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From sifted to strengthening

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” (Jesus to Simon Peter in Luke 22:31)

As Jesus speaks to the disciples about His upcoming death and how it will affect them, He warns them that in the events to come, Satan will sift them like wheat.  After wheat had been threshed and winnowed so that the edible part of the grain was separated from the chaff, it was placed in a sieve to be sifted. This straining resulted in contaminants like dirt, tiny pebbles, bugs, etc., passing through the sieve while the grain remained. What Satan desires is the opportunity to expose some contaminants in the disciples’ lives.  In light of how things turned out, it seems likely that he wanted to exploit their fearfulness (Matthew 26:31ff). We know he was successful.

But not totally.

Judging from what else Jesus says (“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” – v. 32), I think Satan had something more in mind than just the momentarily stumbling of the disciples at Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  His larger intent was to so devastate them by their failure that they would despairingly embark on an even more destructive path.  This was the strategy employed with Judas and it was tragically successful.

But it doesn’t happen with the rest of the disciples.  Their sifting doesn’t end up in further drifting or death --- they turn back to Christ. It's worth noting that Peter is singled out by Jesus. As he led in denying Christ; he would lead after his return by strengthening the others.  If you stop and think about this, it is nothing short of incredible and the obvious work of Christ that one who falls so dramatically should not only return, but be so dramatically forceful in the lives of his fellow followers. (And who at this very moment is in need of our strengthening?). 

I can't help but think how much this has to say to us.  For starters, do we think of temptation or sin as being sifted by Satan? Just as God wants to bless us, Satan wants to expose the contaminants in our life --- not for the purpose of purifying us, but to bring us down. And once he has us there, he wants to keep us there by weighing us down with the wrong kind of guilt and grief. Too many times we assume that falling away is all about a person consciously deciding to not follow Christ any longer (as if Satan has no other weapons than the appeal of sin (see Hebrews 11:25).  The truth is, people quit because of overwhelming discouragement, shame, sorrow, etc.  Paul deals with such a situation in 2 Corinthians 2:5ff.  We must have a greater sensitivity and commitment to helping those who’ve been wounded in this way!

And Peter --- would it be too much to say that he was healed from his self-inflicted wounds as he attended to and strengthened his brothers?  There’s so much “gospel” here for us to learn and practice!

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