And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:…
The figure which Christ here makes use of in order to describe the severe ordeal through which Peter, the most prominent of all the disciples, was to pass, is a very significant one; and we cannot believe that it was used by chance, or without full intention. The sifting of wheat is a most hard and thorough, but a most necessary, process. The wheat, as it has grown, has become associated with the protecting chaff, which it is necessary should be blown away, and with the foreign substances taken from the earth and from the air, which must be separated. Before the wheat is ready for use, it must be sifted or winnowed; no pains must be spared to make the process as thorough as possible. Only an enemy to the wheat, or a disbeliever in its true powers, would desire to spare it such an ordeal. As it falls, after such a process, into the receptacle which has been prepared for it, solid and clean, its value is greatly enhanced. There is now no doubt about its true nature and the work to which it should be put. It carries out all the points of the analogy to notice that Peter is not promised that he shall be saved from the sifting process: no hand is put forth to hold him securely sheltered; no cloud wraps him away from danger. Peter is too valuable to be thus treated. If he is wheat he must be sifted.
I. And so we learn the great lesson from Christ, that DIFFICULTIES ARE AS NECESSARY AND BENEFICIAL FOR THE SOUL AS WINNOWING IS FOR THE WHEAT. The winds of temptation blow, and the poor, lightly-weighted souls are carried away; while the strong ones are stripped of many things in which they trusted, and the true power of principle becomes more evident in their lives. The question of the winnowing floor is always being repeated: Are you wheat or chaff?
1. There is the shifting of change of position, the pouring from vessel to vessel — a process under which the light grains are removed, and which finds its parallel in the change of life's demands. You are rich, and the question the next day is, Can you stand poverty? or you are poor, and the sudden access of prosperity tests your real ability and weight. Will the one rob you of your spirit, or the other of your humility? If they will, then you have been sifted with the result of proving that you are but chaff. Changes from joy to sorrow or from sorrow to joy, from light to dark or from dark to light — those have revealed the substance of many a man to us; and we have said, "I thought that he could stand it better," or we have exclaimed, "What a noble man he is! He is just as he was before, not puffed up by his exaltation, not broken by dejection."
2. And there is the sifting of progress: ideas and men all pass through that. New tests are applied, just as ever new sieves, with closer and closer meshes, wait for the falling grain with sharper discrimination at each stage of the process. The truth of one generation or one age of life is sifted before it is accepted by the next. Some accretion, some profitless protecting husk, is cast off, and the substance is more valuable than ever. The man finds, after life's experience, that not one particle of the truth as to honesty, virtue, and God has proved itself false, although he smiles at the childish conceptions which enshrined it for him, and which long ago passed away; and with each generation God's truth is made simpler and clearer to the eyes of all.
II. BUT WHAT HAS SATAN TO DO WITH IT? Satan rejoiced at the anticipation of this process and longed to see it begin, because he did not believe that Peter could stand it; he does not believe that any man can, and he longs, therefore, to see men come under the test. At first this sifting seems to give evil the advantage. But the meaning of those words of Christ's gradually comes out: "Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." There is an ultimate kernel of life which the sifting cannot touch. It is a reality which defies all the processes of ultimate solution which can be brought against it. That is the belief which makes a man strong to endure temptation, brave to pass through all changes, courageous to march with all progress of ideas. It was to the soul that Christ spoke; on it all His work was based. When He had once seen that soul conscious of itself and of its power in the heart of a man, He was not afraid to let the world sift him, though he might be a man with as many weaknesses and foibles as Simon Peter. Let them be shaken off and blown away, like corrupting substances or infolding chaff. When that was all done the man remained.
III. I think, then, that we can understand that tone of confidence with which Jesus speaks of the trial which is to befall His great disciple. To His eye the conditions are not hopeless. He does not deprecate the struggle, but rather in it anticipates the defeat of Satan. But the tone of confidence is still more sublime when THE MEANS OF STRENGTH AND VICTORY are considered. The whole of the sifting process administered by its great master and confident authority, Satan, is to be brought to bear; and yet Peter will not succumb because Christ has prayer for him that his faith fail not. See how Christ puts Himself against the world. Through that prayer the life of Peter was made strong to bear the ordeal; through that prayer he was able to defy the world and Satan. That prayer told of the relation which He had established between that disciple for whom, and the Father to whom, it was offered. He stood between the two. The subject, the offerer, the receiver of the prayer, were one in their purpose and desire to overcome and baffle Satan. Defeat was impossible.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: