Key Verse 32:29
“Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.”
There are many important questions to ask in life. One very important question to ask is: Have you met God personally? We can know about someone, but don't know them personally. For example, we know about President Obama. But none of us here, know him personally. Believe it or not, God is more accessible than President Obama. He really wants us to know him personally. In today's passage we will study from Jacob's life, what is a real spiritual encounter. When he meets God, he is in a life and death match and gets crippled for life. From Jacob's spiritual encounter we learn three things that is true for all Christians. You have to 1. meet God alone, 2. Meet him for blessing, 3. Meet him at the point of weakness. May God bless you to grow deeper in your relationship with him in the New Year.
First, Meet Him Alone.
Let us briefly review the life of Jacob. Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac. There was hostility between the bothers since the day they were born. As a young man, Jacob had to runaway from home, because his older brother, Esau wanted to kill him. The reason for Esau’s hatred was, Jacob deceived Esau by stealing his birthright and cheated him from receiving covenant blessing. After 20 years in a foreign land, Jacob decides to return home. He left home with nothing except the clothes on his back. Now he was returning home with two wives, two maidservants, eleven sons, great wealth and livestock. When he gave word to his brother that he was returning, Esau responded by bringing 400 men to greet him (32:6). Suddenly, the fears that he buried for many years concerning his brother has now come to the surface. There was real good chance Esau was planning to kill his whole family. Jacob was a very resourceful man. He divided his livestock into three groups as a plan to pacify Esau and to provide a escape plan (32:17-21). But in spite of his ingenious plan, he feels helpless and overwhelming fear.
Look at verses 22,23, he send his family across the Jabbok river and Jacob was left alone. It is in this condition that he meets God personally. Before this encounter, his experience with God was only based on head knowledge. God was never real to him. He was extremely self-sufficient and self-reliant. He only called on God whenever he needed something. Then conveniently forgot God when he got what he wanted. He never allowed God to get personal with him. Have you met God personal and alone? Jacob's experience is very common among many Christians. Some people come to know God within a group. The group can be a Christian family, a community, church or campus ministry. All of these are extremely important for Christian growth. But the group, parent or ministry cannot take the place of God, who alone can deeply satisfy your inner needs. A group cannot save you from your sins. Unconsciously, many Christians develop what we call “group” faith instead of personal faith. They say and do all the right Christian things within the group. However, their private life does not match. Tragically, many Christians resemble many non-believers in their lifestyle. Many high profile conservative Christians have been caught in shameful scandals. They heard the gospel, but they never allowed the gospel to penetrate their hearts. They never allowed God to invade their private life. To have a relationship with God, means allowing God to get personal with you. Sometimes we don’t want people to know personal and intimate details of our lives. We don’t want people to gossip or have a bad opinion about us. Our God is not like sinful beings. He gets personal in order to heal us and to raise us as his holy children. Jesus' public ministry was very personal. Jesus wanted to get personal with the religious leader. However, they never allowed Jesus to get personal with them. On the other hand, many public sinners like the Samaritan woman, Levi the tax collector and even the demon-possessed man allowed Jesus to invade their hearts. When they surrendered, God worked in their lives, they became new creations.
On the shore of the Jabbok, Jacob allowed God to get personal with him. He allowed God to change him, to heal him and make him a new creation. At this moment, examine your hearts. Do you have personal faith or group faith? Have you allowed God to get personal with you? Have you met God alone? I pray in the New Year, we may meet God alone.
Second, Meet Him for Blessing.
When we review Jacob’s life he was always chasing some blessing. What is a blessing? It is something we think will make us happy and satisfied. As a young boy, he chased after honor, so he deceived his brother by stealing his birth right and the covenant blessing. After he left home, he chased for love. He worked 14 years to marry Rachel, the love of his life. He chased for wealth and material possessions. Jacob thought the more money, respect and possessions, then he will be happy.
We are no different from Jacob. By default, we want value and worth from the outside instead of God. We want to be recognized as special and unique. We get value and worth from our peers, a spouse and from a career. C.S. Lewis describes the blessings of the world as “blessings that never arrive.” Even if we obtain the best things such as a good wife, good job and great kids, new car, cannot be true blessing. In the end, these things cannot truly make you happy. Tiger Woods is like a modern day Jacob. He has supermodel as a wife, money and great honors in the athletic world. He is set for life with all his endorsements. Recently, he has tarnished his reputation and broke his family’s heart due to his unfaithfulness. Tiger Woods is experiencing as C.S. Lewis describes "blessing that never arrive."
Do you think it is easy to obtain blessings? Does it just fall on your lap? No, it requires intense struggle. In order to obtain these blessing, Jacob wrestles with many people. He wrestles with his brother Esau, his father, Laban, with his wife and children. Each time he wins and gets the blessing. But the blessings he worked so hard for never arrives. It only leaves him fearful, depressed and tired. He tries very hard to bless himself, but he fails. Now he is wrestling for a different kind of blessing.
Who is this person he is wrestling? From two specific clues, we see his opponent is God. The first clue is in verse 25. It mentions his opponent touches him and when he does, his hip is wrenched out of the socket. It doesn’t say , he “yanked” or “pulled”. It says he “touched”. With a touch, his hip was wrenched out of the socket. There is some enormous power being held back.
The second clue is found in verse 30, his opponent says he must let him go for it is daybreak. No one can look at God and live. Exodus 33:20 reads "...you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." His life is in great danger. Others will probably say "See you later, I don't want to die." What does Jacob do? Jacob does not let go, but holds tightly. All the lines of his life converge in this one moment. For the first time, he realized all the blessing that he chased, were like the fog or passing midst. They were blessings that never arrived. Now, he wants the true blessing!
For the first time, he realized the what is true blessing. It is not his wealth, not Rachel, his sons, his material possessions, it is God himself! He holds on tightly to God. His body was racked with unbearable pain, his hip was out of joint, his hands were weak, eyes blood shot by the outpouring of tears, yet he digs his fingernails deeper into "God's arms." He would not let go! He exclaimed in verse 26b "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." Basically, he was saying, my life is not worth living without your blessing. You must blessing me. I don’t care if I die, I want your blessing! Verse 29b says "Then he blessed him there." Did God suddenly bring a host of angels to protect Jacob? No, his circumstances did not change. Esau is still coming, his family is in danger, but one thing is different, he has a personal encounter with God. His name is also changed from Jacob to Israel. It means God gave him a new heart. Instead of fear and distress, faith and peace entered his heart. In the next chapter, he is no longer fearful, he goes ahead and meets his brother Esau.
So how do you know that you met God personally? You can believe God all your life; you can obey God all your life. However, until God is your life, then you haven’t met God personally. Some say "I live a good life, so God owes me." Such Christians love the things that God gives more than God himself. Until God means more to you than your job, your family, your ministry and even your own life, then your haven't met God personally. We cannot change ourselves for our hearts are constantly deceived by the blessings of this world. We want to hold tight to things that perish, spoil and fade away. We need God's mercy so we can cry out like Jacob, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." May you realize the true blessing is God himself. May God bless you to hold on to God's blessings as a matter of life and death.
Third, Meet Him at the Point of Weakness.
What does it mean to meet him at the point of weakness? One pastor said, “People learn to receive God as their blessing through much pain, strain and suffering. They find God when their lives are broken.“ After years of pain and suffering due to his own sins, Jacob came to God asking for mercy. He did not hold on to his pride and selfishness. Throughout his life, Jacob thought he was pretty good. He was self-reliant and self-sufficient. He blamed others for all his misery on his brother Esau, his insensitive father, his father in law, Laban. When the man asked his name, he answered "Jacob". Which meant "deceiver" or "liar". For the first time, he honestly confessed he was a sinner in need of God's mercy. Unless we know how weak and sinful we are, we can never know the undeserving grace of God's provision.
This passage is not only about Jacob who became weak to find God. It is also God's story of how he became weak to save Jacob. In wrestling, your opponent has to be the same weight class. If the person weighs more than you, then you will certainly lose. In this match, Jacob must have weighed about 200 lbs. Who was his opponent? It was God. How much does God weigh? How much does the creator of the heavens and the earth weigh? How much does the one who divided the Red Sea weigh? Jacob should have been crushed by the Almighty God. He was a deceiver, a manipulator, etc. Jacob knew he should have been crushed because of his sins. Yet God lowered himself to the same weight class as Jacob in order to save him. In verse 30, Jacob is deeply moved by God's grace, he knows he should have been crushed, but his life was spared.
God's story does not end here, the Creator becomes weaker in order to save you and I. John 1:14a reads "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." One thousand years later, God became weak and took the form of a helpless baby born in a manger. He was so weak, that he could have been easily crushed to death by the weight of a farm animal.
Why did God become weak? It was for us! Isaiah 53:5 reads “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” We should have been crushed because of our sins. But Jesus was crushed instead. On the cross, Jesus body was broken, bruised and bloody. Jesus held on so tightly as a matter of life and death that we may be blessed by God. Jacob held on at the risk of his life to gain the blessing for himself. Jesus held on at the cost of his life, to get the blessing for us. Because of Jesus, we are blessed and become children of God. It is amazing that in Jacob’s story we see the gospel story.
What does this truth mean to a Christian in his daily life? Christians are those who “dance with a limp”. You limp meaning you are aware of your weakness. You know you should have died, yet their life was spared. When you are doing well, you do not swell with pride, because you with grace in your heart; you were not crushed but Jesus was crushed for you. When everything is not going well in your life, you can “dance” with joy, for you know it will past and you have the best blessing; God himself! From Jacob's life, we learn what it means to have a true spiritual encounter. It means we must meet God alone, meeting him for blessing and meet him in weakness. May God bless your as Christians who “Dance with a limp” in the New Year.