Every Day We Need to be Defended From Evil
The 1980s movie "Ghost Busters" opens with a man walking down the street narrowly missing being hit by a falling piano, stepping into an open manhole, and being struck by a bus. He's oblivious to these near misses, and you must be too otherwise each and every day you'd be praying "deliver us from evil." If you could see all the evils around you daily and the evil one whose goal is to hurt, harm, and damn you, you'd know you have need of daily defense and deliverance from evil.
First we need defense and deliverance from what we think is evil. Not everything we think evil is. In the Passion reading, it was evil to those passing by, the church leaders, and one of the criminals that Jesus didn't come down from the cross. To them it proved He was no king, no Savior, no Messiah, no Son of God. It was evil to Jesus' disciples too. Those who didn't come to the cross didn't think they were missing a good thing. Those at the cross, John, the Marys, and Salome, thought this was an evil end to a great beginning. They didn't go away from the crucifixion believing Jesus would rise. The women went away to bury Jesus properly and for good. John went away to hide in a locked room for fear of the Jews.
Not everything we think evil is. We're children in our knowledge of good and evil, fallen children. What child doesn't think vaccinations, shots, are a great evil? Trying explaining to a 2 year old why the doctor sticking him with a needle is a good thing. Try telling him about childhood diseases and how you're protecting him from those evils. You can talk till you're blue in the face, and your 2 year old will not believe a shot is anything but evil, yet he has it backwards, doesn't he?
Very often we think what is ugly is automatically evil. There's a cartoon depicting a pastor before the altar praying. A sheet with beautiful flowers on it is stretched across the front of the altar. Behind the sheet is an altar crucifix. The pastor is praying, "Deliver us from ugliness." Not everything beautiful is good and not everything ugly is evil. In some churches, you won't hear much talk of sin, damnation, or of mankind's wickedness. They are ugly, but it's not evil to talk about them. If you don't talk about such ugliness, you will never know the beauty of the crucified Christ who on the cross looked like this according to Isaiah, "His appearance was marred beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind."
It's easy for us to get turned around with beauty and ugliness and evil and goodness. That's why "deliver us from evil" needs to be constantly on our lips. Left to ourselves, we will get turned around. Left to ourselves we reverse the order of the Lord's Prayer. We pray as if deliverance from evil is the chief aim of the Lord's Prayer, and only if we get around to it do we think of asking for God's name to be hallowed, His kingdom to come, and His will to be done. We focus on getting rid of what we consider to be evil whether this hallows His name, serves His kingdom, or conforms to His will. Stop the pain; cure the sickness; deliver me from this situation that I consider evil regardless of your name, kingdom or will!
We need to be defended and delivered from what we think is evil and from what is truly evil. This is above all the Evil One, the Devil. This is how the original Greek has it. Not deliver us from evil in general but the Evil One in particular. In the Large Catechism we read, "[The Devil] often breaks men's necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and moves many to commit suicide and to many other terrible disasters."
Did you see the Evil One in the Passion reading? He's there. The same temptations he spoke in person to Jesus at the beginning of Lent, he speaks through others in Jesus' darkest hours. "If you are the Son of God" "God will rescue you if you are really His Son." "He can be our king as long as He doesn't stay on the cross." At the beginning of Lent, Scripture tells you that Satan only left off tempting Jesus till and opportune time. This is that time.
Do you remember the great lie the Evil One spoke at the first temptation? The kingdoms of the world belonged to him and he could give them to whoever he wanted. The great lie here is that the Evil One is in charge. He is the one who keeps Jesus nailed to the cross. He has the power to insult, ridicule, and kill Jesus. Jesus is at his mercy. O how we need to be delivered from this evilest of lies.
If the perfect, Son of God, was really at the mercy of the Evil One where does that leave us grossly imperfect sons and daughters? If it was because of Satan that Jesus suffered, sighed, bled and died, then where's the sacrifice for our sins? Jesus isn't a willingly Lamb led to the slaughter. He's a captured wild goat dying because Satan wanted to kill Him. Then what of that orphaned cry, "My God, My God why have You forsaken me?" If the answer is, because Satan caused it, then you have to, you must, fear that at any moment he will cause you, a sinful child of God, to be forsaken. The Devil is the arch-Evil One, but far more evil is it to believe you are at his mercy; that he can do to you whatever he wills; that you serve his kingdom; that you are his child rather than God's.
Yes, this petition is primarily directed against the Devil, and above all what we pray for is to be delivered from an evil death. An evil death is not necessarily a painful one, one after a long withering sickness, or even one at an early age. An evil death is one where we believe the cross, the pain, the illness, and the heartache are the end of the story. That's how the people who had gathered at the cross went away from it. They went away beating their breasts in sorrow, agony, and grief believing evil had won.
"Deliver us from evil," we pray and Jesus does; He defends us from evil by delivering us from the Evil One. I John twice assures us that we've overcome the Evil One. Then he tells us the truth we all can see that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. But he closes the letter by assuring us faith is the victory that overcomes the world.' Therefore, faith is also what overcomes the Evil One, an evil death, and the evil all about us.
Faith knows Jesus stayed under God's eternal wrath, not because Satan made Him but in order to drain the last drop of the cup of God's wrath. Faith believes that come what may: sickness, early death, agonizing life, we do not even taste the cup of God's wrath. No, we are given instead the cup of salvation; the medicine of the Blood of Jesus that gives immortality.
Jesus died with the believing word, "Father" on His lips not in the forlorn agony of being without mercy in the hands of a faceless God who had forsaken Him. Now we are to believe that we die this way even though we are sinners and have sins. We are to believe that since Jesus bore our forsakenness to pay for our sins we constantly bear His sonship. From our hearts comes the cry the Spirit gave us in our Baptism: "Abba, Father."
This is important. Jesus' death guarantees we can have that Spirit of sonship, of forgiveness, of salvation. The Passion reading translated, "He bowed His head and gave up His spirit" as if Jesus expired, breathed His last as we all will one day. This is not what the Greek says. It says Jesus gave "the Spirit." Matthew says literally "He sent the Spirit;' John, says "He handed over the Spirit." What else but the Spirit of God could tear down the temple barrier between God and men announcing the Old Testament was fulfilled? What but the Spirit of God could shake the earth and split rocks as God did before Elijah? What but the Spirit of God could raise the dead?
Jesus commends His spirit, His soul to His Father as we are to when we die. But He also gives and hands over the Spirit to us. Jesus will do this in a formal way on Pentecost. But be sure you see the connection between His death and you having the Spirit at death. Not a part of you at death will feel like it will live on, but Jesus has left to you His Spirit as a pledge and guarantee that you do. You are to believe by His Spirit, though your heart stops beating and your mind stops thinking, you don't stop living. You are not to listen to the Evil One who says your last hour has come and your end is not blessed. O yes it is. Jesus died as you should, a condemned sinner under the penalty of sin, so you might die as He did. Certain that you have a Father in heaven eager to receive your spirit.
The Evil One stops many of the good things we would do, and he makes painful any of the good we actually do, but He didn't stop Jesus, and ultimately He can't stop those in Jesus.
The Evil One gets in the way of us hallowing God's name, but he didn't stop Jesus, did he? God wished to put His name on the lives and lips of us sinful, fallen people. By suffering and dying for the sins of the world, Jesus enabled God to look down with mercy and compassion on a world full of sinners. This war between God and Man that the Evil one wants to keep raging Jesus declared to be finished once and for all.
The Evil One gets in the way of the kingdom coming among us. He silences our speaking of it. He makes us doubt the reality of it. But the Evil One didn't stop Jesus from bringing the kingdom. He sent His Spirit out to a fallen world. And even in the throes of death Jesus brought the kingdom to a miserable thief and to the centurion who crucified Him. If Jesus was able to bring the kingdom in death, how much more does He bring it in life?
The Evil One gets in the way of us doing the will of God, but He doesn't hinder Jesus from doing it. Even in the agony of death and damnation, Jesus did what we don't do in life and good times. He honored His mother. He saw to it that she would be taken care of. If in death, Jesus still saw to it that God's will was done, you can count on Him doing it in your life.
Friend, by teaching us to pray every day "deliver us from evil" Jesus tells us to believe that though we see the mountains of hardship, sadness, and sin looming high all around us, this is only a valley. The Evil One can't keep us in this valley of sorrow forever, or even for one minute longer than our Lord would have us stay. This valley of sorrow, pain, and tears is only temporary. Our Father one day will graciously take us from it to Himself in heaven. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Vespers VI (20060405); Lord's Prayer VII