And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:…
Three parties are before us in these words — three parties to a crisis — the sinner, the sinner's friend, and the sinner's foe. A conflict is revealed to us — a conflict between two of the parties with reference to the third. The conflict is a conflict of prayer. It is by prayer that the great rivals strive for the mastery. Of the two prayers, that of Satan is first in order. The adversary speaks first, and makes his request. Jesus follows him. The suit of Jesus is founded upon the adversary's demand, and is shaped accordingly. There is the prayer of Satan, and then there is the counter-prayer of our Lord. How fares it with the two requests? The answer is favourable — favourable to both. Is Satan's prayer granted? It is. Yes! Satan succeeds in his application, and Peter is banded over to him to be sifted as wheat. It is easy to discover the reason. He might boast that if he had been allowed to subject Peter to the ordeal Jesus would not have been able to carry Peter safely through; and that, if he had been suffered to try, he could have plucked the sheep from the Shepherd's hands. It is necessary that Satan's defeat be directly and manifestly the work of Christ. The prayers, then, are granted. Let us see what their import is. Satan's request is, that he may be allowed to tempt Peter. He expresses his desire to have Peter, that he may sift him as wheat. He would sift him as wheat; that is, in the same way. Wheat is sifted by being shaken up and down. He would sift Peter by the shock and agitation of great and sudden trials. He would sift him as wheat; that is, for the same purpose. Wheat is sifted that it may be known what amount of wheat there is, and what amount of chaff, as well as for other reasons. He would sift Peter, in order to show what measure of genuine faith is in him, and perhaps to show that no true faith is in him, and that Peter himself, with his great professions, is chaff entirely, and not wheat at all! What now is the prayer of Jesus? Does it betray any fear? It might seem to betray fear, if it were that Satan's request should be denied. But He prays not that the trial may not come. What, then, does Jesus pray for? "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." His request is that Peter's faith may not be wholly or finally overborne. It is that Peter may not have too little faith for the emergency that is at hand to keep him from being an apostate and a castaway. The Saviour has a glorious purpose with reference to the serpent. He means to plant His own foot on the serpent, and to bruise his head. Let us now deduce some lessons from the scene which has been surveyed. These prayers may afford us much instruction.
1. For one thing, we learn somewhat of the malice of the devil. He knows nothing of love or pity.
2. But if the malice of the devil appears, so do the love and compassion of Jesus. The contrast between them is beautiful. The spectacle of Satan praying against Peter and Jesus praying for him brings out in strong relief the kindness of the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. The sympathy of Jesus is also here exemplified.
3. Again, there is a lesson here, that ought not to be lost upon us, respecting the craft and hypocrisy of Satan. In the very presence of God we find him trying to hide his malice under cover of something like a zeal for uprightness and truth. His insinuation is that Peter's religion is but a pretence; and he would fain appear as a friend of truth, who is prepared to show this if he is allowed. His motive, forsooth, is less to do harm to Peter than simply to unmask him for the sake of truth, and to prove him to be what he really is. He does not want to corrupt Peter's mind; oh, no! He would merely show it to be corrupt already! But there is a lesson, on the other hand, to encourage and comfort us. Jesus is watchful, and Jesus is wise.
4. One lesson more. We may learn the excellence of faith. Mark the testimony of the Saviour Himself: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." And we have not the testimony of Jesus alone. We have Satan's involuntary tribute to this capital grace. It was the faith of the apostle that he was about to assail, and, if possible, to extinguish. Peter had signalized himself by his faith. It was his faith that produced his renowned confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The confession was gall and wormwood to Satan; he could not forget or forgive it; and he denounced, in his rage, and determined to strike at, the faith from which it sprang. He dislikes, and he fears, the faith of God's people. And not without reason. It is faith that unites us to Christ, and keeps up the communication with His fulness. If the foe can but break that blessed bond of connection, he will have us for his own.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: