Sermon: Trials and Evil

This morning we reach the end of the Lord’s Prayer, but not the end of our praying. As we have journeyed this fall through the Lord’s prayer, we have seen how praying it bends us toward God in a way we would not have otherwise. We saw the heart of the gospel in the opening ‘our Father’ and were sent longing for the Lord’s name, his kingdom, and his will to be done as in heaven, so also on earth.  We prayed for our bellies to be filled, but even more for our hearts to be filled with the goodness of the Lord. And we prayed for our deepest and most profound need – forgiveness – even as we heard the call to offer forgiveness to others.

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, in Matthew 6:9-13, ends with trials and evil. It ends with a prayer for rescue. In doing so, we are taught what to expect, where to go, and how this ending might not quite be the end. It’s Matthew 6:9-13, but before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Lord, thank you for your Word. Thank you for your presence and the opportunity to come and hear you speak to us. Open our eyes, our hearts, and our ears to you. Put your word in my heart and anoint my lips to speak good news to your people this morning. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s Word. Just as we stand when the bride arrives and when the judge enters the courtroom, when we hear God’s Word read, we come into the presence of our gracious judge and loving bridegroom, so we stand to hear his words. So, listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven,

give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors,

and do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)

I drove to Hamilton for the first time this week. I parked a couple blocks away from Juravinski Hospital and took the short walk in the rain. Through the main entrance, a quick left and down the long hallways to the E wing. Up to the second floor and in room 18 was Marian Van Nieuwenhuizen. Marian had been having a trying time. Hip replacement gone awry, nerve damage, pain, and little to no news from the doctors on her recovery. So I sat down on the chair opposite her. “How are you doing, Marian?” In her way, which is both beautiful and touching, Marian was far more concerned about everyone else than her own struggles. As we talked I heard from her what the saints through the ages have come to see, “People wonder how I can go through so many trials and still have faith. I say, ‘I don’t know how I would come through such trials without faith.’”

Trials and Evil. This is how the Lord’s Prayer ends – struggling with trials and evil. It is not the cheery ending we might have hoped for in the pattern prayer for the Christian life. Even after we seek the face of God – directing our prayers and our lives toward the Lord’s name, the Lord’s kingdom, and the Lord’s glory. Even after our bodies have been fed by daily bread and hearts taught to hunger for God. Even after we have drunk deeply of the forgiveness of our sins and poured it out for others, we still need rescue. We face trials and evil.

We might have hoped that, in coming to faith, our life would get easier. We might have hoped that, once we trust in Jesus, the struggles and trials and temptations that bear down on us would vanish. We might have hoped that the fearful struggle would be in the rearview mirror.

But Jesus does not teach us to expect this. Instead, we are to expect to face trials and expect to confront evil. Jesus himself did. Immediately after his own baptism by John in the Jordan we are told Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights in preparation. The tempter came and tempted him to use his power for himself, to use his power to cut corners around his mission. If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. But Jesus rebuffs him with a word from Deuteronomy. The devil then tempts Jesus to prove his relationship with the Father by throwing himself from the top of the temple so the angels will catch him. Again, Jesus rebuffs him with a word. Lastly, the devil promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would bow down and worship him. Again, Jesus rebuked the devil and sent him away. At the very beginning of his ministry, there are trials and temptations. This anointing of the Spirit he received at baptism did not lead Jesus away from trials and let him pass them by, but led him directly into the conflict, into the trials.

When Jesus teaches us to pray, “Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one’ or, as you might know it, ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ – when Jesus teaches us to pray this way, he teaches us to expect that there will be trials, but to pray for deliverance.

Christians are those who ask to be saved. Christianity is not the key to your best life now, but will thrust you into a drama, an adventure, a journey that is good, true, and beautiful, but also fraught with peril. To be in Christ is to be rescued, to be delivered from the evil one and “the forces of evil do not relinquish their territory without a fight and, in being saved, God’s newly won territory is you.” “You become a virtual battleground where the living God fights.”

Life may, for a season, become more challenging, not less, if you take up the mantle of faith in Christ. For centuries, Christians have experienced that, alongside the joy, the freedom, the hope, and the strength that comes from being in Christ, there is also immense struggle. Christ has come to redeem you and filled you with his Spirit. That favorite sinful habit of yours is not going to give up without a fight. That social group that leads you into poor decisions will not take your following Jesus as a welcome development. This world that Christ came to redeem and is, in fact, redeeming is filled with forces that will resist the saving work of Christ.

This is why we are taught to pray ‘Do not bring us to the time of trial’ or ‘lead us not into temptation,’ but that we would be rescued and delivered. We pray that we would not be vulnerable to those powers that rage against God’s kingdom.

Trials and Evil. We are taught to expect this. We should not be surprised when it gets hard to follow Jesus, when we would rather do something else, when it is tempting to just let it all slide and just try to enjoy life a little. We should not be surprised.

But we are taught to pray, “Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” Trials will come, but we ask that God would sustain us and protect us in them, to keep us from falling. Evil will fight, but we ask that God would rescue us from its grasp.

Not only did Jesus face temptations at the beginning of his ministry, right after his baptism, but he faced it again in the last days before his crucifixion. Every time Jesus faced evil, he named it for what it was and proclaimed the reality of the kingdom of God. At his word, devils fled, the sick were made well, the blind saw, and even Lazarus was brought from death to life. Jesus was victorious again and again and again, but it only sparked greater resistance, greater conflict. On his last night, after eating the Passover with his disciples, Jesus knew where all this would lead. He knew the violent reaction he had provoked by his ministry. He knew the plan of God to take away the sin of the world. He knew that his life would lead to the cross. So he went up on a mountainside by himself, asking the disciples to keep watch, and he prayed. He prayed that the cup of suffering that he was about to drink would be taken from him. He prayed for rescue and deliverance from what he would soon endure. But he was told ‘No.’

Christ prayed this prayer he taught us to pray and was told ‘No,’ He was not spared from the time of trial, but endured the darkest trial beyond our imagination – for us. He was not delivered from evil, but suffered and died, for us. Yet, in the wondrous plan of God, this ‘No’ to Jesus was God’s way of saying ‘yes’ to us. Jesus wholeheartedly and willingly endured the cross to be God’s ‘yes’ to us.

Christ has met the powers of temptation and trials – whatever we face – and defeated it. Christ has met the full power of sin and death and the devil and came out the victor. He rose from the dead and proclaimed freedom for those bound in sin and broke the power of death.

So friends, evil is real and powerful, but Jesus’ victory is more real and more powerful.

This is why we are taught to pray, “Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” We pray not only to remind ourselves of the fact that we should expect trials in life or to remind ourselves of our constant need for rescue, but we pray this way because Jesus has won.

Jesus has won.

We can ask to be delivered from trials and to be sustained in them because Jesus endured trials for us and in Him we share in his victory. We can ask to be rescued from evil or the evil one because Jesus has vanquished sin and satan and in Him we share in his victory.

To pray ‘deliver us from evil’ is to inhale the victory of the cross and thereby to hold the line for another moment. We breath it in, letting the victory of Jesus sustain us, and trusting in the victorious Jesus to answer our prayers. 

To be a Christian is to be part of a people who have learned to pray this way because they are in such a fearful struggle. We need to bring deeply of the victory of Jesus, because our own strength is not enough.

I don’t know all the struggles you are facing. I know some. Fear. Doubt. Anxiety. Oppression. Weakness. Addiction. So pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” and breath in his victory on the cross. As we breath it in, let it become a part of our lives.

Trials and evil. This is how the Lord’s Prayer ends. Christians are those people who ask to be saved. When trials comes, when evil raises its head, we turn to Jesus, who has won the victory for us.

I have been saying that the Lord’s Prayer ends in trials, but that is not exactly true. Of course, that is where Jesus ends here in Matthew and it is the same when he teaches the prayer in the gospel of Luke. But that is not where the prayer ends. Some of the earliest Christians with great wisdom added, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

Because as much as we need to know that there are trials in this life as a follower of Jesus, as much as we need to reckon with this and pray for deliverance, as much as we need to breath in the victory of God in the midst of evil, we need to know that trials and evil are not the end of the story. ‘For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.’

That’s the end of the story. God’s kingdom, God’s power, God’s glory covering the earth as water covers the sea. In this life we have struggles, we face trials and temptations, but one day they will be over. One day the victory won on the cross will be made manifest in every corner of the earth. One day we who are in Christ will see him face-to-face, and every tear will be wiped from our eyes and there there will be no more mourning our crying or pain.

The Lord’s Prayer ends not with trials, but with praise. So too the Christian life. So too creation. We who are in Christ know that struggle is not the end, even if it may be the present. The end is the kingdom and the power and the glory of the one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So today we pray “do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” and breath in the victory of Jesus. So today we pray, “for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen” and breath in hope.

As I sat in that room in Juravinski Hospital – E wing, room 218 – I heard Marian say what Christians have been saying for centuries. “People wonder how I can go through so many trials and still have faith. I would not be able to go through such trials without faith.” Yes. For now we pray, “do not bring us into the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one,” breathing in the victory of Jesus in our trials. But one day we shall see “for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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