The Herald Weekly Vol XVII : 45

Being Sifted as Grain in a Sift

The Upper Room scene was one of intrigue and impending danger. On one hand, there was Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles and serving the Last Supper. On the other hand, there was Judas Iscariot going out of the room to betray the Master. In the midst of the many moments occurring that night, Jesus revealed to John, the beloved disciple, the great truths of Himself as the “I am… the good Shepherd, the true Vine.” And to Peter, Jesus revealed the work of Satan and issued him a grave warning, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat,” (Lk 22:31).

Peter must have been aware that the Master addressed his name twice: “Simon, Simon!” What was the reason for the double call of a name? Was it for emphasis? To call attention to what was to happen to him? In God’s calling Abraham’s name twice in Genesis 22:11, it was succinctly God’s pointing to Abraham’s faithfulness to his maker as he was about to sacrifice his only son to the Almighty God. When Jesus mentioned Martha’s name at her Bethany home, the Master was giving a stern word to the elder sister who was so busy with her hospitality acts that she forgot about the spiritual side of her life – that was to listen to the Master’s teaching which was the good part that Mary did by sitting at Jesus feet, and listening to the voice of the Lord.

When it came to Peter, Jesus’ call was gentle and He calling Peter by his common family name, “Simon, Simon!” This apostle was particularly strong and had received the favour of God to perceive Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16). But at the final night before Jesus was to be crucified on the cross, he was in a perilous moment as Jesus revealed, “Behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Jesus did not only refer to Peter, but He included all the other disciples. It is the plural pronoun of you in Greek that indicated everyone in the Upper Room. Truly, one of them had not only been sieved thoroughly, but had also been devoured by Satan. It was Judas Iscariot who had walked out of the room after the Master gave him a piece of bread which he must have dipped in the soup before he left.

“To sieve grain in a sift” is an agricultural reference for winnowing. This process tells us that some kind of force will be exerted on the grains so as to toss them to and fro with sharp and sudden action. Its purpose is to divide and separate the grain from the husk. This figurative phrase is to reveal Satan’s action in tempting the disciples to do, what in normal circumstance, they would not do. The Tempter is to distract their minds with “dismal forebodings and apprehensions” (Hasting), in the hope that they would be tempted to forsake their faith, and “take refuge in utter and irretrievable defection” such as denying the Lord and forsaking Him. The Lord gave a warning to Peter first because he was most vulnerable. Peter had stood proudly to defend His Master, when inwardly he was actually very feeble.

But as the warning was issued, Jesus redeemed them from falling with the following words, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (v23). Judas fell for the money which the Jewish leaders offered him, and went on to betray his Master. Did not Jesus pray for him? We are sure He did. But we are told that the Devil entered into Judas’ heart. He willingly sinned against the Lord. He allowed the evil forces to use him for his personal gain. But Peter was different. He was always steadfast in his trust of the Master and was even willing to die for the Lord. But he spoke too soon with arrogance, not fully relying on the Lord, but on his own strength. He later denied the Lord three times, and painfully repented of his error later.

As disciples of the Lord, we are “prize catch” for Satan. He goes around as a roaring lion and is always seeking to swallow the unaware followers of the Lord. Peter warns us about our soul’s enemy. We need to be vigilant and sober, never to allow for a little moment his wiles and temptations to enter our heart (1 Pet 5:7; Eph 6:11, 16). That is the difference between Peter and Judas. Judas was lost in the first place, never saved, and his action showed the fruit of his life – he was greedy and desired filthy lucre. He opened his heart to the Devil and he was overtaken into betray the Lord. But our Lord will not allow His people to be devoured by the enemy. Once devoured, the unsaved person will go to Hell. That is the goal of the Devil (Matt 25:41) So our Lord makes intercession for His sheep in His church (Rom 8:27, Heb 7:25).

Let us ask ourselves another question: Do we love the Lord?

Jesus asked Peter three times when He appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, “Do you love me?” If we love the Lord, the sifting of the Satan will have no effect on us, even when we may experience many afflictions in our Christian life. James encourages us to rejoice greatly when we “fall into divers temptation” (Jm 1:2). We have a faith that is being refined, and in the process, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strength, we should emerge “finer than gold”. Great rewards await all who persevere the afflictions in this life. Hence, we can understand what the Lord said when He prays for the believers – that their faith will not fail. He will not let His sheep to be snatched away by the enemy. He will protect them.

In our love for the Lord, we will not only listen to His word, but put His teaching into action. James urges us to fulfil that (Jm 2:17-19). Otherwise, our faith is empty… like a sounding cymbal. This is the challenge for each and every one of us that is to be true to our faith. With sincere trust and a clear conscience before the Lord, nothing can shake us because we stand on the Rock which leads us to eternal life. That is the promise of the Lord.

Finally, brethren, let us take to heart that the Lord loves us and is praying for us – that our faith will not fail. When our love for the Lord is stronger than for the world and its lusts, the sifting may be there, but we will be able to stand strong in Him. The promise in our endeavour is that there is the crown of life that is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

Pastor Bob Phee
(1st printing on 24 July 2016)

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