In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The Lord chose the younger of two brothers, Jacob. (Gen. 25:23-26; Rom. 9:10-12) It didn’t matter that Jacob took after his mom, being deceitful and tricky. For God’s purpose and promise will stand. (Rom. 9:10-12; 11:29) Jacob will be one who will receive promises given to Abraham and Isaac. (Gen. 12:2-3; 21:12) He will make Abraham’s name great and by extension Jacob’s name will become great. He will make of Abraham a great nation and by extension Jacob will become a great nation. Thus, the Lord will bless those who bless Jacob and his family, and curse those who curse them. And in the end, the Lord will bless all the families of the earth through Abraham’s family, and thus through Jacob’s family.
So, Jacob’s sin and deceitfulness won’t keep God’s purpose from happening. They won’t invalidate God’s choice. But that’s our fear isn’t it? God says one thing, but can’t we nullify it by our sin? NO! God is God. What He says goes. If He says you are forgiven you are. If He says you are His you are. Your sin can’t change that. Just as Jacob’s sin couldn’t stop God’s purpose. In fact, in spite of his sin God still accomplish His purpose. In the midst of sin He worked out His plan. (Rom 8:28)
In Jacob’s case, Esau , the brother whom he’d cheated hated Jacob. Intensely. (Gen. 27:34-36, 41) When their father, Isaac, died he would kill Jacob. So mom tells Jacob to hit the road. “Go to my brother, Laban, across the desert.” (Gen. 27:42-45) And on the way Jacob sleeps and the Lord appears to him in a dream. He sees a ladder reaching up to heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending. (Gen. 28:12-15) The Lord affirms to Jacob His promises made to Abraham and adds two things: I will give you this land (Gen. 28:13) and I will go with you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land till I give this land to your Seed. (Gen. 28:15)
Those promises were what Jacob’s faith clung to throughout all of his life. And the Lord, true to word, during the 20 years he’s gone from that land gives Jacob a wife. Though due to the trickiness of uncle Laban, it ends up being two wives. (Gen. 29:15-30) And due to competition of the two wives, it ends up being four wives, and a whole brood of sons. (Gen. 29:16-30:24) Meanwhile, while Jacob was working for his uncle the Lord blesses those who bless Jacob. And Laban grows rich. (Gen. 30:25-27) And then Jacob grows rich. (Gen. 30:28-43) And 20 years pass. The Lord sends Jacob back to the land of His Fathers. (Gen. 31:3) This must have triggered in his mind the Lord’s promise, “I will not leave you till I bring you back and give you the land I will give to your Seed.” (Gen. 28:13-15)
And then he sets his mind back to the task at hand: facing Esau. Despite all that the Lord has said, he is afraid. For he is every bit as much a sinner as you are. He does not have great and miraculous faith except that the Lord give it to him. For none of us have faith unless the Lord works it. For “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” (Luther’s Small Catechism: Explanation of the Third Article) Jacob was called by the Lord’s call. He was enlightened with God’s promises to him. Despite his turning and looking at himself and what he had done and how he was now going to reap the seeds he had sown the Lord kept him in true faith.
Just like the Lord does for you. He calls you by the Gospel promise of forgiveness given in baptism or when you first heard His Word. He enlightens you with His gifts of His body and blood (Matt. 26:26-28) and His Holy Spirit in Baptism (Ac. 2:38-39; Titus 3:5), and all of His promises to you. And He sanctifies you and keeps you in the true faith. Your sin won’t stop His purposes for you.
Jacob in fear even makes up a great big gift for his brother trying to win his brother’s favour or “grace.” For grace is not a quantity or power, but an attitude. When we speak of God’s grace we mean that He does not hold our sins against us. That His attitude is gracious and merciful toward us. That’s what Jacob wanted from Esau: a gracious attitude. No more anger. So tries to buy it. But bought grace only lasts as long as the payments keep up. True grace is a gift you don’t deserve from the one who gives it. A gracious attitude is born of love for you by one who has been wronged by you, who nonetheless loves you and forgives you all things.
Jacob, like all of us, knows the Lord’s promises. So he walks forward in faith even while he hedges his bets. For each of us is like Jacob. There are two of us: a man of faith who trusts God’s promise to you and a man of flesh who looks at the facts on the ground, who can’t see God past your own sin, past others’ anger at you, past the realities we all live in. But as Jacob said, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” (Gen. 28:16) That’s prob with “cold hard facts.” God is not one them. He hides Himself, choosing to reveal Himself to us in faith.
But Jacob clings to him in faith, despite the pain, and says, “No, not til you bless me.”
“What’s your name?”
“Your name will no longer be ‘Jacob,’ ‘trickster’ but ‘Israel,’ ‘he-who-strives-with-God’. For clinging to Me you have overcome Me.”
Jacob the overcomer (Rom. 8:37) presses forward in faith. “Tell me your name.”
So Israel, new name in hand, limps up out of the water to face his brother. Secure in God’s promises. Forced by injury, an injury the Lord blessedly inflicted on him, to trust fully in the Lord, and not in himself. He's seen God face to face—the God who will come as his own seed—and in grace he is still living. So he names that place Peniel, “the face of God.” For who did he see? Jesus. (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) Whom you and I see in faith in the bread and wine which do not harm you, but clings to you, strengthening you to wrestle through all your long nights secure in the knowledge that the Lord is on your side, securing for you your eternal promised land. Your sins can not stop that from happening. For it rests on Him and Him alone. He will not let go of you or depart from you till He has strengthened you to cling to Him eternally. Which means, He who wrestled your sin from you on the cross, will be with you all your days, till He sends His angel escort to carry you home.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON