Summary: Sermon on the Seventh Petition of the Lord's Prayer: Deliver Us from Evil.
Have you ever dialled 911 by mistake? I have. When I realized it I hung up quickly – hands sweaty, heart thumping sure fire trucks were going to show up on my front doorstep followed by a police car to haul me away when they realized there was no emergency. It’s nice to know that we can dial 911 when we need help but it’s important to remember that we’re only to dial that number in a real emergency otherwise those who truly need help might not receive it in a timely manner.
Although we should be somewhat hesitant to dial 911 lest we abuse that resource, God doesn’t want us to treat his promise of help in the same way. Turning to God in prayer is not to be a last resort; it should be the very first thing that we do when faced with a challenge no matter what it is. We need God’s help daily because we are weak both physically and spiritually. The last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “But deliver us from evil,” reminds us of this truth. In fact if you’re in the habit of praying the Lord’s Prayer every day, then you’re dialing 911 daily when you speak the Seventh Petition. That’s OK. In fact this is what Jesus wants. Let’s find out why.
The traditional translation of the Seventh Petition, “Deliver us from evil,” strikes me as a little weak. Rather than “Deliver us…” we could pray: “Rescue us from evil.” I like that better because it reminds me that there is a sense of urgency in what I am praying. I’m dialing 911, not Little Caesar’s Pizza, because I’m in real danger, not because I’m kinda hungry.
What is the danger we face? Evil. The greatest evil is my own sin and how I often brush it off like it’s a bit of dandruff – embarrassing but hardly dangerous. Our sins, however, aren’t brushed away so easily. Our thoughtless words pierce hearts and rip a hole that’s not so quickly healed. Quips like: “You’re just like your mother!” “If you wouldn’t be so out of shape…” “You didn’t know that?!?” might have been offered in jest, at least that’s what we tell ourselves, but they can hardly be described as loving words that encourage. Instead they tear down like a tsunami flattening everything in its path. If left to ourselves, we would ruin all our relationships. We’ve got a real emergency here!
Thankfully in his mercy God invites us to turn to him for saving. But do you see what you’re confessing about yourself when you pray, “Rescue us from evil”? You’re admitting that you are weak. You’re declaring that you have a problem you cannot fix. Don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer if you don’t believe this. Otherwise you’re just going to add the sin of hypocrisy on top of whatever other sins you are guilty of. Let me say it again. Don’t offer this petition if you think that you’re a decent person who doesn’t need to be rescued but only given a few pointers from God on how to live. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a strong Christian is not someone who has his act together; it’s someone who realizes that he is not the strong man others think he is. A strong Christian is someone who cries out daily, “Lord, rescue me from my evil!”
The fact that we cannot save ourselves is borne out in how God accomplished his rescue of sinners. He sent his Son who was born as Jesus 2,000 years ago – long before you could help him with his mission. Indeed, even Jesus’ Twelve Disciples were of no help. They ran when Jesus was arrested leaving him alone to face the Chief Priests and Pilate. And no one came to Jesus’ help when he carried his cross to Golgotha. Where was the couple for whom Jesus had provided wine at their wedding? Couldn’t they have at least given Jesus a cooling sip of water? Where were the lepers Jesus had healed? Why weren’t they lining the road to encourage their savior? Where was Jairus whose daughter Jesus had raised to life? Where was the Roman centurion whose servant Jesus had healed? Couldn’t these men have offered to lighten Jesus’ load by carrying the cross? Of course Simon of Cyrene did that but only because he was forced to by the Roman soldiers who just wanted to get the crucifixion over with. Like the mother who bravely rushes back into the burning building to save her children because no one else will, Jesus faced the fires of hell on his own with no help from us or his heavenly Father for that matter. But mark this well, Jesus didn’t just risk his life; he gave up his life to rescue rebellious sinners. A mother might bolt into her burning house to save her children but she wouldn’t risk her life to save the arsonist who had set the fire. Jesus did.