Sifting the Sons of God

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  

Now a few things to note. Jesus uses Peter’s pre-Christian name foreshadowing Peter’s fall back to old ways of thinking. He also says Simon twice which is a Jewish rhetorical device signifying emphasis and sorrow like when Jesus laments “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” in Matthew 23:37.

The circumstances of our life that result from sin and the necessity of its cure, grieves Jesus. He is not a doctor working on lab rats. He is a wholehearted and invested physician.

Also, the “you,” is plural. Satan desires to sift all the disciples, not just Peter.

Furthermore, Satan asks permission. Satan is God’s instrument. Satan only has the authority granted to Him by God. That should put our spiritual warfare against Satan into some much needed perspective. Dualism is a modern sin common in Modern Christianity. Satan is not God’s equal. Satan is God’s errand boy. Also, Jesus grants permission. Why would He do that? Why would a good God allow bad things to happen?

To sift wheat means to shake it violently, so that the chaff flows away on the wind and the wheat remains. Now, to be shaken violently does not feel good, but it does purify the wheat.

So here is the set up. Jesus tells Peter what is going to happen to Him and what the result will be. But does Peter take it to heart? Does it prevent Peter from going through it?

Satan asks to sift Jesus’ disciples and Jesus allows it because He wants us to be shaken, so that we will learn to cling to Him, the immovable rock, the solid cornerstone. That we might experience and know what we are incapable of and what He is capable of.

Cancer asks to sift us. Infertility asks to sift us. Doubt asks to sift us. The election asks to sift us. And God grants to them the opportunity to show us our weakness and show us His strength.

Most astoundingly, Jesus foretells Peter’s fall but also His return. Jesus knows that Peter will be sifted, will fall for a time but ultimately will prevail, he will “turn again” which means repent. Peter will be shaken to His very core but will stand strong.  

Nothing that happens to you is random. In this story Jesus is out of ahead of events by 5,000 miles.

There are no impersonal forces in creation. Your tumor is not an accident. Neither is the mortgage rate. Neither is that unidentifiable pain in your side that the doctors can’t figure out.

Jesus is praying for you and mediating for you while you endure what has been given access to you under His watchful eye. It’s Job in miniature. None of these sifters draw near to us beyond what God allows and the result is adoration of the Triune God.

Jesus, the messiah, is wise beyond measure and Peter is getting to experience that wisdom and the blessing is all on Peter’s side.  He is made strong in seeing how weak he really is.

Everything that is happening to Him is under the watchful of Jesus as is utterly for Peter’s good.

Jesus is saying “I have allowed Satan to sift you like wheat and though you will fall you will not fail for I am mediating for you.”

To Address Peter’s blindness 

This story begins in the middle of what is called the upper room discourse, the final lecture of Rabbi Jesus to His disciples. This discourse includes long sermons, the high priestly prayer, the washing of the feet and the last supper.

How are they feeling?

In John 13:21 Jesus is “Troubled in his spirit.” And says to the disciples in 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Jesus states in John 13:18 that “one will raise His heal,” toward Jesus echoing the messianic promise of climatic battle between the promised Son and Satan in Genesis 3:15.

Why are they troubled? Jesus says one of them will betray Him in John 13:21. None of them know who it will be.

Jesus also states in John 13:33, that He is leaving and they don’t know where or why or for how long.  Peter in the midst of his brother disciples does not understand what Jesus is saying or what Jesus is doing. Peter clearly knows the Lord but Peter clearly doesn’t understand Him. This is a common thread throughout the gospels. Peter rebukes Jesus for saying the messiah has to die. Peter does not understand the nature of Jesus’ kingship, the nature of His kingdom or his own place in Jesus’ plan. Peter is always a little confused and brash. Slow to comprehend but quick to act.

Just before the upper room discourse he tells Jesus that Jesus will never wash Peter’s feet, no way. Jesus says peter will have no part with Him unless Jesus washes his feet. So peter says ok wash my whole body then and Jesus says be satisfied with my washing your feet.

Peter’s greatest aspiration is to be a field Marshall commanding troops. This is why he wears a sword.

Peter is a man of his time, raised with all the messianic misunderstandings that confront Jesus at every turn. Peter wants to fight for the kingdom. But it’s the very nature of the kingdom that eludes Peter.

As Hans Bayer put it, “The disciples come to Jesus with fixed religious ideas, which are a selective sample form the OT as taught by pharisaic synagogue teachers during the disciples’ early adolescence. Jesus does not only teach a defined “curriculum,” but intends to reshape their thinking and heart attitude toward themselves and God, thus affecting every aspect of their lives.”

Jesus is not taking the Kingdom in the direction Peter thinks it ought to go. Jesus is not leading the way Peter thinks the messiah should be leading. Peter wants to follow Jesus but doesn’t understand where Jesus is leading them toward.

John 13:36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 

Jesus says ‘yes, you will follow me but not yet, there is something in the way.’

It’s just like when he told the rich young ruler all He needed to do was sell everything and then He’d be ready to follow Jesus. Something stood in the rich young ruler’s way and until he dealt with that, he wasn’t ready to follow.

For Peter, leaving the fishing boats and the nets was just the beginning of following Jesus. Peter hasn’t arrived. Peter has left everything else behind. Now, will he leave Himself behind too?  Will Peter leave His plans and opinions about what the Messiah ought to do and follow the actual messiah, Jesus?

Jesus says yes, but Peter has some dying to do first and not the dying Peter thinks. Peter’s aspirations, arrogance and self-will need to die. Peter asks a hard question of Jesus. John 13:37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Peter thinks he’s ready to follow Jesus wherever Jesus goes. Peter is trying to be the savior. To control the story, to manage the outcomes. Peter doesn’t know himself. He doesn’t know how much failure he’s capable of. Peter doesn’t know how much of himself; how his own desires, aspirations and expectations are controlling his view of God. Peter doesn’t realize how he’s compartmentalized his own life. Peter is blind.

But, Jesus is leading Peter to a deeper understanding of Himself, so that Peter can truly see Jesus and himself. Peter is confidant. He thinks he’s ready for a bigger role. To do big things for Jesus. Peter says my life for yours. I’ll sacrifice myself to fulfill my plans for you and your kingdom. Peter has gotten the Gospel backwards. Peter can’t die for Jesus until Jesus dies for Peter. That’s the exchange. You can’t follow Jesus in any area of your life until Jesus dies for you in that area of your life.

We retain control and autonomy over certain areas of our lives and until the exchange of Jesus’ life for ours extends to that area, there are roadblocks to following Jesus.

Is Jesus the Lord of your family but not your business? Is Jesus Lord of your budget but not your dinner plate? We are masters at submitting one area of our lives to Jesus and calling it everything.

Is Jesus lord of your Netflix que and your devotional life? Is Jesus lord of your front yard and your playlist?

Discipleship is the process by which Jesus systematically allows our idols to sift us in every area of life until we submit to the exchange of Christ’s life for ours – fully and completely in every area of our lives.

That’s why one portion of your life goes sour while another is sweet. You try to compartmentalize your life and Jesus loves you enough to pry open every compartment and shake out the contents.

Jesus comes and takes away your idols at whatever cost to Him, at whatever cost to you.

You boldly pray that God would give you more opportunity to evangelize, to parent more children, to take a bigger role at work or in church – Jesus I will die for you – Jesus says “you’ve got the gospel backwards because there are areas of your life in which you are still lord and not Jesus.”

So, Jesus lets us fail to expose our idol factory heart and self-delusion.

Peter asks a hard question and gets a hard answer.

John 13:38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” 

Peter isn’t prepared for the answer. You can’t follow me Peter because you need to see how much “self” is still motivating you. You want my kingdom Peter, not me. The simple truth here is that Jesus reveals how much he understands Peter in stark contrast to what Peter understands about himself.

Unlike Peter, this night, the night of Jesus’ passion, Jesus is going to lay down His life, thereby making a way for Peter to follow Jesus. After Jesus goes ahead – Peter will be able to follow – to lay down his life for Jesus.

But first, Peter needs to have a confrontation with himself. He needs to see himself just as he is and God just as He is.

Jesus loves Peter enough to crush him and tells Peter he is going to fail in front of everyone. Peter is pretty bold in His assertion and Jesus shames him in front of the other disciples. It’s a lesson they will all remember. Jesus is humbling Peter.

Jesus says “Peter, here in front of your brother disciples you talk big but later in the dark, amongst strangers, you will reject me outright.”

And how firm Peter is planted in His self-delusion.

Peter has to struggle with what He is really capable of. That’s partially why he’s so ready to fight at Jesus’ arrest. Peter is trying to show Jesus that Jesus is wrong. I will die for you, watch me attack all these guards alone. On the night of Jesus betrayal Peter has a lot to prove and so he draws his sword at Jesus’ capture and strikes a servant of the High priest. But this is Peter fighting for his own kingdom in the name of defending Jesus.

The final blow to Peter, the deepest grace He has ever known comes at Luke 22:59-62 which is the climax of the story.

“And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Peter looks into the face of Christ and by seeing Jesus unveiled – Peter sees Himself unveiled.

2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” 

Jesus looks Him right in the eye at the moment Peter proves His worth. Behold Jesus the faithful man who knew Peter better then peter knew himself. And behold Peter the self-righteous blackguard. Peter the turncoat. Peter the boaster. Peter the unfaithful.

And peter is cut to the quick. He’s crushed. By seeing Jesus fully, he sees Himself fully and is utterly undone.

Seeing what and who he really is as he sees Christ– he turns aside and weeps bitterly.

Has this ever happened to you? In the midst of your moral failure the presence of the Lord invades into the darkness and you see your sin in startlingly relief to Christ’s perfection. Your unfaithfulness in the presence of His faithfulness? Your corruption in the face of His purity?

You read the scriptures and at a single verse, a single phrase, the curtain is pulled back and God is fully revealed, fully revealing you?

This is how Jesus uses our failures to show us ourselves and how He reveals himself to us.

In the midst of the whirlwind, when your whole world seems shaken on its foundations you put your hand down to steady yourself as you fall and you feel the rock of Christ and cling to it with all your strength. It is within this confrontation with ourselves before the face of God that we clearly see our failure and His faithfulness.

We are sifted like wheat and in the midst of that storm the firmness of the rock of Christ is established in our hearts.


Author: Michael Kloss

There is a Sunday conscience, as well as a Sunday coat; and those who make religion a secondary concern put the coat and conscience carefully by to put on only once a week. - Charles Dickens

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