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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:A war of words
Text:Luke 22:31-32a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs: Ps. 43:1,3,4; Ps. 51:6; Ps. 46:3,4,5; Hy. 41:3; Hy. 27:1,2,4

Reading: Luke 22:1-34

Text: Luke 22:31-32a
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

If you have been at all following the Olympics in Salt Lake City, you will know that beside the incredible feats of athleticism, there's also a lot of politics. Judges being pressured. Nations up in arms about refereeing. Countries threatening to pull out of the Olympics. A war of words.

It's not the only war of words being played out in the world today. There is President Bush's war of words. He speaks against what he has identified as "an axis of evil." And he threatens that if a country does not identify with the US and its allies, then he will assume that it is identifying with the axis of evil. Wars of words going on in the world.

There's another war of words going on. A war of words going on in the universe. A war of words between Satan and the Lord Jesus. Satan screaming. The Lord Jesus praying.

The point of the war? The church. Satan screaming for the church. Wanting to shake our faith in Christ. The Lord Jesus, praying for the church-praying that our faith may not fail.

I proclaim to you God's Word under this theme:


1. Satan's demand to have the disciples; 2. Christ's prayer to protect the disciples.

1. Satan's demand to have the disciples.

The Lord Jesus spoke the words of our text immediately after he had instituted the Lord's Supper. It was on the night of his last Passover-the night in which he was betrayed. It was Thursday evening, the day before He would be hanged on the cross.

He had called his 12 disciples together to celebrate the Passover. He had given them the bread and the wine and said: This is my body; this is my blood. But He had some very disturbing news. "One of you is a traitor. Satan has entered the heart of one of you. And woe to that man who is going to betray me."

That was very disturbing for the disciples-to think that one of them was controlled by Satan and was going to betray the Master. Unthinkable!

But then the Lord Jesus had more upsetting things to say. And He addressed especially Simon Peter. He said, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat."

The Lord Jesus called Peter "Simon". He didn't call him "Peter" which means "rock". Remember, in Matt. 16, when Simon Peter made his confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Then Jesus said, "You are Peter, and upon this rock (nl. the rock of your confession) I will build my church."

That was Peter the rock. Now the Lord Jesus addressed Simon-Simon, who was weak in himself. Simon, who, but for the grace of God, was not at all a man of stability, not at all a rock.

The Lord said his name twice: Simon, Simon. Whenever the Lord called someone by name twice, then we can know that he was about to say something extra special. Earlier the Lord had said: Martha, Martha, don't be anxious about the things of this world. Later he would say: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? And now he said Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.

The Lord Jesus addressed especially Simon Peter, but he warned that Satan demanded to have all the disciples. The word "you" is in the plural. You may have a footnote in your Bible telling you that. We could translate, "Satan asked (or demanded) to have all of you."

Satan laid claim to all those who were in the upper room with the Lord Jesus. He wanted each of the disciples. He already had Judas. He had filled Judas' heart, and Judas had not resisted. He had given way. But Satan was not content with having one of the disciples. He wanted all twelve of them.

What does that mean that Satan wants to have someone? Satan's desire is motivated by only one thing, and that is hatred. He hates God with a hatred which we are not able to understand. His hatred is constantly directed at God and God's plan. God has an eternal plan which He is unfolding in history. The eternal plan of God has a purpose, a definite goal. And that plan is the salvation of His elect children through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. God's purpose is to glorify Himself by gathering His elect up into His eternal kingdom at the end of time.

The devil can't stand this plan of God. He can't stand the idea that God is saving those whom He has chosen to save. He hates it with a complete hatred. He fights against this plan. In the beginning Satan tried to destroy God's creation by successfully tempting Adam and Eve. However, he did not succeed in destroying creation. God had a plan to send His Son to redeem it. But now Satan does all he can to destroy God's re-creation. He tries to wreck the recreating work which God works in the hearts and lives of those who love Him.

If God is creating something, Satan is there too trying to destroy it. If God is recreating something, the devil will be there too throwing his hellish garbage at it.

That's the way Satan works. If God acts; the devil reacts. God acts to save His church; Satan reacts to destroy the church. And so now he demands to have the church. She's mine, he insists. He demands that the disciples be hauled into the courtroom, pronounced guilty, and turned over to him.

A war of words. Satan, the accuser, brings charges against the disciples despite the defense mounted by the Lord Jesus.

Earlier that evening the Lord had prayed for the disciples. The prayer is found in John 17. The Lord asked the Father to keep his disciples safe from the evil one. He pled for his disciples and for us. For John 17:20 says, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message..." In other words, he prayed for the church of all ages. For all those who would come to faith in him because of the testimony of the disciples. The high priest Jesus lifts up the church on the wings of his prayer and sets her down at the feet of God.

And that drives Satan crazy. It puts him into a frenzy. He reacts violently to this action of the Lord Jesus. He is angered to fever pitch that Jesus has prayed the Father to protect the church. This prayer of Jesus fans Satan's flame of desire into a blaze. You see, he knows he is conquered. He knows he has lost. And yet, Satan demands the church. There you have the essence of Satanic desire-to demand the impossible-to have what he can't have.

Satan tries to block the prayer of Jesus. During the heyday of communism, there were always western radio broadcast stations which sent radio signals into eastern Europe-into Russia and other countries suffering under the communist regimes. The communist governments would try to block these radio transmissions with their own signals so that they couldn't be heard by people in their countries.

Well, that's what Satan tries to do. He tries to block the prayer of the Lord Jesus. He screams and shouts and demands so that the Father will not hear the prayer of Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote about that in his letter to the Ephesians (at the end of the letter). He wrote that the conflict in which we are involved is not one of flesh and blood. It is against principalities, against powers, against world rulers of darkness; it is against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

That's the conflict taking place. Beyond the struggle that goes on in the heart of each of us is the spiritual war raging between Jesus Christ and Satan. That war which is a war of words-Jesus praying for the safety of his disciples; Satan demanding to have them.

Jesus says: Keep them in Your Name, Holy Father. Sanctify them in the truth. Love them. Gather them up to be with You. Satan says: I claim them for myself. They're mine. They're sinners, aren't they? They're full of original sin and actual sins. And the wages of sin is death, isn't it? They're totally depraved, aren't they? They're no different from Judas. Judas is mine; so are they.

Why is Satan so desperate to have all of the disciples? Why isn't he content with only Judas? Because if he gets all of the disciples, then he's got the whole church. Then he would have severed the church from Christ her head. The disciples represented the whole church. They were the men Jesus would send out into the world to preach, to teach and to baptize. If he could get them, then he would have destroyed the seed of the woman. Then he would have won the ages old battle between himself and his arch enemy, God. Then the seed of the serpent would have come out as the victor. Then the blood would flow out of the side of Jesus the next evening for nothing. It would all be in vain.

Satan wants all twelve disciples, but he wants Simon most of all. Simon had already been a "satan" to Jesus at least once. Earlier when the Lord had told his disciples that he would have to suffer and die, Simon Peter had said, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" Then Jesus turned and said, "Get behind me, Satan! "You are a stumbling block to me." The devil knew that if he could get Peter away from the side of Jesus, then the rock would be gone. Then the beautiful confession of Peter would be worthless. Then no church could be built on the foundation of Peter and his confession.

For what purpose does Satan want the disciples? Why does he want them? What does he want to do with them? He wants them in order to sift them like wheat.

Wheat, after it was harvested, was sifted in a large sieve. Such a sieve would have a frame and string or reeds crisscrossing back and forth. The person would hold the sieve in his hand, fill it with grain, and shake it back and forth very violently. The grain would separate from the chaff. All the dirt would fall through the bottom of the sieve. The pieces of straw and the twigs would rise to the top and could easily be removed. And the person operating the sieve would blow across it in order to blow away the dust. In this way, only the good grain would remain in the sieve.

That's what Satan wants to do to the disciples. He wants to throw them into his sieve and bounce them around. And that night they would be bounced back and forth. They would be thrown around violently. Their faith would be tested to the breaking point. He would tempt them to forsake their God so that he could blow them away like chaff.

Their master would be arrested. They would flee from him. They would see him being abused by the Roman soldiers. Peter would deny the Lord Jesus three times, even calling God as his witness. Swearing under oath that he did not know Jesus of Nazareth. They would see him die on the cross. They would bury him and mourn his death. Satan would tempt them to lose their faith, to give up hope, to turn their backs on Jesus once and for all.

Satan claimed them in order to sift them. He claimed them as if they belonged to him-as if he had legal title to them.

In those days it was the buyer who sifted the wheat. The seller sold it unsifted and whoever bought it would have to sift out the chaff. Satan said to God: "The harvest belongs to me. I have the right to sift it. They're sinners. You haven't bought them. No ransom was paid." He wants the church firmly in his grip before God buys the wheat.

And so the basic issue is not: Who has the right to put to the test; or who has the right to tempt? No, the basic contention is: Who owns the field which has both wheat and chaff in it? Who owns the earth which has both the church and the world in it? Who has legal claim to the wheat and, therefore, the right to do the sifting? Satan's warfare against God is a struggle for the deed of ownership to the whole world, and in it, to the church.

This struggle has gone on since the beginning-since Satan the angel revolted against God and since man fell into sin. At that point Satan claimed the whole world for himself. Today too he claims the whole world for himself. Today too he points at us and says to God: those people there, they're mine. They're sinners, aren't they? In the corruption of their hearts they're no better than Judas. Give them a chance, and they'll betray Jesus Christ. They'll deny him.

There was a time when Satan would have been right. There was a time when we did belong to him. But no more. Today we belong with body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ who has fully paid for all our sins with His precious blood, and who has set us free from all the power of the devil.

Jesus Christ has mediated for us, and today he still intercedes for us. He prays to His Father that our faith might not fail.

2. Christ's prayer to protect the disciples.

We might get scared to think that Satan demands to have us-that he presents to God a claim that states: They are mine! Perhaps the thought that Satan wants to sift us like wheat only to blow us away like chaff fills us with fear.

But we ought not to be scared, for Christ prays for us. Christ says, "But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail." That little word "but" describes, in one word, the good news of Jesus Christ. Satan wants the disciples of Christ, but Jesus has prayed for them.

But how could Jesus pray to God before he had died on the cross? How could he pray before he had paid for our sins? He could pray because he knew that on the following day he would go to the cross. He could pray because he was completely subservient to the will of his Father. He could pray for his church because he did not despise the shame of the cross. He went to the cross willingly; He laid down his life voluntarily.

And what did the Lord Jesus pray? Did he pray that the sifting might stop? Did he pray that his church might have an easy life, free from all trial and tribulation? No, he didn't. God, in his wisdom, allows Satan to bounce his children around. The supreme example of this is Job. Satan certainly had Job in his sifter, and for a long time. He did everything he could to get Job to curse God. It was Satan shaking Job, but only because God allowed him to.

Satan thrust a thorn deep into the flesh of the apostle Paul. Paul called it "a messenger of Satan." And yet he could only do so because God allowed him to. Satan tried to destroy Paul's faith with the thorn; God used it to make Paul stronger. God used it to teach Paul that His grace alone was sufficient for him.

And so we too often feel this sifting back and forth. And we feel it in different ways. Satan tempts us. He tries to make us deny the master and curse God. And this sifting has to happen. The world is full of wheat and chaff. The wheat and the chaff have to be separated.

The conflict between God and Satan would come to a head on Thursday night in the garden of Gethsemene when Jesus himself would be tempted to give up. It would come to a climax on Friday afternoon when Jesus was hanging on the cross. But Jesus fought God's battle to the bitter end. The battle over who owns the church was won that afternoon. Christ paid for us, body and soul, on the cross. We belong to him and his Father.

But that doesn't mean that the sifting is over. We still live in the world and the world is still being thrown around in the sieve. In his prayer, in John 17, Christ prayed to his Father, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."

And we may be very comforted by that prayer. We may be greatly encouraged that the Lord Jesus Christ prayed that our faith may not fail. Not that we think we have it made in the shade, can just relax because, well, you know, Christ has done it all for us anyway. The conflict, the sifting is still happening. Let's be aware of that. Satan still screams in opposition to Christ. He still brings our sins and our weaknesses to God's attention. But, his efforts are futile. He is trying the impossible. He is trying to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And that he cannot do.

But, we must be careful. There's no room for complacency. We must be very aware that Satan is still out to get the bride of Christ. Moments of tension, of crisis, of temptation, of tribulation still exist and will continue to exist for the church. Satan is blowing against us trying to make us disappear like chaff. However, through that crisis and trial, God is gathering up the wheat.

Let us have an eye for that spiritual conflict still going on today. Don't be complacent. Don't think that you're okay on your own. For then you will blow away like chaff.

Keep your eye on the work of Jesus Christ. Know that he is the only anchor for our souls-the anchor firmly fixed in heaven, in the presence of God. Keep your ear open for his prayer. For he still prays for his church, for us. He prays that our faith may not fail. He prays to His Father that we might remain faithful to him throughout all the sifting of Satan. And that we might see the way of escape he opens whenever we are tempted by Satan.

Place all your trust, your hope, your faith in the cross of your Saviour and in the prayer of your High Priest. And then, rest in Him.

There's a war of words going on in the universe. But the Word of Christ abides forever. The prince of darkness is powerful. But we are not scared of him. We can endure his rage. The right man, Jesus Christ, is on our side. The devil's doom is sure. On the day of Christ, our Lord will speak the last word-the word that will send the devil and his host to hell forever.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. George van Popta

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