This sermon is part of a Lenten pulpit exchange between Trinity Lutheran Church in Girard, Illinois, Zion Lutheran Church in Farmersville, Illinois, and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carlinville, Illinois. It was first preached as the Ash Wednesday sermon at Trinity–Girard.
Lenten Pulpit Exchange (Sermon 1), 2018
Psalm 22; 1 Peter 4:12-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Have you heard the news that the Pope wants to change the Lord’s Prayer?
He may not go so far as to say that the Church has been wrong for two-thousand years, but he does say that our translation of it—what every Christian has prayed for two-thousand years—he says that our translation of it is a bad translation.
Specifically, he has a problem with Jesus teaching us to pray the 6th petition: “and lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).
The pope would have us pray something different than what Jesus teaches—the pope would have us pray something like “and lead us away from temptation.”
If you’ve ever wondered why the Lutheran Church confesses that the pope is the antichrist, and we still do, it’s because, in history, the pope so often contradicts the Word of God.
It’s flat-out wrong to pray, “And lead us away from temptation.”
It’s wrong to pray that for two reasons:
1. That’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘…And lead us not into temptation.’”
And 2. God actually does lead us into temptation every day.
That might sound shocking, especially if you’re used to thinking about the Lord’s Prayer one petition at a time.
Jesus teaches us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation.” Hearing that, praying that, it’s easy to conclude that we are praying for God not to lead us into temptation.
But it’s not that simple.
Let me ask you this: Does God lead us into temptation?
Before you answer, let me also ask this: Does God lead Jesus into temptation? Or Job? Or anyone else in the Bible? Does God ever lead anyone into temptation?
Let’s take a look.
Right after Jesus is baptized—right after He comes out of the water and the voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)—immediately after that, do you know what happens?
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness [in order] to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).
It’s no accident that Jesus is tempted.
The Holy Spirit—God—the Third Person of the Holy Trinity—drives Jesus into the wilderness with the specific intent that He would be tempted by the devil.
God, specifically, led Jesus into temptation.
Now, before you draw up charges against me for publicly teaching heresy, let’s make sure we make this distinction: temptation, by definition, is not sin.
Jesus “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Temptation can’t be sin or else Jesus has sinned.
Nor is “leading into temptation” the same as “tempting.” “God tempts no one” (cf. James 1:13).
But “whenever Christian duty calls us to resist sin and denounce evil, at that time God is leading us into conflict with Satan—and thus—into temptation. But our Heavenly Father, who brings us into the conflict, is not thereby trying to get us to sin…”
Leading us into temptation is not tempting us to sin.
God desires to test our faith, and faith can only be tested if it can fail.
Now, if I were to leave it at that, we’d all go home questioning our faith, hating God, and wondering whether or not we’ve passed the test, enough of the test, to be saved. And wonders such as that don’t end well.
So we have to read on. We have to hear the rest of what Jesus says. We have to finish the prayer that Jesus teaches.
Because Jesus doesn’t leave us with the words “And lead us not into temptation.” We don’t conclude the Lord’s Prayer then and there.
He adds, “But deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
And praying these two petitions as one petition is how we can better understand what Jesus has in mind for us—what’s really going on when God leads us into temptation.
When teaching us to pray the 6th and 7th petitions, it’s as if Jesus says, “When you pray, say…’And lead us not only into temptation, but—most importantly—deliver us from the evil one.”
Now, you may know this about me—you may not.
But I’m a grammar nerd.
I love words. I love grammar. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had was diagramming two sentences for a Modern Grammar final I took in college. It took me an hour to diagram two sentences—it was awesome!
But a love of grammar can show you some interesting things.
For example, did Jesus come to bring peace to the earth? What would you say? (Yes, of course.)
I agree—however—what do you make of this?
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
We know Jesus came to bring peace. But He, Himself, denies the fact. Why?
And the answer is, while it’s true that He came to bring peace, the two-edged sword of His Word is the vehicle by which He brings peace. And since not everyone will hear His Word and do it, not everyone will receive the peace that Jesus gives.
So yes, Jesus came to bring peace.
But more importantly, He came to bring the sword of the Word—the Law and Gospel—that which kills and makes alive.
Do you see how that works?
Jesus denied something that was true—to emphasize something that was greater, a larger truth.
And this happens throughout Scripture.
In Matthew chapter nine, Jesus quotes Hosea chapter six, saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6).
But God does desire sacrifice.
He commanded an entire system of sacrifices—all of which pointed to the one sacrifice of Jesus.
And now, what shall we render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer up the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord.
Even now, we offer up the faithful sacrifice of thanksgiving—and God commands it, desires it.
The point is, again, that more important than the measurement of your sacrifice is the immeasurable mercy of God.
God would have it, He desires, for all to receive His mercy, believe it, trust it, love it, and live with Him forever.
So He denies something that’s true—to emphasize something that is greater.
The term for this is “dialectical negation.” It’s a rhetorical comparison—denying something that’s true to emphasize something that’s more important.
And that’s what Jesus is doing when He teaches us the 6th and 7th petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.
“And lead us not only into temptation but most especially deliver us from the evil one.”
It is the case that God leads us into temptation.
It happens daily—any time God directs your life in such a way that you have the opportunity to confess the faith—or not. To take up your cross and follow Jesus—or not. To believe with your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and Christ—or not.
These are the temptations that God leads us into.
But He doesn’t leave us there.
We continue to pray, “But most especially deliver us from the evil one.”
So you see, you’re going to be tested. You’re going to be tempted. You’re going to pass. You’re going to fail.
Strive toward the lofty goal of faithful obedience to God.
Never be okay with your sins, your failures.
But never despair the mercy of God.
He has delivered you from the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh.
Your victory is certain in Christ.
You are a forgiven sinner, redeemed by the shed blood of Jesus. And that cannot be taken from you.
God will lead you into temptation. He does.
Keep the faith.
But trust in the Word and promise of God that you are—most importantly—already—delivered from the evil one.
That’s how we understand the Psalm:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (Psalm 22:1-5).
And that’s how we understand St. Peter:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed…Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 19).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!