April 7, 2012: The Fortieth Day of Lent

April 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen.]” ~ Matthew 6.13 ~

Christ closes out his example prayer by including a request to not be led into temptation and to be delivered from evil. The first request may strike the audience as odd; would God be the one to lead a person into a situation where one might be tempted? Christ does not mean to imply that God stands as the cosmic puppet-master, driving his own followers to sin. Rather, the language seems to fall in line more with an idea of God testing one’s faith. The audience on the mountain that day would have heard this phrase and thought of times when God had tested those faithful to him in various ways. Examples of this would include Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22) and the Israelites in the wilderness being forced to rely on manna for their daily food (Exodus 16).

Shelton points out that disciples pray to be spared from temptation not because they do not trust God or believe in his power; rather, in keeping with the spirit of the Beatitudes, they recognize that “apart from God they have pitiful resources to resist evil.” (LitSNTC, pg. 168) Accordingly, the disciples beg for deliverance.

The bracketed section of the prayer above does not appear in the earliest and best Biblical manuscripts. However, it does appear in the Didache, an early church document written specifically to address doctrine and practice. It may have been a responsive section that the community of faith placed into their gatherings. (LitSNTC, pg. 168) However it was used, it does affirm the important points of prayer:

  1. To God belongs the Kingdom. This heavenly kingdom stands in opposition to earthly and spiritual forces that would attempt to assert their authority over God the Father and the Kingdom of Heaven. Part of being Christ’s disciple means that those who follow the Savior must drop their allegiances to other powers and work to further the Kingdom of God.
  2. To God belongs the Power. What power do we, frail creatures as we are, have in and of ourselves? This phrase recognizes that all power comes from God. Those who find themselves in positions of strength must remember God’s hand at work in their lives, and those who find themselves in places of weakness must look to God for the strength they cannot find anywhere else.
  3. To God belongs the Glory. In the Kingdom of Heaven, all glory should be directed to God alone. Vain ambition and selfish motives need not apply. The ambassadors of the Kingdom live to make God famous and lift him up in the eyes of others.
  4. Forever. This is not a temporary state of affairs; this is the enduring reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.

As followers of Christ, Lent leads us to this place: to be able to affirm, deeply in every corner of our heart, that we lay our petty plans, our self-conceit, and our selfish ambition at the foot of the Cross. Lent leads us to a place of crucifixion: that along with Christ, all the ways that we oppose the Kingdom of Heaven are executed. Lent also leads us to resurrection: that along with Christ, we experience the reawakening and renewing of God’s Holy Spirit within us so that we may be faithful ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven, sharing the realities of the Beatitudes with others.

Lord Christ, let me experience the death of that which opposes you in my life. Transform me into a faithful servant for your glory. Amen. 

*This blog has “gone dark” during the time between Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday, in recognition of the time Christ spent in the tomb.

Quote taken from Dr. James B. Shelton’s contribution on the Gospel of Matthew to The Life in the Spirit New Testament CommentaryEdited by French L. Arrington and Roger Stronstad. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

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