+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Genesis 32:30
Theme: Face To Face With God
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The ways of God are often mysterious to the ways of men. God had plans for Jacob. His way of preparing Jacob for the tasks ahead was extraordinary. Near the ford of the Jabbok he grappled with the Almighty. The encounter is enigmatic, to say the least. It involves a long night of wrestling with God, a dislocated hip, a blessing, and a change of name. The meeting happens at a time of vulnerability and tension. Jacob is about to face his twin brother Esau, whose potential wrath has filled him with great angst.
Jacob spends the night wrestling with God in prayer. We are not privy to the exact nature of the struggle, but it’s clear that it was no nightmare or bad dream. Jacob was a man of faith and was seeking confidence from God in the tasks that were before him. We do well to consider that Jacob was wrestling with the pre-incarnate Christ. Referred to sometimes as the Angel of the Lord and at other times as a man, Jesus was actively involved in the narrative of the Old Testament. Consider St. Paul’s comments on the exodus of God’s people from Egypt, “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”1 Nevertheless, it’s difficult to wrap our minds around this event. It will remain to us an encounter shrouded in mystery. The deepest truths of the faith are beyond human comprehension.
We would be on the wrong track if took from this event the idea that we need to wrangle with God to acquire His favour. We don’t need to wrestle with God to receive a blessing. Christ has already done all the work of mediation. He has struggled with the divine plan to the point of death. We have no leverage with which to negotiate with the Father. Jesus has it all. His death and resurrection put an end to the struggle for divine approval. He now makes intercession for us before the throne of grace.
It doesn’t mean our lives are exempt from trouble, however. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Our lives are precious to God now, not just at some point in the future. We are citizens of heaven but we still live in the fallen world. The struggle against temptation is one no one can avoid. Satan doesn’t sleep. He works tirelessly to lure us away from God’s kingdom. He plants seeds of doubt and stirs the pot of discontent. The apostle reminds us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”2 The Holy Spirit must do all the heavy lifting. But we’re not simply puppets or spectators. The struggle is within us and within our relationships. We are baptized for a purpose. We are living stones in His living temple. He nourishes us with holy food in which He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies3.
We do have a struggle. Not with God, but with the world, the devil, and our own sinful natures. Therefore, the Scripture encourages you to be persistent in your prayers. Be genuine, heartfelt, transparent, even raw and expressive of angst. God doesn’t command us to pray and promise to hear for nothing. It’s not a joke or a hoax. Jacob’s determined wrestling with God should remind us of the parable of the persistent widow who kept pestering the judge for justice. Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off?”4
Be candid with your repentance too. Imagine how many confessions have been made to the Almighty God. Imagine how many cries of repentance and pleas for mercy have reached His ears! And yet His does not make light of a single, whispered petition of the soul in need. He does not neglect the frail or faint of heart who are too weak to shout their appeals in full voice. “A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”5 Know, too, that there is nothing you can confess to God that will surprise Him. He’s heard every act of violence, hatred, treachery, falsehood; ungodliness and unrighteousness of every sort. He’s heard confessions describing sins of weakness, sins of ignorance, sins of selfishness; sexual sins, cold-hearted sins, mean-spirited sins, all sins of commission and omission.
And still, God authorizes your pastor to publicly declare His divine pardon to you. Think of what promise is made to you in these words! “I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you, and on behalf of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”6 Think of the authority behind this promise! The God of Jacob stands behind it. The God who parted the Red Sea, dropped mana from heaven, and thundered from Mount Sinai sanctions it. The God “who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all”7 endorses this promise. This pledge is not substantiated by a trail of words but by the shedding of blood in sacrificial love.
Jesus is more than a well-intentioned friend. He is more than a life-coach or support resource. He is even more than the Suffering Servant and Son of the Father. He is God in human flesh. The Scripture says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”8 And again, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”9 He sends you His Holy Spirit. He demolishes the schemes of Satan. He defies the power of death. In this certainty, we can rejoice even in our sufferings. Paul had had his thorn in the flesh. Jacob had his dislocated hip. Both were scars from God. They were marks of mortality. They were gifts too. They were gifts of the Almighty reminding these saints of the sufficiency of grace. He gifts us with scars too. They identify us as God’s children.
God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. It wasn’t merely a nickname or an alternative way to refer to Jacob. It would become the collective name for God’s covenant people. Abraham was at the head of the ancestry, but Jacob was the one who would bear the name of the nation. The place of the encounter received a name too. “Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’”10 God had plans for Jacob. He has plans for you too. In Christ, the Spirit shows you the face of God. In Him you have life. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
6 August 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Corinthians 10:3-4
2 Ephesians 6:12
3 See Psalm 23:5
4 Luke 18:7
5 Isaiah 42:3
6 LHS p.7
7 Romans 8:32
8 Hebrews 1:3
9 Colossians 2:9
10 Genesis 32:20