************ Sermon on Luke 22:32 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 2, 2000
"But I Have Prayed for You"
So far in this season of Lent the Gospel writer Luke has identified two different sins the church constantly struggles against. First, he dealt with the problem of betrayal. He tells us about Judas who agreed to betray the Lord because of his greed for money (Lk 22:1-6; cf 21-23). Second, he told us about strife among the other disciples because of their desire for position and authority. To use a modern expression, it was a case of too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. Third, in today's passage, we are told about the sin of denial, of being ashamed of Christ, of pretending that we do not know Him.
Last week, if you remember, we learned how Jesus expects us to handle sin and temptation. "Pray," said Jesus, "that you will not fall into temptation." In this life and on this earth we are to respond to temptation by prayer. Today we learn what happens in heaven when we are tempted – we are given, so to speak, a peek at what happens behind the scenes.
I What Satan Asks For
A At the beginning of our Scripture reading we are told of a high-level conference between God and Satan.
(Lk 22:31) "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat."This kind of conference should be nothing new to those who know the book of Job. In the book of Job we see God "bragging" about Job's faith and we see Satan challenging both God and the sincerity of Job's faith. This should serve as a reminder to us that God always wants us to succeed while Satan always wants us to fall and fail. God wants to deliver us and Satan wants to destroy us.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat." The Greek is far more emphatic than the English here. "Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift you as wheat."
That word "sift" is interesting. It implies the use of a sieve. After the harvest was brought to the threshing floor, the farmers of Israel had to separate the wheat from the chaff, or the wheat from rocks and sticks and other foreign matter, or corn from little bits of sand. Part of the procedure involved a process known as sifting. The farmer put the wheat or corn into a sieve. By means of a shaking process, the smaller objects – the kernels of wheat, for instance – were worked to the bottom of the sieve and fell through the mesh onto a prepared place on the ground. From here the cleaned wheat was collected into containers, while the chaff and other rubbish still in the sieve was discarded. Essential to this sifting, sorting process was the shaking of the sieve.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat." Satan wants to place Peter in a sieve and sift him as wheat. He wants to shake him, throw him around, give him a rough time. Satan wants to sift Peter – he wants to demonstrate that Peter is chaff, a piece of foreign matter, something that does not belong. Satan wants to show Peter as a false believer. He wants to collect evidence that proves Peter is a fake. Satan has decided that Simon Peter must fall into temptation, that he must have a mighty big fall like Humpty Dumpty, that he must come crashing down.
I want you to note the name Jesus uses for the evil one. The Bible knows various names for him, but the most common are "Devil" and "Satan." Each name of the evil one has its own meaning. The one used here is "Satan," a word that means "Adversary." Satan is the great Opponent, the great Accuser, the great Adversary. The evil one as "Satan" accuses God's children before the throne of God. As with Job he looks for evidence to condemn God's own before God so that God will reject them and send them to hell on account of their sins and weaknesses. In our Bible reading we see that Satan's mission is to demonstrate to God that Peter is not sincere in his love and zeal for God; he wants to collect evidence to prove to God that Peter is not worthy to be God's child; he wants to prove that Peter does not have what it takes to be a leader in Christ's Church. Satan wants to show God that Peter cannot be of any use to Him, that he is too sinful to have a place and a task in God's kingdom.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat." The word "you" is plural. So Satan is asking for, demanding, not only Peter but the other disciples as well. You might wonder why Satan demands Peter and the other disciples. The reason is simple and basic – because they are the leaders. Satan always starts off at the top. If he can make the leader fall, if he can make the leader go astray, if he can make the leader sin, then it is far easier to wreck the work of the church. That's why so many pastors are tempted to commit adultery or to have the sin of pride or to be willful and refuse to listen to advice – that is Satan at work trying to destroy the church and kingdom of Christ. Satan goes after all leaders – whether it be pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, or parents. He wants them to fall so that those under them will be like sheep without a shepherd – lost and weak and helpless.
We saw a very sad example of this the past couple of weeks. I am thinking of the mass suicide of the "Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God" cult in Uganda. Cult leaders started killing followers when their prophecies that the world would end January 1, 2000 failed to come true. Over 500 followers were burned to death when they set their own church building on fire. Since then more than 400 other bodies have been discovered. Satan attacked the leaders. He made the leaders fall. The result was over 900 deaths – the most ever by any mass suicide of a cult.
We see in our Scripture reading that Satan must be getting desperate! Don't forget, Jesus has already instituted the Lord's supper; He has told His disciples that soon He would be dying for them to pay for their sin, to ransom them from the power of the devil, and to reconcile them to God. Satan knows the cross of Christ is just around the corner. Satan knows that the cross and the grave means his defeat and that is something Satan won't accept! So he barges into heaven and demands the disciples. If he can't stop Jesus – though he certainly will try for the next three days – then he will try to stop the disciples. After all, the twelve disciples are the men whom Jesus will use to spread the gospel and plant His Church; the disciples are the foundation of the Church. If the devil can't beat Jesus directly then he will try indirectly by tearing the disciples away from God – and so prevent the gathering and building of the Church.
B "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat." "Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to sift you as wheat." Notice, Satan "has asked." Notice, Satan "has demanded." Implied here is a very comforting doctrine involving the sovereignty and providence of God. Satan needs to ask – even if it is a demand – before he can touch any of God's children. Remember how Satan couldn't touch Job without God' permission? We see the same thing here: he can't touch Peter and the other disciples without God's blessing. Here is a reminder that God is sovereign, God is in control. He sets the boundaries, the limits, the borders for Satan. Satan can go only so far and no further. Satan can only do what God permits or allows him to do.
What was true for Job and Peter and the other disciples is also true for you and me and any loved one who belongs to God. We are in God's hand, first of all, and not Satan's. God has the final word in our life, not Satan. God has the final say over what happens to your loved one, not Satan. God has the final say because God is sovereign, not Satan!
II What Jesus Asks For
A In the shadow of the cross and the grave Jesus lets the disciples know what is going on behind the scenes. He tells His disciples about Satan's terrible demand before the throne of Almighty God. But that is not all that He tells them. He also says, "But I have prayed for you ..."
Do you remember Job's complaint when he was being tested and tried and sifted by Satan? The Lord God gave Satan permission to do dreadful things to Job – so Job lost his camels, his herds, his servants, his children, his health. Job complained that in all of this he had no Redeemer, no Mediator, to argue his case before God and to defend him from the devil's attacks.
(NKJV; Job 9:33) Nor is there any mediator between us, Who may lay his hand on us both.But in Luke 22 there is a Mediator, One Who stands between God and the disciples as they face the devil's attacks. This Mediator says, "But I have prayed for you ..."
What did Jesus pray? Luke doesn't tell us – but John does in chapter 17:
(Jn 17:11) Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me ...That's it, my brothers and sisters. When it comes right down to it, that's what Jesus prayed for: protect them, preserve them, guard them. Jesus knows what Satan wants to do. Jesus knows Satan's plan to stop the work of Jesus by stopping the work of the disciples. Jesus knows that the disciples will be sifted as wheat. So He prays: Father, hold on to them; Father, preserve them; Father, guard and protect them!
B Guess what? The Book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus in heaven does the same for you and me as we also face the devil's attacks.
(Heb 7:25) ... [Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.Jesus prays for us, right now, in heaven! He prays for each one of us by name. He prays for us as we struggle with temptation. He prays:
Father, there is Mike struggling with lust. Help him to stay strong.What an awesome thought – that the Son of God prays for us.
Father, Mary needs Your power as she fights anger.
Father, David is about to fall into temptation. Don't let him be destroyed.
Father, give Alice the courage to do right.
Jesus prays for us as we face temptation. What comfort and what strength we get from this. We know that the Father always listens to the prayers of His Son, His only begotten Son, the Son He loves. So the prayers of the Lord Jesus on our behalf are powerful and effective.
Jesus' prayers are not only powerful and effective but they are also omniscient. Jesus knows in advance everything that we will be going through. He knew that with Peter. He knew all about the denials, the lies, the cursing. He knew all about the bitter tears after the rooster crowed three times. Jesus saw it all and knew it all beforehand: the pride, the reckless boasting, the shameful denials, the broken heart. He knew it all before any of it had happened. So He knew exactly what Peter needed. So He knew exactly what to pray for and about.
C I want you to notice exactly what Jesus prays for. Jesus does not pray, "Father, do not allow Satan to sift your children." That's not what Jesus prays for. Instead, He asks that God keep us, hold us, preserve us, guard us, and protect us! Or, as our Scripture reading puts it, "But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail." Jesus does not ask God to spare us from being sifted; He asks only that our faith will not fail as we are sifted. Jesus doesn't even pray that we do not stumble and fall and sin – because He knows we will stumble and fall and sin just as He knew Peter would deny Him three times. No, Jesus doesn't pray that Peter might not sin and He doesn't pray that we do not sin. Rather, He prays that we and Peter might hold on to the faith in the face of temptation and trial.
III A Theological Problem
A I am sure you see a theological problem here. Jesus knew about Peter's fall beforehand, and even predicted it, but did nothing to prevent it. But if Jesus knew beforehand what would happen, why didn't he pray for God to deny Satan's request? Why does God and Jesus allow Peter and the other disciples and us to be sifted by Satan? If God knows about our failures even before we fail, why doesn't He stop us? Why does He allow, why doesn't He stop, Satan's sifting?
The best possible answer comes from the book of James. We read these words:
(James 1:2-4) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.When we are tested we become mature. That's what God wants. That's what Jesus prays for. Though God wants us to be like little children, He doesn't want us to be childish. He wants us to be mature in the faith, grown up in the faith, developed in the faith, complete in the faith. That's God's goal. That's God's desire. That's Christ's prayer!
B What exactly happens to us when we face trials of many kind, when we stumble and fall but do not lose the faith?
First, we come to know our sin and sinful nature. We see our need for the Savior Who died for us and gave His life for us.
Second, we are stripped of all pride. We realize we cannot stand on our own for even a moment. We realize we are not better than anyone else. Think of Peter. He crowed that he was more courageous than the other disciples – that he was willing to go to prison and death. Peter was humbled after the rooster crowed and wept bitterly.
Third, we become totally dependent upon God. We realize we need Him, His grace, His mercy, His strength, His power, His Spirit, His prayers. We realize we are in His hands. We realize we need Him every hour. We realize we have a contribution to make in the church and kingdom only through Him.
Fourth, we become prepared for greater work in the church and kingdom. In some way we can't begin to understand, Peter had to fall so God could raise him up again. Think of it this way: the falling part was Peter's doing; the raising part was God's doing to prepare Peter for great and wondrous things in the church and kingdom. In the lives of His children God uses our worst moments to prepare us for the work He wants us to do.
God often uses humble and broken people to accomplish great things. To prove this let me name the fallen saints used by the Lord:
-Abraham who lied two times about Sarai being his sister rather than his wife
-Jacob who stole his brother's birthright by deceit
-Tamar who played the prostitute
-Moses who murdered an Egyptian
-David who was an adulterer and a murderer
-Paul who persecuted the church
-Peter who denied knowing the Lord
For each and everyone of these saints, the testing of their faith, the sifting by Satan, helped prepare them do the Lord's work.
When we face temptation we are to pray. But standing alongside of us as we pray is a Mediator, a Redeemer – Jesus Christ the Lord. He Who went to the cross for us, He Who suffered and died for us, prays for us when Satan attacks us.
That's what happens in heaven while Satan attacks us on earth. Isn't that wonderful and comforting and glorious to know?!
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