One morning while on a run, these verses popped into my head and I began mulling over them. The following observations, at least to me, underscore several key aspects of my faith and remind me of just how much Jesus has my back.
- Unless we do not accept these verses as the words of Jesus, we see clearly that there is a spiritual realm where actual demon forces are at work against God’s children.
- We see that Satan cannot move against us without God’s permission.
- We see Jesus’ belief in prayer. He prayed for Peter (that your faith may not fail) then gave him instructions (strengthen your brothers) based on the assumption that the prayer would be answered.
- We see God’s omniscience, for he knew Peter would return.
- We see Peter making bold claims or promises that he has no power to keep. To use the colloquialism, Peter was writing checks he could not cash.
In this scene where Jesus and the disciples are eating the Passover meal, Jesus tells Peter that he prayed that his faith would not fail. He didn’t pray that he wouldn’t have to endure the sifting. I think it’s worth repeating that Jesus knew Peter was going to cave, but that he would not fail utterly. Remember that he tells Peter, “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Have you ever felt the shame and despair of failure? A hopelessness that drove you to give up pursuing God and return to your previous endeavors? Keep reading because Peter did too.
Hours later, after Peter had already fallen asleep when Jesus had asked him to pray; after a posse of soldiers and religious leaders came to arrest Jesus and (according to John’s account) Peter drew his sword and cut off an ear of one of those gathered to arrest Jesus; after they haul Jesus away, Peter follows at a distance.
They took Jesus to the high priest’s house and Peter made his way to the courtyard. It is here where he was confronted as a follower of Jesus. Throughout these events, we see that from an earthly perspective it was a seemingly innocuous scene, albeit dramatic. If you were observing, it was simply an event unfolding. Yet there was something greater in play.
Peter was part of a divine cosmic interchange, much like Job. And indeed there was a spiritual war going on. In fact it was an aggressive attack and attempt to derail Peter’s faith.
Were the spiritual forces in play unique to this specific situation or does a similar cosmic interchange play out over and again in the unseen realm with all of God’s children? I would like to think that when we are sifted, it is only because God allows it, and even then we are covered by Jesus’ prayer.
When we’re in the midst of the struggle we don’t necessarily understand what’s going on. We simply are responding. Perhaps our vision is clouded by our sin, anger or pain. But once we take that irrevocable step that commits us to a specific course, and we realize it, our eyes are opened to the gravity and enormity of it all. At that moment we hear the rooster crow and the dread of our actions floods our heart as we at once feel the weight and measure of our mistake. We feel there is no future.
We cannot know the exact nature of the sifting. All we see is the scene where Peter is recognized and denies that he’s involved with the teacher from Nazareth.
But we can imagine, based on our own struggles, what sort of inner turmoil might be taking place in Peter. Sifting can take many forms, and I’m convinced that Satan and his demon horde take great pleasure and go to great lengths to identify and press our vulnerabilities.
So was Peter just being self preserving? Was he responding how pretty much we all would? Or was Satan whispering? Whispering to Peter, to the ones who called him out? Doing all in his demonic power to set a stage where Peter would reject his Lord.
Is it sifting when I have my own inner battles of anger, lust, or whatever the war is at the time, is raging within me? Do I warrant that sort of demonic attention? Or is that just the common struggle of man? Is it both and?
Before Jesus appears to Peter after his resurrection, restores his faith, and sets him on a course with a renewed commission, he gives him his marching orders. “Once you return, strengthen your brothers.” Peter couldn’t know that in the following hours he’d be sleeping when he should have been praying; that he would attempt in his own strength to thwart the enemy with force; that when circumstances really got tough he would curse and vehemently deny that he even knew Jesus much less was one of his disciples.
But at the time when Jesus spoke those words to Peter in the upper room during the Passover meal, Peter was ready to take a bullet for Jesus. He couldn’t understand his own weakness.
It seems to me that we need to do what we can to be prepared beforehand in terms of spiritual battle. The spiritual armor of Ephesians 6 comes to mind 1Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. -Eph 6:13-15. Even then there is an aspect of it where God will have to carry us past our own blind spots and weaknesses.