Twelve hefty, mature men stood around Jesus, listening in on His conversations with His Father in heaven. When He finished His prayer, one of the twelve asked of Jesus the question on the minds of them all: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples." Jesus obliged their question, and taught them to pray. "When you pray," said Jesus to the twelve, "say: ÖAnd do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one." This petition is necessary both because of Satanís craftiness as well as human weakness.
The word "temptation" refers to an enticement, an allurement to do something wrong. In plain language: a temptation is a bait set before us luring us to a certain action. It is Satan who sets temptation before us, seeks to entice Godís own to sin against God. When Satan was cast out of heaven (after Christís victory on the cross), the following warning was issued:
The element we need to bear in mind with the sixth petition is this: how does Satan fight that war? Whatís his strategy, his technique? There is a passage in Scripture that warns us against the devil because, says the passage, "your adversary the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet 5:8). That passage places in our minds the thought that Satan is readily noticeable; a roaring lion is not a secret, by his roar heís announced his presence and his intent. Yet we do wrong to think of Satanís strategy being one of much noise and announcement of his attacks. The Bible portrays Satan in much different terms, portrays him as wily, crafty, devious, unassuming Ė and at the same time deadly.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul speaks of "the wiles of the devil" (6:11). The word Ďwilesí refers to scheming, to cunning efforts to bait Godís people to sin. The same apostle writes to the Corinthians that "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light" (II Cor 11:14). He masquerades, disguises himself so that his true nature is hidden. We understand: this craftiness on the part of the devil makes him far more of an enemy for us than would be the case if he would announce his every arrival with the roar of a lion. The whole notion of temptation, of enticing, of luring hinges on the concept of deceit. Ask any fisherman what bait tempts the fish the bestÖ. You donít catch a thing if you loudly announce that ĎIím going to fry you.í
In his craftiness, the devil sets temptations before us in such a way that we donít recognise them to be temptations. Eve walked in the garden one day, as she had done so often in days gone by. In the harmony and peace that was Paradise, she could stop to admire this animal, scratch that one between the ears, stroke another Ė including bears, tigers, and dugites. In a setting so normal and common place as possible, Satan came with his temptation: "Has God really saidÖ?" He didnít announce: Ďhere I am with all my cunning and my deceit, and Iím going to try to bait you.í He didnít come with bells and whistles and lots of fanfare so that Eve might be on her guard. He came as the deceiver he was, with cunning, craftiness, deceit. When Eve suspected nothing, when all was quite normal, there came the devilÖ.
That same patterns presents itself in the devilís attack on Peter. True: Jesus warned Peter of Satanís intent. Said Jesus to Peter: "Satan has asked for you, that he might sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). But when the attack came, Peter was not at all prepared, not at all suspecting the devilís temptation. Peter sat around the fire in the courtyard of the high priestís house, chatting no doubt with the soldiers and others looking for the warmth of the fire. A very normal, common place setting. A girl walked up, looked at Peter, and commented to the crowd: "This man was also with Him." How normal, how common place, nothing out of the ordinary. Yet this was a temptation, a bait prepared in hell to make Peter deny any involvement with the Lord Jesus. In Jesusí own words: here Satan was sifting Peter. Obvious? An attack played out in the open, with adequate warnings and preparations? Not from the devilís side! Let it be a warning as to how Satan operates!
Jesus knew the nature and method of the enemy. Thatís why He told His disciples, when they asked for instruction about prayer, to pray also the sixth petition. Satanís method of attack is sinister, is devious, itís not straight-forward and open. This is a reality Jesus took into account, and so He taught those twelve mature men standing around Him to pray, to pray not just for daily bread or for forgiveness of sins, but to pray also that God would please lead them not into temptation but instead deliver them from the Evil One.
The second element that makes this sixth petition necessary is our inability to withstand Satanís bait. Itís not just Satanís craftiness, his low-profile approach, his deceit that makes his bait so tempting. We havenít the where-with-all either to withstand his temptations.
Satan entered a Garden of no sin, spoke to a woman whose every fibre was free of evil. Yes, Eve was able to sin, but she was also able not to sin. She had been created in the image of God, was adorned in her mind with true and wholesome knowledge of her Creator and of all things spiritual, her heart and will were upright, all her affections pure, completely holy (Canons of Dort, III/IV, Art 1). To this sinless person Satan came with his temptation, came in true devilish fashion; he enticed her without warning, enticed her when her guard was down. She fell for his bait, considered that indeed the forbidden fruit was desirable (Gen 3:6), and ate.
If, dear readers, sinless Eve Ėand sinless Adam tooĖ fell for Satanís temptation, how much less shall the disciples standing around Jesus be able to withstand Satanís crafty attacks! Ps 14 reminds us that "all" people have "become corrupt" so that there is "none who does good, No, not one" (vs 3). It is then arrogance most profound for the disciples to assume that somehow they can withstand Satanís enticements! By telling His disciples that they were to add to the five petitions of their prayers also a sixth was instruction to the twelve about their depravity, about their weaknesses, about their inability to withstand the devil. Then Yes, itís true that Peter had big words to say to Jesus when Jesus revealed to him Satanís request to sift Peter. Said the apostle: "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death" (Luke 22:33). Sifted? Tempted? Attacked? Peter wasnít worried about it; he was sure he could handle that quite all right; he was man enough for the devil. And Jesus let Peter find out for himself: "I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me" (vs 34). We know what happened. How necessary, how absolutely necessary it was for Peter to pray that sixth petition, be it in the Garden of Gethsemane, be it always!
And equally: it is imperative that we pray that sixth petition. We too display the height of arrogance if we suggest that we can withstand Satanís attacks. The apostle Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to write this:
He keeps in mind how prone we are to stumble.
The Lord recalls that we are only dust" (vs 5).
Distinctly, then, there is need, absolute need for us to heed Jesusí
instruction to pray that sixth petition! Jesus Himself knew about the realities
of Satanís anger, hatred, deceit, craftiness. He took it for real, and
so instructed His disciples Ėmature men as they wereĖ to pray this prayer
of dependence. He took it for real, and so we too need to take Satan for
real Ė and pray accordingly.