We come to our conclusion of our study on the Lord’s Prayer this week with this final line offered in Matthew’s Gospel, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver from the evil one. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”
Before we dive into this ending and doxology, let’s recap where we have been the past couple weeks. As Jay and Deborah so well offered in their reading, the Lord’s Prayer begins with a call to acknowledge not how we are to pray, but instead with a strong emphasis on to whom we are praying. This prayer is all about our role as God’s created and our need of God, as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
We have learned that this prayer can only be understood from the perspective of community. The prayer taught by Christ is offered entirely in the first-person plural voice. This prayer is all about who we are as a universally created body – prayed from the perspective that our individual life is just one piece of the larger created order. For any of God’s creation to be excluded would be a failure to pray as Christ teaches.
The prayer calls us to acknowledge the divine orientation and holiness of God as the primary supplier of all that is needed for us to have life. This includes both the need for physical sustenance in this life, and the need for divine intervention, which provides life, truly life eternal. This intervention is often referred to as forgiveness – God’s mercy and grace – offered to each of God’s created to bring about new life through the sacrifice and gift of God’s self, through the incarnate one, Christ. It is Easter after all; in this season of Easter we offer a special focus and celebrate the gift of new life given by God in Christ.
Having been forgiven, we are then instructed in our own praying to extend the forgiveness of God toward one another. What good is our praying to receive God’s salach – the divine forgiveness – if we aren’t prepared to live like God and offer such forgiveness to others? This is our prayer, these are the words we speak at the instruction of Christ – that we may be forgiven so that we too may forgive others.
And then we come to this final imperative of prayer, that God – the one to whom we are praying – may lead us not into temptation, but that God – the one to whom we are praying – will deliver from the evil one.
It is worth spending some time understanding what we are praying for when we ask to be led not into temptation. If I were to ask you, what are the things that tempt you most, how would you answer that question? … Is the answer as simple as the dessert menu? The Royal Restaurant’s breakfast buffet – you just don’t know when to stop? Or is it Apple’s upcoming new phone release? Perhaps the growing Power Ball jackpot? Maybe that which tempts you is not so easily discussed in public – temptations of the heart, the mind, or perhaps even the soul.
The difficulty with the prayer Christ teaches is that it doesn’t define for us what kinds of temptations it is we are supposed to be asking protection from. Don’t lead us into what, exactly, Lord? Even without knowing the kinds of temptations intended in this prayer, this seems like a confusing request of the Creator. If God’s will is for us to not sin (and let’s not dance around this issue, it is God’s explicit desire for us to not live in sin), why do we need to ask for God to lead us not into temptation? Wouldn’t we expect that the God who loves us, who doesn’t want us to sin, would be intentional about keeping us from temptation already? If God doesn’t want us to sin – and again, God has no desire for us to sin – why would God choose to lead us into temptation? Because … surely … if we’re asking God not to lead us into temptation, we must have some inclination that makes us think God needs to be instructed in this way.
The answer, for me, lie in the contextual experience of Christ who is the one teaching us this prayer.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and the words don’t always translate to English in clean and succinct ways. The Greek word used here in this text for temptations is the word peirasmos [pay-rahz-moss]. Instead of first trying to translate the word into English, perhaps we should leave it in its Greek form and find other places in scripture where the same Greek word is used to define such temptations, as the New Revised Standard Version calls them. The place that seems to be best associated with this prayer and it’s call to be led not into peirasmos comes in Luke 4:1-13.
So that I’m not repeating myself too much, I first want to ask, do you remember the sermon on Luke 4:1-13 from Valentine’s Day this year? It was the first Sunday of Lent – do you remember how we talked about Jesus in the wilderness? The scriptural passage from February 14 was about Jesus’ peirazomenos in the wilderness by the evil one – translated as temptations. The word to define the temptations in the Luke text has the same root as the Greek word Christ is using in the Lord’s Prayer – both stem from the root word peirazo. In both places – in Matthew and Luke – the NRSV translates these word to read temptation – but peirazo arguably can take on the meaning of testing. Temptation is a more negative form, while testing can be understood more positively.
In the sermon from Valentine’s Day, which you can go back online and read if you really don’t remember it, we spent some lengthy time discussing the difference between temptation and testing. To suffice, Dr. Richard Swanson makes the argument that Jesus’ peirazo in the wilderness is best understood as a test by a heavenly building inspector than a tempting by a demonic and evil power. Such testing by God is done regularly of God’s faithful to see if our faith is as strong as we may claim. Like the serpent in the garden, evil is not intended by God to lead us away from God, but simply to help us sharpen our faith and realize our necessitated dependence upon God for strength and for life abundant.
Because Christ had already experienced such a testing himself in the wilderness, it seems fitting that his teaching in this prayer would relate to experiences he himself had endured. And thus, we would do well to understand in this prayer that our call on God to lead us not into such a situation is directly related to the testing Christ himself endured. To learn from Christ’s tests, let’s recall the story of Christ being tested in the wilderness. When we pray, lead us not into temptation – that is, lead us not into a time of testing – we are asking God for three things:
Christ goes out to the wilderness as his ministry was beginning. After fasting for 40 days he was tested three times by the evil one. The first test Christ experiences is when the evil one invites him to turn stones into bread so that he, in his famished state, could have a bite to eat. The test Christ is faced with is to find sustenance for daily life. Do you remember Christ’s response? He says, “One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.” As we talked last week about the prayer for daily bread, the call of Christ is to see the needed bread not as simple baked grains, but truly as the life of Christ itself – the bread is the living Word of God.
The first thing we are praying for in asking God to lead us not into such a time of temptation, is that we may never be led to think that physical bread alone will ever satisfy our lives. You can replace the words ‘physical bread’ here with any materialistic and commercialized item ever created. You will never be satisfied in this life when you make life about the accumulation of man-made items. Bread is used as the focal piece because bread is understood to be a primary necessity – a simple and inexpensive food commodity. What Christ is teaching – and what we are praying in this prayer – is that we may never be fooled into thinking that we can have true life with anything on this earth if we do not first have the Word of God at the center of our lives. Do not lead us into temptation – do not lead us into places where we may be fooled into thinking that we do not need God in our lives to have life.
In a second test, Christ is taken to the highest place of the temple and invited to thrown himself down. The test is to see if God will send down angels to save him. The evil one is testing Christ to see if Christ himself is willing to test God. The problem with such a test of God is that it challenges God’s faithfulness. We are told explicitly in the scriptural text that God’s love never fails. In fact, go read Psalm 136 – the entire Psalm, all 26 verses, are about how God’s love never fails. Yet the evil one, in this test of Christ, is asking for him to question God’s love and faithfulness. To question God’s faithfulness is to question God’s hallowedness, to question the will and kingdom of God.
So in our praying, lead us not into a time of trial, we are simply asking that we may never falter from the words we have already spoken. We have, just moments ago (the last two weeks), prayed to our God in heaven – naming the place of God as a place of prestige comparative to our place as the created ones on earth. We have claimed God is hallowed and holy, and that it is the will of God we want to know on earth as we know it is known in heaven. The temptation – the test – we are inviting God to help us avoid is to think ourselves more faithful to God than we believe God is to us. We are asking God to help our loyalty not be tested, because when our loyalty is tested, we often find ourselves testing God’s loyalty.
Do not lead us into temptation – do not let us question the love, the will, the kingdom, or the glory of the Almighty.
Finally, in the third test of Christ, we find that the evil one leads Christ to the highest point in the area, a spot from which they can see the many surrounding regions. Christ is offered all that the eye can see – the many kingdoms that have been set up by God’s created and their hailed splendor. Christ need only worship the evil one to receive the glory of these man-made kingdoms.
Christ of course turns down the request, quoting the Decalogue, saying, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
What is fascinating in Christ’s rejection of this third test is that Christ never denies that the evil one has the capability to turn over the kingdoms of the earth. In his book on The Lord’s Prayer, John Dominic Crossan suggests that because the kingdoms of the earth were set up upon man made principles of glory and honor, the evil one could have given them over to Christ. Crossan says, “to obtain and possess the kingdoms of this world, with their power and glory by violent injustice is to worship [the evil one].”[i] (My emphasis added.) He goes on to contrast, saying the alternative is the celebrate the kingdom of heaven, with it’s power and glory by “nonviolent justice, [which] is to worship God.”
In refusing to give in to this third test, Christ is rejecting the violent injustices that have been used throughout the history of mankind to pit one body of people against another, creating kingdoms among the human realm. In naming that one is to worship God alone, Christ is claiming that no power on earth is as great or worthy as the heavenly power of God.
In our praying, lead us not into temptation, we are asking to be given the same strength and wisdom Christ displayed. We are praying that God would help us understand how much more powerful the nonviolent justice of God is compared to the violent injustices of earthly made kingdoms. We, in praying to be led from such times of trial, are asking God to help us never put the glory of mankind above the glory of God’s grace and mercy.
In praying that God lead us from such temptations, we ask God to deliver us then from the evil one who is the source of such times of trial. William Barclay, a Professor and author at the University of Glasgow, says we are not praying for deliverance from some abstract evil source. We are praying that God would keep us from giving in to this active and personal power that seeks to test us – that seeks to find those places in our lives where we are weak and may fail to stay faithful to God. The prayer of delivering us from the evil one is not a prayer that we will never encounter evil – but that God might help us remain faithful when the tester … that is, the evil one who seeks to find our places of weakness … challenges our faith and convictions. Deliver us from the one who tries to convince us that earthly kingdoms are worth their glory. Deliver us from the one who suggest that violent injustices are a better alternative to God’s nonviolent grace. Deliver us from the one who tempts us to think we are more faithful than God. Deliver us from the one – any one – who tries to convince us that we need not God to have life, but that we may have life through earthly intentions and creations.
Having now prayed that we may remain faithful to our claims of God’s holiness and owning of our dependence upon God for life, we are given this doxology: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen.
This ending is awkward. It’s awkward because it doesn’t really belong here – at least not according to the original scriptural text. When researchers went back and compared manuscripts, they found that this doxology did not appear on the earliest copies of Matthew or Luke’s narrative regarding Jesus’ teaching of this prayer. John Dominic Crossan suggests that this is one place the liturgical practice of the church helped shape the scriptural text.[ii]
When the Greek was first transcribed, when it went from being an oral collection to a written collection, it was written on scrolls. To help spread the Gospel, the stories of Christ, the scrolls were copied and shared with other faith communities around the Mediterranean region. As the number of Christian disciples grew, and the number of faith communities grew, there began to be some consistent practices of worship and prayer – just as we have our own practices of worship and prayer today. It is suggested that this doxology was added in the early years of the church’s witness to the copies of the scrolls that were passed on, but likely, these words were not spoken by Christ himself.
As the Bible began to be duplicated in mass in the late 15th century with the invention of the printing press, King Henry VIII mandated that in all printed versions of the Bible, this doxology must be included. Because of this, when the King James Version was first published in the early 1600s, it was printed with this doxology. As the King James Bible is the number one publication of all time, the doxology added into this prayer has been assumed to be a part of Christ’s teaching. And, in the Anglican and Protestant worlds, it is inseparable from the Lord’s Prayer.
So, I offer this final word about the Lord’s Prayer and the closing doxology, admitting that these final words likely weren’t offered as a conclusion by Christ, but were added and accepted by much of our historical Christian tradition.
When Jesus faced his time of trial in the wilderness, the final offering of the evil one was that he would give to Christ the kingdoms, glory, and power of all the earth. This temptation – this test of faith – is one that happens on a regular basis even for us today. We see it every four years when it comes time to elect a new president; we see it on a regular basis even in our own city council chambers; people and corporations all over this world spend billions of dollars in marketing and advertising each year trying to convince us that they too can provide for us the glory and the power of the kingdoms of this world. We spend trillions of dollars as a nation trying to exemplify our glory and power as the greatest kingdom of this world. And so the tradition of our faith, which perhaps was seeking to summarize Christ’s prayer in one simple statement, begs us conclude with this closing doxology. Amidst all else that make false promises for temporary kingdoms and queendoms on this earth, we are reminded to pray to the one who holds the power and glory of the kingdom of heaven. For this prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, this is not a prayer in which Christ teaches us where and when and what posture to strike when we pray – we’ll go into these questions in much more detail next week as we learn to Encounter God in our breakout workshops. But in this prayer, the prayer we are taught by Christ, we are taught about the who of prayer.
So whenever you pray, pray in this way – Thine, Our Father, thine is the kingdom: for you in heaven, your name is hallowed. Thine is the glory: it is your will and your kingdom we desire to have known on earth as it is in heaven: And thine is the power forever: you are the one who provides life, and you are the one who provides the strength and the grace to save us from the evil one. Thanks be to God, Amen.