The Fight of Your Life

Sermon by David Felker on Jul 23, 2017

Genesis 32:22-32

Please turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis chapter 32; Genesis 32. It’s found on page 27 in the church Bible in front of you. And just before we read, something to consider. My life was forever altered as a child when my dad introduced me to my now all-time favorite movie that I have seen probably 923 times, Hoosiers. And it is about the Indiana high school basketball team, the Hickory Huskers. And I adore the film. As a child, I loved it because of the underdog, David versus Goliath, theme. And I loved it because of the emphasis on the team over the individual. And I loved it, of course, because of the amazing soundtrack. But the older that I’ve gotten, I’ve loved it more. And it’s because it asks and answers so many deep, heart questions about redemption, about romance, about addiction, about friendship.

There are so many amazing themes throughout it, but it’s essentially a movie about change. Is change possible? Because there’s this small town Indiana basketball team and they’re full of pride and they’re full of individuals. And you’re asking, “How good can they be? How high is their ceiling? How far can they go? Can they humble themselves enough to be really special?” And then there’s this new coach, coach Norman Dale, and he shows up with a checkered past but he’s given a second chance. And you’re thinking, “Can he change? Can he be different? Can his past be healed?” And then there’s the town drunk, Shooter, who Coach Dale has an undeniable soft spot for. And probably because of his own baggage, he makes him his assistant coach and his faithful friend. And you’re wondering, “Can Shooter get sober? Can he be better? Can he be more? Can he be the good and faithful father that his son needs?” And throughout the movie, you are desperately wanting to see these things happen. You’re desperately wanting to see change. But this prideful team and this coach with baggage and this town drunk are all broken. And they are all wounded. And they are all limping along in different ways. But the movie unfolds; the movie unfolds into a beautiful story of change. I love Hoosiers because it reminds my heart that change is possible.

Is Change Possible?

Whether you have seen that movie or not, that resonates with us because one of the most human questions that you can ask is, “Can I change? Is change possible?” Everybody is dealing with it. It’s a deeply personal question that maybe you desperately ask of someone in your life. “Will they ever change?” Maybe there’s someone precious to you that’s got to change and you’re asking, “Will they change?” But if you’re honest with your heart, it’s one of the most desperate longings that you have. “I’ve got to change. I’ve got to be different. I can’t stay the same.”  And you know, you would think that it would be the easiest thing in the world to change yourself. Like maybe it’s hard to change your family. Like maybe you’re here and your family is a mess and your family is out of control and it’s hard to change your family. You know, students, maybe there are things about your school that are hard. It’s hard to change your school. There are things about all of our relationships and friendships. It’s hard to change the things that we know need to change about our relationships and friendships. But you would think, “Yeah, but I can change me.” And it’s the hardest thing.

And the older that you get, I think, as a Christian, the more you get tired. You can get tired of yourself and you can get tired of the mess that is deep down. And the habits and the addictions and the weird behaviors of your heart. What do you do with that fatigue? That’s the question. You’re desperate for change. You want to change. But you have no idea how to make it happen in a real and lasting way. Genesis 32 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It’s the story of a desperate man who is deeply flawed. It’s a desperate man who is deeply flawed and he is in the fight of his life. This is sort of the seminal fork in the road moment in Jacob’s life where he finds himself wrestling with God. This is the fight of his life and it’s here that Jacob is changed. And so let’s give our attention to God’s Word. Before we do, let’s go to Him in prayer. Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You that You are a friend of sinners. We thank You that You are a strength in weakness. We pray that You would rescue our expectations this morning that we are just here for another Sunday. And Father, would You help us to expect an encounter with You? And would You now speak, Spirit of God, would You speak through me, Spirit to spirit? And we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Genesis 32, beginning in verse 22. This is God’s Word:

“The same night he [Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.”

This is God’s Word.

Here’s what I want us to consider this morning as we look at this famous fight in the middle of the night – Jacob comes out changed. Jacob is different. Jacob is new. And it’s because of a new battle. And it’s because of a new motivation. And it’s because of a new posture. Jacob has a new battle. God initiates this. God bursts onto the scene. God intervenes. There’s a new motivation. Jacob is changed from the inside out. The movements and the motions of his heart are different. And then there’s a new posture. Jacob is wounded and he’s limping as the sun is shining on him.

A New Battle

And so the first thing that we see – a new battle. Imagine it is pitch dark; Jacob is in darkness. Maybe for a short time, he could see torches in the distance as his family crossed the stream. You see in verse 23, he sent everything that he had across the stream. Rachel would have been there, the woman that he loved. And Leah, his first wife. His children, his servants, his animals – everything he had he sent away, everything but himself. Verse 24 tells us that Jacob was all alone in the darkness. You remember he has left his uncle Laban and he's on his way home. The prodigal returns! In some ways, actually, Jacob, the prodigal in Jesus' parable, there are many, many echoes in that parable of the story of Jacob in Genesis 32 and 33. And so he's coming home. There would be a reunion. There would be a reunion with the brother that he cheated, Esau. Jacob stole Esau's money, his inheritance, his blessing, and Esau had pledged that day that he would kill Jacob. Since then, Jacob had married twice over, he had fathered eleven children. He had become a rich and successful man, but he had never dealt with his past and now it has finally caught up to him. Jacob sent word to Esau, verse 3, that he's coming home. We're told in verse 6 that Jacob's messengers, they return, and they say, "Esau is coming to meet you and there are 400 men with him." And so of course, verse 7, Jacob is afraid; he's distressed.

Reconciliation or Revenge?

And then we see him do something that we've never really see him do before. In verses 9 to 11, Jacob prays the most desperate prayer of his life. He prays the most desperate prayer of his life. It's the longest prayer in the book of Genesis. And he gives us the clearest evidence that he now belongs to the Lord. And then he sends gift after gift after gift in waves to Esau, hoping to soften his brother's heart. Because the million-dollar question is, "Will Esau come in peace to reconcile? Or will Esau come in war to get his revenge?" It's a life or death business to steal a blessing, and so – reconciliation or revenge? That's the question. And so Jacob is all alone, in the darkness. He is between a rock and a hard place. Behind him is Laban. He can’t go back to that life. And God had said in chapter 31 verse 3 to return home. He cannot go back. And before him is Esau and his 400 men. And so Jacob is met with a situation that he has no idea what to do with. Tomorrow is the day of crisis, the climax of his life. He is at death’s door. This is the dark night of Jacob’s soul. He has no more plots; he has no more plans. He has no more schemes; he has no more strategy. He has exhausted his bag of tricks; he is at the end of himself and it’s there, it is at that very moment, verse 24, this mysterious man comes to him in this climactic scene and wrestles with him until the breaking of the day.

Wrestling with God

There’s no introduction to him, this mysterious man. He comes out of nowhere and he comes at Jacob and he battles with him. He battles with Jacob. This is the picture that Rembrandt painted. This is the centerpiece of Jacob’s life. This all-night battle for his life. And it’s clear from the rest of our passage, verses 28 and 30 especially, and from a little commentary in Hosea chapter 12 that this is no ordinary man. That this is a manifestation of God Himself. The pre-incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, who has pursued and is now taking hold of Jacob. And this provides for us a picture that cannot be missed. Jacob wrestling with God is a picture of all of Jacob’s life. All of Jacob’s life it had been God versus Jacob. And here, it is very clear that Jacob is in a battle with God.

You know there's a story that I think about from time to time about a man named Robert Robinson. And he boarded a carriage in London and he had hoped to be riding alone. But across the aisle from him was a young woman who was carrying in her hands a breviary. That is a small prayer book full of poems and hymns and prayers. And Robinson didn't feel like talking and so they rode in silence for a few moments. And then the young woman broke the silence. She threw the book across the aisle and she said to Robinson, "You've got to read this. These words are beautiful." And Robinson opened the book and he read these words, "Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace." And his face sank. And this woman could notice a change in his countenance and she said, "Sir, do you know these words?" And he said, "Miss, I wrote these words more than twenty-five years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds to feel today what I felt back then. I would give a thousand worlds to feel today what I felt back then."

Maybe you are here this morning, and like Robert Robinson, it has been a long time for you. It’s been a long time since it was just about you and God. It’s been a long time. And you’re so busy and maybe so jaded that you can wake up and you can think, “How did I get here? How did I get here? How did I get so far away from the heart of God? How did I get in this funk? And all of this stuff that we’re doing – the preaching and the singing and the praying, it leaves my heart so flat. And it’s so clouded and so cold.” What do you do with that? You know, maybe this morning God will burst onto the scene. Maybe God will deal with your heart the way that He’s dealing with Jacob’s heart. Or maybe He has. Maybe you’re wrestling with the Lord this very day. There is a battle on the turf of your heart and you’re asking these questions, “Why? Why God? Why would You bring this into my life? Why would You allow this to happen? This is hard. Why would You do this? Why can’t You take it away? The life that is before me cannot be for my good.” You’re in a battle with God. You’re wrestling with God. This passage is putting on the table before us an illustration of the human heart versus God. My will versus God’s will. My dreams and my desires versus God’s.

Jacob is in a battle with God and that is how God works. We can learn something from this text. As Tim Keller said, "God sometimes has to wrestle us into a changed life." You want to change? God sometimes has to wrestle us into a changed life rather than comfort us into a changed life. In love, He has to wrestle us in, and in love, He had to wrestle Jacob in. God delighted in Jacob. God loved Jacob. No one could snatch Jacob out of the Lord’s hands. And it was because God loved him that He wrestled him into a changed life. That’s the first thing that we see.

A New Motivation

The second thing we see is this battle continues as Jacob’s new motivation. So in the midst of this fight, God in His mercy, He seems to do something with Jacob like a father does when he’s wrestling his son because there’s this battle between Jacob and God. This back and forth and back and forth. And then in the midst of it, God does something. He reaches out and He touches and dislocates Jacob’s hip socket in verse 25. It’s one of the strongest parts of the human body and Jacob is wounded there. Jacob is wounded in his strength. God breaks Jacob at his strongest point.

Breaking the Strong Point

What would that place be for you? Your strong point. What would that place be for you? The thing that you think is going to give you a leg-up on the blessing; the thing on your resume that you think is going to give you the acceptance and the blessing that you long for. The thing that you leverage off of like a wrestler to give you a sense of strength? What would that place be for you? Jacob is injured there. He is wounded in his strength and it is because God is going right for his heart. Sinclair Ferguson, in his amazing sermon on this passage, said, "Do you see that in order to have Jacob's heart, do you see that in order to have Jacob's heart, God is prepared to dislocate Jacob's hip? Do you see that in order to have Jacob's heart, God is prepared to dislocate Jacob's hip?" Have you ever had your life put out of joint by God? Have you ever had your plans or your dreams dislocated? It could be one of the most important things that you could hear this morning – that the way to your heart, as Ferguson said, is by the dislocation of something that makes you strong. The way to your heart is by the dislocation of something that makes you strong. What would that place be for you? That's what God is doing with Jacob.

And you see, it’s to draw him in; it’s to draw him in. Because finally and for the first time, Jacob is broken. He is wounded in his strength, his sense of competency is wounded, his pride is humbled. He cannot manufacture this victory. He cannot manipulate this battle. He is given an injury which will prevent him from being able to win in his own strength. You see, we all want to change, we all want to change, but none of us wants to be wounded. We all want to be blessed. Jacob is saying here, “Bless me.” We all want that blessing. We all want to be blessed. But no one wants to beg. Jacob here is finally and for the first time desperate enough to beg. He says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Because the passage says after the wounding, verse 26, that God says to Jacob, “You must let me go before the breaking of the day.” And so God is saying, “If you see My glory, if you see My glory, you will not live.” That’s what’s going on. And Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The Turning Point

You see, when this fight began, when Jacob was first attacked how did Jacob wrestle? What was his game plan? What was his attitude? What was his style? What was his motivation? When Jacob was first attacked, he used all of his stubborn self-sufficiency and all of his manipulation and all of his might to get away. And you see the turning point here. Once he's touched in the hip, Jacob becomes a clinging child. He becomes a clinging child. All the commentators say the turning point, when Jacob knew that it was God, was verse 25 when Jacob said, "I will not let you go. God, please don't leave." You see, it was in the moment of pain and it was in the moment of weakness.

Derek Kidner, in his famous commentary on Genesis, says, that "when God touched Jacob's socket it was defeat and victory all wrapped up in one." That when God touched Jacob's socket, it was defeat and victory. It was defeat and victory because Jacob's response to the impairment, his response to the out of joint suffering that God had brought into his life, was the defeat that brings victory;  because in it, Jacob clings to God. In this defeat, Jacob clings to God.

You see, Jacob’s motto his whole life were these words – “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” His desire, his motivation for blessing was the theme of his life. And you see, the words are the same but the meaning is completely different. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Do you know these words? “God, don’t go. Don’t leave.” You’re hungering and thirsting for God. You want more of God. That’s what’s happening with Jacob here.

You know I talk about my son, Marshall, from time to time when I teach. Marshall is three-and-a-half years old, he is in a fun stage, and often when I’m getting ready to leave in the morning or when I get home in the evening, we have this thing that we do over and over and over again where Marshall looks at my wife, his mom, and he says, “Dad, that’s my wife and that’s your mama. That’s my wife and your mama!” And you know, these are the kinds of things as a parent that you kind of need to get straight! And so I’ll look at Marshall and I typically throw him on the bed or on the couch or on the floor and wrestle and tickle him and say, “Buddy, you better get this straight – that is my wife and your mom!” And we just laugh and we laugh and we laugh more than we’ve ever laughed before. And often it ends in a weird way. Marshall often – we’ll go back and forth and back and forth and Marshall will say, “Dad, you can take your shoes off.” He says, “Dad, you can take your shoes off.” And it took me a little while to figure out what he was saying. And we do this as I’m getting ready to leave in the morning or as I come back in the evening. And what Marshall is saying is, he’s saying, “Dad, please don’t leave. Please stay. Please don’t go. Dad, please be home.”

Do you know those words? “God, don’t leave. God, please stay.” You know, maybe you’re here this morning and you want to change, you want to be different, you want to be new. You are so tired of yourself. You’re tired of your heart. You’re exhausted by your sin. You’re exhausted by your movements away from God. You long to be embraced by God. You long for God to be a hiding place for you. You long for God not to let you go. You long for God not to leave. Do you know what it is to say, “Don’t leave, God. I don’t want what the broken cisterns have to offer. I don’t want to spend money for that which is not bread. I don’t want to labor for that which doesn’t satisfy. Don’t leave. Give me Jesus. In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.” And you see, with those words in verse 26, we know that the change has taken place. This is a different Jacob. He is a changed man. He has come face to face with the living God and he is now desperately embracing Him.

A New Identity

And look at the exchange that takes place in verses 27 to 29. God says in verse 27, "What is your name?" And for the ancients, the name contains something of the character of the one who bore it. "What's your name?" He's saying, "Who are you?" One commentator said, "to declare one's name is an act of self-disclosure." "Who are you?" And Jacob, you know, means many things – "heel-grabber; cheater; deceiver." And years later when the prophet Jeremiah was writing one of the most famous descriptions of the human heart, he says, this is Jeremiah 17 verse 9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick." The word translated "deceitful," that is Jacob's name. "The heart is Jacob and desperately sick." And his name is his confession. He says in verse 27, this is his confession of sin, "Jacob." And the blessing you see in verse 28, the blessing he receives is a new name; it's a new identity, a new record. Verse 28, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." That is a good word. "Everything about your past, Jacob, that is no longer you. Your identity, Jacob, it's not in your baggage; it's not in your bankruptcy. You are not your shame. You are not your past. But your identity, Israel, is in the relentlessness of God." God fights. God strives. God will prevail. And you see, this gives Jacob and this gives us, beloved in Christ, a whole new way of being and a whole new way of living. Jacob is a changed man from the inside out.

A New Posture

And then last and finally and very briefly, is Jacob’s posture. I think the most beautiful scene of all is Jacob limping in verse 31. “The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” You see there’s now this wound of grace. That’s the posture of a changed man. That’s the posture of the Christian life – limping the walk of those healed by the work of God. Do you have a limp? Do you have a limp?

Many of you know this, but about four years ago my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And this last little stretch has been a sweet season. She lives in Starkville and she does her treatment here in Jackson and she’s here with us for a full week every third week. And so with two young kids and mom in town for chemo, our house is kind of a zoo those weeks. And there are many days where mom is doing well, but there are many days where mom, she hits the edge of her resources. And one of the things that my mom has talked about more and more is how much she has learned about God’s love for her through my dad’s care for her. And you know, she says, like, on the wedding day, you know, “I’m cute, I’ve got the white dress on, my hair’s done.” Like, “I’m fun! We’ve got dreams. We’ve got plans. We’ve got life before us.” Like, “Yes, he loves me.” But in the hospital bed and a couple of days after chemo and when I stay in bed all day, like she knew that, she knew that he loved her, but it just presses home, “Yeah, he really loves me.” And she has said through that, that she has learned about God’s love, that that has made cancer precious to her. She knew, but it drove home, “It’s not about what I am bringing to the table. It’s about what God has brought to the table for me in Jesus.”

Do you have a limp? You know, one author said, “Be careful who you pity and be careful who you envy.” Do you have a limp? Are you wounded? Are you broken? That is the posture of the Christian life – men and women who have been dislocated by the work of God in their lives and caused to limp under the mighty hand of God, humbled under His mighty hand, caused to limp with an awareness of their weakness and of their dependence upon the Lord. And so what do you do with this? If you’re here and your past and your shame is behind you and your version of Esau and his 400 men is in front of you, you know the psalmist says, Psalm 46, “Be still and know, be still and know that I am God.” You know how that psalm ends? “The God of Jacob, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” The God of Jacob is our refuge. And if He can be a refuge for Jacob, then He can be a refuge for us. Amen, this is God’s Word. Let’s go to Him in prayer.

Heavenly Father, we pray that You would surprise us with good news today, that You would meet us in the midst of our failure, and that You would show us that change is possible because of Your grace. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

© 2017 First Presbyterian Church.

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