by Daniel Harrell
I’m sure that some of you read my sermon title for this morning and thought, oh no. “Please tell me we are not changing the Lord’s Prayer again. Just as I’m getting used to praying ‘lead us not into trial,’ here’s our vacillating Vicar trotting out the temptation language again.” Worry not, O flock. We made the switch from temptation to trial so that we might pray the Lord’s Prayer as accurately and as sensibly as possible. Sensibly since God would never lead anybody to be tempted. And accurately because trial is how the Greek word translates. Every modern English translation would concur, by the way, though few have the courage to show it (our own pew Bible being a rare exception). Instead, most preserve the familiar King James choices in the main text while relegating the more accurate rendition to the marginal notes. The reason is primarily commercial. You can’t sell Bibles if the Lord’s Prayer sounds funny. I traveled door-to-door selling Bible encyclopedias one summer in college. A potential customer asked whether the encyclopedia I sold rendered the Bible in King James English. I assured him it did. “That’s good,” he replied, “because you know that’s how God spoke.” “Yes sir,” I said, as I filled out his receipt.
I take for granted that most realize the New Testament was penned in Greek (and that Jesus spoke Aramaic) rather than King James English, as beautiful as the King’s English is (especially if you’re hooked on Downton Abbey). Bible translation from ancient Greek into contemporary English remains an ongoing adventure as evidenced by the large variety of English translations available. So many words simply don’t make an easy jump into contemporary usage. For instance, the Greek word translated daily in the Lord’s prayer is found no where else in the entire New Testament. Daily is as good a guess as any, but given the word’s uniqueness and the intentionality in using it, its likely that its meaning is more than merely everyday. Recalling the daily manna provided by God to the desert-roaming Israelites, as well as Jesus’ self-identification as the bread of eternal life, it’s likely that the petition for daily bread means more than a piece of toast in the morning. More likely, it’s a prayer for the bread of life, for that eternal sustenance by which we will never again hunger. This everlasting bread is promised to us for that morrow, that coming day, when God’s light outshines the sun and his Kingdom finally comes in full (a day prayed for when we say “thy Kingdom come”). Your pew Bible suggests “our bread for tomorrow” in the margin to reflect this.
Similarly with “deliver us from the evil one.” Here Jesus echoes his own prayer to the Father for his disciples, “not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” The Bible blames the evil one, the devil, for wreaking all sorts of sinister havoc, and thus Jesus’ prayer is a specific prayer for faith and righteous resistance to Satan’s snares. While we may not be able to avoid evil in general—bad things do happen—we can strive to resist committing evil ourselves. This part of the prayer directly ties back to our not being led into trial. Praying for the coming day and the coming kingdom, means praying for mercy to withstand the trial of Judgment Day, where Scripture teaches that all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to account for the evil we commit. The good news is that grace can allow believers to settle out of court. And thus “lead us not into trial” is a prayer for leniency.
This mostly makes sense. That is until we stumble upon this morning’s passage. Sensibility dictates that God would never lead anybody into temptation because succumbing to temptation is what got humanity into all the trouble it’s suffered and caused since Adam bit off more than he could chew. “Lead us not into temptation” is a waste of since you wouldn’t ask God not to do something God would never do. But then we turn to Luke 4 and read how: “The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
It is helpful to remember a few things here. First: Jesus gets to do a lot of things that you and I have no business doing. Second: Jesus functions as what theologians describe as the “second Adam.” This notion derives from the apostle Paul who famously wrote, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” As the second Adam, Jesus gets another shot at the serpent. Similarly, with his being tempted in the wilderness. The wilderness (or desert) signals not only Jesus’ role as a second Adam, but as a second Moses too. At the end of Israel’s long road out of Egypt, Moses told God’s people in Deuteronomy, “Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.” As we all know, Israel failed that test. The trial exposed their unfaithful hearts. As the second Moses, indeed as the second Israel, Jesus gets another shot at the desert (albeit 40 days instead of 40 years). Redoing both Adam and Israel, Jesus aims to get it right this time.
You know the story. Following his baptism by John, Jesus was marched off into the desert where for 40 days he fasted in preparation for the best that the devil could dish out. (The season of Lent is modeled after these 40 days). The 17th century King’s English poet John Milton, in his sequel to Paradise Lost called (appropriately) Paradise Regained, makes the temptation of Christ in the desert, rather than the crucifixion, to be the fulcrum on which salvation balanced. Blow this, and we would all be lost. You can’t die for the sins of the world if you have sins of your own.
“If you are the Son of God,” Satan sneers at the hungry Jesus, “command this stone to become a loaf bread.” Jesus would later turn water to wine to keep a wedding reception going, and after that would convert a couple loaves and fish into a feast for 5000. What’d be the trouble with turning a rock into a roll? Can’t a hungry Messiah blink himself a quick snack? He can. But he mustn’t. Israel failed in the desert because they tried to act apart from faithful dependence on God. Not this time. Jesus cites that same desert passage from Deuteronomy spoken by Moses. “It is written,” he says, “‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’”
So Satan then takes Jesus and shows him all the magnificent kingdoms of the world. “All this can be yours,” he said, “if you will worship me.” What sort of temptation was this? As King of kings and Lord of lords, everything belonged to Jesus already. And worship Satan? That’s no temptation either. However, if in fact the world had been given to Satan temporarily—as John’s gospel implies by naming Satan as the prince of this world—wouldn’t Jesus be obliged to take away his wicked power as soon as possible if only to diminish the chaos? Not on these terms. Jesus says, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” Apparently, you don’t sell your soul to the devil even if it means ridding the world of its evil.
“It is written, it is written,” Satan jeers as he finally hauls Jesus up to the pinnacle of Jerusalem’s Temple. “Very well, ‘It is written, in Psalm 91, ‘God will command his angels to protect you… with their hands they will bear you up.’ So Mr. Son-of-God, jump off this top of the Temple and let’s see if what is written is true.” But again Jesus said resisted. Not only did Satan cite Psalm 91 out of context—God’s protection is for dangers that befall his servants, not an excuse to seek out danger—but Deuteronomy again made clear that you “Do not put the Lord God to the test.” That’s what Israel had done in the desert as they were unwilling to trust in the Lord.
Why not feed yourself when you’re famished with altered stones if you can do it? Why not reign over that to which you are already entitled? Why not exercise your Messianic prerogatives if it means undoing the devil? Certainly it’s no sin for the Son of God to act like the Son of God. If you’ve setting up to save the planet, why not go ahead and get her done? “Why move thy feet so slow toward what is best?” is how Satan heckled Jesus in Milton’s version. Show some power! Give us some thunder! Force the world to submit to your authority! Blow injustice out of the water! Let’s see a little Superman instead becoming the sacrificial lamb. This was the temptation. Jesus prayed as much in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked God for an easier way to save the world. And it explains why Jesus so angrily snapped at Peter when Peter insisted Jesus stop all his crucified dead and buried talk. “Get behind me Satan,” Jesus barked, “You’re thinking like a human and not like God.”
Well, no kidding. What kind of God sacrifices his only son for the sake of everybody else’s sin? And even if the crucified Jesus is also God the Father as the Trinity teaches us, why should an innocent Lord die for the sake of guilty sinners? Can he truly love us that much? Are we really that bad? And even if we are, and if dying for others is the supreme act of love, and if you can’t die for the sins of the world if you have sins of your own, why be deliberately tempted and risk it? If a sinless sacrifice was essential, why not just drop down one day from heaven and do it? Why hazard thirty years of ramping up? Get it over with quick and painlessly. Why go to the extreme of hanging on a cross? (Now I’m sounding like Satan).
Bad enough that Jesus died. Worse that he died as a convicted criminal. God was crucified in Christ not simply as a human being, but as a human sinner. The Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world by taking our sin and our shame onto himself. He takes on our sin and we take on his life. ““For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” This was the reason for all those years of incarnation and all those temptations. As the second Adam, Jesus redoes the garden. As the second Israel, he redoes the desert. He obeys where they rebelled. He lives a righteous life. And then takes away our sin. And then gives away his righteousness. More than merely a status update, Christ’s righteousness in us makes our obedience possible. It becomes something we actually want to do--as hard as it can too often be. Which finally brings us to the last reason for Jesus’ temptation. We find it in Hebrews chapter 4: “In Jesus we have a Savior who sympathizes with our weaknesses, “one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness (and not shame or embarrassment), so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Lord knows we need help. Remember a number years ago those WWJD bracelets? What would Jesus do? They didn’t last too long, did they? No surprise. Let’s say that me and Jesus both diligently serve at the same office where a co-worker who chronically shows up late to his cubicle gets a salary raise but me and Jesus don’t. What would Jesus do? He’d probably make it into some parable on the undeserved generosity of God and keep on working hard as unto the Lord. What would Daniel do? I’d probably get envious and resentful over the blatant inequity and start spreading some malicious gossip about the co-worker (like they do on Downton Abbey). Or let’s say Jesus and I both found out that one of our good friends went behind our backs and double crossed us for some self-serving reason. What would Jesus do? He’d probably say forgive them or something silly like that. What would Daniel do? I’d probably write off that friend and get vengeful and start plotting ways to even the score. Or let’s say that Jesus and me both come across the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue that came in the mail this week. Or let’s not. I know this may come as a shock to many of you, but even though I am a minister and a fountain of obscure theological trivia, I am also a sinner.
My excuse is that I’m only human. I can’t help it. That’s why I need grace. But here’s the thing about grace. Twisted by the devil, it can tempt you to treat righteousness as impossibly idealistic. Nobody’s perfect, so why bother trying? Just confess your sin, get your grace and get on with doing what you were going to do anyway, without any worry for actual obedience. This is exactly what kept Israel tromping around in circles in the sand all those years.
Which makes me wonder about Jesus. How can you be human if you never sin? But this is the difference between me and Jesus. I’m only human. He’s truly human. Christ is the embodiment of God, but also the embodiment of humanity—humanity as God intended it. Salvation does not rescue us from my human nature; it redeems my human nature. We are new creations in Christ. We are not helpless. You can live a righteous life. You can do what God wants. You can even want to do what God wants. You can love your neighbor and forgive your enemies. You can put other’s needs before your own. You can resist the temptation to lust, or get even, or get angry, or be selfish, or lose control. You can do the right thing. It may be hard, but we are not helpless. In Jesus we have a Savior who sympathizes with our weaknesses, “one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness (and not shame or embarrassment), so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Being only human no longer applies. In Christ we get a shot at living as the true humans God made us and Jesus redeemed us to be.