Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
" IN THE FACE OF SATANíS RAGE THE LORD TEACHES US TO SPEAK WITH GOD ABOUT OUR WEAKNESSES."
127. Q. What is the sixth petition?
A. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. That is: In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment. Moreover, our sworn enemies-- the devil, the world, and our own flesh-- do not cease to attack us. Wilt Thou, therefore, uphold and strengthen us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, so that in this spiritual war we may not go down to defeat, but always firmly resist our enemies, until we finally obtain the complete victory.
 Ps. 103:14-16; John 15:1-5.  II Cor. 11:14; Eph. 6:10-13; I Pet. 5:8.  John 15:18-21.  Rom. 7:23; Gal. 5:17.  Matt. 10:19, 20; 26:41; Mark 13:33; Rom. 5:3-5.  I Cor. 10:13; I Thess. 3:13; 5:23.
Luke 22:31-34; 54-62
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The disciples sought from the Lord instruction in how to pray. Jesusí taught the twelve Ėand us- to address God as ĎFatherí (and so acknowledge that they were His children), to speak to God too about hallowing His name, making His kingdom come, etc. Last week we listened to the fifth topic the disciples were to speak to God about, that matter of their sins and would the Lord God please forgive those sins, ie, deal with them as if they had never had nor committed any sin. That, the disciples Ėand we- had to add in Godís hearing, is how we, by the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit in our sinful hearts, treat those who trespass against us.
The Lordís instruction about prayer, however, did not stop with this fifth petition. Heís added a sixth, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." As we seek to learn from the Lord how to pray, weíll need to understand why our Savior taught us to pray this sixth petition. Further, what are the implications of this prayer for our conduct? Or, can our conduct prevent us from praying, praying also this petition?
The Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters, works with a number of realities of life when He teaches us to pray this sixth petition. He works with the reality of our weakness, works with the reality of Satanís rage, and works with the reality too of the Fatherís sovereignty and care. As we seek to understand the sixth petition, weíll need to come to grips with these realities.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
IN THE FACE OF SATANíS RAGE THE LORD TEACHES US TO SPEAK WITH GOD ABOUT OUR WEAKNESSES.
Why this petition is necessary
Jesus, I said a moment ago, works in the sixth petition with a number of realities of life. To appreciate the need for the sixth petition, we need to understand what these realities are. The first reality with which Jesus works in this petition is the reality of our weakness.
Nobody likes to be weak. We all want to be strong. So young men stand before the mirror to examine how their biceps are developing. And teenagers tell their parents that they donít need to be told how to do things; their old and wise enough, physically and mentally strong enough to look after themselves. Older people have the same habits; something in us cringes at the thought of having to display that we need help; we much prefer to portray ourselves as person who can stand on our own two feet, independent Ė weíre strong.
Thatís human. But itís not right. I mean: though we want to be strong, the Lord tells us that weíre not strong. In fact, the Scriptures portray us as weak, and very dependant. The Catechism sums up the matter like this, "In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment." To prove the point, the Catechism refers to two texts from Scripture. The first is Ps 103, where David is moved by the Holy Spirit to say:
"For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more" (vss 14ff).
Itís a humbling description that the Holy Spirit gives of people. God remembers, He says, "that we are dust." Then the point is that we did not call ourselves into existence, but the Lord God almighty once collected dust from the earth, fashioned that dirt into the shape of a man, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The implication is that we are totally dependent on God for "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).
The Holy Spirit adds on top of that that we are mortal, finite. "As for man," says the Psalm, "his days are like grass." We all know that grass, like flowers, is short-lived. Another month or two and the rains will stop, the easterlies will start, and within two days a green field turns brown. Grass is short-lived, is vulnerable. So are people. One day weíre here, healthy and well. The next day weíre in bed, sickÖ, or maybe dead. Thatís people, weak, dependent.
The second text the Catechism mentions is Jn 15. I read these words:
"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (vs 5).
Weíre familiar with grapevines. Shortly the branch will bud, and after some weeks young grapes will appear, ready for eating in January or February. But clip the branch from the vineÖ, and youíll get neither bud nor crop. For the branch is dependent on the vine. Says Jesus: so it is with you. Says He to the twelve (and so to all His people): "I am the vine, you are the branchesÖ. Without Me you can do nothing." Thatís absolute language; without the Lord we can do nothing.
We like to be strong, self-sufficient, able to handle the challenges of life ourselves. But the Scriptures, congregation, are adamant that we are not strong, are not able to handle the challenges of life ourselves. The Scriptures teach that we need to have small thoughts of ourselves and our abilities. So we say in Lordís Day: "in ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment." No, brothers and sisters, itís not flattering, itís not the way we like things to be, but itís fact nevertheless. Paul warned us to take this reality seriously when he wrote, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (I Cor 10:12).
The second reality with which Jesus reckons in the sixth petition is the fact of Satanís rage. When we listened some weeks ago to the Lordís instruction in the second petition, we read together Rev 12. The chapter had told us that war had broken out in heaven, with as result that Satan and his demons were cast out (vss 7ff). That victory in heaven resulted in the following warning to the earth:
"Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (vs 12).
The nature of that wrath is further pointed up like this:
"And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (vs 17).
This "offspring", we need to know, congregation, is the believers, you, me! Make no mistake: we live in a context of war! Our enemy is none other than the devil, and he has with him a host of demons. More, this devil is enraged, he knows the end is in sight, knows heís already been defeated and will shortly be swept off this earth into the bottomless pit. His rage, though, does not mean that the devil acts Ďout of controlí. On the contrary, in his rage he uses every cunning trick hell can devise to trip up you and me, if possible to snatch us from the hands of our God and Savior.
We learn from Scripture that the devil has enlisted the services of a number of allies in his effort to snatch us from Godís hands. The first one we mention in our Lordís Day is the world itself. It is as the Lord says in Jn 15:
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (vs 19).
By the term Ďworldí here we are not to think of creation as a whole, but to think instead of godless society. The culture around the disciples of Jesusí day, like the culture around us today, revolves around the concept that God is not God. Thatís the world in which we live, thatís the air we breathe; itís Australian culture, American culture, European culture, Indonesian culture, you name it. That air, that world, that environment provides support for Satanís attack on the people of God, the church of God, his attack on you and on me. The world is his ally; we get no support from the world in our attempts to do the will of our God, to make His kingdom come and so to make His glorious name more glorious still. On the contrary!
Concrete evidence of that hard reality is everywhere. The air we breathe encourages selfishness, encourages people of all ages to think that the most important person is their lives is the self. And youíve got the right to happiness, to pursue whatever makes you feel good. So if you want sex you can have it. And if your marriage keeps you unhappy, you can opt out. And if submitting to your parents gets in the way of your happiness, you can tell your parents where to get off. Thatís whatís communicated when you walk down Hay Street, itís whatís communicated when you listen to the radio, when you watch TV, when you surf the internet. The exceptions encouraging you to the contrary are so few as to be negligible. The world is an ally of the devil.
The second ally the Catechism mentions is "our own flesh". It is true that the Holy Spirit has renewed us, and we see wonderful evidence of that renewal in the fact that we forgive those who trespassed against us. But that renewal has not yet brought us to the goal of perfection, and that in turn means that there rages within us a battle; shall we in a given circumstance do the will of our God and Savior or the will of devil? Itís not an easy battle, simply because our flesh remains inclined to do the will of the evil oneÖ. As Paul cried out to the Romans:
"For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (Rom 7:15).
In truth, "we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a momentÖ." By nature our sinful flesh sides with the devilÖ.
Two realities. We are weak, and the enemy so strong. In fact, the enemy is not just outside, over there somewhere. The enemy has his supporters inside of ourselves! No wonder heaven spoke of "woe" for the earth!
I think, brothers and sisters, that I need to give this material more color. Weíll accept that we are weak and Satan is strong, but what does this weakness concretely look like? And what do Satanís attacks actually look like? Iíd like to supply more color to this material by drawing your attention to the verses we read from Luke 22.
The Lord is now but hours away from His arrest. I read in vs 3 that Satan has already entered Judas Iscariot so that the betrayer has gone to make arrangements with the chief priests (vs 4). Jesus addresses His disciples, and as He speaks has His eye on Peter. "Simon, Simon!", He says, "Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat." With those words the Lord pulls back for a moment the curtain of heaven and reveals to the disciples what took place there. "Satan has asked for you," relates the Lord. That is, Satan has entered the courts of God with a demand, has insisted that God give him Peter, as well as Andrew and John and Thaddeus and Philip and the rest of the disciples (for the word Ďyouí in vs 31 is plural). That demand, congregation, shows something of Satanís rage; he demands a chance to get his devilish hands on the disciples of the LordÖ.
And what does Satan want to do with Peter and Andrew and John and Thaddeus and Philip and the rest? Says Jesus to the disciples: heís demanded that God give you to him so that "he may sift you as wheat." The disciples knew well what sifting was all about. The farmers of their days put the harvested grain on a mesh which a servant shook back and forth in an effort to separate the rubbish from the grain. Satan demands the disciples because he wants to place them on a sieve, wants to shake them all about Ėwhy?- in order to demonstrate how weak, how absolutely flimsy and sickeningly impotent, these disciples are.
Whatís so intriguing now, congregation, is Peterís reply. Vs 33: "Lord," he says, "I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." What Peter is saying with that reply? This: Lord, let Satan go ahead. I can handle it. If he puts me in prison for Your nameís sake, so be it. Iím ready for it Lord, ready even to die for You.
Tell me, brothers and sisters, does that sound familiar? That Satan prowls around seeking whom he may devour is no secret to us, and the fact that he has allies in the world and in our own flesh is not either. But how do we react to that reality? We might not say it in words, but in our deeds we demonstrate a posture of: we can handle it, weíre strong. You wonder on what I base this conclusion? I base this conclusion, beloved, on the way we treat the world. The world is an ally of the devil, the world does not encourage us to do the will of our God and so acknowledge His kingship; the world rather hinders us. But we donít treat the world as an enemy, as ourselves being weak and vulnerable; instead we put our shoulders back Ėweíre strong- and join the world in its pursuit of personal satisfaction. You see, itís the attitude of Peter; Lord, I can handle it.
But Jesus didnít agree with Peter. Vs 34: "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me." In other words: ĎPeter, you think youíre strong, but youíre not.í And Jesus, not Peter, was shown to be correct. Shortly after Jesusí conversation with the disciples about Satanís demand in heaven, Judas returned with the soldiers of the chief priests and Jesus was arrested. Peter followed Jesus at a distance to the house of the high priest, then joined the soldiers around the fire. A servant girl interrupted the conversation with the statement, "This man was also with Him." To which Peter in panic replied, "Woman, I do not know Him." Twice more it happened, and twice more Peter denied association with Jesus of NazarethÖ. Strong? Able to stand in the face of Satanís attacks? Peter thought so. "Lord, Iím ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." But how totally wrong he was, how shamefully he fell! Strong? No, congregation, Peter wasnít Ė though he thought he was, though he wished he was. Indeed, here is warning for us:
"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (I Cor 10:12).
The disciples sought instruction on how to pray. Was part of their problem with prayer that they considered themselves strong, self-sufficient; they could manage quite well in the storms of life? However that may have been, the Lord instructed them to speak with God about their own weaknesses, instructed them to speak with God too about the persistent and hideous attacks of the devil. "Lead us," they were to say to their Father in heaven, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Weíre so weak, they are to confess before God, and Satan is so strong. We havenít got what it takes to resist the evil one, to stand in the face of his attacks. Weíll fall for sure, Father, and that means we wonít do Your will, we wonít acknowledge Your Kingship, and so wonít give glory to Your holy name. So, Father, please grant that we donít end up in situations where Satan can really put the squeeze on us. Instead, "deliver us from the evil one."
I move on to our second point:
Why this petition is possible
Itís so true, we donít like being weak. Then to pray this sixth petition, yes, thereís difficulty in that, itís so humblingÖ. We do well to realize then, brothers and sisters, that our Lord supplies us great encouragement to pray this petition.
I refer again to Luke 22. Jesus told Simon and the rest of the disciples of Satanís demand before God in heaven. But Jesus adds more information about what took place in heaven. Vs 32: "I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail." You see, Jesus knows that Peter is weak. So, in the face of Satanís demand, Jesus interceded before God on Peterís behalf!
As it is, the Scriptures contain Jesusí intercessory prayer for the disciples; you find it in John 17. He spoke these words to His Father on behalf of the disciples:
"I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are YoursÖ. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the worldÖ. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We areÖ. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil oneÖ" (Jn 17:9ff).
Thatís Jesusí prayer for the disciples; He implores God not to take them out of the world, but in the world to "keep them from the evil one." Then the point is not that the Father would please keep the disciples miles away from the evil one; the point is rather that the Father keep watch over them, guard them, preserve them in the face of Satanís attacks. In other words, the disciples are to expect attacks from the devil, are to expect that theyíll feel the rage of the dragon cast out of heaven according to Rev 12. Temptations to sin are bound to come, are guaranteed to come. Yet thatís no cause for the disciples to despair, for none less than Jesus has prayed for them. And the Father always hears whatever the Son asks. Thatís also why in Luke 22 Jesus can say to Peter these words, "when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." Notice that: "when you have returned to Me." Jesus doesnít say, "If you return." No, Jesus knows Peter will not only stumble but also that God will keep him, will preserve him, will set him back on his feet. For none can snatch a single one of Godís own from Godís hands. And so it happened; after Peter denied three times that he knew the Lord, he "remembered the word of the LordÖ, [and] went out and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:62). Here was repentance, proof that the Father heard the prayer of His Son and so held on to His weak child.
Here is a reality, congregation, true not just for Peter and the other disciples, but true for you and me too. For Jesus, after He prayed in Jn 17 for the disciples, prayed "for [all] those who will believe in Me through [the disciplesí] word" (vs 20). The enraged devil today makes war against the children of God, against you and me, and attacks us cruelly. We for our part do not have the wherewithal to stand in the face of his attacks; the world in which we live conspires with the devil to bring about our fall, and our own flesh is inclined to do the bidding of the evil one. Yet, brothers and sisters, we may with confidence approach our God in prayer to ask Him that He not place us in a situation of temptation. With confidence we may ask Him to deliver us from the evil one, and we may approach Him with confidence because Jesus Himself has prayed for us and assured us that the Father indeed will keep us in His care Ė so that in turn we may do His will, acknowledge His kingship and so praise His name.
Now yet our third point:
Why this petition has consequences
Does all this mean that we can become careless, in the sense that the Lord will hold on to us anyway? The disciples want instruction about how to pray, how to speak with God. Yet we all understand, congregation, that talking and walking go together; to talk one way and then act another way constitutes a lie. The Lord our God would have us acknowledge before Him that we are weak, acknowledge before Him too that we know very well that the enraged devil seeks to prevent us from doing Godís will and so acknowledging Christís kingship. Thatís why we turn to Him for protection, turn to Him with the request that He not put us in situations where Satan can really squeeze us.
But such a prayer has this consequence that it just will not do to get up from such a prayer, and head off into an environment where we know we are more vulnerable to Satanís attacks! Jesusí instruction to pray the sixth petition contains within itself instruction to us to watch our step, instruction to steer clear of circumstances where Satan can take advantage of us more easily.
I remind you again of Luke 22. In the vss 31-34 Peter is surrounded by Jesus plus ten other disciples, all brothers in the Lord, all renewed by the Holy Spirit, all seeking Ėbe it with brokenness- to do the will of the Master. Jesus tells Peter of Satanís demand, and Peter feels strong; "Iím ready to go with you even to prison and to death." The vss 54-62 has Peter surrounded again by a small crowd, but itís a different crowd. This time theyíre all soldiers, and a girl seeking the company of soldiers. Theyíre wearing their swords and clubs, their language is rough. Over yonder is Jesus, the man they just arrestedÖ. In that environment the girl amongst the soldiers has a dig at Peter, "This man was also with Him." Peterís sense of strength? Itís gone, evaporatedÖ. Why? The situation has changed. This is an environment of godlessness, of worldliness; hereís Peter in the world, Peter in an environment hostile to God and His glory. And Satan has a good ally in Peterís own flesh; Peter doesnít want to be arrested as Jesus was, is scared of being mistreatedÖ. So Peter falls for Satanís temptationÖ.
What we learn? We learn, congregation, that in the one environment weíre more vulnerable to Satanís temptations than in another. Hereís the lesson: we canít ask God to "lead us not into temptation" and then promptly place ourselves in circumstances where weíre wide open to temptation! Here we need to use our heads; we can know from Scriptures as well as experience that certain environments leave us wide open to the temptations of the devil. You canít pray this sixth petition, and then head out to investigate the magazines the News Agent has on display. That makes a farce of your prayer, and makes further prayer impossible. You canít admit to God your weakness and Satanís rage and so ask God not to lead you into temptation but instead to deliver you from the evil one Ė and then blithely turn on the TV to see what titillation you can find. To do so is to show that you did not mean your prayer, and makes further prayer impossible also. You canít sincerely pray this prayer, and then feel comfortable with the world. To pray this prayer means that you make it your business to stay alert to where you are more vulnerable to Satanís attacks and avoid those environments like the plague.
We donít like being weak, true. But the fact is that we are; on our own strength we cannot stand even for a moment. We pursue the glory of our God and Savior, and so want to do His will. Very well, then we seek His strength in prayer unending, and therefore His grace to deliver us from the evil one Ė day after day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Amen.