Second Sunday in Lent
March 20, 2011
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
Revised February 25, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Life throws a lot of things at you. The season of Lent is a time meant for you to reflect on your life and your faith, and one thing that should quickly become apparent is that both your life and your faith are constantly under attack. You struggle with finances. News of disaster comes from all parts of the world and you wonder how a loving God can allow such things to happen—and if you’ll be next. Meanwhile, our society is systematically deconstructing every Law God has revealed in His Word and written on our hearts and reconstructing them to suit our own fancies.
Satan is indeed mounting a mighty assault on our Lord and your faith. But what about when it appears that God is also on the offensive? What about those times when you feel that God’s attacks are more unbearable than anything the world throws at you? What about when you pray and the only fruit you see is the exact opposite of what you pray for?
If God is your opponent, you have an impossible task trying to subdue the Almighty. Yet, when God appears to be on the attack, when He seems to be most stern and angry, there is one thing that will restrain His judgment, for He Himself has promised to submit to it.
God Allows Himself To Be Conquered by Faith and Prayer
The story of the patriarch Jacob is an example for us. Our story begins with Jacob getting up in the middle of the night and sending his entire household across a river and being left alone. The reason he does things this way is because he’s going to meet his brother Esau, and he’s afraid. If you remember, Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, Jacob being the second-born directly behind his brother. But Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright by deceiving his blind father and had fled to another land. Now, following God’s command, Jacob was returning, but he first had to go through his brother.
When Jacob is left alone, there is no doubt that spent time praying to God about his upcoming encounter with his brother. “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day: (v 24).
Some people think of prayer as God’s big payout—that if you pray hard enough and believe strongly enough, God will reward your efforts with untold blessings. But Jacob’s experience shows us otherwise. Prayer is less of a divine slot-machine and more of an invitation to God to wrestle with Him. For as the majority of Christians interpret this story—and as Jacob himself later realizes—he is wrestling with no ordinary man, but with God Himself.
The tendency of our prayer is to try to subdue the Lord by wrestling Him to the ground by the strength of our works. That’s why so many people despise true prayer. Either they believe that it’s pointless to pray when you believe that you can get anything you want by good, old-fashioned hard work, or they’d tried to pray in the past and had not gotten the results they wanted.
The prayer of the natural man is a bit like a man going to his boss to ask for a raise. We lay before God everything that we’ve done on His behalf, how we’ve worked hard for Him, how we make His kingdom a better place overall. For all of these things, we think we have a right to get what ask for. The prayer we most naturally want to pray is a prayer of works.
Yet just as God comes to Jacob as He prays to wrestle with him, we also invite God into a wrestling match with our petitions. However, we fail to realize that our opponent is the almighty and omnipotent God; He cannot be subdued by our strength. Jacob, who was undoubtedly a strong man wrestled to daybreak without overcoming Him. The Man makes His strength known in that with a mere touch to the hip, His throws His leg out of socket.
Yet, the fact that this contest lasts all night tells us something about the Man who wrestles with Jacob. Even though He could have easily disabled Jacob, or worse, He allowed him to continue wrestling. Like a father who does not use his full strength when wrestling with his son, the Lord Almighty set aside His almighty power so as to allow Jacob this chance to wrestle with Him. Even the blow to the hip is not enough to keep Jacob from holding on until daybreak.
This is the way of our Lord Jesus. He sets aside His glory to be born of the Virgin, to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, dead and buried under the hands of men. He allows Himself to be held by our mortal flesh.
Even though Jacob wrestled with God all night, he cannot ultimately subdue Him with his own strength. At dawn he has reached a draw at best. His opponent is only finally conquered when Jacob asks for a word of blessing. “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. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 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.’ 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” (vv 25-29).
When Jacob asks for a blessing, he asks for a Word from God, and the Word of God can only be grasped by faith. Thus Jacob subdues God by faith and prayer. But it is not a prayer of His own works or a prayer for strength, but a prayer for God to be faithful to His Word. For God had promised Jacob that He would return him to his own country for his good.
Because Jacob prevailed over God not by strength, but by faith in His Word, God changed his name to Israel. You’ve heard that name countless times, but do you know what it means? It means, “conqueror of God.”
You, like Jacob, have also been given a new name—the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on you in your Baptism. With that name, you are also incorporated into a new Israel—not an Israel of the flesh, but rather of the Spirit. Thus you are more than a conqueror in Jesus Christ, because you have been given the means to subdue the almighty God of all creation—namely the promises that He’s made. And the Lord loves nothing more than to be subdued by His own promises.
Know that no matter how stern and angry and unrelenting the Lord may appear, He invites you to wrestle with Him in prayer, to hold His Word until the daybreak of a new creation.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard