It is terribly easy us for us to imagine Jesus' twelve disciples to be church mice and simpletons. When we read that the disciples asked Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1), we imagine the old men we saw in children's picture books folding their hands and having an unnatural interest in piety. But the disciples were not old and not passive. The disciples were young
revolutionaries. When they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, they were not asking how they should hold their hands when they pray or if they should close their eyes; they were asking what their agenda should be. The disciples were willingly a part of a subversive movement that was being led by Jesus. "The Kingdom of God is arriving!" That is the message, the Gospel, which they had been commissioned to proclaim and to work to make it a reality. It was because this revolutionary task was theirs that they asked Jesus how they are supposed to pray. The disciples already seemed to understand that prayer was the means by which God accomplished His purposes on earth as it is in Heaven. So they were asking, "What are the orders from headquarters?" I think that Jesus' command to forgive others while asking for forgiveness for yourself is the most surprising part of Jesus' prayer. And maybe also, "Lead is not into the final test." "Hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom come, and Give us our daily bread" are fairly obvious agendas for those who are seeking the arrival of the Kingdom of God. But forgiving the nation's enemies did not fit the expectation. Shouldn't they be praying for the destruction of their enemies? What did Jesus mean when He said "lead us not into the final test"? Wasn't the whole point of the coming of God's Kingdom on earth for the sake of fighting and winning the battle with the forces of evil in the world? Why did Jesus tell His disciples to pray that God would not lead us into that battle? I think the disciples might have been confused and I think many of us are as well, though for different reasons. You may object at this point saying "That is not what Jesus meant! Surely, Jesus only meant for us to pray not to be led into 'temptation'. That is, Jesus was teaching us to pray for help not to commit sin." Undoubtedly, Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray to be led away from sin. But He is speaking specifically here about the "test", the great battle with which he and his followers were engaged. The Kingdom of God could only be established after the forces of evil had been dealt with. Jesus knew that the battle was going to be faced and fought by Him alone. I do not think the disciples were aware of this. And when Jesus was on the eve of this great battle, He challenged His disciples to join Him in prayer so that they "would not enter the trial." John is even more explicit on this point when he says in His Gospel that Jesus told the soldiers to "let these go their way", meaning the disciples, and that this was in answer to Jesus' prayer that of those God had given Him, He lost none. Jesus was going into battle alone and He didn't even want His followers to try to go with Him. Jesus told Simon Peter, "Where I go now you cannot follow, but later you will follow." In other situations around this time when a would-be Messiah gathered a following and attempted to overthrow the Romans, the Romans would capture and crucify the leader AND all of his followers. Jesus was determined that this should not happen to His disciples.
Does this shock you? Does it disturb you that Jesus' conversations and comments should be so specific and contextual rather than general and universal? Whether or not that disturbs you, it is the facts. And this is true not only of Jesus' prayer but of the whole passage. Westerners have been so long in the habit of reading the Bible for the sake of personal devotions that we don't know how to read it without the individual at the center. But putting the individual at the center causes us to misunderstand Luke and Jesus. And understanding Luke and Jesus is what we are after, isn't it? What we need personally is there to be found in the text but we must prioritize the message of Luke over the message that we wanted or expected to receive. Luke is concerned about the Kingdom of God being brought on earth as it is in Heaven before he is concerned with the individuals assurance of pardon from sin or deliverance from temptation. Thought the two are really inseparable. But as individualistic Westerners, we need to train ourselves to read the story of Jesus with the over-arching narrative of the Kingdom of God in mind instead of simply me and my salvation if we are ever going to understand what Luke and what Jesus are really saying. But I do want to say that praying to be delivered from the "final test" is the same is praying to be delivered from personal temptations when we understand that Jesus' victory on the cross was the final victory over ALL sin and evil. When we pray to be delivered from temptation, we are asking God to help us apply the finished work of Jesus' universal victory over evil, to our personal struggles with evil. Praise God that His victory through Jesus IS ENOUGH!! And what we gain by today's study is that Jesus, as the good Shepherd, goes ahead of His sheep to face the wolves, to face the danger, and He doesn't desire that we should have to face a monster that we cannot handle. That is why we can say with the Psalmist: "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." (Psalm 23). This doesn't mean that we will never suffer for our faith. Actually, Jesus assured us that we would suffer persecution. But it does mean that Jesus will never allow us to be tested beyond what we can bear and He will never allow us to go through a test which He hasn't already passed and made a way through for the rest of us. "Where I go now," Jesus told His followers, "you cannot come. But afterwards, you will."