This summer, we are spending our time
in the gospels. I haven’t taken on a lengthy series because we are planning
to preach a longer series on our church’s vision in the fall. This
week in my devotional time a text from Luke hit me. It’s
a text speaking to the relationship between Jesus, Satan and the disciples. Maybe
the reason this text jumped out at me this week is because of the news from our short term missions team to the
Native Americans in Grand Portage.
As some of you have heard, the
Lord has been doing some wonderful things up there in the last week. At least
two people professed faith in Christ and several of the native population, especially the youth, have been powerfully impacted by our group’s ministry. I trust you will hear those details next week during the Sunday school report back service. In the
midst of that ministry however, have been several clear indications of satanic opposition. We have
seen this in previous years of ministry up there—that area is a very dark area spiritually and Satan has
had his way with that population for a very long time. This
year there has been opposition on a few fronts and God has given much grace through our prayers
and the prayers of our team up there. It was
just another reminder for me of the reality of Satan’s activity and the church’s need to be aware and equipped in this aspect of
living as followers of Christ.
many of you know, the Bible does not teach that Satan and God are on the same footing. God is
the infinite and glorious, absolutely sinless, totally sovereign, all powerful Creator and
Satan is a finite, fallen, angelic creature who very clearly answers to God and whose every activity falls under
His sovereign authority.
Never in eternity has God or his established
plans been frustrated by Satan.
God knows everything before it happens
because he is in sovereign control over everything. That
means he is never frustrated, vexed or perplexed by anything, much less one of his fallen, finite creatures. Though Satan has been given significant influence over this world as a result of the
fall, the taproot of his influence was cut out in the cross when Jesus defeated him. Paul
says in Colossians chapter two of Jesus, “He
disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” One aspect of this victory for the believer is--our sins have been forgiven and that strips
from Satan and his demonic horde the power to legitimately accuse us. On a
personal level, Jesus’ victory is increasingly manifest in the life of believers as we grow in our faith in what Jesus
did for us in the cross.
On a global level, Christ’s victory
is manifest as more and more peoples across the globe are rescued from Satan’s grip by God’s saving grace
and turn away from this satanic world system as they repent of their sins and trust in Christ to forgive them
through the cross.
It’s the truth of that victory that doubtless was in Luther’s
mind when he wrote, “The
prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is SURE.
little word will fell him.”
those truths do NOT in any way mean that Satan is not a fierce, formidable and potentially lethal enemy. The same Luther who wrote those triumphant words wrote two stanzas earlier,
still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth
is not his equal.” Revelation 12 tells us that Satan is “filled with rage for he knows his time is short.”
This rage shows itself in his tenacity. Many in church history could affirm he is like a pit bull. When
he is allowed to attack a believer, he will not unlock his jaws until either God or the believer forces him to release. In John
10:10, Jesus says of him that he “seeks
to steal, kill and destroy.” If you are in Christ, he seeks to steal your joy and your peace. He seeks
to kill your body and your physical, mental and emotional health and he is out to destroy your soul, your testimony
and this church. He has brought incomprehensible suffering and anguish to
the saints of God over the centuries. Jesus
in John chapter eight says “he is
a liar and the father of lies.” He is the most deceptive being in the universe. Jesus tells us that “when he lies he speaks his native tongue.”
His accusations against Christ’s church,
though robbed of their lethal power for believers, easily pierce those areas where our faith is weak and at
times he can bring overwhelming discouragement to our souls. A sense
of utter hopelessness is his short term goal and any sincere saint has spent more than a few hours in that dark,
Peter says he is like “a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” and he has a voracious appetite for those who claim to
seeks to devour professed believers and he’s not the least bit particular about how he does it as long as he
accomplishes his mission.
He may launch a frontal assault against
your areas of weak faith that are so fierce and targeted and intense that you can be reduced to tears in moments. In those times, it seems like you have to exert every ounce of your spiritual, emotional
and even physical energy just to keep from drowning in your own self pity. Or, he
may just nibble at your souls one subtle, seductive lie at a time. They
are often wrapped in the sugar coating of half-truth and even Scripture to make them seem palatable. He traffics
in the seductive and incredibly subtle lies of materialism, post-modernism, relativism, rationalism
or any other false world view that causes us to gradually lose sight of Christ and his kingdom and
increasingly treasure and trust in the things of this world. If we
aren’t regularly checked by the truth of the word of God, these very subtle lies, whispered by this one who appears as
an angel of light, can gradually take over and drain us of all our joy and spiritual vitality as he persistently
works to steal, kill and destroy us.
And if you have never experienced that
kind of spiritual opposition, it probably means that either you aren’t a threat to him, or he hasn’t had to move past
his initial, default strategy with you—that is—lull you into complacency with the lie that he isn’t someone you should be all that concerned
the Last Supper, Jesus makes some statements that are not only very familiar to us, but are
also very helpful in enabling us to understand the workings of our enemy and how we can increasingly walk
in victory over him.
During the Last Supper, Jesus issues a sobering and serious warning
Luke writes in chapter 21:31 as Jesus
says, “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.” I find two major truths in this text. The first
is: God uses Satan’s attacks on God’s children to conform us to Christ. We
know that Jesus is serious about this attack because he says, “Simon, Simon.” He repeats the name which was a means of stressing that something important
also important for us to know that when Jesus says that Satan has “demanded to have you, that
he might sift you like wheat” in the original language the pronoun is plural. That
means that although Simon was the special target of this attack, all the
disciples were in the cross hairs of the evil one. Simon
is almost certainly targeted because he was the clear leader and if the leader is brought down, that can bring down some or all
of the others. Satan
is strategic in his attacks.
One of the fascinating details of this text is that Jesus says Satan
has demanded to have the apostles, Simon in particular. Given
what we said earlier about the relationship between God and Satan, it seems strange that
Satan would DEMAND anything from God. This
does NOT reveal any weakness in God.
Fallen, sinful people in this room and
all over the world make foolish, arrogant demands of God everyday. That
does nothing to tarnish God’s glory.
On the contrary, it bears testimony to his patience in the
face of our arrogance. This satanic demand Jesus speaks of here says far more about the cosmic arrogance of the Adversary.
know from First Timothy chapter three that Satan’s fall came about because he was filled with conceit [3:6]. This demand illustrates his massive pride. Even though
Satan has stood in the very presence of the glory of God and seen first hand his eternal majesty and
omnipotence--in his pride he still makes demands of his Creator. This
illustrates just how much sin deadens the capacity for rational thought--sin turns fallen angels
and humans into fools.
No rational creature created by God
and under his judgment, having seen his power and splendor would make a demand on him. Yet,
Satan in his arrogance makes a demand on God. This
is not the first time in Scripture Satan responds to God like this. In the
first two chapters of Job, Satan appears with the other angels in the heavenly court before God. There
God of giving special treatment
to Job in order to ensure his loyalty. In chapter
two, after Satan has brutally assaulted Job—completely plundering his wealth and murdering his 10 children, he
then challenges God
to let him attack the one thing God had earlier forbid him to attack, Job’s health.
The account of Job tells us that God
and Satan have an ongoing relationship of sorts marked by Satan’s arrogance and God’s patience. His demand to attack Peter is in some ways similar to his interaction with God over Job.
Jesus reports that Satan has asked to sift Peter in particular
We don’t know whether
he asks Jesus directly or whether—as is probably the case—Satan approaches God within the heavenly courts as he did with Job and Jesus discovers
this through prayer.
When Satan demands to sift Simon like
wheat that metaphor is very powerful. We get
some help on what Satan intends by this demand by looking at Amos 9:9 where a very similar Hebrew phrase is used. God is speaking of his future judgment of Israel and he says, “9For behold, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve,
but no pebble shall fall to the earth.”
When we hear the word “sift” in Luke 21—we may think of sifting flour which
is done mainly (so I am told) “to separate and aerate the flour particles to make them absorb liquids better.” It makes for fluffier four for baking. This
sifting that Satan demands to perform on Peter has nothing to do with pastry. One commentator
says this about this word translated “sift”, “The picture is of grain in a sieve, where the head of grain is taken apart…Our English idiom of “picking someone to pieces” or “taking
someone apart” has similar emotive force.” The fact that Satan demands to take Simon apart/rip him to pieces illustrates what we heard
in Revelation 12—“he is filled with
rage for he knows his time is short.” Satan may appear as an angel of light at times and he can be calculatingly patient as he
picks at your soul one lie at a time. Neither
the outwardly beautiful coating of his lies or his gradual, measured approach to our destruction
should be mistaken for indifference on his part. Listen,
if you belong to Christ, Satan is absolutely enraged
you (do you know that?) and he will exert every means at his disposal to
steal, kill and destroy you.
The other side of the coin related to sifting is—when wheat is sifted, what is
of value is separated out from what is waste. We like
We like to be separated from those soul-destroying
habits and addictions.
We like losing our sinful compulsions
We beg for God to separate us from our
godless thought patterns and wicked behaviors. We rejoice
when we notice that a rotten attitude we have harbored for years is no longer part of our profile. We delight when God delivers us from bitterness and unforgiveness and hatred. We celebrate when we see God’s grace giving us victory over our smart mouth or our slanderous
tongue—when we no longer covet that bigger car or house—when we find ourselves increasingly liberated from stinginess
in our giving—when our impatience gradually gives way to longsuffering--when complaining is replaced by worship
and hatred and lust are displaced by love. That’s
the miracle of sanctification—through the gospel, God is liberating us to live out who he made us
to be in Christ!
love the separation of the bad from the good, the godless from the godly. If we
are serious about our walk with God, we have spent untold hours praying and weeping over those sins—we hate them
and yearn to be more like Christ in those areas. For the
genuine believer, progress does occur—fruit
is produced--because the gospel really is the power of God for salvation. The change
seems to move at the speed of molasses sometimes, but it does occur. (Of course,
with the increasing levels of victory also comes a new awareness of sin we never even noticed before—so
there is never a time in this life when the battle doesn’t rage.) But there
this gradual but glorious separation
that occurs between what looks like Christ and what is sinful and we rightly celebrate that.
this text implies is that one of the ways—not the only way—but one of the
ways that separation happens is through the attack of Satan. We must
never forget that-- at the end of the day--Satan is just another tool God uses to make saints out of sinners. As many have said, the devil is God’s devil. And as we know from the account of Joseph in Genesis—what Satan is God’s sifter
and his emissaries intend for evil, God intends for good. It’s
intensely brutal at times but we must never forget that every ounce of that brutality—as in the
case of Job—is pre-approved by God who is good and who loves us. We know
that’s true because at the end of Satan’s assault on Job, we read in some of the final verses of the book in 42:11, “11 Then
came to him [Job] all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And
they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had
brought upon him…” Satan was God’s tool to sharpen and hone Job and cause him
to know God much, much better than he did before and he is the same tool in our lives. The difference
between Job and us is--we have the account of Job to help us know what is going on and we
live on this side of the cross with the strength we have through the gospel.
must never forget that God is more than willing to allow us to suffer to make us more like Jesus for at least two
First, he is far more concerned with our character than our comfort. That comes as a bucket of icy water dumped down our back
in this culture that specializes in producing comfort mongers,
but it’s undeniably true.
Another reason for his willingness to let us suffer is related
to that and that is--because he is far more concerned with his own glory than our comfort. If a person
is truly in Christ, they have been spiritually re-wired. What
used to be an overwhelming desire for self-glory has been replaced with a growing desire for the
glory of God.
And Christ is glorified in our suffering
as we cry out to him for release and relief. He’s even glorified in our whining and moaning and complaining to
him because all of those expressions demonstrate that we see HIM as our only answer. However
indelicately we express it sometimes, our heart’s cry is, “Jesus, you have to help me with this.” So, he is glorified in our suffering and he is glorified
in our increasing levels of Christ-likeness produced when by God’s grace we are separated from our sin through
second truth in this text is: God’s
grace is sufficient not only to bring us through Satan’s attack, but also to make us more effective for ministry
In verse 32, after Jesus issues this
warning to Simon, he says to him, “but
I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when
you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” There are at least two important lessons in this verse about the sufficiency of God’s grace. The first
we are attacked, Jesus is on duty. I
am ashamed to admit that when I was a child, I watched professional wrestling. I was
young and unsaved and I must admit to being tantalized by all the blood lust—however phony it was. One of
the things that you see in professional wrestling in a tag-team match is when one member of
the “evil team” distracts the referee long enough for the other member of his team in the ring can do something really nasty to his “innocent” opponent. After what seems like an eternity-- as the good guy is beaten to a pulp with a folding chair or something,
the referee awakens from his oblivion, only to notice that the “good” wrestler has been horribly bloodied in some way
while he wasn’t looking. That never happens with our Lord. When
Satan is attacking us—Jesus is never distracted. As in
the case of Peter and Job, he knows precisely what is going to happen before it happens and
has already prayed that the trial will not cause us to be destroyed. When
Jesus says that he has prayed that Simon’s faith may not fail, he is obviously not promising that Simon will not
sin. Simon DID sin and two verses later Jesus predicted precisely
how Simon would sin and he even set a rooster alarm clock to tell him when he would be finished sinning. Simon’s sin is in every way foreknown by Jesus.
when Peter does utter his third and final denial of Jesus, only Luke gives us this poignant detail in 21:61. After the denial, Luke records, “and
the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Luke doesn’t tell us what kind of look this was, but he
thinks it important enough to tell us that Jesus looked at Peter immediately after his sin. I think one reason is to remind Peter and us of
the intensely personal nature of his sin of disowning him. Luke
says of Peter after he caught this look from Jesus, “He
went out and wept bitterly.”
This is literally a soul-piercing bitterness. We don’t hear about the specifics of this time of Satanic sifting of Peter—the
details are obviously not important.
But we know that in the
midst of those bitter tears, Satan was not able to compel Peter to give up. His failure
of faith was not terminal.
He was there at the resurrection waiting with all the rest of the clueless apostles. Jesus
reinstates him in John’s gospel and in the first 11 chapters of Acts he is the leader of the apostles. WHY?—because Jesus prayed for him—that’s
clearly what made the difference between temporary and permanent defeat. As our
High Priest Jesus prays for us too.
Hebrews chapter seven says Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for his people. He prays
for us whenever we need it—he’s never asleep or distracted. He does
not do what we so often do—forget to pray or pray the wrong thing or pray after the battle is already over. He prays
the right thing at the right time and his Father always hears him and answers him.
that Jesus’ prayer did NOT keep Peter from bitter tears and much anguish of soul. Jesus
could have prayed for Peter to be spared that suffering. He didn’t.
He prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail and by failure
Jesus means ultimate
failure. A second
lesson we learn here is: by God’s grace,
will not fail permanently as a result of Satan’s attack. We will
fail in the midst of a serious attack. Expect
it—muscle fibers must be stressed and even torn in order to grow and be strengthened. But we
mustn’t in the midst of the failure, listen to Satan who seeks to add condemnation
to our failure.
In those moments, we must even in our
weakness believe the gospel and cry out for others to pray for us so that we will not lose hope. For the genuine believer in Christ, there is no ultimate failure. Jude
tells us that Jesus is able to “keep you from falling
and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…” [Jude 1:24] What
about those who do ultimately fail—who end up being total shipwrecks and who never return to Christ? First John 2:19 is very helpful here. John
says of those who have left the church as false teachers, “19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” The implication on the flipside is --you can tell if someone is a real believer
because—they will not leave permanently. They
may go astray for awhile, but in the end, genuine believers will not fail permanently. This is why Jesus says in places like Mark 13:13, “13 And
you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” You will undergo attack and persecution for his name, but you will be saved as you endure
to the end.
Again, to “endure” doesn’t mean that
you go through the attacks without sin. It means
that you do not give up and walk away for good.
came back and he strengthened his brothers as their reinstated leader. He also
gives Spirit-inspired truth in his epistles rooted in his understanding of God’s grace manifest in the
midst of his own failings.
In First Peter 5:10 he writes, “10 And
after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory
in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” There is suffering in this world and much of it is at the
hands of Satan, but God is a God of all grace—he called you and he will restore you to himself as he did Peter. He will confirm your place in him. He will
strengthen you in your weakness and he will establish you—make you even stronger in his grace. If you are here this morning and the enemy is coming in like a flood—keep trusting—Christ will
not let you drown.
Call for prayer from others
and God will deliver you from the evil one as soon as he knows that this onslaught has done
its God-honoring, sin-separating work in you. May God give us the grace to see spiritual opposition from God’s perspective
and trust in Christ.