Rescued From All Evil

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Ephesians 6:10-18

Life’s most dreadful danger is to be cut off from God. Jesus calls us to pray for his keeping from temptation’s power and his deliverance from all evils.

Welcome to this seventh in our series on the Lord’s Prayer! We’ve thought about abba, what it means to call on God as our loving, generous Father. We’ve thought about Jesus’ priorities, about a “life-prayer” and how it can come to change. We’ve considered how God’s name is hallowed, how his kingdom comes, how his will is done, how Jesus lived this and taught it. We’ve thought about God’s concern for our everyday needs and last week about the marvelous gift of forgiveness, how we need to ask for it day by day, and never refuse to pass it on. Today it’s “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

A well-known book by Scott Peck begins with the concise statement, “Life is difficult.” He shows how much better people would be able to handle their lives if they recognized that at the start. In this petition, Jesus Christ is teaching us that life is dangerous. There are many dangers, of course, but one ultimate peril: that we should be separated from God, lost to his loving purpose. In this prayer he teaches us to pray against that danger, for rescue and deliverance.

Temptation and Testing: Same Word, Different Actions

Did you know that the same Greek word in the New Testament is sometimes translated “to tempt” and sometimes “to test”? In the first chapter of James, we read “blessed is the one who endures testing” (James 1:12). That’s the word we’re talking about. Then, in the very next paragraph, James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil nor does he tempt anyone.” Sometimes it means tempt and sometimes test. On the one hand, the devil is seeking to tempt us, that is, to bring us down, to lead us to sin and evil.

But God often tests his own people. God tested Abraham, you remember (Genesis 22:1). Temptation is the devil’s work, done with the intent of enticing us to evil, as he did in the garden and tried to do to Jesus in the wilderness. The Evil One is called “the tempter.” He wants to bring us down, to separate us from God, to destroy us. God, quite differently, allows us to come into many testings so that our faith may finally come through like gold. His tests are like the refiners fire, seeking to purify and perfect us. So in the very same situation the evil one may be seeking to tempt us while our gracious Lord is bringing us through an experience of testing, for our good always. And when we endure the test, James tells us, we are blessed and will receive the crown of life.

So when Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” he’s warning us against the danger we’re in. It’s not that God would ever entice us to sin, as we’ve seen. He’s calling us to pray that we’ll be kept from temptation’s power, reminding us that in ourselves we are woefully weak and vulnerable. Remember what Jesus said to Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41)? He doesn’t mean to pray that you’ll never be tempted. Jesus himself was tempted again and again, in all points like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Pray rather, he urges them, and watch, so that you won’t come under temptation’s power. You won’t be drawn to turn away from God. That’s the ultimate danger.

Jesus also might be suggesting a prayer like this: “Don’t let anything become a temptation to us.” Good things in life, precious persons, admirable projects, can become a temptation when we begin to idolize them, give them a place which belongs only to God. In the face of all our temptations, the Lord is our refuge and strength, our present defender. Prayer acknowledges our utter dependence on him, our vulnerability without him. Think of what happened to these disciples, especially Peter, when they didn’t watch and pray. The implication is when we don’t, we are headed for a fall.

Deliver Us from Evil

The second half of the petition, “but deliver us from evil,” makes clear the intent of the first. Pray that you will be guarded from succumbing to temptation, from coming under its malignant spell. The second half reads literally in the Greek text, “deliver us from the evil” or “the evil one.” We’re asking to be delivered from the one who is utterly evil, from the power, rule, and deception of the devil.

Let me say a word here about the reality of the devil, of whom we read in the Bible. The chief thing to say is that the devil was utterly real to Jesus. He saw himself as coming to overcome the devil and release his captives. He faced the evil one’s temptations in the wilderness and prevailed. He knew that the devil was seeking to bring about his death, and that his worst sufferings would come in the hour of “the powers of darkness.”

Dr. Bruce Metzger, perhaps one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world, has said that in the New Testament the evidence for the existence of the devil is of the same order as that for the existence of God. You simply can’t understand the New Testament unless you see it as the arena of a vast conflict. The apostles followed Jesus in this. Peter speaks of the devil as “going about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Paul calls the evil one “the ruler of the power of the air.” John speaks of the devil as “the god of this world,” and teaches that the whole world apart from God’s grace in Christ lies in the power of the wicked one.

So Jesus says to his followers: Pray that you’ll be delivered from the arch-enemy the devil and all his demonic agents, Keep us, O God, from him and his evil designs!

The Diabolical Strategy

Let’s look for a bit now at the way the evil one operates. Basic to the devil’s approach is the big lie. Do you remember the lie that the tempter proposed in the Garden? “You will not surely die.” And the lie that he proposed to Jesus in the wilderness, that if Jesus would fall down and worship him all the kingdoms of the world would be his. Jesus describes the devil to those who are opposing him as “a liar and the father of lies.” That’s why God’s Word warns us so urgently against deceit. When we consistently lie, we open a door to the evil one. We mimic his nature. We move in his realm. That’s why God hates a lying tongue and teaches us that among those kept outside the Holy City are “all liars,” everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

What kind of lies is the devil telling young people in our culture today? Surely this is one of them, that if you obey God in your life, if you follow Jesus Christ, you’re going to miss out on real life. It’s kind of a re-touching of the temptation first proposed in the Garden.

When the devil seeks to tempt us, it’s rarely a blatant frontal attack: “Why don’t you do this evil thing?” He constantly tries, rather, to make the evil he recommends seem like a great good. Good things were offered to Jesus in the wilderness, to give people bread, to have all the kingdoms at his disposal. The devil works on ideals as well as passions, anything to keep us from going God’s way, anything to bring about our destruction, our turning from God. He’s a thief who tirelessly seeks to steal our hearts from God, sometimes through well-meaning people.

Our Defense and Deliverance

All right, what’s involved in our defense and deliverance? Think first of realizing how weak and vulnerable we are. That’s a big one. When we don’t do that, when we don’t face our weakness and acknowledge it, we’re in big trouble. Think about Simon Peter, how he boasted of his strength, his courage, his fidelity. He would stand true even if all the other disciples ran away. Jesus told him, “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” But Peter didn’t take that seriously. Yet out of his shameful fall and Jesus’ restoring him, Peter learned a lot. He later taught his Christian friends about the devil going about like a roaring lion and also how they could resist him. He knew now how weak he was and how necessary it was to be alert, humble and vigilant.

Then think about the place of the Scriptures in Jesus’ experience. In the wilderness when he was tempted, Jesus quoted again and again from the book of Deuteronomy. He had the word hidden away in his heart, and it gave him the wisdom and the strength to resist the evil one. Central to everything is Christ’s victory over the devil and all the powers of evil.

The New Testament rings with this truth, how Jesus “spoiled principalities and powers and made a show of them openly,” how by his death “he destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,” how Jesus came into the world “to destroy the works of the devil.” He has won the decisive victory. And yet, mopping-up operations continue. Just as in the Civil War the battle of Gettysburg was the turning point, just as in World War II the battle of the Bulge made the outcome sure, so our hope is in the triumph of Jesus in his death and resurrection. Paul writes in Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” All the equipment for us to overcome is in Christ, and in his risen life made real to us by the Holy Spirit.

When Paul has listed the items of our equipping for battle, he sums up with what John Bunyan calls “All Prayer.” Prayer is not only a weapon. It’s the means by which we put on all the rest of our armor. So the prayer “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a vital part of our defense. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe, his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.” That’s the wonderful message of Martin Luther’s great hymn??”Jesus is the “man on our side.”

Beyond all Danger

There will come a time when we are brought beyond all danger, when all these prayers for deliverance are fully answered, when nothing will ever separate us from God, when we are home at last beyond all dangers. But until then, friends, we keep on praying in the name and power of Jesus, “Father, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.”