Jacob & Jesus
(Excerpt from the sermon)
Sermon Series: Origins
Jacob is the only man in the Bible who experienced a one-on-one wrestling match with God. He wrestled with God. What would that have been like? If you know Jacob's story, you know that his name means “to wrestle” or “to strive.”
Genesis 32:22-30 says,
“That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants 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. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When 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.’ The 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 humans and have overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’”
This text is one of the most sobering passages of scripture when we start to define God.
The most important events in your life, you will have to face alone. Recently I had nasal passage surgery. A horrible surgery, but I had trouble breathing for a long, long time. When I went in for the surgery that day, all my friends texted me. Robin, my wife, went with me. All my acquaintances were wishing me well, and I appreciate that and there's value in that, but when the time came for me to go through the doors into surgery, no one could go with me. I'm going all by myself. In that moment you recognize something: that if your relationship with God never becomes personal, you will always feel alone and you will always experience the most difficult seasons of life alone.
If God is just theory or an abstract idea or concept to you, if you have never done your business with God, alone, then you will feel alone the rest of your life. Jacob had pursued God, wrestled with God, all of his life but he wasn't really after God. He wanted God to help him get the things that he really thought would satisfy or please him. In effect, Jacob was an idol worshiper and he was hoping that God could help him get the things that he truly loved. He never pursued or wrestled with God for the sake of getting God. So now we come to this text, this narrative, and God is going to do some business with Jacob.
The most important events in your life you will have to face alone, and that includes getting to know God in a relationship. Until you've done that, you will feel alone the rest of your life.
God will pursue you, but He will never overpower you.
Going back to the text, Genesis 32:24-26 says,
“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When 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.’”
Now there are a lot of questions here. Number one, who is Jacob wrestling? Later in the text, Jacob calls the place “Peniel because I have seen the face of God and lived.” So God is wrestling Jacob. Jacob is wrestling the pre-incarnate Christ. This is not just an angel of the Lord. This is the angel of the LORD. This signifies to us that Jacob is wrestling God Himself. Now, if he's wrestling God, then what does the text mean when it says God could not overpower him, so He touched his hip?
In the gospel story, God makes Himself weak and vulnerable for one purpose: that human beings can choose freely for themselves what to do with Him.
Every time I contemplate this, it's almost too wonderful to fathom because the choice could not have been easy for God. God could have overwhelmed us. God could have done something that would absolutely, rather than captivate your heart, overwhelm your free will and force you into a relationship with Him. He could still do that today, but instead of moving in total power and strength, He moves in weakness. Rather than overriding you, what He does is compel you through sacrificial love. That is the story of the gospel. Offering us that kind of freedom also opens the door to pain and suffering, because many will reject Christ. By rejecting this compelling sacrificial relationship we will go our own way, and that will open the door to the lives most of us are living.
However, Dorothy Sayers wrote something incredible about the pain and the suffering that comes into the life of humanity. She says:
“The incarnation means that whatever reason God chose to allow us to fall into the ramifications of the human condition, (suffering and the subject of sorrow and death) He nonetheless had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. He Himself has gone through the whole of human experience and the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and the lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. He was born in poverty and suffered infinite pain all for us and thought it well worth His while.”
What is all this saying? It's saying that God's nature is so overpoweringly self-giving, that He bases His appeal to humanity, and the way He works in our lives, on sacrificial love – not a pyrotechnic display of power. Only sacrificial love can compel the response God is looking for. A relationship freely given, love and affection between the Creator and the creature.
The wonder of the Gospel story reminds us that God is not after mere allegiance or obedience to power. He wants something far greater than that. He desires man's free love, that we should follow Him freely, enticed and taken captive by Him. So not only will you face the most difficult seasons of your life alone, but you have to understand that God is always working in those seasons, but He will never overpower you. He will be there, but He will never overpower you. Often He will do his best work in your weakness. The example that the gospel sets is that God does His best work in His weakness, when He comes in the form of man to die for the sins of the world.
You cannot tame God. Jacob is finally getting it. He sends gifts to Esau. He sends everyone away to be alone and then he prays. On the one hand, why does Jacob keep traveling home when he knows that Esau is coming to kill him? Why not just go back to his land of safety? The reason is in Genesis 31:2 – God told him to go home. God said, Jacob, it’s time for you to stop striving and wrestling. It’s time for you to go home. So at least at this point in Jacob's life, he's listening and obeying God even at the risk of his own life. So he's making progress. Maybe he saw an episode of Dr. Phil where the good doctor said, “and how's that working out for you?” Because Jacob's way of doing life has not been working out for him at all. So Jacob sends everyone away so that he can have time to reflect and pray and seek God.
What is my next move? Here's the million dollar question, and all of this culminates here. How do you expect God to respond to a man who obeys him at the risk of his life, follows God's will, seeks Him in prayer, and is at the very end of his rope? How do you think God is going to respond to Jacob right here, right now? The answer is that He assaults him. He puts the hammerlock on him and lames him for the rest of his life. This is not the God of liberal religion, a beneficent God who loves everyone, the perfect God of love. As I've said before, a perfect God of love would also be a perfect God of justice and holiness and judgment. All of those put together. But neither is this the God of the conservative religion.
If you do everything right, if you pray, if you read your Bible, go to church, then everything always turns out your way. The real God cannot be tamed or boxed in. You can't control Him by a formula. You can't force your own personal covenant on Him. You can't bind Him to your own rules. The real God reserves the right to clobber you and cripple you for the rest of your life – if it means He can save you. Who could make up a God like that? In C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy asks about Aslan, the Christ figure, “Is he safe?” “Safe? Who said anything about safe? He's not safe, but he's good. He's the king, I tell you.”
The point is that you cannot tame God. You cannot live in such a way as to never suffer. It's impossible. You seldom know the mind of God unless He chooses to reveal it to you. Chances are high that seldomly will He give you all the information. Think about this. You're going to do your business with God alone. The most important struggles of your life, you're going to go at it alone. If you've not invested in a relationship with God, you're always going to feel alone. But, God will show up. He will show up with just enough power so as to not overwhelm you. He will draw you, but He will not overwhelm you. Therefore, there will be times when you try to tame God and you want to know everything about God and what He's doing.
It's going to be impossible because you can't define God in terms that are exact unless God chooses to reveal to you, which He has through the scripture. That's why we say that a person who's not falling apart usually has a Bible that is. In that scripture and in that relationship, God will give you some information, but you'll never be able to box Him in and say, God always responds this way to the circumstances of my life.
God has to wrestle us into a transformed life rather than comfort us into a transformed life. This is a God who wants to bless you. He wants to change your life.
But to do that, he has to bop you in the head. He has to wake you up to who you are and to who He really is. In other words, He's going to have to wrestle you. Every single one of us knows this is true. We learn very little in pleasure and so much in pain.
Jacob knows that he's holding onto someone that can incinerate him at any moment, and yet he won't let go. What's more surprising is the angel of the Lord, of the pre-incarnate Christ says to him, “Let me go for it is daybreak.” You may read that and you say, “let me go”? That's like a lion saying to a baby impala, let me go. Can you imagine that? Jacob is saying, even if I see your face and die, I don't care. Nothing in my life is working. This is what I need. There's no way I'm letting you go. Even if it kills me. I can't go back to the old life. If I don't have you,
I don't have anything. How does God reach Jacob? Weakness. Yes, but who's weakness? Look again at verse 28, “Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” – or have prevailed. What? Jacob prevailed over God. It says that God stands over Jacob and says, winner, winner chicken dinner. How does that happen? Jacob can't believe his life is spared. He's shocked that all he got was a blow that woke him up instead of God incinerating him. How can God say to me that I have trampled on men and God all my life and then suddenly stand over me and declare me the winner?
This is the point God is making. This is the point of the story of Jacob. God made himself weak so that He failed, on purpose, to overpower Jacob. Because, had He overpowered Jacob, He could have killed him. But that's not what God wants. God wants salvation, not annihilation. God came in weakness so as not to destroy Jacob, but to save him. In losing to Jacob, God won. Had God won, He wouldn't have gotten what He really wanted: A transformed heart, an awakening.
He allows Jacob to win the wrestling match, to save him. God loses so that He can win a transformed heart. If you want God to dazzle you, here's how He's going to do it. God allows men to overcome Him in order that He might save them. No man could ever come up with this. He takes on the form of a servant and He dies. He allows the creature to destroy the Creator, as a way to compel through sacrificial love.
Jesus died so that it would wound you without destroying you. During the course of your life, God will have to clobber you. But when He comes to you, He will weaken Himself. He will not overwhelm you with His power.
He will come to you in weakness. His goal is a heart of transformation, not annihilation. He will wrestle you again and again, but He wants you to prevail. He wants you to stand up and realize that only He can give you what you're looking for in every area of your life. He will never overpower you, but He will wound you and He will do that to wake you up. In losing, God wins.
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