22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, One of the most loved activities that my children like to do with daddy involves a struggle. I’ll get down on the living room floor and sometimes one or sometimes all three will gang up daddy. They’ll jump on me or grab on to me or try to pull me around and I’ll roll them around or playfully toss them around sometimes pin them on the carpet, sometimes I let them pin me…and they love it. In my house, wrestling is probably near the top of the list of favorite things to do with daddy right now. Now, of course, it’s just play, it’s not real wrestling. They enjoy it because they know I love them, because they know I’m not going hurt them or let them get hurt (too bad!), because they know I’m being careful with them and watching out for them, but maybe the main reason they enjoy it is because it’s time with dad. Now, of course, I’m much bigger than my 2 year old son and if I had absolutely no heart and was out to win a fight, there would be no contest. But that’s not the point. The point is that they’re spending special time with dad knowing that I love them, care for them, and wouldn’t hurt them.
Well, do you ever find yourself wrestling with your Heavenly Father? And perhaps you find it to be not all fun and games. Perhaps you’ve found yourself wearily pleading to him again and again about some matter – maybe a suffering family member, maybe a relative who’s walked away from the faith, maybe a financial issue, maybe an emptiness or loneliness, maybe a damaged relationship – perhaps you find yourself going to him again and again and He just doesn’t seem to be coming through for you or for your loved one. The anguished prayers and the river of tears to the God who can save if He wants and…the child still dies, the cancer still grows, the job is still lost. A temptation gnaws and gnaws in spite of the prayers to the God who told us He would not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. Do you perhaps find yourself wrestling with your Heavenly Father?
And maybe in the midst of this wrestling match with Him, God seems less and less like a Heavenly Father and more and more like an enemy, or an opponent out to pin you to the ground and inflict pain- pain in your heart, pain in your life. Is that true? Is God really out to get us? Is God really out to pin us to the ground and laugh while we cry and rejoice while we suffer? Certainly not, right? But at times doesn’t it really seem like it?
Well, in our text this morning we hear about a man who did wrestle with God. It’s from the book of Genesis and as you well know the book of Genesis records for us not only the very beginnings of this world and also of the human race, it also records the tragic origin of sin and its consequences. But Genesis is more than that too. It also records the beginning of God’s saving plan to undo the damages caused by sin. After Adam and Eve the world became increasingly corrupt until finally God wiped away every human except for one family. Then God narrowed his plan down to one family, the family of Abraham and then through his son Isaac and then through his son Jacob. The name “Jacob” was actually quite fitting for him. “Jacob” literally means “heal-grabber” and in an extended way also “deceiver” or “trickster.” When Jacob was born he was grasping the heal of his older twin brother Esau. And ever since then he often relied on himself and his own cunning ways in order to get what he wanted. He tricked Esau into selling him his birthright for a bowl of soup, then he tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Esau. Well, after Esau heard about that he was furious. So upset that he wanted to kill Jacob so Jacob had to run for his life. Jacob fled to his mother’s hometown and there met his wife and was tricked into marrying her sister and God blessed him so his family grew as well as his estate. Now after 20 years God tells him to go back to the land of Canaan. So, he set out and now was about a day’s travel away.
So, unsure of how things will go with his brother he decides to send some messengers ahead to make sure everything is all right. Well, his messengers returned and said, “Yep, we saw your brother and he’s on his way to meet you with 400 men.” Presumably they were fighting men and at 400 it was a sizable army.
Now try putting yourself in Jacob’s shoes. He doesn’t know the outcome of this. We know, we can look back, he couldn’t. All he had to go on was God’s promises to him that God would be with him and bless him and make a great nation from him. But at this point in time that really didn’t seem so possible. Consider what’s at stake here, God had promised to Jacob that his family would become a nation and that eventually the Savior would come from him. But, if Esau comes with years of built up brooding vengeance against his brother, ready to not just kill him but his wives and children too, then God wouldn’t be able to fulfill His promise, specifically His promise to send a Savior through Jacob’s family. And Jacob was scared, he was horrified and terrified.
So it seemed as though God’s promises and what God was allowing to happen were at odds. It may have even seemed like God was the enemy at this point. Remember, it was God who directed Jacob to return home to this land of Canaan. Now Jacob’s facing his brother who is out for his blood. “Thanks God! You led me here and now you’re going to let me and my family be massacred by my brother? What’s going on??!!” Add to that the guilt Jacob must have been feeling for 20 years over what he had done, and now all alone having turned to the Lord in prayer he finds himself wrestling with the Lord! Sometimes we use the phrase “wrestle with the Lord in prayer.” But this was real. As he was in prayer he actually began to physically wrestle a man. And it turns out this wasn’t just “a man” either. As it turns out this the Son of Man, God Himself, the 2nd person of the Triune God, the Christ in His Pre-Incarnate state.
Now, knowing that, if God really wanted to win this wrestling match it would have been over in less than a split second. God could have squished Jacob like a bug if he wanted to. So what’s God doing? He’s allowing Jacob to wrestle him. He’s allowing Jacob to tenaciously hold on to him. He’s teaching Jacob, as He so often teaches you and me, too. Jacob had been the self-reliant one, the deceiver who was prone to take matters into his own hands and do things his own way. But here God’s teaching him who he needs to rely on first. Then after this struggle which seems to have taken all night, Christ touches Jacob’s hip and dislocates. Now, in further pain all Jacob can do is cling and hold on to him and insist, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Ah, there it is.
When my children start getting a little big for their britches, then I have to gently remind them that I’m still their dad and I’m still in control and I’m much bigger than them. Sometimes we can begin to think that we’re doing pretty good on our own, we’ve become self-reliant, we don’t really need God as an important part of our everyday lives and at times God will give us a reminder of who’s in charge and perhaps we begin to think that God’s the enemy because He’s not doing what we want Him to do. But really, if God were our enemy, He could easily squish you and me like a bug, he could easily pummel us so we would be hurting eternally. And, in fact, that is exactly what he should do to us. As far as we are concerned there is nothing in us that could possibly win God’s heart, there is nothing we’ve done or could do to make God our friend instead of an enemy. How often haven’t we relied first on our own schemes, our own plans, our own abilities, instead of relying first on God? How often haven’t we “fought” with God? Not physically, but in our thoughts, our attitudes, our emotions?
And yes, because of our sins God did become an enemy to someone, but it wasn’t you or me. He took His own Son Jesus and pinned Him to a cross. Then He took the sum total of all His wrath against sin and poured it with all force and fury down upon His own Son. He took all of our sins of doubt, fear, and anger against Him and drove them against His own Son until Jesus yelled from the cross, “It is finished.” Sins, every one, paid in full. There God kept His promise and since He kept that promise, He’ll keep everyone.
For Jacob that meant getting up from this encounter without any more fear or fright- for with God’s promise of blessing He was ready to face whatever surprises the next day held. It also meant that God used Jacob’s prayer here to soften Esau’s heart. Just after this text when Jacob met Esau it was a reunion instead of raging revenge.
Jacob overcame God, not with his physical power, but with the power of faith through prayer, taking firm hold of God’s promise and not letting go. Finally, this was God’s will through it all, it’s what God wanted, God wanted Jacob to receive His blessing.
God wants the same thing from you and me too. At times it may seem like God is the enemy. But through it all God demonstrates his grace by maintaining faith and trust in our hearts through it all. And He uses such times to strengthen our faith in Him. Think about it. Finally, since God cannot lie and since He’s promised to lead us to our eternal home, no matter what, then no matter what situation God is leading you through, it will be for your blessing. And it’s through our persistent prayer, through wrestling with God that we cling to Him until he blesses us: maybe with a stronger faith, maybe with a greater certainty of his love, maybe with the assurance of our eternal home.
The God who gave you faith is also the God who will preserve your faith through His gospel. God invites us to wrestle with Him and cling to Him in prayerful persistence. God invites us to cling tenaciously to the promises He has given us. “God you promised to never leave me, be with me know!” “God you promised to never to tempt me or allow a temptation more than I can bear, strengthen me!” “God, you promised to work all things out for the good of your children, work this for the good and assure me even though I may not see it!” “God, you promised that every one of my sins was forgiven in Jesus, give me my heart that assurance, that peace!” “God, you promised that your Word will not return empty but will accomplish what you desire, give me the words to speak to tell that coworker, that friend about you!” “God, you promised that you are in control no matter what, give me true joy in the midst of all the problems and troubles I see on the news every day!” “God, you promised to take me to heaven when I die, so settle my all my fears and calm all my doubts!”
At some point my wrestling match with my children must finish and I have to leave. At that point my son knows just what to do. He runs to me and grabs on to me and doesn’t let go. And what happens? He wins me over. He wins daddy to hold him for a little longer. In that way God wants and invites us to cling to Him in trust and faith no matter what, to hold on to Him and to not let Him go- even when He may appear to be working against us as our opponent-, but yet to cling to Him as our gracious Friend and loving Father who wants us to say, “My Savior, I will not let you go unless you bless me!” And win His blessings. Amen.