that great man who could trust God enough to leave one country to seek another found that he couldn’t trust God enough to look after his family and so lied about his marital state and so exposed his wife, Sarah, to great danger.
Moses had something of a sticky start and yet became a great leader of his people. He successfully led them out of Egypt doing something unheard of in history to that date; he spoke to God face to face and yet didn’t allow this to go to his head gaining rather the reputation of being the meekest man in all the earth. Yet one day his patience, tried to the limit by the criticism he was constantly being subjected to, ran out and he acted rashly and didn’t take care to follow the clear instructions that the Lord had given him.
David was a wonderful king, the sweet singer of Israel, a man after God’s own heart, and yet in an idle moment he catches an illicit sight of his neighbour’s wife and lustful desires consume him. He subsequently uses all his power and influence to try to cover the matter up! What a dismal fall it was!
In his boldness and brazenness Satan didn’t hesitate to try his old tricks on Jesus either. He knew how to trap men, he knew there were multiple ways in which to attack and he used his choicest methods on Jesus. And for the first time ever he met with failure, complete, clear-cut and total failure! Jesus resisted all the temptations that Satan threw at him and Satan was so unused to this type of defeat that he withdrew until he could find another moment that might prove more propitious. When those moments came Satan renewed his efforts but met once again with exactly the same results. He couldn’t overcome Jesus not even for a second!
If Satan had no qualms about tempting any of these great men from the OT days men then you’d be a fool to imagine that he won’t be able to take you on. If he wasn’t afraid to take a tilt at the Son of God himself do you really think he’ll be scared of having a crack at you?
We are all of us exposed to temptation. Now that by no means says that you will be tempted by what tempts me – after all different baits attract different fish – but you will be tempted to do what is wrong and so will I. You will be tempted to ignore what God has said and to go your own way. Warnings abound in the Bible and ignored warnings abound too.
In the book of Genesis the story of Cain and Abel is recorded: there were tensions between the two brothers as one gained God’s approval while the other didn’t. And God lovingly issued Cain with a warning expressed in the clearest possible terms:
Gen.4:7 "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
The sad thing was that Cain ignored the warning and the result was disastrous.
Jesus and his warnings about temptation
Why did Jesus’ include the matter of temptation in the prayer outline he gave to his followers?
He knew that temptation was not something that was confined to the past it would continue to pose men and women problems. A little later in his ministry he would say:
Lk.17:1 "Temptations to sin are sure to come,"
So he includes his exhortation to pray not to be led into temptation because he knew all of us would have to face temptation in one way or another.
He knew too just how forceful temptation can be.
It is precisely because he never succumbed to temptation in any way that he knows just how strong temptation can be. Every other human being has capitulated to temptation as the heat has been turned up. Only he has had to experience the full force of it and he has done so without giving way at all. We mustn’t imagine for a moment that Jesus overcame temptation because he somehow lived a sheltered life which afforded him special protection from Satan’s onslaughts – the NT is clear "he has" it tells us:
Heb.4:15 "in every respect ... been tempted as we are, yet without sin."
Jesus’ experience of temptation enables him both to sympathise with us who are exposed and assailed by temptation and to help us:
Heb 4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,"
Heb.2:18 "For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
When it comes to temptation Jesus knows what he is talking about and in his loving sympathetic compassion for you he tells you what you must do.
So what will you do with these warnings that come to you from Jesus’ own lips? He tells you to pray that you will not be led into temptation. Will you do that? Or will you not? And don’t think that it is sufficient to pray this once and then the matter is done and dusted. This request is to be regularly repeated, on a daily basis.
Jesus acts as well as instructs
In this, the model prayer, Jesus told his followers what to do in general terms. In the final week of his life before his crucifixion as the circumstances that surrounded him and his apostles became ever more fraught with danger Jesus personalised his teaching as he applied it to Peter in particular.
Jesus lovingly spoke to Peter about what was about to take place. Jesus knew that Satan had, amongst other things, set his sights set on Peter: he wanted to present Peter with such trials and testings that Peter would stumble and fall. Jesus warned Peter what was about to happen and softened the news with assurances of his own prayers for Peter.
Lk.20:31-32 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."
Isn’t it encouraging to know that our Saviour does not stand idly by watching to see how we get on but that he takes an active interest in us praying and interceding on our behalf, undeserving though we be of such grace!
A short time later in the garden and the crisis is coming ever closer. Jesus therefore sets himself to pray and at the same time he urges his disciples to pray too. The urgency of the matter is highlighted by his repeated exhortations to his disciples to pray
Lk.20:40, 46 "And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation... and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation."
Matthew in his gospel account tells us that Jesus’ words about the need to pray were particularly spoken to Peter.
Mt.26:41 "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
We know what happened.
Peter, instead of praying, repeatedly fell asleep. When Satan came knocking with his temptations Peter was not prepared and succumbed.
Jesus, on the other hand, who had prayed, was ready for everything Satan could throw at him! How important to pray not to be led into temptation, not to be brought into situations where we are seriously exposed to failure!
The NT further encourages us to pray and to pray with confidence by telling us that we will never be exposed to extraordinary temptations nor put in situations where there is no way out. But we must learn to trust God, to plead his promises and to pray earnestly:
1Cor.10:13 "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 the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."
drawing the right conclusions
There are a couple things that I want to be sure that you understand about this whole subject. If we don’t think clearly about these things we may end up drawing some conclusions and making some deductions concerning ourselves and our own particular spiritual state that are unwarranted.
Temptation is not itself sin. This should be obvious to you because we have spoken of Jesus being tempted yet not being guilty of sin!
Sin is an invitation/enticement to sin but it is not itself sinful.
The fact that you may be extremely conscious of temptation in your own life is no indication of a lack of genuine spiritual life. Indeed having become a Christian you may in fact become increasingly the subject of temptation as Satan views you as a traitor to his cause. He can no longer destroy your soul in hell but if he can succeed in making you a miserable Christian he will minimise your influence over other prisoners he holds in check. (A kind of spiritual brexit if you like. He can’t stop you leaving but he can by making your exit as uncomfortable as he can so as to persuade others to give up on the idea of leaving his kingdom.)
Indeed the fact of being tempted may well be a good sign that real spiritual life exists in you as saints may well be tempted more than sinners. After all it wasn’t the betrayer Judas Iscariot whom Satan desired to sift but the apostle Peter.
When Jesus taught us to pray that God would not lead us into temptation, he did not mean that we should never expect to be tempted - we will be, every day of our lives – but how we respond to temptation is another matter altogether.
Martin Luther is alleged to have said concerning temptation:
"You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair."
We need to realise that the best of saints is no more than a failed sinner who have been saved!
Let me remind you of those great men in the OT that we thought about earlier. Despite their privileges and responsibilities each of them failed dismally at certain junctures of their lives as they caved in to the temptation that came their way.
But did that mean that they were lost and that there is no hope for men and women who fall into temptation?
No, of course it doesn’t! How can I be so sure? Well I can read the names of every one of them in Hebrews ch.11 the great chapter in the Bible that celebrates the heroes of the faith. Yes, each of them fell but each of them also was granted faith. We are saved not by making ourselves perfect but by exercising our God-given faith in the promises of God that focus upon the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
When you do fall into temptation and do what you know to be wrong then remind yourself that there is a way back. Remind yourself not only of the fact that the OT saints found it but remind yourself too that even one of the original 12 apostles, Peter, who fell so spectacularly, was restored. Peter’s restoration was due to Jesus’ prayers of loving compassion for him being duly answered: Peter was restored to service but only after the pain of dismal failure.
My friends we serve a God of astounding grace. He pours out that grace so generously on us in Jesus Christ. And it is altogether free! Don’t however make the mistake of thinking of it as cheap. What God gives freely to us cost Christ his life’s blood to secure!
Consequently let us take to heart the seriousness of the matter. Let us pray that we might not be led into temptation; when we fall into temptation don’t let’s lose heart but go back to God confessing our sin and looking to him for forgiveness and a fresh cleansing; but don’t let us imagine that our response to temptation is insignificant: there is a very real difference between falling into temptation and running into it.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your instruction. Enable us by your Spirit to take it on board and to put it into practice.