I love Jesus. For so many reasons. But I just adore the next part of the story because it shows me that my Savior truly does understand struggle. After their last supper together, Jesus and the disciples go to the Mount of Olives. By this point He has broken the news of what is to come…that the fulfillment of what is written is about to occur in Him.
I remember how I felt when I received the news that David had been killed. My own life seemed to drain from my body. When one has an emotional trauma, it isn’t a physical blow but the physiological effects are very similar. You’re exhausted…lethargic almost. You’ve heard the expression, “all the blood drained from her face.” It’s true. Your body literally longs to shut down and frequently does. Does this help put into context the state the disciples were in as they followed Jesus to the garden knowing their time with Him was coming to an end? It did for me. I have never cut the disciples any slack for their sleeping instead of praying…until now. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
They all reach the place where Jesus intends to go and pray. He turns to them and says stay here and pray that you “not fall into temptation.” Temptation. That at first glance seems to be an odd thing to pray against in that moment. What would be the temptation for them? Clearly not the usual things we consider tempting. I submit He was imploring them to not fall to the temptation of surrender, of defeat, of fear of what lay ahead. Remember, Jesus knew what was being asked of them and at the same time, knew the condition of their weary hearts being asked to accept it.
When we are in the sieve of life the temptation is to give up. But Jesus says no, I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail and will carry you through to complete my plan for your life.
Grief and pain are exhausting. Add to it the heavy weight of the consequences of sin and the realization that we are helpless to do any good on our own, and it can be downright crippling. The disciples fell asleep when they should have been praying because they were overwhelmed with sorrow. (Luke 22:45) The Message version says they were “drugged by grief.”
A stones throw away, the Savior of the world cried out in agony over the weight of all that was to come. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Drop to our knees and beg God to just relieve us of the pressures we face and the fear that stops us from facing them. But in the same breath, Jesus recognizes that God’s will be done. It is then that God sends an angel to strengthen him. Even the Son of God needed someone to come alongside of Him! This strengthened him but I would imagine that the presence of the help also served to remind Him that the cup wasn’t going to be removed. Instead, God was giving Him what He needed to drink His fate. Or more rightly stated, our fate taken on his innocent shoulders.
The next verse says that even after he was strengthened He was in anguish and thereafter prayed until sweat and blood mingled. There have been times I have been so downright beside myself with agony over my fate. Completely humbled and prostrate before God to the point when my sweat and tears during prayer have fallen on my hands covering my face, I have expected to see blood.
Sometimes things hurt so greatly we feel physical pain over our sorrow. And it is exhausting. But following Jesus’ model, that is our cue to get up and get about His work. The solution to the problem can’t come in the prayer closet alone. The journey we are called to set upon begins there for sure…every step we take must first bring us to our knees. But it mustn’t end there. We must find the courage to walk it out. That’s why God gave us feet. But before we can take off to “run with endurance the race set before us, we must get rid of all that hinders.” (Hebrews 12:1) We must be sifted.
When Simon Peter was placed in the sieve it broke him. He denied the one he vowed to love unconditionally. But the true depiction of unconditional love came in what happened in the midst of breakage.
As Peter was denying Jesus, the Lord’s eyes were on him. Instinct when we are injured is to look away. Like a child receiving necessary immunizations looks away from the needle. But Jesus kept His eyes on his beloved. He could have called down a mighty army of angels and in His own strength and justice changed everything to save himself and have kingdom come in that moment. He could have provided a quick fix in order to make things less uncomfortable for Peter and thus avoiding the pain of the sieve. But Jesus, out of love, recognized that the sifting was ultimately for the good of everyone.Jesus… in the midst of physical suffering and the ache of being rejected and betrayed by those he loved most, stayed the course of love. Doing what was best for those He loved.
We can’t compare ourselves to Jesus. But we can model the love we see acted out in his example. Sometimes we must love until it hurts. We must love unselfishly. We too must die. We must die to ourselves so that we don’t deny Him and our Father in Heaven will be glorified. Love cannot be selfish. It looks on the object of its affection, from afar if necessary, and brings hurt to avoid harm. It means walking in obedience even if everything in you rebels and begs for the cup to be taken.
I don’t think Jesus looked at Peter with an “I told you so” look. I think He conveyed the message, “I love you. I’m doing this for you. I haven’t forgotten you even when you’ve forgotten me.” 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for he cannot deny Himself.”
Peter went out and wept bitterly because he realized he was being sifted. He was broken and in that moment, faithless. He had succumbed to the temptation and had fallen asleep instead of praying. He fulfilled Jesus’ prediction and was brought to his knees. Simon Peter’s very lips had betrayed his heart. As the rooster crowed and Maundy Thursday dawned to Good Friday, he had to have questioned what difference would it have made if he had chosen not live in fear while hiding in the shadows?
It’s always darkest before the dawn… But remember Dear Friend (Simon), Jesus himself has prayed for you. And Easter is coming…
Today is Maundy Thursday. It is the day set aside to remember the Last Supper. The time that Jesus said would be his last observance of the Passover meal this side of Heaven. We are all probably familiar with the story. It is in this scene that Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal…it is here that the disciples begin arguing about who will be the greatest among them, and also the declaration that before the rooster crows, Peter will thrice deny his Master. But buried in Luke’s description of this time, I have stumbled upon a gem I somehow previously overlooked…
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of 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 22:31-32
Can you imagine how hearing these words come from the Savior’s mouth must have taken Simon Peter’s breath? But then again, I have to wonder if the gravity of this wasn’t completely lost in Peter’s impulsivity. He seems to plow right over the fact Jesus is telling him that Satan is and has been planning an attack on him and his comrades! His response is a zealous, Lord, I’m ready…till death if necessary! I can almost imagine him standing like one of the three musketeers pledging his all for one and one for all allegiance.
So lets ruminate on Jesus’ words for a moment because I think they are highly applicable to all of us. ”…Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” Now I am about as unfamiliar with agriculture as one can get. So I googled the sifting process. It turns out that the sifting itself actually takes place after the chaff has been removed. (The chaff is the useless part that blows away in the wind.) The wheat is then placed in a sieve and all the rocks and dirt and stuff are separated and the purified product is then harvested.
Wow. What a powerful metaphor. Humanity is separated…those who will be considered wheat (believers) and those who will be chaff (those who choose unbelief). The chaff is scattered when the wind blows. But here’s the part that has resonated with me…it is the wheat that gets sifted. And oh man, how painful it is to find ourselves in the sieve. Especially knowing that it could very well be the case that Satan is the one who has placed us in there. But praise God, not without the knowledge and permission of the Savior who is praying us through it. Satan intends this process for evil. But I believe Jesus still intercedes for us just as He did for Simon Peter…”but I have prayed for you…that your faith may not fail.”
The purpose of every trial God allows…every sifting…is for our refining and His glory. His will is that our faith may not fail. Why? ”…so that when you have turned back, (you) strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus knew Peter would be sifted. He knew the zealous disciple would temporarily fail. But He also knew that He had a great plan for Peter on the other side of it…
To be continued…
We are excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for the second annual Major David Gray Future Leader Scholarship!
This $1000.00 scholarship will be awarded to an individual who meets the following requirements: Open to any enlisted member of any branch of the United States military who is seeking a degree with the intent of gaining a commission as an Officer. (Originally the scholarship was only open to TACPs, but this year we have decided to expand eligibility.)
Email your request for an application to firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for application submission is May 25, 2014.
The recipient will be chosen by Finish Strong Ministries board members and the scholarship will be awarded no later than July 25, 2014.