The Sixth Petition and Closing: The Word, Prayer and Spirit to Help

 

Daniel 3:13-25; Matthew 6:13 and Luke 8:4-15 (texts); Heidelberg Catechism LD 52
April 7, 2013 • Download PDF sermon

We come now to the end of our series on the Lord’s Prayer portion of the Heidelberg Catechism. Remember that the Catechism was divided into 52 portions so it would be easier for pastors to complete preaching the whole Catechism within a year.

This last portion consists of the sixth and last petition, the closing benediction, and the “amen.” We will focus on the sixth petition, and will touch on the benediction and “amen” only briefly.

"The Parable of the Sower" by James Tissot, 1896-1904 (click to enlarge)

"The Parable of the Sower" by James Tissot, 1896-1904 (click to enlarge)

You might be wondering about my choice of text for this sermon, the Parable of the Sower. What’s the connection between the parable and the sixth petition, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”? We will see that the Catechism is our bridge between these two passages.

This petition has everything to do with all the things in this world that seem to work together to bring us down in our life as Christians. It seems that the whole world, with its cares and riches, its wickedness, and its hostility against our Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom, is conspiring against us. Everywhere we turn, the world is tempting us to take the wide road of fame, fortune, power, sexual immorality, and other things against the will of God. Then we read daily of our brothers and sisters in Christ in many places who suffer all kinds of heinous persecution and even martyrdom because of the world’s hatred against our Lord.

In the Parable of the Sower, we see the results of the preaching by Christ and his apostles then, and his faithful ministers today, of the gospel of the kingdom of God. Although the sower, who represents Christ and his ministers, is important, he is mentioned only once (v. 5). So the parable’s focus is on the various kinds of soil on which the seeds fall. The seed represents the good news of Christ, and the soils represent the hearers of the gospel.

Although the qualities of the first three soils turn from wholly non-responsive, to impulsive, and then to short-lived response, all are unsuitable for productive agriculture. These soils fail because of opposition from the devil and the world. Only the fourth kind of soil produces a lasting response, growing into full maturity, and bearing abundant fruits.

So the Catechism teaches us that when we pray the sixth petition, we are daily praying that our Father in heaven will preserve and strengthen our faith against the devil, the sinful flesh, and the wicked world. And we pray that our Father will give make us fruitful, mature believers who will persevere all the way to the end, when he finally gives us victory over our enemies.

Our theme this Lord’s Day is: The Sixth Petition and Closing: The Word, Prayer and Spirit to Help. We will meditate on this theme under four headings: (1) In Fighting the Evil One; (2) In Overcoming Trials; (3) In Standing Firm Against the World; and (4) In Producing Fruits of Victory.

In Fighting the Evil One
Jesus taught this parable to his disciples as he “went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). Jesus wanted to reveal to his disciples another mystery of the kingdom of God. Like the other Jews, his disciples did not understand what it was all about, so they asked him to explain its meaning. Jesus replied, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables.” To his chosen disciples, Jesus will reveal the mysteries or “secrets” of the kingdom.

But in saying that others will not understand, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9, “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (verse 10). The LORD made it clear to Isaiah that as he preaches God’s Word, many of the people of God will not believe, but instead harden their hearts. They will reject the good news of the kingdom of God because the Spirit has not given them his grace to repent and believe. Instead, the gospel will harden them to God’s offer of grace and mercy.

This is why we daily pray to our heavenly Father that our hearts will always be softened by the hearing and reading of the gospel. The Catechism teaches us that because we are so weak that we “cannot stand a moment” the unceasing assaults by “the devil, the world, and our own flesh.” Only by the power of the Holy Spirit are we able to stand against this three-pronged attack.

Although most older translations (KJV, NASB) say “deliver us from evil,” the consensus is the reading “deliver us from the evil one,” that is, Satan the devil. In fact, the New Testament word in the Lord’s Prayer is translated in ten other verses as “the evil one.”

In the Parable, the seed that accidentally fall along the hard path in the field that is being sown don’t go anywhere. Since the seed stay on top of the hard path, they are easy pickings for birds. This means that as soon as this kind of hearer hears the gospel being sown by the preacher, the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts. Like the Pharisees and the scribes, their hearts are as hard as the path, and the gospel doesn’t penetrate their hearts. Therefore, these people do not believe and are not saved by the hearing of the gospel.

Unbelieving friends, are your hearts like the hard path in the field, so that the good news of salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone do not resonate within you? Are you deaf to this good news read and preached every Lord’s Day? May it never be! Pray that the Spirit of God will soften your hard heart.

Friends in Christ, pray that your heart may not be like this hard path in the field, so that the good seed of God’s Word may soften your hearts. Pray that that the words of eternal life may penetrate your hearts every time you read or listen to the Scriptures. Pray that you’re in the church every Lord’s Day not because you want to be entertained by the worship team, or to socialize with friends, or to get an emotional high to get you going for the rest of the week. Pray that you’re here because you’re meeting your heavenly Father to worship him with all your heart, soul and mind; that you’re learning the good news of salvation; that your souls are willing and ready to be nourished by the Word and Sacrament.

Pray also that your life is maturing in prayer and in the Spirit. Pray that daily, the Spirit will strengthen you to ward off the fiery attacks of Satan against you, because he never stops prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour the weak and the helpless. With his army of false prophets and false teachers, Satan never stops roaming this world as as an angel of light in search of those with no knowledge of God’s Word so they may be snared and deceived by their ignorance.

In Overcoming Trials
If Satan is the tempter and deceiver, then why do we ask our heavenly Father the first portion of the sixth petition, “lead us not into temptation”? Is God the one who leads us into temptation?

Obviously, God never tempts anyone, that is, he never baits people into sinning. Just as Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, a person is tempted when he allows himself to be enticed by his own desire (Jas 1:13). But God sometimes brings his beloved people into difficult situations to “test” or “try” them, such as Abraham, Israel, Job and David. The word used in the sixth petition for “temptation” comes from the same root word that is sometimes translated as “trial” or “test.” For example, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). And Peter also encourages those of us who suffer, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Pet 4:12).

In fact, we are to rejoice even when we are “grieved by various trials” (1 Pet 1:6) because in them we share in Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet 4:13). James also says the same thing, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” and maturity (Jas 1:2-3).

Therefore, testing, trials and sufferings are a fact of life. Our heavenly Father sometimes causes us to enter into certain temptations or trials to make us strong. But Christians are never called to willfully bring themselves into such tempting and dangerous situations. We are to pray to our Father that he will not allow us to be brought into trials and temptations. But if God does, as he certainly will, we are to pray to be delivered from them. How are we not to pray so, when struggling against sufferings, trials and temptations is a most difficult task even for the strongest and holiest of believers, even Paul himself?

In North Africa in the fourth century, there was a group of zealots and radicals composed of runaway slaves, ruined peasants who called themselves “fighters for Christ,” the only true Christians. But most other people called them “circumcellions” or holy scroungers. Augustine called them lazy, crude and vile. They believed that martyrdom was the way into heaven. They demanded crowds of people to kill them. They picked fights so that they can be killed. They committed mass suicide, often by jumping off cliffs or into rivers. Some even burned themselves.

As Christians, we are not to pray a death wish. Instead, we are to pray the sixth petition, which is in two parts. The first part is a negative prayer, “Don’t bring difficult circumstances to us that would tempt us to sin” (Matt. 26:41; 2Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10). But if God allows these things, then we pray the positive part, “But deliver us from the temptations and lies of the evil one.”

Some of the seed fell into places where the topsoil was very thin and underneath was rocky ground, like many fields in Palestine. Because of this thin soil, there was not much moisture, so even after sprouting up, the plants withered quickly away since they have no roots. This seed represents people who, “when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away” (Luke 8:13). Mark puts it this way, “when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:17). They immediately stumble or are offended when sufferings or persecution come.

Are these “rocky ground” people believers? No, because those who finally fall away and wither in their faith have no faith at all. They are like the branches of the vine that are cut off because they bore bad fruit. They are those who are part of the church, God’s covenant community, but are not part of the elect of God. They are not rooted in God’s Word and Spirit. They immediately respond to the gospel with joy, but the real test of true faith comes with tribulation and persecution. This response is only “intellectual” on one hand, or “emotional” on the other, but not a new creation wrought by the Spirit. Jesus even warns, “In the world, you shall have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Since Christ has overcome the world, those who are of true faith will also finally overcome.

Beware of this immediate response that is not of true saving faith! Many among those who respond to altar calls do not persevere and bear no fruit, not even knowing what the true gospel is. Paul warns the Galatian believers of the Judaizers, I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6). John also describes why some in the church fall away, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). They were rocky ground in the first place!

In Standing Firm Against the World
In the sixth petition, we pray that the Word and Spirit of God will” first, give us strength to fight the devil’s temptations; second, overcome trials.

Thirdly, we also pray that we might be able to stand firm against the world. In the parable, some of the seed are sown among thorns. The soil is not hard or rocky, but is full of thorns and weeds, so the plants that sprout and grow from the seed compete against the weeds for the soil’s nutrients. Eventually, the plants are overcome by the abundance of fast-growing weeds. The plants also wither, never maturing and never bearing fruit.

This thorny soil is a picture of those who respond to the message, and continue to grow for a time towards full maturity. But then the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” take priority in their lives. Mark describes these thorns as “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:18-19).

What are the cares of the world? They are our material and physical concerns—food, clothes, and a place to live in. While God commands us to take care of our needs, being overly concerned with material things and making them our highest priority will eventually choke our faith and Christian life. Jesus reminds us, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Luke 12:22; see Matt 6:25). Later, he says again that we are to be sober and watchful as pilgrims in this world, not indulging ourselves, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34).

The second thing that chokes our faith is deceitful riches. Jesus again warns, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). Paul also has a warning about the love of riches, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). These are all solemn warnings to those who delight and depend on their riches more than God. They have received their reward in this world, but these are treasures on earth that will count for nothing in the age to come.

The third and last thing that chokes our faith is the pleasures of life. Paul reminds us that when we were unbelievers, “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures … ” (Tit 3:3). John sets the believer against the ungodly world, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-17). Moses was cited as a great example of a man who set his eyes on God, not on the pleasures of Egypt, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25).

We are to pray that the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of life would not overcome us. The great danger to Christians in these is eventually, they become choked with the world, becoming cold and lukewarm in their walk with God. Be forewarned: in the pursuit of pleasure, many who profess faith in God eventually fall away from the faith.

How many are those who call themselves Christians pursue riches and pleasure by working overseas where there are no faithful churches, no Bible studies, no Christian friends? May they realize that this is a very dangerous situation that they have to flee before it is too late.

A great man of God in the early church was Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. During the Arian controversy in the fourth century, he stood like a rock for the truth of the full deity of Christ. Ignoring his safety and enduring at least five exiles totaling 20 years, he defended the truth against the majority who accepted the Arian heresy. For this, the epitaph attached to his name throughout all church history is “Athanasius contra mundum”—Athanasius against the world! May we be steadfast like him in resisting the cares and pleasures of this world.

In Producing Fruits of Victory
The first three soils are the soils of unbelief. But the last soil is the good soil of faith, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). The good soil nourishes the seed until it sprouts, becomes a strong plant, and bears abundant fruit. Mark says the yield is 30-, 60-, and 100-fold, which are extraordinary yields of fruits (Mark 4:20).

Even with good soil, a farmer has to till and cultivate the field to make it fertile land for abundant harvest. The good soil then is a picture of a heart that has been renewed by the Spirit to be an honest and good heart to receive the gospel. The person hears the Word and accepts it so that they bear fruits. He holds fast to the Word, and with persevering work, bears abundant fruits.

Churches today are so enamored with counting souls who are saved in their altar calls and crusades, forgetting that Jesus himself did not produce many fruits. His produce is a pittance compared with today’s megachurches. We are not to be ensnared by the methods and devices of men to produce numbers, because God has promised that the elect will surely be saved by hearing the preaching of the Word (Rom 10:17), not by human inventions.

The good soil is what Jesus describes as the branch that remains attached to the True Vine, himself, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). A person who is not attached to the Vine will not yield any good fruits.

What are these fruits? Paul lists them in Galatians as the “fruits of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Who are the good soil? These are those who “have died to the law through the body of Christ … to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom 7:4). These are “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). The heart that belongs to the good soil produces abundant fruits because he has died to the world’s evil cares and desires.

Patience is one of these fruits. The one who has patience also endures, as James 5:7 teaches, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it …” When the Christian hold fast to the Word of Christ, he will persevere to the end, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Heb 10:36).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when you pray the sixth petition, you are praying for deliverance from the temptations that come from the devil, the sinful flesh, and the world. You are praying that God would spare you from testing and trials. You are praying for strength from and preservation by the Holy Spirit, that you may stand firm against them and overcome their temptations. In short, you are praying that the Spirit will transform your hearts from the hard soil, the rocky soil, and the thorny soil to the good soil that bears abundant fruits all the way to the end.

And looking unto Jesus till the end, we see his obedience to his Father all the way to his death on the accursed cross. Beginning with his boyhood, Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). With his temptation in the desert for forty days and nights by the devil, his earthly ministry began with a test. Every day of his life he was tempted by the devil through both disciples and enemies. Throughout his life, he came to know what it is to be human as he experienced all kinds of sufferings (Heb. 2:9, 10). This is why Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus “learned obedience through what He suffered.”

Even while he hung on the cross, the insults kept coming. The people tempted him to call upon his legions of heavenly angels to deliver him from the hellish agony of the wrath of God. In all respects, he was like you, but he did not yield to temptation—not even once! (Heb 4:15)

In the process He defeated the devil as he “disarmed the rulers and authorities,” that is, the devil and his demons (Col 2:15). So his heavenly Father rewarded Jesus Christ with a crown, as King of kings and Lord of lords. Because of this, you too have overcome the devil, the world and the flesh, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18). The Holy Spirit has united you to Christ by faith in his death to sin and resurrection to new life (Rom 6:4).

This is the victory that was given to Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were steadfast in God’s Word to not bow down to the king’s idol, trusting in God’s will. But even if God does not deliver them from sure incineration in the furnace, they declared with confidence, “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:18). To their vindication, they went through the furnace untouched because there was a man who went with them through the fiery trial. This man’s “appearance [was] like a son of the gods,” no doubt an angel or Christ himself! (Dan 3:25)

Be assured that Satan’s temptations can only come to you if and when our heavenly Father allows him. And that is why Paul can reassure you, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).

As you close the Lord’s Prayer with a doxology, “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever,” you are trusting that your heavenly Father will accomplish these things in you for his own glory.

Then when you persevere in bearing abundant fruits until the end, complete victory is yours. You can then say, “Amen,” because you know that all these promises shall truly and surely be done unto you.

 

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