Jesus teaches us to ask that we may be delivered from evil. It is the last request in what we call ‘the Lord’s prayer’. But what are we asking?
The prayer is actually in two parts—‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. In simple language, we are asking God to keep us as far from sinning as possible. It is turning into a prayer what Jesus taught a bit earlier in his Sermon on the Mount—‘If your hand causes you to offend, cut it off!’ Obviously, he doesn’t mean literally, but he does mean do you everything you need to do to avoid sinning! And now he is telling us to pray as well.
The words have been translated ‘keep us from the hour of trial and deliver us from the Evil One (Satan)’. This is talking about evil that happens to us, but the setting and wording makes it better to translate it as a reference to the evil we are tempted by and the evil we can become implicated in.
Clearly, God doesn’t try to get us to sin. He doesn’t do the tempting. But he does say ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come’ (Luke 17:1). What we are doing here is asking God to limit our exposure to temptation. In line with this, Paul says, ‘God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).
But what would make us want to pray, ‘Deliver us from evil’? Perhaps we’ve become fed up with doing something wrong. It may be we are suffering some consequences of doing wrong. It may be we’ve seen how good it is to have God’s favour and it’s hurting to be without confidence of his approval.
Whatever the reason, we’ve come to God. That’s the important thing. And Jesus is saying ‘You can ask for help’. He’s not saying you should have known better, or to muscle up, or to punish yourself. Basically, you’ve been confronted with your weakness and are looking to God for help. That’s a good place to be.
Life has a way of teaching us that ‘crime doesn’t pay’. Avoiding what God asks us to do, or playing with what we know is not ours to have can make us sick—sick of ourselves, or sick of the consequences. I hope it does! If you are happily sinning and want things to stay the same, Jesus isn’t teaching you to pray. He’s showing you what you are missing out on.
What kind of evil can trap us up? Jesus has already talked about getting angry with a brother or looking lustfully at a woman (Matthew 5:21-30). It could be many things. We all have a sinful heart to deal with—what the Bible calls our flesh. We want things that are not ours to have. Then there’s the world—not just the world we see and appreciate, but rather, the ‘world’ that pretends there is nothing else and that it can provide all we need to keep us safe and happy. Then there’s the devil. He appeals to our flesh, glamourises the world and then put all sorts of ideas in our heads about what we should have and what things should look like. And off we go, led by the nose into trouble!
But there is help available. Jesus is telling us where to go. Trying harder or retreating from problems won’t fix things. We need help!
Peter the apostle can help us here—not by his teaching but by his experience. In the final hours before Jesus is arrested, Peter thinks he is totally reliable and faithful. But he is in for a surprise. Jesus says he will deny him three times before morning.
Look what Jesus does to lead him away from temptation and then, what he does to deliver him from evil.
First, at the point when he is going to be arrested, Jesus says to the soldiers, ‘Take me and let these men go’ (John 18:8). He knows they won’t be able to handle the pressure and gives them an escape route. As we noted earlier, God makes ‘a way out so that you can stand up under’ the temptation.
Peter is spared arrest but follows the soldiers anyway. Then, while Jesus is being questioned, Peter is identified, three times, as a disciple of Jesus. The weakness of his flesh is now on full display. The power of the world to get him to conform to its images and rules is overwhelming. It happens exactly as Jesus said it would—he denies his Lord three times. As Jesus said, Satan has desired to have him.
But now, there is a second move by Jesus—just a look (Luke 22:61-62; cf. Mark 10:21). It seems he is being led from one part of the building to another and looks at Peter in the act of his vigorous denials. And Peter goes out and weeps bitterly.
None of us needs to fail, but we do need what we learn from our failures. What Jesus could do for Peter was no use to him if he didn’t know he needed it. Now he knows.
Jesus has already told Peter, ‘I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail’ (Luke 22:32). Does Peter remember this as he weeps? What we do know is that his faith does not fail! The Father has heard the prayer of Jesus. So this is the second thing Jesus has done for Peter. Peter is not alone.
The third thing Jesus is doing he is doing for us all. He is going out to be crucified, and in this, he bears the sins of the world. Apart from this, anything Jesus did for Peter, or any of us, would be advice and friendship, not deliverance.
So when we ask to be delivered from evil, Jesus starts with his gospel—‘Believe that I have died for your sins!’ Our deliverance starts here. He has loved us and given himself up for us. We can see that there is no more debt to pay, nothing to make us squirm with guilt and shame. But we are being real—we know this deliverance is not from us but from him.
The fourth thing Jesus does for Peter happens after his resurrection. He asks if it is true that Peter loves him more than the other disciples—something he had claimed earlier (John 21:21:15-19). And he asks him three times. So, three times, Peter says, not that he will be better next time, but that he loves Christ. This is real deliverance.
Have you had enough of your failures? Do you know how weak you are? Then here is a prayer to pray. And the answer is not just comforting. It is powerful. And it works. Like King David sang so many years before, ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake’ (Psalm 23). Real goodness does not arise from us. It is a path God maps out for us. It is the path we follow because Jesus is the shepherd who lays down his life for us (John 10:11). And it is not for the sake of our ego. It is for his name’s sake.
Two out of three of the personal requests in this prayer have been to do with our soul rather than with our body. Bread—covering all our bodily necessities; forgiveness and deliverance—covering all the needs of our souls. So, ask God for bread! And trust him with all your needs! But make sure you look after your soul too. Ask for forgiveness, and ask to be delivered from evil. ‘Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23).