But Deliver Us From Evil

But deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13b

Why does God allow bad things to happen? How many of us have heard bad news about a friend and said, “There but for the grace of God go I?” I have said that to myself many times - and so have you. It’s perfectly true that we can all take a lesson from the mistakes of others - and if we don’t, we may find ourselves wishing we had. As John Newton put it in his hymn “Amazing Grace,” there are many “dangers, toils and snares” on the road from earth to heaven. It is only the grace of God that keeps any of us safe along the way.

That brings us to the second half of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.” The word “deliver” is very strong. It means to rescue or to snatch. To deliver from what? From “evil”. When this particular Greek verb is used with this particular preposition it almost always means to rescue from a specific person, not from an abstract idea or thing like evil. And as we have already seen, in Matthew 4, Jesus was personally tempted by the devil himself. In this context, then, I think our Lord Jesus is warning his disciples not just of evil in general, but also of the arch-enemy of the believer-of Satan himself, of the devil and his power. Therefore, we can understand this petition this way: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us, snatch us, save us, from Satan and his evil schemes against us.”

By this prayer you ought to write down I Peter 5:8, "Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” Seen in that light, the second half of this petition is easy to understand. “O God, don’t let Satan loose on me. O God, rescue me from Satan and his marauding power and his destructive force in my life.” It’s a very personal prayer. “O God, when Satan comes near me, protect me from his power.” When you put the first half of the petition together with the second half, you get an answer something like this. This petition is really a confession of our spiritual weakness. It’s a prayer of those who feel their vulnerability in the face of Satan and all his attacks. When we pray this prayer, we are saying, “O Heavenly Father, don’t let me come to the place where I will succumb to temptation. Don’t let me come to the place where I will be overwhelmed by Satan, but deliver me from Satan and his power in my life."

When you pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” you are expressing your own weakness in the face of the trials and difficulties of life. You are saying, “Lord, by myself I cannot make it. By myself I can’t do it.” When you pray, “But deliver us from evil,” you declare your confidence in God’s mighty power. The first half is your weakness. The second half is God’s power.

Now to say it like that is to raise one more question. Is this a prayer for cowards? Is this a prayer for people who are too frightened to do spiritual warfare? Let me answer that by asking a question in return. Was Jesus a coward? The answer of course is no. But Matthew 26 says that in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he was crucified, the Son of God knelt and begged God for the cup to pass away from him. The Bible says he prayed with loud cries and tears to God to be delivered from that which was before him. He was the Son of God, yet in the moment of his trial he did not boast of his power. He didn’t say, “O God, I’m ready to go. O God, I’m strong. I’ll crawl up on that cross and die.” On the night before it happened, he cried out to God for help.

The victory of Calvary was won on Thursday night. The battle was won before Judas ever planted his betrayer’s kiss. The battle was won before a spike was ever nailed in the hands of Jesus. The battle was won when he prayed.

Jesus did not fail in his testing because he did not fail in his praying.

That thought deserves our careful attention. Our Lord Jesus did not fail in his testing because he did not fail in his praying. The conclusion is obvious. If our Lord needed to pray this way, how much more do we? If he needed to pray, how much more do we need to cry out in the face of the things that are before us?

Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. We pick up the story in Luke 22:39. "And going out, he went, according to his custom, to the mount of Olives. And his disciples also followed him. And when he was come to the place, he said to them: Pray, lest ye enter into temptation.’” Then he went off and prayed earnestly to God and came back and found them asleep. Verse 46 says, "And he said to them: Why sleep you? arise, pray, lest you enter into temptation." These verses explain Matthew 6:13. In the moment of crisis Jesus passed the test because he did not fail to pray. Jesus’ word to his disciples and his word to us is simple: Before you face what the world has to offer and before you go to do battle with Satan, make sure that you have prayed. Pray that you may not fall into temptation. In the words of one writer, “The battle is half-won if you want to avoid temptation enough to beg God to help you.” When you pray, you are admitting your weakness. When you don’t pray, it’s usually because you don’t take temptation seriously.

This petition is a warning against being cock-sure. It’s a warning against taking our own strength for granted. When the soldier goes out to do battle, is it not better if he is a little bit afraid? Is it not true that a little fear can keep a soldier alive on the battlefield? The presumptuous soldier who rushes off to battle is the one most likely to be killed in combat. Suppose we flip this petition over and view it from the other side. Suppose someone were to pray, “Go ahead, Lord. Let me have it. I can handle temptation. I’m strong. I’m ready. I can take whatever Satan throws at me.” Such a person is headed for a rude awakening. They are defeated before they step on the battlefield because they have taken their adversary too lightly.

A little fear is a very healthy thing. Jesus is saying, “You’re too weak to face the devil on your own so don’t even try. You’re weak but God is strong. You in your own strength are no match for Satan.” Yet when you are in the motel room and you are by yourself, if you are trusting in your own strength, you’ll go over and push that button and then you’ll curse yourself afterwards for having done it. You’ll be defeated every time. A little fear is a healthy motivation when you’re fighting against a super-human adversary.

This petition, which on the surface seems so simple, is actually very profound. It’s a prescription for the spiritual life. It’s a measure of your spiritual health. Do you pray this prayer? Jesus said, “Thus therefore shall you pray... lead us not into temptation."-a confession of your own weakness- "But deliver us from evil." -a confession of your profound confidence in God and his power. When you pray this way you will find that no matter what happens to you, you will be delivered. You will not be defeated. You will not fall.

God will take you into the temptation. God will take you through it. And no matter how difficult, God will bring you out of it.

When all is said and done, this petition forcibly reminds us of how weak we really are. Without the Lord’s help, we’re in big trouble every moment of every day. We are sitting ducks for the flaming darts of the devil. Unless the Lord helps us, we will not only face temptation, we will succumb to it every single time. The words of Jesus to Peter seem to go hand in hand with this petition. At the Last Supper, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him, and he also predicted that Peter would not be utterly destroyed. He would be tempted, would fall, and would eventually be restored by the Lord. “And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31). Three times Jesus calls his name as if to reassure him that even in the midst of his greatest humiliation, the Lord would be with him every step of the way. The words of Christ tie both meanings of “temptation” together. Satan wants something from us in the moment of temptation, and so does God! The one would destroy us and the other wants to deliver us. In this case Satan’s temporary victory in Peter’s life leads to a much greater victory for God in the end. So it is for us as well. Our defeats, bitter as they are, can lead on to great spiritual victories.

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat" The word translated “desired” in the Greek means “to ask from, demand of.” The English word, at the time of the translation means “Wished for; coveted; requested; entreated.” Satan set his eyes on Peter and determined to bring him down by any means possible. I find it comforting that Satan must ask God’s permission before touching any of his children. Sometimes Christians become frozen in fear because they have given Satan too much credit. Sometimes we talk as if Satan were a kind of “Junior God,” almost God but not quite, as if he has, say, 90% of God’s power, 90% of his wisdom, and so on. But that is quite different from the biblical picture. Satan is always revealed as a creature of great power and cunning who is nevertheless first and always a created being. He has no power independent of God. He can only do what God permits him to do. The Devil has been described as “God’s devil.” or “God’s lapdog.” Surely this is more biblical than viewing him as some evil force equal with God. If he is God’s equal, he wouldn’t have to ask permission before attacking Peter.

I should note also that the “you” in this verse is plural. Satan wanted to destroy all the apostles but he specifically targeted Peter. This makes sense when you think about it.

Satan goes after spiritual leaders. He starts at the top because if he can knock off the leader, others will no doubt fall in short order.

That’s why the devil goes after Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, Priest, Leaders, and Parents. His desire is to “sift” God’s people by putting them under such pressure that they will give way and their faith be proved fake. If that is the case, why would God permit his children to be put in such a bad position? Precisely so that he can prove that even under severe pressure, we can survive if we depend upon his grace. In Peter’s case that meant actually falling into sin and being restored later.

Satan often attacks us at the point of our perceived strength, not at the point of our weakness.

After all, had not Peter boldly said, “Although all shall be scandalized in thee, yet not I” (Mark 14:29)? If you had asked Peter six hours earlier to name his strong points, no doubt he would have listed boldness and courage right at the top. He would have said, “Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth, but at least I’m not afraid to speak up. Jesus knows that I’ll always be there when he needs me.” But when Satan attacked, it came so suddenly, so swiftly, so unexpectedly that the “bold apostle turned to butter.” By himself Peter is helpless. In the moment of crisis, Peter failed at the very point where he pledged to be eternally faithful.

Should this surprise us? After all, why should Satan attack only at the point of your self-perceived weakness? If you know you have a weakness, that’s the very area you will guard most carefully. If you know you have a problem with anger or with laziness or with lust or with gluttony, will you not be on your guard lest you fall? But it is not so with your strengths. You tend to take those areas for granted. You say, “That’s not a problem for me. I have other problems, but that area is not really a temptation at all.”

Watch out! Put up the red flag! There is danger ahead. When a person takes any area of life for granted, that’s the one area Satan is most likely to attack. Why? Because that’s the one area where you aren’t watching for his attack.

It happened to Peter. It will happen to you and to me sooner or later.

“But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke 22:32) These simple words contain amazing sources of truth. First, they tell us that Christ knew in advance everything that Peter was about to do. He knew about the denials, the cursing, the repeated lies Peter was about to tell, and he knew about the bitter tears he would shed when he saw Christ taken away in judgment. Even more than that, he knew that one day Peter would become a mighty preacher of the gospel. He saw it all-the pride, the reckless boasting, the shameful denials, the broken heart, and the deep repentance, and the new resolve to serve the Lord. He saw it all before any of it had happened. He saw it before Peter knew anything about it.

Second, Christ’s response to Peter’s fall is to pray for him. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Christ is “always living to make intercession for us.” And it is because of his intercession “He is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him” In a deep sense our salvation depends on the moment-by-moment intercession of Jesus for his people. What an awesome thought-that the Son of God intercedes for us. Without His intercession we would never make it.

Third, Christ does not pray for Peter to be removed from temptation. Instead, he prays that in the midst of his denial “that his faith fail not.” What a revelation this is of God’s purposes for you and me. This explains so much about why we go through hard times. Many times God intends that we should face the truth of our own personal failures so that our trust might be in the Lord alone.

Don’t miss two encouraging facts about the way Jesus treated Peter:

  1. He never criticized him.

  2. He never gave up on him.

Jesus knew about Peter’s denial long before it happened. He knew what Peter would do, he knew how he would react, and he knew the kind of man Peter would be afterward. That’s why he said, “and thou, being once converted” Not if ... but when! He knew that Peter’s heart was good, he knew after his terrible sin he would return to the Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? Jesus knew that Peter had important work to do-"confirm thy brethren"-but it couldn’t happen without his fall and his restoration to the Lord. It had to happen that way or else Peter would never be fully effective for Christ.

There is an important principle at work here. A bone that is broken often becomes stronger after it is healed. Something in the healing process actually makes the break point stronger than it was before. The same is true of a rope that breaks. In the hands of a master splicer, the rope once repaired becomes stronger than it was before. The same thing is true of our failures.

God can touch our broken places and make us stronger than we were before.

Though we fall and fall and fall, and though our faces are covered with the muck and grime of bitter defeat, by God’s grace we can rise from the field of defeat to march on to new victory. That’s what happened to Peter. His guilt was turned into grace; his shame into sympathy; his failure into faithfulness.

Never again would Peter brag on himself like he did that night. Never again would he presume to be better than his brothers. Never again would he be so cocky and self-confident. All that was gone forever, part of the price Peter paid for his failure in the moment of crisis. It is a good thing that the Lord allows this to happen to us. By falling flat on our faces we are forced to admit that without the Lord we can do nothing but fail. The quicker we learn that (and we never learn it completely), the better off we will be. Failure never seems to be a good thing when it happens, but if failure strips away our cocky self-confidence, then failure is ultimately a gift from God.

As we grow in Christ, most of us come to the place where we think there are some sins we just won’t commit. Maybe we don’t say it out loud, but in our hearts we think, ‘I would never do that.’ but God will sometimes let you fail in the moment of crisis and in so doing, he shows you a part of yourself you had never seen before.

That’s what he did for Peter. Never again would Peter stand up and boast about his courage. In the future he would talk about humility instead.

I have already noted that Jesus knew about Peter’s fall, and even predicted it, but he never tried to prevent it. This raises an interesting question. If God knows about our failures even before we fail, why doesn’t he stop us? Why does he let us go headlong over the cliff? Here are three possible answers.

a) To show us the depth of our sin. As long as we stand on top of the cliff, we can brag about our goodness, but when we are lying at the bottom, bruised and broken, we are forced to admit the truth about ourselves.

b) To purge us from pride. I don’t think Peter ever forgot that sad night when he denied the Lord. Never again would he boastfully claim to be more courageous than the other apostles. So it is with all of us. Our failures are like Jacob’s limp. They serve as a perpetual reminder and a guard against overwhelming pride.

c) To prepare us for greater work we must do. In some way we can’t fully understand, Peter had to fall so that God could raise him back up again. The falling part was Peter’s own doing, the raising up came by the gracious hand of the Lord. But there is no getting up without falling down first. Even so our failures qualify us to minister to others we could never otherwise reach. I have seen those once trapped by drug and alcohol addiction, sexual sin, and those who have served time in prison, who have experienced God’s grace greatly used to help others going through that same heartbreak. God uses our worst moments as preparation for work he has appointed for us.

God often uses broken people to accomplish great things.

If you doubt this, let’s do a roll call of broken saints:

Noah who got drunk
Abraham who lied about his wife
Jacob who was a deceiver
Moses who murdered an Egyptian
Rahab who was a harlot
David who was an adulterer
Paul who persecuted the Church
Peter who denied Christ

Here is an amazing thought to ponder: Peter did much more for Jesus Christ after his fall than he did before. Before his fall, he was loud, boisterous and unreliable; afterward he became a flaming preacher of the gospel. Before, he was a big talker; afterward, he talked only of what Jesus Christ could do for others. He was the same man, but he was different. He was still Peter through and through, but he had been sifted by Satan, and in the sifting the chaff of his life had been blown away. And he became a vessel ready to except the power of the Holy Spirit in his life starting on the day of Pentecost.

This is what Peter lost in his failure:

His vanity
His pride
His self-confidence
His rash impulsiveness
His unreliability

This is what Peter gained after his restoration:

New confidence in God
Tested courage
A new determination to serve Jesus Christ
A willingness to use his experience to help others

The things he lost he didn’t really need; the things he gained couldn’t have come any other way. In the same way God redeems our mistakes by removing the things that brought us down and replacing them with the qualities we always wanted but couldn’t seem to find.

There is much in this story to encourage us. It was not the real Peter who denied the Lord; it was the real Peter who followed him into the courtyard. It was not the real Peter who cursed and swore; it was the real Peter who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." When the Lord looks at you and me, he sees beyond our faults to the loyalty underneath. He sees our pain, our tears, and our earnest desire to please him. He sees us in our faltering attempts to follow him.

Let’s face it. We’re all broken people. Some of us just hide our brokenness better than others. There’s a little bit of Peter in all of us, and that’s why this story speaks on such a deep level

What should we learn from these words of Christ?

a) The value of humility. If Christ’s handpicked Number One man could deny him, then none of us can claim to be beyond temptation. Peter wasn’t a bad man, but he was weak and he didn’t realize how weak he was until it was too late. Humility is always in order. You’re not as hot as you think you are ... and neither am I.

b) The need for patience with each other. Sometimes we act surprised when our Christian friends disappoint us. Perhaps we should be surprised when they don’t. Certainly we’d all be happier if we lowered our expectations to a level consistent with reality. Even on our best days, we will still sin and disappoint ourselves and others. It behooves us all to cut each other a little bit of slack.

c) The magnificence of God’s grace. None of us really understands God’s grace. This is the hardest of all Christian doctrines to grasp because it goes against our deeply-felt need to prove ourselves worthy. Grace says, “You aren’t worthy but I love you anyway and desire to give you what you need to be victorious.” That’s hard to hear and hard to believe.

One friend said she found hope because like Peter she had made her share of mistakes. I replied that people with a past would find comfort in his story. As true as that is, it’s also true that we all have “a past” and therefore we stand in Peter’s shoes-greatly loved, capable of foolish choices, and yet redeemed and redeemable for service in the future. This is only possible by the grace of God. This means that the God who has forgiven our past sins through the sacrament of baptism and has forgiven us of our present sins through the sacrament of Confession, intends also to forgive our future confessed sins as well. What an awesome thought that is. You who read these words, take heart. You may be heading for a fall and you don’t know it yet. Take heart, the God who loves you enough to let you fall will himself pick you back up again.