Sitting at the Feet of Yeshua
In this post, we wrap up our examination of the Disciple’s Prayer. In His final petition, Yeshua instructs us to pray: “And do not lead us into hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.” (Matthew 6:13)
I’m extremely gratified that Stern’s uses the word ‘testing’ and not ‘temptation.’ We know that God does not lead us into temptation, but he does allow us to be tempted and tested.
When we read the story of the temptations of Yeshua, it begins: “Then the Spirit led Yeshua up into the wilderness to be tempted by the Adversary” (Matthew 4:1). If we take the word ‘tempt’ here in the sense of ‘to seduce into sin’, it makes the Ruach HaKodesh a partner in an attempt to compel Yeshua to sin. That’s a ridiculous interpretation! Time and again, we find that the word tempt has the idea of testing in it, at least as much as the idea of seeking to lead into sin.
Here, then, is one of the great and precious truths about temptation. Temptation is not designed to make us fall. Temptation is designed to make us stronger and better men and women. Temptation is not designed to make us sinners. It is designed to make us good. We may fail in the test, but we are not meant to. We are meant to emerge stronger and better for having gone through the process. In one sense, temptation is not so much the penalty of being human; it is the glory of being human. A person has to be tested before God can be used greatly in His service.
The Bible does not think of evil as an abstract principle or force, but as an active, personal power in opposition to God. In Hebrew, the word Satan simply means adversary. The Sages had the idea that in heaven there was an angel whose charge it was to state the case against a man, a kind of prosecuting attorney angel; and that became the function of Satan.
Life is always under attack from temptation, but no enemy can launch an invasion until he finds a foothold. Where then does temptation find its foothold? Where do our temptations come from? Any warrior knows that to be forewarned is to be forearmed, and, if we know from where the attack is likely to come, we will have a better chance to overcome it.
It is one of the tragic facts of life that temptations can come to us from those who love us; and of all kinds of temptation this is the hardest to fight. It comes from people who love us and who have not the slightest intention of harming us.
That was what happened to Yeshua. “A man’s enemies,” said Yeshua, “will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10:36). We read in Mark 3 that Yeshua’s own family came and tried to take Him home, because they said that He was mad (see Mark 3:21). To His family, He seemed to be throwing His life and His career away. To them, He seemed to be making a fool of himself; and they tried to stop Him. Sometimes the bitterest of all temptations come to us from the voice of love.
There is one very frequent way in which temptation can come, especially to younger people – peer pressure. Many a person has begun on some indulgence, or introduced oneself to some bad habit, because he did not wish to appear less experienced in worldliness than the company in which he happened to keep. One of the great defenses against temptation is simply the courage to be good.
But temptation comes not only from outside us; it comes from inside us too. If there were nothing in us to which temptation could appeal then it would be helpless to defeat us. In every one of us there is some weak spot; and at that weak spot temptation launches its attack.
The point of vulnerability differs in all of us. What is a temptation to one person is not to another. What leaves one person quite unmoved may be an irresistible temptation to another.
In every person there is a weak spot, which, if we are not on the watch, can ruin us. Somewhere in each one of us there is the flaw, some fault of temperament which can ruin life, some instinct or passion so strong that it may at any time snap the leash, some quirk in our make-up that makes what is a pleasure to someone else a menace to us. We should realize it, and be on the watch.
But, strangely enough, temptation comes sometimes not from our weakest point, but from our strongest point. If there is one thing of which we are in the habit of saying, “That (fill in the blank) is one thing I would never do,” it is just there that we should be watchful. History is full of the stories of castles and forts, which were taken just at the point where the defenders thought them so strong that no guard was necessary. Nothing gives temptation its chance like over-confidence.
At our weakest and at our strongest points we must be on guard. How do we defend against temptation?
- There is the simple defense of self-respect. When Nehemiah’s life was in danger, it was suggested that he should quit his work and shut himself in the Temple until the danger was past. His answer was: “Should a man like me run away? Can a man like me go into the temple to save his life? I refuse to go in.” (Nehemiah 6:11). A man may escape many things, but he cannot escape himself. He must live with his memories, and if he has lost his self-respect, life becomes intolerable. Once President Garfield was urged to take a profitable, but dishonorable, course of action. It was said, “No one will ever know.” His answer was, “President Garfield will know – and I’ve got to sleep with him.” When a man is tempted, he may well defend himself by saying, “Is a person like me going to do a thing like that?”
- There is the defense of tradition. No man can lightly fail the traditions and the heritage into which he has entered, and which have taken generations to build up. Remember Tevia? Look at the rich traditions in our military. Remember, we leave no one behind. The power of a tradition is one of the greatest things in life. We belong to a country, a school, a family, and a congregation. What we do affects that to which we belong. We cannot lightly betray the traditions into which we have entered.
- There is the defense of those whom we love and those who love us. Many a man would sin, if the only penalty he had to bear were the penalty he would have to bear himself; but he is saved from sin because he could not bear the pain that would appear in a loved one’s eyes, if he gave into the temptation. A man might be perfectly willing to pay the price of sin, if that price affected only himself. But if he remembers that his sin will break someone else’s heart, he will have a strong defense against temptation.
- Finally, there is the defense of the presence of Yeshua. Yeshua is not a figure in a book; he is a living presence. Sometimes we ask, “What would you do, if you suddenly found Yeshua standing beside you? How would you live, if Yeshua were a guest in your house? What would Yeshua do?” But the whole point of the Messianic faith is that Yeshua is beside us, and He is a guest in our home. His is the inescapable presence, and, therefore, we must make all life fit for Him to see. We have a strong defense against temptation if we practice the continual presence of Yeshua.
When we pray, we need to ask the Father to protect us from the lures of the world, the flesh and the evil one. We need to declare our belief that God will not allow us to be tested beyond what we can endure. We need to renounce any footholds the devil may have in your life.
Prayer is often the deciding factor in spiritual battles. The tragedy is that the enormous power available to us through prayer is so often wasted because we do not pray. Therefore, pray like this: Our Father in Heaven! May your Name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us the food we need today. Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us. And do not lead us into hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One. (For kingship, power and glory are yours forever. Amen.)
In my next post we will continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 6.