February 18, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: Jesus prays for Peter” Luke 22:31-32

February 18, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: Jesus prays for Peter” Luke 22:31-32

February 18, 2024

“Bible prayers: Jesus prays for Peter”

Luke 22:31-32

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

No one can say for sure exactly how or when it started. Was it in the 1940s with President Truman or the 1950s with President Eisenhower? But whatever the time or the reason, a little over sixty years ago, President Kennedy said in his inauguration speech, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. This much we pledge--and more.”

So off we went to the Vietnam war.

But unfortunately, the Vietcong were ready for us. Not only were our soldiers fighting in difficult jungle terrain, we were on their home turf with traps of all kinds ready and waiting for us. There was the bow trap, the foot trap, the swinging mace trap, the snake pit, and the grenade-in-a-can trap, all attached to a tripwire. But one of the worst was the one called the punji stick trap.

So what's a punji stick trap? First, they dug a pit where the jungle was especially thick, then they set up sharpened bamboo, wooden, and sometimes metal stakes at the bottom of the hole, and covered it with leaves and debris, so that even the best trained soldier would miss seeing it before it was too late. In some cases, death was instant. In others, soldiers lingered for hours before passing.

It was one of the worst kinds of traps there ever could be.

Anyone who’s ever set a trap knows that for the trap to be successful, it needs to be at least one of two things--first, it has to be hidden in the hopes that someone or something will stumble into it, and second, it has to have a bait to lure the poor creature in. And if everything goes according to plan, before he even knows what hit him, snap, he’s trapped!

It’s easy to say that Satan loves to trap the people of God. He’s an expert at it, (after all, he’s been at it for thousands of years), and he’s always on the lookout for the next soul to devour.

And his traps are many--think of past hurts, pride, anger, guilt, and shame.

But the good news is that whatever trap we’ve tripped, whatever net in which we’ve been entangled, or whatever pit we’ve fallen into, we always have a way of deliverance through the abundant mercy of Jesus Christ who “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14).

So it was in the words of our text, from the book of Luke chapter 22. I’ll start at verse 14: “And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God…But behold, the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!’ And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this” (Luke 22:14-16, 21-23).

The gospel according to St. Luke chapter 22 takes us to the Upper Room, to that place where Jesus sat for one last time with His disciples. And taking bread, He gave it to them saying, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). And taking wine, He gave it to them saying, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:17-18).

And as He talked about all the things that would happen that very night, He also said in verse 31, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).

Now let’s stop right there for a moment. I can’t even imagine the shock that these words must have been, to Peter and to all the rest, for Maundy Thursday had been one of the greatest days of their lives! Just moments before, Jesus had promised that they would someday “eat and drink at His table in His kingdom” and that they’d “sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). He had even washed their feet! And now He says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31)?!

So what’s going on?

In that moment, Jesus gave them a peek behind the scenes of history. The veil was lifted and the curtain parted, to catch a glimpse of what was really going on on the other side--a high-level conference between God and Satan. And in that moment, He wanted them to know that, over the next several hours, Satan would test them like they had never been tested before.

And so He said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).

What does it mean to “sift like wheat”?

Whenever we think of sifting, we think of that handy little flour device that our mothers or grandmothers used to use (of course, maybe some of you still use one too!). You know, the thing where you put in the flour, then turn the crank or squeeze the handle, and out comes that soft, fluffy powder on the other side. That’s a flour sifter.

But that’s not what Jesus was talking about. He was talking about a wheat sifter.

So what’s a wheat sifter?

Back in Bible times, the first step in the process of sifting wheat was to loosen the chaff from the grain, what’s called threshing. And the way they’d do it was to spread the wheat out onto a floor made of stone or concrete or hard earth, then beat it with a flail.

The next step was called winnowing, where they loosened the chaff from the grain. And the way they’d do that was to throw it high in the air so the chaff could blow away in the breeze, while the heavier grain fell back down to the ground.

So when Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,” He meant to say that Satan wanted to destroy Peter. He wanted to stomp him down into the ground, then throw him high into the air while the wind blew through. He wanted to first take him apart, and then pick him to pieces till there was hardly anything left to him anymore.

Satan didn’t simply want to play around with him for a while like a cat with a mouse, have some fun with him, and then leave him alone. He wanted to crush him and to annihilate him once and for all.

And why would he focus all of his attention on Peter, some mere fisherman? I mean, what did Peter ever do to him?

He already had Judas--that was old news. He was easy. But if he could get Peter, if he could get the leader, the one who walked on water, the one who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” he could get them all.

And why did Jesus call him “Simon”? Why not call him by his other name--“Peter”?

Because “Peter” was a name that meant “reliable,” “you can count on him,” “right-hand-man,” “number-one-man,” and “rock.” And “Simon”? That’s a name that meant a “reed that shakes in the wind.”

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).

But there’s more. Thankfully, there’s more. For not only did Jesus say that Satan would sift him, He also said, in verse 32: “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”

Can you picture it? Even though Jesus knew full well everything that was about to happen--the boasting, the bragging, the lying, the denying, the cursing, the crowing, and the bitter tears, Jesus was praying for him. Jesus was praying for all of them, that their faith may not fail.

Then He said, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

In very much the same way, every one of us is facing a determined enemy today, one who wants nothing less than to sift your life and mine. As one commentator wrote, “He wants to prove that we are phonies. He wants to show God and the world that there is nothing to our professions of faith. He wants to destroy everything of value in your life. He wants to ruin your testimony. He wants to destroy your home. He wants to wreck your influence. He wants to take away everything of value in your life and to leave you nothing but a devastated shell of what you had.”

If he can get your eyes off of Jesus, he will. If he can separate you from the members of your family, he will. If he can drive a wedge between you and your church, he will. He’ll do everything he can, by whatever means necessary, to make your faith fail. And he will stop at nothing until you fall and until you die.

But when you fall, know that you’re in very good company--Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Moses murdered, Rahab was a prostitute, David was an adulterer, Paul persecuted the church, and Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was.

But there’s more. Thankfully, there’s more. And it’s found in this: “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

And that’s the good news for all of us. Jesus, our Lord and Master, is not only praying for us, He specializes in taking what’s broken and putting it back together again. In fact, this very place, this very church is a collection of broken people who have discovered God’s grace who are telling other broken people where they can discover God’s grace. And that’s the best news we could ever hope to hear.

Have you ever heard the terms “casual runners” or “slow runners”? It’s what people call runners who run in a marathon, but aren’t in any particular hurry to win. Maybe they’re new to the sport or they’re pushing past their comfort zone. Maybe they’re carrying a few extra pounds or are coming back from an injury. Whatever the reason, many of them don’t care so much about what the clock reads when they finish. They just want to finish.

And even though they might take a whole lot longer to cross the finish line than everyone else, they’re just as serious as the fastest marathoners.

If you think about it, every one of us here this morning are finishers. Now I don’t mean a marathon. Not many of us are up to running a full twenty-six miles! But what I do mean is our Christian race. Every one of us is running a Christian race.

Finishers are those who have been a Christian for fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, and even ninety years and they’re still here, still going strong. They’re seasoned Christians who have weathered more than their share of storms and don’t get too worked up about putting up another sheet of plywood for the next one that’s coming.

They’ve been there, and done that. They’re the ones who, after the grain gets threshed and the chaff is blown away, are better and stronger than they’ve ever been before.

If only every one of us could finish just like that.

You know, this story does end in an amazing way. Yes, Peter lied and denied and the rooster crowed. But in the days that followed, he came back stronger than he ever was before. For it was Peter who preached on Pentecost to the people of Jerusalem, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). And when he was done, three thousand people believed!

As author William Bathurst wrote so long ago: “Lord, give us such a faith as this; and then, whate’er may come, we’ll taste e’en now the hallowed bliss of an eternal home.”

We thank You, Jesus, that in the midst of trials and troubles of all kinds, You are with us and are praying for us. Keep our faith strong as we find our rest in You, for Your sake. Amen