Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere) + February 25, 2018
Text: Genesis 32:22-32
When you pray, do you ever wish you had some extra influence, something that would help God see things your way? I know I do, when I’m praying for someone I love to make it through surgery, or for a difficult circumstance to turn around, or for a friend who’s wandered from the faith.
“24And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25When 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. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.” (Genesis 32:24–29)
Prayer is like this wrestling match which Jacob had with God. But with respect to God, we are not working with an equal, another man. And this encounter teaches us the differences.
First, God comes to us; we don’t start the contact. Jacob did not say to himself, “Tonight, I will get in touch with the God of my fathers.” God is the Creator, we are His creatures. He is the Potter, we are the clay. He wants that connection with us, but He is the one who initiates.
When God appears to His own, it’s always passive on our part. Genesis 12:7, God appears to Abram, would better be translated “He showed Himself to Abram.”
How much more is this the case since sin severed our spiritual ties with Him! Because of sin, our spiritual condition is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), but God, who is rich in mercy “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5).
Second, God gives us a position with Him by giving us a name. A name change is a big deal. You only do it at great turning points in life—when your marital status changes or when a child is adopted. When your name is changed, it’s because you have a new identity. Jacob received a new identity before God. That name change happened because God was adopting him as His own.
When God comes to us, He gives us a new name by which we are known to Him. That’s what Baptism is: God gives you His own name by which He calls you—the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). That name change comes with a new identity when we become adopted children of God through Jesus Christ.
Finally, God blesses those He has come to and adopted. We started out with God coming to us, dead in our sins and He made first contact. In love, He adopts us as His beloved children and gives us a place with Him. Now come the blessings, because we have God Almighty as our Father, we have all that we need. He freely provides for the need of our bodies, defends us against danger, and guards us against evil.
“33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Why is this? Because we wrestled better than others? Certainly not! God is the greater, and He comes down to us in love. We don’t need to “strong arm” God to see things our way. Instead, He teaches us what is truly best by caring for all our needs for this life and into eternity. Amen.
Jacob likewise tries to get the upper hand on God: What is your name? Tell me a secret by which I might leverage you. God’s name is not evoked like Beetlejuice; it is given. Jacob asks his name, seeking the upper hand (the winning pin). He refuses, and it is enough that He is the God of Israel. To us He has revealed His Name in Christ, but He maintains the upper hand and He is our God by grace. God has the upper hand, and yet the life of Jacob/Israel is saved (NTSL, passive).