Monday, November 22, 2010

THE LIFE OF JACOB # 5: Winning by Failing!

TEXT :  Genesis   32 : 22- 32
TITLE : “ Winning by failing  “
DATE PREACHED :  21/11/2010

25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.”
Today we shall consider a spiritual  principle which might  sound strange  to  some :  “ Winning by failing”!
The story of Jacob is the story of God crippling a man  in order that He might  bless him  even more .   Does that sound logical ?
Biblical logic often confounds people . Our  sense  of logic often  finds it very difficult  to accept  or   agree with God’s logic .   We think that our lives and our future lie along a certain path , only to find out that God has another way ( Prov 16:1,9).   And,  is it not true,  that a whole new world opens up to us when we learn  to   see   events  and incidents  in  our lives   from God’s perspective , and not just from  a    ‘fate’  or  ‘ bad luck/ good luck ‘  perspective ?
Is it not true  that a whole new world of understanding opens up when we see God as the  FIRST CAUSE of all things  ? When we  learn  that  for those who love  God,  ALL THINGS  work together for good ( Rom 8:28)   , then  we have made a major  discovery  which will save us from much sorrow – particularly  when  the  “ALL THINGS”  are  painful , for then we shall know  that our lives are ultimately  in the hands of a   good God , and not of fate or  worse still – the devil . True , the devil may sift  you like  wheat , but  not without Jesus’ permission  and  not without Jesus’ prayer   that your faith may not fail ( Lk 22:31)  
Please note  that  the text  quoted  from Rom 8:28  says that all things  work together for good .  Yes ! That means that  even  what  happens  to us  in terms of  evil  is  worked out  for our own good   through God’s sovereign power , so that our  loss  will  actually be   our  gain  at the end . Our  human logic  always tells us that  bad things cannot come from a good God.
That  is absolutely not true ! The most profound illustration of this fact is  the cross . What men meant for evil by  crucifying the Lord of glory  has become  a glorious victory  for God’s people ! The Lord Jesus  won by loosing His life ! 

The story of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel of God  is  also such a story.  It took Jacob a long time  before he  had understood  that  this wrestling match  - resisting this perceived  man  with all his might  throughout  the  darkness  of  the night – was actually to  become  a  source of blessing and  spiritual growth   for him . 

We had made the observation  two weeks ago that  so very often  we are  having battles in our minds with people  ,  when  in reality that battle is  actually  with God .  God  is  in this process  to subdue  us .
[Try to think of some difficult  struggles   that you have been in  ,  resisting  the  matter at hand with all your mind ,  only  to realize at the end that God was in all this] . I know that this was  one of my experiences in  coming into the pastoral  ministry   . I  struggled for at least  6 months   with my work  and circumstances  before I realized  that God  was  struggling with me to get me to the place where  I would submit to that call .
It may  take us a   while   to  see  that our circumstances  and co-incidences  this are really “ God-sidences” .   God  in His sovereign wisdom allows  us to wrestle with Him  to the point of exhaustion, because we need to learn the lesson  .   
The  outcome is  clear .  Though this wrestling match may continue  for a long time , yet  when the end comes it comes suddenly  and decisively – and with the slightest of touches  . Jacob  is  put out of  action  by a  little touch  applied  to  the hip .  In a  short moment , Jacob has been transformed from  what appears to be a wrestler of equal  status  into a  helpless  worm .  Instantly his perspective changes . We learn to win  by loosing .

But what happens now  that he knows that he  has been  disabled by God , now that  he has been  robbed of his own strength ?  Is God going to leave him now  , wounded and disabled ?
No ! We see that  Jacob continues to cling to  the God- man ( a perfect description of Jesus – by the way !)  - clinging to God  with  all  the strength that is left in a desperate man   !   And it is a good thing !   Paul learned that through his own immense struggles  as an apostle . The outcome  of his ministry was that he had learned  to cling  to  God . He learned  this  lesson : “ When I am weak , then I am strong “  or    “ I win  by loosing “ .
Let that be a lesson !  When you , dear Christian man  or woman have been  wounded  by God  then you must not run away . On the  contrary .  You must cling to God and say to  Him  :  “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Will God let Jacob go without a blessing ?  V. 26. “ Let me go , for the day has broken…” .  But Jacob  will not let  God go . He must have his blessing .
Now remember  firstly that  God has already  purposed to bless him . Remember that the covenantal promises   that God made to Abraham  and Isaac now belong to Jacob .
That promise  was given to him by  His father  Isaac  in Gen 28:4   when he said : “May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”
It was confirmed to Jacob by God  Himself once again  in  that incredible dream in Gen 28:13-15  when God said to Him :   “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
But  secondly,   you  and Jacob may presume  on God to bless you  when you  shall seek Him with all your heart ( Jer  29:13,14) . This text says  : 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Dear Christian  bother or sister : when you are emotionally and physically   exhausted by  a soul  and body draining encounter  (remember , it may be a man that you think you are wrestling with)  you would be typically left without  strength  and will to continue .
At such a time you need  someone to bless you and to sustain you .  I would counsel you  that in   such  times of brokenness and weakness  you need  to  cling to God and  have Him reassure you of His covenantal love and blessing for you  . I say this on purpose , because our human inclination would be to hang on to people  more than  on to God .
When you have exhausted your  own  strength  and  resources  then it is time to  cling even more desperately  to God  and pray: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” . The desperation of this prayer is made even more vivid by  the prophet Hosea   in 12 :3, 4:
In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God.He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor.He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us...
Hosea tells  that Jacob  clung to God with weeping , asking him  to  meet him with favour !   
Truly this was  the hour of Jacob’s inward defeat . He had  lost the wrestling  match . But all was not lost . He was after all in God’s hands  .  He has found himself at last in the grip of a power that he cannot manipulate . He was learning who was truly Master of his life  .
How we all need that experience ! By nature we are all Jacob’s  to greater and lesser degrees . We are all by our fallen  nature   deceivers- and  self serving manipulators. God has a mighty work to do in us . When He does that , it  will seem  as if we are crushed and all is lost – but wait a minute !  Do one more thing : Hold on to God  tightly  and do not let Him go until He blesses you once again .  Learn the biblical principle that you win by failing . 
In this regard I want to say another  thing to you .  If you are a Christian  it is very likely that  you have a strong desire  to meet with God and have Him bless you  . Have you ever prayed such a  prayer ? My guess is that if you are a true Christian  you  would have . It is natural . And it is right .
But do we fully realize what we are asking,  when we are asking God to bless us ?   James and John did not know what  they  were  asking  when they asked Jesus that they might be blessed by sitting  next to him in glory . ( Mk  10:35-40)  . Jesus said to them  “ You do not know what you are asking “  ( Mk 10:38)  .  The truth is  this  :  To  see and to  have more of God  and more of His blessing  means  to have  less  of our old  Jacob in us .  That is  why ultimately Jacob  ( deceiver) must receive  a new name:  Israel  ( he strives with God ) ! Jacob’s  do not do well in God’s presence .
That means pruning and trimming , BUT , do not  despair  : God is bringing  you further along  in your experience of grace .  He does all this because He loves you . That is a biblical principle  (  Hebr. 12 :5,6) And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

See   with  what incredible grace  God now handles Him . He begins by asking a question  : What is  your  name ?  This is not for God’s benefit . He knows everything . It is for    Jacob’s benefit .  In Hebrew days  the name of a man  was considered to be expressive of a person’s  character .
“Who are you ? “
“I am Jacob  the heel catcher , the  deceiver ,  the manipulator…”
“Your  name shall no longer be  called Jacob , but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men , and have prevailed.” 
Jacob  is made to face his past , but  this is not where he gets stuck .  Jacob is now helped to see that  his real character is not rooted in the past , but in the present work of God . He is now “Israel “.  The name “ Israel means”  ‘ he strives with God ‘  (the ‘ el’ ending  denotes the Hebrew name for God) . This is the experience  in which Jacob was  led  to a  deeper walk  with God . Please note that the name ‘Jacob’ does not fall away entirely . It keeps on appearing  in the rest  of  OT Scripture , and  this is true for our fallen natures . We never get quite rid of  our old man  until Jesus  comes  and delivers us finally from the presence and power of sin .
But ( and this is what matters) – this it is another important step  in  the progress of sanctification  and growth in grace . Sometimes people have felt that this story is  the story of Jacob’s conversion . No ! We have seen that if there was any moment of conversion it is probably the 28th chapter  ( at Bethel)  that  did it . Peniel  ( 32:30)  was a huge step  in  Jacob’s walk with God and God’s work in him .  He is brought into greater conformity  with  Christ .  He gained  by loosing !

  1. Learn to look at life  spiritually ; be particularly sensitive  to  times of  spiritual difficulty  ; and always ask : “ What is God doing in my circumstances and my life ?
  2. Remember that such experiences are necessary in the Christian life . It  provides ultimately the best assurance that God loves you . If you can get through this  as a weak person , then you know that only the grace of God has brought you this far .
  3. Expect God therefore to work in you  and  know that this is for your upliftment and not for your destruction . Remember  that God’s method is  helping you to win  confidence in Him  by first  making you loose confidence in your own   ability . Do not be disturbed if this experience  does not agree with modern   expression  and   thoughts .  This is a true biblical experience . 

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