Jesus' model prayer next moves from our immediate physical needs to the sustenance of the inner man. Forgive us as we have forgiven others. Though each member of the Father’s family has received forgiveness in the fullest sense so that none will answer in final judgment for his or her sin, the matter does not end there. We have begun a relationship with the Father but we have not fully rid ourselves of the old man, the rebellious man, the self-directed man. We each know that more regularly than we would like, we turn our backs on the Father and go our own ways. It may only happen for a moment, but in that moment relationship becomes broken. Forgiveness paves the way to restoration. But Jesus describes this forgiveness in a particular way – not just any forgiveness, but forgiveness that mirrors that which we extend to others. You can hear the echo of another portion of the Sermon. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
Jesus does not suggest that we can earn our forgiveness by forgiving others. No, the New Testament clearly states over and over that we, in fact, cannot earn forgiveness. Instead, Jesus points to the primacy of relationships in God’s kingdom. Remember back to when Jesus redefined murder to include something deeper than the physical act. At the end of the discussion, He emphasized the restoration of relationships – if I’m engaged in what a first century Jew considered his highest duty, ritual worship, and discovered that a brother had something against me, I ought to set aside my worship, go to my brother and restore our relationship. “God does not work by halves. He will not allow us to come to Him confessing half a sin while hanging on to the other half. It must be all or nothing. Thus if we confess our sin, our confession must of necessity involve a forgiving attitude towards others.” By asking God to forgive us as we have forgiven others, we impliedly ask God to assist us in forgiving others. For, without that the restorative act of forgiveness towards others, we cannot effectively seek the forgiveness of God we so desperately need.
Finally, we hear the call of our daily battle: lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. The term “temptation” is a neutral word, sometimes meaning to lure one into sin and other times to test or try a person. James makes it clear that God does not lure anyone into sin. “When tempted, no one should say, God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. “ That leaves only one option to clarify this phrase in the prayer: do not lead us into trials. If possible, keep me away from the places where I might be tested. But if tested, deliver me from the evil one, keep me from sin. I do not want to experience testing, but I might need it.
Several biblical principles help us navigate the shoals here. First, though unpleasant, testing has its place. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And, finally, “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.” Testing will help form us into the people God intends by forcing us to face the weak points where we have yet to surrender to Christ’s authority. It will provide us a history of God’s work in our lives which builds our faith into an absolute expectation. God will use even those events intended by others for the worst outcomes toward us to our good, bringing towards our inheritance one step at a time. And Finally, God will never allow the testing to go beyond the resource He provides and our ability to grasp it. He will always, always provide a way of escape.
Just after the prayer Jesus talks about our treasure, a fitting commentary on the jump from petition for bread to meet our temporal needs and the request to receive forgiveness and avoid temptations to satisfy our souls. He’s already told us not to worry about our material needs, but here He goes beyond our needs to those things we hold dear, to our treasure. What kinds of treasure do we have – horded earthy things, wealth, power, and status, or the eternal treasure of refined character, wisdom, powerful faith, and God-like love? Jesus makes it clear, we can’t have both – we’ll either “hate the one and love the other,” or “be devoted to the one and despise the other.” In the end, like metal detector beeps in the ear of a beach sand jewelry hound, our treasure will shout out the home of our hearts. They either rest in the hands of Jesus, a fitting gift for the One who turned them from stone to flesh, or we’ll have clutched them to ourselves where they slavishly serve our desires alone.
This brings us to the end of the Sermon and the final exam. We only have two options after hearing Jesus’ words: put them into practice, or not. The one who puts them into practice builds for herself a foundation that will not fail. Rain, rising water, nor beating wind can move the house built on the rock. Even if we must encounter temptation or trials, we can endure. We will have the strength to restore relationships and actively seek the good of others. Our kingdom lives will flavor the lives of those whom we touch and provide a Jesus beacon to a groping world. We will rid ourselves of contempt and lust and garnish our conversations with truth.
The other side of this canvas bears the portrait of a house built on sand. Rain, rising water, and beating wind will have their way with this house and will reduce it to a pile of rubble and bits of flotsam that disappear with the tide. This might occur through neglect or outright refusal, but the result remains the same. Can we witness any greater disaster than one who recognizes and responds to the salvation call of Jesus, yet fails to put His words into practice – one who has entered the kingdom gates but fails to put all into kingdom life?