“The Grace of Reconciliation”                                                     April 15, 2012

Genesis 33:1-20

 

SI:  We’re back to our study of the life of Jacob after a three week break.

It’s a shame that we’ve lost some of the continuity of the story.

   Because to really appreciate this episode in Jacob’s life, this chapter we

   are about to read, you have to realize what a big deal it was to him.

 

For 20 years, the inevitability of this meeting with his brother Esau had been in the

   back of Jacob’s mind.  He knew one day he would return to the Promised Land,

   and when that happened, he knew he would have to face Esau.

He would have to face the fact that he had deceived and cheated his brother to get

   their father’s blessing.  He would have to face Esau’s response, perhaps his anger.

Esau had threatened to murder him for what he had done.

   That threat had caused Jacob to run away to Uncle Laban’s house—

   he thought for just a short time, but it turned out to be for 20 years.

Not just any years, the building years of his life, when he married, had children,

   came into his own financially. 

 

And then, as we saw a few weeks ago when we studied chapter 32,

   the whole way this encounter with his brother began to unfold

   spun out of Jacob’s control—he couldn’t manipulate it, he couldn’t run.

His brother was coming with a small army—400 men.

   It was in that desperate position that the Lord came and wrestled with Jacob.

   And you remember the outcome of that wrestling match, Jacob clung to the Lord

   and insisted on his blessing—and the Lord blessed him.

 

It was an incredible spiritual mountaintop that prepared Jacob for what would

   happen next.  And so we see him in this chapter finally facing his brother.

And what do you know, the Lord is at work in the situation, and Jacob experiences

   the grace of reconciliation with Esau.


 

INTRO:  A number of years ago I was in the All-Steak—

   sitting in a booth, waiting for someone. 

And as I waited, I overheard a conversation in the booth behind me.

   One man was talking to another man about a person he was very angry with.

   On and on he went about how he did like that this person,

   and how the things this person had done were so wrong. 

And then he mentioned the person’s name, and that’s when I really perked up—

   because it was the name of a well-known pastor in this town,

   one who I personally think very highly of.

 

This man went on and on about how his pastor had done him wrong,

   how he had said some things that bothered him, failed in this or that.

He kept calling him Brother So-and-so. 

   “Brother So-and-so said this.”  “Brother So-and-so said that.”

   On and on about Brother So-and-so.

It was ironic that he kept referring to him as brother—

   because the things he was saying were not brotherly at all.

 

The more he said, the more I could tell there was another side to this story.

   I began to dislike this man who was trashing his pastor in such a way.  

   Then he said:  As long as Brother So-and-so is there, I’m not going back.

I figured that if he was planning to leave his church, he might show up in mine.

   So I better get a look at him.  I made as if I was looking for lunch appointment,

   craned my neck around and memorized the face of that disgruntle parishioner.

 

I didn’t know the man, but he obviously would have said he was a Christian. 

   He was a member of a church in town and he called his pastor “Brother.” 

But his response to being wronged was,

   That’s it, I’m not going back.  I’m not having anything to do with him. 

   In his mind there was a permanent rupture.

 

Unfortunately, that’s not surprising.  That’s the way it normally is with people.

   People fall out with each other—over big, terrible things, over petty things,

   over genuine wrongs, over perceived wrongs—and it even happens in the church.

Even Christian people fall out with each other and leave churches,

   break fellowships, become estranged.  In my home church, there was a woman

   whose family had been members for 150 years, she got miffed over something

   a deacon said in a congregational meeting, and never darkened door till day died.

 

Those kinds of stories don’t surprise us.

   It’s human nature ever since Adam blamed Eve for his sin.

But sometimes, by God’s grace, there is reconciliation.

   And that is surprising. 

When broken things are put together and anger is put aside and people rise above

   the wrongs done to them and those who have done the wrongs make things right.

 

That’s exactly what happens in this episode of Jacob’s life—

   God worked out an amazing reconciliation between these brothers.

Jacob was so astounded at what the Lord has done that he says to Esau—

   “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.”

That Jacob would look into the face of his brother Esau,

   who was not a believer, who had no interest in the covenant

   or the things of God, and say—seeing your face is like seeing the face of God—

That shows us what a magnificent work of grace this reconciliation was.

 

All reconciliation is an illustration of the Gospel.

The heart of Christ’s work was to reconcile us to God.

   We who were enemies of God and who were under his wrath—

   we were reconciled by the cross. 

Whenever enemies are brought together, it’s the Lord’s work.

 

Perhaps there is someone in your life with whom you need to be reconciled.

   And perhaps, like Jacob, the Lord is moving you in that direction.

He’s arranging circumstances, bringing this person to your mind,

   pushing you toward this person, just has he pushed Jacob toward Esau.

Maybe, like Jacob, it’s been a long time since the break.

   Maybe like, Jacob, you are the one who bears a good part of the blame.

   Even if the other person isn’t blameless, you know what you did.

How do you discern what the Lord is doing, and the steps you need to take?

 

This passage is not by any means the last word in reconciliation.

But it does show us some particular ways God’s grace will be at work in your life

   if he is moving you toward reconciliation. 

As we’ve seen all along in the life of Jacob, as believers we are called to 

   appropriate God’s grace, and make the most of it and not miss it. 

 

Three points about the grace of reconciliation, I’ll give them as we go.

   If you sense God doing these things in your heart, then you must respond to them

MP#1  God’s grace gives you the freedom to ask for forgiveness without

   qualifications.  (That’s a long point, I’ll give it to you again.)

 

Look at the way Jacob approached Esau.

He was fresh from his encounter with God, from his night of wrestling.

   He had a remarkable freedom in approaching Esau—freedom from fear,

   freedom from the need to manipulate, freedom from need to get upper hand.

Freedom to ask for forgiveness without any qualifications.

 

Jacob bowed down seven times. 

This was not groveling.  This was the accepted custom in the Ancient Mid East

   for an inferior greeting an superior, a vassal greeting his lord.

   Jacob referred to himself as Esau’s servant, he called Esau my lord.

But before he could say a word about the past.

   Before he could speak to Esau about how he had deceived Isaac to steal blessing,

   Esau embraced him, kissed him, and they wept.

 

Jacob didn’t actually have to say—Please forgive me for stealing your blessing.

   Because in his bowing, he was acknowledging the blessing he had stolen.

   “You will be lord over brothers, mother’s sons will bow down to you.”

Esau got it and accepted it magnanimously.

 

But for now I want you to see that in doing this, Jacob was asking for forgiveness

   without qualifications.  He did not bring up Esau’s role in the rift at all.

Remember, Esau wasn’t innocent in the break between the brothers.

   Yes, Jacob had deceived their father Isaac and gotten the blessing deceitfully.

   But how had Esau responded?  By threatening to murder his brother.

And he was such a hothead that he might have done it.

   His own mother thought he might.  Rebekah was so fearful for Jacob’s life

   that she told him to run away for a time to her brother Laban’s house.

 

Jacob didn’t say:  Look, I’m sorry.  But you do bear some responsibility for this.

   Your violent over-reaction was more to blame than the wrong thing I did.

   You hurt me back worse than I hurt you.

He didn’t pull out the spiritual guns and say—I was wrong, forgive me for that.

   But you completely ignored God’s prophecy that the older would serve younger.

   You had no regard for the fact that I was chosen to carry on the covenant seed.

   You did not have respect for my office.

 

Instead, without a single qualification—Jacob communicates to Esau—

   Please forgive me.  I want to be reconciled. 

It takes God’s grace to ask forgiveness that way. 

   When you know good and well that the other person bears a lot of blame

   for the rift—maybe even has done worse things than you.

But if the Lord is moving you toward that person, moving you toward reconciliation

   as he moved Jacob towards Esau—then this is exactly what he wants you to do.

 

Let me ask you a personal question: 

Is there anyone in your life to whom you need to say:

   Please forgive me for what I did to you.

   Please forgive me for what I said to you.

   Please forgive me for how I said it to you.

   Please forgive me for my harsh tone,

   Please forgive me for not treating you with gentleness and respect.

 

If you are going to appropriate the grace of God, you are going to have to allow

   yourself to be humbled.  That comes when, like Jacob, you’ve wrestled with God

   and know that he is with you to bless you.

When you know that your identity, the judgment on your life rests with Christ.

   When you know those things, you can ask forgiveness in this way. 

 

It’s been said that the three most powerful words in the English language are—

   I love you.  But the case could be made that a close second is—Please forgive me. 

One time a stranger confronted me in a store. 

   He began cussing me out.  Claimed I had cut him off in parking lot.

   I had no idea if I had cut him off or not.  If I did, not on purpose.  I didn’t see him.

I had the presence of mind to say:  Sir, please forgive me for cutting you off. 

   I added no qualifications.  Didn’t say, Please forgive me, but you, sir, are an ass. 

No, just please forgive me.  It completely took the wind out of his sails. 

   He sputtered and fumbled and said:  Don’t do it again! 

 

That’s a silly example.  I didn’t cost me anything, just a little pride. 

   That’s nothing compared to a situation in which there is a long and painful history

   or wrongs committed or perceived that have hurt for a long time.

But it’s an indication of the power of asking forgiveness. 

   If the Lord is moving you toward reconciliation, don’t miss this grace—

   the freedom of asking for forgiveness without qualifications. 

 

MP#2  God’s grace gives you the desire to make God-honoring restitution.

A large part of this story concerns the flocks and herds Jacob gave Esau.

   To get the full picture, you have to go back to the previous chapter.

When Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men,

   he first prayed, called out to the Lord to save him.

Then after he prayed, he began to think how he could get control of the situation.

 

And he came up with a rather elaborate and expensive plan.

He selected a large number of animals from his own flocks and herds—

   200 female goats, 20 male goats,

   200 ewes, 20 rams,

   30 female camels with their young,

   40 cows and 10 bulls, and

   20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys.

He put these five different herds of animals into the care of servants,

   and he sent them ahead to meet Esau.  He put time between each herd.

When they met Esau instructed to say:  These animals belong to your servant Jacob,

   and they are a gift to his lord Esau.  And Jacob is coming behind us.

It says that Jacob hoped that he would pacify, appease Esau.

 

All the commentators point out that this was an enormous amount of wealth.

   Indicates how desperate Jacob was.

He sent the animals on toward Esau, then it was the night he wrestled with God.

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

When his hip was wrenched by the touch of God,

   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.

 

He went out to meet Esau a different man, trusting in the Lord.

Now with that background, look what happened to this gift he had sent along.

   Of course, Esau mentions it—it’s a tremendous amount of wealth.

   What do you mean by all these animals.  Jacob says, to find favor in your eyes.

Esau says:  No, I have plenty, keep your property.

 

Jacob’s response is fascinating:  All of his original motive, to manipulate and pacify

   his brother, is gone and he says:  If I’ve found favor in your eyes, keep them.

For seeing your face is like seeing the face of God—

   please accept this for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.

 

For Jacob, everything has changed.  His desire to give this to his brother is no

   longer to get control of the situation, but to give glory to God for his grace.

It was to say—God has been good to me, he has brought me to this place of

   reconciliation, I want to honor him by honoring you in a tangible, costly way.

 

This will look different in every situation. 

One of the most famous stories of this in the Bible is Zaccheus. 

   Remember how after he ate with Jesus and believed in him.

   Half my wealth I give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, repay fourfold.

   When he said that Jesus responded:  Salvation has come to this house.

He gave not to manipulate, not out of guilt, not to check off box—to glorify God.

 

I had a friend, actually my boss in seminary. 

   Before he became a Christian, he was a thief.  Stole everything he could.

After he came to faith the Holy Spirit impressed on him that he should ask

   forgiveness and make restitution.  So he made a list of what he had stolen, started

   writing letters.  Paying people back.  But had stolen so much, couldn’t remember.

During the time I knew him he found a big set of expensive copper cookware

   that he had stolen from a restaurant he worked in.  He had stuck it in his attic

   and forgotten about it.  He asked us to help him box it up.

He wrote to the owner, told him to let him know how this had hurt him financially.

   What could he pay him.  One after another he did this.

   Some people were furious.  Some were dumbfounded. 

But he was doing it for the same reason Jacob did—God had been gracious to him.

 

I was once invited to a meal by someone who had estranged himself from me.

   It wasn’t costly in financial terms, it was just an average meal—

   but it was his tangible way of recognizing God’s grace that brought back together,

   and it was costly for him in terms of his emotions.

As I said, this will look different in different situations.

 

If the Lord is moving you toward reconciliation, you must be open to this.

   That he may want you to acknowledge his grace with God-honoring restitution.

 

MP#3  God’s grace gives you the faith to see Christ in all the participants.

Reconciliation is the heart of Christ’s work—he reconciled us to God by the cross.

   With eyes of faith, you are enabled to see the drama of that great reconciliation

   played out in reconciliation between people—and that enables you to move ahead.

 

Look at the participants in this story.  Jacob is a Christ-figure.

   In a humble and free way he gave up his rights and was reconciled to his brother.  In the same way the Son of God gave up his rights, and humbled himself

   in order that he might reconcile the world to himself.

I’m not saying that the point of this story in Genesis 33 is to foreshadow the

   sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  There are very big differences between Jacob and Jesus.

Jacob was seeking to undo the consequences of his sins—

   Christ had no sins of his own to repent of or seek to undo. 

Esau is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an image of the people of God—

   in fact, he’s the very opposite.  He’s an image of those outside the covenant.

 

But you can’t help but notice that as soon as Jacob received his new name,

   as soon as God said, you are no longer Jacob but Israel—

   no longer Grasper, Surplanter but Wrestler with God, Prince of God—

   as soon as he got that name, he began to act in a Christ-like, humble way.

And in doing so, he foreshadowed the great reconciliation that Christ

    would accomplish on the cross.

 

Here’s the point, with eyes of faith, you can see that your participation in

   reconciliation, your steps toward the person you are estranged from,

   are little picture of Jesus. 

Even if, like Jacob, the rift was cause all or in part by your sin. 

   The humility, the self-sacrifice you extend come from Christ alone.

 

But there is another side to this that is even more remarkable.

It’s not just that Jacob’s behavior was Christ-like—Jacob saw Christ in Esau.

   Jacob served and honored Christ in the person of the brother he had

   wronged so many years before.

 

I’ve already drawn your attention to that remarkable comment by Jacob in vs. 10.

   “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God.”

That statement is even more remarkable when you remember that just a few hours

   before, after wrestling with God all night Jacob said:  “I saw God face to face.”

Jacob was now seeing things in a way he never had.

He was looking at the world and his circumstances and his relationships

   with a deeper faith.  Because of that he even saw Esau and treated Esau

   as one who stood in God’s place in relation to him.

On the one hand, this is hard to explain.  Esau was not a godly man.

   He had some good character traits, but he had no interest in spiritual things.

   It was not Esau who made his face seem like God’s face to Jacob.

 

It was Jacob’s faith and Jacob’s experience with God that turned Esau into

   a representative for God.  Jacob saw in his reconciliation with Esau,

   a picture of his own reconciliation and acceptance by God. 

When Esau embraced him and kissed him and wept over him—

   it was to Jacob as if God himself was doing those things.

 

Remember Jesus taught us something similar when he said the when we clothe

   the naked, visit the lonely, give food to the hungry, we are doing it for him.

Everyone you treat in a way that expresses your faith in Christ makes that person

   a mirror of Christ to you—not just in charity, even in reconciliation. 

Even when you have to ask forgiveness for wrongs we’ve done.

   Even when you have to make restitution to set things right.

 

One preacher put it this way: 

“There are in this fallen world unending opportunities to draw out of one’s own experience of God’s grace an appropriate way of dealing with other human beings, and so find Christ in their faces.  If he or she is someone who has sinned against us, the forgiveness that Christ has extended to us should make us forgiving toward that someone.  If it is someone we have sinned against, God’s mercy to us in defiance of our sins should cause us to forsake our pride and make us the most ready of all people to acknowledge our sins and seek forgiveness from that someone’s hand.”

 

In Doug Wilson’s book, Reforming Marriage, he gives husbands a particular 

   challenge.  He says that husbands ought to be the first repenters in the home. 

Ought to take the lead in saying to their wife and children—Please forgive me.

   Please forgive me for my harsh words, for my silence, for my selfishness.

   He says that in doing so you preach Christ to your family. 

You show your children the love of Christ for his bride.

   And you show your own need for Christ to forgive your sins

   and made you a better man.  

When you think of reconciliation that way—that Christ is in this—he’s in me,

   he’s in the face of this person that I’m seeking to make things right with,

   that emboldens you and frees you to do what you need to do.

CONC:  Chuck Colson has been in the news lately, he’s 80 years old and in very

   poor health.  There was an article about him recently in National Review.

The author didn’t appear to be a Christian, but he was very respectful of

   Colson’s many years serving with Prison Fellowship.

 

Of all the stories of broken lives restored that Colson has seen, one stands out.

It happened at the graduation ceremony in a prison for a group of inmates who

   had professed faith in Christ, and gone through an 18-month class on biblical

   principles of repentance, restitution, and reconciliation.

One prisoner, Ron Flowers, was incarcerated for the murder of a young woman.

   For 15 years he had maintained his innocence, but after this class, for the first

   time he admitted his crime, wrote to the victim’s family, confessed what he had

   done, and began to pray they would forgive him.

 

The murdered girl’s mother, a Mrs. Washington, was a believer herself.

And during those first 15 years she had made it a point of writing a letter every year

   to the parole board, angrily urging them to deny Ron Flowers a hearing.

But then one week, she felt the strange conviction to forgive this man.

   It was the very same week Ron Flowers wrote her the letter asking forgiveness.

 

Colson describes what happened at that graduation ceremony.

(As Ron Flower) approached me for his certificate, out of the corner of my eye I saw a tall, stately woman rise from her seat among the visitors.  Her name was Mrs. Washington, and she swept to the front, wrapped her arms around the inmate, and declared to everyone, “This young man is my adopted son.”  The place was electrified.  I saw hardened criminals and tough corrections officials with tears in their eyes . . .Their tearful embrace at the graduation ceremony was the climax of a series of what can only be called miracles.  Only the supernatural grace of God could bring together a murderer and his victim’s mother; only the resurrection power of Christ can create love where there once was hatred and revenge.  I know that in my own power I could never have done what this woman did.  And if a miracle can happen in prison, it can happen anywhere.

 

Is the Lord moving you, in your heart, in your circumstances, toward reconciliation,

   just as he moved Jacob?  Do you have an Esau you need to speak to or write to

   this week?  Do you have a Brother So-and-so? 

Don’t miss this grace of God—make use of the freedom, the desire, the faith he

   has given you to take the first step in this beautiful thing.