Lead Us Not Into Temptation?
How do the readings for this First Sunday in Lent relate to the petition of the Lord's Prayer where we ask not to be led into temptation? If our readings don't describe God leading people into temptation, what do they describe?
What do you call commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son? The practice of child-sacrifice was all around him to appease angry gods. Wouldn't Abraham be tempted to believe the true God was angry with him? Doesn't God sound angry? "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love. Sacrifice him as a burnt offering." Wouldn't Abraham be tempted to believe that God hates him? Or the temptation could go the other way. God had specifically rejected human sacrifice, so wouldn't Abraham be tempted to disobey God now? Wouldn't reason be screaming in his ears, "This can't be right? This doesn't make sense! This must not be God's Word!" If God's not tempting Abraham, what is He doing?
What about the Epistle? What do you call God considering us as sheep to be slaughtered? Paul plainly tells us that trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword are going to come upon us; we are going to face death all day long because we are sheep considered by God to be slaughtered. Doesn't this bother you? Aren't you tempted to believe that God doesn't care about you? What kind of a loving shepherd gives up his sheep to death? Maybe the temptation goes the other way for you. God is a loving Shepherd, but you're tempted to believe He's powerless to spare His sheep from the pain and suffering of slaughter.
Either way what else but temptation can you call it when God tells us that He considers us as sheep for slaughtering? This bothered the Old Testament Church. Paul is quoting Psalm 44. Listen to the Psalmist's reaction: "We are being killed all day long because of you. We are thought of as sheep to be slaughtered. Wake up! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Awake! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our suffering and misery?" If the Psalmist isn't being tempted what would you call it?
What about the Gospel reading? What do you call sending your beloved Son into the desert, leaving Him alone with wild beasts, to be tempted by Satan for 40 days? Remember this took place right after Jesus was baptized, right after the Holy Spirit landed on Him, right after the Father declared Him His only beloved Son with whom He is overjoyed.
Doesn't this incident tempt you to wonder: if the One with the Spirit without measure is sent out into the desert by the Spirit, what will happen to me? If the sinless Son is put under Satan for 40 days, what does a sinner like me deserve? If God the Son was left to wild animals without the ministry of angels (as Matthew says) until after He withstood Satan's tempting, where does that leave us who give into tempting?
We are tempted to call God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God considering us as sheep for slaughter, and God sending His Son to be under Satan's thumb tempting. God, however, calls it teaching.
God taught Abraham and still teaches us in this account that at first blush horrifies and disturbs us. Rather than tempting us to believe He is a child-eating deity, God teaches us that while He binds us to His Word, He has unbounded power to fulfill His Word. We are bound to God's written Word. There's no command in it to sacrifice a child, but there are other disturbing commands. God commands us not to love our children more than Him.
Sometimes we can't see how we can stand on God's Word and still love our children even as Abraham couldn't see any way to do both. But Abraham held to God's Word despite what reason said. Abraham believed God couldn't let His promise go unfulfilled even though it looked like following God's Word would destroy the promise to bless him through Isaac. God teaches us that Abraham wasn't foolish to bind himself to God's Word trusting that He had unbounded power to fulfill His promises. So, even when we can't see how following God's Word will bless us, we aren't fools for believing that God will do it.
God considering us sheep to be slaughtered isn't tempting but teaching us. God never intended for this life to be a "flowery bed of ease" for Christians. God is letting us know here what 1 Peter lets his readers know, "Don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you...as though some strange thing were happening to you." The hospitals, the sick rooms, the graves that we must visit aren't indications that God doesn't love us or lacks the power to save us. God tell us these things are coming before they do, so we know they aren't outside His will or power.
God doesn't tell us we are sheep numbered for slaughter to tempt us but to teach us that we remain victors in our sufferings not despite them. Most sheep don't get this. They think God says in Romans, "Despite all these things, we are more than conquerors." No He says, "In all these things." There's a difference. If God had said despite, it would mean our sufferings are obstacles but we are to believe He will get us through them. But God said "in all these things" meaning that in these sufferings and not outside of them is the way God makes us more than conquerors. Our sufferings are not obstacles that pop up suddenly in God's plan to surprise us; they are checkpoints that God uses to keep us on the right path.
Well even if Genesis 22 and Romans 8 aren't leading us into temptation, certainly Mark 1 must be! No, it's teaching us that since Jesus was led into temptation we won't be. When we look at Jesus it's a mirror image. What happens to Him is opposite of what happens to us. Far from tempting us to believe that we will be cast out from God, put under Satan, and have no angelic support until we win, this text teaches the opposite. Because the innocent Son of God was cast out by the heavenly Father, you and I guilty sons and daughters will not be regardless of how badly we fall to temptation.
Because God the Son humbled Himself to be placed under the tempting of Satan, you and I are never put under Satan. On the contrary, we're promised "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." This is not how it was for Jesus. He resisted for 40 days, but Satan didn't flee from Him; Satan didn't leave until Jesus commanded him. But because Jesus overcame Satan in our place, Satan runs from us with the slightest resistance on our part.
Because God the Son was left without the ministry of the angels until He defeated Satan, we have them constantly attending us. When being faithful to God's Word scares us, they are there to keep us in all our ways. When we're suffering as a sheep counted for slaughter, they are there lifting us up in their hands. When Satan comes at us as a roaring lion or a sneaky snake, the angels are there enabling us to "trample the great lion and the serpent."
What we call tempting, God calls teaching. So when we pray "and lead us not into temptation" we are praying that all of the things that may indeed tempt us God would use to teach us. This is our prayer because it all looks and feels like tempting. Our insert translates Genesis 22:1, "God tested Abraham." However, the King James translates, "God did tempt Abraham." Both translations are correct. Both the Hebrew and the Greek words for "test" can be translated "tempt." But isn't it just splitting hairs to say, God doesn't tempt me; He only tests me? Because no matter if Satan tempts me or God tests me isn't the end result the same? If I fail, I lose. Where's the comfort? The comfort is who is behind it. An enemy tempts you to hurt you or because he gets pleasure from seeing you fall. A loving parent tests a child only with the intention of teaching. Again, a teacher tests pupils for their own good, but the students will be judged by the results of that test. When a parent tests a child, the child is loved no matter what the results.
So it was with Abraham. God took on the face of a stern teacher who would only pass those who performed well. But Abraham clung to the God who would provide. He assured Isaac on the way to make the sacrifice that God would provide Himself a sacrifice. No matter how things looked Abraham didn't believe he or Isaac had to appease God. What does Abraham end up calling the mountain? The Lord will provide. Abraham endured by seeing His heavenly Father's loving face behind the terrible test.
What of the apparent temptation that suffering, hardship, and persecution put before us? If we see these in the hands of Satan, then we see him waiting for us to curse God, give up on God, or give way to bargaining with God. But if we see these things in the hands of our heavenly Father, if we see them through God's love in Christ, how different they look! Would the God who took off your shoulders the laws that you could never keep replace them with things you couldn't bear? Would the God who removed the sin and guilt of the laws you have broken want you to feel guilty over how you handle suffering, hardship, or persecution?
Our heavenly Father no more tempts us than a loving father tempts his kids. I didn't make my kids walk 4 miles to tempt them to curse me. I didn't make them clean the garage, pick up the yard, or make their bed in hopes that they would decide I didn't really love them. All these things I did to teach. Did they like it? No. Did their sinful flesh rebel against it? Yes. But so what? I wasn't trying to teach, to change, or save their sinful flesh. I was raising their new man.
If we sinful fathers can be this way, how much more the heavenly Father? Therefore, behind gloomy circumstances, we're to see a Father's smiling face in Christ. Nothing we encounter in this life can separate us from our Father's love in Christ anymore than anything a loving father allows into his kids' lives can get in the way of his loving them. Our Father in heaven never leads us into temptation but ever and always into salvation. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (20150222); ICLW 3 Year Series B