At the very outset of His earthly ministry, our Savior is locked in deadly embrace with Satan. The Hero born of woman takes on the dark powers in the wilderness temptation.
Christ, our sinless Substitute, was tempted and overcame. All this He did for us. He credits His victory over Satan to our account.
What a comfort for you and me. We have caved so often to the evil one. It is with good reason that Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”
The road up ahead is dangerous. There is evil and the evil one. There are detours, potholes, unfriendly eyes peering at us from the bushes, seeking to draw us outside the circle, away from our Father’s embrace.
The wilderness is littered with casualties – abandoned baptismal grace, forgotten confirmation vows, Christian schooling that is only a distant memory, childlike trust in Christ long lost, Christ-like living a thing of the past, consciences calloused to the clear commandments of God, the altar of hearts where the flame of faith has died, leaving nothing but the cold, gray ashes of a life without Christ, without the Father – a life that is no life at all.
So the Savior teaches His forgiven children to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We might think: “What a strange way for Jesus to put it!” “Lead us not into temptation?” Why ask our Father not to do what our Father would never do in the first place? James says in his little epistle: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.” Luther borrows these words for his catechism when he says: “God surely tempts no one to sin…”
“Lead us not into temptation.” Our Father would never lead us into the shadowlands of sin. What we are asking is that our Father would help us to resist the beginnings, to avoid the first step down the path.
“Lead us not into temptation,” that is, don’t even let me get close to the fire. Jesus does not teach us to pray: “Lead us out of temptation,” that is, once we are already mired in the mud. For, like mother Eve, once we are near the tree, our pulse begins to stir, curiosity is piqued, greed and passions and pride are aroused, and often it’s too late. Our ability to do the God-pleasing thing is paralyzed.
This is why it is so important not to wait to pray this petition until after the temptation is on our doorstep, when rebellion is already running its mad, downhill course. Then we may not be able to pray at all. So much depends on our praying this petition while we are still sober and prudent, each morning, before we are even caught up in the passions and pressures of a given day, asking God to be the Father of our thinking and doing at the outset. For we are too prone to play along the borderlands of sin.
We arrogantly assume we are stronger than we really are. We forget the devil is clicking his heels as we stupidly say things such as: “I won’t be influenced! I won’t fall into the same trap as my friends! I know what I’m doing!”
And what weapon did Christ wield in His own temptation? “The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” “It is written!” He said. Now He passes the sword to us. He expects us to use it. He has promised to bless it.