“Sifted by Christ’s Prediction”
Would you open your Bibles this morning to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22…I’m going to read verses 31-34. The setting of these verses is, as you know, the Lord eating the Passover Supper with His disciples as He institutes the Lord’s Supper. It’s a very critical and strategic time both for our Lord and for His disciples. Strange things are happening. Some strange things are being said. It is a night filled with tenseness and mystery and in the midst of this situation comes the startling prophecy of the Lord Jesus concerning Simon Peter.
“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.’ And he said unto Him, ‘Lord, I’m ready
to go with Thee both to prison and to death.’ And He said, ‘I tell
thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before thou shalt
thrice deny that thou knowest Me.’”
Now, there are two great themes in this passage. It is both a frightening and an encouraging passage. It is frightening and enlightening in the sense that it reveals to me that a man who loves Jesus sincerely and had the truest desire to follow the Lord Jesus may be overcome and overborne with fear and intimidation and by the devil and fall into great, great sin. I have every confidence Simon meant exactly what he said when he told the Lord that he was ready to go with Him to prison and even to death…I have no doubt that the apostle meant it because Simon Peter dearly loved the Lord Jesus with all his heart…that rough fisherman loved the Lord Jesus. He had given up everything to follow His Master…and I believe He meant it! He wasn’t just bragging! He wasn’t making an idle boast! He meant it when he said, “I am ready to follow Thee to prison and to death…”And, yet even with this dedication…even with this love…even with the highest resolve, Jesus said, “Peter, before the rooster crows this day one time, you will have denied Me three times.” And, I say to you that is a very frightening prophecy!
It reveals to us that a man who has lived in very close and intimate fellowship with the Lord for three years and whose heart is dedicated to the Lord and whose life is filled with the sincerest desire to follow Him and serve can fall into great sin! The whole Bible is testimony to this truth…and not only the Bible,
but the experience of every one of us, and many times we’re frustrated and discouraged because we somehow feel that our highest ideals, our highest resolves, our greatest times of dedication will somehow be a buttress against failure. We sometimes wonder how it is that we can fail our Lord when we love Him as much as we do. And yet, I’m convinced that the Lord Jesus is saying to the Apostle Peter and He’s saying to us the same thing…”Even though you love Me, even though you have the most honest and sincere desire to follow Me, yet you are vulnerable and you are subject to failure.” That’s the first thing that this passage of scripture says to me. It’s a frightening thing in that it tells me that the
best can fail.
H. G. Wells once said that a man can love music and be a very poor musician…and there’s a lot of truth in that. A man can love art and yet be a very poor artist himself. A man can love Jesus and have the highest desire to never do anything that would dishonor and disgrace Him, and yet that man can fail miserably.
Not only is this passage a frightening passage to me, it is also an encouraging passage, because it tells me that the greatest fall can be recovered. Even a man who, like Peter, curses and denies that he knows his Lord, Jesus said, “When thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren…”The prophecy of the failure is made at the same time that the prophecy is made of his recovery. So, I say that this is a very encouraging passage…because it teaches me that even though I may fail greatly, as Simon did, yet I can be recovered…I can be restored and I can go on to live a useful life of ministry for the Lord Jesus.
Now, these verses, particularly verses 31 and 32, where Jesus prophesies that Satan is going to sift Peter, but the fact that the Lord has prayed for Peter…”when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”…these two verses have occupied my heart and mind for several days and several weeks and I find in them some of the greatest instructions for believers to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. As a matter of fact, these two verses touch on a number of great theological doctrines and a great number of theological truths that you and I need to implement in our daily lives. It touches on the matter of the devil and his personality. It touches on the matter of the sovereignty of the Lord. It touches on the matter of the intercessory ministry of the Lord Jesus…and many other things are revealed and touched on in this tremendous passage…so I want us to examine these verses today and tomorrow as we’re talking about the general theme…”sifted but saved”. I believe that’s a pretty good description of the Christian life of a great many people.
Sifted but saved! Simon was sifted but he was saved. You and I again and again are sifted but we can be saved even from that sifting. This is a very serious thing. You can see the seriousness of it in the way the Lord Jesus addressed Simon Peter. You’ll notice in verse 31 when the Lord says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you”…the word “you” is in the plural, indicating all the disciples, but He singles out Simon in particular…calling attention to the seriousness of the situation. I may also mention that Jesus’ use of the name “Simon” is significant. Notice He doesn’t call him “Peter.” He calls him by his original name. Simon was Peter’s name when Jesus met him. Jesus had said, “Thou art Simon and thou shalt be called ‘Cephas,’” or “Peter,” which is interpreted “rock” or “stone”…in other words, Jesus is saying to Peter when He meets him that first time and calls him to be His disciple that Jesus is going to change his character. He’s going to make something firm and steadfast and dependable…a rock…out of Peter. But, when He comes to prophesy of the failure of this apostle, He does not address him as “Peter.” He addresses him as “Simon.” He uses his former name and I think by this, Jesus Christ is indicating that Peter is full of frailty and fickleness and human weakness because this is the area in which the devil is going to strike at Peter.
I have about four things that I want to share with you today and tomorrow. Four great truths that come out of these great verses on being sifted by the devil. The first one is this:
I. Satan Desires to Have the Believer
Satan desires to possess the believer. Jesus said to Simon, “…Behold, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat…” The fact that the devil has an intense interest in the believer…the fact that this interest is so great that he had a desire to possess this man, to literally bring him, pull him, extract him from the hands of God…get him in his own clutches and do with him as he pleases. I think this is a very important truth for every believer to understand.
The devil has a great desire for you. He wants you. He wants to take you in his hands and sift you as wheat. He wants to harass you, to trouble you, to attack you, to separate you from the Lord Jesus, to separate you from the fellowship of other believers. I think that Simon Peter was speaking out of his own experience when he wrote in 1 Peter 5:8…”Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, walketh about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” The devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. You remember in the book of Job, when the devil showed up in the court of God. God asked the devil where he’s been…Job1:7:
“And the Lord said unto Satan, ‘When comest thou? Then Satan
answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro in the earth
and from walking up and down in it.’ 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
hateth evil?’ Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Doth Job
fear God for naught? 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 in-
creased in the land.’”
Now, the interesting point there is that when God asked Satan, “…hast thou considered My servant, Job…,” and Satan, by his reply indicates he has spent a great deal of time considering Job. He knows a great deal about Job. He says, “Aha, Job is Your servant, and he has served You, but the reason he has served You is because You’ve built a hedge about him and not only is there a hedge about him, but there’s also a hedge about his house and there’s a hedge about everything that he has on every side and You have blessed the work of his hands and his substance is increased in the land.” I tell you, the devil knew a great deal about Job. I have an idea he had a pretty thick file on Brother Job.
How did Satan know there was a hedge around Job? Well, because he’d been trying to get to Job and he found a hedge. You can rest assured he investigated every inch of that hedge to see if there was a hole that he could sneak through. He found out there was a hedge about his house, and a hedge on every side of everything that he had. Job had been considered by the devil…indicating the devil’s great interest in Brother Job….as he also had an interest in Simon…and my friend, as he has an interest also in you and me. The Apostle Paul tells us that we are still involved in a hand to hand combat with the devil and all his minions.
Satan has a great desire for the believer! He watches us and he considers us, looking for an opportunity, a vulnerable spot. This is why the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4, tells us not to give place to the devil. The idea there, of course, is of giving the devil a toehold, a foothold…letting the devil get a foot in the door. “Be careful,” the apostle says, “of how you live because the devil is an opportunist, and if there’s anger among you, if there’s an unforgiving spirit, if there’s anything that smacks of bitterness or resentment, if there’s any kind of crack or sin in the armor of the Christian life, the devil will be able to slip in and he will be able to overpower you. Be careful that you do not give an opening to the devil.” Again, I believe, indicating the devil keeps a watchful eye on every believer.
You see, the devil stalks before he leaps. The devil had been stalking Simon Peter. You can rest assured that that master of deception, that master of evil knew the weak spots in Simon Peter, and he had been listening and I’m convinced that he’d been listening there in that Upper Room and he heard that argument about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom and I cannot help but believe that Peter was right there in the midst of it. That opened the door a little bit wider and it gave the devil a little bit greater opportunity and I believe that is why Jesus immediately said, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat.”
Now, I want us to look and see some of the ways the devil strikes at us. The devil desires to take every one of us and to sift us as wheat…to turn us inside out…to injure, to attack us, to hassle us. Notice first of all that the devil often strikes at crisis moments. This was a crisis moment, but wait just a minute…Simon Peter didn’t really know that. Simon knew something was up and he could feel there was something strange and unusual in the air, but the Scriptures make it clear that the apostles didn’t understand what was going on.
You see, there was going to be a crisis in a few hours. Jesus was going to be taken from them. Jesus was going to be put on trial. He was going to be scourged and crucified. There was a crisis coming in the lives of these disciples. Yet, they were unaware of it. In a little while, we’ll see Simon Peter so comfortable, so at ease, that he falls asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. Can you imagine that? Jesus just a few feet away, praying in such agony that He almost died, yet Simon Peter is restfully asleep. There is coming a tremendous crisis…the greatest crisis of his life…and he’s unaware of it. But, I’ll tell you something…the devil is not unaware of it. He knows a crisis moment is at hand. Therefore, he cripples the apostle so that he will not be able to cope with that crisis.
If you study the tracks of the devil in the Scripture and in your own experience, I think you’ll discover that at the crisis times of your life, the devil strikes. The devil is a dirty player. He likes to kick us when we’re down and when we’re facing or coming upon some of those great crises of life, the devil is always ready. Why? He wants to cripple us in that situation so that in that situation we will deny our Lord and lose our faith. This is what he was trying to get Job to do…to deny and curse God and to jettison his faith. And, there are those times when you and I are tempted, sorely tempted to doubt God and the devil knows when those crisis times are coming and if he can somehow get a foot in the door…if he can somehow infiltrate our lives and cause us to come under his spell, then when that great crisis comes, he will have us! And, like Simon Peter, we will fail!
Not only does the devil strike at crisis moments, he also strikes at the points of our strength. Now, let me make this very clear…To us it is a point of strength, but in fact it is a point of weakness. Let me show you what I mean. Peter believed that his strong point was his courage. I think in the Gospels, you get the idea that Peter’s not afraid of anything. There’s nothing bashful or shy about this fellow at all. He’s always the first one to speak out on any subject, whether he knows what he’s talking about or not. He’s often been in error, but never in doubt. Peter is that type of brusque, rough man…he’s a man’s man…big, burley fisherman! He’s not afraid of anything…in the Garden of Gethsemane, he is the one who takes out his sword and attacks that man, and of course he may have been brave, but he wasn’t a very good shot…he got his ear while trying to go for his head. One man said that Peter was trying to split Malchus in two…”Mal” on the one side and “Chus” on the other. But, Peter missed and hit his ear, and be that as it may, Peter was a brave and courageous man. He wasn’t afraid of anything.
As I said earlier, I believe Peter was absolutely, totally sincere when he said, “Lord, I’ll go with Thee to death…I’m ready to die for You…” Now, to Peter, that was his strong point. That was one thing that Peter didn’t need to worry about. He may have other points that he needed to reinforce, that he needed to keep a watchful eye on…but as far as his boldness, as far as his courage, as far as his fearlessness was concerned, that point was alright.
Now, I want you to notice. That was at the point the devil struck. The devil will always strike at your strong points because your strong points are your weak points. Why are they your weak points? Well, for a number of reasons, but the main reason is this: If I believe this is my strong point, then I am going to be complacent in that area. I’m going to be satisfied in that area. I’m not going to put any guards over there in that area. I’m not going to put any reinforcements in that area. I see all these other weak points, these weak places in my life…these are the places I really need to watch. These are the places I really need to reinforce…I need to bring up some heavy artillery at this place because it’s weak, and this is, of course, where the devil is going to strike, but back here, this area of my life…that’s strong…I’ve got that handled, I’ve got that mastered, I’ve got that settled – no problem there, and so there’s no need to reinforce that, no need to keep too close a watch on that…that’s alright. And, our strength becomes our weakness!
Do you remember in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul describes the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness and so many of them were slain and only two were able to enter into the Promised Land…he says in 1 Corinthians 10:12:
“Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed
lest he fall.”
What a revealing statement that is! “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”” You see, he is pointing out that a man’s strength is really his weakness. Here is a man who thinks that he stands…he’s convinced that he stands. Therefore, there’s no need for him to worry about falling like the Israelites did, but the apostle says, “Watch out! Watch out! For you who think you stand, you who think that is your strength are the most apt to fall!” And he says basically the same thing in Galatians 6 when he is talking about the brother who has fallen…Galatians 6:1:
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fall,ye which are spiritual
restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thy-
self lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens
and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be
something when he is nothing he deceiveth himself.”
Let us take those who have fallen and restore them in a spirit of meekness. Why in a spirit of meekness? Why not I a spirit of pride or arrogance? “Humph, I’ll help you up this time, but don’t let it happen again! How could you have ever done such a thing!” No, Paul says that when you help a brother to restoration you do it in meekness because you know the very same thing could happen to you! And, as so often occurs in the life of the believer, the things that he thinks he will never do, the points at which he thinks he will never fail are those very places the devil strikes. The devil strikes at our strength because it is really our weakness! It is unguarded because we think it is secure.
Peter’s strength and weakness were his pride and his presumption. He thought he was more courageous. He thought he was more spiritual than the rest. Of course, I know that none of you have ever fallen into that mistake of thinking you were more spiritual than other people, but there are some of us poor souls who have been guilty at times of thinking that we are more spiritual than somebody else…that the things they were doing wrong, the mistakes they were making, we would never make because after all, we had much more spiritual insight and we’ve been more blessed of God. No, that strength really becomes our weakness…”Let him that thinketh he stands take heed lest he fall.”
You see, this preceding argument about who was going to be great in the kingdom was an evidence of a weakness of these men. They thought they were strong or else they wouldn’t have been arguing about who was the greatest! You notice they didn’t argue about who was the least. They didn’t argue about who was the unworthiest. They argued about who was the greatest! You see, they all thought they were strong, spiritual men. Peter, more so than anybody! And, it was at that point that the devil got his foothold in that band of disciples.
Not only does the devil strike at crisis moments. Not only does he strike at the points of our strength, but he also strikes at strategic people. Now, I want you to notice that the devil is going to sift all of them. He wants to sift all of them, but he is paying particular attention to Simon. Look at the verses again…
“And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired
you (plural) that he sift you (plural) as wheat. But, I have prayed
for thee (singular), Simon, that thy (singular) faith fail not and
when thou (singular) are converted, strengthen thy brethen.”
Now, get the picture. Jesus said that the devil wants all of you and he wants to sift all of you as wheat…you’re all going to forsake Me…you’re all going to deny Me…but He singles out Peter and addresses Peter in particular and prays for Peter especially. Why is this? Well, I think it’s because Simon was recognized as the leader of that group and more than anybody else, he would have an influence on the rest of those disciples. I think you could safely say that as Peter went the rest of the disciples would go. In a way, it was sort of a compliment to Peter. You don’t attack a fort that isn’t manned. You wouldn’t rob a bank that doesn’t have any money in it. The very fact that the devil goes after a fellow indicates that fellow is a threat to him. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, the devil never bothers with me.” Well, you know why he never bothers with you? He has you right where he wants you and you pose no problem to him…you offer no threat to him.
Now, what I’m trying to say is this…that when the Lord has something He wants to do through you…when the Lord has a ministry…when the Lord has a place and purpose for your life…when God is most wanting to use you is when the devil singles you out. Yes Sir! You see, Simon was the leader of that bunch. Now, the devil was going to sift everybody, but he was going to give his special attention to Simon Peter. And, I say to you that when God begins to bless you, whether it’s as a church or as an individual, you put it down, the devil is going to take special note of you, just as he did of Job. Job was the most perfect man in all the earth. God Himself said this and therefore he became the most strategic target of the devil.
There are some churches the devil doesn’t seem to bother. You know why? Because they’re no threat. They don’t need to be bothered! They’re exactly what the devil wants! But, you let God begin blessing and using a church, and that will become the prime target of the devil. The same thing is true of an individual. Satan always strikes at strategic people and strategic places. As I said earlier, he is an opportunist. The moment he finds an opening, he’s going to move in. So, the first great truth that comes out of this passage of Scripture is that Satan has an intense desire for the believer…to sift as wheat, to harass, to attack, to intimidate, to accuse…Satan has an intense desire for the believer. And, there’s another great truth:
II. Satan Must Have Divine Permission
Now, Friend, this is one of the most important and encouraging truths you’ll ever entertain in your mind. The devil, while he hates the believer, while he is our antagonist, he is committed to the destruction of our lives, and he walketh about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may – not simply taste or bite – but whom he may devour, swallow whole, yet this master of malice cannot touch me without divine permission. He cannot touch me without divine permission! Look at verse 31 again:
“The Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath
desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat…’”
Now, the key is the word translated “desire.” It means “to beg earnestly for.” Literally, the word could be translated “to obtain by asking permission.” In other words, the devil prayed to the Lord! The devil begged God…”to beg earnestly for, to plead with” indicating again the strong desire. You have the picture of the devil pleading, begging the Lord to give him permission to touch Simon Peter. The same truth is brought out as we’ve already seen in the experience of Job. Satan said, “Hast Thou not made a hedge about him, and about his house and about all that he has on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands and his substance is increased in the land…but put forth Thine hand and touch all that he hath, and he will curse Thee to Thy face…’ And the Lord said, ‘Behold, all that he has is in thy power, only upon himself, put not forth thine hand…’” In other words, the Lord was going to give permission to the devil to touch Job but only in his possessions, and he could not touch his life. Here again, you have this great thought that while the devil is our master enemy, he does not have unlimited freedom, nor does he have unlimited access to us. He must always submit to the overruling and permissive authority of the Lord.
God regulates the devil. Now, I emphasize that this is a very important truth to understand. Years and years ago, there was a heresy that was called “dualism.” This heresy said that there are dual powers in the universe. They are equal powers. They are opposing powers, but they are equal powers. They are dual powers…the power of good and the power of evil. The power of good does what it can and the power of evil does what it can, but neither one can really overcome the other. Now, that’s heresy to believe that! Yet, I find today a great many people, without really coming out and saying it just that way, are heretics in what they believe about God and the devil. A great many people believe that God doesn’t have any control over the devil…the devil can do things, they believe, whether God wants him to or not.
Now, Friends, the Bible makes it very clear that God is a sovereign God. That means there belongs to God unlimited power…”all authority,” Jesus said, “is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” All authority! All power! The devil may be the prince of the power of the air…but all power belongs to God! And, the devil can do nothing except God permit him to do it!
You remember when the Lord Jesus stood before Pilate, and Pilate was questioning the Lord and he made this statement: “Jesus, don’t you know that I have the power of life and death over you?” And, Jesus said, “You would not have any power but that was given to you of My Father which is in heaven.” That’s an amazing statement! Pilate didn’t have any power except the power that was given him of God. Now, what that boils down to mean is this…that God the Father gave Pilate the power to crucify His Son. But Pilate, regardless of his being the dupe of the devil, didn’t have the power to crucify Jesus unless the Father permitted it. All power belongs to God! And everything the devil does, he must do under the permissive will of the Lord…and so, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you…” He had obtained Peter by asking…but he had to ask!
I think there is a beautiful illustration of this in the Revelation 9:1…
“And the fifth angel sounded and I saw a star fall from
heaven unto the earth and unto him was given the key
of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit.”
Now, that star falling from heaven to the earth is the devil and notice it says, “…and unto him was given the key of the bottomless pit…” I want you to notice two things. The bottomless pit was locked and the devil didn’t have the power to knock the door down…it was locked against him. The devil didn’t have the power to get his own key. The Bible says, “…unto him was given the key…” Listen, the devil is allowed to let loose upon the earth during this time of tribulation horrible, horrible punishments and judgments, but I want you to know it is done so by the permissive will of God! Hell may be let loose upon the earth, but Friends, remember it is let loose…it doesn’t get loose by itself! The devil didn’t climb up to heaven and take the key out of God’s hand. He didn’t overpower the Lord and steal the key. He didn’t knock down the gates to the bottomless pit…the Bible says that it was given to him. Verse 14:
“…saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, ‘Loose
the four angels which are bound in the great River Euphrates,’
and the four angels were loosed…”
Notice that they had been bound and all of those who were going to strike terror upon the face of the earth were bound and they were let loose.
You remember in the first chapter of Revelation, when John has that beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ opened to him on the Isle of Patmos, the Lord speaks and He says, “Behold, I have the keys of death and hell…” Friends, I want you to know the devil doesn’t have the keys to his own house! He is under the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. And, while the devil today is walking around, going to and fro and up and down in this city looking for someone whom he can devour, I want you to know that he is under the authority of our God. He wants to touch you and he wants to touch me to devour us, to sift us, but he cannot do it…he cannot do it without the permission of our Lord. Jesus is Lord of everything…even the devil! So, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has obtained you by asking.”
Now, our time is gone. In the morning, we’re going to come back and we’re going to finish this study on the sifting of the saints.
These two points I want to reiterate today…the devil desires every one of us, and his desire is to take us from the protective hand of God into his own hands to do with us as he pleases…but once he gets his hands upon us, he cannot do with us as he pleases. Now, the reason I emphasize this is that there are many times when it seems as though the devil has been given a free hand in our lives. I’m certain that some of you this morning have at times felt that God had given the devil carte blanche to your life…had just given the devil the keys to your life and said, “go in and do whatever you want to do.” Now, Friends, it may seem at times that the devil is doing with us as he pleases, but I want you to know that the devil never gives the devil unlimited freedom and access to our lives. I want to say this as an encouragement and as a word of faith to you today …that even though you may be going right now through a time of sifting, a time of great trial, a time of great difficulty, even though you may be right now in the very clutches of the devil, and he seems to be devouring you, I want you to know that whatever he’s doing, he is under the authority of your Heavenly Father who loves you and has nothing but good in mind for your life. It may seem at times that the devil has his way with us, but never, never! The devil cannot do with as the devil pleases. He can only do with us as our Heavenly Father pleases.
Let’s pray together…
“Father, we’re thankful that You’ve revealed to us in your Word who the enemy of our souls really is. And, we’re thankful that we have been warned of his strategy, to strike at us in times of crisis, to strike at what we think are our strong points which are really our weak points. And, we’re thankful, Father, that You have revealed to us that this roaring lion that so frightens and wreaks so much havoc in our lives is yet under Your divine hand. Father, we can rest in that. Let him do what he will, as long as we know that he is simply doing what You will in our lives.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005