Monday, November 29, 2010

The Life of Jacob #6: Reaching the Place of Blessing

TEXT :  Genesis   32 : 29- 30
TITLE : Reaching the  Place of Blessing “

 False Bay - Cape, South Africa
29 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. 30 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.”

Last week  my sermon was on the subject   “ winning by loosing “ . The commentator  Derek Kidner says, that when God touched Jacob’s hip  socket,” it was defeat and victory all wrapped up in one." [1]  We saw the  NT principle  of ‘strength in weakness’    applied  here  . [ 2 Cor  12:9-10 : “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me… for when I am weak, then I am strong.” ] . This is , as I reminded you last week , ‘biblical logic’ . It usually takes us a long time to understand it , because  by our sinful default we are not trained  to think like this .
Becoming a Christian and being  and living as a Christian  certainly leaves us with no dull moments . God has amazing  and unexpected ways  to  get our attention  in order to conform us more to the likeness of His  Son .
Jacob had no idea that the night would turn out as it did , changing  his life forever; nor may you  and  multitudes of other Christians to whom at one time or another the Lord drew suddenly near and  turned their lives around .

From  Jacob’s story we have learned that  God’s ways   with us are not always apparent at once . We often think that our lives  are just a series of cause and effect .   We  tend  to think that  ‘life just happens’    , but for the Christian  life  always happens   with God  at the  start of our lives   at  the center and at the end  of our lives .
Think of Jacob’s story  : God met him at the beginning, when  he as the younger ,was chosen  above the older Esau to  inherit the covenantal promises  (Gen 25)  ; God met Him at Bethel  (Gen  28:10ff) in conversion experience  ; God met him here at  Peniel in a further sanctification experience  , and if you go to the  closing  chapters of Genesis 48-50 you will see that God was  with Jacob ( Israel) at the very end , still directing  his footsteps .  Life doesn’t just happen for Jacob . His footsteps  are directed .  It is such  a fact  that  caused  a  hymn-writer like  Philip Doddridge  (1702-1751)  to write :
O God of Jacob, by whose hand
Thy people  still are fed
Who  through this weary pilgrimage
Hast all our fathers led .

What a blessing to  know yourself in the hands of the Living God , and not  of fate , or the stars , or the devil ! Thank God  that this  historical narrative  ends  in blessing  at Peniel.

Arriving at the place of blessing  through many  dangers , toils and snares
Remember where Jacob came from . His name means  ‘ deceiver’. This is the nature that we have all inherited  in Adam . We are all  naturally  “plotters  and  schemers “ who love to  manage and organize our own lives .
However God in His  covenantal faithfulness and love  does not leave  His spiritual offspring  as  they were born .  He gives us  new birth , and He continues to strive with  us   by sanctifying  us step by step  - sometimes small steps , and sometimes through gigantic  wrestlings . But , remember ,  He is determined   to bless His children  and to bring them into their  promised  land .  In this process  we observe that  He is longsuffering and  puts up with  our  self confidence  and self sufficiency, but  He must and He will bring us to the end of ourselves .
When He does that , all He needs is a  slight touch  and  all our  strong wrestling is  over in  the twinkling of an eye . Instantaneously we become aware of our weakness and our utter helplessness .  At this stage  we find ourselves in the position of  “blessed helplessness “ .  At such a moment  the true Christian  learns to cling to Him in  their  weakness, and will cry out “ I will not  let you go unless you   bless me” .  
Let me say this again :  This biographical sketch of Jacob is important for all of  us , for it  describes  all of us . By nature we are all  rebels  against God .
To be sure  , our conversion experience at Bethel changes  our destiny , but our  sinful nature – “ the flesh” needs to be subdued  daily and progressively  . For this we need experiences like  Peniel  .    Thank God  that  He  is always at work  in us ,  even  if it is a tough , stubborn wrestling match on our part  . The wonderful truth  is that  God  in all this  is committed to bless us   and to make us fit for fellowship with Him in heaven .
Consider what has been accomplished  in Jacob  since the wrestling had been ended: 
1.     He has been broken :  His  self reliance has been given an appropriate  knock!  He now knows  that He needs God’s help and blessing for the future – particularly as he must face Esau . That is Jacob says, "I will not let you go unless you bless him."
2.     He has been renamed :  God says to Jacob, "What is your name? " And Jacob responds, "Jacob is my name."  God says in verse 28, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."  Significantly  the Lord says to the Churches in the book of  the Revelation:  "To him who overcomes I will give a new name" ( Rev 2:17) .  In this regard you will remember that God  also renamed  Abram ( exalted father ) to Abraham (father of a multitude) [2]. He had given him a name which would suit him better when the fulfillment of God’s promises were realized in him.  God renames Jacob. He takes away that name which was actually an indictment:  deceiver !  God says  gives  Him a new name :  Israel -  (He strives with God) . This change of name  indicates a dramatic change in Jacob.
3.      He has been blessed  : (v.29) He breaks him, He renames him, and then He blesses him. Jacob responds to this by saying “tell me who you are” .  But God  does not have to tell him . Jacob knows!   (see v.30) . All that God  does is  to bless Him.

There are times in our  Christian  experience when we make  not only a small step but a giant step  forward in our growth in grace.  It feels  almost like  conversion.  
When last  did you have such an experience ?
Have you ever had such an experience? 
I have  a sense  of expectancy that God may perhaps  be doing that very thing in many of you at this time . There  appear  so  many of you wrestling with God – but perhaps  you have not yet understood  that fact . Like  Jacob  you may think  that   Esau is your main  problem.  You may think that  Esau (or whatever obstacle there is  in your mind)  is the true threat to  your happiness and blessing .  You can  see nothing  and fear nothing but Esau.  But, it is not so.  You are fundamentally mistaken.  You have misdiagnosed  your own  problems.   Your interpretation of happenings in your life  is out of focus .
Remember – if you are a Christian , God is in control – and that to bless, even if that  way  to the blessing is  through  a spiritual desert  or a cross  !
We are all too easily  paying attention to the wrong things. We  worry about this and that and imagine that if only  we  could change this or get that all would be well.
But, then God draws near, and in a moment Jacob forgets all about Esau. In a moment of stunning spiritual clarity , Jacob  saw himself in the hands of  God and not of Esau  . And so he clung to the Lord and refused to let Him go  and  pleaded for the blessing of the Lord .  

Perhaps this little series of sermons  on the life of Jacob’s struggles    is  beginning  to open  your eyes  to the fact that you are not  wrestling against man or circumstances – you  are wrestling with God .  But you need to be reminded above all that you are  not in a wrestling match   for the sake of being in  a wrestling match .  You are in this to win . However you must remember  the biblical logic here . You  win by loosing ! And once you have lost  you are ready to be blessed .
I wanted to remind you  from the example  of Jacob , and from  Scripture in general  that   God  is  not in this to destroy you .  He is in this to bless you .

I also want  you to learn to be thankful to  God that you do not have to wrestle God in the fullness of His glory . If you did , you  would not be able  to live . It is just as well that Jacob wrestled with the Lord at night. The Bible says  that no one can see God and live (Ex 33:20)    .  By God’s grace Jacob had seen God  in the form of a man and  only in the dark. That is why he  survived.
Thank God that He does not reveal Himself to you  in all His glory . You would not be able to live . Those in the Scriptures who had seen God’s    greater glimpses of  God’s glory  always  fell  down  as if dead . That is  what happened to many OT characters . It happened to  Paul in  Acts 9 when he had met the  risen, ascended and glorified   Lord Jesus on the Damascus road . John on the island of Patmos saw the Lord Jesus on the Lord’s day  and records this ( Rev  1:17)  “ when I saw  Him , I fell at His feet as though dead.”

The blessing  of God , even though it may be  a very intimidating experience   is  nevertheless meant to be a blessing . Martyn  Lloyd Jones  writes :
“Some of you can well remember how the Lord met you and turned your life in a  new direction  - something  that you  had  never imagined .  And many of us can remember how the Lord, in the course of our Christian lives, visited us and completely blasted out of mind and heart those things that we were thinking and planning and worrying about at the time and replaced them with nothing but thoughts of his own glory and the joy of knowing Him. It must be so when the Almighty God draws near that our tidy set of little expectations is stood on its head! [3]

I want you to learn from the Scripture to become bolder with God .  Some  may think that Jacob is  very arrogant  to demand a blessing from God. But we must learn   that this  is the faith that God approves and loves. This  the faith he blesses , because this is a faith that honours God , since it clings to Him , and makes Him  be what He is meant to be  in your life : Your heavenly Father  who blesses you!

Humanly speaking it  is not  easy to come to this point .   Think of  ho long it took for Jacob to get to this point , after which everything became so very clear to him . 
All his sin and years  of struggle resulting from his sin,  and all that God had promised to him  came to a climax on one night  at the river  Jabbok .

This experience can be  best   described as  "a wrestling in prayer " .  True , faithful, prevailing prayer will  cost you more  and  exhaust you more than anything else you ever do. It may even have physical manifestations - you may even be left with a limp !
But such prayer does get  God’s attention  . It  will lead to  the blessing of the Lord . 

I wonder how many there are in this congregation  today  who have finally understood this about their own struggles .  I wonder  whether there  are  some who f have finally understood  that their  struggle has  been with God .
I wonder whether there is someone here  today  who  is not  very desperate  as a result  and  must now plead for  God's blessing. It may be  that  God must bless  you with the ability to forgive those that have trespassed against you .  It may be that God must bless you with a renewed sense of hope.  It may be that God needs to bless you  with grace to overcome your fears  or  the hatred that  may darken  your   life casting a  deep shadow over  your joy  in the Lord . If this is so , then  you must say  boldly  to God, like Jacob, "I will not let you go unless you bless me !  
You show God His own handwriting - the Scriptures; He is tended towards it
You tell Him : " Lord you have said in your word .... and you lay your oppressive burden down at the foot of the cross of Jesus . You plead with Him : "I will not let you go , unless you bless me."   May this  be the day  that  dawns upon you  in your struggle with the Lord!  May it be so , and may God be  glorified in a huge spiritual victory today in your life  - a  giant advance  in your sanctification . Amen !

[1] Derek Kidner  : Genesis , IVP commentaries , p.  169
[2] See  Genesis 17:5
[3]  Martyn Lloyd Jones  : OT Evangelistic Sermons, 22-23]

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