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Pr. Todd Mathison
Wrestling with God
Close encounters of the divine kind. Today we’re going to be looking, did you see the couple men wrestling in that little montage there? We’re going to be looking at wrestling with God. Have you ever wrestled with God in prayer? Ever? Bringing struggles to God, or perhaps sometimes put, struggling with God, even? Well, it might be something you should consider. Wrestling with God. When I was nine years old, we moved from the family farm in South Dakota to the big city of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, moving from a town of less than 200 on a farm outside of it to the big town of 12, 000 people. And my mom, that first year in school, signed me up to be on the wrestling team. I had not formally wrestled except with my brother before, and I don’t remember really all the training sessions we had, but I have vivid memories of that city championship meet that went on. Somehow, I made it to the semi final in my class, or it was probably more class than weight division at that time. And so, you know, I remember wrestling my opponent, you know, and I had him down on the mat, and my coach was yelling at me, going, Pin him, Matheson! Pin him! And I’m… Pin? What’s a pin? I didn’t know what a pin was. So… Trying to follow my coach’s exhortations I just kind of wrestled harder and squeezed more until my opponent finally began to cry and I won the match.
So then I’m off to the to the championship round. And, uh, I look at my opponent. It’s this short, stocky guy. I thought, pfft. Piece of cake. He later became a really good friend of mine in high school. Uh, the ref blows a whistle. This guy bullrushes me and pushes me on my back and the ref goes, Two points! And I’m like, Points? There are points in wrestling? I don’t know what, how I missed all that. I didn’t know what a pin was or that you scored points in wrestling. I didn’t win the match. But I think I learned a lesson. When wrestling, it’s prudent to know the purpose of the moves and what the ultimate goal is, to win by a pin or by points. The Old Testament patriarch, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, wrestled with God. And we’re going to be in Genesis chapter 32, so if you have your Bibles or devices, you can turn there ahead of time. That’s our text today. In this text, the Bible describes overwhelming fear and anxiety that was piling up on and consuming Jacob as he’s preparing to meet his older brother Esau, from whom he’d stolen Esau’s birthright as firstborn and the singular blessing of their father through deceit. And Jacob had every right to be afraid because 14 plus later, years later, Esau is now coming out to meet him as Jacob’s going to return home. And Esau has 400 men with him, which didn’t appear to be a peaceful assembly approaching. So in Genesis chapter 32, we’re going to pick it up the story at verse 22.
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his 11 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 I’ve 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 the word of the Lord. Let’s pray, father, as we are in your word now, in this hour, meet with us. May we have an honest encounter with you. Holy Spirit, speak to our own hearts about the concerns that are chasing us down, wrestling us to the mat. May you give us the courage to ask that you would bless us. And the faith to hear your promise, blessings and covenant promises that are our sure and certain hope. I ask in Jesus name, Amen.
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In this sermon series called Close Encounters, we’re looking at Pivotal moments that have occurred where people encountered God that were unique in their own storyline, but all of them transformative. Today’s message is about the grandson of Abraham. Last weekend, Pastor Susan led us through Abraham and Sarah and the promised son. Abraham is Jacob’s grandfather. Isaac The son of promise is Jacob’s father. Now, the story of Jacob. I’ve been reading in the, the Genesis, the late 20s and early 30s chapters. What a mess! I would be reading it and I’d kind of almost feel like, Lord, please kind of cleanse me. I mean, it’s as saucy and spicy as any Housewives of Canaan show, or, you know, I don’t know, uh, Succession, you know, a la Abraham’s family. Uh, and then, uh, uh, and Jacob’s mother’s family was no less messed up. Oh my. Uh, so I want to encourage you to be reading in this because you can see how flawed the people that God calls are. And very clear, it’s not because of who we are that God calls us and loves us, but because of who He is and the promises He’s given us in Christ Jesus. When, um, before Jacob and Esau were bor were born, there was, um, a prophecy given to their mother, Rebecca, back in Genesis 25. The Bible reads, the Lord said to Rebecca, two nations are in your womb and two peoples from within you will be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.
That’s set for drama right there, isn’t it? When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment, so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out with his hand grasping Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob. Now, I mean, the name Jacob, it can literally mean he grasps the heel, but it became a Hebrew idiom for he who deceives. And from this, Jacob would come to mean to supplant, or to overreach, or maybe in a colloquial way to say just, Jacob, ah, he’s a heel. Jacob’s story reflects that birthing prophecy. Time after time of repeatedly supplanting his brother through deception, betrayal, and conniving. Jacob steals his brother’s birthright as the firstborn. And then Jacob deceives their father to give the patriarchal blessing to him rather than to the firstborn Esau. This doesn’t sit well with Esau. Jacob learns about this. And on counsel from his mother, flees for fear of his life and heads to his mother’s family, who again is just as messed up as Jacob’s dad, Isaac. And interestingly, as Jacob is fleeing his brother, kind of as what we see today when God meets with him, it’s a bookend, this is the Book beginning in chapter 28, God meets Jacob and makes the same covenant promise that God had given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. It’s just remarkable.
Jacob, the heel, the deceiver. Called and chosen by God, and God making his covenant promises to him. There’s so much more to read about Jacob’s story, and I commend it to you in Genesis, the chapter 30’s, in the 30’s. But just suffice it to say, that there are times when the tables were eventually turned on Jacob. And he was the one who was deceived. And yet, through all of the chai, his precarious situation. So first, Jacob gets honest about what’s going on and where he’s at. And the context of our scripture sets the scene. Earlier in chapter 32, verse 7, the Bible says, So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. Yeah, underline that. And he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks, and herds, and camels, into two companies. And he said, if Esau comes to the one company and attacks, then the other company which is left… I mean, he could not deny this anymore. He had to get real about what was going on to the point where he’s going to divide his family into two parts so that if one gets destroyed, one might survive.
And then we learn the prayer in which Jacob wrestles with God. In verse 9, then Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, Return to your country and to your family and I will deal well with you. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth with which you have shown your servant. For I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau. For I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For you said, Surely, I will treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude. I mean, this, in all of the colorful story of Jacob, I think this is the pivotal moment in his life. He finally admits he doesn’t deserve God. deserve God’s blessing. And yet he tenaciously clings to the covenant promise that God had made to him. Jacob was finally getting honest with God demonstrated that he finally gets it. And what did he get? It’s this. It’s that when one gets to the foundation of their life with all the mess ups and misdeeds, when all the chickens come home to roost, Jacob’s only hope and the only hope for you and me is in God and the promises That God has made in verse 12, Jacob says, for you said, but God, you said, I mean, Jacob was earnestly wrestling with God about the promises God had made to him, and have you ever had one of those wrestling prayers?
But God, you said so we need to be not just embracing, embracing the struggle, we gotta get honest with God. and cling to what he has said. And this is done as Jacob did, to be honest, be humble before God, and then just agree with what God has said and look to him and to hear his word of promise. It’s what we do every time we gather for a worship service. We did it just earlier here in this hour when we confess our sin and we admit that we don’t deserve God’s grace any more than Jacob did. And yet God lavishes his grace upon us and even calls us. His own children. And so in our confession, even in confession, it’s a wrestling prayer. But God, you said that my sin is covered by Christ’s blood. But God, you said the penalty for my sin is completely paid and I’m free. But God, you said you’d make me your child. And as we just confess for all those who believe in Jesus Christ, he gives the right to become children of God. But God, you said. The Apostle John grasped what God had said when he writes in his first epistle, See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.
Jacob was clinging to the promise that he was a child of God. And for those of us following Israel, the nation of Israel, they were children of God because of being Israel’s descendants. Later on in the reading of the New Testament, We see clearly that people become children of God through faith. In Christ Jesus, you are a child of God. And Jesus is your brother. Because God in Christ Jesus has called you as his child, you have, just as Jacob did, an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time. You’re a child of God and you’ve got a whopping inheritance. That’s waiting for you. Jacob’s desperately clinging on to God’s promises. Looking to God as his only remedy for his situation. Especially when the consequences of his sin were just coming to a crescendo. He had to stop ignoring it and get real and honest and… This past week, um, I finally had to get honest about a situation in my life. I, I developed an, an abscess, um, how can I put this delicately, on where I sit. I’d been ignoring the increasing pain even to the point of grimacing when I sat down, but I soon had to seek help because it was getting beyond my threshold of pain. I finally got uncomfortable enough to do something about it. Saw my general physician, he got the appointment with a dermatologist, and you know what? Just an injection of a steroid and some antibiotic meds. With that same day, it began to subside and it’s completely healed. I embraced the struggle, I got honest with the doctor, and I received healing. And don’t we all have that tendency to ignore festering problems in our life? until they break through the surface, creating all kinds of pain and discomfort.
And wouldn’t it be smart to just get honest about it all and seek remedy for the pain you are suffering? And look to God, even wrestling with him. But God, you said. That’s what was happening for Jacob. He comes to terms with his life situation. Second, Jacob gets honest with God, and then Jacob goes for broke. And he wrestles with God. Until he secures God’s blessing. So here’s the third point. Seek God’s blessing. I’ve never really quite known what to do with Jacob wrestling with God until working through this, this message for the weekend. You know the night before they were to meet the Bible reads, So Jacob was left alone, and then it just out of nowhere. And a man wrestled with him till daybreak. The match went on all night. There was no winner. Until finally the man dislocates Jacob’s hip. And the story continues. Then the man said, let me go for its daybreak. But Jacob replied, I will not let you go unless you bless me. And in the end, the man blessed Jacob. But it was no ordinary man. As the text says, it was God himself appearing in the form of a man. And Jacob wrestled with God. Why not wrestle with God until He blesses you? You know, do you have those nights that come? They come to me every now and then. You’re wrestling with your thoughts. You wake up. Concerns and fears kind of pile on and start spiraling. And you’re laying there all night, wrestling with all your fears and concerns without pinning down anything or knowing the point of it all.
I think it’s a common experience for all of us, I dare say. So next time that you’re being wrestled to the mat by your worries and fears. Why not turn that into a wrestling match with God? Bring those fears and concerns to Him. And as if you’re wrestling with Him, let Him take those burdens from you and give you a blessing in its place. There’s an old gospel chorus that I grew up with. You would, many of you would probably know the lyric, Why worry when you can pray? And why let problems fester and linger and continue to cause damage and pain when you can bring them to God in prayer and seek His blessing? Do you notice in our text here, God changed Jacob’s name? He, He does that, and take note, whenever He does this of significance. Jacob’s name. You know, the meaning of being a supplanter, one who overreaches. Jacob, the heel. But in our text, God changes his name from Jacob to Israel, which means he who struggles with God. Or it can also mean God strives. Either way, Jacob encourages us to bring our fears and anxiety. God, the story of Jacob. And invites us to desperately seek God’s blessing. For God has indeed striven with you, and with me. Beyond the point of dislocating our hip, figuratively speaking. But by placing the physical wounding for our own sin and shame upon his one and only son. The one he loves. Jesus Christ was wounded, mortally.
Peter gets this when he writes in his first letter. Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds. That you have been healed. You can have all the rest. Give me Jesus. Now here’s an insight to reflect on You know the concerns and fears That’s not an antithesis to faith But really they can become a companion on our journey towards a deeper and more meaningful relationship with god When we’re honest about our fears and questions and bring them to god Even if it feels like we’re wrestling with him know that when our own struggles are meant by God’s promises and His faithfulness. Our faith can be purified and strengthened, leading to a more authentic spirituality that glorifies God, blesses our lives, and the lives of others. So my prayer for you and me today is to bring our concerns to God, even if it means wrestling, and clinging then to His, and claiming His words of promise of love and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. So that… Not you, as the prophet Isaiah so aptly puts it. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth.
Join me in prayer. Loving God, help us to be honest, always, about who we are, who you are. May we approach our moments of uncertainty with Hearts that are open, seeking to deepen our understanding of you and of your promises, grant us the courage to be honest and wrestle with our doubts and fears and to bring them to you, knowing that through that whole engagement, our beliefs can be strengthened and our faith in you become more true and authentic to the glory of Jesus, in whose name I pray.
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