A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church,
West Melbourne, FL on November 4, 2007 by Pastor
Step into the Ring!
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
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
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
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.