“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired [to have] you, that he may sift [you] as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)
If you were asked how to best secure the spiritual well-being of one of God’s saints, or how to best promote a believer’s spiritual growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, what would you recommend? I suspect you might say, “Put him in some place where he will be unmolested by the influence of the world, and always surrounded by other believers. Arrange for the brother or sister to have as few distractions, worldly cares, and tempting circumstances as possible. Encourage the child of God to spend several hours each day reading his Bible, praying, and meditating on spiritual things. And encourage him to exercise a life of strict discipline, abstaining from everything that might gratify his physical body.”
Pursue the same line of thought a little further. If I were to ask you the best way for a man to be prepared for the blessed work of preaching the Gospel, to prepare a man to be a pastor or missionary, what would you suggest? You might say, “Send him away to a Bible college or seminary. Give him a good education. Teach him Hebrew and Greek. Supply him with a good library. Surround him with other aspiring preachers, with whom he can meditate, pray, study the Bible, and discuss doctrine and religious issues of the day. And keep him, as much as possible, away from worldly people, who might corrupt his mind.”
That has been the practice of religious people throughout history. And it is appealing. It seems to make sense. Doesn’t it? But, if you care to look at history, you will discover that convents and monasteries have been, more often than not, dens of iniquity indescribable. And Bible colleges and seminaries, following the traditions of Rome, have made little improvement.
You can be sure of this fact. It applies to all things spiritual. — God’s ways are not our ways. And His thoughts are not our thoughts. John Newton, the man who wrote that great hymn, “Amazing Grace,” understood this. He wrote...
“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
[‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair. ]
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And, by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea, more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried;
‘Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
‘`Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’
‘These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thine all in Me.’”
In the passage before us God the Holy Spirit shows us, in the experience of His servant Peter, how our blessed Savior graciously causes His saints to grow in grace, how He causes believers to grow in faith and in the knowledge of Himself. And, in this passage we see the method our blessed, all-wise, and ever-gracious God and Savior has chosen to prepare His servants to minister to and serve His people. Read it again.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
If we belong to Christ, Satan desires to have us, that he may sift us as wheat; but Christ Himself prays for us, and thereby keeps us secure in His grace. May God the Holy Spirit make His Word in this place effectual to our hearts by the blessing of His grace, for Christ’s sake.
Our Adversary’s Desire
First, the Lord Jesus declares our adversary’s desire regarding us. “The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” — As the time drew near when the Lord Jesus would be forsaken by His disciples and forsaken by His Father, when He would suffer and die as our Substitute, bearing our sins in His own body upon the cursed tree, Satan seems to have seized what he thought was a perfect opportunity to draw away the Savior’s disciples. He was not ignorant of the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or that He came into this world in human flesh to redeem and save His people from their sins. Satan knew our Savior had declared that He would build His Church and that the gates of hell could not prevail against it.
The fiend of hell also knew that the disciples were in a time of great confusion. They fully expected the Lord Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. They had left all and followed Him in the expectation of immediate glory. But the Master had now told them that He must suffer and die at Jerusalem by the hands of wicked men, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Can you imagine how confused, disappointed, and frustrated they must have been. They said, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” So the devil seems to have thought, “This is the perfect time for me to strike. If I can destroy these disciples, I will frustrate God’s purpose and promise. I will, at last, be victorious!” He seems to have reserved his great strength for this hour. He appears to have set his watchful eye upon the Lord’s followers, “as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
The first two chapters of Job shed some light on this, showing us how Satan marks out his prey (Job 1:8-12; 2:4-6).
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that [there is] none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath [is] in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:8-12)
“And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he [is] in thine hand; but save his life.” (Job 2:4-6)
If you will look at the alternate translation of Job 1:8 given in the margin of your Bible (if you have a marginal reference), you will see that the words, “Hast thou considered my servant Job,” might be better translated, “Hast thou set thy heart upon my servant Job?” The Lord God knew that Satan had set his malicious heart upon Job, like a butcher sets his eye upon the calf selected for slaughter, or a wolf singles out one lamb in a flock of sheep.
Satan did not deny his malicious intent. Rather, he seems to have acknowledged it. His reply to God was, “Hast not thou made an hedge about him?” He did not deny that his heart was set upon Job, that he longed for his hands to be dipped in the blood of Job’s heart. But he complained that God had set a hedge around him, that the Lord had put a fence around his servant through which he could not break. He could look over the hedge and roar; but he could not touch Job until God took the hedge away. Twice the Lord took the hedge away, but still preserved the object of His mercy, love, and grace, saying, “Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.”
Though He gave everything else to the devil, He preserved His servant Job. When the hedge was taken away, Satan burst in upon Job, first stripping away his property and his family, then afflicting his body, but he was not permitted to touch his life.
That is a pretty good picture of the scene before us in Luke 22. The wolf has surrounded the Lord’s flock, setting his heart on the sheep. Judas, the son of perdition, was permitted to take and destroy, because he was the son of perdition. But, now, with the taste of Judas’ blood still warm in his mouth, Satan sets his heart upon the rest of the disciples. The fiend of hell wanted them all!
“Thee” and “Ye”
Did you ever wonder why the Bible sometimes uses the words “thee” and “ye”, and at other times uses the word “you”? Let me show you one of the beauties of our King James translation that is completely lost in all modern translations.
In the New Testament there is a distinct difference between the words “thee” and “ye” and the word “you.” Many object to using the word “You”, when referring to or speaking to our God, because they superstitiously imagine that “Thee” is more reverent than “You.” That certainly is not the case. It is no more reverent to say, “Hallowed be Thy name,” than “Hallowed be Your name.” Both are accurate translations of our Savior’s words. We do not have to use “thee,” “thou,” “thy,” and “thine” in our prayers to be heard by God.
Yet, as I said, there is a distinct difference between the words “thee” and “ye” and the word “you.” Whenever you read the words “thee” and “ye” in your Bible, try to remember that those words are always singular pronouns, referring to one person. But, when you read the word “you,” that is a plural pronoun, referring to more than one person.
That sheds much light on our Savior’s words to Peter. — “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you” (“you” all of you, my disciples), “that he may sift you (all of you) as wheat: But I have prayed for thee” (“thee” singular — specifically for you, Peter) “that thy” (“thy” singular — The words “thy” and “thou,” like “thee” and “ye,” are singular pronouns. The Lord is saying, Peter I have prayed for you specifically, that your) “faith fail not.” He is saying, “Peter, Satan has set his heart on you all to destroy you by sifting you as wheat, but I have prayed for you personally, that your faith fail not.”
I have said all that to say this. — It is a mistake to think these words are only applicable to Peter. The Lord Jesus includes all His disciples, both in His prayer and in His stated purpose. He includes you and me here. Satan wants us all; and our Savior wants us all. Who do you think will have what he wants?
Satan desires to have us all, that he may sift us as wheat. And, according to the measure of His own wise and gracious purpose, our Lord Jesus permits Satan to do just that. He will not allow him to have us; but He does use the devil to sift us as wheat. Yet, the Lord Jesus has prayed for us (John 17:15), prays for us (1 John 2:1-2), and secures us by His grace (John 10:28).
The difference between Judas’ sin, which was for him sin unto death, and Peter’s sin (as well as yours and mine), was not their deeds, or the extent of their guilt, or the aggravating circumstances of their crimes, or even that one sinned against greater light or more persistently than the other. The only difference between Judas’s fall and Peter’s was this. — The Lord Jesus prayed for Peter, that his faith fail not, but not for Judas.
All who profess faith in Christ, all who profess to be His disciples, all who call themselves by the name of the Lord Jesus must and shall be sifted as wheat. You and I must and shall be put into the sieve. By this means, God separates the wheat from the chaff and the precious from the vile.
You know what a sieve is. Every housewife uses one when she bakes. But the sieve referred to here is not commonly used today. It was a really big version of the one your wife has in her pantry. A sieve is a large meshed basket used to separate the grain from dirt, and chaff, and rubbish. It is shaken roughly back and forth. As it is shaken to and fro, the grain is separated from the chaff. All the dust and debris falls through the meshes of the sieve, while the good grain remains behind. This is a necessary instrument and a necessary work. Until the wheat is separated from the chaff, it is not fit for making bread.
Our Lord Jesus used that process to describe what is done when Satan is permitted to tempt and try God’s elect. But we must never imagine that Satan has his way. He never does. The sifting work is God’s. He simply uses Satan to do it. — “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth” (Amos 9:9).
We are sifted when we are put into circumstances that try our faith. Throughout our lives, we must be sifted. The sifting process does not change anything. It simply separates the wheat from the chaff. There are many sieves by which the precious grain is separated from the worthless chaff. Let me mention just four.
1. Prosperity — The sieve of prosperity is one means by which people are sifted. By prosperity, many who once appeared to have true faith in Christ have erred from the faith, proving themselves to be reprobate (1 Timothy 6:10).
Job tells us that though they have great wealth and live in great ease, though they have all that they can desire in their hands, “their good is not in their hand…They are as stubble before the wind, and chaff that the storm carrieth away” (Job 21:16-18). David tells us that he was envious at the prosperity of the wicked, until he went into the house of God and understood what God had done to them by making them prosperous. — “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction” (Psalm 73:18).
Nothing is more dangerous than the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. By this sieve, God sifts many and makes manifest whether their religion is true or false. The false, because of the love of money and the care of this world, when they have opportunity to gain what they really love, will, like Demas, forsake Christ, “having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). The true believer, when he is enriched like Abraham, or like Job in his later end, uses that which God has given him to worship, serve, and honor his God.
2. Adversity — A second means of sifting is the sieve of adversity. This sieve tries both those who have not been tried in the sieve of prosperity and those who have survived it. Many who are poor would be ruined if they were suddenly, or even gradually made rich. And many who are rich would be ruined if they became impoverished. But there are many other adversities by which God separates the wheat from the chaff (Sickness — Domestic Trouble — A Foul Tempered Wife — A Neglectful and Abusive Husband — A Heart Breaking Child — An Adulterous Spouse — Bereavement).
3. Soul Trouble — Another means of sifting is the sieve of soul trouble. Tribulations within can be far more difficult to endure than those from without. What soul trouble Peter was about to experience! The sieve would cause him such anguish and pain as no one can comprehend, except those who experience it. He went out and wept bitterly because, having denied his Savior with oaths, (if I perceive the matter correctly), he thought he had been nothing but a hypocrite. He thought everything was over for him. He said to the other disciples, “I go a fishing.” — “I’m going back to being a fisherman.” How painful, how troublesome, how trying it is to discover the evil of our hearts! How painful, how troublesome, how trying it is to be suddenly assaulted with the unbelief, infidelity, obscenities, blasphemies, and rebellion of our depraved nature!
The children of darkness seem to always walk in the light. But how often the children of light walk in darkness, with no light shining upon our path, with no sweet manifestations of our Savior and His grace, groaning and sighing with tears, tears that appear to be unseen and groans that seem to be unheard by our God! What a painful sifting we get by the sieve of soul trouble! Yet, I have no doubt that if Peter could sit down beside you and talk to you about these things, he would tell you that even these bitter things shall prove sweet works of God’s wondrous grace for you. In fact, he has done just that (1 Peter 1:1-9).
4. Temptation — Often we are sifted in one hand by the sieve of soul trouble and in the other by the sieve of temptation. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Aaron were sifted by the fear of man. Rachel was sifted by envy and jealousy. Moses was sifted by impatience and a hot temper. David was sifted by lust and power. Solomon was sifted by women and idolatry. Hezekiah was sifted by pride.
Read through the Book of God. You will not find any believer whose name is recorded upon the pages of Inspiration who was not sifted in the sieve of temptation. But there are more severe temptations than these, by which Satan is allowed to sift God’s saints. How often have you been tempted by inward doubts and questions that you would never dare talk about, questions and doubts by which many have finally been overcome? — Questions and doubts regarding God’s existence, Christ’s deity, the Word of God, the love of God, the work of Christ, God’s goodness, God’s providence! How often have you felt within you an urge to scream out from your very soul, “Enough! I cannot go on. I go a fishing,” all the while weeping bitterly in your soul because of it! These are all sieves through which we must and shall be sifted, as long as we are in this world.
Our Savior’s Intercession
Enough of that. — Let me show you about something indescribably better than Satan’s desire and the pain of being sifted. Yet, were it not for the experience of being sifted, we could never appreciate the great mercy and grace of our Savior’s intercession. In verse 32 our Savior says to Peter, and to you, and to me, to every sinner chosen in His love, redeemed by His blood, called by His Spirit, and saved by His grace, — “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
The Lord Jesus did not pray for Judas. He was the son of perdition. Therefore, when he was sifted, he fell through the sieve and fell into hell. Our Savior did not pray for the world. But, blessed be His name, He says to us who believe, “I have prayed for thee!” Were it not for that fact, you and I would fall through the sieve, just like Judas, and fall with him into everlasting hell. But that shall never happen, no matter how often, how long, or how severely we are sifted. If Christ has prayed for us that our faith fail not, our faith shall not fail and we shall not fall into hell!
Read John 17 again, and remembering how He has prayed for you and prays for you, lift you heart to heaven with grateful praise.
When we are sifted, though Satan seeks to destroy our faith, though he seeks to rip us from the heart and hand of God our Savior, all he does is separate the wheat from the chaff. The only thing that falls through the sieve is the dirt, debris, chaff, and rubbish of self-righteousness and legal religion, self-confidence and vainglory, self-reliance and presumed strength, carnal wisdom, and pride and judgmental severity
That which falls through the sieve is everything of an evil, earthly, carnal nature. Everything that is not implanted by our God in our souls. Everything that God himself has not breathed into our hearts, and made known to us by the power and grace of His Spirit fails us in the time of sifting. Everything fails except our God-given faith in Christ! Our Savior said, “Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13).
What sweet words these are: — “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not!” What does faith do when we are sifted? How does faith react to the sifting? Faith clings the more firmly to Christ alone! In fact, it is by our being sifted that our Lord calls for us to trust him the more (John 13:36-14:3). Faith hopes more completely in Christ alone, “Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Faith loves Christ more perfectly as the only and all-sufficient Author and Finisher of our faith, as the only and all-sufficient Savior of our souls, as our only and all-sufficient Refuge and Hiding Place. These things are not hindered or hurt by the sifting, but shine forth more brightly. Peter, when he was sifted, did not cease to love and trust his Savior, but loved Him and trusted Him more completely and with far greater humility than he had known or could have known before (John 21:15-17).
Benefits of Being Sifted
Our Savior said to Peter, “and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” He did not say, “If you are converted,” but “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” assuring us that with every sifting, we shall be converted into instruments of greater usefulness.
Some have drawn the ridiculous conclusion from this statement that Peter was not converted before! That is not the meaning of our Lord’s words. The Lord Jesus had assured Peter that his confession of faith was made as the result of the revelation of grace, that his name was written in heaven, and that his sins were forgiven, and had sent him forth as a preacher of the Gospel.
The meaning of our Lord’s words is, “when you are restored and brought back by My mercy, when you are brought forth out of the furnace like purified gold, strengthen your brethren.” Now, he was fit to minister to others. Now, he was to be made a blessing to others. Now, through his weakness, he was made strong, strong enough to strengthen his brethren.
Peter was a far better man after his sifting than before, and a far better and more useful preacher than he could otherwise have been. How he strengthened his brethren and continues to strengthen his brethren to this day! His boldness as a preacher inspired boldness in others. Peter’s utter devotion to Christ and His people, after his sifting, is held forth in the Book of God as an example for us to follow. What strength has been and is given to his brethren by the epistles he was inspired to write for our learning, reminding us of the boundless mercy and grace of God flowing to us from electing love and blood atonement, pointing us to Him who “bear our sin in His own body on the tree,” and setting our hearts upon Christ’s coming and upon the world to come!
May God the Holy Spirit seal the Savior’s word to your heart and mine by His grace. — “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not. And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
“‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried;
‘Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
‘`Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.”
‘These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thine all in Me.’”
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