November 4, 2007
Sermon by Seminarian Chris Hull
In the strong name of our crucified and risen lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.
Let us pray. If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy. For when I pray before me, my foes confounded fly. If Christ, my head, and master befriend me from above, what foe or what disaster can drive me from his love, Amen.
Your brother is coming with four hundred men behind him. This is the news Jacob receives from his servants. Jacob knows that Esau is not coming to give him a hug and butterfly kisses, but to chop off his head. Why not, Jacob had stolen Esau’s birth rite and taken his blessing from his father Isaac. He then ran from Esau and became a wealthy man under Laban. Jacob has the birth rite, blessing from Isaac, and worldly goods, and yet he still fears his brother Esau. He sits alone waiting for day break when he will see his brother and possibly face his death. In this moment, God appears in the form of a man and wrestles with Jacob. God, the God who created the world and destroyed it in the flood, becomes a man and wrestles with the flesh of Jacob. God cripples him, blesses him, and leaves Jacob with no fear of death, for after God, what can man do. God cripples us his saints in order that he may bless us and forever destroy the fear we have of the devil, world, and our own sinful flesh.
GOD CRIPPLES HIS SAINTS IN ORDER THAT HE MAY BLESS THEM
God wrestles with Jacob. He does not come down in Jacob’s time of need and give him courage, nor does he send his angels to destroy Esau and his small army. Instead, he grapples and struggles with Jacob and his fear of Esau. Jacob fears his brother and does not trust the promises of God. God promised Jacob that his children would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. How can he have many descendants if Esau kills him? This is the question running through Jacob’s head. He doubts the promise of God and therefore fears his brother. He does not fear God, but instead fears the flesh and death. Therefore, God struggles with Jacob in order to wrestle him away from his fear of death.
We do this same thing today. God has promised us everlasting life through the waters of Holy Baptism, yet we still go through this life in fear of sin, death, and the devil. We fear that next bill in the mail, or that interview we have with the boss to see if we are needed for work through the next year or possibly that exam next week; instead of placing our trust in God that he will provide all that we need to support this body and life. Like Jacob, we fear those things that do not have power over us. We fear the devil and his temptations and the world with all its pressure. We pray to God to take all these things away, but like Jacob, God will not tell us to run away from our troubles in life. God will instead come down and wrestle with us in order to take us away from these fears and instead trust in Him.
While God wrestles with Jacob, He brings Jacob into submission by crippling him. Jacob is winning the match and God must do something in order for Jacob to stop using his physical body in order to survive life. God therefore places his hand on Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. Jacob is left with a limp for the rest of his life. He is left with a mark to show that God has humbled him and left him in total reliance on His promises. Jacob cannot run away from Esau as he did before, but instead must face his brother and have faith that God will not let him die. Jacob cannot trust in his strength, wisdom, wit, wealth, or any other human tool to overcome the wrath of his brother. He must trust that God will protect him.
As Jacob, we pray to God to be faithful to us, yet we still wish to fight our own fights. We want to bring our own weapons to whatever challenge that comes upon us. When the devil tempts us, we actually believe that we can overcome him by our own reason and strength. When the world weighs down on us, we think that we can lift that heavy burden with our own power and might. However, we cannot do this because of our own sinful nature that only wants to give into the temptations of the devil and fear the persecutions of the world. However, as Jacob, God dislocates our human reason and leaves us crippled. God cripples us, not by placing his hand on us physically, but by placing the mighty hand of the Law on our hearts and minds. God brings us the Law to cripple us and show us that we cannot face the world and the devil on our own, because we cannot do anything but sin and give into the pleasures of the world. God not only cripple us, but he kills us.
God kills us by drowning us in the waters of Holy Baptism. God kills us so that we have no fear of the world and its trials and we are not overcome by the devil and all his minions. God leaves the mark of the cross on our foreheads and upon our hearts so that we may know that we are his and not our own. We are Christ’s and he shall never abandon us in our hour of need. He will wrestle us away from the snares of the devil and the burdens of the world. We need only remember our crippling moment in our baptism, where God killed us and brought us back to a new life, and we may bow our head to the world and have no fear, for Christ has overcome the devil and the world for us.
Jacob continues to cling to the body of God, demanding a blessing. Jacob knows that he is weakened by the crushing blow to his hip and knows that only with the blessing of God is he able to face his brother and fear no ill. Jacob proclaims his reliance on God and prays for a blessing. God, who has wrestled with Jacob and crippled his leg is gracious and blesses him. This was the point of the wrestling match the entire time. God did not come down to challenge Jacob or to cripple him, but to bless him. He blesses Jacob because Jacob is a weak sinful being. Jacob is blessed by his birth rite, by his blessing from his father Isaac, and by the gifts given to him from Laban. More importantly, Jacob received the promise from God that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Nevertheless, God continues showering blessings upon Jacob because he loves him. God wrestles with Jacob and cripples him so that he may receive the blessing and the promise of the Savior.
God continues wrestling with us today. God does even more for us this day than he did for his servant Jacob. God not only leaves us needing his grace, he leaves us in need of his life giving breath. God struggled with the flesh by sending his only begotten son into the flesh. Christ wrestled with the sins of man and overcame the devil, the world, and our sinful condition. He overcame the devil with every nail driven into his hands on the cross. He created the world anew when his precious blood drained from the tree onto the cursed ground. Christ forever destroyed our sinful flesh when he resurrected gloriously from the tomb on the eighth day. Christ struggled with the flesh and won the victory. As God struggled with Jacob in order to bless him, so Christ struggled with the flesh in order to bless you. We do not struggle because Christ has already struggled with us and has wrestled us away from the fear of death.
Be comforted saints of God, for Christ continues blessing you today. You receive the birth rite of Christ as you die and resurrect with him through the waters of holy baptism. On your foreheads bright and glorious shines the witness of Christ’s cross. Christ Himself comes to you this day in his very body and blood in order to grant you peace and forgiveness so that you may have the strength to face the snares and wickedness of the devil. God has wrestled and struggled with you and now he blesses you as his own child. Know that as you wrestle with the pains of the world, God struggles to wrestle you away and bring you into his blessed Gospel of light and release. Christ has wrestled with the devil, killed sin, and death, and therefore now blesses you with the gift of inheritance and everlasting life. You now have no need of fear, for you walk with the cross of Christ before you and the world can do nothing to you. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.