Since we talked about the church as God’s threshing floor in the previous post, I’d like to take a look at how the winnowing process took place in the personal life of Peter. In Luke 22:31, Jesus tells Peter “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.” The Greek word for “sift,” sineadzo (G4617), means to agitate, and prove by trials and afflictions.
It’s interesting to note what Christ does NOT say in the following verse. You would expect our Shepherd to just stop Satan from sifting Peter. “Don’t worry about Him Peter, I’ve got your back, man” … but instead He says, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” What He does NOT say speaks volumes about what He is willing to allow Satan to do. Let’s not forget that in Matthew 4, Jesus Himself was “sifted as wheat” by Satan, and it was a part of God’s plan. The process of spiritual winnowing involves separating the spiritual being (wheat) from the body of sinful flesh (stalk, husk, chaff, and weeds). It’s a tough process to go through, but it’s worth it.
So then we see in verse 33 how Peter responded to what Christ had just told him, by saying “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Christ told him exactly how Satan would sift him, before it even happened, yet Peter failed this test 3 times as he denied Christ before the cock crowed to “save himself” (Luke 22:54-62). We can only imagine what might have gone through Peter’s mind that very night after he had denied his LORD three times, but I should think for this night and many after that, the words of Christ from Matthew 10:33 would echo in his thoughts: “whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
Now Peter strikes me as being more of a “hard-shelled” guy than me … my conscience would have been accosting me unmercifully as Christ appeared to the disciples after His resurrection twice, during which, it seems He had no direct, one-on-one interaction with Peter until the third meeting with them in John 21.
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” (John 21:15-18)
Boy, after denying Him three times just as He predicted, that question – “Do you love Me?” — must have really stung! Notice, He asked variations of the same question three times, one for each denial. And then Christ followed the whole ordeal with vs. 18. He might as well prefaced this with “Satan still wants to sift you, Peter.”
Words Of Eternal Life
Let’s take another look at the winnowing, purging process as it took place during Christ’s own ministry, and how it effected those who weren’t quite as committed as the 12 disciples. In John 6, we find a discourse of Christ’s that took place after one of Christ’s greatest miracles – the feeding of the 5,000 with five Barley loaves and two small fish (John 6:8-14). By the time we get to verses 14 and 15 the people want to make Him KING because of a free meal (much like the US today … free cell phones, food stamps, welfare). So He starts to teach them a lesson about who and what He actually is to the church He will build.
Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (John 6:26-27)
In verse 34 the people seem to be saying, “As long as it’s easy and straighforward … we’re IN!” But it’s not as easy as they hope and expect. You can read John 6:34-56 for His full reply. Here’s a few verses:
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. …
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. …
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:35-37, 43-44, 53-56)
Following this discourse – an explanation of some of the deep things of God – many of His disciples said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (John 6:60).
When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (John 6:61-66)
It’s verse 66 I want to focus on. These people who refused to continue following Christ were drawing conclusions based on what they knew to be true up to that point in time. They knew Christ only as a physical man with a physical body, but Christ was pointing ahead to a symbolic spiritual concept that they weren’t even aware existed at this time.
Then Jesus Christ asks the disciples the same question we could imagine Him asking us each time we go through a spiritual crisis of the faith, when we run into things in the Bible that we can’t find easy answers for, when we go through another church split, when a good friend or relative or a minister departs or does/says something that wears down our faith. “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67).
But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:68-69)
Peter’s answer told Christ all He needed to know about Peter. Let’s also not forget that this is the same guy who was later sifted as wheat by Satan, who denied Christ three times, had to re-affirm his love for Christ three times, and then to REALLY die for Christ in a most excruciating way.
A few years back, a guy named Steve Buchanan described John 17:3 as “the SPS of the entire Bible.” A Specific Purpose Statement is a brief nutshell phrase or sentence that conveys exactly what you want to tell your audience during a speech. That description rang true when Steve said it, and it still rings true for me today. The verse reads “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Here, Jesus Christ is giving us the same thing that He had given Peter that provided his answer in John 6. This defines our life goal, and what should be the aim of every Bible study. The answer to ALL of the really big questions in life lies in our understanding of these two beings. Who and what are they? What is their purpose in creating us? What do they want us to do? What do they want us to become? How do they relate to each other and to us? How do they want us to relate to them?
Peter gave a similar answer to a question Christ asked in Matthew 16. When Christ asked, “’But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matt. 16:15-16). This answer wasn’t just something Peter came up with on his own, for “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven’” (Matt. 16:17). Peter’s answer didn’t come from Peter, and it didn’t come from any other man or woman on earth. The Father in heaven implanted this in his mind. The ability to see Jesus Christ for what He really is – to see His ultimate value – comes from GOD!
Entering the Barn
Now after going through all of that, I’ll just remind us what we’re talking about today. The main topic is that Jesus Christ is baptizing us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” and that “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11-12). No matter how hard the fan blows, no matter what obstacles are in the way, no matter how difficult the sifting or purging, the wheat is going to remain and He will remain to gather it into His barn.
Brethren, no matter how much we would like for the obstacles in our path to go away, they are only there to prove that you and I are wheat instead of chaff or weeds (Matt. 13:24-29). Ever drive by a wheat field that has just been harvested? All the wheat in the field is put into a few wagons and trucks off in the corner of the field to be hauled off to the grain elevator. But the whole field is covered with stubble, weeds, straw, and chaff. The lives that we have left behind and forsaken are the stubble and straw left out there in the field. The chaff that clings to us are stubborn sins that are hard to get rid of, but the winnowing fan is in His hands. He is thoroughly purging His threshing floor.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13-14).
It can make us feel pretty insignificant to realize that we are just one grain of wheat among an innumerable multitude in a semi-truck in the corner of a field, – but the good news is that you ARE one of the grains of wheat IN that truck, or on the threshing floor, and God Himself cares enough about you to winnow, and purge you. And just like Christ said to Peter, He has prayed for us that our faith fail not.
I worked with my Dad in a grain elevator when I was still in high school, and harvest time was when we got all our overtime pay. The farmers would all bring their wheat in as they took it off, and we were there to run the tests for weight and moisture on it, and run it up into the big bins, and load it onto railroad cars.
Brethren, we want to be wheat so heavy with good Christian works, that no matter how many times the winnowing fan is used, we fall back to the threshing floor. We allow Him to purge away the chaff of sin, the refuse of our worldly, fleshly lives, and through it all, we remain faithful to Him, and we try our best to encourage other grains of wheat to do the same so that in the end, we will all be gathered into the spiritual grainary and barn … the Kingdom of God!
God and His Son are doing all of this work looking forward to a great harvest. He wants to bring all of His wheat into the barn, every last grain … and He’ll do everything in His power to bring that about. It’s very re-assuring to know that “His fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor.”