Wrestling with God

Last week our focus was on Abraham and the faithfulness God showed he and Sarah by keeping his promises even when they tried to take a shortcut.

This week we will talk about a difficult character to address: Jacob. Even from the beginning Jacob showed signs of who he would become as he exited the womb grabbing the heel of his brother. He’s given the name “Jacob” which means he grabs the heel. That’s an interesting little bit of information, but when you realize what he grabs the heel in Hebrew is an idiom for he takes advantage of, or he deceives, the story gets more interesting. Seriously, who would want to name their child “deceiver” when they are born?

As we look at the story of Jacob we find out he deceives and takes advantage of situations quite often. He extorts his brother’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), he stole his brother’s blessing (Gen. 27:5ff), he deceptively builds great herds and flocks from his father-in-law (Gen. 30:41-43), and the list goes on and on. Not exactly role model material in some ways.

And yet, in some ways he’s exactly who we should be. Our sermon this week will focus on Jacob wrestling with God. We’ll explore the details of the story Sunday, but for now I want you to consider if you ever find yourself wrestling with God about something? I would say most often those times of wrestling are brought on by our desires. We want something and initiate the wrestling in hopes of getting our way. In Jacob’s case it is God who initiates the wrestling.

Why would God physically wrestle with Jacob? 

That’s a great question to wrestle with ourselves. Jacob’s story is a strange one that ends in a strange way. But the episode ends with God changing Jacob’s name to Israel which means he struggles with God. Think about this for a moment. The entire nation of Jacob’s descendants came to be known as those who struggle with God. And that title applies to us as well since Scripture tells us we have been grafted into Israel (Eph. 2:11-22).

We’ll explore other points of this text on Sunday, but for now I want you to find peace if you are wrestling with God. Jacob persisted in wrestling with God because he wanted to receive a blessing. I pray that’s why you are wrestling with God, and that the blessing comes to you as well. 

We can wrestle with God, his promises, his purposes, his Word, and walk away blessed. Just as Jacob limped away we will be changed by the encounter, but if we are persistent in our wrestling we too can be blessed through the encounter.

(Sermon text for 9/22: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-30; Mark 14:32-36)

Warning! What Is Your Heart Really Telling You?

I have this theory about our hearts.  I think our hearts tend to deceive us when it comes to our true intentions.  When we try to examine the condition of our hearts, I don’t feel that we always get an accurate picture.  I believe that our hearts try to convince us that our intentions and feelings are genuine and noble, but our hearts lie.

 Mark 7:20-22 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  All four of the Gospelʼs record the last entry into Jerusalem by Jesus before he was crucified. Iʼm going to use Markʼs account for a reference point.

Mark 11:8-10 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10″Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

Now most of us recognize this event in the life of Jesus and have heard it read and referenced time and time again. But today Iʼd like to focus in on just what the people were saying as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Now most of us have heard the word hosanna so many times we couldnʼt even begin to count. We sing it in hymns, read it in the Bible, hear preachers say it and people pray using the word hosanna. But I think most of us wouldnʼt be able to give a very accurate definition of the word if asked.

Hosanna is a Hebrew word that literally means “save, we pray,” and throughout the course of time it became a term of praise as well as a prayerful statement of sorts. But when we put this understanding into the context of what was about to happen in the life of Jesus, we can definitely see a drastic change in the hearts and minds of these people in Jerusalem. Here we see the people shouting “Hosanna! Save, we pray!” Theyʼre acknowledging that Jesus was their savior! They are indicating that he has come to them in the name of the Lord! That he is part of the coming of the kingdom promised through the line of David! And in just a few days they would be persuaded by the Pharisees to cry out to Pilate to have Jesus crucified.

How could these people be so double minded? How could they praise Jesus as the savior and then trample him under foot the next moment? Well, maybe we should ask ourselves. After all, donʼt we basically do the same thing when we profess Jesus as Lord and Savior on Sundays, and live the rest of the week as though he were nobody?

We always have feelings, and most of the time those feelings are influenced by what happens around us.  I am extremely happy or angry and sad when I watch the Dallas Cowboys play…it all depends on their play.  My feelings are influenced by my surroundings.  I think this is true in the case of the citizens of Jerusalem as Jesus entered.  It’s easy to cheer when everyone around you is cheering.    It’s easy to confess Christ when everyone around you is doing the same thing, but when you are all alone, or surrounded by non-believers, it becomes much more difficult…just ask Peter!

I think the true nature of our heart is exposed when we’re alone.  When we’re not surrounded by the cheering crowds, or by the safety of our church family.  It’s how we act when we’re alone…when we’re in the difficult situations, when we’re frustrated, upset, and stressed.  What do our hearts say about us then?

Don’t judge the condition of your own heart when you’re in the middle of the cheering moments, but look at the lonely moments…when you find yourself in a similar situation to Peter.  When everything is going wrong, when we’re scared and alone and we have to make a choice…at that moment can we still cry Hosanna?