Teach us to Pray Against the Devil
There are many evil things that could happen to us: Sickness, disaster, accident, tragedy. You'll worry yourself sick if you dwell on them all. All the bad things that might happen to you have one thing in common though. Behind them all is Satan, the devil. So in this last petition of the Lord's Prayer, the Lord Jesus doesn't just teach us to pray against evil, but literally, "the evil one," the devil himself. This, as we say in the explanation, is the summary petition. That means we are really praying against the devil when we ask the Father to hallow His name, to bring His kingdom, to do His will, to give us bread, to forgive our sins, and to lead us not into temptation. The devil doesn't want any of these things done. Not now, not ever.
The devil is prominent Maundy Thursday. We find him working right in Jesus' own backyard. The day before Luke 22:3 tells us, "Satan entered into Judas...and he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers [of the temple] how he might betray Jesus to them." In John's Gospel, the 13th chapter opens in the upper room, on Maundy Thursday. It makes a point to tell us in verse 2 that Jesus undertook the humiliating task of washing the disciples feet with the knowledge that "the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot...to betray Him."
The devil is very much on the prowl tonight. Jesus tells Peter in the upper room, "Satan has desired to sift you as wheat." Then after Jesus says the morsel is for the one who would betray him, Judas takes it and John says, "And after the morsel Satan entered into him." Later in the Garden, Jesus says this hour belongs to the power of darkness. Tonight is the devil's night. He stirs the disciples into a fit of pride in the upper room. He brings a spiritual malaise over them so they sleep rather than pray in Gethsemane. He leads them to depend on their puny little swords to fight off demonic evil, and moves them to deny the suffering Jesus and flee from Him. All the stories of ghosts and goblins, of the devil and the damned walking the earth, that popularly put on Halloween ought to be put on Maundy Thursday.
However, the devil is prominent on more than just tonight. He's prominent in our day to day lives too; otherwise, why would Jesus teach us to pray, "Deliver us from evil" as often as we are to pray for daily bread? Of course, your average American thinks that's nonsense. While 94% of Americans claim to believe in God, only 34% claim to believe in a personal devil. Terrorists, cancer, poverty, drugs, child abuse are the real enemies to most Americans. There's no devil prowling around the earth like a roaring lion seeking people to devour even though God says in I Peter 5 there is.
Luther is very realistic about this in the Large Catechism. In fact, even Lutherans are surprised at how real we confess the devil to be in our day to day lives: "[The devil] incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He crushes some and drives others to insanity; some he drowns in water, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes." Again in his Genesis lectures Luther says, The devil not only hates our souls...but he also hates our property, our dwelling place, our bodies, and other blessings of this present life."
Revelation pictures the devil on an endless pursuit of Christians as long as they live. Luther says that we would die from fright if we could see all the spears, daggers, and arrows the devil has aimed at us every minute of every day. There is not an evil of body or soul, possessions or reputation that the devil does not desire to bring upon you. No wonder we say in this petition that we live in a "valley of sorrow" or as the 1943 Catechism has it, "a vale of tears." The only wonder is that we are not crying every minute of every day so much evil does the evil one desire to bring on us and into our lives. If the devil could, he would give all of us cancer, break all of our necks in traffic accidents, induce all of us to commit suicide. You just don't see how powerful of an enemy the devil really is.
You know what Luther said in our Large Catechism when he got to the point of despairing over the power of the old evil foe? "Therefore, there is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray without ceasing against this archenemy. For if God did not support us, we wouldn't be safe from him for a single hour." The Father must deliver us: not our faith, not our determination, not our holiness, not even our praying. Our Father who is heaven must deliver us from the devil who prowls this earth.
Do note however when we pray this petition. The Lord Jesus places this last. Isn't that amazing? Isn't what the devil might do to you and yours first and foremost in your mind? It is in mine. I am tempted to pray this first, but the Lord places it last. That's because we are delivered from the evil one when God's name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done. Jesus defines deliverance from evil as being given daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and rescue from temptation. When these happen, and the Lord assures us they will, they do, and they are happening, then we are being delivered from the clutches of the evil one even when we find ourselves in a hospital bed, before a coffin, or at a crises.
Why can we be confident that the Lord does daily deliver us from the evil one, that He does reduce us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation? Because He did not rescue His only beloved Son from these things. Christ's Body is given over to beating, whipping, and nailing. His Blood is shed by sorrow and terror pressing it through His sweat glands in Gethsemane, by the whip that tore open His back, by the crown of thorns that bit into His head, by the nails that were pounded through his hands and feet, and finally by the spear shoved into His very heart.
But why is God the Son's holy Body and holy Blood given over to such brutalities? Why are the hands that never did wrong and the feet that never wandered punctured with nine inch nails? Why is the tongue that only spoke kind things split open with thirst? Why is the head that never had an untoward thought pierced with pointed thorns? Because of you, because of you, because of you! O the filthy things you have done with your hands! O the disgusting places you have gone with your feet. O the hateful things, the blasphemous things you have spoken with your tongue! O the raunchy, disgusting, lustful things you have thought in your head.
All of this sinfulness, all of this wretchedness had to be punished. Don't you see? Satan had a right to demand your body and soul. He had a right to bring cancer and crime, disease and death, punishment and pain on your body and blood because of your sinfulness. But God your Father in heaven gave up the Body of His Son and shed the Blood of His Son instead. God the Father placed all of your disgusting, shameful sins of thought, word and deed, on Jesus, and then exacted the punishment and payment for them from the holy Body and Blood of Jesus.
And now what? This night, the one on which He was betrayed for you, Christ gives you in this Holy Supper the same Body and Blood that He gave and shed on the cross. The Body and Blood He places here is a pledge, a token, a guarantee that you will never be given over by the Father to the devil for evil. No matter what you feel, what you see, what you think, the Father will not hand your body and blood over to the devil for evil because He already handed His Son's over in your place. Don't think the heavenly Father is worse than Wal-Mart. Once your bill is paid, not even Wal-Mart makes you pay twice. Christ already paid once for your sin and sinfulness by being delivered over to the devil's evil. The Father will not now or ever so deliver you.
But you still feel so absolutely wretched, don't you? Your sins of the hands, feet, mouth and head stain you, pollute you. How can such a foul and wicked body and blood as yours ever go to heaven? It can't; it won't. It will go back to the dust the Lord originally took it from. But from that dust the Lord will raise up a body made like His glorious, resurrected One. And He is beginning this transformation right now. One of the earliest names for Communion in the Church was "Medicine of Immortality." By His Body and Blood given to you to eat and drink, Christ is preparing your body and blood for immortal life with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. We don't just commune for today, we commune for all the tomorrows to come.
Did you catch the eternal nature of this last petition? We say that when we pray "deliver us from evil" we aren't just praying for the Father to rescue us from the evil that happens in this life, but, "finally when our last hour comes give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven." We are praying for the moment in time when we will breath our last, when we will cross over that river of death into eternity. It will come to us all, and when it does Satan will be raging against us bringing to our minds all the horrible sins we have ever done. He will act as if Christ did not give His Body or shed His Blood for our forgiveness. But the Body and Blood of Christ here present in the Holy Communion say different, and they speak louder than Satan does in our day to day life and in the hour of our death.
For this reason, the ancient Church called Holy Communion vi-at-icum. This Latin name came about from the normal custom of providing a meal for people going on a journey. Vi-at-icum literally meant, "Food for the journey." Among pagans the practice developed of providing fare for the journey after life. They placed a coin in the mouth of the deceased to pay the ferryman for passage across the river Styx. Christians called Communion vi-at-icum, but instead of placing a dead coin in a dead person's mouth, they placed the living Body and Blood of Christ, which is not only life but salvation, into the mouth of the living. They said as they did this, "May the Lord protect you and lead you to eternal life."
That's very similar to what we say in every Communion service, isn't it? "May this Body and this Blood strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting" we say. We're always communing with a view to everlasting life. We're always communing with a view to being finally delivered from this valley of sorrow to our Lord in heaven. The Body and Blood of Christ have not only paid for the journey, guaranteeing we will make it all the way through, but they deliver us from the evil one, the devil himself even now, even today.
The devil is a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He can devour us, but He can't devour the Body and Blood of Christ, can he? On Easter we will see that he has to spit Him back out. Having the Body and Blood of Christ in us, the devil can't devour us either. He must spit us out too. O he rages and threatens as if in death he has us once and for all. But he lies, as sure as the grave could not swallow Christ, so sure can it not swallow us who've been bodied and blooded together with Christ for life eternal. As Christ triumphed over the devil rubbing his nose in defeat, so we triumph in, with, and under this celebration called Holy Communion both in life and in death. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (3-28-02), 7th Petition