After the Sifting

In the first two chapters of the book of Job, you see this discussion between God and Satan. God says, “Hey Satan, Have you considered my boy Job?” To which Satan responds with, “Of course he’s your boy. You have kept a fence of protection around him. Let me do some damage to the things and people around him, and he won’t be your boy anymore.” So, God said, “Okay, but don’t harm him.” So, Satan gets busy and in a very short amount of time, Job loses almost everything. All of his oxen and donkeys have been stolen by the Sabeans. All of his sheep have been consumed with fire. All of his camels have been taken by the Chaldeans. His children die in a freak accident. Most of his servants are killed in the process of these events. His wife speaks into his heart and says, “Curse God and die.” He refuses. God says to Satan, “Can you see my boy Job?” Satan says, “Well, okay, but if you let me hurt him, he will curse you.” God allows it and Job is consumed with sores. There may be many lessons to be learned here. Often, when we boil a story down to one thing, we can miss the point. One point is that Satan had to ask. He could not just show up and start doing some damage. Another point is that God trusted his servant. That’s huge! I mean really huge. God trusted Job. Don’t reduce this to a petty spitting contest.

The Passover meal is most likely finished. Jesus has mentioned betrayal and a remaining through trials. And then, in verses 31-34, he singles out Peter. Well, not really. He addresses Simon, saying his name twice. When Jesus says your name twice this just may be a hint that right now listening is your best option. Maybe Peter needed to hear this message more than the others. Make sure you hear this Simon! Satan has asked with success to sift you all like grain. The word “you” here is plural. Satan wants to throw some damage at you and see if any grain survives. Or, are the disciples, after all is said and done, merely chaff? And the implication is, that just like in the days of Job, God has given the Adversary permission to sift away.

Even though, Satan has asked about sifting all of the disciples, Jesus prays specifically for Peter. The “you” and “your” in verse 32 are singular. Why is Peter singled out here? Don’t the other disciples need or warrant Jesus’ prayers? We can only guess because Luke doesn’t tell us. Maybe it is about leadership. Peter is a rock among the disciples. Maybe Jesus understood that Peter was the most likely to be sifted; to have his faith fail in the process. Maybe both. Whatever the reason, Jesus singles Peter out. But we are intended to see here is asking and pleading. Satan asked to sift. His goal is a desire to see failure; to demonstrate chaff. Jesus pleads for a faith that will not cease. His goal is a desire to see faith stand; to demonstrate grain. Satan asked against. Jesus prayed for. Jesus has a confidence that there will be a turning point in Peter’s sifting. And after that turning moment, Peter is to strengthen his brothers and sisters. This sounds like Paul saying that in whatever you have been comforted, comfort others. And maybe this is why Jesus singles out Peter. Maybe he is the most likely to encourage after the sifting.

Peter burst out with “Master, I am ready to go to prison and to die for you.” We know he went to prison (Acts 5 and 12). Church tradition claims that he was killed for Christ. I don’t believe this is false bravado. This is a fiercely claimed loyalty. Ah, but in a short time, Peter’s world will be turned upside down. Jesus is not the Messiah he had been looking for. So, Jesus lets him know that before the coming of morning he will deny him three times. He will reject the very idea of knowing Jesus. The sifting will certainly demonstrate some chaff. The chaff of denial will blow in the wind of turmoil. But I think our passage is really about after the sifting.

Do you feel like your life is being sifted; thrown up into upheaval as bits of you blow away in the wind? Sifting will come. We all must face these sifting moments. It is not at all pleasant. It is often downright painful. Ask Job. But Job had an after the sifting life; a life of renewal; a life of trusting in God even when nothing has been explained or made sense. Peter also had an after the sifting life; a life of turning back; a life of encouraging the broken hearts of his brothers and sisters; a life of loving Jesus and his truth enough to go to prison and eventually die for him. Maybe the after the sifting life is a stronger life not in spite of the sifting, but because of the sifting. What if God allowed Satan to sift because he wanted us to live after the sifting life? Well, there’s a thought. Be sifted then. And may your “after the sifting life” be grand. Grace.