The “hard sayings” of Jesus include not only those sayings that many find objectionable, but also those that are difficult to understand. Matthew 6:7-13, commonly called the “Lord’s Prayer,” is one of those sayings that has been misunderstood because it is assumed it should be memorized and repeated regularly in worship. Jesus did not necessarily intend that this instruction be memorized as a prayer, but rather it is to be used as an outline for prayer.
Here is what He said:
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen (Matt. 6:7-13).
In this outline Jesus taught that prayer should begin by praising and thanking God for His kindness and beneficence, and for all the blessings, gratuities, and graces He has given us. We begin prayer, then, by showing our appreciation and thankfulness for a loving Creator who gives us all we possess. Next, we pray that His kingdom-the Kingdom of God-will soon be established on this earth. Its purpose is to bring world peace and righteousness, so that all the evil and bloodshed so rampant today will come to an end. Then we pray that His will be done among the nations and the peoples of this earth, as well as in our own lives. We cannot change the behavior of others, but we can, with God’s help, change our own behavior that so often gets in the way of God’s righteousness. When Christ returns, God will change the way this world is, but we must continually pray that God will help us to fulfill His will in our personal lives now. We next ask God for the physical, as well as the spiritual, necessities of life. Then we ask God to forgive our sins and shortcomings and to make us willing to forgive those who do us wrong. We ask God to deliver us from harmful and oppressive temptations-thoughts and actions that cause us to sin and disobey God’s commandments. We ask God to deliver us from the evil influence and power of Satan. And we close by extolling and praising God for all His goodness-our acknowledgement that we are completely dependent upon Him.
This outline was given to enable us to have a proper relationship with God. It was given to draw us closer to God. A close relationship with God cannot be accomplished by a mere vocal recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Time must be spent on a daily basis making our petitions known to God. This outline is the perfect instruction on how this can be accomplished.
Since we cannot change the behavior of others, but can only change our own, let us take a closer look at the thing that hinders us so often-yielding to temptation. Jesus said to ask God to “lead us not into temptation.” God does not tempt any of us, or lead us into temptation (Jas. 1:13). A better translation would be “do not deliver us into temptation,” or “do not allow us to be led into temptation.” We are all required to go through the trials of life, but Christians are especially required to go through trials of faith. This is why the Apostle James wrote: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4). James adds: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (Jas. 1:12).
The word “temptation” can just as well be translated “sore trial.” We are to ask God not to allow us to be led into sore trial. Sore trial can last a long period of time and create tremendous stress. What happens if we fail the test? We will have gone backward, and may have done serious harm to our character. This is why we need God’s help, and why James said, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.”
Christians are required to build holy, righteous character. Holy, righteous character is the ability to recognize right from wrong, and to always choose the right in opposition to the wrong. Trials are required for this process. Peter’s writing encourages us: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). The benefits derived from successfully conquering temptations cannot be underestimated. So great are they that James said, “Count it all joy.”
Some have misunderstood the statement made in Genesis 22:1 regarding Abraham. We read: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham . . . .” The word “tempt” in this text should be translated “prove.” The Bible does not contradict (John 10:35). We read in James 1:13: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” God wanted to know what was in Abraham’s heart, so He commanded him to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Abraham was willing to do so without question. Why? Because he fully believed God’s promise that Abraham’s descendants would come through Isaac. Paul writes: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead . . . ” (Heb. 11:17-19).
As a result of his faith, God said to him:
. . . By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice (Gen. 22:16-18).
Abraham had living faith, not the kind of faith so many exercise today-a dead faith. “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jas. 2:20).
We bring most of our temptations upon ourselves due to a lack of wisdom, self-control, or bad judgment. At other times they occur due to circumstances beyond our control. Regardless of the reason, God is there to help us so that we may build character and learn from experience (2 Pet. 2:9). We find this happening to all those called of God, for the Apostle Peter wrote: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
In the light of these texts, we can readily see why Jesus said to ask God not to allow us to be led into temptation.
Another “hard saying” is found in Matthew 11:7-11. It reads as follows:
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John [the Baptist], What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
What is puzzling is the clause, ” . . . notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” What did Jesus mean?
John’s commission was the most important of all the servants of God. Why? Because he was the harbinger of Christ, and the entire world would eventually come to accept Jesus because of his ministry (John 1:6-8). This is why Jesus made the astounding statement: “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist . . .” (Matt. 11:11). Then Jesus went on to say, “notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Most have simply dismissed this statement as a reference to heaven, not knowing what it really means. They are unaware that the “kingdom of heaven” does not refer to heaven. It is a phrase that is equated with “the Kingdom of God.” In fact, the “kingdom of heaven” and the “Kingdom of God” refer to the same thing. Compare Matthew 13:11 with Luke 8:10. Any dictionary will define a kingdom. It is a politically organized community or major territorial unit with a monarchical form of government headed by a king or queen. Does the Bible say Christ will rule over such a kingdom? Indeed it does!
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed . . . . And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him (Dan. 7:13-14, 27).
The Kingdom of God will be established over the whole earth at the time of Christ’s Second Coming.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:11-16).
In brief, the saints are not going to heaven. As immortal beings, they will rule with Christ on this earth for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:6)! Now it becomes clear what Jesus meant by the statement in Matthew 11:11. John was the greatest of the prophets, but those in the Kingdom of God will be much greater than John when he walked the earth, because they will be immortal beings in God’s Kingdom.
Another “hard saying” of Jesus is found in John 6:44. This saying dispels the notion that one can become a Christian anytime he or she chooses to do so. Jesus said: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him . . . . ” What this text states is that unless one is called of God, he cannot receive Christ and true spiritual enlightenment. This enlightenment is the result of a divine call (Heb. 3:1, 1 Cor. 1:9, 2 Tim 1:9). This flies in the face of the commonly held belief that all one has to do is to make up his mind, and he can become a Christian. There is much more to being a Christian than that. Notice what Acts 2:38-39 states: ” . . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” One must first repent, that is, have a change of heart and stop sinning, that is, breaking God’s commandments (1 John 2:4). But even this is a result of God’s leading us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
The Apostle Paul tells us that the Truth of God has been hidden from the world for generations, but is now revealed to the saints, (Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2) to those called of God. “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (Col. 1:25-26).
Eventually it is in God’s plan to reveal saving knowledge to the whole world, but in His own due time. Paul tells us that God ” . . . will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” or, as it can be translated, “in its own due season” (1 Tim. 2:4-6). The fact is: The significance and understanding of Christ’s sacrifice will be revealed to the world only during the seasons God determines. This present era is for the harvest of the first fruits only (Jas. 1:18, Rev. 14:4). There are two great periods of time yet ahead for the salvation of this world. All men will eventually be given an opportunity to be saved, and when God sets His hand to save this world it will be saved! The Bible does not teach a “second chance.” For those called at this time, this is their opportunity for salvation. For those who have been given to understand the significance of Christ’s sacrifice, the Bible tells us: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
It is simply not God’s intention to make the Truth known to the world at this time. Jesus Himself said: ” . . . Unto you [the disciples] it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:11-12). The fact is: Jesus spoke in parables to hide the meaning of what He was saying to the masses. He said: ” . . . I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matt. 11:25).
So, when Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him . . .” (John 6:44), He meant just that. One must be called of God in order to receive the opportunity for salvation. One cannot simply decide to become a Christian and automatically become one. This “hard saying” of Jesus means exactly what it says!