Sifted

Message from Maundy Thursday service at Granada:

Luke 22:31-34

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift youas wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

 Today and tomorrow are the most painful days in the church calendar. We struggle being able to see how such pain and brokenness could fit into God’s plan.  Well, we should.  Jesus is in agonizing prayer in the garden, betrayed by his friends, arrested, falsely accused, beaten and mocked. Sentenced to murder in the sham of a trial.  Marched out of the city carrying his own cross of torture.  Nailed spread eagle. He died an agonizing death in public disgrace.

On the night these events start, tonight, Jesus shares Passover with his disciples.  After the Passover meal, Jesus says:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

 Frankly, these words disturb me.  Here’s why.  We are told that the Evil one, Satan, asked Jesus if he could sift Peter. Yes, Satan exists.  The Bible tells us that you have an adversary, the father of lies, who wants to kill and destroy. He wants to take everything that God made and is good and ruin it.  Distort it. Crush it.

A tribulum used for crushing.

Satan wants to sift Peter. When I think of the word sift, I think of what my mom asked me to do when I was a child.  When she was making biscuits, she would hand me a sifter and ask me to sift the flour.  No big deal.  I thought it was fun.  We don’t know what real sifting is.  We buy our flour pre-sifted. In the ancient world, sifting involved a violent three-step process.  First, beating or crushing.  They would place grain on a hard surface and run a sledge across it to beat and crush it.  The sledge was called a tribulum. It is from this word that we get the word tribulation. The kernels were then smashed between stones or rollers. Then the bits would be separated, then the good stuff, the grain or flour taken out.  Called being revealed.

Beaten.

Separated.

Revealed.

Satan says, I want to sift Peter like wheat.

If that isn’t enough, Jesus’ response shocks me even more.  He doesn’t say,

No, you can’t do this to Peter.

Don’t touch him.

Hands off.

Instead, Jesus says, “I will pray for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.”  In other words, yes, I will let you sift him.  Peter, I pray that you will hold onto your faith. One final surprise for me in this text:

Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 

The “you” there is plural.  Jesus is talking to Peter, but he addresses all the apostles at once. Satan has asked to sift all of you.

How many of us have been there?  How have you been sifted?

Sickness. Lingering pain and fear.

A marriage ended.

A loved one’s death.

A career going down in flames.

Living in loss.  Loneliness.

William Paul Young, author, The Shack

Beaten. Separated. Revealed. Has Satan sifted you like wheat? Years ago I read the story The Shack, enjoyed by some and criticized by others. I enjoyed the book because it caused me to love God more, but do you know the story behind the book?  William Paul Young spent the first part of his life being sifted.  His parents were missionaries in Papua New Guinea among tribal people. He learned the language of the native people before his parents did, and one night listened to the people of the tribe talk about killing his mom and dad.  Sexual abuse became a normal part of his life as he was victimized by the indigenous people.  When he was sent away to boarding school, the abuse continued.  Strangely, after all this he entered ministry. He had learned to keep up appearances and keep his addictions secret.  Those skills could not protect him from heartache. Some years later, during one short stretch of time, his mother-in-law died suddenly, his 18 year old brother was killed as well as his five year old daughter.  In the midst of this, his wife discovered he’d been involved in a three month long affair with her best friend.  Beaten.  Separated.  Revealed.  The pain was so deep he planned a trip to Mexico to kill himself so that his family would not be able to find his body.

This is why this man wrote his story of the God who loves us in the midst of our sin and brokenness.  So what are the encouragements that we can get in the midst of sifting?

Jesus always goes first.  He’d already been sifted by Satan.

40 days in the wilderness tempted.

The rejection of his people.

The misunderstanding of his family.

The abandonment of his friends. And, yes, the cross.

All of this purposed to destroy Jesus.  When you are there, remind yourself, Jesus was there first.

You are not alone.  He knows.  No one understands like Jesus.

Second, God is in control. Satan can’t do whatever he wants.  He can’t take control from God. We learn this at the cross of Jesus.  Though Jesus is being sifted.  Even what Satan does feeds into God’s plan.

Satan thinks he has defeated Jesus at the cross….At the cross Jesus brings the greatest possible victory.

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15

I love that part where it says the evil powers were made a spectacle of.  Notice Jesus made a mockery of the power of evil by taking its worst and then bringing out the best.  Grace. Forgiveness. Reconciliation.  Healing. A healed relationship with God and eternal life.

Granada Porcelain - The Cross of JesusOne of the most painful times of sifting for Sandy and me took place when we moved to Miami in 1999.  Leaving our home in New Jersey was like ripping out the heart of our children.  Our whole family was crushed.  Beaten. Revealed.  There were fights in our home. Anger. Bitterness and resentment.  Sandy and I wondered if we had made a mistake.  We wondered what God was doing.  I remember going into our bathroom and seeing hair.  Her hair was falling out because of the stress.  We saw counselors as a family.  Nothing seemed to help.  We were exhausted by the pain and sadness.  During a particularly painful moment of anger one day, one member of our family threw something across the room.  [I need to stop and tell you that in our home on one wall above French doors, we have 15 porcelain plates commissioned by Granada Church in the 1970s and 1980s.  One plate came out each year, and each one is a picture from the life of Jesus.  We were given a set of those plates when we came to Granada.]  That night that flying object hit one of those plates.  The plate fell to the floor and shattered into pieces.  Destroyed. Can you guess what plate?  Yes, the cross.  Someone replaced our broken plate…but the message of God was not missed on us.  You are being sifted.  Yes.  It will be painful, but remember the cross.  I died to redeem your pain.  To give meaning to your brokenness. So whatever is happening, don’t doubt my love for you.

The third thing we learn is whatever the sifting may be, God will use it for good.  Satan sifted Peter.  That very night within a few hours Peter is sifted. In fear he denied Jesus. In disgrace he ran to hide.  He’d failed.  Been weak. He folded in the face of a little servant girl.  But, that wasn’t the end.  After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples.  Jesus showed Peter his unconditional love.  He fully restored Peter and removed his shame.  Why did Jesus allow the sifting?  Through it Peter could see how much Jesus loved him.  He could see how weak he was and how much he needed to rely on Jesus for strength.  He was prepared for things far more difficult that he would face in carrying the gospel into the world.

After William Paul Young had endured so much pain,  God miraculously showed up in the form of two friends.  These friends told Paul there was hope. A seed planted that could bring new life. Young said: 

And suddenly all my hope came back. The last time in my life I was suicidal was that day. And I’ve been suicidal my whole life.  It’s the grace of God. Kim [my wife] was furious for the first two years [after discovering the affair].  And it took eleven years for us to heal.  A year and a half ago, Kim and I were sitting in front of a group of friends—and they all knew my history….And she said to them in front of me, “I never thought I would say this in my life, but it was all worth it.”

I cannot tell you the specific reason for your sifting.  I can tell you that God who loves us, allows us to taste the sweet fruit of hardship.  What is that: the sufficiency of Jesus.  How do we know Jesus is sufficient?

He has been there.  Jesus says:  I have prayed for you, that your faith will not fail. What is this faith, this faith that will not fail?  It is faith in Jesus. Jesus isn’t telling Peter that he has to rely on his own strength.  What he means is: Peter, you are going to have to trust me and my love for you.  You are going to have to cling to me.   I never fail.  So as the darkness comes, and it will come.  Hold onto Jesus. Amen.

[I am indebted to Rick Lawrence and his book “Sifted.” His wonderful worked challenged me to look at this passage more closely.  His ideas inspired and informed my message.  Thank you.]

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by kathy mason on April 7, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Thank you Worth! God continues to use you to encourage us in godliness.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: