Jesus and his chosen twelve were in the upper room for the Passover which Jesus has transformed into a memorial for his coming death and resurrection. There is a betrayer among them which has caused the disciples to argue among themselves as to who is the greatest. Jesus taught them that greatness in the kingdom of God is not about having power but about serving. Leadership and authority and sitting on thrones is about serving, by doing the tasks that no one else wants to do. Now Jesus needs to warn his disciples.
Sifted By Satan (22:31)
Jesus says something shocking to our scene in verse 31. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you all, that he might sift you all like wheat.” The “you” in both places is plural. So Jesus addresses Peter who represents the twelve apostles. All of the apostles are under this threat. Satan is demanding to have all of you. This causes me to shutter and I think it should cause all of us to shutter. Satan is asking for you. Satan is demanding to have you. Satan wants to sift you all like wheat. A grain would be put into a sieve, where the head of the grain was taken apart. To be sifted like wheat is a metaphor for being taken apart. Satan is trying to ruin Peter and the apostles and leave them in pieces. Does this not remind you of exactly what we read in the first two chapter of the book of Job? Satan does the same thing to Job. Satan approaches the Lord in heaven and asks to essentially try to ruin Job and leave him in pieces.
We see something really important about who Satan is and what he is doing. Satan is not merely an accuser. He is not only standing there to condemn us when we sin but he causes reason for accusation. Satan is an accuser and an attacker of our faith. Satan wants to take our faith apart. Do we think of Satan’s work in those terms? Do we see the spiritual battle revealed to the eyes of the apostles and ourselves? Simon Peter is particularly under this threat of having his faith shredded. Please notice that Jesus does not call him by the name he gave him which was Peter, meaning rock. Rather, Jesus goes back to his birth name, Simon. You are not going to be a rock at this moment, Simon. Satan is attacking your faith and demanded to take you apart.
We need to recognize the power of Satan. Satan is real and his power is great. Do you feel that Satan is trying to take your faith and leave it in pieces? Do you recognize that Satan wants to sift and ruin you? You are under attack if you are trying to profess faith in Jesus and give your life in passionate pursuit of him! The apostle Paul says that the evil one is shooting flaming arrows at you (Ephesians 6:16)!
Jesus, Our Intercessor (22:32)
But listen to what Jesus says he did. Jesus says that he prayed for Peter. Please note that in verse 32 all four instances of the word “you” and “your” are singular. So Jesus is directing this particularly to Peter. Listen to these wonderful words of hope. Satan is trying to leave you in pieces, but I have prayed for you so that your faith may not be lost. Notice that Jesus does not pray that Peter would not sin in that moment. Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny him three times. But the issue at hand is not simply the sin but what will happen next. What will Peter do after he fails the Lord? Peter will sin. But this is not a surprise. Everyone will sin. Everyone will fall short. Everyone lets our Lord down. The question is not if you are going to sin. The question is what are you going to do after that. Is Satan going to be successful and shred your faith to pieces? Our effort is not only to avoid sin, but also to not allow our faith to be shattered when we fall short. What will we do once we sin? It is so easy to be demoralized by our failures. It is easy to want to quit because of our shortcomings. Perhaps the easiest thing to do is give up. What I mean by this is that we still come to church and do some of the external things, but we let our heart grow cold. We no longer passionately pursue Jesus because we just are not good enough. But we must remember something. We can never be good enough. Jesus came because we are not good. But what will we do after we sin? What will become of our faith after we have fallen short?
Jesus says that he has prayed on behalf of Peter. Jesus is making intercession. What does this mean for Peter? Listen to the rest of verse 32. Peter can turn again and strengthen the brothers. This word “turn” that Jesus uses is the same word found in Acts 3:19 when Peter preached to Jerusalem, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19 ESV). The word “turn” is is speaking about repentance (cf. James 5:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Peter 2:25). James used this word to speak of one who wanders from the truth but is brought back (James 5:19-20).
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20 ESV)
It was not going to be over for Peter. Jesus had made intercessor so that Peter could turn again and strengthen the brothers. I believe this is part of Job’s story also. We are reading Job and watching what he will do. Satan says that this suffering will tear Job’s faith to shreds. Does the story tell of Job’s perfection? Absolutely not. Job says things that he ought not to have said, even by his own admission (Job 40:3-5). But what happens at the conclusion when God addresses the foolishness and sinfulness of Job? Listen to Job’s words: “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
What about us? I want us to see that what Jesus does for Peter is what he does for us.
Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23–25 NRSV)
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:34–35 ESV)
This is what is means that Jesus makes intercession for us. Our failure does not have to be the end of our faith. Jesus is interceding. Jesus is doing something because of our failure. We can come back to God. Jesus has acted so that we can turn again. Sin does not have to be the falling from the faith.
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25 NRSV) It is Jesus that keeps us from falling. We fail. Jesus intercedes. We turn again. Oh, amazing grace! What a wonderful Savior!
Our Proud Hearts (22:33-34)
There is only one thing that keeps us from this great reality and hope: our pride. Peter does not see that he needs this intercession. Listen to his words. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Peter thinks he’s got this. He is not going to sin. He is not going to stumble. Satan can try to sift me like wheat but I will go to prison and to death! Jesus says no. Peter will deny Jesus three times between this night and the sun rise. In the next few hours Peter will deny Jesus, not just once, but three times.
How ready we often think we are in our faith! Yet we are unaware of our coming failure. Do not assume an area of strength. Satan is demanding to have you, to sift you, and leave you in pieces. Satan will take any attack against you. Never say that you would never commit some particular sin. Do not be proud. Do not think it cannot happen. Pride goes before our fall. We need to humbly get on our knees and recognize that if it happened to someone else, it can also happen to me. Be watchful. Be prayerful. Be careful. It is a time of spiritual danger. This is what Jesus is talking about in a couple hours when he sees his disciples sleeping and not praying at this moment. We simply do not recognize the spiritual danger we are in. We think we are strong. We think that we do not need help and we do not see the fiery arrows flying right at our face. Be watchful and pray!
- Isn’t it amazing that God can know our sins ahead of time and still act as he does toward us? Truly amazing grace!
- We are under attack by Satan. He wants to destroy our faith and leave us in shreds. Every Christian will be sifted. Jesus is interceding for you. What will you do after your failure? Will you turn again to God and strengthen your fellow Christians?