Here’s a verse that frightens many people:
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. (Luke 22:31)
Here are three conclusions people draw from these words of Jesus:
- Satan needs permission to attack us
- God gives Satan permission to attack us
- God and Satan are colleagues in the business of attacking you, hallelujah!
To think that God and the devil are in cahoots is ridiculous.
Believe this and you’ll believe that God is behind your illness or was complicit in the death of your child. Lose your job and you might say “God gives and takes away.”
Phooey! With a God like that, who needs a devil?
So what is Jesus really saying?
Does the devil need permission?
This has nothing to do with permission. (The word asked isn’t in the Bible. It’s a bad translation.) Satan is a thief. If the thief had permission he wouldn’t be a thief. Jesus is talking about Satan’s agenda. “Satan desires you in the way that sin desired Cain” (see Gen 4:7).
In other words, “Wise up. There’s a war going on. On one side is your heavenly Father who loves you; on the other is Satan who hates you.”
Now this is a very uneven war. Satan doesn’t stand a chance. In fact, he’s already been defeated and disarmed (Col 2:15). Thus the only way the enemy can win is through deceit, by getting you to believe lies about your Father and turning you against him.
If you believe a good God does evil, Satan wins.
If you believe God is making you sick, perhaps to teach you character, Satan laughs.
If you don’t resist the devil, because you think God has ordained whatever he is doing against you, the devil will not flee.
“Ah, but God allows the devil to do his work because it suits the Lord’s purposes.”
Which is bit like saying you allow your children to suffer. “I allowed my kid to get hit by that truck so I could show them my love.”
No, no, and a thousand times no! God is never the author of evil.
It’s important that we don’t confuse God with the devil. God is good; Satan is not. God’s will for your life is not Satan’s will for your life. What Satan wants is not what God wants.
“But what happened to Peter is the same thing that happened to Job in the Old Testament.”
What about sifting?
To sift like wheat means to separate: Satan wants to separate you from Jesus. He wants you to make you run from the Lover of your soul. Look at how Christ’s words appear in other translations:
Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. (Luke 22:31, MSG)
And this is exactly what Peter and the disciples did: They ran! They abandoned the Lord.
Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (Matt 26:56)
What Satan desired came to pass.
Like sifted chaff, the disciples separated themselves from Jesus. It was a victory for Satan – or so it seemed.
What Satan meant for evil, God turned around for good. This is what God does – he redeems our failures and turns defeat into victory so that we might experience his unconditional love and grace (Rom 8:28).
This is the essence of what Jesus says to Simon Peter in Luke 22:31-32:
Peter, tough times are coming. I’m heading to the cross, and you guys are going to run like chickens. It will seem like the devil is getting his way. I’m telling you this in advance so that you won’t be discouraged.
Peter, you think you’re so strong with your boasts, but you’re not. You’re going to fail, and you need to know that I’m okay with failure. Indeed, my grace is greater than your failures. I’m praying for you, Pete. I’m in your corner. I will not abandon you even though you abandon me.
And after you’ve come through this, remember what I said and encourage your brothers. Maybe write an epistle telling people about the testing of your faith. Just a thought.
Don’t fall for the devil’s lies and don’t be ignorant of his schemes. He cannot win except by getting you to rely on your flesh and agree with his lies.
Satan desires to sift you and separate you, so stand firm in the Lord and let nothing move you.
Tough times will come, and your strength will fail. But be of good cheer, for Jesus is cheering you on. You may have deserted the Lord but he will never desert you.
No one can snatch you from his hand. Nothing can separate you from his love.
From time to time, you will fail and fall and it will seem as though the devil has won. But what he means for evil, the Lord can turn around for good.
No matter how big your mess, God’s grace is greater than your worst.
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