Sifting Like Wheat (Luke 22:31-34)
We often know what the right thing to do is, and we want to do the right thing, but we have such great difficulty doing the right thing. There is not a one of us who doesn’t face relentless temptation. Satan comes and he tempts and he temps and he tempts.
Tonight’s lesson is about an apostle’s struggle with temptation. There are three people in our passage tonight who desire something. We want to examine their desire to see what we can learn about temptation.
Satan’s Desire, v 31
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.”
Satan had demanded to have the apostles—there’s Satan’s desire: to have the apostles.
Satan had demanded. The word used here in the Greek is an old word, which means to “beg.” Satan had begged to have the apostles. When you read this passage, your mind goes back to the Book of Job. We know how Satan went before God’s throne and begged to tempt Job. When Job passed the first temptation, Satan went right back to God’s throne in order to tempt Job again.
Think about the implications of this: Satan had to ask to tempt the apostles. Satan’s power is limited; he cannot do whatever he desires. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength” (1 Cor 10:13). Revelation 20:2-3. Satan cannot do whatever he desires today; his power is limited; he cannot tempt you without God’s permission.
Satan wanted the apostles. It is unfortunate at times like these that we do not read the New Testament in its original Greek, because we lose some of the richness of the language when it’s translated into English. The word for “you” in this verse is plural. Thus, although Jesus speaks these words to Simon, Satan had asked for the apostles as a group, not just Simon. We do know that the apostles went through great temptation at this point. Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied Jesus, and the other apostles deserted him and fled. It’s undoubtedly because of the great temptation the apostles would face that Jesus, in the garden, encouraged them: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Lk 22:40).
In all likelihood, Jesus spoke these words directly to Simon, because he was the leader of the Twelve.
Satan wanted to sift the apostles like wheat. Wheat would be sifted to separate the genuine wheat from what had gotten mixed in with it.
Satan wanted to shake these apostles up. Satan did sift the apostles; he separated the good from the bad; Judas was sifted out, and the other passed their test. I’m not certain that Satan really wanted to sift the apostles. I think that what Satan wanted was to convince them to fall, the same thing he wanted with Job. I think that he has asked permission to tempt the disciples, and Jesus editorializes it; Jesus refers to the tempting of the apostles as sifting like wheat, because that’s the effect it had.
Satan is going to come and tempt us, just as he did the apostles. We’re gong to be sifted as wheat. How will you come out?
Jesus’ Desire, v 32
“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”
Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail—this is Jesus’ desire: that Peter’s faith would not fail.
Jesus prayed for Peter. What an encouragement for Peter to know that his Master had been praying for him! Imagine being in Peter’s shows—what a comfort it would have been to know that Jesus was praying for you.
Jesus intercedes for us even today. “Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” (Rom 8:34). “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). Jesus is before God’s throne where he intercedes, prays for us. Undoubtedly, he prays that our faith does not fail, and when we do sin, he intercedes for our mercy.
The “you” in this verse is singular, so it was Peter specifically for whom Jesus was praying.
The purpose of Jesus’ prayers was that Peter’s faith no fail. The Greek term for “fail” is “ekleipo.” We get the English term “eclipse” from this Greek term. The term means to “fail or to die out.”
There is a good bit of discussion among scholars as to what is meant by “fail not” in this passage. Does the term mean that Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would never waiver even the least amount? Or, does the term mean that Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not be totally destroyed by his disobedience? Scholars have espoused arguments on both sides of the issue, but we really have no way to be certain.
When Peter had turned again, he was to strengthen his brethren. The term for “turned again” is used throughout the New Testament to mean “repent.”
What encouragement these words had to be to Peter! He was going to mess up in a big way, but Jesus still had faith in him! Jesus knew Peter would repent, and that he would be able to do great things after he repented.
Peter was to strengthen his brethren. We find Peter strengthening his brethren throughout Acts, as he plays a huge role in the infant church. Who better to strengthen the church than one who understood the fullness of God’s grace? Many times those who have faced huge struggles in their life can better help people going through struggles.
Peter’s Desire, vv 33-34
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Here we see Peter’s desire—to be faithful to Jesus. Peter said, “Lord, my faith isn’t going to fail. I’m ready to die for you if that’s what I need to do.”
Jesus tells Peter, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”
Jesus says, in essence, “Peter, I know your desire. I know how hard you try, but your faith isn’t going to be all it needs to be tonight.” I’m afraid that we all know too well that we often desire to do the right thing, but we fail to do the right thing. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). “The good that I will do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Rom 7:19). Our intentions are often good—we intend to do right, but our flesh overpowers us and we sin.
Jesus says to Peter, “You will give in to your flesh tonight. In fact, before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times.”
The crow was considered in the ancient world a good predictor of the approach of daylight. Thus, Jesus tells Peter, “You will deny me tonight. In just a few hours, you will deny me.” Think about the implications of this: Peter, an apostle, the first apostle to preach the gospel, would sin and fall. If such a great man would sin and fall, the rest of us will sin and fall.
The question is: “How will we respond to the sin and the fall?” Peter and Judas both sinned against Jesus. Judas went and hanged himself, and Peter became a pillar in the church. How will you respond to the sin in your life?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.