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OUR WRESTLINGS WITH GOD
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
1 JULY 1990
By Frank L. Hoffman
1 John 4:21
Preparation Verse: (1 John 4:21)
And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
Do you wrestle with God?
Do you plan a bout, and visualize yourself throwing God around a ring before an audience that is cheering you on?
Or, perhaps, do you visualize yourself being thrown around the ring while everyone is booing you?
Well, if either of these visualizations fit you, it more than likely is not God you are wrestling with, but Satan.
When we truly wrestle with God, we will end up winning, even though we lose
the match; and never, ever, will we be humiliated.
When we truly wrestle with God, and persevere, we will always receive a blessing.
Jacob had been sparring with God for most of his life, but he never persevered. He never truly wrestled with God.
Let's return to a day in Jacob’s life.
Twenty years previously, God had shown him a vision of a ladder leading to heaven and of angels ascending and descending upon it; and he was fearful, for he knew he was in the presence of God.
Jacob had believed, but he had not submitted to the will of God.
Now, twenty years later, Jacob was fleeing with his family from the presence of his father-in-law. He is tired, and he is about to meet the Lord again.
Let's look in on this encounter, as recorded in Genesis 32:22-32.
22. Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
23. And he took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had.
24. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
Even the name of the stream, Jabbok, is a play on the Hebrew word for wrestling. Whether or not it was named for what is taking place, we do not know; but Jacob had to wrestle out his problems with God before he could cross.
And even though it says that he wrestled with a man, note that we are also told that he was alone; thus, this man could not be human, as we are in the flesh.
Hear what the prophet Hosea says about Jacob's encounter, in Hosea 12:4.
4. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed;
He wept and sought His favor.
He found Him at Bethel,
And there He spoke with us.
"And there He spoke with us"?
Yes, with us too!
And who is the man, this angel that Hosea is speaking of? And if it is an angel, why then does Hosea (and Jacob, as we shall shortly hear) refer to Him as being God? Perhaps this man is a theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ.
Jacob's wrestling involved agonizing prayer, not casual prayer.
Oh, Lord! Help me!
I know You are my only answer, and I won't let You go until I get an answer.
25. And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.
26. Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
27. So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob."
28. And he said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."
29. Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there.
He didn't tell Jacob his name, for he knew that Jacob realized who he was wrestling with.
Do we have that same agonizing need for God in our lives?
Are we even willing to have a dislocated thigh as a reminder that we wrestled with God?
Until we are, we won't receive the true blessing.
John Hallenbeck wrestles with God. And recently I have seen the results of two such times.
He wrestled over the capital punishment issue, and personally delivered letters to every member of the legislature and to the Governor, expressing his feelings and urging them to also wrestle with God over the issue before they came to a decision.
And more recently he has been wrestling over the flag burning issue; and he
wrote a very thorough and astute letter to the President, stating why we should
not change the Bill of Rights, for it will not solve the underlying problem.
The people who burn the flag need to wrestle with God and not the flag.
And we, who cannot see past the burning of the flag, need to wrestle with God until we see the agony within the flag-burner and why they see no other release for their frustration than to burn our flag.
Mary and I have also been wrestling with God about ending the atrocious suffering and death of billions of animals, and the warring madness going on around the world.
We need to wrestle with God until we get our answers, even if we walk away with a limp.
30. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved."
31. Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh.
32. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip.
Jacob saw God face to face and lived.
He even named the place, Peniel, which means "the face of God."
And the descendants of Israel, wanting to show their respect, no longer ate the meat of the thigh.
This is not the kind of respect that God wants; for if He did, He would have told Israel His name, but He didn't.
God wants us to live the life of one who has wrestled with God and endured to the end, and not just be some person who throws His name around lightly.
If the Israelites had really wanted to show their respect for God, they wouldn't have eaten any part of any animals, and they would have lived as peacemakers for the whole of God's creation.
Wrestling with God is not a spectator sport. It is something we do alone with God.
And it is in this time of struggle that we receive our new name – a name that will be written down in glory.
Jacob's struggle is much like ours. Deep down inside he knew the truth, but he didn't want to admit it.
He played with the sins in his life and didn't want to conform to God's will; but on this day he and God wrestled until he got an answer to what was troubling him; for our defiance of God's will – our sins – are an expression of our rebellious nature, just as burning the flag is.
There is no cheap grace that accepts some of our sins, as Paul explains in Romans 6:1-11.
1. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?
2. May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
It is the Holy Spirit that awakened our hearts to Jesus Christ, if in fact we have been truly awakened.
And it is the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin, whether or not we are born again and know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
But it is an unholy spirit that entices us to give in to sin; but we can master it through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We bring no glory to Him when we give in to these enticements, nor have we
fully accepted His grace.
3. Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
And it is not only His death, but our death unto sin.
4. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
We no longer have to walk in our old life.
We no longer have to remain stuck in the misery of our former life style.
We should be entering a new life in Jesus Christ.
5. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection,
6. knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin;
7. for he who has died is freed from sin.
Did you hear that?
If we truly have been crucified with Christ in His death, we are freed from
We no longer have to be slaves to sin; and if we are continually entering into the same sin, we are indeed slaves to it, for something is missing in our relationship to Christ, and we need to seek His enlightenment so that we will leave our life of slavery.
There is no cheap grace.
If we continue in our sins, we are not of Christ, and we had best start wrestling with Him until we are freed, even if we are injured in the process and walk away with a limp.
8. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,
9. knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.
10. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
11. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Do we truly live our lives to God?
Or, do we live our lives to ourselves?
Perhaps we do some of both?
Our God is a jealous God. He wants our whole heart, not just a part, as was the problem with Jacob until the day he wrestled with God.
Not only do most Christians today not even try to wrestle out their problems in prayer with the Lord; most of us also don't seem willing to even wrestle with ourselves over the ungodly things within us. Thus we continue to walk in sin as the world walks in sin.
As we partake of the Lord's Table this morning, if you realize in your heart that there are things in your life that really should not be there, then consider this Table as the place of wrestling; and here and now work out your problems with God who truly loves you.
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