“But deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13)
The concept of evil is a prominent one in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel, and it is worth getting our bearings on it because it is so easy for us to forget that evil is real, Satan is real, and our fight in this life is against the spiritual powers that oppose us (Ephesians 6:12f).
The evil one
In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about the evil one, which is Satan (13:19). That is a shocking thing; that any being is characterised by evil to the extent that he can be called the Evil One is alarming. In the parable, the evil one is snatching the word of the gospel from the hearts of those who are thereby prevented from believing the gospel. If this prayer leads us to anything, it should surely be to pray against this ministry of the devil.
Not only is he opposed to the truth, but he is a liar (John 8:44). He is deceives by masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) in order to lead believers and unbelievers alike away from God’s word and his ways.
Moreover, when he manages to deceive, then he becomes the accuser (Revelation 12:10), bringing before the throne of God the great list of our sins which, but for the blood of Christ, would exclude us from the throne of grace. So he is evil in relation to our spiritual life and death.
But the evil one is not restricted to spiritual attack. Job speaks of the events that happened to him as being ‘evil’ (Job 30:26). The evil is not from God (Job 34:10) who works in all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Nevertheless, God works through events that Job can call evil, because of the devil’s desire to destroy him. Satan desires Job to curse God (Job 1:11). So there are evil events from the hands of the Devil.
We are to pray for deliverance from the evil one. And we are to pray that God would deliver us from evil in the world.
Evil in us
But it is here that Jesus is, perhaps, even more shocking. To begin with, Jesus diagnoses the great sin problem as evil in our hearts (Matthew 15:19). Similarly, he says to the very people to whom he is teaching this prayer, ‘If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him’ (Matthew 7:11). Compared to God, we are evil and we need to pray for God to deliver us from the worst inclinations of our sinful nature which lives on.
Of course, if there is evil in the hearts of believers, how much more in those Jesus calls “sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). All people in the world have a spiritual parent. Jesus has encouraged us to call God our Father, and to bear his family likeness. Although sin persists in us, it doesn’t characterise us as it does those whose father is the evil one. They are incapable of pleasing God (Romans 8:8). Of course, that doesn’t mean that anyone is as evil as they might be. But it does mean that the devil has deceitfully led them away from Christ in order to do his work.
That work sometimes means falsely accusing Christians (Matthew 5:11). It will ultimately mean bringing out of their hearts the wicked things stored there (Matthew 12:35).
Evil in the curse
In all this, we need to remember that the world is under the curse of God from Genesis 3. Suffering, sickness and death are an expression of God’s anger at our evil hearts, at our sinful rebellion. The presence of evil spirits around the ministry of Jesus is of a piece with this.
But the key thing for us to remember is this: Jesus has triumphed over all evil spirits, including the devil himself, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
Focus on the Deliverer
The temptation for us is to stop there. To recognise that there are a variety of evils in the world, and all have something of the character of the evil one.
But the point of the prayer is that there is one who is greater than the evil one. We turn in prayer because we are incapable of standing firm by ourselves. We could not cure our hearts. We were spiritually dead like everyone else (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The glory of the gospel is that Jesus came into the world to prove God’s victory over every one of these evils. The devil may accuse us, but it is God who justifies us (Romans 8:33).
Jesus speaks of a strong man who is overpowered, bound and has his house plundered (Matthew 12:29). The devil is the strong man. Too strong for you and I. But Jesus wandered into a world controlled by the devil and bound him. He robbed him of any power at the cross, and plundered his kingdom.
Every conversion is a victory over a powerless enemy.
As Christ cast out demons, opened the eyes of the blind, and even raised the dead, he rolled back the curse and proved that he alone has sovereign power. And one day all that is evil in the world will be refined in the fire, and the purified people of God will be restored to his eternal kingdom, as the devil and all his minions are cast into the outer darkness (Revelation 20:10).
When we pray for God to deliver us from evil, we do it as people who have already been delivered from the devil’s accusations and from his control. One day we know we will be delivered from the presence of evil altogether.
So we cry out in prayer to a God who has proven himself willing and able. Like any good Father, he will protect us if we will call to him.
Questions for reflection:
1. What difference does it make to know that God is your Father who loves you and will deliver you from evil?
2. How does it help to remember that God has already delivered you from the curse of the fall?
3. Why do we need to keep praying this prayer?
Our Father in Heaven,
Thank you for Jesus. Thank you that he has already dealt with my evil, my guilt and shame. Thank you that one day you will deliver me from the presence of all evil and into your perfect heavenly kingdom. Please deliver me today from all the ministry of the Devil. Help me to keep trusting Jesus most of all.
In his name,