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 22:31-32
When we last left our group of disciples they were coming off of an argument about who among them was the greatest. There are many reasons why they could have entered into that discussion/argument, but even with Jesus’ explanation of what they were to be like, this was an argument that was not going to go away easily.
Here, at the Passover, Jesus was giving last observations and instructions before his crucifixion. The disciples were caught up in both the revelry of the occasion and in the same argument they had before. Something in the disciples caused them to need to be better than good… better than the rest, even better than their peers. The Teacher however saw through the veneer, and looked directly into the real heart and soul of the disciples – into that part they tried (and we do as well) to hide away from the Master. Jesus boldly and lovingly confronted the imperfection of the disciples while at the same time continuing to give them opportunity for growth, fulfillment and purpose.
As we come to grips with not just what the Teacher sees in us, but what his plans are for us despite what he sees, we can have confidence that he will bring us into that life of promise he so desires to give.
The Hamster Wheel
Jesus had been here before with the disciples. He taught them clearly what was right or wrong with their position, how to change their mindset and what the right way to be a disciple was. At some point there should have been the “a-ha” moment where the disciples realized they were in the same argument as before, and backed off of the discussion. Yet, here they were again, having the same discussion with the same people, each hoping to come to a better conclusion.
As disciples, we can run into the same danger of being on the hamster wheel – going back to the same discussions, the same actions, the same tendencies that our Teacher has already addressed with us. When it comes to those things, it is important to first ensure that we are truly listening to our teacher, and not simply assenting to his words, and second, ensure that we understand why we go there in the first place. George Satayana wrote in Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason Vol. 1,
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Jesus’ disciples demonstrated a short enough memory of not only their own actions, but of Jesus’ teachings that they repeated, not just the same action, but the same ambition Jesus had already addressed in them. For this particular issue, it was not just shortsightedness that drove them to need to revisit this again. It was something deeper that Jesus would reveal through their time together and in particular in his interaction with Peter.
Overcoming Failure and Disappointment
The occasion was festive. The week, amazing. Jesus had entered Jerusalem in victory to the chants of the crowds, had overturned the tables of the money changers, and had shown that his kingdom really was at hand. Now it was time for Passover, the celebration of freedom from oppression, of God choosing Israel again and bringing them out of the bondage of Egypt with a strong hand. It was a joyous time and the disciples were ready for it. Making this better was the story of finding the place, just as Jesus had said. Even as they made preparation for the Passover, they were not prepared for what Jesus would reveal as they reclined at the table
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him – Luke 22:21-22
In a matter of moments, the mood went from light and joyous to somber and anxious. Who, among those that had walked with Jesus those 3 years would even think of betraying him? They had grown with him, suffered with him, and stuck with him when others walked away. They knew he was the Christ, the coming king, one who would establish his throne. Jesus declared however that one of them would bring disappointment to himself, Jesus and his peers by betraying Jesus.
They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest. – Luke 22:23-24
When we read scripture, oftentimes it is necessary to remove the verse indicators. This is the case in the above scripture so we can see a clear consistent thought – it was out of the question of failure that came the discussion of greatness. “It couldn’t be me, because I am more advanced/more mature/better disciplined than you…” Facing disappointment is never easy, especially when you know that you are, or could be, the source of the disappointment
|Mark 9:9-10||As they were coming down the mountain Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant|
|Mark 9:31-32||Because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it|
|Luke 22:21, 23||But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table… They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this|
Disappointments drive us to act in self-serving ways.
- Sometimes we will choose to bury our head in the sand, hoping the disappointment and effect on us will go away. The disciples heard what Jesus said about him being killed, but they chose not to acknowledge it – to not consider the purpose for the reality that Jesus was bringing to them
- Sometimes we deflect the disappointment – it cannot be me, cannot be us, etc. From this we will have all of the justifications why we cannot be the source of the disappointment, why the prognosis is wrong, why a second opinion is needed, etc.
- Sometimes, as we will see in Peter, we challenge the disappointment. We know better. We can kick the thing. We can overcome. You think I will end up this way, but I’ll show you… I’ll change my destiny.
While there is nothing wrong with trying to change or avert the disappointments we face, there is something wrong when, in our attempt to make things palatable for us we stop listening to the Teacher. As disciples, we need to pay attention to the Teacher in all things, both good and painful. Had the disciples turned to Jesus rather than to themselves they might have had a different outcome in their perspective and subsequent actions.
It’s Hard to be Humble…
Mac Davis sang a song with the following lyrics:
Lord, it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cuz I get better looking each day…
The rest of the song continues in this vein. You get the picture – we look in the mirror and see the accomplished, successful, “forward moving” person. After all, that’s what discipleship is about, right? Not “mere Christians”, not “just saved”, but set apart – inner circle. Today we would consider those who are disciples as those who went on the mountain with Jesus, while the “mere Christians” were down at the bottom waiting for the disciples to come back.
Peter was in the thick of the argument about greatness when Jesus reiterated his teaching about position and attitude. “Be like a young child or like one who serves. Use me as an example – I should be being served, yet I am with you as one who serves.” The Teacher had spoken, had stilled the room and quelled the argument – at least on the outside. There was still something brewing that the Teacher needed to address
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 22:31-32
Jesus shifted the conversation from a general teaching to a specific charge to one individual. First the possibility of betrayal, then a breakdown of faith. At least they didn’t know who would betray him, but it was clear that Peter was going to experience a crisis of faith that required the intervention of Jesus to get through. At this point Peter could have taken lessons from the man whose son was possessed (“I believe, but please help my unbelief”), but Peter took Jesus’ words head on.
But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” – Luke 22:33
Peter had no intention of disappointing his Teacher. He was fully committed to the One who had the words of eternal life. Even the thought of doing anything that would diminish his relationship with Jesus was the furthest thing from his mind. In Peter’s mind, the former argument was still raging – who was the greatest. “Others may believe, still others may follow, but I’m in this for the long haul. I’m willing to give my life for this, that’s how committed I am. Others may fall away, but not me.” Peter was not about being humble in this, because he needed to show the Teacher he was trustworthy, that he wouldn’t let the Teacher down. Peter however faced a problem - in doing what he did, he didn’t allow the Teacher to be the Teacher. Peter was basically saying that the Teacher could teach in some areas, but there were others where the teacher would be the student.
As disciples, we must always be aware that we remain students of the Teacher. Adult children are no less children of their parents when then they reach adulthood, even as the home situation changes and the children live on their own and start their own families. We must be diligent to hold to the “Teacher – disciple relationship” so we can hear from and respond to the Teacher when he speaks.
Peeling Back the Shell
Peter’s statement resonates with anyone who would call themselves a disciple. It is where we want to be – victorious in our faith, pressing hard after Jesus, willing to do anything for the cause of the gospel. There is no telling what Peter was looking to get out of this statement other than maybe a reversal of the Teacher’s former statement. Jesus didn’t recant though. In fact, he dug deeper to let Peter see that the Teacher knew the student even better than the student did.
Jesus answered, “I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” – Luke 22:34
How could Jesus say this, especially after Peter’s confession? When we typically read this, we see it as “part of the story”. We know that Peter did, in fact, deny Jesus three times, and come up with all the reasons why he did it. What we need to see however is not the fact that Jesus presented to Peter, but rather the focus of what he presented. In his discussion with Peter, Jesus revealed a lot more about what he saw in Peter other than the fact that he would fail.
But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers – Luke 22:32
Jesus revealed three things to Peter before he told him how he would fail:
|“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail”||“Peter, I will not let your faith fail” – Jesus saw the situation and intervened before it happened to keep Peter’s faith intact. Peter’s statement to Jesus was actually true, but not because of Peter’s self-determination. It was true because Jesus was committed to his disciple. Jesus was going to ensure that what he put into Peter was not lost.|
|“And when you have turned back”
|“Peter, you will come back around” – Jesus saw past the failure to the victory, the growth, the maturity and the healing on the other side. Jesus saw a restored Peter, before an action ever took place. Jesus saw a healing and restoration that he could declare to Peter before he stepped into the situation. What Jesus saw could be likened to being in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and AbedNego – they were in the fire, but not being consumed by it because they were there in the presence of the Son of God. What is key is that Jesus did not say “if you have turned back”. He said “when”. Jesus believed in Peter so much that he knew he would make it regardless of any individual setbackFor a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again. But the wicked shall fall by calamity – Proverbs 24:16 (nkjv)|
|“strengthen your brothers”||“Peter, you will have opportunity to stabilize and strengthen those around you” – failures normally take us out of contention for pouring into the lives of those around us, but Jesus saw that Peter’s restoration would give him the opportunity to do just that: be a pillar and stabilizer for those around him.|
The Teacher didn’t just see the student. The Teacher valued the student so much that even though the student’s actions were personally hurtful to the Teacher, the Teacher continued to give himself to the student because he saw what the student would be on the other side.
As disciples, we can be sure that our Teacher knows us more than we realize. The encouraging part of this is that He not only knows our current state, but knows where we will end up. Our Teacher doesn’t just believe in our ability to get through the hard times, but gets personally involved to ensure that we make it through, that we grow and that we are victorious in the process.
Our teacher may not always deliver lessons we want to hear. We want him to see the “perfect us” that we present to him, but we need to be prepared for the “imperfect us” that he sees. The good and encouraging thing is that the imperfect us is not where he stops. He sees enough to walk with us past the disappointments to the true life we are supposed to live in Him.
- What is your “Hamster Wheel”?
- What has God revealed to you that was disappointing? What was your reaction?
- How have you viewed yourself before God? Why?
- Have you believed that you could handle a situation without God’s intervention?
- Have you felt stuck in a failure or disappointment? Do you think God still sees you there?
- What do you believe is the life of a disciple?