When Faith is Tested - Luke 22:31-38

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It is a fact of life: people make promises they can’t keep. We promise a friend who is moving away that we will keep in touch but we don’t. A doctor may promise to “fix you right up” and not be able to do so. A politician may promise sweeping change and be unable to bring that change about. A man and woman may promise “till death do us part” and still end up divorced. We promise to uphold someone in prayer and we forget. We may even promise to construct something and not be able to raise the money.

When we make such statements we usually mean what we say. Our intention is to do what we say we are going to do. However, sometimes circumstances and pressures come upon us for which we were not prepared.

Keep this in mind this morning as we look at Luke 22:31-38. In this passage Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times before alarm clocks go off in the morning. It is a sad story but it is one that hits closer to home than we would like to think.

Times of Testing Will Come

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Notice three things in this text. First, Jesus calls Peter by his given name (Simon) rather than by the name that Jesus had given him (Peter or “Rock”). The name is repeated which means Jesus is underscoring the importance of Peter hearing what He is saying. It is possible that Jesus calls Him Simon because Peter was soon going to act like he did before He met Jesus. I can't help but wonder if Jesus is speaking to Peter like a teacher might speak to a student who is talking in class. The second time the name is spoken a little louder.  Or maybe it is like when your mom uses your middle name. I don't know.

The second thing to notice is something we don’t see by reading the text. When Jesus says, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” He uses the plural form of “you”. This means Peter is not Satan’s only target. Satan desires to test and push all of the disciples. He wants to separate the disciples from Jesus like a harvester would separate wheat and chaff.

Third, notice that Satan had to ask before he could put pressure on the disciples. Satan is a formidable foe but he is still under the Lord’s authority. We see a similar thing in the book of Job. Satan had to have God’s permission to test Job.

That raises a tough question, doesn’t it? Why didn’t God simply say “No”? The only answer that makes any sense is that God allows Satan to assault His followers because it accomplishes God’s greater agenda and purpose. Satan intended to gain followers for himself, God knew the testing would make these men stronger.

James wrote to the early church,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

It is not a question of “if” we will be tested, it is when.  Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation“. Times of testing are a part of life. These tests come in many forms: health problems, relationship turmoil, job frustrations, or unexpected (and sometimes unrealistic) demands from others. Satan picks the trial he believes is a match for our greatest weakness.

Think about the coach who puts some really tough schools on the schedule. The coach does not put those teams on the schedule because he likes seeing his team get creamed. No, he puts them on the schedule because he knows that playing more difficult teams will make his team better. They will have to concentrate more and work harder in preparation. The payoff will be great.

We Must Guard Against Overconfidence

After the warning from Jesus, Peter said,

“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (33-34)

In parallel accounts it is even more forcefully stated. Peter says, “Look, these other guys might deny you . . . but not me.”

William Barclay has some insightful words or warning,

If a man says, “That is one thing I will never do,” that is often the very thing against which he must most carefully guard. Again and again castles have been captured because the attackers took the route which seemed unattackable and unscalable and at that very spot the defenders were off their guard. Satan is subtle. He attacks the point at which a man is too sure of himself, for there he is likeliest to be unprepared[1]

If we want to stand in the time of testing the first requirement is to realize that we are vulnerable. It is easy to look down our nose at others. Every time we see someone stumble it is important for us to realize that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”  The best antidote is to be fervent in prayer and diligent in taking precautions.

Be careful about time spent with members of the opposite sex

Refuse to “borrow money” from work

Be uncompromising in truth-telling

Don’t let Anger fester and grow

Listen carefully to friends who are trying to warn you about certain behaviors.

Take precautions so we do not become obsessed with our job and let it control our life.

Speak calmly rather than rashly

Make sure extracurricular activities do not take over your life and move you away from the Lord.

Do a daily personal inventory of your life with the Lord. Be intentional about your spiritual growth.

Military units drill constantly to maintain readiness. Hospitals and schools regularly have disaster drills so they can be ready for the times of crisis. Athletic teams drill on fundamentals every day so they will react appropriately in the time of pressure. This is what we need to do. Peter was not a bad man. He was however, a man who let down his guard and became vulnerable.

Trying Times Teach us Valuable Lessons 

For some reason the Lord gave permission to the test even though He knew what was going to happen. Peter greatly underestimated the power and resourcefulness of Satan. Perhaps some lessons can only be learned the hard way.

Jesus told Peter, “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” I believe as you look at the life and writings of Peter you see that Peter took these words to heart. In 1 Peter 5:8-9 he wrote,

8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Peter spoke from experience. Those who have failed or have been wounded, have a new compassion for those who struggle, and a new appreciation for the dangers of temptation.

Don’t miss the practical impact of these words. There are some here who have failed miserably and perhaps publicly. You may feel that your value is diminished and your ability to serve is limited. You may think of yourself as “damaged goods”. Peter shows us that both of those conclusions are wrong. Instead of hiding from your failures, study them! If we do not learn from our mistakes we will likely repeat them. Trace the steps that led to your failure and then take note so that you do not travel down that path again.

Jesus encouraged Peter to use his failure to encourage others. We can help others avoid the mistakes we’ve made. We can do at least two things.  First, we can strengthen others by being honest about our sin. This is different from bragging about our sin. Some people seem to relish talking about the sinfulness of their past. They talk about their past failures much like they talk about their sports prowess in High School. They are bragging!

There is nothing good about sin!  I am sure that to the day of his death Peter regretted his denial. He would have done anything to go back to that day and undo what he did.

The proper way to talk about our failures is with a humble brokenness. We refer to our sin only so we can show what has been learned from the failures. We need to warn our friends and try to steer them away from the heartache that we experienced.

Second, we can encourage others by showing people the effects of God’s restorative power in our lives. When one who has failed then is able to serve the Lord fully and effectively it encourages others. It is a reminder that failure is not final. Our message to others is simple: God restores broken people. Grace is not for the righteous; it is for sinners! No one communicates that message more effectively than one who has felt the sting of failure in their own lives. God wants us as a church and as  individuals to believe in “new beginnings”. Though the rest of the world may toss people aside when they have failed, we should be there to help someone get up and begin again.

Wisdom Demands Preparation

In verse 35 the subject seems to suddenly change. I think Eugene Peterson does a good job of paraphrasing the words in the Message,

Then Jesus said, “When I sent you out and told you to travel light, to take only the bare necessities, did you get along all right?”

          “Certainly,” they said, “we got along just fine.”

He said, “This is different. Get ready for trouble. Look to what you’ll need; there are difficult times ahead. Pawn your coat and get a sword. What was written in Scripture, ‘He was lumped in with the criminals,’ gets its final meaning in me. Everything written about me is now coming to a conclusion.” (35-37 The Message)

Jesus is telling us something very practical here. He wants His disciples to know that they are entering a battlefield. It’s the same kind of thing I imagine a commanding officers saying to new solders: “Boot camp is over. We are heading into battle. Grab your gear and make sure you are ready to fight!” A football coach may say the same thing. “Practice is over; now we must get into the trenches and play the game.”

Jesus understood what was going to happen to Him. He quoted Isaiah 53:12 to show that he understood that he was going to be treated as a criminal. The disciples needed to be prepared because they were going to be treated as criminals also. Jesus told the men to do whatever they had to do to be prepared. This really wasn’t about swords . . . it was about preparation. The sword is a metaphor for readiness.

In Ephesians 6 the Apostle Paul told believers to

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

If Peter could talk to us today I believe he would say: the time for lackadaisical faith has passed. We must get into the game. It’s time to be diligent about obedience. It is time to make tough choices and eliminate things that draw us (and our families) from Him. Peter gives some specific advice in his letters.

First, You need to think through your own faith. Peter said,

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16)

We live at a time when many people have no idea as to the message of the gospel. People today are confused. They have questions. Much of their Bible knowledge has come from TV and the movies (and it is usually wrong). Most of these people have honest questions (some are just antagonistic) and we should be prepared to give honest and intelligent answers.

The Christian faith is not contrary to reason! The person who has thought through the issues of morality, design, and the inner yearnings of our hearts will come to see that the message of Christianity is the only message that makes any sense. We don’t have to be contentious. We don’t have to convince others; the Holy Spirit is the one who will do that. However, we need to be prepared.

How do we get prepared? Let me give you some ideas:

Know your Bible. Don’t bluff. Be accurate. Your credibility is at stake.

Educate yourself. Be regular in worship. Get involved in Sunday School. Participate in a Bible Study. Read good Christian books. Here’s a quick reading list to get you started,

The Case for Christ by Lee Stroebel

The Reason for God by Tim Keller

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell

Stop being afraid. The Gospel is not irrational! There are tough issues (and some things we do not understand) but the message of the gospel makes sense. You might not have the answer for every question but that does not mean there are not answers! It is OK to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question. Let me find out for you.”

Second we must be self-controlled. Peter says we must “be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Peter 4:7). This means we should be striving to live spiritually disciplined lives and part of that discipline is prayer. Perhaps you have learned like I have that it is only through discipline that I can pray. I struggle with this discipline because it seems like there is always something else that distracts.

Some people discipline themselves in the area of physical fitness. They exercise regularly and they watch what they eat carefully. Most are disciplined in their job so that they don’t find themselves to be obsolete in a quickly changing world. Some are disciplined in their finances and work hard to live a little below their means. Sadly, few people seem to show any discipline in their spiritual lives. Our pursuit of the things of God is too often haphazard and half-hearted. Peter speaks from experience as one who was unprepared: we must be disciplined!

Develop a regular quiet time. Set aside time for prayer. Be regular in worship. Don’t neglect spiritual fellowship. Find someone who can mentor you in the faith.

Third, we must love each other.  I think this is especially directed to our lives as brothers and sisters in Christ. We need each other. Peter said,

8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:8-10)

Sometimes we fall into a trap and think that our spiritual lives are personal and separated from our “regular lives”. That is as foolish as saying I don’t need the other people on the team or I don’t need to work together with my military unit.  Our greatest strength in the battle after the Lord and His Word is each other! There really is strength in numbers. We must love in practical ways

In a way that forgives others

In a way that provides for each other (without grumbling)

In a way that serves each other

When we love each other we “administer God’s grace in its various forms”. When we love each other we bring strength to the times of weariness, comfort to times of heartache, renewal in the time of failure, and power in the time of testing. When we do these things we are extending grace to each other. We must guard against pettiness, arrogance, jealousy and a judgmental spirit. When we get to know each other, pray for each other, and cheer for each other we will be ready for the battle.

Maybe you feel you would never deny Jesus. Maybe you believe you would never be tempted to great sin in areas of your life. You may even believe you could never find yourself in a place of compromise that denies your faith.

I know you are sincere. You mean what you say. But please, take a lesson from Peter. Do not be unprepared. Do not overestimate your strength or underestimate the strength of Satan. Let’s be attentive, let’s be disciplined, and let’s get ready for the battle that will be here sooner than we think.

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