Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"IN THE HOUR BEFORE HIS BETRAYAL, JESUS ASSURES HIS DISCIPLES THAT HE IS MASTER OVER SATAN."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
"Satan has asked for you," we hear Jesus say in the words of our text. In the struggles of our lives, weíre sure from time to time that Satan has asked for us too, sure also that God has delivered us into Satanís hands. Sexual abuse, marriage failure, devastating gossip, obstinate children: where is God when such things happen to us, to our loved ones?! Weíre sure: we, our loved ones, are in Satanís hands....
"Satan has asked for you," says Jesus. But, my brothers and sisters, Jesus does not say this as a man who had to give in to Satanís overbearing demands. Yes, Satan had asked for the disciples, that he might sift them. But Jesus prayed for the disciples, and Jesusí prayer is always heard. Even today, despite our circumstances, Satan never ultimately has Godís own.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
IN THE HOUR BEFORE HIS BETRAYAL, JESUS ASSURES HIS DISCIPLES THAT HE IS MASTER OVER SATAN.
1. The request from Satan
2. The prayer of Jesus
3. The comfort for Godís own
1. Our English translations suggest to us that Jesusí words concerning Satanís request were addressed to Simon Peter. So says vs 31: "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you." As it turns out, in the English language, the word "you" can refer to one person or to many; itís both singular and plural. The Greek language (like todayís French or Dutch) has two words for "you", one for the singular (referring to one person) and one for the plural (referring to many persons). In the words of our text, Jesus tells Simon Peter that Satan asked for "you", plural. That is: Satan has asked for all the disciples, all twelve of them. This is information Jesus passes on specifically to Simon Peter, but itís true of all the disciples and is said in the hearing of all the disciples.
"Satan has asked for you." This is information that Jesus (with His eyes on Simon Peter) passes on to His disciples in the context of the institution of the Lordís supper. Vs 19: Jesus "took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ĎThis is My body which is given for you.í" And vs 20: "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.í" The bread represented the body of Christ, a body that would soon be broken on the cross of Calvary for the benefit of these disciples. So too would His blood be shed shortly on the cross, again for the benefit of the disciples. Specifically, Christís body would be broken and His blood shed in order to pay for the sins of the disciples so that in turn they might be reconciled to God, receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal. The bread was given to the disciples, and the drink too, as fixed signs that Yes, these disciples would benefit from Christís work, would receive forgiveness and life. In that context Jesus passes on to His disciples a question asked in heaven by the devil. Now that the Lordís supper has been celebrated for the first time, now that Jesus has spelled out to His disciples what His coming death on Good Friday is all about, now it is that the curtain of heaven is lifted for a moment and these disciples are allowed to listen in on events that took place above the clouds.
What happened in heaven? Satan has a request, he asks something of God. Satan, we are to know, is not a second god beside the Creator, an evil demigod free to do his own evil thing. No, Satan is but a creature, and therefore can do nothing unless the Lord God give His sovereign consent. This Satan has plans for Jesusí twelve disciples, and so approaches God in an effort to obtain consent to carry out his plan.
"Satan has asked for you," says our text. Actually, the word "asked" as appears in our translation is too weak. The intent of the original word is not that Satan has a polite request of God; rather, Satan has a demand. Hereís an insistence; he wants the disciples, he demands from God to have the disciples. For us to understand the significance of Satanís demand, we shall need to turn back in our Bibles to that other time when we read of a conversation in heaven between God and Satan. Job 1.
We read the passage. Notice how Satan is presented. Heís one of the "sons of God" (that is, one of the angels) and so presented himself with the angels before Godís throne. Satan, though, is not presented as addressing God; God is rather presented as addressing Satan. Vs 7: "and the Lord said to Satan, ĎFrom where do you come?í So Satan answered the Lord and said...." The point is: though Satan is Satan, he yet knows his place before God. Satan is but a creature, and God the Creator, and so itís God who starts the conversation, not Satan who barges in with his request. Again, itís the Lord who brought up the matter of Jobís uprightness, and itís only when Satan then suggests that Job is so upright only because the Lord protects him that God gives Satan permission to afflict Job.
But see: in Luke 22 itís different! Jesus portrays nothing polite in Satanís approach; Satan is presented as having barged into heaven with his demands. "Satan demanded to have you," says Jesus, and with the words Jesus uses he portrays Satan as impatient, as frustrated, and so demanding, insisting, asserting. Itís as if the devil thinks that he has rights!
And see, beloved, thatís the point! Satan is getting exasperated, desparate! Jesus has instituted the Lordís supper, has told His disciples that shortly He would die for them, for their benefit, would pay for sin, ransom them from the power of the devil, reconcile them to God. Satan knows Calvary is around the corner, knows that on the cross of Calvary he will be defeated; thatís the whole prophecy of the OT Ė and Satan certainly knows how to read the Bible! His defeat is around the corner, and thatís something Satan wonít accept, and thatís why he barges into heaven with his devilish insistence that he wants the disciples. He knows: these 12 disciples are the men whom Jesus will use to spread the gospel and so to plant His Church; these disciples are the foundation of Christís NT Church. If the devil canít beat Jesus (though heíll certainly try in the coming hours!), then heíll try to beat the disciples, tear them away from God Ė and so prevent the Church from being built, gathered. Hence his demand at the throne of God: "I want the disciples."
Now, itís important to note the name Jesus uses for the evil one. The Bible knows various names for him, but the most common are surely "Devil" and "Satan". Each name of the evil one has its own meaning. The one used here is "Satan", a word that simply means "Adversary" (cf Num 22:22; I Sam 29:4, etc). Satan is the great Opponent, is the great Accuser (cf Zech 3:1ff). The evil one as a "satan" seeks opportunity to accuse Godís own before the throne of God, wants evidence to be able to condemn Godís own before God so that in turn God reject His chosen ones to hell on account of their sins and weaknesses. That Jesus describes the evil one here as "Satan" (as opposed to "devil" or "beelzebul" or some other name) is because the name "Satan" captures the reason why the evil one demanded the twelve disciples. Satan wants evidence to be able to demonstrate to God that the disciples are not dinkum in their love for and zeal for God; he wants evidence to prove to God that these disciples are not worthy to be Godís children, that these disciples do not have what it takes to be workers in Godís kingdom. In a word: Satan wants to show God that these disciples cannot be of any use to Him, are too sinful to have a place and a task in Godís kingdom.
How does Satan propose to uncover the disciplesí weaknesses and sinfulness? Satanís plan for the disciples (says Jesus to Simon Peter) is this: he wants to "sift you as wheat". Sift. After the harvest was brought to the threshing floor, the farmers of Israel had to separate the wheat from the chaff. Part of the procedure involved a process known as sifting. The farmer (or his labourer) had a sieve into which he put a quantity of the product collected from the field. By means of a shaking process, the smaller objects Ėthe seeds of wheatĖ where worked to the bottom of the sieve and fell through the mesh onto a prepared place on the ground. From here the cleaned wheat was collected into containers, while the chaff and other rubbish still in the sieve was discarded. Essential to this sifting (and hence sorting) was this notion of shaking the sieve.
Thatís Satanís proposal to God. He demands from God permission to place the disciples in his devilish sieve and sift them as wheat. He wants to shake them, throw them around, give them a rough time. Satan is sure: if he can shake the disciples around enough, he will gather plenty of evidence to be able to accuse the disciples before God so that in turn God will need to condemn the disciples (see again Zech 3:1ff).
The response of God to Satanís demand is not recorded for us in so many words. But Godís response is implicit in what the text says. In the face of Satanís challenge about Job (namely, that God protected Job too much and thatís why Job feared God and shunned evil), God sovereignly permitted Satan to test Job; "behold," said God to the devil concerning Job, "all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person" (Job 1:12). Now that the Son of God is about to go to the cross, the Lord God grants Satanís demand; the Lord sovereignly permits the great Accuser to sift the disciples in order to get evidence to accuse them.
And see: already Satanís attacks on the disciples have borne fruit. Chap 22:3: "Satan entered Judas," one of the twelve, so that Judas set out to make his deadly deal with the chief priests and captains. More: right after Jesus instituted the Lordís supper, right after He told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, the disciples got into an argument "as to which of them should be considered the greatest" (vs 24). Christ had just spelled out what He was going to do for them, had just spelled out to what lengths He would deny Himself for the benefit of the other, and see, the disciples are caught up in a dispute about who was Number One in their midst! Instead of remembering Him (and His example of self-emptying), theyíre busy with themselves and their own egos. Here was a devilish effort to blind the disciples to the meaning of Christís coming sacrifice on the cross, and the disciples were certainly falling for it. Hence Jesusí announcement to the disciples of Satanís demand in heaven.
But the fact that Jesus let on that the disciples were targeted by the great Accuser for sifting does not mean the end of Satanís efforts. In the coming hours the disciples will be buffeted, tossed to and fro in Satanís hellish attempts to demonstrate how horribly sinful and pitiably weak these chosen disciples are. Jesus is arrested in the Garden, and see: they all run away. Back-bone? Men of strong spiritual character? Fitting founders for Christís NT Church?? Not the twelve! In the house of Caiaphas the high-priest, one of the twelve is challenged that he belongs with the Nazarene. He denies it; "I donít know Him," he says. Back-bone? A man of strong spiritual character? An upright and blameless person who can stand before the judgment seat of God, an ambassador of the good news that Christ can be proud of?? Not Simon Peter! Listen to him: heís challenged again and this time he, he curses, curses his Lord! Heís not at all a man of strong spiritual character!! And over there is another disciple, and see, he commits suicide! Satan sifts, shakes the disciples, and what becomes so apparent is that these 12 are such weak, such sinful, such broken creatures, pathetic excuses of men. And Christ would die for such folk?? Christ would build His Church on such men?? Hell laughs in the face of Godís plan of salvation: ĎGod, do you not see how ridiculous your plan is, do you not see that you cannot build a church on a foundation made out of these miserable wretches? These reprobates cannot even stand before Your throne! A bit of sifting, a bit of shaking, and see, O God, see what kind of grovelling creatures these are!í
Indeed, beloved, Job was sifted, attacked by the Satan, the Accuser of the brethren, and, yes, he too had to "repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). But in the shadow of the cross of Calvary, the heat was on the more, and see, the disciples fell so terribly; flight, denial, curses, suicide: see there the chosen disciples of Jesus Christ! How strong, how very strong, is Satanís case as he stands before the throne of God to accuse the disciples, insist on their being condemned forever.... Satan, desparate as he is in the shadow of the cross, is just too much for Peter, for any of the disciples.... Against this Adversary, the Church has no future....
And today? "Woe," says Jesus in His revelation to John, "woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (Rev 12:12). Woe, then, woe to us! If the disciples who saw Jesus fell so horribly when Satan sifted them, how can we stand in the face of Satanís hate-filled desparation?! Weíre ready to despair in the face of the sifting, the shaking we experience in those disappointments of our lives....
2. In the shadow of the cross, Jesus Christ let His disciples listen in on Satanís terrible demand before the throne of God. But Christ, my beloved brothers and sisters, did more than tell His disciples of Satanís demand. Vs 32: "I have prayed for you." Here, we are to understand, is a development since the days of Job. The Lord God permitted Satan to do with Job what he wished, and the result was that Job was in agony at the loss of his possessions, his children, his health, his wife. But in it all, says Job,
"there is no mediator between us,
Who may lay his hand on us both" (vs 32f).
But in Luke 22 there is a Mediator, one who stands between God and the disciples in the face of Satan demand. "I have prayed for you," says Jesus, and we understand that, in the face of Satanís demand, this was a word of tremendous comfort for the disciples.
What Jesus prayed? Jesusí prayer for His disciples is preserved for us in Jn 17. Vs 9: "I pray for them." What does Jesus pray for them? Vs 11: "Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me." Thatís it, beloved; thereís Jesusí prayer for the disciples: "keep" them, Father, preserve them, protect them, guard them. Jesus knows ĖHeís party to Satanís demand in the courts of heavenĖ Jesus knows Satanís evil intent, knows Satan wants evidence so that he can accuse the disciples, knows that the disciples will be sifted as wheat. So He prays: hold on to them, Father, keep them, preserve them in the face of Satanís attacks!
Admittedly, we for our part would have preferred Jesus to ask God please to deny Satanís demand, ask God to spare the disciples from being sifted by the devil. Certainly weíd prefer Jesus to pray that for us. But see, thatís not what Jesus asks for His disciples. He asks God only that He "keep" them. Or, as our text summarizes Jesusí prayer: "I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail." Thatís all. Jesus doesnít ask God to spare the disciples from being sifted; He asks only that in the face of the sifting their faith may not fail. Then the point of Jesusí prayer is not that the disciples might not stumble, might not sin. In fact, Jesus knew very well that Peter would stumble, sin. In fact, Jesus even says so in vs 34:
"I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."
No, Jesus doesnít pray that Peter might not sin; the point of His prayer is rather that the disciples might hold on to the faith in the face of their sins, might be repentant, sorry for sin.
And see, beloved, thatís also the ways things worked out. I mentioned already that Jesusí words in our text Ėthough intended for all the disciplesĖ are addressed specifically to Simon Peter. And Peter, we know, was buffeted and sifted in the hours of Jesusí arrest and trial more than the other disciples were; it was Peter who denied the Lord, even cursed Him. But Jesusí prayer was answered; despite his horrible betrayal of the Lord, even Peterís faith did not fail! The cock crowed, according to Jesusí prophecy, and "Peter went out and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:62) Ė tears of repentance. Satan attacked so brutally, but, as Jesus had requested the Father in Jn 17, all the disciples were "kept", none were "lost" Ė "except the son of perdition", Judas Iscariot, one of the reprobate.
Yes, things worked out according to Jesusí prayer. As for Jesus Himself, He went to the cross, paid for sin, conquered the devil, ransomed Godís chosen ones from the power of the devil. That victory on the cross, so glorious in its effects for Godís own, had effects that reached into heaven. Says Jesus to John in the revelation shown to him on Patmos:
"War broke out in heaven.... So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Rev 12:7ff).
Rejoicing broke out in heaven in the face of this triumph; no longer does Satan enter the courts of God to request or even demand any of Godís own for the purpose of sifting. As a result of Christís triumph, heaven is for the devil forbidden territory!
But earth is not! In fact, "woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath." Certainly, we rejoice with the angels of heaven that Satan has been cast out of heaven, but at the same time a chill runs up our spine in the face of the "woe" uttered upon the earth; the Enemy has come here, and has come in "great wrath", yes, and itís a wrath that we from time to time feel so strongly!
And ĖhonestlyĖ thereís our problem. Why O why did Jesus not pray that the disciples of long ago be spared Satanís attacks??! And why did Christ not implore God on behalf of all Godís people Ėourselves and our loved ones includedĖ that God would prevent Satan from attacking us?? Sure, weíre grateful that Jesus prayed for the disciples, and grateful that He prays for us too, but why didnít He pray that God prevent Satan from sifting the disciples, sifting us?! That, beloved, leads us to our last point this morning. If Jesusí prayer for His disciples did not include a plea that God deny Satanís demand, what comfort is left for us?? Jesus doesnít pray that God preserve us either, then, from Satanís attacks!
3. Jesus, says our text, prayed that the faith of Peter and the others might not fail in the face of Satanís sifting; He did not pray that Peter and the other disciples be spared Satanís attacks. To understand the comfort of that prayer, we need to notice the concluding words Jesus spoke to Peter in our text. Says Jesus at the end of vs 32: "when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (vs 32).
Notice, my brothers and sisters, that there is a promise implied in this word of the Lord Jesus. "When you have returned to Me" implies that Peter is not only going to stumble and fall (for he would deny the Lord three times); it implies also that Peter is going to repent. The word "return" implies both that Peter is going to fall into sin and that he is goint to come back. In other words: here is both the weakness of the disciples as well as the strength of the Lord God. Satan demanded to have the disciples, and the Lord God sovereignly granted Satanís wish. Yet Ėand this was Jesusí prayer, and God always answers JesusĖ Satan would not be able to tear any of Godís own from Godís hand; though they might stumble, might sin ever so grieviously, God would see to it that His own repent.
But tell me then, beloved, who is the greater? Satan or God? Satan may tempt, may attack, may sift, and the disciples in reaction may flee, may lie, may curse, may even commit suicide, but those whom God has chosen to life Ėsee!Ė they repent!
Has the great Accuser, then, material with which to accuse the brethren before the throne of God? O certainly, Satan can charge Peter with grievous wrongdoing, with horrible sins. But Satan canít make the charges stick! For Christ has died to pay for sin, even for sins like Peterís, and God was sovereignly pleased to apply Jesusí saving work to sinners like, like Peter! Though buffeted and tormented, though forced through his knees by the devil, Peter was preserved by God (and so were the other elect disciples) so that in the courts of heaven Satan should be denied the satisfaction of seeing God dismiss the disciples on account of their sins. The Accuser could certainly prove that the disciples were sinful, so very sinful, but the grace of God was greater still; these were brands plucked from the fire (Zech 3), persons washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Weak? Definitely. Sinful? Absolutely. But have you not read the Scripture, beloved, which says that "God has chosen the weak things of the world to put so shame the things which are mighty"? (I Cor 1:27f). Let the weaknesses and the sinfulness of the disciples come out, let it come out so that any who would boast would never boast in themselves or in any man, but boast only in the Lord! Salvation for any one is not of manís works nor of our worthiness; salvation comes only from Godís grace in Jesus Christ. Let the devil, then, find lots of evidence of weakness and sin and unworthiness in the people chosen to life; itís exactly the disciples unworthiness and sins and weaknesses that point up just how wonderfully rich and glorious the grace of God is! Nothing makes white as white as a background of black, and see, making that background behind the disciples black is precisely what Satan is busy doing. By so doing Ėthough he intends it notĖ by so doing Satan points up how infinitely glorious God is in His mercy.
Jesus tells Peter that once He has repented from the sins heíd commit in the face of Satanís sifting, he ought to "strengthen your brethren." We understand it now: Peter (and the other disciples too) would "strengthen the brethren" by reporting that God held on to them despite their weaknesses, despite their unworthiness! In other words: Peter (and the other disciples too) could speak of Godís work of grace to the sinner! And thatís always encouraging, strengthening, in the face of sinnersí sins.
Then itís true: we for our part would have preferred that Jesus ask God to deny Satanís request, spare the disciples the horrors of being sifted, of sinning. But Jesus doesnít ask God to deny Satanís request Ėwhy not?Ė because the weaknesses of the disciples are not to stay secret; theyíre instead meant to come out! God would have all men to know that He does not build His church on people who are strong in themselves; God instead builds His Church on people Ėlike PeterĖ who are weak, broken, unable to stand on their own two feet. Thatís the principle by which God works.
So, beloved, we despair not in the face of Satanís wrath. Yes, the Accuser of the brethren has been cast out of heaven, and that means woe to the earth Ė especially as the Day of the Lord comes closer. But we believe Christís triumph on the cross of Calvary, a triumph that means Satanís total defeat. Jesus didnít pray that the disciples be spared Satanís sifting; He prayed instead that the disciplesí faith fail not. If thatís how Jesus prayed, itís for us to pray the same way. We pray not that God keep Satan at a great distance from us and our loved ones; God wonít do that for He has cast Satan onto the earth. Instead, we pray that God preserve us and our loved ones, that our faith may not fail. And as we pray, we believe that even today the devil can do nothing with us and our loved ones unless God permit. And God for Jesusí sake will not permit a single one of Godís own to be plucked out of His hands.
Do not despair, then, beloved, when your weaknesses, your sinfulness become obvious. Godís grace is greater still. In fact, strengthen one another with that reality. Amen.