The sixth and seventh petitions belong together, yet each one lifts up a specific request before our Father. Further, the petition “Lead us not into temptation” is the reason for the cry “Deliver us from evil!”
The petition not to be led into temptation is found in just the right place within the seven petitions. Having forgiven those who have offended us, our always deceitful heart wants to be worshipped, for it thinks it has done a great deed before God. It deceives us, for we fool ourselves into thinking that we have reached the summit of virtue and purity of heart. We think we can now stand before the holy God. The sixth petition knocks us off that pedestal made of sand, for it tells us who we really are. We are still sinners vulnerable to the most trivial temptations. Knowing our weakness, our Lord placed on our lips the plea, “Lead us not into temptation.”
This petition was born within the purity of Jesus’ heart, and he had it put into writing for our quick memory recall. It did not arise from a deceitful heart at the center of human sinful flesh. What our own heart wants, is to seek out temptation so that we may see how close we can get to it before a slip and a horrendous fall. The instinct of the human heart is to look for, see, smell, touch, imagine, talk about, and listen to see where sin and temptation are hanging out. For instance, even at the slightest nuance of criticism we turn on our neighbor, biting back with pious whispers at how mistaken he is. When this happens within the halls of our thought processes, we injure ourselves. We open the windows of our souls to a whole lot of evil in the shape of reprisals, backstabbing, no matter how subtly we frame them.
Thus, the petition arises within Jesus’ own heart, already accustomed to that plea, for the sake of his own soul, and ours. When we repeat the plea, we hear something very different from what our own heart wants. Sometimes temptation’s pull is so strong we feel it tugging from head to toe. Our prayer is then inclined to whisper, “Come on, Lord, just this once… or twice, or thrice.” The petition grants us much needed self-knowledge, and teaches us that we need to plead: “Lead us not into temptation.”
For the believer, already justified, sanctified, and citizen of the heavenly kingdom, the petition is also a guideline on how to live in this earthly kingdom. The plea is like a much-needed cry for oxygen since living in the reality of the flesh we are still prone to temptation and sin and their suffocating power.
There’s more to the petition. It is the only one of the seven petitions that is not in the imperative. It is certainly a heart-felt cry, but here the Lord teaches us that he would not be placed in a box as to how he guides us. The Greek word here for temptation may also be translated as “trial, or affliction.” God is sovereign as to how he relates to us and shapes our lives. We plead with him, we present our case to him, but God’s map is different from ours.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12).
In other words, we could lift up the petition: “When we’re surprised with fiery ordeals, deliver us into rejoicing.”
Whether it’s fiery trials or temptations, or both – for oftentimes trials turn into temptations – in the end, withstanding either, has to do with God’s faithfulness, and not our own. In pleading “Lead us not into temptation” we are appealing to God’s steadfast love.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:13).
That faithfulness was proven to us in Jesus Christ’s victory over our own trials and temptations. His victory is the answer to the seventh petition, “deliver us from evil!” That is God’s way of escape for us. And it is the way of faith; faith in Christ alone. It is not even faith in ourselves to be able to repeat the petition, or to seek out the correct Scriptures during critical moments. Resisting temptation is not a white knuckle, teeth grinding, grin and bear it operation. It is a quiet and confident trust in the faithfulness of God already proven at the cross. There he provided the escape through the finished and victorious work of Jesus Christ, alone, and it is ours by faith alone.
And yet, it was at the cross where he was most severely tempted.
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him (Matt 27:41-44).
Perhaps, in the midst of temptation, the following thoughts ran through Christ’s head on the cross:
Could I be so wrong in this? The chief priests, those who should recognize me as the Lamb of God, absolutely reject me! Could I have been so wrong all along? The teachers of the law, those who are the interpreters of the meaning of the law, see me as lawfully condemned! Could I be wrong? Is there something I am missing here? Perhaps pride has inadvertently seeped in and blinded me to what they’ve been saying? Maybe my mission is to show a little humility here and that’s how I should save humanity, by giving a perfect example. Perhaps I should publicly retract here from the cross and make everybody feel good about themselves?
But get thee behind me, Satan. For it is written, ‘without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin;’ “the lamb must be taken to the slaughter;” and it is indeed ‘better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish.’”
Thus, the hands and feet remained nailed to the wooden beams. And in his plea, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” he was delivered both from temptation and evil, for our sake and for the Father’s glory. It is only in him and through his prayer, that we can confidently plead, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”