In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther referred to this petition as the summary petition, reasoning that if God answers this petition, he will have answered all of them. When you think through what Jesus has taught us to pray for, that explanation makes a lot of sense. What is it that keeps God’s name from being hallowed, his kingdom from coming, and his will from being done on earth as it is in heaven? What causes poverty and famine and creates our daily necessity for things as basic as bread, water and shelter? What hardens hearts so that we stubbornly refuse to ask for the forgiveness God freely offers through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice? What makes us so ungrateful for God’s forgiveness that we refuse to forgive those who sin against us? What is it that tempts us to sin against God and one another? The answer is of course: evil. So according to Luther’s way of thinking, if God answers this petition, he will have answered them all. And that’s really the point of everything we could ever pray for, isn’t it – that God would deliver us from evil. Praying this petition means asking God to teach us to correctly identify the source of evil and then to trust Jesus as the only one who can deliver us from evil.
After two long weeks, the conventions have wrapped up, the candidates have been chosen and have spoken. If you listen to political commentators, the one thing the conventions proved beyond question is that our country is deeply divided. Do Republicans and Democrats have anything in common? Can they agree on anything? I suggest that yes, Republicans and Democrats do have something in common, they can agree on something, and I think it came out pretty clearly in the acceptance speeches. Both candidates agree that our nation and our world are facing a crisis of evil. What that evil is and how to deal with it – that’s another story.
And perhaps that disparity points to a larger problem in our society and our world. Whether it comes from the podiums at political conventions or in our discussions around the kitchen table, what is the focus of most of the talk about evil? Isn’t it on the weapons and ideologies behind violent attacks and all the symptoms and side-effects of evil in our world? The presidential candidates laid out their visions to defeat terrorism, racism, poverty, income inequality and war. We talk about the evil of pollution and pornography and political corruption and pedophilia and potholes. But we no longer seem to be willing to say that these are only the symptoms of something much deeper. We accuse hate speech and inanimate objects of being evil, we blame bad leadership or hard circumstances for evil actions. And through it all we have forgotten how to call evil, evil.
And so instead of focusing on the source, we attack the symptoms – and nothing gets solved. The examples are countless. The problem is terrorism. One side demands that we take the war to the terrorist’s homes and hit them where it hurts. The other suggests that we stop attacking our enemies and try to convince them that we really want to be their friends. What have both sides failed to do? Stop terrorism. The problem is violence on our streets. One side claims that taking away guns and spending money on education will stop it. The other claims that a well-armed citizenry and the physical education of prison will prevent it. What have both sides failed to solve? Violence in the streets. At home, we worry about finances and the future, children misbehave and spouses betray each other. Among the solutions offered are better budgeting, firmer discipline and stronger communication. Has anything actually been solved? Finally, we all deal with the fact that our bodies are breaking down or already broken and that eventually disease or an accident or one of a thousand other causes will end our time on this earth. Everyone agrees that death is evil, right? But what’s the solution? A healthier diet, more exercise, better medicine, the fountain of youth? None of the solutions humanity has ever proposed has solved the problem of evil, because human solutions attack the symptoms while failing to address the source.
Now, for the unbelieving world, that’s understandable. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14) The world writes off things the Bible identifies as evil: original sin, rejection of God’s Word and rebellion against God’s will, evil human desires and the devil, as either ‘superstition’ or relics from an ancient, unenlightened, ignorant period in history. It shouldn’t surprise us that the worlds’ attempts to stamp out evil focus only on the symptoms, for they have neither the understanding nor the tools to do anything about the root cause of it all.
But Jesus does. And so he doesn’t teach us to pray for deliverance from the symptoms of evil, but from evil itself. While the NIV reads deliver us from the evil one, the Greek is better translated simply evil. Satan is certainly one source of evil. Paul revealed that to the Ephesians: our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12) But Satan is not the sole source of evil. Jesus told his disciples out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:19) All of the evil we see in our world, evil of body and soul, property and reputation can be traced to two sources: Satan himself and the place he rules in this world: the human heart.
Ok, so now that we’ve recognized the root of evil, we can fix it, right? One man tried to do this the world’s way: through policies and laws. This man learned from the best Bible teachers of his time. He knew his Old Testament forwards and backwards. He even subscribed to and obeyed 613 additional rules God hadn’t given. If anyone could fix the problem of evil, it was this man. And yet, do you know what Paul confessed after God had opened his eyes to the truth? I know that nothing good lives in me…for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-24) So no, not even Christians can solve the problem of evil in our world – even though once again this election cycle many churches will use our political system to try – because we are captive to evil just as much as terrorists and cop killers. Not only can we not save the world, we can’t even save ourselves.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray help us fix the symptoms of evil or give us laws that will prevent evil but [Father] deliver us from evil. That little word ‘deliver’ is a very big theme in the pages of Scripture, and the Bible is filled with stories of the deliverance of men, women, and children from the clutches of evil. Satan robbed Job of his family, wealth and health. God delivered him from his loss and pain and blessed him with twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:12) Around 1500 BC the Israelites cried out for deliverance from Egypt, where they were enslaved, persecuted for their faith, and forced to execute their baby boys. The Lord heard their prayer and sent Moses to deliver them. The book of Judges tells of how time after time God’s people rebelliously assimilated to the evil culture in which they lived until they realized that they had fallen for a lie and cry out for deliverance. In fact, you could summarize the entire book in just two phrases: [Israel] cried out to the Lord and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer. (Judges 3:9) Three men in the fiery furnace. Daniel in the lion’s den. The disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee. We could go on.
The important thing to understand is that all of these mini-rescue stories are just chapters in God’s blockbuster tale of deliverance for all mankind. The proper way to read the Bible, especially the OT, is to see each small rescue story as a shadow of the final deliverance that Jesus Christ began on Christmas Day and will complete on the Last Day. This was what Jesus meant when he told the Pharisees: you diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me. (John 5:39) And Jesus did exactly what God sent him to do. As he was hanging on the cross that word ‘deliver’ came up again as people passed by him and mocked him, saying: he trusts in God. Let God deliver him now, if he desires him. (Matthew 27:43 ESV) This was the one time in history that God didn’t deliver. God didn’t deliver his Son from evil. Or, more accurately, God did deliver his Son - right into the hands of evil. God loved us so much that he delivered His Son, not just into an evil world, an evil culture or an evil set of circumstances. He delivered Jesus to the soul and source of evil.
That’s the heart of the gospel: God delivered his Son into evil to deliver us from evil. Satan is skilled at confusing this message, so we need to be very clear on this: God did not send Jesus to rid the world of poverty or to solve street violence, he didn’t come to protect us from terrorists or to help children behave and spouses to communicate. Those are only symptoms. Jesus came into the world to get to the root of evil and tear it out. He came to seize the neck of the evil one and break it. On the cross, the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24) entered into the inner sanctum of all that is unholy, the source of all suffering and pain and even death itself – and he destroyed Satan’s grip on this world and our hearts by swallowing up the source of his power: sin. And having defeated the Prince of Evil, he continues to plunder Satan’s kingdom – not with guns or laws or elections – but by shining the light of his mercy and forgiveness into the dark depths of human hearts like ours. Politicians may give compelling arguments for why you should trust them to fix the symptoms of evil in our nation and world, but there’s only one person to trust for deliverance from evil – the One who entered the heart of darkness and lived to tell about it.
Then why do we still face the symptoms of evil wherever we turn? Satan, though defeated, continues to reign in this world and rule human hearts. (Revelation 20) But as Jesus frees human souls from Satan’s kingdom he also delivers us from the symptoms of evil. The Bible tells us that He does this in one of three ways. 1) He may keep evil away from us. If you have never been a victim of poverty or terrorism or disease – God has delivered you from evil. 2) He may allow evil to come and use it for our good. Think of Joseph and Job. Think of the crisis God used to strengthen your faith by bringing you back to his Word. In those ways – he delivers you from evil. 3) And finally, because this world will never be free from evil, look forward to closing your eyes for the last time, when God will deliver you from this world to himself in heaven – that is God’s final answer to this petition, the answer every Christian longs for. Until that day, don’t despair because evil seems to be prevailing and don’t become distracted by the world’s promises of deliverance. Instead, pray: Our Father in heaven…deliver us from evil. Believe that Jesus has delivered you from the Evil One through the water of Baptism and trust his promise to deliver you through all evil in this world to his side in heaven.
Most people – even Republicans and Democrats – agree that we are facing a crisis of evil in our nation and our world. But because the unbelieving world is spiritually blind and cannot identify the true source of evil, the best it can ever do is try to fix some of the symptoms. (Which, when it comes to government is fine, because that’s exactly what God created government to do.) In this summary petition, we not only learn how to correctly identify where evil comes from, but also to trust the only one who can truly deliver us from evil. Who is this? we will sing in moments, Jesus Christ it is, the almighty Lord. And there’s no other God; he holds the field forever. (CW 200:2) Amen.