A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered the greatest. . . . “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.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and death.” (Luke 22: 24, 31-33)
Simon declared himself ready to follow Jesus no matter where it led him. He meant what he said. In his heart, he was more than ready. But as God revealed to Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9)
The Hebrew meaning of “Simon” is “listener.” Like so many of us, Simon listened to Jesus until he heard something he couldn’t understand or didn’t want to hear. He felt totally loyal to Jesus. The thought that he could ever turn away from Him drew a swift and defensive reaction that overrode real hearing. Simon was trusting his feelings, instead of listening to the Son of God.
What Jesus was telling Simon is that everyone who follows Him will wear a target on their back. Satan is out to accuse every believer. He works tirelessly to undermine, discourage and defeat them in every way he can. Satan had evidently already made inroads with the disciples, who had just been arguing about which of them was the greatest. The greater the potential to have an impact for Jesus, the more certain Satan’s attacks.
“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Having given Simon a heads-up that he would be “sifted,” Jesus interjects a crucial “but”: “I have prayed for you.” Satan will do his worst, but his worst is no match for Jesus’ intercession. This is clear from the next statement: “And when you have turned back . . .” Note that Jesus says “when,” and not “if.” Though Simon will stumble, the purposes for which Jesus chose him will stand.
When Jesus first called him, Simon was known as “the Zealot.” It’s not clear whether this was because of his passionate temperament, or if he had been associated with the political movement dedicated to ousting the Romans from the Holy Land. As Paul later wrote, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good . . .” (Gal 4:18) In this case, we might say it’s fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is God’s. The expectation of a political kingdom kept the disciples from seeing the real nature of Jesus’ kingship. Our expectations can do the same, if our zeal isn’t based on God’s revelation.
God is able to use everything for good to all those who are called according to His purpose. Simon’s sifting, which caused him great emotional pain, nevertheless served to purge him of the zeal for worldly ends. Instead, he became infused with zeal to listen to God through the Holy Spirit. The sifting disabused him of the notion that he could count on himself. It shifted his default position of trusting in himself and lifted him to trust Jesus. He no longer just called Jesus “Lord;” he made Him his Lord.
Simon went from listening with a “but,” to listening to the truth, absorbing it into his spirit, and becoming more like Jesus. In the process, Simon was transformed into Peter, “the Rock.” That Rock did in fact strengthen his brothers, along with countless others, just as Jesus had said.
Father, please help me to listen to Your Word with no “buts,” except the “but” that You are praying for me; that I am weak, but You are strong; that Satan means his attacks for evil, but You use them for good. Thank You that when I am sifted, I can be shifted to a better path, and lifted to again follow You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.