“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Did you know that the first time the Greek word “you” is used in the above verse it is plural? According to NetBible Study Notes, “This pronoun is plural in the Greek text, so it refers to all the disciples of which Peter is the representative … Satan has demanded permission to put them to the test. The idiom ‘sift (someone) like wheat’ is similar to the English idiom ‘to pick (someone) apart.’”
That was an eye-opener to me. All of the disciples were to be sifted like wheat, not just Peter. If I count myself as a disciple, I will be too.
The Greek word translated “sifted” is siniazo, and this verse is the only time it is used in the New Testament. It means to sift, shake in a sieve … “to try one’s faith to the verge of overthrow.”i
All the disciples will be sifted. However, the second time the pronoun “you” is used, “I have prayed for you, Simon,” Jesus is singling out Peter. I find myself shaking my head at Peter, “They’re all going to be sifted, but wow, poor Peter. He needs special prayer.” It is implied that he will turn away from God. “When you have turned back.” The word means to turn one’s self about, turn back, to return, come back to the worship of the true God, to the love and obedience of God, to the love for the children, to love wisdom and righteousness. It means to revert, to come again, to convert. Faith tried to the verge of overthrow.
But I realize as I ponder this that I have needed Jesus’ special prayers a lot. I have needed to turn back many times – from rebellion, from error and deception, from wandering off on the wrong path, from the verge, the edge of the cliff, from anger at God, and, again, from anger at God.
The point is that all of the disciples were to be sifted like wheat. All of us will be. And all of us will need the special prayers of Jesus. We can’t just point at Peter and shake our heads. He is our representative in this instance. Peter definitely typifies my struggle. But praise God, Jesus is always and ever interceding for us even today, even right now. And if you look at the verse above you see that Jesus prayed for Peter before he messed up. And – amazing grace!- Jesus said, “When you have turned back.”
I don’t think (unfortunately) that this sifting is a big, one-time event and then we’re done. Peter messed up again – and probably again. The refining process is life long. But, we can be sure that if we keep yielding, if we keep repenting, if we keep letting him change us, each time we turn back we will have more to give, more to share, a stronger witness to his amazing grace and unfailing love.
Do not despair in the sifting! We will all be picked apart and shaken to remove the little pebbles (and the big stones) and the inedible chaff. But God’s ultimate purpose in the trials and the sifting and the turning back will be accomplished, and afterwards we will be used to “strengthen our brothers” and feed Jesus’ sheep with the good wheat, the Bread from Heaven.
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:17
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish (be lost, ruined, destroyed, rendered useless), and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29
i Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Joseph Thayer.
Image, Dangerous Cliff Edge, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland, by Anna & Michal https://flic.kr/p/4rz2ga