The Lord’s Prayer
August 28, 2011
“But deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13
But deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, as the sum of all, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from every evil of body and soul, property and honor, and finally, when our last hour has come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.
Imagine a world into which evil had not entered. It would be a place without suffering or pain. There would be no guilt or regret. There would be no sorrow. There would be no death. These would all be absent because a world into which evil had not entered would be a world without sin. St. Paul reminds us, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” In order for God to answer the petition to deliver us from evil, he must create for us a world into which evil cannot enter.
A few generations ago American theologians who wanted to relate better to people where they lived came up with what they called the social gospel. They criticized traditional Christianity which they said promoted an “other worldly” and therefore irrelevant Christianity that they called “pie in the sky, by and by, when you die.”
Proponents of the so-called social gospel insisted that instead of promising a better life to Christians after they leave this world the church should be striving to make this a better world. Rejecting the traditional Christian teaching on heaven, churchmen began to teach that the main purpose of Christ’s church here on earth was to create a more just society here on earth. What usually happened, however, is that church leaders began to parrot the popular political philosophies of their day, often dressing them up in religious clothing. Naïve theologians and church leaders became pawns of politicians more interested in political power than in the spiritual well being of the poor and dispossessed. Whenever the church marries the reigning political powers of her day she quickly finds herself a widow as one political solution follows upon another. In fact, there is nothing quite as pathetic as Christians who forsake the eternal truth of the gospel in favor of the passing enthusiasms of this world. To put it plainly: only our Father in heaven can and will deliver us from the evil of this world. And before he will do so, he must deliver us from the evil within us.
Evil came into this world when Satan laid claim to an authority from below that belonged only to God above. In their innocence, Adam and Eve hallowed God’s name. They confessed day in and day out that the tree in the middle of the Garden was not theirs to touch or to eat. That tree taught them that God’s holy name, God’s eternal reign, and God’s holy will are to be honored first and always. We may not question God, for he is God. When he says that we may not eat of the tree, this means that we may not eat of the tree – period. There is no more to be said because God has spoken. When the evil one raised the question, “Did God really say?” he attacked the holy name and identity of God. He declared war against God’s kingdom. He set himself up against God’s will. His battle was against the world God created and ruled. By leading our first parents into sin, he led the whole world into death and rendered the human race helpless against him. The devil, as you know, uses the fear of death as his greatest weapon against humanity.
The final petition summarizes the Lord’s Prayer. We pray that our Father in heaven would deliver us from that evil which would profane God’s name, set itself up against God’s kingdom, oppose God’s will, and deprive us all of the blessings of the good earth God has given to us. We pray that God would deliver us from the evil that would falsify the gospel and rob us of the forgiveness of our sins, preventing us from forgiving those who sin against us. We pray that God would protect us from temptation. We pray against the devil. The original Greek of this petition may be translated either as “deliver us from evil” or as “deliver us from the evil one.” The Catechism sums it up correctly by saying,
We pray in this petition, as the sum of all, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from every evil of body and soul, property and honor; and at last, when the hour of death shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
But is this world a veil of tears or valley of sorrow? Isn’t it also the only joy that we have known? Where else have you lived? We haven’t been to heaven yet. We haven’t yet lived where evil has not entered in. We have not lived where there is no sin in us and in everyone around us. We haven’t experienced that time or place when God’s name is perfectly hallowed, his kingdom fully revealed, and his good and gracious will done in such a way that we can understand what is good and gracious about it. When we pray this petition, therefore, we are praying that God will change us on the inside out, so that we may learn to repent of the evil within us. We need to learn that our greatest troubles in life aren’t out there in an unjust and cruel world but in here, that is, inside of us. The God who forgives us our sins and protects us from temptation is the God who thereby also delivers us from evil.
But there is no forgiveness without repentance. God forgives sinners. You must first be a sinner before you can receive forgiveness. But we don’t want to be regarded as sinners. We don’t by nature want to repent. Therefore we are the greatest obstacle to being delivered from evil. We don’t want to be delivered from our own sin. We want to embrace as a friend what will always be our greatest enemy.
Watch the children and listen to what they say. When little Johnny has a fight with little Billy, does he run to Mom to complain about his own sin against Billy and to ask her to correct him for it? Of course not. He runs to Mom to complain about little Billy. Not only does he view Billy as the problem; he wants to view Billy as the problem. So we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” Then we point to the evil outside of us and ask God to deliver us from it. Well, there’s no denying that there’s a lot of evil out there and that we face it every day.
But where is the deepest and most dangerous evil from which we must be delivered? It is in our own sinful flesh. It is in what we want. It is in what we in our sinful condition think is good and right. Consider what God’s word condemns and how sinful flesh redefines everything according to its own desires. Adultery is defended as true love that cannot be denied. Fornication is seen as an expression of affection with a committed partner. Idolatry is simply worshipping God in a fresh new way. Hatred is being true to your inner child. Contentions are standing up for principle. Jealousies are courageous acts of self- defense. Outbursts of wrath are therapy. Selfish ambitions are self-esteem. Heresies are just another perspective. Murders are the protection of a legal right to privacy. Drunkenness is a disease. Revelries are just having a good time. And in the face of our sinful flesh’s desire to call evil good and good evil is the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” In other words, we are praying that God put us through a bit of pain. It is hard to admit that you are wrong when you thought you were so right.
But repentance is good for you. There is little joy in this world apart from it. Repentance is a change that God works within us that destroys the idols our flesh constructs. God replaces the false promises of idolatry with the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Repentance is how God delivers us from evil. He shows us that we are all wrong and that he is all right. More than that, he shows us that all our wrong was laid on him. Jesus, who hallowed the name of this Father in heaven by every word he said and every deed he did, also inaugurated the kingdom promised by his Father by suffering on the cross. There the good and gracious will of God was done. You can see that Jesus fulfilled the Lord’s Prayer for us. He fed the five thousand, proving that those who trust in him will never want for daily bread. He prayed for the forgiveness that he won for us all. He withstood temptation as our representative. We who are filled with evil find God’s deliverance in Jesus who is pure good. When we know Jesus we are delivered from every evil of body and soul.
How do we know that God will deliver us from evil? Because he taught us to pray that he would and he wouldn’t teach us to ask for anything that God won’t give. If we are God’s children, we can expect God to be our Father and to do whatever the Lord’s Prayer requests of him. This is why we pray, “Amen.” Amen is a word that comes from the Hebrew word for faithful or true. God is faithful to be true to His word. He cannot lie. He must hear us when he invites us to pray. He must. So we say, “Amen” with confidence that we will receive what Jesus told us to request.
Prayer comes from faith and faith comes from God’s word. Faith doesn’t come from seeing. Faith remains blind to what the eyes see and pays attention only to what God says. Faith refuses to entertain the notion that God will neglect to deliver us from evil. When we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” faith looks to Jesus to see this petition answered. In Jesus, you can actually see evil overcome. In Jesus you can see that every bad thing that has ever come out of you against another or has ever come from another to hurt you is now swallowed up and destroyed. Look at Jesus and see his pure and holy and almighty love. See him bear in both body and soul all the evil of all humanity. See him do it without complaint and without ever giving in to it. See in his death the victory of God’s love over our hatred. God’s love isn’t locked up where you cannot have it. It is with you whenever you hear the preaching of the cross, whenever you claim what God promises to you in your baptism. And it remains with you as the Holy Spirit makes his home in you.
Meanwhile, Jesus keeps on inviting us to pray this perfect prayer. There is no doubt that God answers and gives us what we ask. So we pray “Amen, that is, yes, yes, it shall be so.” Amen