Summary: A rather mediocre sermon about Jacob’s facinating encounter with God at the Jabbok. The so-so title tells it all.
If you take the Bible seriously, it’s quite a frustrating book. Within its pages are outrageous commands like “be holy” (1 Peter 1:16) and “offer the parts of your body to [God] as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). Jesus laid a heavy burden on us when He said, “…be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It’s frustrating and then disheartening when we see how far short of this commandments we typically fall.
Several years ago I heard someone describe the Christian experience as similar to that of a piano player and suddenly the commands of the Bible made more sense and seemed less daunting. When a person begins playing piano do we expect them to play a piece by Mozart without a mistake? No. We don’t expect them to play on that level at all. We can, however, envision them playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” flawlessly. The more they commit themselves to the study and practice of piano the greater their ability and they are able to play more complex pieces with increasing excellence.
The spiritual life is similar. We advance from stage to stage in progression. As we go forward with God we see greater degrees of holiness, righteousness, and perfection in our lives. As long as we live there is further progression to make. There’s always another level. There’s always a better place ahead, where we can see and hear God more clearly, accomplish His will more completely, and enjoy His presence more intimately.
Let’s get really honest this morning. How many of us can say they we’re growing in holiness, righteousness, and the perfection of our heavenly Father? How many of us can genuinely say that we see and hear God more clearly, accomplish His will more completely, and enjoy His presence more intimately than last year or the year before or the decade before? I dare say that God is so absent from some of our lives that during our sleepless nights we wonder if we’ve ever really encountered Him at all.
If you’re not progressing it’s because you’ve stopped struggling. Moving to the next level in spiritual progress requires intense wrestling with God. If you’re not prepared to go there, you’ll go no further with God. But, if you’ll set your mind to face the struggle, you’ll see more of God.
My introduction has been rather vague thus far, so let me bring it down to earth a bit more. Jacob had made some spiritual progress in his life as God shaped his character in the land of Haran as we saw last week. In the portion of the story we read this morning he stood on the brink of a new spiritual level. As he stood at the ford of the Jabbok River, Jacob was poised to cross over into the land of promise, Canaan. God made Jacob for this land. It was, so to speak, his calling. God promised that one day Jacob and his descendants would possess the land and that He would bless them in it and they would bless the nations of the earth by bringing them knowledge of the true and living God. Stepping across the Jabbok River into Canaan was Jacob’s destiny, but before he could enter in certain struggles had to ensue. Jacob wasn’t quite ready for all the God had in mind for him. The struggles would relieve Jacob of the baggage he’d carried all his life to that point.
Struggles on the Path of Spiritual Progress
As we examine Jacob’s struggles at the Jabbok we’ll discover how to go forward with God.
1. Embrace the crisis God is orchestrating
Jacob was caught between a rock and a hard place. His crooked uncle Laban was behind him. Jacob had made a covenant not to go back in that direction under pain of cursing and death. Ahead of him was Canaan, the place to which God ordered him to return. Jacob faced his warrior brother Esau who had sword to kill him when their father passed away. Because he had received no word from his mother that it was safe to return, Jacob assumed that his father had died and Esau was still fuming over the stolen blessing. What made this crisis worse was the fact that Jacob’s wives and children were in harm’s way. Esau marched toward them with a 400 man militia and there was nothing he could do to protect his family.
Jacob faced the crisis of a lifetime which God had orchestrated. God wanted him to face it, not flee. Jacob could not go back to the security of Haran, but he could have attempted to avoid the crisis by moving to another land. He would have disobeyed God, but he would have avoided the crisis. Jacob chose to embrace the crisis rather than run from it. This struggle helped him go forward with God because it’s in the crisis that we meet God face to face.