Because of Israel's cool, wet winter and dry spring, it is the perfect place for growing wheat. Is it any wonder, then, that wheat - the growing of it, the harvesting of it, and the celebration of it - is so predominant in the Bible?
"Wheat" is mentioned in some form over a hundred times; Jesus used the harvesting of it in His parables and teachings. One mentioning in particular, had to do with Peter. To understand it completely, one must first understand the act of harvesting the wheat of Israel.
The Act of Harvesting
The act of harvesting wheat began by cutting the ripened grain, followed by binding it into sheaves. When this was done, gleaners gathered what was left as they walked behind the cutters. If you remember the story of Ruth, the young girl from Moab asked her Jewish mother-in-law that she be allowed to "glean" after the harvesters in order that they might have food to eat. (To truly appreciate this beautiful story, read all four chapters of Ruth, concentrating on the second chapter.)
After the stalks were bound into sheaves, they were transported to the threshing floor. The act of "threshing" is to strike the grain repeatedly so as to separate the grain from the straw. The wheat is then "winnowed," which was done by tossing the grain into the air with a winnowing fork so that the wind blew away the left over straw and chaff (the worthless seed coverings and other debris), leaving the grain at the winnower's feet. Finally, the grain was sifted to remove foreign matter, then bagged for transportation and storage.
Jesus, Peter, and an Example of Wheat
We're all familiar with Peter's great declaration during the Last Supper. He tells Jesus that he'd follow Him anywhere...to prison...or to the death. Jesus then tells Peter that he will deny knowing Him three times before the rooster crows.
But do you know what was said just before this?
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31)
Seven Points to Note
There are seven points I'd like you to note in this scripture.
1. Simon, Simon.
2. Satan has asked
3. Sift you as wheat
4. But I have prayed for you
5. That your faith may not fail
6. And when you have turned back
7. Strengthen your brothers
It's interesting that Jesus reverted to Peter's given name at birth rather than the name Jesus had said he would be known by. Perhaps He wanted to remind Peter of his humanness; that without God's presence in his life, he was incapable of much more than he'd done before meeting the Christ. It is also important that Jesus repeated the name. In John Gill's exposition of the Bible, he writes: "the doubling of the word" is expressive "of love", and finding grace and favour.
Remember when the angel of the Lord spoke to Abraham as he was about to sacrifice his promised son, Isaac. "Abraham, Abraham," he said. Or, when God Almighty first called out to Moses by saying, "Moses, Moses" (Exodus 3:4).
Jesus loved Peter very much and it grieved Him greatly to say what He knew must be said. The Disciples had just been arguing over which one of them was considered the greatest. Pride surely does come before the fall, but even when weakened by our own lack of humility, we can be certain of His love. He doesn't love the pride, in fact His word says he hates it (Proverbs 8:13), but His love for us is unwavering, even knowing our sins past and future.
Satan Has Asked
Remember the story of Job? Here we read of Satan (which is a Hebrew title meaning "an adversary, one who resists." Out of the 23 times it is used in the Old Testament, 11 are found in the first two chapters of Job. Satan's attack against God's servant, Job, came about only because God allowed it after Satan approached the throne of God. "Certainly Job loves you," Satan toyed. "He's got it made in the shade." (Of course, I'm paraphrasing here.) "What if you took away all his wealth...his family...his health? Then would he love you so much?"
And what about for Peter and the others? Take away their Jesus...take away the fanfare every time they came to town...cause them to suffer for their faith...then would they love God so much?
Sift You As Wheat
The purpose of sifting wheat consisted of tossing it about, in the end leaving the purest form of the grain while removing the foreign matter. To Satan, the foreign matter was the presence of God. What was natural to Peter, as a man, was the sinful nature...as it is with any of us. Peter had yet to learn how to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, shake off the old man and put on the new.
But, not only Peter; the word "you" that our Messiah used was not singular. Rather, it was plural. Satan had asked permission to sift all of the disciples as though they were wheat...to attempt to take them from a position of knowing what they believed and why they believed it to not truly knowing at all.
In the movie, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the passing of time is indicated by the waves beating upon the shore, breaking down a wooden sign that at one time proudly displayed a little girl's name but over the years was barely readable. The Disciples confidently claimed the deity of Jesus while sitting with Him in the Upper Room, dining on the Seder meal. But, Satan thought, enough waves beating against the shores of their faith, and they would wear down.
But I Have Prayed For You
The "you" is singular. Jesus now directs His statements back to Peter.
Can you imagine this? All those times the "boys" saw their Rabbi and friend slipping away to pray to His Father in Heaven...all those times...and Peter can now know for certain that at least part of those conversations were about him. What joy might have filled Peter's heart if he concentrated on the latter part of what Jesus had just said rather than the former. "Satan has asked," was sure to put a ripple of fear into any man's heart. But, what joy that Jesus - the King of kings and the Lord of lords - has taken time to actually speak on Peter's behalf.
Who knows man better than the One who created him? Jesus knows every thought, motive, sinew and cell of any man, especially those He has called for His own. Jesus alone truly knows what is needed for us to reach perfection. He alone knows the strength we need to survive the attacks of our enemy. Remember, we are the victims of Satan's attacks. Alone, we cannot survive. With the power of the Spirit of God, we not only can, we will.
That Your Faith May Not Fail
Jesus is saying to Peter what we all need to hear: Satan will attack. He will. We are, none of us, immune from his attacks. And, in fact, you should be more concerned if he doesn't attack that when he does. What Jesus is praying for is not that Satan won't attack, but that when he does Peter's faith will be able to withstand the onslaught.
And When You Have Turned Back
In His sovereignty, Jesus is telling Peter that he will fall away, that the sun will slip below the horizon and darkness will seem to envelop his life...but! Just as Jesus had said, "But I have prayed for you...." That word "but" means everything. Yes, Peter, you will struggle against the night but the sun will come up again (as the Son rises!) and you will find your way back to the Truth.
Strengthen Your Brothers
Why would Jesus say this? Because as the brothers would also doubt, they would end up needed what God would teach Peter through these shadowy moments.
The Disciples had argued over who was the greatest and, in many ways, Jesus had let them know that with "greatness" comes "service." Peter would indeed strengthen the brothers - not only those sitting about the table with him that evening, but even us today as we read his story or meditate on his letters. Peter would also be called to "tend the lambs," "shepherd the sheep," and "tend the sheep." (John 21:15-17)
Every gift from God comes with a resulting responsibility.
Questions for Personal or Group Study
1. As an exercise, write a love letter to Jesus for calling you by name.
2. Now write a love letter to yourself as you think Jesus might address you.
3. Have you ever felt a time when you felt "sifted as wheat?" Talk or write about it.
4. Read Revelation 12:10 and Romans 8:34. What does this say to you?
5. What gifts has God given you? How have you used them to "strengthen your brothers?"
Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson's work includes Intimate Moments with God and Intimate Encounters with God (Cook). She is the author of Shadow of Dreams, Summon the Shadows and Shadow of Light. (Barbour Fiction) She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at www.EvaMarieEverson.com.