I read recently about a man who had passed away and what they wanted the funeral parlor to do with the body. You see 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 him in a coffin like you would a normal person that 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 that 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 that imprint on their mind about you. In our text that is what concerns Jacob so much about tomorrow.
It has been 20 years since he has last seen his brother, and the last things his brother remembers about him is that Jacob took his birthright and his blessing, and those are not things so easily forgotten, are they?
We have heard that phrase that time heals all wounds, but in Jacob’s case he isn’t so sure. He knows what he has done to his brother, he knows what it is like to be cheated now because he has spent 20 years working for a man who is just as deceitful as Jacob has been, maybe even worse. Let’s give Jacob the benefit of the doubt, he isn’t all to blame here circumstances have played their way into this story. Maybe you can recall with me some of the moments that have triggered this moment in Jacob’s life.
You might remember that life didn’t start out on the best of notes for Jacob. Here let’s take a quick look back at some of those events. First there was the time that 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 that 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 that they are jostling each other is to say that they are trying to crush one another. So from the very beginning, life is a struggle between Jacob and Esau.
To make matters worse, when they are born, because of their birth order, Isaac comes up with this wonderful idea of how to keep sibling rivalry to a minimum by picking Esau as his favorite son. But don’t worry Rebecca isn’t above such vices, because she has her favorite too.
Then there is that incident with the stew and birthright. Allow me to play the devil’s advocate, Jacob isn’t all to blame here. The writer of Hebrews has this to say 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 isn’t completely innocent he is just as much to blame for what transpired between the stew and the birthright.
But that isn’t what we are really talking about here, is it? I mean 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 it wasn’t for Jacob deceiving everyone. We all know Esau’s sentiments about that moment he wanted to kill his brother. Then to ensure her son’s safety because of this incident, Rebecca asks Isaac to send Jacob back to her brother’s house, because her excuse is that she hates the Hittite women that Esau has married.
Now comes the moment of truth, he is about to see his brother again, after all of these years. This brother that Jacob hasn’t seen in twenty years is ahead of him and coming in Jacob’s direction with 400 men. Can you hear the way that 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 like 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 hasn’t healed old wounds. So Jacob devises a plan in case his brother attacks him so that there can be an escape for at least some of his people and family.
Then in Genesis 32:9 Jacob begins to pray, his first prayer in this chapter. He knows that God has spoken to him and told him to leave Laban and return to his home country, but he is afraid. He wants God to deliver him from the hand of his brother because as he says in Genesis 32:9, “For I fear him.”
Then Jacob begins to look over his flock and decides to give some of them to his brother as a gift, and he tells his servants what they are to say to Esau when he enquires about them.
Now we find Jacob all alone, just him and his thoughts, or so he thinks. Then seemingly out of nowhere a man appears 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 seventy years old now he isn’t a young man anymore. Some scholars have thought that Jacob could be ninety when he begins to wrestle.
I don’t if many of you know much about high school or collegiate wrestling, but if there is one thing that you have to be in to wrestle someone, and that is good shape. Wrestling someone isn’t really a sprint as much as it is at times a marathon.
I can remember when I was in wrestling how my high school 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 you would feel absolutely dead tired, and you would think to yourself that you might be ready for that next weeks match because of how well conditioned you were.
I had a friend who was two years ahead of me leave for the marines. When he had time to come back, he came and visited us and told us that that best thing that helped get ready for basic training for the marines was wrestling practice.
But no matter how hard we would practices, when it came time for the match, it was just only a few seconds in and you felt like your lungs were going to explode inside your chest. The longest a match goes in high school was three two-minute rounds.
So imagine what it must have been like for Jacob. He isn’t going to wrestle this man for a measly six minutes – and as we know this man is actually God. He is going to wrestle with God all night.
Jacob who is the one who is known as one grabbing at someone’s heel is now being grabbed by God and He is grabbing at him. It is just about to become dawn and the man needs to be on his way, so he does something that someone might consider cheating, he pulls Jacob’s hip out of socket.
But something happens. Jacob doesn’t let go, he holds on all the more. This man who is at the very least 70 years old, has his hip pulled out of joint and doesn’t let go of the man, but holds on all the more. The man calls out, “Let me go, for the day is about to break!” But Jacob won’t have any of it, he says, “I won’t let go until you bless me!”
So he asks Jacob what his name is. Here 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 says to Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled, Grappled, with God and men, and you have prevailed.”
Now it is Jacob’s turn, he is the one who is asking for names. The man responds with, “Why is that you ask about my name?” Then Jacob gets blessed, and he realizes who it is that he has been wrestling with, who he has been grappling with – he has been grappling with God 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 has wrestled, grappled with God the whole night, and now Jacob knows that everything is going to be alright because God came and met with him. It isn’t that God just came and met with him, it’s that Jacob grappled with God until his request was heard, until he got what he needed from God that night.
My question for you this morning is: do you know what it is like to grapple with God? Oh 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 how come God isn’t listening? How come God isn’t doing anything? My question to you is have you grappled with God?
You see grappling with God is saying that I am not going to let go until I receive the answer that 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 that Cross that he who knew no sin was about to become sin. He knew that for the very first time in his life that his father was going to turn his back on him. He knew that God was going to forsake him on the Cross, and he needed the comfort that could only 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 that sweating blood happens, and that is what was happening to Jesus. What does God do because Jesus grappled with him? He sends an angel to minister to him.
Jesus grappled with God and got what he needed. Have you grappled with God? Have you gotten what you needed?
A friend of mine, Pastor Owen Carr, tells 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, and so when he go 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 stone church had a youth group of maybe 30 kids, that were no for nothing but causing trouble. One time during a youth convention the whole Stone Church youth group was sent home because they destroyed a hotel room they were staying at by melting cheese on light bulbs, and throwing hotel furniture out of the windows.
So, reluctantly Phil went into the church sanctuary and started to pray. But why did he need to pray, since he knew what to do already, right? So 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 over 300 kids, and out of that group 25 people went into full time ministry. One of them was a gal named Mary Boyd. Mary grew up in 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 are the head of the children’s department for the whole 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.
While Mary was in the house she heard a horrible crash in the garage, and she ran out to see what had happened. She looked over and here was Dave in a puddle of his own blood. The garage was open, and her next-door neighbor who was a medic in Vietnam, saw Dave on floor. He ran over and told Mary to grab some towels and call the ambulance. Mary came out, frantic, and called for the ambulance. The ambulance arrived, they put Dave in and rushed him to the hospital, and Mary followed in her car.
As she was driving, she started to call people and tell them that Dave was in a horrible accident and that they needed to start praying for him. Mary got to the hospital and met with the doctor. The doctor told Mary that 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 pieces of fragments. His elbow was completely gone. The doctor came out, and this was like a Friday and said that 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 how they used puppets. The doctor told Mary that Dave would never 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 then he could do some of the movements. So Mary went back to the doctor and inquired about the possibility. The doctor said that 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 arm and elbow so that Dave could continue in his work with children.
Mary spent the night in and following days in prayer for Dave. Then came time for the surgery. A couple of hours later the doctor comes out and pulls Mary into a side room. Mary thinks that the doctor is going to tell her that something has gone wrong because the only time the doctor pulls you aside is to tell you bad news.
The doctor said something totally different though. He said that when they went in their to perform the surgery they looked at Dave’s bones and it was like all of a sudden that he didn’t just have extra bone, but like a new elbow appeared, and all the doctors needed to do was connect it together. One of the nurses who was a part of the first surgery was also in this surgery and said, she knows that the arm wasn’t like that.
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 someone who grapples with God. I want to ask you a question this morning 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 all together?
Some of you men the greatest impression that you can leave for the people here in this church is that they watch you grapple with God. That you get on your face before him, and you wrestle with him until you get what you need. Here let me just give you one example why it is important that people see you 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? That they don’t take their future wives and kids to church?
Did you know that there are some single mothers in our church who are trying to raise their children in a Godly fashion and that they bring their children here to church? And some of you men have been real good to these kids, you take them fishing, you take them hunting, you spend time with them. But if you want to really leave an impression with those kids, with that other 90 percent of boys, leave a real impression of someone who has grappled with God.
In your own families what your wife, your kids need to see is a man who spends more time before the Lord grappling with Him then they do seeing a husband and father watching football. These are lasting impressions that leave a deep lasting impact in the lives of many.
This morning I want to challenge you. Don’t leave an impression like the man on the recliner did. Leave an impression that you are a person who grapples with God. That you are someone who will not easily let go of God; that you are someone who won’t let go of God until you get what you need from him.