THE SIFTING BY SATAN
Luke 22:24-34 Princeton Christian Church 19 March 2023
In January and February of 1971, through the media of Time, Look, and Newsweek magazines and their multi-colored pictures, our nation was brought face to face with the “Jesus Movement” that was sweeping the country from California to New York.
We saw a vivid presentation of a fundamental Bible-believing movement among the young people of this country.
The young believers shocked their parents. They shocked the church. And they shocked themselves.
I guess we could compare that to the Asbury Revival which has been widely proclaimed in the news in recent weeks.
Six months after the focus on the “Jesus Movement,” the same magazines were bringing the nation face to face with another movement. They presented stories this time on the realities of the Satan Movement.
Through those media, we were introduced to Anton LaVey, the high priest of the church of Satan. Along with that, we were exposed to many bizarre practices within the church of Satan.
It would appear that the news of the Jesus Movement, followed by the news of the Satan Movement was not co-incidental.
In 1976, the newsworthy headline was “born again Christians.” Another headline very soon crowded that one out and it was replaced by the “Moral Majority” and Humanistic Theology.
For every possible action, there will be a reaction or a counteraction on the part of Satan and his forces.
Due to the advent of the movie The Exorcist and many other Satanic-oriented movies, many people became convinced that Satan can possess everything from people to bananas.
This type of overreaction is easily used by Satan himself to convince the thinking people of the world that “Satan talk” was devised by weirdo, paranoid, Christian fanatics, and therefore is of no value.
In the Scriptures, Satan is presented as a real being. Jesus spoke to him. Jesus was tempted by him. And Jesus will eventually defeat Satan.
Jesus even warned Peter of Satan’s influence in his life: Luke 22:31 – “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat….
Satan had already reached Judas, and the rest of the apostles were his next targets. Jesus further knew that there would be many more targets down through the ages, even unto our day.
Without becoming obsessed by the subject, we, as Christians, need to be informed of the enemy’s desires as well as being aware of his methods of warfare.
Luke 2:24-34 presents this vital information regarding our Christian struggle against Satan’s deceit. We, today, as Christians are Satan’s current targets.
SATAN’S LIMITED POWER
Again, Jesus speaks to Peter (Simon) in Luke 22:31 - “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat….”
Listen to what is recorded in Job 1:6-12 --- This shows Satan making a similar request regarding Job. The deceiver was accusing Job of selfishness, pride, and even ingratitude, and he needed permission to prove his accusations.
But here is a catch – Satan’s real target was not Job or Peter. His real target was God. His real desire was to discredit God by discrediting His creation.
All of this demonstrates the comforting truth that Satan is limited in his efforts to deceive. He had to ask permission to test Job and he needed permission to sift Peter. It stands to reason that Satan is not really as powerful in relation to God’s people as he would want us to believe.
If Satan gains control of a Christian, it must be through a voluntary submission on the part of the Christian. It would not be because God had approved and given him permission.
Further exposure of Satan’s limitation in power is seen in his request to “winnow” or “sift” Peter. Satan asked to winnow Peter, not to destroy him. God would not allow Satan to take Job’s life and He certainly would not allow Satan to take Peter’s life.
God has placed severe limitations on Satan’s power. He can only sift, tempt, heckle, or intimidate Christians. But he cannot touch, unless the Christian is tricked into leaving God’s protection and believes Satan’s lies.
This reassuring promise is seen in 1 John 4:4: “Greater is He who is in you than he that is in the world.”
Yes, Satan could only winnow, or sift Peter. In Bible times, winnowing was the process by which grain was separated from the chaff. After the grain had been threshed out to break the grain out of the head, it was placed in a screen and tossed into the air. The wind would then blow away the chaff and the grain would fall back on the screen.
This was a crude, but effective way to get the job done.
Satan was accusing the disciples of being all chaff, easily blown away by his wind. It is very important that we, as Christians today, be sure that we are not chaff; that we are not easily swayed to believe Satan’s lies.
As Jesus warned Peter of Satan’s desires He knew that Satan was already working on Peter. This was evident in Peter’s boastful pride as he said to Jesus: “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33).
Peter’s three-fold denial of knowing Jesus soon showed the nature of his promise., as is recorded in Luke 22:54-62.
SATAN SIFTS CHRISTIANS
Today, Christians need some real awareness. There isn’t any reason to believe that Satan is dormant, or inactive. Peter, as a man of experience, penned a timely warning in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
How and where Satan plans to sift us is our next consideration.
Fortunately, we do not need to worry about surprises or secret weapons. Satan is as predictable as the sunrise and the sunset.
His plan is the same as it was at the beginning of time: He wants to discredit God by discrediting God’s creation. If Satan discredits Christians and the Church, then he discredits God. He discredits Christians by his sifting.
All sifting (we can call it Temptation) breaks down into three basic pressure points.
There may be many types of temptations in a person’s life, but all fall into these 3 basic categories, which are described in Genesis 3:6 and 1 John 2:16
Eve was the first to be paralyzed by the pressure of sin. She saw that the forbidden fruit was good for food. It was a delight to the eyes. It was desirable to make one wise.
John calls these pressure points: The lust of the flesh; the lust of the eyes; and the boastful pride of life.
Matthew 4:1-11 shows the same elements in Satan’s attack on Jesus in the wilderness.
It should be pointed out that these desires are really quite natural and acceptable as long as they are held in check by the Spirit.
For example, in reading Genesis 3 we may note that it was natural to eat, but it was not natural to eat food that God had forbidden.
It is easy to see how Satan sifts us today with pride and lust. Our pride causes us to start demanding our rights, especially in those things which God has described.
Pride helps us in our keeping of records of wrongs done to us. Anger, for example, is generated by a combination of pride issues and self-interest. Pride simply distorts our objectivity.
Lust becomes apparent when we begin to covet other things, whether those things be social prestige, personal pleasures, or even another man’s wife. It is all a matter of lust.
Pride and lust are closely related. They are deadly because they both “scratch the same itch.” To make matters worse, we help Satan in his sifting of us when we focus on minor irritations through the lens of self-interest.
Furthermore, we become intent on shifting the blame for our own sins onto other people, demonstrating our inability to see ourselves as we are.
As a consequence, we fail to recognize these “weaknesses” as sin. Anger, malice, bitterness, envy, strife, jealousy, pride, and hatred are all noted in the Bible as sin, and our failure to recognize these sins makes it impossible to correct them.
RESULTS OF SIFTING
It is obvious that sifting leads toward, and frequently into sin. Sin, in turn, brings about alienation within ourselves, alienation from other people, and alienation from God. Sin and alienation are curable, but our reaction to sin will determine the curability of our alienation.
As we view Scripture and contemporary man, we see that there are no less than three results of Satan’s sifting. These results need our thoughtful consideration.
Sifting may, and often does, result in despair. This despair can be seen as the ultimate in self-rejection. Judas is a case in point. He had betrayed Christ, his leader. But his betrayal was not the unpardonable sin. Jesus, I am sure would have forgiven Judas just as He forgave those who drove the nails into his hands and feet at the crucifixion.
But Judas continued to take matters into his own hands and committed suicide because he could not bear the guilt of what he had done.
Judas’ pride, fear, and anger prevented him from responding to his sin in the right way. Instead of repenting, Judas further rebelled and allowed himself to be cast into despair, blown away by the wind, like so much chaff.
Many today allow themselves to be cast into thoughts of despair. This is evident when a person prefers to endure mental and even physical agony, rather than confess their true sin. And the result is despair.
Sifting may, and often does, result in separation. This separation may be a separation from other Christians or separation from God.
Separation and alienation assist Satan in his plan to divide and conquer. As long as a Christian is separated from himself, and other Christians, and separated from God, he is not much of a threat to the kingdom of Satan. And at the same time, he is not much of an asset to the Kingdom of God. This is where we see that fellowship among the Body of Christ is so vital.
Finally, Sifting may result in a return. Jesus promised Peter that he would be sifted, that he would fall away, but he would return.
It was Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:32 that Peter’s faith would hold, and when he turned again, he would strengthen the brethren.
That night in the courtyard Peter was put to an enormous test. He failed the test by denying Jesus.
However, rather than drifting into despair or separation, Peter came to the realization of his sin and wept bitterly as he repented. This beaten man returned to Jesus more useful than he had been before.
Sooner, or later, you will find yourself on the threshing floor of life, being sifted by Satan with every strategy in his power.
However, his power is limited, and we have some great promises to claim regarding God’s power to help us. Sifting does not have to result in despair or separation. Nor do we Christians need to live our lives defeated by guilt, pride, fear, anger, or lust.
Jesus Christ is winning the war, even though we find ourselves losing an occasional battle.
The sifting will come, but when it does come, we can send the “sifting one” hurrying off in defeat the same way Jesus did --- through being filled with the Spirit of God and being filled with His Word.
What a wonderful promise to know that sifting is not synonymous with defeat. It is encouraging to know that our weaknesses can be turned into victory.