And Jesus said: “Simon, Simon: Satan has desired you that he might sift you like wheat; but,
I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.” Luke 22:31-32 A
This is not going to be a grammar lesson. It is not what I sometimes call “antics with semantics” or “verbal gymnastics.” However, some words stand out, demand and deserve attention, even in a casual reading . . . and especially in this instance. Small, simple words can have LARGE significance.
Incidentally, so you’ll know why I’ve given such thought to “just a word,” I want you to know I have both a brain and a conscience. They’re connected. And most of the time, both of them work. I believe it is wrong to try to read something into Scripture that is not there, or something that justifies my own pride or prejudice or point of view. I do NOT believe in mountain climbing over molehills. Or making much ado about nothing. Or nit picking. I DO believe, though, in careful, thorough, thoughtful consideration of Scripture. Every prospector knows you now and then may accidentally stumble upon nuggets on the surface. If he wants gold, though, he’s going to have to invest time and earnest effort. Let’s think of this as prospecting for gold, rather than “picking nits!”
The word I have under the microscope at the moment is “but.” On the night when the above conversation took place, Jesus had been struggling with several issues before He was executed (Crucifixion, incidentally, was the way Romans disposed of “criminals.” The trial before Pilate was a mockery which violated their laws and resulted in what amounted to murder by the Roman legal system.). There was Judas’ betrayal. The coming trial. And under the awesome burden of all that, Jesus’ disciples were in an heated argument about “who’s going to be head honcho” when the Kingdom comes. Most of them, remember, were fishermen. Uneducated, rough and tumble types who probably had “short fuses.” Tempers were flaring, and I’d not have been surprised if a brawl had broken out. So, Jesus calls Simon by name. Twice, to get his attention. Then says “Satan has desired you that he might sift you like wheat . . .BUT…I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.”
“But” is what I call an “interruptive conjunction.” It ties both elements of a compound sentence together in a way that disconnects what has been happening from what is about to take place. Up to this point, the action had been flowing steadily like a stream. BUT, in this case, is like a dam that suddenly stops the flow, brings it under control, alters its. Things have been rolling along like traffic on a highway. Instead of a yield sign, or a caution light, the “But” is a signal here that the traffic is going to be stopped. Abruptly. “But” in this case, signals that the direction of the action is about to be changed.
For example, Jesus tells Simon that Satan is up to something. There’s that word again, “Satan.” I take his identity seriously because Jesus did. And I believe Jesus knew more about the natural and supernatural world than any of His critics or well intentioned, but perhaps misinformed, friends. Jesus is very serious and sincere. He warns Peter that he will be involved in a titanic struggle and he needs to know his enemy and the enemy’s methods and objectives. Otherwise, he may lose the war before he ever wakes up and realizes he’s in one and doesn’t even recognize his evil enemy or his diabolical methods and motives.
So, once He has gotten Simon Peter’s attention, Jesus warned him what was probably going to happen. Very soon and very often. And the “sifting” would only be the beginning. Satan at the outset may only toy with you. Then annoy you. But his ultimate aim is to destroy you. The sifting may be the first, but certainly not the worst or last, part of his plan. And unless he is stopped, he will continue.
This is where the little three letter word “but” takes on such huge, huge significance. Look at what has been happening to the left of that little word. If you remember what you heard in school science class about the laws of inertia, you will recall that “objects in motion tend to stay in motion, UNLESS ACTED ON BY AN OUTSIDE FORCE.” Your enemy will continue the “sifting” until the end.
EXCEPT FOR WHAT JESUS SAYS NEXT!
Sometimes things we experience and think about rough us up. Big Time!! There’s not a lot to shout about when you’re under stress, in pain, struggling with grief or doubt, betrayal or loss, or in some deep, dark night of the soul. Sometimes we have to be made aware of the seriousness of a problem before we seek or apply a solution. If we let ourselves be oblivious to obvious threats and danger, we will certainly not seek or find safety. So, before He offered Simon any comfort or assurance, Jesus warned Simon Peter of the clear and present danger he was facing.
BUT, as you continue reading the record in Scripture, you will discover something that should bring great new hope, and joy as you ponder what Jesus says as He continues speaking. We’ll talk about that next time, but I do hope you’ll do your own thoughtful, prayerful consideration of that conclusion: “I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.”
Don’t forget the suggestion I made earlier that you put your name in the appropriate places. I believe you have the right to do that. And let the impact, the full weight of that profound statement become your own personal possession: Think about what Jesus said to Simon: “I have prayed for you!”
If you find your self “between such rock and a hard place,” do you think Jesus would say something different to you?
AN AFTERTHOUGHT: If you feel the blog is a worthwhile effort, I’d like to ask your help. I’ve committed my self to investing my best effort in this, without getting overly concerned about results. If I speak the truth and if it is worth being heard, I will trust the same Lord who, I feel, led me to make this attempt. I’ll trust that He will see that it gets on the “radar screen” of those whom some of the insights gained may help.
If these studies are of any value to you, perhaps they could be of value to a friend who searches Scripture and seeks hope. Since I don’t know them and have no entrance to their confidence, perhaps you can mention the site. I, for one, would gratefully value your confidence. Hopefully, they would acquire a new understanding and appreciation of the “simple” truths God’s word contains for them. And, beyond that, it may inspire them to further, deeper, richer study of Scripture.
This study, incidentally, isn’t over. Now that Jesus has “unmasked the enemy” and revealed something of his sinister strategy, He speaks of a wonderful, wonderful resource. It may be something that has not occurred to you before now. If you examine the truth that comes next, though, understand it and apply it to your experience. . . YOU WILL BE BLESSED. I really don’t know any other word that says what I’m trying to get across. I assure you, though, that if the knowledge is understood and applied, you will find hope and strength, courage and confidence to carry you through the darkest trials of your life!
A servant, don