“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat…” Can you imagine hearing those words? Can you imagine Jesus telling you that Satan, the Devil, wants to sift you as if you were wheat, and, not only that, he asked for permission to do so. Now, what does this even mean though? What did Jesus mean when he said Satan wanted to “sift all of you as wheat?”
Well, were not talking about the winnowing process where you throw the wheat in the air and the chaff blows away leaving behind the wheat. No, we’re talking about what you’d do if you were looking for gold in a small riverbed. You get out your sifter, your little sieve with its small holes and you scoop into the water, and you shake that sieve, and sift out the stuff you don’t want. It’s a little more violent, a little more direct. That’s what Satan wanted to do to Simon Peter and the other disciples. He wanted to shake them so violently that perhaps their very faith might be shaken from their souls. He wanted to break them from their relationship with Jesus.
Now, you’d think that Jesus wouldn’t want this to happen. You’d think that Jesus’ next words to Peter would be, “…Satan wants to sift you…but I’m not gonna allow it, Peter. I got your back.” That’s not what happened. Instead, Jesus in essence says to Peter,
Peter, this is gonna happen, and I’ll be praying for you” Imagine that moment.
And, Peter, you know he had no clue what was going on. He had no idea what Satan’s sifting would be like or why it would take place, but Jesus knew. He knew what was about to unfold. The meal in the upper room was over. Things were about to happen quickly. Soon Jesus would be headed to the Garden of Gethsemane. Soon, he would be arrested and put on trial. Soon, he would hang on a cross, suffer hell, and die. But here, right now, in this moment the Savior of the world was looking at Peter. And you just know his eyes were full of concern and love because he knew what Peter was about to endure. He knew that Satan would soon shake his disciple so violently, that not just once, but three times that disciple would deny his faith, would deny his Savior, would deny him. Peter, at least for a time, would fall into unbelief.
Now, that means God granted Satan’s request. God allowed Satan to sift, to shake violently, all the disciples like wheat, and that happened over the course of the night and into the next days, and weeks as, after Jesus’ arrest and death, his disciples fled, and doubted, and feared. But Peter above all would be especially shook.
And, we might wonder, “Why?” Why would God allow this? Why didn’t he stop Satan? That’s always our question – “Why!?” Let me tell you why, and, here’s the thing – here’s the thing – the reason that God allowed Peter to be sifted like wheat might be the same reason that, in your own life, God has allowed Satan to sift you, sometimes quite violently, and the reason God allows that is this…
Immediately after Jesus looked at Peter, and called him by his given name – “Simon, Simon” almost as if to hint at just how serious this moment was – immediately after Jesus warned Peter about what Satan had asked to do, do you know what Peter said? “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” These words are the answer to our “why?”.
You see, Peter had great faith – strong faith! – but his strong faith, was in himself. And, here is what’s interesting. Sometimes, a loved one can’t warn you enough, can’t shake you up enough, can’t tell it to you straight and make you realize your weakness or your fault. Sometimes, sometimes, you got to learn by experience. Sometimes, someone else has to slap you upside the head and you gotta fall hard so that you can realize exactly what you need. And, you know what? Sometimes God lets that happen. There are times in your life, just like in Peter’s, that God allows Satan to sift you like wheat, and it hurts.
Remember how it went with Peter? Three times – three! He denied his Lord three times, but then that rooster crowed and as it did, as it’s crowing echoed in the early morning, there was Jesus (what timing) being led through the courtyard in chains, and Jesus looked at him, at Peter, and in that moment, Peter realized who he truly was, and he wept. He was a sinner who was helpless to defeat the devil with his own strength, a sheep defenseless against the devil who prowls around like a lion. He was a failure. Satan had sifted this follower of Jesus, and it shook him to his core, but, again, sometimes, sometimes the followers of Christ need this to happen.
I think you all know that. I think each of you have endured some sifting by Satan in your life. And, perhaps like Peter, that sifting hurt – still hurts. In those moments, it can be easy to get mad at God; it’s not hard to walk away from him. But those sifting moments can also be shocking, can’t they? It’s embarrassing how easy we give into Satan, appalling how fast we sin and how long we embrace those things which our God despises. We like it…sin. It’s part of our nature, and that’s the problem.
You see here’s the thing, just because God allows Satan to sift us, doesn’t mean we have to give in, doesn’t mean we have to sin. It doesn’t mean we have to forsake God and walk away. You know Peter didn’t have to deny Jesus, but he chose to. He chose the path of denial and unbelief – that was his choice. We choose our paths too, remember that. But you know what? So, did Jesus.
In these verses, Jesus prayed for Peter. I find that fascinating. Here is why: Jesus’ prayer for Peter – it’s there in verse 32 – “that his faith may not fail” – do you realize that prayer could only be answered if Jesus died. Peter’s faith, his trust, wouldn’t have just failed, but it would’ve been worthless, if Jesus didn’t choose to continue on that path to calvary, a path that would mean death and hell for him. But Jesus needed to do this. He needed to die, so that Peter had something, no someone, to turn back to in his moment of unbelief and sorrow.
Here Jesus was warning Peter and the other disciples, telling them that Satan was coming for them all but, even as he warned them, he knew their only hope was a Savior…it was him. Peter didn’t get that right away. He thought he was strong enough. He thought Satan had no power over him, then he failed three times, then that rooster crowed after that third denial, but then there was Jesus, and his Savior, Peter’s Savior, turned and looked at him. In that moment, Jesus’ prayer was answered. The sight of Jesus brought Peter to tears, he wept bitterly. He was sorry, and in his tears, he turned forever back to his Lord.
Now, I don’t know what kind of sifting God is allowing Satan to do in your life or in the lives of those whom you love, nor do I know how long that sifting will last, but I do know this: Jesus’ prayer remains the same for us all. He doesn’t want you to fail. He doesn’t want to lose you, and if you doubt this, if you question it, look here at this cross, because this is his love for you. Right here, Jesus answered his own prayer for you – he did this for you! He chose the path of pain, of suffering, and of hell, so that you would have someone to turn back to, so that you would have a Savior.
And while those moments of hard violent shaking and sifting here may seem to last forever, they will not compare to the glory of the eternity that awaits you through Christ Jesus. That’s what you have to look forward to. That’s what we turn back to when we confess our sins and put our trust in Christ alone. And it’s that message that Jesus urged Peter to share with his brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, tonight, please, do as Peter did, and take this good news that you have heard here and strengthen one another and tell others. Tell them that there is forgiveness and hope for them too. They don’t have to fail. They don’t have to suffer here or in hell; they can live like you right now in God’s grace, and they can be with you forever in everlasting glory. This is what we all have in Christ Jesus. May he be forever praised. God grant it. Amen.