Easter 1 April 28, 2019
1 Peter 2:21-25
200, 431, 457, 187
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!
And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Long ago, over a thousand years before the birth of Christ, a set of twins was born. The first one that came out of his mother’s womb was red and covered with hair all over his body. This child was called Esau. The second child to be born took a hold of his brother’s heel as he was born, so his parent called him Jacob, or the deceiver.
When the boys grew to adulthood, the time came for their father to give one of them his blessing. The custom was that the firstborn would receive the blessing. But the younger Jacob lived up to his name and tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of giving it to Esau.
As you can imagine, Esau was a little angry about this. So angry, we are told, that, “Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Genesis 28:41) As a result, Jacob’s mother sent him away to live with his uncle in another land.
Now, at the time of our text, some twenty years after Jacob had fled from his brother Esau, Jacob was returning to face his brother, who was approaching him with four hundred men. Of course, Jacob feared the worst, namely, that Esau was coming to kill him and his wives and his livestock. So he divided his caravan into two groups, hoping that if one were attacked, the other would be able to escape.
At last Jacob sent his family across the river to safety, while he himself remained in camp. But Jacob was not alone there. For we are told in our text, “Then Jacob was left alone, and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” It wasn’t Esau that Jacob wrestled with. Rather, the prophet Hosea tells us that, “[Jacob] struggled with the Angel and prevailed…” (Hosea 12:4) This was not an angel; this was the Angel, that is, the Angel of the LORD who is the Son of God, Christ, in human form, before His birth.
What the prophet is saying to us is what Jacob demonstrates for us in our text: DON’T LET GO OF THE LORD, for only the LORD can answer prayer, and only the LORD can give us those blessings that we ask of Him in prayer.
What was Jacob’s prayer? He offered it before he sent his family across the river. He prayed: “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies.” When Jacob went to his uncle’s place, he had only his staff with him. See how richly the LORD had blessed him! He continues, saying, “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)
What a model prayer! Jacob recognizes his unworthiness and his sin, and gives thanks to God for His blessings. Then he makes his request known to the LORD and points to the promises God had given him.
But Jacob did not simply offer his prayer and forget about it. Rather, he clung to the LORD in faith, as the prophet writes, “[Jacob] wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us—that is, the Lord God of hosts. The Lord is His memorable name. So you, by the help of your God, return; Observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually.” In the wrestling match that ensued, Jacob continued to offer his prayer to the LORD. Jacob wrestled with Him until the breaking of day.
So confident was Jacob that God would answer his prayer that he clung to the LORD with all of his strength and kept after the LORD for the blessing that God had promised him.
In fact, Jacob clung to the LORD so tightly that we are told, “…that He did not prevail against [Jacob]…” What a thought! God Himself could not overpower a man? Amazing! Yet this is the case with the prayers of any believer. We can come to God with any request, as dear children approach their dear father, for through faith in Christ we are all children of God, as Scripture teaches.
Granted, with earthly blessings, we ask the LORD to bless us “if” it is His will, for we do not know if He wants us to have that new car, or that raise at work; we don’t know or if our sickness will end in death or we’ll live for years yet.
But in those things that the LORD has expressly promised us, we may, as Luther says, storm the gates of heaven with our prayers. We may say, with Jacob, “I will not let go unless you bless me!” Essentially praying, “You have promised this to me LORD, now bless me, for You have said that it is Your will.”
This is a prayer of faith, for it is not the vain repetition of the unbeliever or the doubter, who prays much in order to make sure that God hears him. Rather, it is the prayer of a believer who knows that, “…this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14)
So keep on praying for those things that you desire according to the will of God, for He always answers the prayers of His children. While His answer may sometimes be “No,” He always answers. And that answer of “No” that we receive today, may be just that—an answer for today—God’s will may be that we have that blessing, just not today.
In fact, sometimes God gives us the opportunity to prove our faith— to see if we’ll let go when the going gets tough or His answer seems to be long in coming. Will we let go of Him? Will we doubt, or lose our faith in Him?
Like Jacob, we keep wrestling with God in prayer, seeking His blessing because God wants to bless us His children.
Why does He want to bless us? Because of Jesus Christ. Even though we are unworthy of any of His blessings because of sin, because of Jesus our Savior, we can approach God with confidence, as Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (John 16:23) We are told that, “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) Jesus paid the price for our sins and He lives and pleads with the Father in our behalf. Our prayers come to the Father through Him alone, therefore we offer our prayers in His name and we expect that He will answer them.
Because of Jesus we see that it isn’t that God blesses us because He has no choice, or that we have truly overpowered Him. In Jacob’s case, the LORD could have easily escaped from Jacob. He demonstrated this by simply touching Jacob’s hip and putting it out of joint. Jacob couldn’t have held onto the LORD unless the LORD wanted Jacob to hold onto Him. Rather, out of His never changing grace He invites and urges us to come to Him with bold and persistent prayer, to wrestle with Him, and by His grace, He lets us win, just as He let Jacob.
After wrestling with Jacob, the LORD knew this man of faith would not let go until he received the promised blessing. In order to make Jacob fully realize how he had received his blessings, the LORD renamed the deceiver, “Israel,” which means, “One who struggles with God.” The one who had deceived his brother and his father in order to gain the birthright, would realize that his blessings came from the LORD and were given though prayer.
And so it is for us believers as well because (II.) ONLY THE LORD CAN BLESS US. That’s why Jacob wouldn’t let go of the LORD—He knew that only the LORD could bless him. Jacob wanted not only to be delivered from Esau, but he wanted THE Blessing from the LORD, the blessing that had been given to his father Isaac, and to his grandfather, Abraham. The blessing that, through his Seed, namely, Jesus, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This was the promise of the Savior. This was the greatest blessing that anyone could receive.
And we also have received this blessing through faith in Christ. While Jacob received the Promise of the Savior who was yet to come, we receive the Promise of sins forgiven through that Savior who has come. Because Jesus paid the price for sin, our life is preserved from destruction and punishment. Having risen from the dead, Jesus lives and uses this Good News of sins forgiven to bring us to life as well, so that we know the name of the one true God who alone can answer prayer, for He alone lives; we know the name of the one true God who blesses us, with all of the blessings of this world, and, even more, with those blessings that are not of this world.
God alone can forgive sins and He alone can raise our bodies from the grave and give us eternal life.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31f)
For Jacob this meant, not only the greatest blessing of the Promised Savior, but it meant reconciliation with His brother Esau. So, when they met for the first time in years, Esau, who had at one time wanted to kill his brother, now “…ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Genesis 33:4)
For us it means that the LORD God, who has taken care of the greatest need of our soul by blessing us with eternal salvation from sin, will also take care of our “lesser” needs of the body here in this world. And they all come from God—every single blessing. While we work and we save and we buy, it is God who gave us a brain, and hands, and eyes, and everything necessary for us to do those things. It is God who blesses our labors with His blessings. It is God who has worked faith in our heart, forgiven our sins, and brought us into His family.
So don’t be afraid to approach God in prayer with your requests. You will prevail. After all, it is He who instruct us to “Ask [lit., keep on asking], and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, [lit., keep on knocking] and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7f) He wants you to take hold of Him in faith and never let Him go. He wants you to hold onto Him and so that He may bless you now, in this world, and forever. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.