This is an edited version of a sermon preached at Emmanuel Anglican Church, Morecambe.
IN John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress there is a powerful description of the spiritual battle which is the Christian life.
On his journey to the celestial city, the city of heaven, Christian meets a frightening character called Apollyon. That is Bunyan’s name for Satan, the Devil, God’s sworn enemy and the enemy of God’s people.
‘Whence come you, and whither are you bound?’ Apollyon confronts Christian.
‘I come from the City of Destruction which is the place of all evil, and am going to the City of Sion.’
Apollyon: By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects, for all that country is mine; and I am the prince and god of it. How is it then that thou hast run away from thy king?
Christian: I was born indeed in your dominions but your service was hard and your wages such as a man could not live on, for the wages of sin is death.
Apollyon: There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee.
There follows a great battle between Apollyon and Christian which Christian wins only when he employs the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God.
If we’re Christian, if we’re disciples of Jesus Christ, if like the Pilgrim we’re on our way to heaven, Satan is our sworn enemy. He hates God, therefore he hates God’s people. He’ll do all in his power to prevent us from obeying God. He’ll do all he can to entice us into sinning against our God and Father.
That’s why the final petition in the Lord’s Prayer is so important: ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,’ or as is the more likely translation, ‘the evil one’. *
Deliver us from Satan, this evil personal power, who wants to undermine our Christian discipleship and our relationship with our Father God.
In popular cartoons and in TV comedy sketches, Satan or the Devil is often characterised as a rather absurd character with horns and a forked tail. He’s the guy in the red suit who whispers in your ear: ‘Go on, have another cream bun.’ It’s difficult to take that kind of character seriously.
But the Bible presents Satan as a desperately evil spiritual power, a personal power, who is wreaking destruction in God’s world. Satan is determined to undermine the good and loving God who made the world and made us in his image. Satan’s desperate objective is to get God’s creatures to disobey him and to alienate themselves from the God who made them.
He succeeded with Adam and Eve. Satan, characterised in Genesis as the Serpent, persuaded Adam and Eve to sin, to disobey God with disastrous consequences for them and for the world.
Satan failed, however, with Jesus. You remember Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, 40 days and 40 nights. Three times Satan tried to get Jesus to disobey God but each time he failed.
Jesus defeated Satan. Jesus sent Satan packing and he did it most definitively on the Cross when he dealt with Satan’s main weapon, our sin, our capacity and willingness to disobey God. Jesus destroyed the power of Satan by dealing with our sin through his death on the Cross.
But, though defeated, Satan remains our enemy until he is finally crushed at Jesus’s Second Coming.
I’m going to suggest two reasons in concluding why we might not be inclined to pray this last petition in the Lord’s Prayer as passionately as we need to.
The first reason is that we might be inclined to underestimate the seriousness of sin. Sin is trivialised in our culture. Disobeying God’s word is always made to sound less serious than it is. In some instances, on TV and in popular novels, sin is even presented as the fun thing to do. The sinner is the interesting guy whereas the person who wants to follow God and obey the Bible is rather dull or wet.
But the Bible is clear: sin, disobeying the God who made us, is desperately serious, and though sin may often lead to short-term excitement and gain, it always leads to disaster in the long run, for it incurs God’s righteous anger against us. Sin matters and that’s why we need to call on God urgently and passionately to protect us from its power. Sin matters.
The second reason we might not be inclined to pray this last petition as urgently as we should is that we can underestimate our own weakness. We can underestimate our own capacity to fall into sin. That’s a potentially fatal error. Even though we’re Christian, we remain capable of sin. So we need always to ask God to protect us from what our own sinful natures are likely to cause us to do. We must never underestimate our own capacity to disobey God and to be deceived by the Devil’s schemes. Complacency can be a killer.
The Book of Common Prayer Morning Collect for Grace:
O Lord our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day; defend us in the same with thy mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always that is righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
* The Greek word could either be neuter or masculine but, in the context of Matthew’s Gospel in which the Lord’s Prayer is recorded shortly after the account of Jesus’s temptation by Satan in the wilderness, it is more likely to be the latter.