(Originally published Aug 23, 2009 by Rev. Jedidiah Maschke)
This morning, my wife and I were looking over the newspaper and pointing out articles that we thought were interesting, and one in particular drew my attention. It turns out that a man was arrested and convicted of stealing a painting of the Virgin Mary in order to pay for the abortion of a teenage girl he had raped. Anna pointed out that there’s just all sorts of levels of evil on that one!
I think that, no matter what you believe, you’d be hard pressed to argue against the existence of evil in the world. Whether it’s the story this weekend of a man who killed four of his girlfriend’s cats, or terrorism and wars, politics, famine, suicide, murder, or Brett Favre playing for the Vikings, it’s difficult to deny the existence of evil in the world.
Ok, I’m kidding Brett Favre. Mostly.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been taking a look at the Lord’s Prayer. This week, we’re all the way to the final petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Deliver us from Evil.
The line between good and evil is a thin one, and the difference depends mostly on the context. Drinking alcohol? It makes a difference if the context is finishing off a six-pack by yourself or being served communion wine from the chalice. Holding a knife in your hand? Are you at a table with a steak in front of you or are you doing surgery? Holding a knife is not good though if the police are catching you in some sinister act. Sex is a wonderful gift from God for two people married to each other, but if you’re not married, it’s sinful. Driving a car is good if you’re going to the doctor’s office or the supermarket, but not good if your drunk or falling asleep. You can do this with pretty much anything in your life. Both our Old Testament lesson and the Epistle lesson today mentioned clay pots or jars. If you fill jars with good food or drinks, they are good and useful. But if you fill them with something that is rotten or poisonous, they are not serving their purpose. Nearly everything can both good and evil, depending on the context. So …
What is “evil”?
Evil is when things are done in the absence of good. When things that God created for good are perverted or corrupted or used for purposes other than what God intended them for, they become evil. But this all comes about as a result of …
The evil one.
In fact, in some of your Bibles the words of this petition are actually translated as “Deliver us from the evil one.” When God had finished creating all the world, he looked at what he had made and declared it all to be very good. There was no evil. But shortly thereafter, when Satan came into the world he introduced sin, which led to evil. So …
Where does evil come from?
The basic cause of evil is the Sin that Satan brought into the world. Sin is the corrupting, perverting influence that pulls good works and good things out of their good context and turns those works and things towards evil.
Sometimes we bring evil on ourselves when we follow Satan’s will instead of God’s will, when we bear in ourselves food that is rotten, the fruit of Satan, instead of the fruit of the Spirit.
Satan’s most popular trick is to appear to be something that he is not. Satan often masquerades as an angel of light, when in reality he’s a lion waiting to devour us. He’s called a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the deceiver. He’s not what he appears to be. In the hymn “A Mighty Fortress”, Martin Luther penned these words about Satan:
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.
At one point later in his life, Martin Luther was asked …
What “one little word can fell” Satan? What is the little word?
Many people assume that it means God’s Word, or the name of Jesus. But Luther answered that the one little word that can fell Satan is … “Liar”
Satan isn’t the jar of cool, refreshing water, or a container for the fruits of the spirit. In reality, he is a lot more like an urn, or the whitewashed tombs that Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being: he looks attractive on the outside, but inside, there’s nothing more than ashes, death, and the destruction of what God created for good. When we recognize Satan’s work, when we recognize evil in the world and call it out for what it is, we take away much of its power. We’ve eliminated the element of surprise, but Satan can still mount the full frontal attack. That’s when we need God to deliver us from evil.
How does God deliver us from evil?
- God protects us from the Devil.
The Devil, Satan, is a fallen angel. Hank Hanegraff (“The Prayer of Jesus,” pp. 77ff) points out that we need to be careful neither to underestimate him nor overestimate him. Satan is known as the prince of darkness, but that isn’t a title that puts him on the same level as God, who is the author of light. Satan is a created being, on par with the archangel Michael. He’s not a worthy adversary of God. Satan has the same powers and restrictions as all other angels have, but he has the benefit of millennia of practice tempting humankind. We can see from the stories in the Bible that Satan found many an Achilles’ heel in those he chooses to tempt. The stories of many of the greatest heroes of faith, including Abraham, Moses, and David include instances where they succumbed to temptation and sin. We need to be careful.
But Luther called the devil “God’s devil.” Even though he prowls like a lion, Satan is like a lion on a leash. God’s promise in 1 Corinthians 10 is that He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. God won’t let Satan tempt us beyond what we can bear. And Satan’s ultimate end has been determined: He will end up in the lake of burning sulfur, unable to tempt us anymore.
- God keeps us from calamity.
God also protects us from the things in this world which would harm us, and above all, our faith. In addition to protecting us from sin and the Devil, God also keeps us from the effects of sin and the Devil. This doesn’t mean that God will never let us stumble or that He will take away all pain or sorrow in this life. But God is still sovereign over all things.
There’s an old story told by a pastor named Arthur Graf about a farmer who had an apple tree and a peach tree. The peach tree stood by the gate to his garden, and every time the farmer would enter the gate, the branches would knock off his hat, catch his sweater, or smack him in the face. One day the farmer was trying to enter the gate when he was struck right in the eye by a branch. He stomped into the garage, grabbed his shears, and whacked the tree down to size.
As he finished, the farmer noticed that the apple tree was also getting little too big. So while he had the shears in his hands, he decided to trim the apple tree and ended up cutting even more branches off the apple tree than he did for the peach tree. But there was a vast difference: one was cut down in anger, the other was cut down in love.
The Bible tells us that non-believers are punished in anger, but the Christian is disciplined in love. The people who suffer aren’t necessarily the greatest sinners. Job, Paul, and many of the early Christians who were very sincere in their faith had a lot of afflictions that God measured out for them. God wasn’t punishing them because of what they did, but God allowed their suffering because of what He could accomplish through it. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said (John 17:15) My prayer is not that you would take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. That’s what we pray for in this prayer … that we would not be sheltered or spoiled, but protected from the evil one.
The final way that God delivers us from evil is when …
- God takes us to heaven when we die.
When we pray “deliver us from evil,” we are praying that our heavenly Father would keep us from an evil death. We are asking that we may not die in our sins, rejecting the forgiveness that God offers to all people. We wish to die in the Lord, and that we would be prepared. We pray that we would be blessed like those in Revelation 14:13, those who die in the Lord. We pray with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:18 – The Lord will rescue [us] from every evil deed and bring [us] safely into his heavenly kingdom.
God will deliver you from all evil. Nothing can take his deliverance away from you. Jesus said, “I have overcome the world!” His cross and his open tomb prove this. There is a lot of evil in this world, but Jesus Christ will deliver you from all evil. That is why the kingdom and the power and the glory are all His, and we’ll look to that next week. Let’s pray:
Our Father in Heaven, we pray to be delivered from all kinds of evil, whether to body or soul, our property or our reputation, so that in the end, when it is time for us to leave this world, we would be blessed to depart with You and to You in heaven. Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord. Amen.