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SIFTED LIKE WHEAT

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, February 21, 2016

“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: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).


When I was young I let people call me “Bob.” But I never liked it. Those who knew me best, and loved me, always called me “Robert.” I have had people call out “Bob” without me realizing they were calling me! Sometimes I didn’t even turn my head! But if anyone called out, “Robert” I would always turn around and see who it was. Not long ago I heard a woman say “Robert” in a crowd. I went to her right away and said, “Yes.” She said, “Oh, I was calling my little boy!” If you want to get my attention, call me by my childhood name, the name my mother always used. That’s the way Jesus called Peter. He was Simon Peter. A lot of people just called him “Peter.” But Jesus wanted his full attention – so He said “Simon, Simon.” Jesus was going to tell Peter something extremely important. He wanted Peter’s full attention. And now the Lord gives him this important message.

“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: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

I. First, let’s think about the sifting itself.

The word “Satan” means “adversary” or “enemy.” Is this a warning for Peter only? No, it was for all His Disciples, and for each of us too. Jesus said, “Satan desires to have you.” The word “you” there is plural in the Greek text. So it is a warning to all of us, whether we are converted or not.

“Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31).

Dr. John Gill (1697-1771) said “sift you as wheat” means “to toss them to and fro as wheat is in a sieve; that is to afflict and distress them by scattering them both from Christ, and one another.” Satan had already taken control of Judas, “Then entered Satan into Judas” (Luke 22:3) – and now Satan wants to sift Peter and the others, in an attempt to scatter them.

This is a reminder of what Satan did to Job. Satan requested permission from God to “sift” Job. By God’s grace Job endured the sifting. But, unlike Job, Peter denied Christ three times before he was converted. Peter is a type of an unconverted person being sifted. Job is a type of a Christian being sifted. But make no mistake – every person (whether saved or not) will be sifted by Satan.

How are unsaved people sifted? Christ gave the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-15) to show how Satan sifts the unsaved. Those by the wayside are those who hear the preaching, “then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). The Devil knows how to “take away” the word from your heart. I have known people who heard Gospel preaching for years. But they didn’t think about it afterwards. They treat it like a TV show. As soon as the program is over they turn off the TV and forget all about the show. A lot of people do that with preaching. They forget about it right away – the Devil plucks away the sermon from their hearts. We give you a word-for-word printout of every sermon, but you toss it away and never think of it again.

Then there are those who are really happy to hear the Gospel. But they “have no root” – which means they have not entrusted themselves to Christ. It’s just a superficial joy that they feel. They say “Oh, the young people are so nice in that church!” “The music was so inspiring.” “The preacher is very interesting.” But since they have no root in Christ they only seem to believe for a while. But in time of temptation they fall away from the church.

The third group are those who seem to be saved. But they are choked with the “cares and riches and pleasures of this life.” So they remain lost.

The fourth group are those who are truly saved. They alone hear “the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).

These are the four kinds of people who visit our church. The only ones who are truly saved are those in the fourth group. But, listen! Satan “sifts” all four groups! It doesn’t take much “sifting” for the Devil to get most people. He plucks the word out of their hearts as soon as they hear the sermon!

The Devil has to work a little bit harder to “sift” the second group. These are people who enjoy being in our church. They like the music, they are interested in the preaching, they enjoy the lunch we give them, and the birthday party! But then the Devil comes to them and tests them. But when they are tested they fall away – and stop coming to church. Finally, there are those who last longer, maybe for years, but then the Devil “sifts” them “by life’s worries, money, and pleasures.” These also lose their souls to the Devil.

Every unsaved person is tried, tempted and sifted by the Devil. The Devil’s sifting keeps most lost people in his clutches – as his slaves. Only a small number of people are truly converted. All people are tested by the Devil – but very few people pass the test and are converted by God, and washed clean from their sins in the Blood of Jesus. Don’t forget that. Everyone is tested and tempted by the Devil. But only a small number actually get past the Devil and are saved by Jesus Christ! “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Everyone will be sifted by the Devil. But only the elect will be saved. Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

But, wait! All true Christians are sifted also – even after they are converted. Satan desires to sift you too. Remember the Devil had to ask God’s permission before he could sift Job. And God permitted Satan to sift that godly man (Job 1:6-12).

I say to you that every Christian is sifted by Satan. Satan plucks away the Word of God and we forget God’s promises. Satan sends strong temptations and sorrows and we feel like quitting. Satan whips us up and down. An old spiritual says it well,

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down,
Oh, yes, Lord.
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground,
Oh, yes, Lord.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Nobody knows but Jesus.
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Glory, Hallelujah!
      (“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” author unknown, published 1867).

A few days ago Dr. Cagan told me, “Sometimes I have felt like a dead man. Sometimes I couldn’t get out of my chair.”

It takes a really tough man to be a preacher. Very few men can do it – especially in these evil days. You young people will never know. I heard a preacher say, “You have to have a skin as tough as a rhinoceros and a heart as tender as a dove.” You have to walk alone. Nobody understands a God-called preacher. If you are good and true, and do it right, they will think you are weird. Few men are tough enough to take that! You have to hear everybody’s troubles, but you have very few people to tell your troubles to. You break your heart and you break your health to build up a church. Then your children look at you and wonder why you did it. In most churches if your children are bad, people blame you. If they are good, they praise your wife. The preacher is always wrong, always badmouthed, always hated, seldom praised or loved. Do you think the Devil sifts you? Try being a preacher! You preach your heart out on Sunday night. Then you go home and wonder if you will have anything to say next Sunday. It takes a special kind of man to be a real preacher. You have to be able to pick yourself up when you are flat on the ground. You have to be able to pray when you don’t feel God’s presence. You have to inspire people to live for Christ when you feel like quitting. And it goes on year after year.

I took a week’s vacation last month. But I read a whole book on revival and prepared a sermon while I was there. You young people don’t know. It takes a special person to be a pastor. He does hand to hand combat with Satan every day in the spiritual realm. Not once in a while – but every day. And yet I have to agree with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He said, "The work of preaching is the highest and greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called" (Preaching and Preachers). But you do get sifted – sometimes every day – sometimes more than once in a day. Yet I would never trade this calling for anything else in all the world!

Some sifting happens to the best of Christians. You may be sifted so hard that you think you can’t go on – and yet somehow you do go on, if you are one that God has elected. I was sifted so hard that I stopped going to church for a short time before I was converted. At some of the junctures of my life I have walked alone at night, thinking I could not go on. Any seemingly good preacher or strong Christian who says he has never experienced any of that is a liar! Yes, a liar! Nobody sails into Heaven without going through the fire! Nobody! To be very honest with you, I can say that sometimes I am amazed at the fact that I am still here in this pulpit preaching 58 years after God first called me to preach! If you are one of God’s elect you will not be able to quit – no matter how hot the fiery trials become. Peter himself spoke of that. He said, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (I Peter 4:12). He knew! He had been sifted by Satan! He knew! He had been through the fire! He knew! Jesus had prayed for him and saved him!

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
   My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
   Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
(“How Firm a Foundation,” “K” in Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787).

Though Satan should buffet, Tho’ trials should come,
   Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
   And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul,
   It is well, it is well with my soul.
(“It Is Well With My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford, 1828-1888).

Mr. H. G. Spafford wrote that after two tragedies. He was a wealthy businessman who lost everything in the great Chicago fire of 1871. A few months later all four of his daughters were drowned in a shipwreck on the Atlantic Ocean. A few weeks later Mr. Spafford wrote that song with tears streaming down his cheeks,

Though Satan should buffet, Tho’ trials should come,
   Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
   And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul,
   It is well, it is well with my soul.

Peter thought he could live a Christian life. It seemed easy. He said to Jesus,

“Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33).

But that same night he sinned grievously when he denied Christ three times. Then “Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). That was the beginning of his true conversion. No one is converted until he feels his own sinful and rebellious heart. Dr. J. Gresham Machen said, “Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the Gospel will seem to be an idle tale” (Christianity and Liberalism, 1983 reprint, p. 66). Just a fairy tale until you feel the weight of your sin!

II. Second, let’s think for a few moments about how to make it through the sifting.

Let me give an answer that fits every person – whether you are converted or lost, “Be ye stedfast, unmoveable” (I Corinthians 15:58). Or, again, “Be no more children, tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14). I can tell you for sure that is a most important lesson to learn. Don’t quit! Don’t leave! Don’t move! Don’t change – no matter what happens! The other day one of our young men told me, “I see how you became a pastor. It wasn’t an emotional experience. It was a calculated decision.” It took a lot of insight for him to see that. Oh, my, yes! It was not an emotional experience at all. I was seventeen years old. I was a good actor and had been in many plays and shows. My friends all encouraged me to become a professional actor. But I said to myself, “Acting is a waste of time.” That was in April, 1958. On Easter Sunday morning I looked at our pastor and said to myself, “I’d like to be like that man.” It was a young boy’s thought. It was an immature thought that would deepen later. But that was it. I never went back on it. By God’s grace, I never will. “Stedfast, unmoveable.” “No more children, tossed to and fro.” And one more thing. Preaching is not acting. It is the exact opposite of acting. In acting you pretend to be someone else. In preaching you have to be yourself. Acting is saying things you don’t believe. Preaching is pouring out things that are more important to you than life itself!

I am telling you that stedfastness is a most important lesson to learn in life. When Peter was converted, he came back and served God for the rest of his life. I’m asking you to trust Jesus this morning. Entrust your heart to Him. Entrust your life to Him. “Only trust Him, only trust Him!” Jesus will cleanse you from all sin with His Blood, and give you an eternal home in Heaven. Amen.

If this sermon blessed you Dr. Hymers would like to hear from you. WHEN YOU WRITE TO DR. HYMERS YOU MUST TELL HIM WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE WRITING FROM OR HE CANNOT ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL. If these sermons bless you send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and tell him, but always include what country you are writing from. Dr. Hymers’ e-mail is at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net (click here). You can write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can. If you want to write to Dr. Hymers by postal mail, his address is P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. You may telephone him at (818)352-0452.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Luke 22:31-34.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“It Is Well With My Soul” (by Horatio G. Spafford, 1828-1888).


THE OUTLINE OF

SIFTED LIKE WHEAT

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“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: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

I.   First, let’s think about the sifting itself, Luke 22:3; 8:12, 15;
Matthew 22:14; Job 1:6-12; I Peter 4:12; Luke 22:33, 62.

II.  Second, let’s think about how to make it through the sifting,
I Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 4:14.