By Pastor Glenn Pease
Winston Churchill suddenly found himself a 25 year old prisoner of war. This was in 1899. He was captured by the South African Army in the Boer War, and he endured a nightmare. He was the first prisoner of importance to be captured in the war. Churchill roamed the prison camp in Pretoria, as he plotted an escape. Finally, he settled on a plan to go over the wall. It was poorly guarded with only two officers.
The night of the escape began with his hiding in a lavatory. Churchill lead the way, and was the first to go over the wall. He waited for the others, and heard the sounds of frenzied movements and whispered warnings that the guards were coming. The escape was off, but there he was alone on the outside, and he had no maps and no compass. He did not know whether to climb back in, and wait for a better time, or go on his own. He decided this could be his only chance, so he went to the railroad station, and caught a freight train. He had no idea where he was going.
The words spread quickly, and the search was on. His chance of escape was slim. He jumped off the train at dawn, and then made his way through the high grass and swamp. He was miserable under the hot sun. He was weak, and near delirious, and at nightfall he realized he would have to seek help, no matter how dangerous. Someone passed in the darkness, and he called out. By the providence of God, it was the only Englishman in hundreds of miles. Had he spoken to anyone else he would have been arrested, for the whole country was looking for him. To make a long story short, this man was able to get him smuggled out of the country. He eventually made it back to England where he became a hero, and one of the most successful leaders in the history of England. God provided a way of escape for what seemed hopeless odds against him, and that deliverance made all the difference in the world for his future.
Deliverance determines destiny because, though not everyone gets into a mess like Churchill, everyone at some point in life needs to be delivered from some evil. It may be external, or it may be internal. Deliverance is a major theme of the Bible, and of history,
and of life, because there is a constant and continuous need in every human life to experience deliverance.
Who are the heroes of history? They are the deliverers. Moses led his people out of Egypt as a great deliverer. The great kings of Israel, like David, and the great judges, like Samson, were deliverers. Over and over history repeated itself as the people became ensnared by evil, and came under the bondage of an oppressor. The Lord would then raise up a deliverer, and the people would sing, "Thou art my help and my deliverer. The Lord is my rock and deliverer." You cannot think of a Biblical character that did not in some way need deliverance, or provide it.
Joseph was delivered from the pit, Potipher's wife, and prison. He was raised up to be a deliverer of his family, and the people of God. David was delivered from Saul, and raised up to deliver his people from their enemies. Daniel was delivered from the lions, and became a great leader. His three friends were delivered from the fiery furnace. Jonah was delivered from the belly of the fish. The point can be illustrated endlessly. Deliverance is no side street. It is a main road in the word of God. If you look in your concordance the words deliver, deliverance, and deliverer are used so many times from Genesis to Revelation that you will not even motivated to count them.
The greatest Biblical story of all: The greatest story ever told, is also a story of deliverance. The Old Testament portrayed the coming of the Messiah as the Deliverer. Paul quotes the Old Testament in Rom. 11:26, "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob." The Greek word here for deliver is the one Jesus uses for the last petition of the Lord's Prayer. The word is rhuomai. It is the same word used in the cry of Paul in Rom. 7:24. "Who will deliver me from this body of death." In II Cor. 1:10 Paul uses this same word three times. "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us, on Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us."
Paul did not have any superficial view of life. He did not think of deliverance as a once for all experience, like being saved. He saw it as a continuous, never ending, experience, until that final deliverance, when we escape, not only the penalty and the power of sin, but the very presence, forever. Until then there is no prayer more relevant than-deliver us from evil. It is true, as Paul says in another use of this word, in Col. 1:13. "For He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son..." Jesus has already become our deliverer. But he also looks ahead in I Thess. 1:10 where he uses the word again to say, "Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come." There is still future deliverance as well.
Peter calls our attention to the deliverance we are focusing on in this prayer. He uses the same word in II Peter 2:7 to say, "The Lord knows how to deliver godly men from trials." Because he knows how Jesus taught us to pray to Him daily-deliver us from evil. In other words, rescue us in this world of never ceasing threats. Jesus has no superficial view of life, or of the power of evil. Do you think that He, who knows the heart of man better than man knows it, is not aware of the ever present temptation to do evil, even in the lives of His most faithful followers. He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet He was without sin. But He is not without awareness that none of His followers will ever be without sin. Do you think He did not know that Christians would get hooked by every piece of bait the subtle serpent would put out to ensnare man? If he got Adam and Eve to fall, who were uncontaminated by sin, why should he fail with the rest of the polluted race?
Jesus knows His disciples will always be sinners, and that is why they need to pray daily for forgiveness. He knew they would be subject to daily temptation. They would be in constant need of deliverance. They have already been delivered from the penalty of sin, and so they are justified. They will be finally delivered from the presence of sin, and so be glorified. But meanwhile, the Christian life is a battle to be delivered from the power of sin, and so be sanctified. Jesus is saying, by this prayer, there are two key elements involved in being successful in this process of sanctification. The first is-
I. THE CONFESSION OF PESSIMISM.
Lead us not into temptation. Here is an awareness of weakness. Don't lead me into temptation, for I can tell you right off that I cannot stand. I will fail and fall, so don't put me to the test. This is the prayer of the aware. I am not one to pretend that if it was me who faced Satan in the garden we would still be in paradise. I am not one to pretend that the sins that have brought others down, could not also bring me down. If pride goes before a fall, then humility should go before a rise, and, therefore, wise is the Christian who is honest and humble about his or her weakness.
This prayer is a confession of pessimism about ones own ability to face temptation and stand. Don't lead me into temptation, we pray, because we know the outcome will be failure, and we will fall. The Christian, who in pride, thinks he can take on the devil in hand to hand combat, and not fear defeat, is not listening to the Word of God. The warnings are to be taken seriously. The Bible says, "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation." And, "He who stands beware lest he should fall." Someone has said, "It was not for reclining on couches of scented rose leaves that we are bidden to take on the whole armor of God." If we could stand on our own, we would not need all of this armor. The wise and sensible Christian is aware of his weakness, and knows there is a breaking point where he will yield to temptation if he is not delivered.
In George Orwell's book, 1984, he describes how Winston Smith, the central figure in the book, defies the utterly oppressive government. The state has condemned his love for Julia, but he fights the state, and goes on loving her. Even when they arrest him and torture him, he stands fast in his rebellion. Then they took him to room 101. There is shown and ingenious cage where his head can be placed in one end, and a door opened on the other end, where rats can come in and attack his head. Nothing in all the world brought him feelings of more petrifying horror than rats. This was the trial that broke him, and he cried out "Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia!" He was broken, and renounced his love. He was now a slave of the state.
Every man has a breaking point, and Jesus is saying, the wise Christian is one who does not need this truth proven, for he knows it is true, and confesses it is so. That is why he needs to pray, don't put me to the test, for I know I will break. Don't let me play Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded. This prayer eliminates all presumption. The Christian who is honest about his weakness is not going to tempt God to spare him, even though he exposes himself to the flames. The Christian who has a weakness for alcohol, and yet goes into a bar to meet his friends, is not being honest. He is saying to God, "I can handle this. You can let me play with fire, for I will not get burned. I am able to resist the power of evil, so you can lead me into temptation, and I will show you I can stand and pass the test."
It may, in fact, be true, that he has such self-control, but he is still being foolish and presumptuous, and many a proud Christian has fallen with this attitude. The same thing is true for any sin. If lust makes you tempted to be immoral in your sexual behavior, you have the more obligation to be honest about your weakness, and avoid whatever leads you into temptation. The greater your weakness, the greater your obligation to avoid an encounter with the evil one, on his terms. If you have a tendency to take things that don't belong to you, pray, Lord don't lead me into temptation. Don't let me be alone in settings where I am tempted to steal. Let me be with others where this temptation cannot ensnare me. The honest Christian needs to plead for protection from his own weaknesses.
When George Adams Smith, the Bible scholar, was climbing the Alps, they came to a point where the wind was blowing strong, and unconscious of the danger, he rose to get a view over the precipice. Instantly, his guide drew him back down and said, "In a place like this, and in a wind like this, our safety depends on one thing-keeping to our knees." That is what Jesus is saying to us in this prayer. Don't be foolish and presumptuous, and take chances with the forces of evil. Pray for providential guidance to be protected from those situations which are beyond your control. When you are in a dangerous setting, stay on your knees. Any Christian who gets into a situation where he falls into sin, does so because he is not praying this prayer. If he was praying it, and honestly facing up to his own weakness, he would not be in that situation where he falls. There is a way of escape, but like the way to any good goal, it does not get you there unless you take it.
Charles Spurgeon stressed the compassion this prayer can develop in us, as we focus on our own weakness. The hardness of the self-righteous Pharisees was due to their inability to be honest about their own sin. The person who is quick to judge and condemn, and call for harsh treatment of the sinner, is one who is not being honest about his own sinful nature. Spurgeon said, "I am afraid that badly as some behave, under temptation, others of us might have done worse if we had been there. I like, if I can, to form a kind judgment of the erring, and it helps me to do so when I imagine myself to have been subject to their trials....and to have been in their circumstances....should I not have fallen as badly as they have done, or even gone beyond them in evil? He goes on in his sermon to say-
So I think that this prayer, "Lead us not into temptation,"
Should often spring up from the heart through a
charitable feeling towards others who have erred,
who are of the same flesh and blood as ourselves.
Now, whenever you see the drunkard reel through
the streets do not glory over him, but say, "Lead
us not into temptation." When you take down the
papers and read that men of position have betrayed
their trust for gold, condemn their conduct if you will,
but do not exult in your own steadfastness, rather
cry in all humility, "Lead us not into temptation."
It would teach us milder and gentler ways with
sinful men and women if this prayer were as often
in our hearts as it is upon our lips.
This prayer can only be honestly prayed by one with a sense of humility, and an awareness of his own weakness. It does not fit in the life of the proud, the self-sufficient, the arrogant, and self-righteous. It is the child's prayer, and the child's desire for the aid and security that only his heavenly Father can supply. Godet, the great commentator, puts it all together when he writes, "Let me do nothing this day which would force Thee for a single moment to withdraw Thy hand, and to give me over to the snare which the evil one will plant in my way.... If the occasion of sinning presents itself, grant that the desire may not be found in me. If the desire is there, grant that the occasion may not present itself."
It is this honest confession of pessimism about ones own strength that opens one up to the strength of God. This honest self-pessimism opens the door to Christian escapism. We tend to think of escapism as negative. Like the British officer who was drinking heavily, and he lifted his glass and said, "My friend, this is the swiftest road out of India." The world seeks to escape the unpleasant by means of alcohol, drugs, or sex, and so we frown on escapism. But there is a legitimate escapism. "Flea youthful lust" says the Bible. That is escapism. The getting out of the way of that which can lead to great unpleasantness. Don't fight it, just run.
To priests were talking about the temptations they faced in working with young women in their parish. The one had to move to another location to avoid problems. The other one said he coped with the temptation by always being with a group. The first responded, "You found your safety in numbers. I found mine in exodus." Both were valid means of escapism. That is what Jesus wants us to do in daily life. He wants us to practice escapism by praying, "Lead us not into temptation." Who is better equipped to deal with sins power. The derelict who knows its every twist and turn, or the escapist who has, time and time again, avoided the pit? It is the escapist who is the victor. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is not that the Christian is not tempted to the same sins. They are, but the Christian is an escape artist who has found a way to avoid the trap. It begins with an honest awareness of ones weakness, and a confession of pessimism about ones self. The second element we want to look at is-
II. THE EXPRESSION OF OPTIMISM.
We do not stop on the pessimist note, but go on to express confidence that by God's grace we can delivered. Forgive us our debts is a focus on the past. We have already fallen, and failed to obey God's will, but we are assured we can be forgiven, and restored to fellowship with God. But now, we go one step further. As great as forgiveness is, there is one thing better, and that is escaping the need for it by being delivered from evil. This is a greater victory than forgiveness, for it prevents evil, and all its negative consequences. Forgiveness is one of the greatest wonders of God's grace. We would be sunk without it, but the fact is, deliverance is even greater. To be rescued from the clutches of evil, and not need the healing touch of forgiveness, is the greatest victory of all. Curing a disease is a spectacular blessing, but preventing the disease in the first place is even greater.
The Christian who is maturing in sanctification is the Christian who develops the daily desire for deliverance. He still needs forgiveness, and treasures it, but he aims higher, and grows in confidence that he can be delivered from evil, and not just forgiven for evil. Escape is not only possible, it is expected, for that is what sanctification is all about. It is the shifting the emphasis of life from forgiveness to deliverance. The more mature a Christian becomes, the more they will be into preventative grace rather than curative grace. We will need the cure of forgiveness until we die, but if we are growing in grace, we will need it less and less, for we will be emphasizing the optimist side of Christian living, which is that of being delivered.
Jesus said, "Thy sins are forgiven, go and sin no more." He gave curative grace, but then said there is preventative grace that can keep you from needing the cure again. This is the spirit of confident optimism He wants us to have everyday, as we pray. Be pessimist about our own weaknesses, but be optimistic about the power of God to deliver. We cannot escape being subjected to temptation, but we can escape being subdued by it. In the musical West Side Story, a group of thugs have gathered at their usual meeting place to boast of their shooting of the leader of another gang. The old man who looked after the store could stand it no longer, and in anger he says, "You know, you make this world lousy!" One of the young gangsters responds, "We found it that way."
This is the spirit of the worldly mind. It is pessimist only. Evil is real, and we are all sinners, and so it is inevitable. We just as well cooperate with the forces of evil, says the pessimist. The Christians finds the world lousy too, and he finds that in his weakness he is tempted to cooperate with the forces of evil. But then comes the element of optimism that makes Christianity the light of the world, and the salt of the earth. Deliverance is possible, and deliverance determines destiny. It is always possible to fall, but the good news is, it is also always possible to stand. The Christian needs to hold these two realities in balance. The poet wrote,
From dark temptation's power,
From Satan's wiles defend.
Deliver in the evil hour,
And guide me to the end.
What happens when we do not keep these two opposites of pessimism and optimism in balance is, we become very unrealistic. The Christian who feels a strong temptation to yield to the lust of the flesh, if he only feels his weakness, tends to surrender, feeling that
failure is inevitable. He fails to realize that the temptation is not a sin. The possibilities of evil are vast, and the Christian cannot escape them. Jesus had to evaluate the pros and cons of making a stone into bread. He was starving, and the appeal of the idea would have a powerful ally in his flesh. His body would be crying out for him to do it. After a 40 day fast, the thought of a fresh piece of bread would be the most alluring thought possible. Jesus was not just mildly touched by this temptation. It was a powerful appeal, and He felt the put to do it. Feeling the pull and the attraction of evil is not evil in itself. Christians who do not understand this feel that sense they are attracted to the evil, they are already guilty, and so they just give in and do the evil they are attracted to.
Now, if they would express their optimism in God's power to deliver, they could be rescued from this seemingly hopeless situation. If you do not shift out of the low gear of self-pessimism, you will not escape, but if you shift into the high gear of optimism about God's power to deliver you can escape. Paul makes this clear in I Cor. 10:13. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
Paul is saying, this last request of the Lord's Prayer is already answered. Deliverance is assured. So why should we pray it then? Because a way not sought, is a way not found. There is a way to a lot of places, but people still get lost. There is always a way of escape, but if the Christian does not seek it, he often misses the way, and has to fall back to the level of forgiveness, rather than climb to the level of deliverance. Deliverance is only available, and not necessarily inevitable. Defeat is also possible, and that is why we need to pray so consistently.
This final petition is a desire to climb higher. It is a search for sanctification. It is a saying, "I know I can be forgiven for sin, but I would rather be victorious over sin, and the forces of evil ever at work in the world." It is going full circle, so that the last request ties into the first, hallowed be Thy name. Let me climb higher and higher so that my victory over the power of sin brings greater and greater glory to the name of my God, and my Deliverer. The Christian is not a pessimist or an optimist, but is both a pessimist and optimist. His very awareness of his own weakness keeps him from the folly of depending on his own strength to win over evil. It motivates him to look to his only hope of victory: The Deliverer-Jesus Christ.
Jesus is our example. He did not face the cross with a boastful attitude of self-confidence. He did not say, "This will be no sweat." He sweat drops of blood, and prayed with great humility, and asks that the cup passed from Him if possible. In other words, lead me not into temptation. But He was able to be victorious because he was confident that God would give Him the power to escape, and be delivered from the bondage of death. He had the combination of pessimism and optimism that can lead all of us to that delightful destiny that is determined by deliverance-the destiny of the sanctified life, that brings honor to the name of God.
Our deliverance and God's glory go hand in hand, for not only will others glorify God as we gain the victory, but our Deliverer will be our theme song for all eternity. Therefore, we need to seek it, and pray for it for all time. Some poet has written,
In the time of tribulation,
In the bright and prosperous way,
In the hour of life's prostration,
In the final judgment day.
God of goodness, us deliver,
And Thy name be praise forever.
We can be victorious Christians in time, and even in times of temptation, if we develop this daily desire for deliverance.