And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.
CHRIST received His own at the table of communion, yes; but first He received them in prayer. True, the Priest after the order of Melchizedek overturned the altar of Aaron; but Aaron’s breast-cloth, on which he bore the names of the tribes of Israel over his heart, remained, and that is our comfort. Christ receives His own within His heart: He is their intercessor before they know of it.
As we listen to Christ telling Simon that Satan wants to sift the disciples as wheat, but that He interposes His intercession between Satan’s desire and the Father’s right, two things strike our attention.
The first is that in these words of Christ we have what we might call the first thanksgiving service. The church still continues in the custom of engaging in a brief thanksgiving service immediately after the celebration of the Holy Supper. Sometimes that service is called a post-communion meditation.
In a sense that is what we have here, a post-communion, a thanksgiving service. It is really the first of its kind in history. Luke shows us plainly that Christ spoke the familiar words of the text at the head of this chapter after the ministration and institution of the Supper. And it occurs to us that Christ did not resort to this first post-communion meditation in order to gently move the souls of those who had sat with Him up and down on the passive undulations of a vague emotionalism — but that He, after having mystically concentrated their thoughts, in the Holy Supper, now lets these thoughts scatter again. The theme of the mercies of Christ which had been enjoyed synthetically in the Supper now breaks up into its component parts again. In the Supper Christ bound up the souls of His own with His soul. He intensified and intimately united theirs and His. Now that the Supper is finished, however, they must be led from the heights of faith to the edge of the cliff beneath which bottomless abysses yawn; heaven and hell open before them — now, after the first Supper. At the mystical table the theme of God’s love was seared upon the souls of the disciples as a unit. Now that theme breaks up into its several parts again. The “concentration” of the heart is followed straightway by its “expansion,” by its diffusely comprehensive attention to God’s highest heights and Satan’s deepest depths. After the intense and concentrated intimacy of that moment of mystical communion with Christ comes the shock of a spoken word by which all the chasms of hell and all the forces of heaven are revealed to them.
Satan hath desired to have you: see the abyss of hell in that. He expressed that strong desire in words, and placed it as a definite demand against the disciples before the throne of God: read in that of the heights of heaven.
Surely, this sermon of thanksgiving is a weighty one, setting the universe wide open even to its most sublimely transporting depths. But it is a comfort to know that Jesus Christ as Intercessor, as Intermediary, as Mediator, understood the profundities of hell and entered His plea against Satan with the Father in highest heaven. In this manner the drama of heaven and hell took place in the soul of Jesus; to this we owe our gratitude for the fact that this thanksgiving sermon, sublime and awful as it is, does not deprive us of the comfort of the Supper. In fact, this comfort is infinitely intensified by the words of Christ.
Moreover, this first thanksgiving sermon is instructive as well as comforting. For Christ at the end of the supper, not only the entering into His communion but also the remaining there is entirely owing to Him. In the conflict between God and Satan the disciples have been thrown back and forth as corn in a sifter, and they would have succumbed, Simon, too, would certainly have succumbed, if Christ’s strenuous prayer had not borne them to and laid them down before God. The preservation of faith, too, is solely the product of grace.
That is the first thing that strikes our attention at once as we read Christ’s words on this occasion.
A second thought is worth remarking upon.
If we may put it that way, we would call Christ’s words about Satan’s desire to sift and about His own intercessory prayer the solution of the problem.
Solution to which problem?
To the problem of all that occurred before.
Again and again we have observed that Christ confronts Judas and Satan as the one person who is absolutely authentic, who thrusts nothing out of His attention. Judas and Satan were two of those who wanted to suppress everything uncongenial to their wishes out of their souls’ lives and out of the complexes of their spirits. Over against these, you remember, we placed Christ as the genuine Man who flees from no fact, even though brutal pain tears at His heart and wrenches His inner being.
Now Jesus says that He has seen beforehand what Satan wants to do with the disciples, Judas excepted. He has entered into Judas already; that is fact now. But Jesus knows with direct certainty that Satan is not idle now. Christ pursued what happened in Judas backwards to the verities of election and reprobation and followed it forward to the face of hell. Now He does as much. Christ includes Judas, yes, but also the other disciples, and you and I, in that sustained attention by which He refers all temporal things to the eternal, all visible things to things invisible, everything fructifying today to what was but a root yesterday, and will bear new fruit tomorrow. Moved as He was by what happened in Judas and to Judas, He did not let that perturbation of His soul cause Him to forget the other sheep. Even when one was lost, He kept His attention upon the other eleven. He let the dead bury the dead; He turned Himself to the living. So He suppressed nothing.
He celebrated the Supper with His own; meanwhile, however, He saw Satan. He took the bread: He saw the foul vapor of Satan hover over it. He lifted the cup: He tasted the acid of Satan in the wine. He drank everything to the dregs and searched out eternal mysteries in every single thing.
Three of these mysteries He finds now, and He points to them.
One is the Supper. In it the quintessential “mystery” of man is ushered into the very life of faith by Christ and the Spirit.
Another is Satan who avidly desires to sift. That is the quintessential “mystery” of Satanic essence, which none can fathom or know.
The third is the heart of God. And that especially is the great “Mystery.” As He appeals to it in interceding with the Father, He does so not as a hopeless one, but as a person confident and assured, one who knows what the Father is. It is in that manner that He pleads for His own.
All three of these mysteries obtain simultaneously in the depth of Jesus’ soul: He says, I have prayed for thee, before God, against Satan, during the Supper. That is sublime holiness. That is the luminous light of clarity. That is the flame of love. He is a Christ who knows the “sorrows of Satan” in the moment of the Supper and whose most impelling spiritual drives simultaneously fight against that Satan. Again, you see, He appears as the one person who does not suppress; He comes, genuine and authentic in the harmony of His perfect soul. He has room in His heart for all, because He knows that they all (plural) have been required of God by Satan. But He also deals with each person individually. In an especial way a prayer stirs in His soul for Simon. “I have prayed for you (singular), Simon!” Besides the past and the present, the future has a place in His heart. Later, we know, Simon is given a task for the future, and in that charge to the one Peter all are again included and safeguarded: “and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
Such is the complete absence of the sin of “suppression.” Past, present, future; individual and society; deepest depth and highest height; God and Satan; Judas and Simon; a plea for a sentence and a plea for acquittal—all these simultaneously and each in its place, found room in the one soul of the man Jesus Christ.
Truly, such a High-priest became us, was fit for us.
Cautious, bashful in the presence of such human majesty, we step nearer Jesus, and hear Him say: Simon, Simon! When Jesus calls a name twice something momentous is to take place: Martha, Martha; Saul, Saul; Simon, Simon!
And this is tremendously important. Simon, Simon, Satan hath greatly desired to sift thee as wheat.
We must consider four matters: first, the fact that Satan desires; secondly, that Satan desires them all; thirdly, for what end Satan desires them; and, fourthly, in which moment of time Satan does the desiring.
Satan desires. Who can say even the least important thing about that? If the desires of one man can be understood by another only with difficulty, if human wants are hard to delineate, how can we possibly say anything of the depths of Satanic desire? To speak of the sorrows of Satan represents a kind of haughtiness.
Nevertheless, Christ has prophesied concerning these and has asked us to meditate upon them according to His direction.
In a general way, we can state that a sinister purpose, an ominous desire, an active life force Which militates against God lowers in Satan’s being.
But that is not saying all there is to say. God is intrinsically the immutable one, is never in process of “becoming,” is never “evolving.” God is.
Against this eternal fire of holiness beats the smoke of Satan’s thorn-bush. His hate is constantly directed against God—against God as the eternal one.
But God who is immutable in essence reveals Himself also in changing works. The works of God in creation and in regeneration are in process of becoming, do develop, they do pass from strength to greater strength. His work strives to realize a purpose, is of eschatological character, for it is bent upon that catastrophic glorification of the work of redemption at the last day.
In this sense, God has a dual character: the God of being, and the God of action; God as from Eternity He is, and God as He is eschatoiogically in action, as He will one time show Himself to be in the perfected history of revelation, in the great harvest of His completed redemption work. And Satan desires to increasingly militate against this god who is being and who is working. The more God’s being becomes manifest in God’s work, consequently, the more that work becomes manifest in the world, and the more the teleological influences of the kingdom of heaven become active in the world, the more vehemently Satan nurtures desire against God. Satan’s wrath is boundless, particularly when He knows his time is limited (Revelation of John).
Well, if that is so, the night in which Christ was betrayed is a particularly irritating goad at the heels of Satan.
On this night, we must remember, the holiness of God refuses to be confined within itself, or to reveal itself solely in the condemnation of Satan and in the perdition of those who belong to him. This night the holiness of God will extend itself. God’s holiness will begin imperial warfare, designed for expansion. It aims to become manifest in the justification of sinners. By means of twelve apostles it aims to pour itself out upon the church, an institution whose holiness will appear in the institution as such and have its effect there until the last day. To that end God puts to work the eschatological potencies of the coming era. On this night storms rage, hurricanes howl. A whirlwind moves over the universe. Hence this night particularly rankles Satan. Life, this is thy sting.
Such is the genesis of Satan’s desiring.
Just as Christ gave shape and words to His desires in the room of the Passover by expressing them in a prayer, so Satan puts his desires into language throughout the universe (even though that language can only be spiritually understood). His desires attack God’s work. His hot passion burns the fringes of the seven stars. The seven stars are the seven churches. The seven stars represent the completeness of the church. The seven stars are in the room of the Passover, for the apostles are there with Jesus. Now Satan bestirs himself against the churches. He desires things against them — he pronounces his desires in words. He draws up a writ of complaint against the seven churches and turns it in at the Highest Tribunal. He delivers it into God’s hands. Hence, there is a battle of words in the universe: the desire of Jesus (the Defendant) expressed in word, and the desire of Satan (the Plaintiff) also expressed in word, battle against each other.
Consider how significant this is. Christ puts the perfect desiring of the Holy Spirit (dwelling in Him) and that of the genuine soul (which was given Him as man) into words. And those words, the words of the high-priestly prayer, can be heard in every sphere, for they cause the universe to quake. And that word of Christ, rending the clouds as it does, moving the heart of God as it does, also stirs Satan, sets his zeal aflame, and kindles his fervor to such pitch of intensity that he too puts his desire into words. No, his language is not human language; he does not speak an earthly tongue, for that is impossible. God only was made flesh. Satan was not. But to the extent that he is able to do so, Satan makes his wants concretely known to God. He formulates a “prayer.” Jesus says that Satan desires. He desires Jesus’ disciples.
Just before this, in His high-priestly prayer, Jesus had prayed for these disciples. “Father, I pray for them; neither for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” In that way Jesus’ prayer unites the whole church—the seven churches—to the life of the apostles and so bears the whole church to the throne of God on the wings of prayer.
But Satan does not hesitate in this crucial moment. His desire is not created by that of Jesus, but it is fanned into a blaze by it. Precisely in that lies the proof of the fact that he is conquered already. Jesus was ahead of him, was first in desiring God. Nevertheless, irrespective of whether he is losing or not, he still tries to conquer. Such is the essence of Satanic being: to desire the impossible. Thus Satan’s desiring militates against that of Christ.
If we may employ a figure of speech in our effort to designate the spiritual character of Satan’s conflict against Jesus, we would suggest the figure of two broadcasting stations. We know that one such station can dispatch its waves, and that another can send out its waves against those of the first. Just so, a wave of Jesus’ soul has been sent to God; it bears a petition of redemption, it is a fervent plea for those whom the Father has given Him. Meanwhile Satan dispatches His waves from another side of the world. His design is to interfere with the transmission of the message of the Son of man. This is the spiritual warfare, in apocalyptic language called the conflict of spiritual forces in the air. The two forces are two witnesses: the one accuses and the other defends. Both appear before the one Tribunal of God.
Satan desires. He dispatches his messages unintermittently. Gradually his desiring grows fiercer. Finally it becomes a demand.
The real sense of the passage is this: Satan has laid claim on thee. He has asked God to deliver you up to him, my disciples. He has filed his claim, and that claim takes on the absolute character of an ultimatum. For the whole world this is the hour of the ultima ratio. Satan wants God to turn the disciples over to him; he desires, begins to shout it, finally abjures. Is it not true that sin dwells in them? Is Simon essentially different from Judas? Was the Messianic kingdom properly received in their soul? The wages of sin is death, is it not? And death is universal? Yes, yes, Satan desires, claims; tries to drive a wedge into God with the help of God’s own hammer, His Word, in which He binds up death with sin.
We see, in the second place, that Satan lays claim to all of those who are in the room of the Passover with Jesus. He insists that evil accrues to all (the “you” of the text is plural), to all who are of Christ.
As if Satan had no designs upon Christ Himself! Of course, he has: Him he desires most of all.
But Satan cannot avail against Christ. Christ is firm; He stands erect. For that reason Satan directs his attack upon the disciples, the apostles of the future. If he cannot, sever Christ from the church, he can do the other thing: he can sever the church from Christ. Therefore he desires the apostles, for these represent the whole church. By means of their office that church will flourish and live. If these should succumb “the one seed of the woman” would be destroyed. Then the fountain of the church would be stopped. Then Jesus’ side would bleed in vain. Then the four-and-twenty thrones encircling God’s single throne would be vacant throughout eternity, as far as the twelve apostolic chairs were concerned. And — if those twelve apostolic thrones are vacant, the twelve patriarchs, too, will have no right to theirs. In that case everything in heaven and on earth will be confusion.
That is why Satan wants them all.
But Simon especially he would desire. For Simon has periodically been a “satan” in reference to Jesus. Satan knows that if he can tear this seal off Christ’s arm and heart, if he can aggravate “the satanic” in Simon, and suppress other elements in him,
then the fall of Simon will be very disastrous; then the foundation of the church will be torn apart at precisely the corner in which Simon’s stone has been laid.
That point ushers in our third consideration. With what intent, for what purpose, does Satan file claim on Jesus’ disciples with God?
That he may sift them as wheat, we read. He wants to sift them. What is the signification of that figure?
A writer who has first-hand information about Oriental practices because he has been an eye witness to these, tells us that a woman generally manipulated the sieve. This is his record of the process. She “grasps the sieve, half-filled with grain, in both hands. She begins her work, which she carries out with remarkable dexterity, by vehemently shaking the sieve from left to right some six or seven times. Naturally, such shreds of straw and bits of chaff as were still mixed with the grain rise to the surface. Most of these she can take and throw away with her hand. Now she puts the sieve through the motion of a teeter-totter, raising this side first and then that, blowing hard over the screen of her tool all the while. This part of the procedure, executed with special skill, has three results. First: all the dirt, and all the shriveled kernels fall to the ground through the interstices. Second: such straw and chaff as still remain are scattered or brought to rest by her blowing in that part of the sieve which is farthest from her. Third: the good grain remains, heaped up in the center of the sieve, and the bits of stone form a separate mass in that part of the sieve which is nearest her. Thereupon she takes the stones, straw, and chaff out with her hand.”
 Neil, James, Palestina en de Bijbel, J. W. Kok, Kampen, first edition, pp. 77-78 (a second edition has been released).
Sifting wheat in this connection, therefore, represents a violent shaking to and fro in an endeavor by that means to make the separation of the wheat from the chaff so much easier. By the figure which He employs Jesus is pointing to the fact that the awful import of the night which is coming will shake the disciples back and forth as violently as wheat is shaken in a sieve.
But the whole purpose of the sifting is to satisfy Satan’s desire. His purpose is not to take the chaff from the wheat, but to get the wheat out of the chaff. He wants to shake the disciples so violently that they will lose their minds in the night of fear and anxiety. Then—that is, when they hardly know what they are doing, it will be so much easier for him to blow the wheat, to blow what was good in them away, and to retain the bad in them, to keep the chaff. By means of the sifting, in other words, of the suffering, Satan wants the evil, the chaff, to predominate over the wheat, which is good. In his presence the night of suffering now at hand becomes one of demoniacal temptation.
For this purpose he asks a writ of habeas corpus from the Father. He asks that the twelve be delivered into his hands. They are really his, are they not? Or did some one pay a ransom sufficing to buy these eleven Galileans out of Satan’s hands?
The text discriminates nicely in pointing out that Satan desires this sifting as his right, that he files claim to his property now, demands them of God, as though he were their owner already. When grain changed hands in the East the sifting of it became a duty of the buyer, not of the seller. The buyer had to see to it that wheat and chaff, grain and straw become separated. And in this sense, Satan, from the very beginning, acts upon the assumption that he is already the owner of all the wheat which God wishes to gather into His granaries. The harvest is mine, he tells himself. God is not to gain possession of it for the price of the blood of Christ, in order that as buyer He may then take the chaff from the wheat in His own fashion. No, never, never shall God be the buyer of the grain. God, Thou are not warranted in paying Thyself the fee of ransom. The field of souls is the devil’s property. And he will do as he pleases with the wheat and the chaff—such is the fundamental issue in Satan’s conflict against God. The issue does not concern the right to put to the test, to prove, to try the disciples (a sifting designed to bless) nor the right to tempt them (a sifting designed to curse). The basic contention is this: whose property are the disciples? If, as a matter of fact, the field of the world has been sown with evil seed, may God appropriate that field to Himself, subject it to Himself, and proceed to sift its harvest, or will Satan cling to the field as to property legally his? And then—sift its harvest in his fashion?
Satan’s warfare against God is a struggle for the deed of ownership to the world, and in it, to the church.
Jesus knows very well what Satan intends to do after that matter of the deed has been settled. If the field continues under his jurisdiction, the spirit of Rebellion will try to lift the good out of the souls of the heavily oppressed, to keep the bad, in order by such means to curse with eternal sterility the field, which God Himself once planted. Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat!
The fourth question to raise itself is this one: At precisely which moment of time did Satan desire this?
The answer is obvious: At this very moment he desired it.
In order to appreciate the fine shade of distinction in the text, we must remember that in Greek a particular action can be designated in two ways. Sometimes the action is presented as one which takes place completely and instantaneously, and sometimes as one which continues. The Greek language has a way of indicating whether an action is instantaneous or continuous.
The remarkable thing is that in this text Christ points to Satan’s desiring as occurring instantaneously, in a given moment of time. When Christ says: “Satan hath desired to have you,” that form of the verb is used which indicates the instantaneous and not the continuous action. In other words, Christ indicates that Satan’s sinister desires have reached a climax; they take on special poignancy. Even though Satan is not limited by time, he does act in accordance with time sequence because God is carrying out His work in time. The heights and depths of the historical process of God’s redemptive work also describe the curve of Satan’s feverish striving. The stirring of the clear water in the pool of redemption is reflected in the movement of the dark water of hellish passion and activity. In spite of himself Satan has to accommodate himself to God’s times and circumstances. God throws His stone into the water; the circle of its wave goes farther and farther, and at last dashes against the devil. Satan cannot escape the force of the wave of God’s power.
Such is the situation in this instance. First there was the fact of Christ’s prayer. Hence it is impossible for the reaction not to set in; and that reaction is the Satanic “prayer.” Is Christ’s voice raised in prayer? Then you are sure to hear Satan’s voice also, full of a wild passion, and full of that kind of pain which is the portion of him who wants action and can only attain to reaction. Now God’s lightning rends the skies; His thunder roars through the world. It arouses Satan’s spirit strangely, it makes him desire with a new fever; he raises a stronger voice in pleading for what he supposes are his rights.
He pleads before God. He pleads because God pleads. His plea represents reaction. When God makes His legal rights the order of the day, the business of the moment, that day and moment Satan must act. Right versus right, the claims of the one elicit the claims of the other. The counsel for heaven rises; the counsel for hell must jump to his feet. Christ has been named Counsel and Mediator for heaven’s cause, has He? And the Spirit named as His successor after Him? Then Satan will present his own case before God. He lays down his claim; cites law versus law, but laws and precedents all designed to eternally counteract the laws of redemption.
See the line the Scriptures lay down. This, this is Christ’s epilogue, written in response to the prologue of Job. And this is the prologue to Chapter 12 of Revelation in which Satan returns as the “accuser of the brethren.”
No human fabrication, no spurious gospel can achieve such profound and moving depths of authenticity as the Gospel of God achieves in this matter. True, that Gospel tells us of Satan and his griefs, but primarily it tells us of Jesus Christ, who, while He is here in the room of the Passover, experiences the tension and sublime drama of the prologue to Job, of the Apocalypse, and especially of the book of the seven seals.
It is a great comfort to think that the same Goel, that same “one of a thousand,” who had to witness favorably for Job, now is present in the flesh to participate in the spiritual litigation which is shaking the universe. The terror, the dread, suggested in the book of Job, is being fulfilled in our ears today. But the comfort of that book comes with the dread.
You must remember that the Messianic emphasis is very pronounced in the book of Job. Job, when he is surrounded by “devils” in the human form of evil friends, men who continually accuse him, and afford no hope of acquittal, of compassion— Job then speaks up himself, and appeals to the Witness who will plead for him before God. Job is being sifted by both God and Satan, is being hurled to and fro between the rocks of the ages. He had to be placed in the sieve in order to prove in his self the majesty of God. And the Counsel and Witness to whom he appealed will plead poor Job’s cause in His plea before God; He will implore Job’s redemption there. Even when Job succumbs to despair, complains against God, loses all sense of direction, and argues against the Messianic element in his life, even then Elihu appears and by pointing to the Messiah makes room for the Messiah’s Gospel. The Messiah will come and, as “one of a thousand,” will suffer and find atonement for him.
The tension between a Satan who desires to sift as wheat is sifted, on the one hand, and the Witness-Advocate who lets the sifting go on as He intercedes but meanwhile preserves and gives a content to Job’s faith, on the other hand—that tension is present already in the book of Job.
The comfort of that Witness and Advocate becomes perfect now.
When the Jobiad was written the Goel had not yet appeared. Job and Elihu simply strain their eyes in peering into the vague distance where in blurred outlines they distinguish the figure of the Mediator pleading His case in heaven against Satan. But now the Goel, the Witness, the Advocate, the Mediator has appeared in the flesh. Simon, Simon! Job, Job! Elihu, Elihu! See, I am here. I have come today. I have prayed for Simon, I have opposed My intercession to Satan’s accusation. Behold, your Saviour is here.
So Christ comes up through the centuries as the surety for His own. In this moment of crisis, of world-crisis (Joh_12:31) He experiences in His prayers beforehand the fact of His surety which He will seal with His blood after a little while. He has prayed for them; in the spiritual world the cross has already been lifted high.
He prayed for them as a Man of sorrows. By that act He manifested His faith. An attorney who wants to base his plea for the client’s acquittal upon a ransom still to be paid must be very certain that it will be paid.
In His plea for the defense, Christ’s grace is as universal as it is particular. He prays for all those who are present, for He wants to enter them all as documents attesting the fidelity of God. But He is especially sensitive to Peter’s case. For Simon, who spoke satanically at the beginning of the history of the passion will at the feast of Pentecost be the first to allow his spirit, driven by the Spirit of God, to express itself in words. I have prayed for thee, Simon.
Finally, what was it that Jesus prayed? Did He ask that the sifting might stop?
No, He could not pray for that. Job was sifted by both God and Satan. David was driven to action by Satan and by God simultaneously. Paul, later, will be hampered in carrying out his plan for the journey by Satan and by the Spirit, will in the same moment be beaten as with fists by both Satan and Jesus. Just so the disciples are now being sifted by God and by Satan. Simon, Simon, the Father hath desired to have thee, that He may sift thee as wheat. It has to be that way, Simon. Simon, this is the hour of the one great sifting and of the one great separation. Now the chaff will be separated from the wheat; hell will be completely separated from heaven. The syncretism that allows the tares to grow up with the wheat will be broken in principle. The moratorium called Common Grace, allowing tares and grain to flourish together, will be recalled in principle. This night, this cross, Gethsemane, Golgotha, and Christ Himself would be as vain as perfect vanity if the whole world were not bandied back and forth in the conflict between God and Satan.
No, Christ does not ask that the sifting be stricken from God’s or from Satan’s order of the day. Had He prayed that, He would have cursed His hour, would have blasphemed the hour of His death. Could He have asked calm and quiet for the day designated for turbulence and storm? It is true that the priest in Christ lets His love plead for the little ones, but His love for one of these never causes Him to thrust the whole community of His church or the sacred program of the great redemption out of His prayers. Therefore His priestly love does not ask that the disciples be taken out of Satan’s sieve; had He done so the Priest of our confession would have asked that He Himself might escape the anxiousness of that sifting. Then the world, then we, would have been destroyed with Him.
Christ asks the Father for another, a different thing. He knows that Satan is but the second, that God is the first cause of the sifting. Therefore He turns to God asking that faith may not abate—May they remain in Thy hands, Father! Thou dost sift; and Satan sifts. But Thy method is not his!—Satan wants to keep the chaff and blow the wheat, away. Christ would retain the wheat and take the chaff out of it. By sifting, Satan wants to suppress the good by the evil; Christ, also by sifting, would overcome evil with good. And now — Father, into Thy hands I commend their spirit. Let them go out now. Keep their faith steadfast, guard over the field of their soul. Do it, O God, for Thee, for Thee alone.
In that way Christ exercises His prayer over-against Satan. He prays loudly, aggressively. His prayer, too, like that of Satan, represents instantaneous, not continuous, action. His prayer is a cry this time, cutting its way through the air. Father, it says, they believe; help Thou their unbelief . . .
That prayer leaves only one way open to mankind. Jesus prays. Who can refuse to pray with Him?
Our whole being must rise up to pray with Him now. We must pray that He hasten to the cross. For that is plainly His own desire. We must take Him at His word as He spoke it in prayer. His intercession by means of the spoken word must give way to the deed now. Christ in His prayer pronounced “Amen” upon His own sacrifices, still to be made. May He make haste now to draw the “Amen” out of the throat of the angels and of the entire church, in order that He may stamp it as a seal upon the deed which because of His faith is acceptable to God beforehand.
Jesus prayed. By prayer He took His own cross out of God’s hand, and loosed the Spirit from God’s heart. The cross was for His own use; the Spirit, who preserves the faith, was for our benefits. Jesus prayed—how dire the need for that.
But we can be comforted. Each day Satan still pleads in opposition to Christ; he still tries to name that uncertain in heaven which is really fixed and assured. But his present efforts are as futile as the former attempt—he is trying the impossible.
The comfort is not such, however, that, because of Christ’s intercession by word and deed, we can rest upon it, as we rest our heads upon a pillow. Moments of tension, crises—these remain in the world. Crises, we know, require sifting.
When the winds of Satan blow against the ark, threatening to crush its sides, God’s winds, we know, also blow and quickly impel the vessel beyond the treachery of cliff and mountain. His love lifts the ark above danger—we know that, and it is certain —but it is blowing hard just the same!
In our day the breakers of Satan’s jealousy and hate blow against the church, the tiny vessel which is the church; and again we know that God will cause His winds to blow it beyond the crags and rocks. But again—the fact is that it is blowing hard; there is a bad storm! Intercession and intervention point unerringly to the judgment, to a crisis.
As for Simon! And as for us? What must Simon do; what shall we do?
Simon does not know just yet. He needs a Mediator who prays for him first, and afterwards opens his eyes to see the nature of this spiritual conflict. Not until later will Simon understand.
And we, Lord, we are no better. Afterwards, not until afterwards, shall we understand.
However, since we know, since we are sure that Christ must still present His cross in heaven daily, as He intercedes for us, therefore each day is oppressive for us. We may very well count our days, for He who intercedes for us ascribes great importance to them. Intercession is inconceivable without a process of segregation. It introduces the principle of segregation into the world. Intercession puts the seven to work.
But let that suffice. All our thinking finally rests in the prayer of Jesus. Thinking, our thinking—that finally leads to supralapsarianism.
Job was sifted solely because God took delight in it. God delighted to demonstrate in Job His perfect fidelity to Himself, and to demonstrate that to the least deserving spectator. Precisely so the disciples and the whole communion of the church are thrown into the sieve for the sole purpose of demonstrating God’s honor, of preserving His authentic dignity before the eye of Satan. Whoever traces the word “sifting” back to the eternal verities of God must end in what the church humbly calls supralapsarianism.
But if our thoughts are led to an impasse that way, we can listen to this infralapsarian utterance: I have prayed for thee. I have found atonement. I entered into thy need, my people; I lived it with you in my soul. I have gone through all the qualities of it with you, and I who speak am a man, like you in all things. But I am also the eternal God. Hence, God by me spoke to you today in an infralapsarian manner. In the direct need of your soul I was sensitive to the need. I have prayed for you.
Now everything is good for us.
When I look upon it from God’s side I can only think of the sifting in a supralapsarian way. Then God experiences a peace which annihilates me, is the alpha of my sifting and the omega of all of my suffering. For that which was last in my suffering (the omega of my sifting) was the first element in His decision (the alpha of His counsel).
But when I listen to Christ, who is the Word become Flesh, praying for me, I hear in that the infralapsarian equivalent. Then that which was the alpha of God’s counsel becomes an omega also, an omega in Jesus’ human soul. My alphas are His; my omegas are His. His mouth learns to read God’s sublime script together with my mouth. Perhaps I am a mere child: Perhaps I cannot read, but can simply spell. He spells out the words with me. In all my anxiety He is anxious—just now He prayed for me.
Now I want to rest in Him. Now supra- and infralapsarianism have merged in temporal and eternal union, have merged in the cross and in the prayer of the Priest of my confession, Jesus Christ. Now I would rest in Him.