Episode 65 - The Sermon on the Mount, part 3 - Opening Up the Gospels

In this larger group of episodes we’ve been looking at what I’ve called the Middle Galilean Ministry, the time period of Jesus’ ministry that stretches through the Spring of 28AD. Jesus has been ministering for close to a year at this point, and has a little over a year of ministry left before He is crucified in Jerusalem. In the last few episodes I’ve been looking at the Sermon on the Mount, but more specifically in Episode 64 I started to look at the famous passage we call The Lord’s prayer. Though this specific exhortation on prayer is given at a later point in Jesus’ ministry, I wanted to talk about the content of it here because Matthew groups it with the beatitudes and other elements we see in Luke’s account of the Sermon. Last time we looked at the first few phrases of the prayer, and I want to pick up again with the last few. Let’s read from Matthew 6: “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9–13 ESV) Let’s talk about the specific phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread”. The first thing you might notice is that with this phrase, the prayer has shifted from a Godward focus to a personal focus. Do you see how the first few phrases are “Your”, “Your”, “Your” and now there’s “us”, “us”, “us”? Well the first part of the prayer is about recalling God’s greatness and petitioning Him to bring to pass everything He’s promised, and the second part seems to be about personal involvement in the grand story of redemption. Does that make sense? Now, remembering the thoroughly Jewish background of this prayer, what is bread all about and why is it called “daily bread” here? Well I think this petition would certainly remind the Jewish hearers of God providing manna every single day for the children of Israel while they were in the wilderness. That specific story of God’s provision comes from Exodus 16. As we read there, we see that the Israelites were sojourners on their way to the land that God had promised them. In that context, God provided daily bread to sustain them and to test their confidence in Him. I believe that is some of what Jesus has in mind with this petition. Though they were in the promised land in Jesus’ day, the Israelites were still strangers and sojourners – the things God had promised had not yet come to pass. And we too are in that same boat with them. Jesus is still not reigning from Jerusalem, we still die, and the promises God has made about restoring the heavens and the earth have not yet come to pass. So as sojourners awaiting those things, we too ask for bread “today” and acknowledge our dependence on God to provide for us and to bring us into the promise of His future kingdom when His will is done on the earth. Let’s take a look at the next phrase in the prayer. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This has got to be one of the most terrifying prayers we can ever pray. As we read, Matthew’s Gospel uses the word “debt”, and Luke’s Gospel uses the word “sin”. The word “debt” is the word for sin that Jews would have heard in the synagogue. The petition is asking God to measure His forgiveness towards us in accordance with the forgiveness we have actually extended towards others. That’s a little scary, right? I’ll say that one more time: The petition is asking God to measure His forgiveness towards us in accordance with the forgiveness we have actually extended towards others. This was a common idea in Judaism. A passage in Jewish literature read: “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” (Sirach 28:2) This is emphasized even more in Matthew’s Gospel just a few verses later when Jesus says: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14–15 ESV) So Jesus is saying that if we forgive others in this age, our heavenly Father will forgive us and we will be pardoned at the Day of the Lord. And the converse is also true – if we don’t forgive others in this age, we will not be forgiven at the day of the Lord. That’s a big deal. It’s why forgiveness is such a critical part of any relationship, and not just relationships with other believers. I believe the Lord will help us to forgive all those who wrong us, even if they are not Christians. Though I’m sure I’m not the only one who has sometimes found it harder to forgive Christians that have wronged me than non-Christians that have. Oh Lord, help us! Let’s have a look at the next phrase in the prayer: “Lead us not into temptation”. The word in the Greek used for “temptation” here also is translated as “testing” in the New Testament. The translators choose which English word to put, based on what they feel best represents the meaning. Personally, I think the word “testing” would be much better suited here. When we think of temptation, we mostly think of sin. But according to James 1:13, God does not tempt anyone or entice anyone towards sin. So if the word is “testing” here and it reads “lead us not into testing”, what would that mean? Well once again, let’s remember the context of the prayer and whom it’s being spoken to. Remember the first part of the prayer was about God making His name great through Israel and bringing to pass His promises. And then the more “we”-focused petitions afterwards are in context to the greater story of redemption. So I think that informs how we understand “testing” in this particular petition. To be “tested” or “tried” is to be brought into difficult circumstances that try ones faithfulness. All of history is leading towards one climactic ending at the Day of the Lord, and so I believe that this petition has overtones that have to do with the testing of our faithfulness not only in the dark times of our own lives but especially the dark times leading up to the Day of the Lord. There are several places in the scriptures where the testing of faith is emphasized by Jesus. First, Mark 14: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation [or testing]. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38 ESV) “‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10 NASB95) Check out this quote from K.C. Hanson: The closing petition of the Lord’s Prayer also concerns the testing of faith. It does not have in mind the petty or major temptations of everyday life, but looks to the final, most severe proving of faith, that which lies ahead for Jesus’ disciples at the disclosure of the mystery of evil, the revelation of the Antichrist, “desolating sacrilege,” Satan in the place of God, the final persecution and imminent seduction of God’s saints by pseudoprophets and false saviors. The final trial is apostasy! We must render it, therefore, “Let us not succumb to the trial.” This reference in the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer is indeed not to preservation from the trial but to preservation in the trial. This conclusion is corroborated by a noncanonical saying of Jesus that, according to ancient tradition, Jesus spoke to his disciples on that last evening, prior to the prayer in Gethsemane: No one can obtain the kingdom of heaven who has not passed through testing. Here it is expressly stated that no disciple of Jesus will be spared the trial, and it is stressed that there is no exception; only he who conquers can obtain the kingdom. This saying also suggests that the concluding petition of the Lord’s Prayer does not request that the one who prays might be spared the trial, but that God might help overcome it. The final petition in the Lord’s Prayer, therefore, says: “Let us not succumb to the trial.” The trial of faith in the last, troubled times, on which Jesus, even in Gethsemane, warns the disciples, “Keep awake and pray that you do not succumb to the trial” (Mark 14:38a), consists of the danger of apostasy. Freely rendered, the closing petition says, “O Lord, preserve us from falling away.” Now it isn’t clear from the text whether Jesus had the eschatological trials in mind or perhaps just general testing and trial in everyday life. But either way, trials do test our faith and can lead to growth of it or destruction of it. So in either case, this petition is an important one. Let’s take a look at the final petition of the prayer: “but deliver us from evil”. This final petition is linked to the last one through that little word, “but”. The testing of a disciple’s faith is certainly going to happen, and so this is a prayer for deliverance from evil in the midst of that testing. Interestingly enough, the Greek here is literally translated as “the evil”, so some Bibles might have a footnote that says “deliver us from the evil one”. Either way, the prayer to be delivered from evil is in essence the same thing to be delivered from Satan and his schemes, and vice versa. Commentator Hagner says: Satan desires to use any severe testing of the Christian to his advantage. The sixth and seventh petitions together may be paraphrased in the following words: Do not lead us into a testing of our faith that is beyond our endurance, but when testing does come, deliver us from the Evil One and his purposes. There’s obviously so much more that could be said about the Lord’s prayer. I’ll talk about it again in a future episode where it fits chronologically according to Luke’s Gospel. I’ve included a link to a teaching in the description below if you want to hear more about it. The biggest things I hope you’ve come away with from these last couple of episodes are: 1) The Lord’s Prayer is loosely based on a common Jewish prayer from the time of Jesus, and thus would have been somewhat familiar to his hearers. 2) The Lord’s Prayer begins by focusing on the story of redemption and praying for the vindication of God’s name through His covenants with Israel 3) The Lord’s prayer then moves to “we”-focused petitions that are all likely in context to the larger story of Israel and being faithful to God as sojourners before the Day of the Lord In the next episode we’ll move on to some of the next events we see in this part of Jesus’ ministry from Luke 7.