Friday, June 6, 2014

Are you struggling with God?


This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.
Jacob and Esau were twins. Esau was the firstborn, but Jacob wouldn't let him be born in peace.  The second twin's hand was grasping the ankle of the first.  Because of that, he was named Jacob, which literally means "heel-grabber" but which had the connotation of one who trips others, and later, one who tricked others, and trickery was Jacob's strength. In his youth, the third Patriarch cajoled his brother out of his rights as the older son.  Later, in order to claim that right, he deceived his father into thinking he was Esau.  While Esau was frank, open, a simple hunter, Jacob was a used wagon salesman.  This sort of thing caught up with Jacob.  He was filled with guilt.

After that trick with his father, Jacob had to leave in a hurry.  Twenty years passed.  Jacob had been living in Haran with his uncle.  While he was there he acquired two wives, two slave girls, thirteen children, not to mention flocks, herds, donkeys, wagons, and various trappings of wealth, but as he approached his childhood home, none of that mattered.  Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men.  Jacob was worried. He sent his family and possessions south of the Jabbok Creek, while he remained alone.  He brooded about what the morning might bring.

Jacob had faith.  Faith in what?  In the promise Isaac had given him, and in the promise he heard in his vision at Bethel.  Jacob's life had now come down to a moment of crisis, and just at that time God intervened.  Yes, God became personally involved.  There was no thunder, no booming voice, no fireworks.  God leaped out of the bushes in human form and attacked Jacob physically.  In some ways this was like the night twenty years ago when Jacob had his dream, but this was no dream.  God did not use His divine power.  He fought man to man.  Moreover, God probably enjoyed it thoroughly.  This was not war, not an attempt to kill, not an attack born from bitterness.  God fought by the same rules as Jacob.  They both fought as hard as they could.  Now you may think it remarkable, but God was not able to defeat Jacob. Nor was Jacob able to win.  The strange combat was still a draw when the new day dawned, but it is for us a shadow, a picture of a more serious conflict, the struggle between the Son of God and the forces of evil.  Jacob's most remarkable Descendant also had to struggle against God and man.  Easter morning proclaimed Jesus the winner in His match, but what happened here with Jacob?

According to Moses, Jacob held onto God and refused to let Him go.  Remember, God was playing by human rules, and without breaking those rules, God could not get away.  The same hand that once grabbed his brother's heel, now closed firmly on God's arm.  Finally God made a move that dislocated Jacob's thigh.  Jacob knew he couldn't win, but he still would not let go, not until God blessed him.  So God did.

Each of us has his own Peniel at some time.  Our lives come down to a moment of absolute judgment, complete crisis, where everything is on the line.  Our hopes and aims stand over the horizon, but our guilt lies heavily upon us.  That is when our faith is put to the critical test.  The world backs us into our Peniel, into the depth of temptation.  We have to summon every resource to one single struggle.  Even if you live your whole life without such a judgment, eventually you come to the crisis of dying.  In that moment you stand like Jacob, with all of your worldly security on the other side of the creek, and in that moment, you have to meet God.

The time had come for Jacob to be unmasked.  We likewise must cast away all deception.  We must hold onto God until He blesses us.  In today's epistle St. John says this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.  Even though we have been God's enemies, we trust His forgiveness because He promises it.  God might appear menacing as He approaches us, but we need not fear.  He has come to change us.  We don't like being Jacob, identified by deceit, greed, and sloth, but that's who we are.  That's where we have to begin.  God asks, "What is your name?" So we must tell God what we have done.  Confess all that we would have Him forgive.  Then it is God's turn to speak.  He says, "You will be called Israel," which means "Prince of God."  That pattern is familiar throughout the Bible.  Having heard the first Gospel, Adam named his wife Lifegiver.  Jesus called Simon The Rock.  Even today we give children new names when they are baptized in the name of the Triune God.   The new name put aside Jacob's doubts.  He had heard the promise from Isaac.  He heard it again at Bethel.  Now God was giving him the name which more than any other signifies divine election.  The most valid Judge of all had proclaimed Jacob to be Israel, the official bearer of the promise.  How much more should we, who have learned the record of the New Testament as well, who have seen the cross and resurrection of Jesus, be confident of God's grace.  We can even tell when He won the victory over sin and death.  We know that we have benefited from the washing of regeneration, and have come to the table set with the Sacrament of His sacrifice.  There can be no doubt that we will overcome the world.

Just as dawn stands at the end of night proclaiming the coming day, so the Holy Spirit gives hope to a troubled heart as the dawn of the life to come.  By faith we now look forward to the coming resurrection morning, when all hostility to God will be put down, and every crisis will be past.  AMEN.

~Rev.Lloyd E. Gross

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