Luke 22:31-38                             “Christ Prays for Our Faith”



I would like to start by thanking Helen for sharing the Word last week. Her sermon was based on the story of Jacob wrestling with God. Indeed, we all wrestle with God at times. We all go for the two-second pin against the Almighty! Today’s scripture talks about the idea that while we are engaged with God, there also appears this other guy in the match that is always trying to trip us up. We all just want to be with God, yet we know that satan is trying to mess up this relationship at every turn. 

            Jesus talks about Satan desiring to sift, that reference in the passage is in the plural. Although, Jesus’ speech starts with “Simon, Simon,” it follows with “Satan wants to shake you (plural).” He is not just talking to Simon. He is addressing everybody. Once again I like this translation here in our pew Bibles because it says “to sift all of you.” Only then in verse 32 does Jesus specifically address Peter alone.

            I bring this up for an important reason. If you were to read this in the King James Version, you will note that verse 31 uses the pronoun “YOU”; whereas, the following verses use the pronoun “THOU.” Most of us who no longer live in the 16th Century have forgotten the difference betwixt “you” and “thou.” “Thou” is singular familiar form. “You” is plural. In other words, Jesus is not just talking to Peter when He says Satan wants to shake us up.

            As you all know I was at the airport here in Lihue flying in from Germany on Tuesday night. The cross winds at the landing were about thirty knots. That was perhaps the roughest landing I have ever felt coming into the airport in Lihue. I have had rougher landings having crashed twice. Now, interestingly enough, at the airport getting on the flight I noticed a fellow wearing a hardhat was getting on the plane. I actually thought to myself if he knew something that I did not know about the plane or the flight in general. Indeed we were shaken up very well indeed. We were sifted like wheat! I know from the reactions of people in the cabin of the plane that some were afraid in that moment. Some of the children were really excited and did not want the wild ride to stop.

            I believe that this shaking up in our scripture for today is a reference to Satan causing us to fear for ourselves. Jesus foresees, and later the gospel confirms that Peter does deny Jesus three times that evening. Why did Peter deny Jesus? Why would we ever deny Jesus? What could shake us up that much that we would lose faith? Or, are we shaken because we never had the faith to begin with?    

            While I was in Germany for a memorial for my uncle, my aunt asked me an interesting question that I did not really know the answer to, but I took a guess that turned out to be the right answer. She asked about all of the roosters that were on top of the churches. On the steeples were weathervanes that were always of roosters. I somehow intuited that the rooster was a symbol of Saint Peter’s weakness of faith while denying Christ three times. We know that what Jesus is saying to Peter is really going to happen. Peter denies Christ three times before the cock crows. The roosters are on protestant churches to show the weakness of Peter, who was the first pope. It is kind of the protestants poking fun at the catholics in a way.

            If you ask a pastor in Germany what it stands for, then you might hear the cleaned up version, which is the rooster stands for the beginning of a new day in Jesus Christ. Or, that it is a symbol of our own spiritual weakness that we all might deny Christ in some way in our own lives.

            Okay, the word here for “sifted” in the original Greek is really “to shake” or “quake.” Simon Peter is going to be shaken hard. He is going to see his master betrayed, flogged, spat upon, humiliated in public, nailed to cross, and left to die. He will literally be horrified. Later we know that all of the disciples will have gone into hiding. They will see one of their own hang himself. They will see Stephen stoned to death for speaking the truth about Jesus. Peter himself will experience the Christian purge from Rome. Peter himself will be crucified like Jesus—yet he will be crucified upside down.  This is the kind of sifting that is coming that will shake their faith.


            To all of this Jesus says, “But, I will pray for you that your faith will not fail.” This is an incredibly powerful and beautiful sentiment. JESUS will pray for Peter! What kind of power and strength does an individual prayer from Jesus have? This is a prayer of intercession. Jesus will intercede individually in our lives. This can only mean that Peter will see miracles happening because every time before this when Jesus has prayed, miracles have come down from heaven.

            The strength that we receive? Let us look at the very end of Luke 24:36 and on, “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them. . . . .They were startled, terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.  Why are you frightened? Why do doubts arise in your hearts? (49) I am sending upon you what my Father has promised; stay in the city until you are clothed with the power from on high.” Jesus prays for this before his crucifixion, and he grants it after the resurrection.

            Peter himself will become the head of the church. He will continue to do incredible miracles of faith. Satan shook him to the core. His faith was sifted through fear and the trauma of watching Jesus go to the cross and die. In all of this, in the end he is empowered by God in the name of Jesus. He is the first one of the disciples at the tomb on Easter Morning. He is the one who is taken by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel for the first time at Pentecost.


            Now, I want to take this message into a direction that will require you to really think about what is being said here when Jesus says that he will pray for our faith. Why cannot Jesus simply grant us that faith? After all Jesus can do all sorts of supernatural things: He can walk on water. HE can turn water into wine. He can heal the blind. He can make the lame walk again. He can feed five thousand. But, in all of this, we see that there is something actually that Jesus cannot do. He cannot zap faith or belief into our hearts!

            Nobody, not even God in the person of Jesus Christ, can make you believe–that is not with a true faith. In the Middle Ages we saw the Inquisition that gave infidels the choice of converting to Christianity or death by being burned at the stake. Some people of course chose to declare the belief in order to save their own lives, but that does not mean that they actually believed. To believe in God, or to have faith in Christ, is solely a choice that is made in the heart.


            If you watch the news and are interested statistically in where faith stands today, the word is that fewer people believe today than any time in the modern history of America. The recent reports state that for the first time Chritian believers are less than half the population.

            As sad as I find that statistic, I know that it is much worse in other parts of the world. Last week I worshiped in Germany in the church that my uncle attended for decades. This is the only mainline protestant church serving a city with a population of over 200k people. My aunt was not sure that there would be a worship service and checked before we went. Yes, they have gone in the summer to worshiping every other week. We were therefore lucky to be on a good week when we could go to church. We were a little bit early so the sanctuary that seats well over 600 bodies was empty when we got there. Slowly others came. In the end there were twenty of us, including the pastor. I know that this is the way it has been for the past twenty years. The church is of course stable enough because the pastor is receiving a State salary. People actually pay a church tax right on their regular taxes.

            There is a little story behind all of this. At the end of World War II, the American military left the German State with its Basic Law “Grundgesetz” that incorporated an idea that if the German people had a sincere faith in Christ, they might not go back to genocidal and warlike thinking. Even if you did not go to church on Sunday, the Grundgesetzt required all students to learn religion in the school. If you did not want to tithe to the church, no matter, it would be collected with your other taxes. The US Army and the new state of Germany tried to do what Jesus himself could only pray for–that the people would believe in God and have strong faith. But, you cannot force faith upon others. It is in the end a personal matter. If you force it, then it is not faith.


            To end this sermon, I want to bring up a question that was once asked of me: “So what do I need faith for? What will it do for me?”

            It sounds funny, but the question was sincere. This is what I have noticed from my own days on this planet: If everything is just great and wonderful in my life, I have not a care in the world, then I really do not depend on faith. I just do not know anyone’s life to have ever been so perfect. It is exactly in those times when evil and destruction touch our lives that we need our faith in Christ. We cry out “Oh God” in our moment of distress without even thinking about what we are saying. We shout out Jesus’ name in turmoil. When we face Satan eyeball to eyeball and realize that there is only one salvation for our souls, we accept in our hearts the faith that Jesus prayed for us exactly so we could meet that moment and triumph over it in His name. And so, knowing what the disciples were about to face, Jesus prayed for our faith. He is still in heaven now, praying over hs children that they will have such faith.