ďWrestling With GodĒ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† March 18, 2012

Genesis 32:1-32

 

SI:Weíve been studying the life of Jacob.

Today we come to the most significant episode of his lifeó

†† his most profound encounter with God.

 

This is a famous story.Itís also a strange story.

†† God appearing as a man and wrestling with Jacob all night.

But itís also a story that every true Christian experiences at one time or another

†† over the course of his or her life.

Iím going the whole chapter, but our focus will be the final ten verses.

 


 

INTRO:My sister and I went to a Christian school for several years that was

†† connected to a church of a different denomination from our own.

This church put a very high value on dramatic conversion stories.

†† In one chapel service after another, we would hear testimonies of men and women

†† who had been saved by Christ out of lives of chaos and debauchery.

They would describe their conversions as emotional earthquakes of weeping and

†† laughing.They would feel compelled to fling away the whisky bottle,

†† or even declare that the Lord had called them to preach that very night saved.

 

I once heard my sister say to my dad:I donít think Iím a Christian.

He asked her why and she said:

†† Because I didnít feel the things these people felt.I didnít cry tears of joy.

†† I didnít hear Godís call to fling away my whisky and cigarettes.

My father told her that every Christianís conversion experience is different.

†† He said:Youíve grown up in a Christian home.

†† You were protected you from certain temptations.

†† You grew up knowing you were a sinner and that Jesus loves you.

So naturally your conversion is going to feel different.

†† The important thing is that you yourself believe in Christ and have repented

†† of your sins.Trust Jesus and donít compare yourself to other believers.

 

Of course thatís true not just for conversion, but for the whole Christian life.

†† Believers have very different experiences in their walk with God.

Some of it has to do with temperamentó

†† introverts tend to have more dramatic spiritual highs and lows than extroverts.

Some believersí lives are relatively calm compared to othersó

†† fewer of the common stresses, fewer moves, fewer deaths, better health, etc.

Some Christians, for a variety of reasons, find it easier to grow in certain virtues

†† and resist certain temptationsóthe very things that another Christian fights for.

 

I was reminded of this at the menís conference last weekend.

†† Each day of the conference we had 30 men from The Foundry.

†† (A Christian drug and alcohol recovery program.)

The stories some of them shared were completely unlike my life.

†† Iíve never had an angry drug dealer stuff his pistol in my mouth.

†† Those kinds of things would color your Christian walk.

You have to be just as careful about comparing your walk to other Christians

†† as you do your conversion.Too much comparing, or the wrong kind of

†† comparing will make you proud or discouraged.

But that being said, Christians do have common spiritual experiences,

†† even if the circumstances and intensity of them are different.

One of the common ways that God deals with all his children is that he takes

†† them through crises.Thatís what this story is, itís a crisis.

Jacob did have some long-term, nagging problems that went on for yearsó

†† particularly in his marriages and in his work.God gave him grace in those.

 

But this was truly a crisis, the most debilitating of Jacobís life.

†† After 20 years of avoiding his brother, the chickens were coming home to roost.

When Jacob heard those words:Esau is coming to meet you with 400 men!

†† His heart must have almost stopped.His worst fear was suddenly realized.

And deeper than those fears, this was a crisis in Jacobís soul.

†† Itís at night and heís alone with his thoughtsójust like he was 20 years earlier.

†† Where is he going to turn?Where will he get help?Whatís God doing?

 

Then crisis passes, the sun comes up, and Jacob walks out a better man.

†† Heís limping.This has left him with permanent scars and pains.

But heís a better man, a more sober and confident man because

†† he experienced Godís grace in the crisis.

 

Jacobís life is a study in Godís grace.His life makes you want Godís grace.

†† And it shows you how to appropriate Godís grace.

How do you appropriate Godís grace in a crisis?

†† How do you go through the dark night of the soul and come out into the sunrise of

†† the next day, limping but very much alive, a better and stronger man or woman?

 

Jacobís story shows us how, no matter what crisis you are facing, big or small.

†† Two points:

1.You must know that God is wrestling with you.

2.You must wrestle back and win.

 

You have to do both of those things to fully appropriate Godís grace.


 

MP#1You must know that God is wrestling with you.

In other words, you have to come to terms with the fact that God caused the crisis

†† you are going through.Heís behind it.He arranged it.

Of course there are secondary causes.

†† Your crisis might have been caused by a freak accident or a natural occurrence.

†† It might have been caused by the deliberate actions of other people.

†† It might have been caused by your foolish or your well-intentioned actions.

All of those secondary causes can be analyzed and explored.

†† That exercise is helpful as far as it goes.

But if you are going to experience Godís grace,

†† then you have to come to see that he is the ultimate cause of your crisis.

†† He is the one with whom you have to deal.

 

Letís look at the way this realization dawned on Jacob.

He starts this episode in high spirits.Probably the best heís ever felt about his life.

†† He had finally, with Godís help, closed the door on the Laban years.

†† Those 20 hard years under the thumb of his uncle, father-in-law were over.

And the way they ended, with a final confrontation in which Jacob had a boldness

†† he had never known before.He had grown into a more mature, confident man.

He was also prosperous, and he knew that this was from Godís hand.

†† He had the contentment with his situation that comes from humility.

 

He had wonderful confirmations that heís on the right path, walking in Godís will.††

†† Angels met him on the road to welcome him back to the Promised Land.

How many times in your life, right after youíve made an important decision,

†† have you wondered if you are following Godís will?

Imagine if angels met you and said:Yes, youíre on the right track.

†† Wouldnít that be something?Jacob had that.

 

And then finally the time came to tie up the final loose end, his brother Esau.

†† He sent messengers in greeting and the word came back that Esau was

†† coming to meet him with 400 men, and Jacob was thrown into a crisis.

He had no idea what Esauís intentions were, but he feared the worst.

†† He was in great fear and distress.He prayed.Itís a wonderful prayer.

†† Jacob had truly matured as a believer.Compare this to his prayer in Bethel.

He then began to think about how he could mollify Esau by giving him gifts.

†† He divided his possessions and family, he sent them to the other side

†† of a nearby river, the Jabbokóand as night fell, he wanted to be alone.

To worry, to think, to pray.

How did God respond to this man who had obeyed him,

†† and cried out to him in prayer and who was at the end of his rope?

Did God comfort him?Did he send more angels to sayóJacob, donít be afraid.

†† No.God attacked him, fought him to exhaustion, maimed him for lifeó

†† and then blessed him.

What does this mean?

†† It means that God doesnít always comfort us into a transformed life.

†† Sometimes he wrestles us into a transformed life.

 

Jacob didnít realize at first this was God he was dealing with.

He must have thought it was someone sent by Esau to capture him.

†† At first, Jacob was wrestling to get away from this person.

But then something happened in verse 25.The man touched the socket of his hip.

†† And thatís exactly what it was, just a touch, just tap, perhaps with one finger.

†† And immediately his hip was out of joint.

The pain must have been excruciating.

 

Jacob realized that this person he was wrestling with, trying to escape from,

†† could destroy him with the lightest touch.

And from that moment on, the wrestling match changed,

†† and instead of trying to get away from the man, Jacob wrestled to hold on to him.

Because Jacob realized this was no mere manóit was the Lord.

†† Jacob started saying:I donít want to get away from you.I want you in my life.

 

When did that change happen?

†† When did Jacob change from trying to get away from God to clinging to him?

†† At the moment of his greatest pain.At the moment of his greatest weakness.

At the moment Jacob realized he was completely defenseless.

†† That he did not control his life.

†† That he could not protect his family.

†† He could not protect his property.

That all of his planning amounted to nothing.

†† That God could have his way with him and take everything away with a tap.

†† At that moment, Jacob began to cling to God in a way he never had before.

 

This is scary theology.

We serve a God who says:I want to bless you.

†† But to do that I am going to wake you up to who you are.

And I donít always do that by comforting you, but by wrestling with you.

By throwing you into a crisis so that you have to realize

†† Iím the one with whom you have to deal.

In Robert Rayburnís sermon on this passage he tells the story of a crisis faced by

†† a teenager named John Taylor.His crisis was a girl.I know that might

†† sound silly, but remember I said that Christian experiences are different.

Donít write this off by comparing it to a bigger crisis you have faced.

 

This was a huge crisis in his teenage mind.How to impress her.

†† He had come up with a plan.This girl was in his youth group.

†† Had written a very eloquent prayer.Knew this prayer would impress her.

†† He would come across as a very serious Christian.

He was riding his horse at night, in Kansasóin the late 1800s.

†† At night, alone, just like Jacob.Trying to memorize this prayer.

†† Suddenly he knew that this girl problem was really a spiritual problem.

 

God was wrestling with him.It provoked crisis of conscience.

†† Saw what a fake he was, such a nominal Christian.

And finally John broke down and prayed:This is how he put it.

†† ďBeing at my witís end, I had to call for help.At that point I gave up, called on Jesus Christ,

†† and agreed to do His bidding.My heart found rest.I resolved to do what I could to heal the

†† sores of others.I saw I would have to love the unlovely and serve them as Christ would have

†† me serve and love them.This has been my goal ever since that night.Ē

John Taylor became a doctor, and in 1914 he went to India where he served

†† as a medical missionary with Reformed Presbyterian mission for 50 years.

 

When you are in a crisis you must be able to sayóGod is doing this to me.

†† Heís brought this into my life to wake me up to my need for him in a new way.

But you are still in pain.How do you get some relief?

†† That brings us to the second point.


 

MP#2You have to wrestle back and win.

You have to beat God so that he is compelled to bless you.

 

The strangest part of this strange story is when this man, who is really God in

†† human form cannot overpower Jacob.He actually tells Jacob that.

You have struggled with God and men and have overcome.

†† Jacob, youíve won.Youíre the winner.You beat me, God says.

†† And then he blesses him.

How could this be?With only a touch he dislocated Jacobís strongest joint.

†† A blow from his hand would have crushed Jacob.Yet Jacob won.Is God weak?

†† And even deeper, how could God look at this flawed, sinful man and sayó

†† Jacob, youíre a winner.Youíre an overcomer.

 

Dads, when you wrestled with children when they were little, how did you do it?

†† You put yourself in a position so that you couldnít use your weight.

I would lay down on my back on the floor and the kids would pile on me.

†† When they are all sitting on you and you are laughing, you canít get up.

†† Sometimes I would hold out my arm and tell themóLetís arm wrestle.

†† They would throw their entire weight on my arm, and of course they would win.

In absolute terms, I had more strength.I could have shifted my weight and easily

†† thrown them off, but when I made myself weak, they overpowered me.

 

God made himself weak so that he failed to overpower Jacob.

When God wrestles with you in a crisis, he makes himself weak.

†† He doesnít bring his full weight to bear.He doesnít crush you for your sins

†† and failures.He gives you a touch.It might not feel like a touch.

It might feel like a body blow if the loss or threat you are experiencing is severe.

†† But it really is just a touch.And when you respond to that touch by clinging

†† to God.Not running away from him.Not rejecting him.Not hating him.

 

But saying:Lord, I need you.I need more of you.

†† You are my only comfort and security, my only hope in this crisis.

†† When you do that, you are like a little child piling on her father who is laying

†† on his back on the living room flooróyouíve won, God has lost.

And he canít do anything else but bless you.

†† But God hasnít really lost, has he.

†† Because this is exactly what he wanted all along.

He wanted you to go through this crisis and come out on the other side clinging

†† to him more tightly than you ever have before.

If you are in a crisis right now, I could see how these things might trouble you.

†† You might say:Is God toying with me?Did he have to do something so drastic?

†† He could have gotten my attention without such a devastating loss.

Whereís his love and compassion in what I am suffering?

 

If thatís how you feel, you have to look at the cross.

†† The cross was for Jesus Christ his great crisis.

†† Just the thought of it almost overwhelmed him.

He told the disciples in the Garden of GethsemaneóMy soul is overwhelmed with

†† sorrow to the point of death.The mental and emotional agony was so severe

†† that he sweated drops of blood.If angels had not attended, would have collapsed.

And on the cross itself, Jesus wrestled with the full weight of Godís wrath.

†† Think of that.Jacob got a touch to get his attention and wake him up.

†† Isaiah says that it was Godís will to crush his Messiah.

 

He God the full weight of justice but he held on to God, and held on, and held on,

†† until he got the blessing.At his moment of greatest pain he cried out:

†† ďMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Ē

Jesus is the ultimate Jacob.He is the true Jacob.

†† He was willingly crushed by Godís justice so that you can get the touches and

†† love taps of Godís grace in the crises you face in this fallen world.

 

Because of the cross, the crises you face canít destroy you.

†† The losses and fears and inward agonies you suffer are all turned by

†† Jesus Christ for your eternal good.

Do you believe that?You have to.You donít have a choice.

Cling to your heavenly Father.

†† Tell him that you are not going to let him go until he blesses you.

†† And keep your eyes on the cross.Keep your eyes on the suffering of Jesus.

When your pain is great, know that he was crushed so that your suffering

†† would be turned to good.

 

John Newton is most famous for Amazing Grace but he wrote many more.

Listen to this hymn of his.It describes this very way God works.

 

I asked the Lord that I might grow In faith, and love, and every grace;

Might more of His salvation know, And seek, more earnestly, His face.

†† Have you ever asked God for that?Help me grow, Lord.

†† Then he tells how he hoped God would answer his prayer.

 

I hoped that in some favored hour, At once Heíd answer my request;

And by His loveís constraining powír, Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

†† I hope God will make me a better Christian softly and easily.

†† But how did God actually answer that prayer?

 

Instead of this, He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart;

And let the angry powírs of hell Assault my soul in every part.

†† God threw me into a crisis.He allowed things to come against me.

†† And, not only that, he himself seemed to be fighting against me.

 

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed Intent to aggravate my woe;

Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

†† Heís messed up my plans for my life.The comfortable little shelter.

†† So you cry out, Why?And he answers.

 

ďLord, why is this, I trembling cried, Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?Ē

ĎTis in this way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, From self, and pride, to set thee free;

And break thy schemes of earthly joy, That thou mayíst find thy all in Me.Ē

 

Our God is sovereign, and is able to work all things, for his glory and your good.

†† Crises caused by freak events and natural causes.

†† Crises caused by the deliberate or foolish actions of other people.

†† Crises cause by you well-intentioned actions gone awry,

†† and even crises caused by your own foolish, sinful behavior.

 

And out of Jacobís exposure and confession came a new name.

The Lord says, your name will no longer be Jacob, it will be Israel.

†† Israel means, He wrestles with God.

The Lord gives him a name so that he would always remember

†† this night when he struggled with God and got Godís blessing.

Jacob wasnít perfect after this.He wasnít Israel all the time.

†† Several times the old Jacob came through, but he ended well.

 

No matter what desperate time you are going through, God can use it to make you a

†† better personóbe open to that, be humble, it often starts as he lays your soul bare

†† and invites you to wrestle with him.