But Deliver Us From Evil
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3.17
To all who know the salvation of Jesus and to all who wonder if it really could be true…
We live in a sin-sickened world where evil never sleeps. The present war with Iraq has only exposed the reality of sin and injustice that is always festering somewhere. A disturbing report from the New York Times tells of a young Iraqi soldier who was wounded. American medical personnel examined him and labeled him "expectant." That is the way they say, "he is expected to die." However, most disturbing of all was the cause of his wound. It was not inflicted by American soldiers. The bullet in his head was of a small caliber, and it had been fired by one of his own Iraqi officers. The article was simply titled "Iraqi Soldiers Say It Was Fight or Die."1 Brutality, lawlessness, and injustice… this is the way of the world. My heart goes out to anyone caught in that situation.
This is what St. Paul was talking about in Ephesians chapter two when he described living according to "the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…"2
God Curbs the Power of Evil Through Various Means
But God loves this world, and throughout its history He has, through various means, kept the evil of man from total self-destruction. He placed a curse on Cain, who killed his brother Abel in order to restrain violence.3 In the days of Noah there was great wickedness and violence in earth. We read in Genesis the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.4 God restrained the evil with a world-wide flood.5 Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the extremes of their sins.6
The Bible also tells us that God used countries such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and even the Roman Empire to create some stability and peace in the world. God gives governments a responsibility to curb injustice. We have a responsibility to pray for and support governments that God raises up for this purpose. The Iraq war is just one more effort to bring about better justice and a more peaceful existence for all the peoples of this world. God is not the cause of evil and injustice, but He promises that we will be plagued by it until the very end of time.7 Until that end comes He will provide the various means to restrain man’s inhumanity to man. Famines, plagues, and war are all punishments delivered by God to curb the evil of man’s heart. Whether the effort in Iraq succeeds or fails, it is always right to try to bring the unlawful to justice. But it is only God who can bring about the success of this effort. We must ask for His help, and we must do all that we can to ensure that everything is done for the cause of justice. It is very easy to get drawn into the vortex of evil while trying to quell the activity of evil. As a Hebrew poet once said, "You can’t touch pitch without being defiled."8
However the effort to bring the unlawful to justice is not the end of evil. The Bible teaches everywhere that the evil of man’s heart cannot be cured by punishment. At best it can only be restrained. The cure for the evil of our hearts comes from another source. A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to two of our members serving in the middle East in the Marine Corps. In the letters I reminded them that they really need to be aware of two enemies. One wears a uniform, but the other comes at us in many different ways. This enemy is Satan, or, as Jesus often called him, the Evil One. There are no weapons that man can make to defend against this foe. Try as we might to restrain the bad behaviors of men and governments, we are all still drawn or driven into the evil thoughts, words, and actions that please Satan yet greatly offend our heavenly Father. While we must support the efforts of all nations to restrain evil, we must be aware of an even more important war—not against terror but against the root of all terror—the war against sin.
God Destroys Evil Through the Gift of His Son
In order to understand this war you first have to understand the power of sin. Many people think sin is no great problem. Everyone has to sin a little. Nobody’s perfect. Why then does God speak so adamantly against sin? It was one sin that brought the death penalty to Adam and Eve. Why? Because all sin is rebellion against God, against life, against all that is good. All sin is interrelated. The saddest part of all is that sin does not slowly dissipate but actually gains momentum and force as it spreads through all humanity and through all generations. St. Paul said, A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.9 What he means is that sin spreads and influences all things like a little amount of yeast added to the dough causes it to rise. My little lies, my lack of concern for worship and prayer, my hateful feelings, my unkind words about others… all continue to grow like little brush fires. Though we may not see the end of it, every sin is the beginning many worse things until that sin and its growing influence is stopped. When you read of murders and other horrible crimes, don’t disconnect yourself from them. Don’t think, "Well those are really bad people… we just have to get rid of them." All those so-called "bad people" have a story. Something influenced them to sin, something influenced their parents, and probably their grandparents. You will never know what the little brush fire of sin you set today will turn into tomorrow. This is why God hates sin… every single sin.
This is now where Jesus comes into the picture. Jesus met with a man named Nicodemus late at night. Nicodemus was a Bible scholar, and he recognized that Jesus was a "teacher come from God."10 But like all of us Nicodemus was having trouble with the evil of this world. Where was God in all this pain and suffering? Jesus shocked Nicodemus when He confronted him with the words, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."11 What did this mean, "can a man enter a second time into his mother’s womb?"12 Nicodemus wondered. Jesus went on to describe a new beginning, a new birth, not of the flesh but of the Spirit and of faith.
To help Nicodemus and us, Jesus referred to the account of the fiery serpents in the time of Moses.13 The children of Israel rebelled against God and became impatient. God first sent in the restraining force of poisonous serpents. They bit the people and many died. Realizing and repenting of their sin they turned to Moses for help. God instructed Moses to put a bronze serpent on a pole and to lift it up for all to see. Whenever they were struck by a serpent, they could look to the bronze serpent and live. Salvation came by faith in God’s promises.
Now Jesus tells Nicodemus that while the bronze serpent saved the Israelites from poisonous snakes, He is the one sent by God to save this world from Satan and from sin. Jesus would be lifted up on a pole. Jesus would be wounded for our transgressions and left to die.14 No one, not even God would help Him. For in this way God would finally deal with sin and evil by burying it with His own Son.
Peace in Iraq begins with peace in your hearts right now. Jesus calls us to recognize the darkness of our sin, and God’s ultimate salvation. Restraints upon evil will always be necessary. God curbs evil with force, but He cures evil with faith. We were all once "expectant." We were expected to die along with Satan and all who have turned their backs to God. But God has preserved us from evil, and now has delivered us from evil in the gift of His Son. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world (with famines, floods, plagues, and wars), but that the world through Him might be saved.
Dear God, help us to believe in this Gospel message and deliver us from evil. Amen.
(1) New York Times, March 27, 2003 (2) Ephesians
2.2-3 (3) Genesis 4.11 (4) Genesis 6.5 (5)
(6) Genesis 18.16ff (7) Revelation 6 (8) Sirach 41.13 (9) Galatians 5.6 (10) John 3.2 (11) John 3.3 (12) John 3.4 (13) Numbers 21.4-9 (14) John 2.14
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2003
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