I read recently about a man who had passed away and what they wanted the funeral parlor to do with the body. This man was a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and this is how the family wanted him remembered. So they told the funeral director that instead of placing his body in a coffin, they wanted the man placed on a recliner, with a television playing Pittsburgh Steelers highlights. Next to him there was to be a table with an open can of beer and a package of cigarettes. This is how his family remembered him, and this is how the family wanted the rest of his friends and loved ones to remember him. This was the lasting impression that was imprinted on the minds of people who knew him.
The question I have for you today is a simple one: How do you want people to remember you? One day all of us are going to die, and how would you want people to remember you? Some of us might die soon, and some of us might not die for a while, and we have all heard that statement about lasting impressions. You see, you don’t have to be dead for people to have a lasting impression imprinted on their minds about you. In our text, that is what concerns Jacob so much about tomorrow.
It had been 20 years since he last saw his brother, and the last things his brother remembered about him was that Jacob took his birthright and his blessing, and those are not things so easily forgotten, are they?
We have heard the phrase, “Time heals all wounds,” but in Jacob’s case he wasn’t so sure. He knew what he had done to his brother; he knew what it was like to be cheated because he spent 20 years working for a man who was just as deceitful as Jacob had been, maybe even worse. Let’s give Jacob the benefit of the doubt: He wasn’t all to blame because circumstances played their way into this story. Maybe you can recall some of the moments that have triggered this moment in Jacob’s life.
You might remember life didn’t start out on the best of notes for Jacob. First there was the time he spent with his brother in his mother’s womb. I don’t know if many mothers who have had twins have had the same experience Rebecca had with Jacob and Esau, because when they were in her womb they jostled about quite a bit. As a matter of fact, maybe a better way of saying they are jostling each other is to say they were trying to crush one another. So from the very beginning, life was a struggle between Jacob and Esau.
To make matters worse, when they were born, because of their birth order, Isaac came up with this wonderful idea of how to keep sibling rivalry to a minimum by picking Esau as his favorite son, but Rebecca wasn’t above such vices; she favored Jacob.
Then there was the incident with the stew and birthright, so Jacob wasn’t entirely to blame. The writer of Hebrews said about Esau and his handling of the situation: “lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.” Esau wasn’t completely innocent and was just as much to blame for what transpired between the stew and the birthright.
But none of that really is the point, is it? Esau did, in a sense, sign over his right to receive the blessing from Isaac, but he still tried to get it in the end. If not for Jacob deceiving everyone, Esau’s sentiments about that moment were that he wanted to kill his brother. Then to ensure her son’s safety, because of this incident, Rebecca asked Isaac to send Jacob back to her brother’s house, her excuse being that she hated the Hittite women Esau has married.
Now comes the moment of truth. Jacob was about to see his brother again after all of these years. This brother Jacob hasn’t seen in 20 years is ahead of him and coming in Jacob’s direction with 400 men. Can you hear the way maybe his servant delivered the message to Jacob about his brother? “How’s your ulcer, sir?” “It still hurts, but I have been taking some of these chalky pills, and it seems to be a little better. So what is happening?” “Well, we did what you said.” “And my brother, any word about him.” “No, not much, except that he has 400 men with him.” I can actually hear Jacob reach for more of those pills at the sound of that report. Maybe time doesn’t heal old wounds. So Jacob devised a plan in case his brother attacked him and he can help at least some of his people and family escape.
Then in Genesis 32:9 Jacob began to pray – his first prayer in this chapter. He knew God had spoken to him and told him to leave Laban and return to his home country, but he was afraid. He wanted God to deliver him from the hand of his brother because as he said in Genesis 32:11, “For I fear him.”
Then Jacob began to look over his flock and decided to give some of his sheep to his brother as a gift, and he told his servants what they were to say to Esau when he enquired about them.
Now we find Jacob all alone, just him and his thoughts, or so he thinks. Then seemingly out of nowhere a man appeared before him. For some reason – the Bible doesn’t tell us why – they begin to wrestle. Now you have to understand something here.
At the very least Jacob is 70 years old, not a young man anymore. Some scholars believe Jacob could be 90 when he began this wrestling match.
I don’t know how many of you know much about high school or collegiate wrestling, but there is one thing you have to be in order to wrestle and that is in good shape. Wrestling someone isn’t really a sprint as much as it is a marathon.
I remember when I wrestled during high school, and my coach would start off practice with the phrase, “Okay guys, start running.” For the first hour of practice we would run up and down the hall of our high school. After that, we would spend time conditioning, and then grappling with one another.
Three hours later we would feel absolutely dead tired, and we would think to ourselves we might be ready for the next week’s match because of how well conditioned we were.
A friend of mine, two years ahead of me, left for the marines. When he had time to come back, he came and visited us and told us the best thing that helped him get ready for basic training for the marines was wrestling practice.
No matter how hard we practiced, when it came time for the match, it was only a few seconds in before we felt like our lungs were going to explode inside our chests. The longest a match goes in high school was three 2-minute rounds.
So imagine what it must have been like for Jacob. He wasn’t going to wrestle this man for a measly six minutes (and as we know, this man is actually God), but Jacob wrestled with God all night.
Jacob, the one who was known as “one grabbing at someone’s heel” now was being grabbed by God. Just before dawn, the man needed to be on his way, so he did something someone might consider cheating: He pulled Jacob’s hip out of socket.
Then, something happened. Jacob didn’t let go; he held on all the more. This man who, at the very least was 70 years old, who had his hip pulled out of joint, and who didn’t let go of the man, but held on all the more. The man called out: “Let me go, for the day is about to break!” But Jacob said, “I won’t let go until you bless me!”
So Jacob asked his name. Let me paraphrase maybe what was said, “Person who is grabbing and grappling with me, what is your name?”
“My name is someone who grabs.”
With that God said to Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled, Grappled, with God and men, and you have prevailed.”
When it was Jacob’s turn to ask names, the man said, “Why is that you ask about my name?” Then Jacob gets blessed, and realizes who has been wrestling with him, with whom he has been grappling all night. Jacob names the place where he grappled with God Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.”
He entered the night unsure about what was going to happen in the morning with his brother. He wrestled, grappled with God the whole night, and knew everything was going to be alright because God came and met with him. It wasn’t that God just came and met with him but that Jacob grappled with God until his request was heard, until he got what he needed from God that night.
My question for you is: Do you know what it is like to grapple with God? Sure we have our prayer requests, and we go before God for a couple of minutes a day. We say our little chants, and we go about our ways. We keep praying those prayers, and sometimes we wonder why God isn’t listening and doing anything. But have you grappled with God?
You see, grappling with God is saying, “I am not going to let go until I receive the answer I need or that I am looking for from God.” Did you know Jesus, God’s one and only Son, grappled with God?
The Bible tells us about it in Luke 22:41 when Jesus was in Gethsemane. It says, “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw away, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.’ Then an angel appeared to him from heaven strengthening him. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly. Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”
You see Jesus needed to grapple with God over going to the cross. He needed comfort for what was about to transpire. Jesus knew that when He was on the Cross, He who knew no sin was about to become sin. He knew for the very first time in His earthly life that His Father was going to turn His back on Him. He knew God was going to forsake Him on the Cross, and He needed the comfort that only could come from God, so He wrestled with Him. He grappled with Him.
Luke tells us that in these moments, the sweat poured out of His body in the form of blood. Doctors tell us that when someone is under great stress, sweating blood happens, and that was what was happening to Jesus. What did God do because Jesus grappled with Him? He sent an angel to minister to Him.
Jesus wrestled. Jesus grappled with God and got what He needed. Have you grappled with God? Have you gotten what you need?
A friend of mine, Pastor Owen Carr, tells a story about his first youth pastor at the Stone Church, a guy named Phil Wiesenan. When Phil first came to the Stone Church he was already a successful youth pastor, so when he went there, he told Pastor Carr what he was going to do because it worked at his last church.
Pastor Carr told Phil that instead of doing what he did at his last church, what Pastor Carr wanted Phil to do was go into the sanctuary and spend time praying there until he felt like he had heard from the Lord. At the time, the church had a youth group of maybe 30 kids who were “troublemakers,” so to speak. Once during a youth convention, the whole youth group was sent home because they destroyed a hotel room by melting cheese on light bulbs, and throwing hotel furniture out of the windows.
Reluctantly, Phil went into the church sanctuary and started to pray. Why did he need to pray if he already knew what to do? He spent a week in the sanctuary. He spent two weeks in the sanctuary. By the third week, he was completely frustrated. Then something happened.
One day as Pastor Carr was going to the sanctuary, he heard someone weeping before the Lord; it was Phil. Phil spent hours weeping before the Lord. He heard from the Lord, he had grappled with God.
The youth group started to grow. The youth group grew to more than 300 kids, and out of that group 25 people went into full-time ministry. One of them was a girl named Mary Boyd. Mary grew up in a home where her mother literally practiced witchcraft and Buddhism.
Mary and her family got radically saved because of that youth group. Mary went off to Bible College and met Dave Boyd. They married and entered full-time children’s ministry, and today they head the children’s department for the Assemblies of God, where they perform Kids Crusades and Kids Camps for thousands of kids every year. And thousands of kids get saved and filled with the Spirit every year, because someone grappled with God.
Speaking of Dave and Mary Boyd, have I ever told you their story? About five years ago Dave was working in the attic of his garage one afternoon, and Mary was in the house. Mary heard a horrible crash in the garage and ran out to see Dave in a puddle of his own blood. The garage was open, and her next-door neighbor, a medic in Vietnam, saw Dave on floor. He ran over and told Mary to grab some towels and call the ambulance. The ambulance rushed Dave to the hospital, and Mary followed in her car.
As she was driving, she started to call people and tell them Dave was in a horrible accident and they needed to start praying for him. Mary got to the hospital and met with the doctor. The doctor told Mary they examined Dave and his head was okay, it was just a bad gash.
What bothered them though was when they X-rayed him his elbow was completely shattered and they needed to perform emergency surgery to remove the bone fragments.
The doctors spent hours with a pair of tweezers pulling out fragments. His elbow was completely gone. This was maybe on a Friday, and the doctor said they needed to give Dave’s arm time to heal because on Monday they were going to fuse his arm together.
Mary told the Doctor what Dave did for a living and that they used puppets. The doctor told Mary that Dave never would be able to do that again, because his arm would be permanently fused in a 90-degree angle.
Mary went home and did some research on the Internet and found out that if Dave had a rubber elbow, he could do some of the movements. So Mary went back to the doctor and inquired about the possibility. The doctor said they had thought about that, but Dave didn’t have enough arm or elbow left for that type of procedure.
That night Mary called people and told them what the doctor said and asked people to pray that there would be enough tissue so Dave could continue in his work with children.
Mary spent the night and following days until time for the surgery in prayer for Dave. A couple of hours later, the doctor came out and pulled Mary into another room. Mary thought the doctor was going to tell her something had gone wrong and that he was about to give her bad news.
The doctor said something totally different though. He said that when they began to perform the surgery, they looked at Dave’s bones and it suddenly seemed like a new elbow appeared. All the doctors needed to do was connect it. One of the nurses who had been present for the first surgery also attested that she knew Dave’s arm hadn’t been like that before.
Do you know what God did when Mary grappled with God? He grew a whole new elbow back for Dave. The doctors put Dave in a cast for six weeks and said that after he was out of a cast he was going to need 100 days of physical therapy.
The day the cast came off the doctor asked Dave if he could move his arm. When Dave did the doctor said you don’t have go to physical therapy. Someone grappled with God, and Dave was healed!
You know what? Before this incident, I used to see Jacob as someone who was a conniver, someone who cheated his brother out of his blessing, out of his birthright. I was left with an impression of him much like the man who left the impression of sitting in front of the television watching football with a beer and cigarette. But now the impression I have of Jacob is of someone who grapples with God. Can the same be said about you? What impression do people have about you? Do they see you as a person who grapples with God, or do they see you in a different light altogether?
Some of you leave the greatest impression anyone can for the people of this church because you grapple with God, because you get on your face before Him, and you wrestle with Him until you get what you need. Let me just give you one example why it is important for others to see men grapple with God. Did you know that 90 percent of all boys who grow up in church, by the time they are 20 have nothing to do with the church and later do not take their wives and children to church?
Did you know there are some single mothers in our church who are trying to raise their children in a godly fashion by bringing their children to church? Yet, some of the men have been really good to these kids; you take them fishing; you take them hunting; you spend time with them. But if you really want to leave an impression on those kids, considering that other 90 percent of boys, leave an impression of someone who has grappled with God.
In your own families, what your wife and children need to see is a man who spends more time before the Lord grappling with Him than they do seeing a husband and father watching football. These are lasting impressions that leave a deep, eternal impact on the lives of many.
I want to challenge you not to leave an impression like the man on the recliner did. Leave an impression that you are a person who grappled with God, that you are someone who will not let go of God, no matter the cost, that you are someone who won’t let go of God until you get what you need from Him.