At Gateway Church in South Austin Ricky Echeona, our Student Pastor shared.
As we close out 2019 and enter 2020, one thing is true Gateway. Every one of us is either in a wrestling match or going to enter a wrestling match in the new year. Every one of us at some point will experience hard times. Some may even seem like soul-crushing bouts in the arena of life. What I want you to takeaway is this- you don’t have to just go through hard seasons, you can grow through them by holding on to Jesus.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Audio from Ricky Echeona:
Message Notes from Ricky Echeona:
Wrestling in my younger days and into high school taught me that life isn’t the sum of the losses you suffer but rather how you rise following defeat. I learned that the attitude you carry entering life’s difficulties and uncertainties often determines the end RESULT.
Responding to Life’s Challenges
As we close out 2019 and enter 2020, one thing is true Gateway. Every one of us is either in a wrestling match or going to enter a wrestling match in the new year. I realize that’s probably not the Ra-Ra message you wanted to close out the year but hear me: every one of us at some point will experience hard times. Some may even seem like soul-crushing bouts in the arena of life. What I want you to takeaway is this- you don’t have to just go through hard seasons, you can grow through them by holding on to Jesus.
See, God never robs us of a wrestling match. You might even be thinking, “A wrestling match? That’s not what I want in my faith journey. That’s not what I signed up for in following Jesus. Or if that’s what this Christianity thing has to offer- I’m out. But he doesn’t rob us from a wrestling match because there’s beauty in the struggle. Today I want to encourage you, stay in the ring. The person he’s shaping you to be is so much bigger than the sum of your wins and losses.
What if what God wants to change isn’t just your SURROUNDINGS but rather your SOUL.
Maybe you’re here and you’re like I’M GOOD. Life is good, family good, things are good.
- What if could be better but you have settled into a status quo?
- Or when things stop being good, where do you turn?
- Who do you turn to when life throws you more Ls than you can hold with 2 hands?
I hope you can know that when life hits, BECAUSE IT WILL HIT, that there’s a God that has never left you or forgotten about you. When the battle seems all-consuming, He is closer than you think. And through the wrestling he transforms us and changes our perspective. You don’t get your arm raised in victory in the arena of life without a fight to show for it. Great victories always come from great battles. SO, if greatness is what we want and yet we know life’s blows are unavoidable, then what we need is not just a change in our individual WORLD but a change in our WORLDVIEW.
See when we take a look at Scripture, every paradigm shift in the lives of these heroes of the faith, came out of a proverbial wrestling match with God. Every seismic shift in growth came from a place of tension and trust.
Jacob Wrestling with God
One that I want us to look at this morning though is quite literal. It’s an episode in the life of this man named Jacob. It’s a moment when Jacob wrestles with this man of supernatural nature all-night. He realizes later he was in fact wrestling with God. Many scholars and theolgians believe this is a pre-incarnate Jesus (meaning a God showing up in human form when the stakes were high before the birth of Christ.) He’s WRESTLING with God.
Maybe 2019 felt like that for you. Let’s dive in and see what we can learn through this. This is what Genesis 32 says:
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
Let me give you some context on this man Jacob.
After the fall of Adam and Eve in the perfect garden of God, humanity spirals out of control. God always had his redemptive plan in motion though to restore and bless mankind. And he does so by choosing a man named Abram and telling him through you and your family I will bless the entire world (that’s why the Jewish people were created—to bless all nations). In fact, the Savior of the world Jesus will come through that lineage through whom all of humanity can be reconciled with God. So, God uses Abraham and his family. They just like us continue to make mistake after mistake but God is merciful and continues to restore them. It happens with Abraham, with his son Isaac, and then to Jacob. But God is patient
because it was never about how awesome they were but how great God is. And the promise that God made
Abraham was to continue through Isaac his son.
So Isaac and his wife Rebekah eventually have twin boys. The first out is Esau, and he’s born red and hairy. In fact Esau literally means red and hairy. And then Jacob comes out next grabbing the heel of Esau. Jacob’s name means “heel-grabber”.” Jacob comes out grabbing Esau’s heel, so they name him…wait for it… “Heel Grabber—or Jacob”.
Esau is dad’s favorite he’s a skilled hunter. Jacob is mom’s favorite he’s an amazing cook. One is good with a shotgun the other amazing with an instapot. One day when Isaac was in his very old age and he was blind, sensing the time of his death was near (in fact he was wrong he ends up living 30-40 more years) he calls his sons to come home so that he can bless them. This was extremely important in an ancient near eastern culture. The first born (Esau) was privy to a double portion of the inheritance after dad died, not only that but given God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac the stakes were infinitely higher here the blessing of the first born would mean the continuation of God’s legacy on Earth. One day Esau got hungry and Jacob tricked him into selling his birthright. Esau famished says what good is my birthright if I’m so hungry I’m gonna die. He gives up the promise for a bowl of soup. Which got me thinking, how quickly we can give up what we want most for what we want now. But that’s another message.
Jacob as his name suggests deceives. He’s a con man. He’ll do anything to get ahead. Backstabs his own brother to get more. So, Isaac is getting ready to bless his sons. Rebekah hears this and lets Jacob in on it (mama’s boy). She tells him go get two goats and I will make stew just like Esau.
So, she dresses him up as Esau, remember Esau’s hairy, Jacob is smooth. He’s a con man- smooth. And he goes in with Esau’s clothes goat hair on his hands and the back of his neck to fool dad, I mean this deception is elaborate.
He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” – Genesis 27:18
Jacob steals his brother’s blessing. Proving, you can get the right things the wrong way. The end doesn’t always justify the means. Jacob was busy pretending and posturing his way through the world. But God can’t bless who we pretend to be. It’s in our authenticity that he meets us.
So Esau comes in later and catches wind of what’s happening and is furious. He says, I’ll kill him. Mom sends Jacob to her brother Laban that’s outside of Canaan. I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version but go back home and read Genesis 26-33, you think your family is dysfunctional, check out the First Family of faith. Jacob sees Laban’s daughter (his cousin) and she’s beautiful and asks for her hand in marriage. Laban agrees but in exchange for 7 years of work. Laban then tricks Jacob and gives him Leah the older sister INSTEAD the night that it’s time to consummate. Laban then makes him work another 7 years for Rachel. The deceiver, the trickster has been tricked multiple times. Working a total of 14 years!
So, Jacob marries Rachel too. They have kids. He has kids with both of these sisters and their maidservants. Tons of babies. Tons of drama. Let me pause there for those concerned like I was with this whole weird cousin-literal-sister-wife thing going on. Just because the Bible is silent on it didn’t mean God approved. You have to remember 4000 years ago. Different culture. If your Laban- you sell your daughters into marriage to cash in because they weren’t allowed to work, you would have no means to take care of them once they were adults. If you’re Jacob- More wives meant more kids. There were no
nest eggs or 403bs, no 401ks, pensions, or Roth IRAs. Your sons were your retirement plan. If you’re God- no of course he doesn’t approve, in fact the Scriptures in the New Testament talk about being faithful to ONE wife. But remember this is hundreds of year before God had even given his people this revolutionary code of ethics called the LAW. He’s still trying to lead this one family to understand “Hey you know this whole world you see? Yea I created it. I know you’re worshipping other “gods” but I’m the only LORD of all.” Just as he is with us he was with them, patient. Guiding them progressively in a way they could understand.
Let’s go back to Jacob. He works another 6-7 years for Laban and God is blessing his work like crazy. Laban’s family business explodes, it doubles, doubles again and then quadruples. But at this point it’s now 21 years since he’s been home. He decides, it’s time to go back. He’s got 2 wives, 2 of the maidservants have kids, so 4 baby mamas total, 11 sons who knows how many daughters. An angry father in law and family he hasn’t seen in 20+ years. Story reads like an episode of Maury. He decides it’s time to go back home. On the way back he gets word that his brother Esau that he hasn’t seen since he stole what was his two decades prior is not far away. And Jacob FEARS for his life. Esau no doubt wants REVENGE. And this is where we enter the Scripture we began with today
See remember, Esau is on the way. Jacob’s thinking he’s still trying to kill me. In fact in the verses before that we didn’t read he’s sending messengers ahead of him to butter up Esau. He comes to a crossroads in life in the face of what could be his imminent death, and he has to be thinking “Was it worth it?” My hope for you is that as you look at your life and look back at this year and all the facets of who you are, that you would wrestle with that question, in light of the grand scheme of things “What am I doing this for? Who am I doing this for?” There in the crucible of his life is where God shows up again.
Even at rock bottom God is there.
So, where do you turn when the bottom falls out? In 2020 just like every other year, you’ll have some successes and you’ll have some defeats. But I hope you know that in both you can turn to God. The Scriptures say He’s an ever-present help in time of need.
Just like Jacob, God brings us into a WRESTLING MATCH a wrestling season because he loves us. Because there’s something deeper he wants to do in us. He wants to show you that you don’t have to just GO through a hard season, you can GROW through a hard season. You need to know that even in your struggle God is there.
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” – Genesis 32:24
All of his life Jacob’s been grabbing onto something and now something’s grabbing onto him. All his life it’s felt like a merry-go-round of drama and for the first time he realizes I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. Something has to change. If you’re here and just checking things out or actively seeking, maybe your wrestling match is found in this exploration of faith. I encourage you lean in. Trust that God is close. Because you can’t wrestle with someone who isn’t close. He’s not afraid of your doubts or anger or fear. Jacob realizes something has to change. It’s safe to say you’ve come to the end of yourself when you hold on to God when it would be easier to let go.
Where in your life are you not trusting God that you need to grab a hold of him? Even in the depths of despair you can TRUST him. You can trust him with your future, with your relationships, your finances, with your sexuality, with your very soul. Jacob had been holding on to deception for far too long and he was STUCK, worse than stuck it was going down hill for a while. He had to let go and let God.
I used to look at this story like Jacob was this dude who did Crossfit, young, scrappy and hungry. Probably ate Keto and didn’t have a cheat day. Because it says he wrestled all night. And this figure who many scholars believe is a pre-incarnate version of Jesus, was seemingly at an impasse because it says “when he saw he could not overcome him” and it doesn’t mean physically because with one touch he took him out. But it means spiritually, God saw “Ok he’s not gonna give up. I can use that.”
A New Name
How old do you think Jacob is? I used to read this and think 25 maybe. But if you read the chapters leading up to this you see Jacob is 97! No wonder he popped his hip, poor guy probably had arthritis and sciatica. Then something weird happens in verse 27, he asks Jacob his name. 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
At this point I’m thinking bruh you done broke my hip, I been here all night, lost my Medicare card, missed Golden Girls. And now you wanna know my name? This is so important. Because remember years before his father asked him that same question, WHO IS IT? And he had answered Esau. But understand God can’t bless who we pretend to be. He wants us to come with our brokenness not our veneer of perfection. I can imagine Jacob just being done running, done pretending.
“Ok well I’ll just tell you like it is. I’m Jacob. I’ve deceived people, I struggle, I got issues. I’m Jacob.”
And when he finally admits WHO he is. Look what happens:
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” – Genesis 32:28
Once he admits his real name, God gives him a new one. He says because you have struggled with God. It’s not always in your successes in fact it’s often in your defeats. Often it’s in your struggle that God shows you who you really are. Aren’t you glad God gives you a new name?! He doesn’t call you what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, he calls you son/daughter, he calls you beloved, he calls you an overcomer, he calls you set free, he calls you forgiven.
Today I’m speaking to you not on the mountaintop but from inside the ring, right in the trenches. Early this year I felt God telling me to start the 12-steps. I resisted and avoided but I came to a place of being done with my way. My way had me STUCK. So I started the steps with no background thinking ok God I’ll do the thing, say I did it, talk about how awesome it was and boom. Upon beginning I quickly found myself in for a rude awakening and it felt like God had me in a headlock. I’m still in the middle of working the steps and I’ll be honest, some days I don’t want to continue. Some days it would be easier to quit, because it can be painful and unearthing and it shakes the foundation I’ve grown accustomed to stand on. BUT then I remember serve a God that Philippians 1:6 says, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
In his wrestling with God Jacob ends up working the first 3 steps all in this one all-nighter.
Step 1- We admitted we were powerless over the effects of our separation from God- that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.
One night of wrestling with God brings this 97 year old to a place of total reliance. See it’s never too late to be who you might’ve been.
What does it look like if you were to truly wrestle with God? If you were to allow him to fully take the reins of your life back.
Hear me today, you might feel like quitting, you may feel like you won’t get out of that rut, you might not be winning but DON’T LET GO. Don’t let go of God.
You don’t have to just GO through a hard season, you can GROW through it by holding on to Jesus.
Maybe for some of you that means grabbing a hold of him for the first time. Jacob says, “I won’t let go until you bless me.”
God I’m not letting go because I know I can’t do this on my own. At my impotence I realize you are omnipotent (all-powerful).
He got a name change, not only a new name but a new identity. Before God changes what’s around you, he wants to change what’s in you.
Jacob- deceiever, supplanter, heel-grabber, back stabber. You know what Israel means- triumphant with God. You know what’s interesting is that from here on in the Scriptures not just called Israel he’s called Jacob too.
I’m thinking God what’s the point of getting a new name if you’re not gonna use it all the time. Then I realized it’s because change is complicated. Just because I have a new name doesn’t mean I won’t have the same struggles. Just because I know God doesn’t mean I fully know myself. Just because I preach it doesn’t mean I don’t fail to practice it sometimes. I often joke around when people say I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites…I’m like we got room for one more. But change is complicated. What’s amazing is that isn’t intimidated by your inadequacies. God is totally comfortable in the conflict. He’s got peace in the wrestling match.
It goes on and Jacob says:
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. – Genesis 32:29-31
This figure, this angel He doesn’t tell him his name. Why? Because he wasn’t there to show Jacob who he was, he was there to show Jacob who Jacob was. Jacob had already met God many years before but he had never met himself.
97 years old and he had never met himself.
There’s some in here that the truth is maybe you’ve met God, but maybe you’ve never met you. What do you mean Ricky? Who are you in the silence? If the job is taken away, if you’re friends abandon you, if that relationship doesn’t work out, if your kid isn’t the next LeBron. [Who are you after a night, or year, of wrestling with God?] Who are you really? Jacob walks away limping not having just met with God but finally come face to face with himself.
There’s something about wrestling with God that transforms the core of who you are and who you’ve been.
The only way I made it to being good/ “greatness” was by not quitting. It was by GROWING through the losses, not just going through them. It’s not that the defeats stop stinging, it’s just that they no longer hold power over your identity.
Tremendous growth happens in life’s wrestling matches. Because it’s in it where we find our Identity. Where our perspective changes. Jacob—David—Mary—Peter—Paul. So many of them got a new name but they all got a new identity. The wrestling match, the struggle, the crucible is where God meets us to refine us. You know that’s how purest Gold is brought forth. A constant process of high heat and removing the waste, the impurities. You are far more precious to God than Gold and sometimes as a loving father he allows the difficulty the struggle to shape us. To form us. To strip away the things that we cling to that identify us.
Check this out in Revelation 2:17, Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
When we finally meet God face to face, every win, every loss, every struggle, every fight, and every victory will make sense when he reveals our new name- our true identity.
Maybe you’re here and you’ve been holding on but you feel your grip loosening.
- Because things around you haven’t changed. “God I’ve been that you would change my husband.” And God is saying, let’s start with you.
- God the numbers don’t add up and the bills are piling. And God is saying hey can you trust me in your finances?
You can hold onto him today. He’s refining you, he’s shaping you. He’s asking you to let go of those things that have been holding you back because it’s not a part of who he’s forming you to be.
Would you seek Him and ask him what he’s calling you to step into in this new year. In your wrestling match- Don’t give up, don’t let go.