A Savior’s Prayer
By David Feddes
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31)
Alonzo Spellman believed in himself, and he believed in his team, the Chicago Bears. They were facing their long-time rival, the Green Bay Packers, and both teams were in the hunt for a playoff spot. Alonzo believed in himself so much that a few days before the game, he “guaranteed” that his Bears would clobber the Packers. Unfortunately, it’s easier to make a guarantee than it is to keep it. The Bears lost 40-3. Alonzo Spellman underestimated the Packers, he overestimated himself, and the result was total failure and embarrassment.
Have you ever really believed in yourself, only to have reality come crashing in? Failure always hurts, but it hurts even more if you thought it could never happen to you. You find out you weren’t nearly as good as you thought you were.
You tell yourself you’ll save your body for the person you marry. But then one morning you wake up and realize that you lost your purity the night before. You didn’t turn out to be the upright, self-controlled person you thought you were.
Or you tell yourself you’re going to stay calm. No way are you going to lose your temper. Nothing is going to upset you. A few minutes later, you’re yelling and screaming and out of control, and it suddenly hits you that you’ve lost it completely, despite all your good intentions.
Or you tell yourself you’ll never get tangled up in booze and drugs. But then it’s fifteen years later and you find that your life is a mess. You’re in the grip of an addiction so powerful you’ll never be able to deal with it on your own. You wonder how this could ever have happened.
You tell yourself you’re basically a solid, decent person. You’re going to make something of your life. Then you find yourself in prison. You’re guilty of doing something you never dreamed you’d be capable of doing.
You start your career, sure of yourself and your ideals. You’re positive that you’ll never sacrifice your standards, the way so many other people do. You’re going to be a teacher who cares about kids, not one who just does it for the money. You’re going to be a preacher who stands for the truth, not a wimpy religious functionary like some other preachers you know. You’re going to run a business the honest way, not do anything to make a buck like so many others. You’re going to help others, not just look out for yourself. You’re different! No matter what happens, no matter what anybody else does, you’re not going to compromise or sell out. A few years later, you look in the mirror, and you see exactly the sort of person you swore you’d never be.
You make a promise to trust the Lord Jesus. You feel so full of peace. From here on you’re going to follow Jesus wherever he goes. You’re sure of it. But things change. You find yourself surrounded by people who want nothing to do with Jesus. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’re talking and acting like you never heard of Christ at all. Then it sinks in how far you’ve fallen, how badly you’ve broken your commitment, and all you can do is cry and wonder how it could have happened.
Simon Peter was a man who believed in himself. He was a friend of Jesus, and he was sure that no matter what happened, no matter what anybody else did, he would be true to Jesus. Shortly before Jesus was arrested, he told his twelve disciples, “You will all fall away.” But Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not… Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same thing (Mark 14:27-31).
“Simon, Simon,” Jesus said, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
But he replied,’Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).
Peter believed in himself, but as it turned out, big, brave Peter was so scared that he wouldn’t even admit to a lowly servant girl that he’d been with Jesus. Then, a few minutes later, he denied Jesus a second time. About an hour later, someone else asserted that Peter was a friend of Jesus, and Peter replied with swearing and curses, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Just as he was speaking the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly (Luke 22:54-62).
Do you know how Peter felt? Have you ever believed in yourself and guaranteed you’d do the right thing, only to find yourself weeping bitterly at your failure? You start out so sure of yourself, but then you blow it, and you blow it again, and then again, perhaps without even realizing what you’re doing. And you’d go right on blowing it without knowing it if it weren’t for that harsh wakeup call, that moment when a “cockadoodledoo” screeches in your ears and jars you back to your senses.
Your “cockadoodledoo” may not be the actual sound of a rooster. It may be your alarm clock screeching at you after a night of sin, or the voice of a divorce lawyer telling you your options, or the groan of a neighboring drunk at a detoxification center, or the crying of someone you’ve hurt, or the clang of a prison door slamming shut. It may be something else entirely. But one way or another, that cockadoodledoo moment comes when it hits home what you’ve been doing. And at just that moment, like Peter, you may realize that Jesus is looking straight at you. You know how horribly you’ve failed, and you start to weep bitterly.
You may have started out with the best intentions, but it’s not the promises you make that count. It’s the promises you keep. You can believe in yourself and make big promises about how brave and good and loyal you’re going to be, but what’s the use if you don’t come through? You’re like the football player who believed in himself and guaranteed victory and then got slaughtered 40‑3.
When Jesus warns that Satan himself is after you, you can be like Peter and believe in yourself and say that you’ve got what it takes to prevail. But if you think you can beat Satan with a few good intentions, then you’re even sillier than the chubby little boy who thinks he can beat a basketball star with just a few swallows of a special drink. Satan is in a different league than you are. You can’t possibly beat him.
Peter overestimated himself, he underestimated the evil one, and it led to failure and bitter tears. Maybe you find yourself where Peter was. At first you believed in yourself. You wouldn’t believe what God says about your sin and weakness; you wouldn’t believe that Satan is real, and you wouldn’t believe what Satan could make you do. But then came that cockadoodledoo moment. You blew it. No pretending, no excuses, just utter failure and bitter tears. Now what?
“I Have Prayed for You”
Well, it’s fitting to weep like Peter wept. If you sense Jesus gazing directly at you and you burn with shame, don’t avoid his gaze. Don’t look away. Let the shame of your sin sink in. Admit that Jesus is right and you were wrong.
But don’t stop there. If you sense that Jesus is looking at you, and it breaks your heart that you failed him, then you need to know something else: Jesus is praying for you.
Remember, Jesus didn’t just warn Peter of Satan’s designs and predict Peter’s failure. Jesus also spoke of his prayer for Peter. And his prayer guaranteed that, in spite of Peter’s failure, Peter would turn back to God and strengthen others.
Maybe you’ve heard a preacher talk about saying a sinner’s prayer. Well, a sinner’s prayer is important; but even more important is a Savior’s prayer. You can say lots of prayers and make lots of promises, but what really counts is Jesus saying, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.”
Simon Peter discovered that. He fell into Satan’s trap and was untrue to Jesus and denied his Lord; and yet Jesus was faithful to Peter, and Peter went on to be a great leader of the church. It all happened exactly as Jesus said: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus prayed for Peter, and that prayer of Jesus made all the difference in Peter’s life.
We’ve seen that it’s foolish to believe in yourself when you’re up against the power of Satan. If you’re up against Satan and all you’ve got are your own good intentions, you’re doomed. But if you’ve got the Son of God and the Savior of the world praying for you, then no matter what Satan does to you, no matter how far you fall, your faith will not fail completely, and God will again make you useful for his purposes. Satan wants you, but he can’t have you, so long as Jesus is praying for you.
Jesus’ Prayer for His Own
Let’s look at the Savior’s prayer for his own, and we’ll see how that prayer saves us from Satan and makes us secure forever. In John 17 the Bible records a prayer of Jesus, in which he speaks to his Father in heaven just before he goes to his arrest and death. We aren’t listening to just any prayer here. We are listening in on what the eternal Son of God says to his eternal Father at the very turning point of history. I feel hesitant even to speak on something so holy—but speak I must, for the Lord allows us to overhear this prayer, for our knowledge and comfort and for his glory.
Just before Jesus goes to meet his death, he says, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” The Savior’s prayer starts with the everlasting glory of God, and everything about the prayer flows out of that glory and is directed to the greater glory of Father and Son.
And how will that glory of the Father and the Son shine forth? By doing everything necessary to save and secure those whom the Father has appointed from eternity to be his children. Jesus says, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life,” continues Jesus, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Jesus is appealing to the fact that God the Father decided to give a definite group of persons to his Son; and in perfect harmony with his Father’s plan, Jesus would do everything necessary to fully possess and purify those the Father had given him. By his perfect life, Jesus completed the work of revealing God’s nature and character, and by his impending suffering and death and his resurrection and return to heaven, he would finish for all time the work necessary for our salvation and for God’s glory. God’s plan would be accomplished, his love would be revealed, and eternal life would surely belong to God’s own treasured possession. These persons must be brought to a saving knowledge of God and of Jesus, and they must be kept in that saving knowledge, no matter what the obstacles.
Earlier in Jesus ministry, he said, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). Jesus said,
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away… And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent my draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:37-44).
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
Let’s get back to Peter for a moment. That brash fisherman, whatever his faults and failures, was a man chosen by God. The Lord would not allow his faith to fail utterly. He wouldn’t allow anyone to snatch Peter out of his hand. Peter was one of those the Father had given to Jesus. Jesus was determined to pray and remind his Father of that, so that Peter would not be cast away and his faith would not fail.
The other disciples, too, were among the number appointed by God for salvation—except for Judas the traitor—and so Jesus prays in John 17,
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word… I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by the name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction, so that Scripture would be fulfilled…” (John 17:6,9,11-12).
Notice again that Jesus isn’t praying some vague prayer in the hope that something good might happen to somebody. He prays a definite prayer for definite persons. Jesus says plainly that he’s not praying for the world in general. He’s praying for those the Father has given him, those whose salvation is accomplished from beginning to end by Jesus himself.
The only one of the twelve disciples to be lost would be the one who never really belonged to Jesus in the first place—Judas, the one doomed to destruction. Judas’s actions came out of his own evil nature, but at the same time, God turned those actions to his own purpose of offering up his Son to save his own, and he fulfilled his plans revealed long before in Scripture.
We don’t know why the Lord decided not to keep Judas from self-destruction, any more than we know why he decided to save Peter. But of this much we may be sure: the destruction of Judas was his own accomplishment; the salvation of Peter and the other disciples was God’s accomplishment. Judas was destroyed by his own plotting. Peter was saved by his Savior’s prayer. We can’t answer the question why God doesn’t save everybody. But if we’re realistic about our own sin and fickleness, we might better wonder why he saves anybody.
But, thank God, he does. He saves his own fully and completely, through the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood and the life-giving renewal of the Holy Spirit.
“Protect Them From the Evil One”
When Jesus prays for his own, he doesn’t ask that God whisk them out of this world immediately. In John 17:15 Jesus says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” God didn’t take Peter out of the world right away. He left Peter in the world, he even permitted him to give way to Satan’s temptation for a time—but he never let Peter become Satan’s possession. Satan wanted Peter, but he couldn’t have him. “I have prayed for you,” said Jesus, “that your faith might not fail.”
Peter and those first disciples aren’t the only ones the Savior prays for. In John 17 Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message… Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world… I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:20-26).
Oh, what a Savior! Oh, how he prays for his treasured people! My friend, don’t believe in yourself. Believe in this Savior. He never gives up on his chosen who trust in him.
Jesus warned Peter ahead of time about Satan’s designs. He told Peter to watch and pray that he might not enter into temptation. But Peter blew it. Instead of praying, he slept. And instead of standing firm for Jesus, he chickened out. But Jesus did not let him go. When Peter the chicken heard the crowing of the rooster, the voice of Jesus came back to him, the look of Jesus was upon him, and bitter tears of repentance flooded his eyes. Already the Father was answering Jesus’ prayer for Peter. He was moving Peter to see his sin and to hate it.
Maybe you’re weeping bitter tears right now. Maybe you fled from the Lord; you failed him; you denied him by your words and actions. And then the rooster crowed—a moment came when something in your situation cackled so loud that you couldn’t ignore your sin anymore. Suddenly you felt Jesus’ gaze burning through you, and all you could do was cry at your sin and stupidity.
My friend, those bitter tears are a sweet gift from God. They are the first part of his answer to the Savior’s prayer for you. They are proof that God has not forsaken you or abandoned you to your sin. Maybe you slept when you should have prayed, but the Savior never stopped praying for you. You may have fallen under Satan’s trance for a time, but now God is helping you to see your sin and to hate it. He is breaking your heart with grief over your sin, and he will mend your heart with the assurance that nothing can ever separate you from his love. If you are one of his sheep, you may be prone to wander, but the Savior says, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.”
Lord Jesus, without you we can do nothing. Help us to stop believing in ourselves and to trust you alone. Remind us again of how you went to the cross for our salvation and of how you live in heaven to intercede for us. Our prayers are so weak, dear Savior, but your prayers are mighty. Forgive our sins, O God, and raise us up into your glory, your truth, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.