Being Sifted Like Wheat
“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” Peter said to him, “Lord I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34)
Early in my walk with the Lord I was taught an important truth. It was a truth that has enabled me to recognize the hand of my Heavenly Father in the midst of life’s difficulties. It is a simple truth, but at the same time it is profound. That truth is this: God loves you just like you are, but He loves you so much He is not going to let you stay that way!
Being “born again” is only the beginning of our journey. That journey is not about merely “going to heaven when we die.” It is the journey of being “transformed into the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29). It is the journey of discipleship. It is a journey that is a mixture of joy and pain. It involves trials and testing. It involves God making the needed adjustments in our life, so that we might fulfill the destiny that God has for us. It is a journey of redemption, where we see that “all things work together for good, to those whom love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
An “Unstable Rock”
Jesus had gathered with His disciples the night before He was to be crucified in a place referred to as the “upper room.” They were celebrating the Passover. During the course of that evening Jesus had said many things. Now, as this evening was drawing to a close, Jesus addresses the most out-spoken of His disciples, the one who was viewed as the “leader” among the disciples. The one who, at Caesarea Philippi, had boldly declared to Jesus in response to the question: “Who do you say I am?”, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This disciple, Simon Bar-Jonah, was “re-named” by Jesus at that point. Jesus changed his name from “Simon,” a name related to the Aramaic word for “reed,” to Peter, a name in the Greek language meaning “rock.”
But that evening Jesus does not initially call him by his new name. Instead Jesus calls him Simon. I do not think this is insignificant. Names in the Bible carry important meaning. Names often are a revelation of character, and so it is with this disciple. Simon was like a “reed” blowing in the wind. He was a man who could vacillate between faith and fear, boldness and timidity. As quickly as he acknowledged the messiahship of Christ, he just as quickly was correcting Jesus about going to the cross. (See Matthew 16:13-23). He was not a “rock” steady personality. He was unstable, and what Jesus was telling him that night focused on his instability.
Like many of us, Simon Peter, over-estimated himself. When Jesus changed his name to “rock,” it wasn’t because he was one. Jesus was declaring what God was going to make him in to. We see this pattern throughout the Scriptures. God changed Abram’s name, which meant “exalted father” to Abraham, which meant “father of a multitude.” But it was twenty-five years before his wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac, the beginning of the multitude. God changed Jacob’s name, which meant “deceiver” to Israel, which meant “one who walks with God.” But even after the name change, we still found Israel acting like a “Jacob.”
Simon Peter had an important lesson to learn before he would become the Rock.
Nothing Touches Your Life Unless It Passes Through the Hand of the Father
In Jesus’ words to Simon Peter, He says, “Satan demanded to have you.” The Greek word translated as “demanded” in the English Standard Version is translated as “desired,” “asked,” “requested” and similar ways in other translations. It is the word “exaiteo,” meaning “obtained by asking.” In the same way that Satan could not touch Job without God’s permission (Job 1:8-12, 2:1-8), he could not touch Simon Peter. Satan is restrained by God and can only do what God permits. Ultimately, he ends up being the unwilling instrument of God. He is used by God to test us or tempt us. In this instance, God was allowing Satan to test Simon Peter. He was going to permit him to “sift” Peter, like wheat is sifted before it can be turned into bread to feed the hungry.
Like Peter, we too must be “sifted,” before we can become what the Father has called us to be. Throughout the Bible we see this process in the lives of God’s servants. Abraham was sifted, as was Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and many others. The nation of Israel was sifted in the Wilderness, where God humbled them and tested them, to reveal what was in their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2).
James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (1:2). The reason we can embrace testing with joy is that we know who is truly behind it. It is not the devil; it is your heavenly Father. He has allowed this testing for His purposes in you. You must live in the awareness that, nothing touches your life unless it passes through the hand of the Father.
The Purpose of “Sifting”
The Greek word translated “sift” is “siniazo” meaning “to winnow.” This word is only used this one time in the New Testament (Luke22:31). It is a word that was used for the process of separating the wheat from the chaff. This was done by throwing the wheat into the air allowing the wind to blow the lighter chaff away, while the heavier wheat grain falls to the ground. This word is used to describe what the Father is after in Peter’s testing. He wants “the wheat separated from chaff” in the life of this disciple.
Peter did not live in reality about himself. He viewed himself as stronger, braver, and more devoted to Jesus than he really was. He was like the man who thinks he can lift a three-hundred-pound barbell. He may sincerely believe he is able to lift it, but he may be in unreality. The only way for him to be brought to reality is to try and lift it. His failure may be disillusioning, but he is now forced to see that his self-perceived strength was an illusion. There has been a “sifting” of reality from unreality.
Take note of Peter’s words, “I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” I think Peter believed that to be true. But it was not reality. In order for him to be brought to reality, he had to be confronted with his own failure. He had to encounter his weakness, in order to become a man of strength. He had to learn the lesson of “when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).
Peter was about to be confronted with reality. It was going to shake his world, and he would never be the same afterwards. But it was the Father’s love that was behind Peter’s being “sifted.”
The Danger of Unbroken Success
Many years ago, I heard the Bible teacher, Bob Mumford say, “Never trust a man that doesn’t walk with a limp.” He was referring to Jacob, who wrestled all night with the angel of the Lord. His hip was put out of joint and from that time on he walked with a limp. (See Genesis 32:22-32). The message he was conveying with that statement addressed the issue of failure and unbroken success. The point he was making was “don’t trust a man who has never failed.”
The man or woman who has not encountered failure, and has only experienced success, will most likely be proud and have an over-estimated view of themselves. They will tend to look upon others with a “self-righteous contempt.” They can be condescending and have an attitude of superiority toward others. They are “rich,” and if others would be like them, they too would be a “success.” Proverbs 18:23 says, “The rich man answers roughly.” We have all seen this, and maybe we have done it ourselves.
Because the Father wants to transform our character to be aligned with His, He will “set us up to fail.” That may be shocking to you, and it does not fit with what is preached in some pulpits, but it is actually an expression of His paternal love. He knows the value of our being confronted with our weakness, our limitations, and our self-dependence. He knows that our failure, if properly embraced, gives us a different self-perspective, and a different perspective of others.
Failure reveals our self-deception, and shows “you to you.” The Father knows the reality about you and me. He is never surprised by my failure because He knows the weak person that I am. But I do not know how weak I really am. I, like Simon Peter, have a tendency to “think more highly of myself than I ought to think” (Romans 12:3). Failure humbles us and frees us from our destructive self-deception.
Proverbs 24:16 says, “Though the righteous man falls seven times, he will rise up and go again.” The righteousness of the man is not revealed in the falling, but in the rising up. As that great philosopher Rocky Balboa said, “It ain’t how hard you hit…it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.”
The Father knew that Simon Peter would fail. He knew that “before the rooster crowed” Simon Peter would have denied that he knew Jesus three times. But He also knew that he would be “turned again.” Here the Scripture uses the Greek word “epistrepho” meaning “return” or “convert.” (The King James Version renders this word as “converted.”) The Father knew that Simon Peter was not going to walk away or throw in the proverbial “towel.” But that ultimately, he would return, and use his failure to strengthen his brothers.
A little over fifty days after his denial of Christ, it is Peter who delivers the message on the day of Pentecost, declaring to the crowd that “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Forgiven, restored, and anointed, he is the one chosen by God to proclaim the gospel and see 3,000 enter into the kingdom of God.
Here we are today, almost 2,000 years later, being strengthened by the failure and return of Peter. It is his failure that we all can relate to. We all identify with Peter. His failure has become a “blessing” to us who read of his denial and its redemptive aftermath. It is not only an illustration of the Father’s forgiveness, but a demonstration of His restoring those who fail as well. It shows us that failure is not final. It encourages us to rise up and go again. The message to us is that defeat can be turned into victory.