JESUS’ PRAYER AGAINST THE EVIL ONE
Fourth in a series by Dr. Rick Perrin on Jesus’ Prayer for You from John 17:11-19
“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15
One day several decades ago the owner of a house high up on the hill of ancient Istanbul drilled a well from his kitchen in an attempt to provide running water for his home. Suddenly the drill bit plunged into an open cavern filled with water. Further investigation led to the rediscovery of the city’s old Basilica Cistern that had been constructed originally in 532 AD, but after the Ottoman conquest, entirely forgotten. The cistern is about the size of the floor area of Williams Brice Stadium. The water level rose to a depth of 35 feet. The cavern is lined with stone and supported by 327 stone columns.
Istanbul, once called Constantinople, was the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. It is worth recalling the words of Christ in the message to the church at Smyrna given through the apostle John in Revelation 2:8-11. “The first and the last, who was dead, and who has come to life, says this: I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
The church in ancient Istanbul counted on promises like this and they triumphed. The city’s pagan temples were abandoned. The great Hagia Sophia church, considered by some as the eighth wonder of the world, still stands as silent testimony to the influence of the gospel. When the city’s newly Christian public works engineers built the underground reservoir they dismantled the old pagan temples and reused the materials. Elaborately carved pillars from the temple of Apollo the sun god now rest in perpetual darkness underground. The base of several pillars bear the carved face of Medusa with her hair of writhing snakes. If you made eye contact with Medusa, so the legend went, you would instantly turn to stone. The builders set the blocks with Medusa’s head upside down and raised the stone columns on top of them, symbolically trumping her power and the power of Satan, with the might of Christ’s gospel.
We’ve been studying Jesus’ Prayer for You, his intercession for the church recorded in John 17. Today we come to the petition found in verse 15. “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” That is what the early Christians counted on, and so must we. Jesus prays for us against the evil one. Turn to verses 11-19 and let’s see three things from Jesus’ prayer. 1. The Dangers that Threaten Us, 2. The Devil who Hates Us, and 3. Our Defense Against the Dark Arts.
1. The Dangers that Threaten Us. In verse 15 Jesus states clearly what he is not asking the Father to do for us. He will not pray for our withdrawal from the world. Many Christians do pray for this. We want to be freed from trouble. We’re afraid of the temptations or the corrosive influence of the culture. So we make our churches into refuges and retreats from the world that is out there. Part of the home school movement, I suspect—at least for some parents—is the attempt to keep our children out of the world. If all we read are Christian books, or if all we listen to is Christian music, it may be a way for us to get out of the world. But evacuation from the world is not the will of Jesus. Neither should it be ours. It’s true, as he says in verse 16 that we are not “of “ the world. That is, we do not buy into and we shouldn’t reflect the values of the world. So we must be careful of that. But clearly, Jesus wants us “in” the world. That’s our mission. We live there, we work there, we go to school there, we root for our sports teams there. Next week we’ll look at what Jesus’ mission for us is—in the world. But if we are supposed to be in the world, we must understand, as he does, that there is danger for us here. That’s why he prays for us in verse 15 that we might be kept, or protected, against the evil one. As we examine Jesus’ prayer in this section, we discover that he has in mind four dangers, four traps that the evil one sets for us, that threaten Christ’s people in the world.
The first danger is that we could lose our way. In verse 11 Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me.” In other words, Christ wants us to keep following him, and while we are in the world, there is a danger that we many stop doing that. We talked a little about this last week. A Christian may grow discouraged and give up. He may turn away from the church. He may yield to temptation or the cares of life. He may fall into sin. Do you remember Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed? In Luke 8:5-8 Jesus said, “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up. And other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out; and other seed fell into good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” Well, this is the danger Jesus is praying about. Where are you in your life as a Christian? Are you beside the road where you are getting trampled? Are you going through a dry period? Are you surrounded by thorns and weeds in your life that leave you little or no time for spiritual things? The good soil that allows a Christian to keep on going is soil which is cultivated by being with other believers in the fellowship of the church. A church member said to me the other day, “I’d never have made it through the crisis of these last few months if it weren’t for the people in my small group who loved me and prayed with me and kept after me.”
The second danger is that we could lose our unity. Again in verse 11 Jesus prayed, “That they may all be one, even as We are.” We talked about this last week as well. I don’t know of anything more destructive to a Christian’s spiritual health than when a church congregation breaks apart. When I first came to Cornerstone our church had just been through a debilitating struggle and about half the congregation had drifted away. I walked in the first Sunday morning and the most faithful members were here. The newest or youngest Christians in the congregation were the ones who weren’t here. These were the real victims. I talked to a lot of them over the following months. Most of them never recovered spiritually. The church felt like a morgue. People left quickly after the service ended. Every member was bruised or wounded in some way. Trust was low and anger ran deep. It took us about four years to completely heal, but we did. Other churches go through that too. More pastors leave the ministry these days, who have been beaten up by their congregations than ever before in the history of the American church. I talked to a couple of them last week. This is the devil’s work, but Christians get caught up in it. So every church has got to be very careful.
The third danger that threatens us is that we could lose the word. In verse 14 Jesus says, “I have given them Your word.” He’s talking about the Bible. God’s word is a precious gift. Those of us in Bible-believing churches don’t think much about this danger because we’re used to pastors who teach and preach God’s word faithfully. But I have been engaged in the past few weeks in renewed challenges to the Bible. If you go to see the movie Billy about the early years of Billy Graham, you will see him in 1949 wrestling with whether he could believe the Bible. He decided you could, and it became the basis of his ministry. Many of us thought we had fought that battle and won it thirty years ago. Now a new generation of teachers is emerging among evangelicals which is very subtlely questioning whether the Bible is completely true in everything it teaches. I have no doubts about the answer, but the church is being threatened again.
The fourth danger is that we could lose our courage. In verse 14 Jesus says of those who follow him, “The world has hated them.” It is alarming to see what is happening around the world. In parts of India armed mobs of fanatic Hindus are attacking Christian churches, burning them down, and beating pastors and other church members. In Algeria the government has started enforcing a law that prohibits Christians from worshiping. In Brazil a pastor asked a friend of mine, “What do I do? If I speak out against homosexuality as the Bible teaches, I risk arrest.” In Canada churches are being taken to court by Muslims for preaching on Romans 1. In China Christian leaders have been jailed. California has legalized homosexual marriage making it essential illegal for Christians to publicly express what God’s word says. You and I are not facing bodily danger or threats to our property—but our brothers and sisters in various countries are. How much would it take before lack of courage strangles our preaching of the gospel? None of these are new dangers. And they are not insignificant ones. But Jesus will not pray that we should be carried to a place of safety. He says we are to remain in the world and he prays that we would endure the dangers that threaten us.
2. The Devil who Hates Us. So, since we must face the dangers, in verse 15 Jesus prays for us, “Keep them from the evil one.” First, who is this evil one whom Jesus refers to? I must give J. K. Rowling credit. In the seven Harry Potter books she has created a series of stories that enable this generation to understand what evil is and that we must stand against it. Rowling’s books are not Christian in the way that C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles were, or Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. But her depiction of evil and Lord Valdemort gives an essentially Biblical picture of evil to a generation not familiar with the Bible. Go back and read the books again, or watch the movies and you’ll see it. But when Jesus refers to the evil one, it is not a code like Rowling’s “He who must not be named.” The evil one is descriptive. Jesus is referring to the one the Bible calls Satan or the devil. He is Lucifer, the leader of the fallen angels whom Jesus called, the ruler of this world. (John 12:31) If the world hates us, it is because we have a powerful enemy who has set the world against us.
What was the evil one doing as Jesus prayed for us? At the beginning of his ministry Jesus went into the wilderness, and the devil tried to stop him by tempting him. In the third temptation Matthew tells us that the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and he promised, “I will give you these if you bow down and worship me.” Jesus’ reply is significant. He quoted the Bible in Deuteronomy, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (Matthew 4:8-11) As Jesus prayed the whole world worshiped the pagan gods, which was actually the worship of the devil. Jesus was going to set men free to know and worship the true God. The devil planned to destroy Christ before he could do it. He tried again at the cross. However after paying for sin, Jesus won the ultimate victory when he rose from the dead. Jesus intended that we should continue his work of wresting control of the world from Satan by leading men and women to faith in him. That would pit us against the full wrath and fury of the evil one. If the devil was powerful enough to do what he did to Jesus, then we should not underestimate his power when he turns it against us.
What is the evil one doing today? Just like in the Harry Potter books evil has returned in our day, and what is happening is breathtaking. Our fathers’ generation confronted the evil of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the bloodiest war in the history of the world. When that was won, the demonic forces empowered Communism. The evil governments of the USSR and Red China murdered a hundred million of their own citizens and inflicted terrible persecution on the church. When the Communist empire collapsed, in the same year, the demonic forces moved into Islam. That year marks the start of Islamic terrorism. Since the late 1980s Islam has become more and more powerful until it now threatens the entire world. World leaders respond only with appeasement. At the same time, the old paganism has come back to life and the gods of ancient times are literally reappearing in environmental extremism, the global warming myth, and the radical homosexual agenda.
But that is not all. Evil is asserting itself in the agenda of the political left. Let me give you one example. Saul Alinsky was a Communist radical intellectual based in Chicago who died in 1972. In the year before he died he published a book written to instruct the new left revolutionaries of the baby boomer generation. His book was entitled, Rules for Radicals—a Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals. Essentially he said that progressive revolutionaries must enter the mainstream and convince Americans that things are so bad that they will demand change, any change. They would accomplish this through community organization targeting the middle class. Listen to Alinsky’s dedication in the front page of his book. : "Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins -- or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom -- Lucifer." Lucifer, Alinsky’s book is dedicated to the devil himself! What I am going to say next is not a political statement. It is a spiritual statement. It is not a comment on the people I mention. It is a mere statement of fact. Hillary Clinton wrote her approving senior thesis at Wellesley on Saul Alinsky. Barak Obama was hired by disciples of Saul ALinsky in the first step of his career, as a community organizer. I say this only so you may see how far the fingers of evil are reaching into our culture so that we may be prepared for what is coming. Jesus does not take us out of the world. He prays that we will not be overcome by the evil one.
3. Our Defense Against the Dark Arts. (Yes, I borrowed the line from Harry Potter!) What are we to do? How do we resist the evil one in our generation? In Jesus’ prayer for us we may discover three defenses. First, uphold the truth. In verse 17 Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth.” The word sanctify means to set apart. In this context it means we must be people wholly and completely committed to the truth. Indeed, since Jesus said the devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44) truth is our paramount weapon. The truth is always more powerful than falsehood. So, we must learn what the truth is. I received a phone call last week from one of our members who has enrolled in a class on world religions. The professor who is nominally a Christian began class the first day by running down the historic Christian faith, attacking the Bible, and presenting a view of the world’s religions that make them out to be benign options for belief. I said to my friend, “I am not afraid of what this professor may try to teach you. I know the truth and can defend what we believe academically and intellectually. But you may not have enough time to do the extra study that this class may require. You may prefer to write this class off as a waste of your time.” I was glad he called, and it makes me encourage you to learn what the truth is. We offer classes here at Cornerstone to help you do that. Learn the truth. Live the truth. Speak the truth. That’s our first defense.
The second defense against the evil one is understand the word. Continuing in verse 17 Jesus says, “Your word is truth.” You don’t have to become a Bible scholar. But you should be growing in your knowledge of the Bible. Your kids need this. At the Hayden Planetarium in New York City the star show was about to start and the theater was packed. The lights dimmed and the narrator began, “On a clear night you can see about 3000 stars in the sky.” From the front row a little voice began counting, “One, two, three….” The narrator said, “Well, most people take our word for it.” The Bible defines what truth is. You don’t have to know all the answers. You can take God’s word for it.
The third defense is undertake the offensive. In verse 18 Jesus prayed, “As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Christians are not to build walls to defend themselves. Going on defense only guarantees that eventually the walls will be breeched. The third leader of the church in Geneva that John Calvin had led to great strength and influence, was Francis Turretin. Under Turretin’s leadership Genevan theology reached its highest and most refined expression. Now they had what the Bible teaches perfectly stated. They could test candidates for the ministry to see how closely they subscribed to it. It was now merely a matter of keeping false teachers out. Seventy years later the church in Geneva was completely apostate. They had lost their faith. Jesus sends us out to reach the world for him. We must go boldly, seeking men and women and boys and girls, to lead them to Christ. There’s risk. But Jesus gives us the power of his word and covers us with his prayer. Because Jesus prayed, we will not fail.
Columbia Preached by Dr. Rick Perrin on August 31 2008 at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, 5637 Bush River Road, SC 29212 and Northwest YMCA on Kennerly Road Tel. 803-772-1000 www.DiscoverCornerstone.com Copyright 2008