I mentioned in a previous column my shock when none of three contestants on a popular quiz show was able to fill in the blank for, “… which art in Heaven, [blank] be thy name…”.
Lots of concepts that I thought were a given in our society, and characterized us as a “christian nation”, can no longer be relied upon. In explaining the good news of Jesus’ death, resurrection on behalf of all humanity, we now have to start at ground zero. We are missionaries in a pagan culture. We cannot assume any level of pre-knowledge, including Jesus’ model prayer (the “Lord’s” prayer) as a starting point. This is both a problem and an opportunity.
The problem is obvious — we cannot rely on cultural foundations and religious cliches as a starting point, and expect our listeners to have any idea what we are talking about. Being “born again” and “washed in the blood of the Lamb” as a jumping-off point for the good news of salvation are non-starters at best, and off-putting at worst. Don’t get me started on “three spiritual laws” and “stepping stones to faith”! “Lead us not into temptation” sounds like a total buzz-kill for a society for whom “SIN” is just an acronym for “Sure Is Nice”!
The opportunity is equally obvious — we can get in on the ground floor and explain spiritual concepts from our own valid experiences without pre-conceived notions and biases getting in the way. We can point to what Jesus actually said and did as the basis for belief, and leave traditions and dogma on the sidelines of irrelevancy.
Scientific studies [Google is your friend!] have confirmed two seemingly contradictory facts about prayer — it seems to work, and we cannot explain how it works! Prayer is built into the DNA of every civilization we know of, and is often the last resort “in extremis”. So when Jesus gives us a model for prayer we do well to examine his instructions.
How about “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” [Matthew 6:13 or Luke 11:4 KJV]? Here are a couple of other translations of the same Greek passage:
“And do not lead us into hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One” [Complete Jewish Bible], “Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil” [JB Phillips], “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil” [The Message].
My own paraphrase would be: “steer us clear of things that would lead to sin where Satan plays on our weakness”.
We can be sure Jesus knows exactly what we face in this regard because he experienced it first-hand:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. Matthew 4:1-11 NLT
Some observations on this passage:
1) Jesus is the reporter here. His is an eyewitness account. He had not yet called any of his disciples. He faced this all alone.
2) Jesus only gives three examples of where Satan tried to entice Him to abandon His mission, but you can be sure that the attacks were not limited to just three. Here was Satan going Mano-a-Mano with the Son of God, don’t you think he would give it his best shot?
3) Satan uses indirect innuendo intended to sow doubt — “if” you are the Son of God. Jesus already had confirmation of who he was. He had just come from John’s baptism and heard the voice from heaven proclaiming his Father to be well pleased with him, but Satan twists everything in an “are you really, really sure?” way.
4) Satan correctly quotes scripture!…but he takes it out of context and twists it for his own purposes. Jesus correctly and in context quotes scripture right back at him, with devastating effect.
5) Jesus does not need any “magic words” or “secret sauce” to withstand Satan’s attacks. The words [scripture] he used had been available to the Jewish nation for hundreds of years. He didn’t have to invent new doctrines or traditions. All the tools necessary to defeat the temptation were readily at hand.
I’m sure Jesus must have come away from this encounter sadder and wiser. I think he really understood the dangers every human would face from Satan’s lies. I like to think that may be why in the prayer he told us to model, we are to [continually] ask the Father to “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil”! We too have the same defenses against Satan’s lies as Jesus did if (and, unfortunately, when) we get in a face-to-face encounter with temptation. However, wisdom says it is better not to go anywhere near the edge of the cliff rather than stand on the brink!
As Jesus followers we are to imitate him to the best of our abilities. In case you think this is “mission impossible” the writer to the Hebrews reminds us:
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15 NLT
In other words, if Jesus could, so can we!
Now there’s a spiritual concept the rest of humanity needs to hear.
It’s good news! Let’s go tell them!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study