Online Worship for Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Sermon for Ash Wednesday – February 17, 2021
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Galatians 1:3-5, NKJV)
Luke 22:31–32 (NKJV)
31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Who prays and intercedes for sinners,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Precious Blood –
If social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram are any indication, it’s evident that prayer is popular. If you scroll through your Facebook feed on a regular basis, then you come across friends and acquaintances requesting the prayers of others. These requests are almost always met with a ‘prayer emoji’ the graphical representation of praying hands but some simply reply ‘prayers’ or ‘prayers ascending.’
Let me be clear: It is beneficial thing to ask your fellow believers to pray for you. We find a number of examples in Holy Scripture of the Apostle Paul and other writers asking that those to whom he writes pray for him and his fellow workers (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Hebrews 13:18). Moreover, the Holy Spirit urges us in the Epistle of James specifically to pray for one another (James 5:16, NKJV), adding that:
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
Now, that said, not all of our friends and acquaintances on Facebook share our faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word doesn’t encourage us to ask those who believe in idols and false gods to pray for us. True and effective prayer is addressed to the true God, in faith. The assumption made by many on social media is that every prayer is equal and valid.
Prayer itself is simply a request directed toward another, namely God. If the god addressed isn’t real, then the prayer is bound to be ineffective – so many words in the wind.
Consequently, it matters a great deal to whom you direct your prayers and your relationship with that Personal God. Those who have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ have an open line to their Creator and Redeemer and can expect to be answered.
So, it is written (Psalm 34:15-16, 1 Peter 3:12):
“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.”
So, with that in mind, during our Midweek Lenten Services this year we will focus on a number of Prayers offered up during the suffering of our Savior, Jesus the Christ. In all but one case, the prayer comes to us from the mouth of the Savior Jesus Himself. We will hear him speak of prayer, pray for himself and others and call upon others to pray. We will also hear the prayer of the penitent thief and make that prayer our own.
Prayer is often a personal thing. We may pray on behalf of others, and may tell them so; but we don’t always reveal exactly what it is we asked of God. This evening we hear Jesus speak of the reason for one of his prayers, for whom he prayed and the implication and promise of that prayer’s answer. We see the love of Jesus for his own and are reminded that Jesus knows our individual needs.
It is proper then that we too begin with prayer: “Sanctify us by Your Truth, O Lord, Your Word is Truth.” Amen.
How often do you pray? Do you only pray three times a day, once with each meal, or is it less? Do you set aside specific time when you rise in the morning and again before bed? Do you pray more frequently when you are troubled and stressed or only when you come to an impasse, to a stressful crossroads?
Whatever your personal answer to these questions, allow me to remind you that the Spirit of God calls upon us to pray frequently (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, cf. also Ephesians 6:18):
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
It shouldn’t surprise us then when we read in the Gospels that Jesus frequently prayed. Jesus prayed alone (Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12) and He also prayed with his disciples (Luke 9:28, Mark 14:23, John 6:11). Even though Jesus prayed, with the exception of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (John 17) we often aren’t told the content of Jesus’ prayers.
On Maundy Thursday evening, after eating the Passover meal with His Disciples for a final time and after instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus began preparing them for the hours and days ahead. Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him. He spoke soberly of the time that lay in the very near future. It wouldn’t be easy for any of them.
It was during this time, perhaps on the way to Gethsemane, that Jesus revealed that He had prayed for them, in particular for Peter, and he told them why. The reason that Jesus had prayed for all the disciples and for Peter in particular is revealed in Luke 22:31: 31 And the Lord said,
“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you,
that he may sift you as wheat.
When you were a child, how did you know that you were in big trouble? For me, with the possible exception of my baptism and confirmation, if my parents spoke my entire given name, it meant I was in trouble: “Andrew Albert Schaller.”
The Apostle Peter’s given name was Simon. Simon was the name given to him by his parents, but when he became a disciple of Jesus, the Savior gave him the name we know him by (John 1:42, Matthew 16:18): Peter or Cephas, which means ‘a rock.’ We can’t say for certain why Jesus gave him this nickname, whether he was built like a rock or because of the rock-solid confession he would one day put to words (Matthew 16:16, John 6:69).
Jesus often referred to Simon as Peter, but on this occasion, Jesus soberly used his given name: Simon, Simon. While these words are addressed to Peter, they were meant for all the disciples.
Jesus moved aside the veil (so to speak) and revealed what could not have been known without the revelation of God. Jesus revealed that Satan, the fallen angel and enemy of God’s people had come to God with a request. Even as Satan had once come and asked permission to test Job (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6) he had also asked to ‘sift as wheat’ Jesus’ disciples.
We know that this request included all the disciples because the plural ‘you’ is used here.
This revelation of Jesus, when coupled with that found in Job, reminds us what Satan can and cannot do. Our enemy, that fallen angel, does not have carte blanche to attack and trouble God’s people. He is not free to assail us at will and with whatever he pleases. He is a created being and must make request of God to trouble God’s people and from time to time his request may be granted (as it was with Job).
Satan’s purposes in testing God’s people is never good. It is his goal to cause the faith of those who trust in God and in His Son to fail, to be wiped out once and for all.
God’s purpose in allowing temptation to come is different. In fact, our gracious God promises us that when He allows temptation to come upon us, He will also grant a way of escape for us (1 Corinthians 10:13). God’s purpose in allowing a test to come is to draw us closer to Him and to build up our faith, even as a virus attacking the body results in anti-bodies that the body can use to later fight the virus.
Satan had asked to: “…sift the disciples as wheat.” So, what exactly does that mean? Well, perhaps it would help to understand a little about how they harvested wheat in those days.
If you’ve ever left grass to grow in the yard too long, you know what happens. Eventually the grass will produce seeds. The same happens with wheat. While we don’t generally eat grass seed, we do use the kernels produced by wheat, once they have been harvested. The grain is cut down and bundled in sheaves; and then the sheaves are transported to a threshing floor. In order to separate the grain from the stalk, it was placed on a hard flat surface and tread upon by oxen. Then using a ‘winnowing fan’ the wheat was tossed up into a breeze. The heavier grain fell to the ground, but the straw and chaff would be carried away by the breeze.
What remained was a pile of kernels of grain still mixed with chaff and tiny stones. The sifter would scoop up the mixture in a sieve and violently shake it to separate the grain from the chaff and then blow it away. Then the sifter would painstakingly pick out the little stones, chaff and remaining seed not grain.
Satan had asked to figuratively treat Jesus’ disciples like wheat needing to be sifted. Their individual faith in Jesus would be tested and tried. They would be shaken up by the events they were about to witness.
It was because Jesus knew this, that He prayed for all of His Disciples, saying (John 17:11b, 15):
“Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are…I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”
The same Jesus was also aware of the faith damaging trials and temptations that would come upon each of us. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus didn’t only pray for those men, but also for every one of you, saying (John 17:20-21):
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Please do not fail to see the depth of Jesus’ love for all of His disciples. Jesus knows what you go through from day to day! He knows your doubts and your fears. He knows your questions and concerns. He knows your insecurities and guilt. He earnestly desires that your faith not fail, but that you continue to cling to Him. He wants you to do more than flippantly promise to pray for one another. He would have you earnestly bring your requests to the Father, even as He once prayed on behalf of Peter.
But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail;
While Satan brought his request to sift as wheat; Jesus’ own prayer went up on behalf of Peter’s faith. Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith not fail, not cease once and for all.
So why did Jesus pray for Peter in particular? Simon Peter’s faith would be tested more acutely than the others. He would follow into the courtyard of the high priest and there despite his brash promises, He would be put to the test. He would be confronted as a disciple of Jesus. He would be questioned: “Are you not one of this man’s disciples?” He would be challenged either to stand up for Jesus or stand down.
Peter would fail his test miserably. He who boasted that He was ready to go to prison and even death with Jesus later resorted to cursing and swearing to prove that He didn’t even know Jesus of Nazareth.
There is good reason for Jesus to also pray for us. We don’t enter into the court of men, but often we find ourselves in the spotlight of the court of human opinion.
When people begin to destroy the reputation of those not present by gossip, we are faced with the decision to laugh and join in or to speak up in defense of those under attack. We, more often than not, fail the test.
When given the opportunity to remain silent and not speak hurtful words to those whom we love, we often choose to injure and then defend our sin. The worst part is that regret comes when we cannot take back the words we have spoken.
When we ought to glorify our God, we instead credit ourselves.
Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith not cease. Jesus also laid down his life to pay for Peter’s sin, and for yours and for mine. Jesus died so that we would not have to face eternal death for our sins.
Jesus also prophesied that Peter would be returned to faith thru Godly repentance:
and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
Peter, having experienced the furnace of trial would be in a perfect position to help his fellow disciples. They too would feel regret for running away. They too would know doubt and fear. Peter could give them a hand, help them to be turned again to Jesus in faith.
There is good reason why Jesus still calls and sends sinful human beings like your pastor to comfort and to encourage. He uses people who have been in the furnace of trial themselves to help others. The best way to help is to point to Jesus.
This too is evidence of Jesus’ love for you. Jesus intercedes for you, offering His own sacrifice as pardon, redemption for your sins. Jesus prayed for you and counts on you to strengthen one another with His Word.
How often do you pray? God help us that we pray frequently, not only for ourselves and our own, but especially for one another.
God help us that we not only pray, but also comfort, strengthen and build one another up through the Word of Christ. Amen.