[Read Genesis 32:24-30] 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 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. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
Wrestling God for His Promise
The Canaanite woman in our Gospel lesson wrestled the Lord by her repeated petitions to receive His help. She pleaded, “Lord, help me.” She was ignored by our Lord Jesus, even insulted by our Lord Jesus. And then she was answered by our Lord Jesus. “Be it done for you.” [Matthew 15:21-28]
Another time, the disciples were on a boat being swamped by the waves of a windstorm on the sea. Our Lord Jesus, aboard the ship, was asleep in the stern. The disciples roused Him awake with their pleas, saying in doubt, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?!” Jesus rises. Rebukes them for their little faith. And then does calm the storm. Even the wind and the sea obey Him. [Mark 4:35-41]
Jesus elsewhere told a parable of a woman who went to an unjust judge for justice. Her pleas being ignored, she pleaded more and more. Eventually the unjust judge was worn down and gave her justice. If even an unjust judge can be worn down by our pleas, with how much more confidence should we wrestle for a just answer to our prayers from the Just Judge, our Lord and God. Jesus told that parable to the effect that we would not lose heart but would engage in a persistent wrestling in prayers. [Luke 18:1-8]
God has promised us much. God gives at His cost. Yet it is God’s will that we attain His promised gift in our struggling, wrestling, and striving for it. God gives as a gift. The gift of God is received through trouble, hardship, and a genuine desire to grasp at it. Jesus, in the Gospel, says that we strive, we agonize, we wrestle our way through the narrow door. [Luke 13:24]
What is our genuine desire? We desire what God wills. We desire that the will of God be done in us. Through persistent prayer, daily contrition, and deliberate repentance – which is the work of Baptism in us – we wrestle for God’s will to be done in our flesh.
You see, there is a wrestling with God for His will to be done. There is also a wrestling against God to resist His Word and will. This is the wrestling of our rebellious sinful nature in us which doesn’t love or believe in God – it’s the bond and chain of sin on our heart. From this we daily repent. As God’s children in Christ, we wrestle for God’s Word and will to be performed in us. This is God’s gift and blessing.
Now, let’s remind ourselves, who is the champion wrestler in today’s Old Testament lesson? Jacob. Jacob, if you remember, is the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. Jacob was the son of promise – the son chose by God – the son through whom the blessing once promised to Abraham would be carried out. Jacob is a son of promise.
Let’s give ourselves a quick Sunday school lesson here. Earlier in Genesis, God had made a promise to Abraham. What was it? God promised Abraham that his offspring, his descendants, would multiply into a whole nation – the nation of Israel. More than that, it was promised to Abraham that the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of all the nations, would be one of his descendants.
Abraham had more than one son, but the son through whom this promise would be passed on is a son chosen by God. The promise is passed down through Abraham’s son Isaac. Isaac then has two sons himself, Esau and Jacob. Esau is the firstborn and would, therefore, most naturally be the recipient of the blessing of Abraham. But God chooses Jacob, the second born.
God chooses Jacob as the son through whom the promise and blessing of God’s will will be carried out – it’s God’s choice – it’s God’s work – it’s set in stone – it will happen. The blessing and promise first made to Abraham will indeed be carried out through Jacob. It’s God’s doing. Yet Jacob, on more than one occasion, must wrestle for it.
First, Jacob must acquire the right of the first born – the right to receive the blessing – from Esau at the price of the cost of a bowl of lentil stew. The point being, that Jacob did have to acquire it. Next, Jacob and his mother work together even through an act of deception to carry out God’s will by making sure the blessing is given by Isaac to Jacob. What God has ordained and promised is carried out and received by a sort of striving and wrestling.
And today, Jacob even must wrestle God for the very blessing God had promised. In today’s Old Testament, Jacob wrestles a Man all night until daybreak. This man is the Lord. Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face.”
Jacob wrestles this Man, the Lord and our God, all night, refusing to let the Lord go until the Lord gives him the blessing: But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” That blessing of being in the lineage of the Savior and of being the forefather of the people of Israel was already promised. Yet, here, Jacob must once again wrestle hard for it.
At the end of an arduous wrestling match with the Lord, the blessing is once again granted. The Man, the Lord, says to Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Jacob receives as his very name the blessing – “You are ‘Israel’, which means, ‘He strives with God’” – the very name of the promised nation blessed to give us the Savior.
What is God’s Word and will promised to you? What is the promised-and-God-accomplished-blessing for which you and I now live to strive? What are we to wrestle God for? Our will? Never. Our Epistle lesson today, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, tells us what the will of God is for which we strive. What does it say? Listen to this: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
God’s promised-and-Savior-wrought-promise-and-blessing for you is that you would be sanctified, which means made holy. Sanctified means to be made holy.
Let’s read the whole passage again: For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God – that you don’t live like those around you who don’t know God - 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
Being made holy has two parts to it. One is that by the atoning death and resurrection of the Savior, Jesus Christ, your sin is forgiven. This atonement for sin makes you holy to God, right and at peace with Him, through the atoning sacrifice made. To have your sin atoned for is to be holy before God. This part of sanctification happened all at once and once and for all.
The second part of sanctification is that you truly become holy is thought, action, passion, word, deed, and will. That both sin and sinfulness are day by day shed away and a holy person more and more comes to life. This too is by the death and resurrection of Jesus. By daily contrition – regret over your sinfulness – and daily repentance, a continuous renouncing of sin and a turning toward God’s holy and revealed will – by these, the atoned-for-and-forgiven-believing-man becomes truly holy in himself.
The first part is all at once. Though faith in that first part is still a struggle in our often-doubting heart. The second part – becoming holy in deed and truth – happens not at once but progressively. That we might become holy in deed and in truth is the constant striving – the all day, all life wrestling – of the Christian. This is the will of God, that we would be holy. It’s His work. We wrestle for it.
We wrestle to be holy. Do we wrestle with God for it as Jacob wrestled with God for his God-promised blessing? Yes. In the heart of the believer, to become holy is the greatest desire. We see our great lack of holiness. So, by sorrowful, striving, constant prayer we wrestle God saying, “I won’t let you go until you make me holy! I won’t let You let me be this wretched man or wretched woman anymore! I’ll strive with You until You free me from this sinful nature! I won’t let You go until You bless me!”
The two-fold blessing of God, that our sin is atoned for and that we would be made holy, is the Christ-won, true, and liberating gift of the Gospel of Jesus. It is given to us, and we wrestle for it. Amen.