|Good Friday 4/6/12
Deliver Us from Evil
Goal: That the hearers would pray for God to deliver them from evil.
Death constitutes a cold, hard reality, especially death by crucifixion. Roman soldiers carried out their crucifixion duties with grim efficiency. This method of execution inflicted upon its victims a maximum of pain, left them with a minimum of dignity, and, of course, it killed them.
The death of Jesus stands out as a particularly cold and hard reality. Of course, He suffered all the physical pain that any crucified man would endure. In addition, though, Jesus was dying as the Lamb of God. He bore the sin of the world (John 1:29). It got to the point where He even cried out that God had forsaken Him (Matthew 27:46), so that Jesus experienced the torments of Hell while He hung on the cross. His death was a cold, hard reality, all right, down to His very last words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
The same Jesus taught us to pray, “But deliver us from evil.” The catechism says that this petition asks “that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously taken us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.” It’s a big and all-embracing prayer, to be sure, yet quite straightforward, to the point, and real. “DELIVER US FROM EVIL” IS THOROUGHLY REAL.
Don’t you find it remarkable, then, to what degree sentimentality has become attached not only to prayer but also to the death of Christ? The Lord’s Prayer itself has been printed, embroidered, or cross-stitched as much as any greeting card slogan. Now, it is wonderful for the Lord’s Prayer to be displayed – so long as we take it straight, without any tears of sentiment watering it down.
Sentimentality can even strike when Jesus Christ is “publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). For example, in the old Lutheran Hymnal the great Lenten hymn “O Sacred Head” included the absurd line: “O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see, beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee” (TLH 172:7). There is sentimentality for you! By the way, this stanza does not appear in the Lutheran Service Book.
The modern world has made even closer associations between religion on one hand and sentiment and emotion on the other hand. From deep feeling, people thought, springs deep religious conviction. Still today many hold that religion goes with emotion like two peas in a pod, and that feelings are just about sacrosanct when it comes to the religious realm. Feelings often govern everything from how people read the Bible to how they conduct themselves both in public and in private. So far as a lot of folks are concerned, emotion and sentiment have shown themselves to be God’s best allies in this world, far more potent than dry and dull facts.
Over the years, however, conceiving of religion as feeling has led people to lose the reality of God. For they found that you could keep the sort of emotions that had come to be associated with God even if you had no use for God Himself. How many times have we seen something like that in this sermon series, when modern Christians seized upon something seemingly relevant that they thought God could do for them – tonight, we are talking about making us feel good – only to discover that they could get that sort of help elsewhere? So let’s ask: what substitutes have you made for the Lord God in an effort to feel good about one thing or another?
This amounts to the sad story of modern unbelief. None of us stands immune. All of us must repent. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer to fight such unbelief. Nowhere does this battle rage more than in the prayer’s summary petition. “Deliver us from evil” is thoroughly real.
It’s as real as Christ’s own similar prayer from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He said this right before He died. What He said was not a feeling or a wish, though. Jesus was stating a fact. This was real.
For His part, God the Father was not merely going to feel good about Jesus or wish Him well in some vague way. He was going to receive Jesus, accept His sacrifice and raise Him from the dead. Christ had been “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9). This is real.
It gives us the reason for being here tonight, and the reason why we will be here again on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. We can celebrate and, yes, even get emotional about what our Lord has done. Yet what He did is way different from any mere feeling. It forms the greatest reality in heaven and earth. This reality is sung in the book of Revelation: “Worthy are you [O Christ]… for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God” (Revelation 5:9).
We take refuge in this God-made reality when we pray, “But deliver us from evil.” The world remains an evil place where “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He especially targets Christians. Yet we have on our side the crucified and risen Christ. I remind you of a passage that Pastor quoted when this series began, on Ash Wednesday: “If God is for us, who can be against us?... It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:31, 33-34). It remains thoroughly realistic for you to expect that He will answer your prayer for a blessed end. He commanded you to pray this prayer, and He promised to hear you.
For Christ has transformed the coldest, hardest reality into the brightest and most blessed one. By His death He destroyed death, and He has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). He has brought you into this new creation by the power of His word. Jesus Himself taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, including its culminating petition. Because of Him and His work, “Deliver us from evil” is thoroughly real.