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Sermon

A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church,

West Melbourne, FL on November 4, 2007 by Pastor Dale Raether

Step into the Ring!

Genesis 32:22-30

I have to confess, Iím not into wrestling, and so I would not be interested in wrestling with this guy (show picture) or this one (show picture).  And if I did have to wrestles with either of these guys, when it was over, Iím sure I wouldnít be wearing this belt (picture of belt).  Godís word this morning compares praying to wrestling.  So, have you ever wrestled with God over an impossible situation?  Maybe there was someone close to you, whose heart had become cold.  Or, maybe there was a health issue in your family for which there seemed to be no cure.  When you prayed about those situations, how hard and how long did you pray about it?  Did you keep on bugging God like that lady did in our Gospel reading, or was your attitude more, ďWell, here goes nothingĒ? 

 

The more impossible a situation may seem, the more we can be tempted to pray without hope that itís actually going to do any good, especially if that problems has already been dragging on for 20 years.  I used that number, because thatís how long Jacob had been dealing with his problem.  However, on this particular night in our text, Jacobís problem had become absolutely critical, and so he prayed harder than he had ever prayed in his entire life. 

 

This morning God invites us to do the same.  If praying is like wrestling with God, letís take all those impossible situations weíre dealing with, and letís Step into the Ring!   1.  God wants us to wrestle with Him.  2.  He shows us how to win.      

 

We read in our text, ďThat night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.Ē  Jacobís desperate need was this.  Twenty years earlier, Jacobís father, Isaac, had wanted to give the blessing of the first born to Jacobís brother, Esau.  This meant that Esau would have received twice as much of the inheritance as Jacob, and it also would have meant that Esau would be an ancestor of the coming Savior. 

 

Now, our first reaction to this blessing of the first born is that it wasnít fair.  I mean, why should the oldest get twice as much as his brothers and sisters?  Well, God was teaching His people several lessons.  One is how much money we do or donít have isnít important.  God is our Father!  Also, the promised Savior is the first among us, His brothers and sisters.  And so, itís only fitting that He receive many more blessings from the Father than we do.  Yet at the same time, just being His brother or sister is an amazing blessing. 

 

Anyway, betting back to Jacob and Esau, Esau had wanted the blessing of the first born for the money.  Jacob wanted it, so that he could be an ancestor of the Savior.  So, when Isaac was about to give the blessing to Esau, even though God had told him to give to Jacob, Jacob pretended to be Esau, and so Isaac gave it to him instead of his brother.  When Esau found out, he became so angry, that he vowed to kill Jacob as soon as their parents had passed.  Jacob then fled the country with nothing but the shirt on his back.  During the next 20 years, he worked hard, got married and had 12 children.  He also became extremely wealthy.  Well, it finally came time for Jacob and his family to return to the Promised Land, because thatís where the promised Savior was to be born.  However, Jacob faced a big uncertainty.  Would his brother, Esau, still want to kill him?  That seemed like a real possibility.  Jacob had sent word to Esau that he was coming home, and Esau headed out to meet him with 400 soldiers.  If this was going to be a happy reunion, why would Esau come with 400 soldiers?  Still, God had commanded Jacob to go back, so hereís what he did.  Jacob sent Esau 220 goats, 200 sheep, 30 camels, 50 head of cattle, and 30 donkeys.  He sent these gifts in waves to soften Esau up and to keep some of his 400 soldiers busy.  Jacob also divided his family into two groups so that if Esau attacked and killed one group, perhaps the other could escape.  

 

We read on in our text, ďSo Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.Ē  Esauís wanting to kill Jacob was certainly wrong.  But Jacobís not trusting God to somehow give him the blessing of the first born and then deceiving his father to get it was also wrong.  In fact one of Jacobís biggest weaknesses was not trusting God and trying to micromanage his life. 

 

How are you at trusting God and putting everything into His hands?  I have to confess Iím not always the best at that.  My intentions, like Jacobís, might be for the glory of God.  Yet when something good isnít happening, how tempting it is to try to force the issue!  For example, suppose someone is weak in his worship or weak in following one or more of Godís commands.  What God wants us to do then is patiently, firmly, gently, lovingly speak the Word, so that the Holy Spirit may first convict and then heal his heart.  But what if nothing seems to be changing?  Thatís when Christians can be tempted to coerce, shame, and pressure people into doing the right things.  But is that how God brought us to faith?  Is it how He strengthens our faith and leads us in the paths of righteousness?  Itís not how He worked with Jacob either.  God let Jacob make a mess out of his life, and yet God kept blessing Jacob.  And then God brought Jacob to the point, where he couldnít micromanage his life anymore.  All he could do was pray like his life depended on it, which it did. 

 

This is also how it is for us.  God does want us to use all the gifts Heís given us to accomplish what needs accomplishing.  And so, He wants us to work to the best of our ability.  And He wants us to keep training in His Word, and then live and use His Word in our daily life, as though peopleís souls and lives depend on it, because they do.  Yet, at the same time God wants us to depend on Him that He is working through us, even when we canít see that.  Unfortunately depending on Him is not something our sinful heart likes to do.  And so, God at times seems to withhold blessings that would be good for us or even good for His Kingdom, and then He invites us to step into the ring of prayer and wrestle Him for those blessings.

 

Reading on in our text, ďWhen the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."  It seems strange that if God appears as a man, He couldnít win in wrestling against a 97 year old man, because thatís how old Jacob was at this point.  Now, certainly God was still almighty.  With just a touch He put Jacobís hip out of joint.  Yet even though Jacob couldnít walk anymore without help, he still wouldnít let go of Godís feet.  Thatís gutsy, isnít it.  But thatís how God wants his children to be.  He wants His wants them wrestle with Him.  He wants us to win.  I said, truly win, because when we win against God in prayer, itís not a matter that heís just letting us win.  We truly win.  Hereís how thatís possible.

 

20 years earlier God had promised Jacob that He would be an ancestor of the Savior and that He would bring Jacob safely back to the Promised Land.  On this scary night, it didnít look like God was keeping that promise.  Esau was coming out to him with 400 soldiers.  So, what Jacob did, was he held God to His promise.  We may do the same!  For example God promised in our Baptism and He re-affirms this in Holy Communion that He will remember our sins no more.  However, what if for years and years we have been living with the consequences of our sins, or we donít feel like we fully forgiven.  Well, through Word and Sacrament, we may latch onto Godís promise of forgiveness and not let go.  So, visualize this.  Weíre standing before Godís judgment thrown.  He knocks us down to our face by reminding us of our sins and what we deserve.  But then like Jacob we may grab hold of judgeís feet and shout at Him, ďBut you promisedÖĒ  Gutsy?  Yes!  Yet this is what God wants us to do, and this how we can truly win against His anger at our sins.

 

Now since we can defeat God on this greatest issue, we can also defeat Him on lesser issues.  However, there is this difference.  When it comes to forgiveness, for Jesusí sake we can insist on exactly that Ė forgiveness.  With other issues, we can simply commit ourselves into His hands and demand that He work out all the details into a blessing. 

 

We read in our text, ďThe man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered.  Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."Ē  God actually answered Jacobís prayer in two ways.  First God softened Esauís heart, so that the next day when they met, it was a happy reunion.  And while they never became best friends, a few years later they were able to bury their father, Isaac, together in peace.  However, the greater blessing this night was Jacobís name change.  Jacob means basically heal grabber or deceiver.  Israel means basically, winner with God.  Every time Israel would hear his new name, he would remember how he had wrestled with God and won.  And so, the pain in his hip, which he had for the rest of his life, helped to keep him humble.  But his name gave him confidence that God would always hear and answer his prayers. 

 

Do you know what?  You and I have also been given a new name.  Our old name, because of our sins in thought, word or deed, was murderer, or drunkard, or fornicator, or gossiper, or greedy person.  Now our name is child of God.  Children of God, are you now faced with some impossible situation?  Have you been facing this impossible situation for a long time?  Then step into the ring with God.  He letís things get this bad, so that weíll learn that we canít rely on ourselves; we can only rely on Him.  Then through His Word, God teaches us the wrestling holds that even He canít get out of.  Children of God, use these holds.  Insist that God let nothing come between Him and you, except His love for you.  Then be confident that somehow God will make that situation youíre facing work together for greater blessings of body and soul, then youíd ever imagine.  God will do this, because through the merits of Jesus God has made us prayer champions over Him!  Amen.   

 




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