[Be alert and on guard] so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes. – 2 Corinthians 2:11
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;
32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
How does wheat become bread? After wheat is harvested, it needs to be sifted (threshed). This releases the inedible chaff from the edible grain. This is also known as separating the wheat from the chaff. After wheat has been threshed, it is winnowed. In this process, the chaff that has been separated from the grain is removed entirely. The grain is then ground into flour (farmandanimals.com).
Metaphorically, sifting is a process that closely examines all parts of something to find or separate what is useful from what is not.
The Greek term translated as sift is siniazo. Siniazo literally means to sift and shake in a sieve. It came to mean to agitate and press someone to the verge of collapse.
Sifting is the physical process of shaking something violently. Wheat is sifted to separate the valuable kernels from the chaff (useless rubbish). Figuratively it refers to inward agitation, putting to the test, trying faith to the point of failure, and beyond. Our English idiom of “picking someone to pieces” or “taking someone apart” has a similar emotive force (Bock).
When sifted, Peter collapsed under the pressure. But his story does not end there. His crushing humiliation was the beginning of the rest of his life and service as a shepherd and apostle.
The same pattern is true for every child of the King. We start with the best intentions. Yet so often we fail to achieve goals. We fall short of what we started out to do. Sometimes we fail miserably and feel awful. The guilt and shame can be overwhelming. Such was the case with Simon Peter in particular, and the rest of the disciples as well. But there was a sinister, evil force working behind the scenes that we need to recognize.
The Lord Jesus addresses Simon Peter by name, there is something very important hidden in English that is readily seen in Greek. In English, the term “you” can refer to one person (singular) or many individuals (plural). In Greek, however, there are two different forms for “you.” One is singular, while the other is plural.
The “you” in Luke 22:31 is plural, indicating that the Lord Jesus Christ was addressing all of the apostles as he spoke to Peter the leader.
Luke 22:31 Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you [all] like wheat;
In Luke 22:32 the “you” is singular, signifying that the Lord Jesus Christ was focused particularly on Peter. He was well aware of his upcoming failure and restoration.
Luke 22:32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
By application, the Lord Jesus Christ is warning all of His followers throughout time. Be aware, the enemy is seeking to shake us all violently, as one does wheat, to cause us to fail.
1 Peter 5:8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
“When Peter denied Jesus three times, Satan was invisibly working behind the scenes to encourage his spiritual failure. We must always remain on the alert to detect the activity of our adversary (1 Peter 5:8)” (Stanley).
REFLECT & PRAY
So often when bad things happen, self-centered as we are, we think it’s all about us. But in fact, it is not.
Father so many times I have really blown it and felt dirty and useless. But each time I experience Your forgiveness and cleansing. Encourage me to keep going and recognize that every failure may be an opportunity for deeper understanding and greater service to You.
In this life, no one is perfect. The Father is always at work drawing us into a closer walk with Him. We Love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We may love our heavenly Father passionately, but still fail.
“H. G. Wells once said, ‘A man may be a bad musician, and yet be passionately in love with music.’ No matter what Peter did, however terrible his failure, he was nonetheless passionately devoted to Jesus” (Barclay).
Be encouraged, temporary setbacks are not permanent disqualifications.
Psalms 37:24 Even if he trips, he will not fall headlong, for the LORD holds his hand.
But there’s more.
“Jesus said a very lovely thing to Peter. ‘When you have turned, strengthen your brothers.’ It is as if Jesus said to Peter, ‘You will deny me, and you will weep bitter tears, but the result will be that you will be better able to help your brothers who are going through it.’”
“We cannot really help others until we have been in the same furnace of affliction or the same abyss of shame as they have been. It was said of Jesus, ‘He can help others who are going through it because he has been through it himself’ (cf. Hebrews 2:18)”.
“To experience the shame of failure and disloyalty is not all loss, because it gives us a sympathy and an understanding that otherwise we would never have won” (Barclay).
Remember that during the entire ordeal the Lord Jesus is praying for us (Luke 22:32)! All sifting is temporary and limited in scope. The Father uses sifting to achieve His perfect result in us.
As we are sifted, we too are to learn the skill of sifting. Through this, we become more and more qualified to speak for the Father.
Jeremiah 15:19 If you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman.
The Father is at work all the time, realizing His dream for our lives.