The Verge of Overthrow

“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  

The Why of Suffering

There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

I started looking at this verse here Strange House Guest.  In that post I wrote about how we most often view suffering as a strange house guest. But here I would like to talk about the why. Why does there have to be suffering at all? 

The answer must lie in that middle part of the verse – the painful trial you are suffering. “Painful trial” is the Greek word purosis (πύρωσις), which means burning or smelting, “a figure drawn from a refiner’s fire.” It comes from the word that means “melted by fire and purged of dross,” refined. 

The word translated “suffering” is peirasmos (πειρασμός), which means adversity, affliction, and trouble, but also testing, trial, and proving. It is a suffering “sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness.”  

Peirasmos is the word used “of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand” (Luke 4:13). It comes from a word that means – I love this! – “to try whether a thing can be done.”  

Although he was a son, he learned obedience (attentive hearkening, compliance, or submission) from what he suffered Hebrews 5:8 

Jesus did not need refining as the perfect Son of God. He did not need to learn obedience or learn to hearken to God’s voice. He did it for us, to show us that it can be done, and how.  

One [Messiah] who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. Micah 2:13 

“Learning and suffering and death are part of the life experience for all people, and God ensured that His own Son would be no exception. As God, Jesus did not need to learn anything, especially obedience; yet, at His incarnation, Jesus limited Himself to the human experience. He chose the weak position of having to learn and grow (Luke 2:52). Jesus “learned obedience” not in the sense that He was prone to disobedience and had to bring rebelliousness under control, but in the sense that He fully entered the human experience.” — gotquestions.orgi 

Paul called it a “fellowship of suffering.” Elisabeth Elliot called this fellowship a privilege: 

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”   

This is not our usual way of thinking, but it is God’s way, part of that one-track focus of his to save the world. It seems to me that if we are surprised by suffering it is because we are expecting everything to go our way. It is a kind of rebellion really. Looking to make our will be done, our little kingdom come. Rejecting the promise of trouble and suffering. Rejecting the Potter’s forming hands.  

But if we expect suffering and refining as his children – because that is what he promised – we begin to be surprised by joy. We begin looking for the blessings. Looking for the answer to prayer. Looking for the fragile life to poke up through our plowed hearts. Looking for the light shining through the broken places. Looking for the other part of the promise of suffering, because there will always be something beautiful included. There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere. 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NASB) 

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” — Henri Nouwen, Daily Meditation, “Be Surprised by Joy” 

Let us strive to be surprised, not by the suffering, but by joy. Let us pray that we may be the barren desert from which His life can spring up. Let us pour out the life that has been poured out into us. Jesus has gone before us; he has shown us the way. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering … 2 Timothy 4:6 

Photo copyright 2018 Derek Bair