Events in this world can get a little disheartening at times. We have trouble and problems. We face difficult choices and challenges. There’s times when we can’t bear to read or watch the news, because it’s too depressing.
This isn’t a new problem. People have struggled since Adam and Eve first sinned, because the outcome of their sin was the in-breaking of decay, death, and other evils into God’s good creation. Therefore, our parents, their parents, and our line of ancestors all the way back to Adam and Eve have all faced troubles, problems, and difficulties, sometimes of our own making.
Take Jacob in the Old Testament. He essentially cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright and took his inheritance. Then, he left Canaan to go the land of Haran, to get away from Esau and find a wife for himself. He served and lived with his uncle Laban for many years and married Laban’s two daughters, Rachel and Leah. He was tricked by Laban and swindled Laban himself. So, eventually, he had to leave before Laban and his sons turned on him.
Therefore, the Lord told Jacob to go back to the land of Canaan. So, Jacob set off to return to his homeland, taking his wives and children and property with him. On the way, he heard that his brother Esau was coming to meet him, along with 400 men. It sounds like Esau is going to attack and kill him in retribution for what Jacob had done to him.
So, that night he sent his family and property away and remained alone. Then, a man came and wrestled with Jacob all night until the morning began to dawn. Finally, the man touched Jacob’s hip socket and put it out of joint to end the wrestling match.
But Jacob would not let the man go until he blessed him. The man then renamed Jacob “Israel,” saying, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then, Jacob asked for the man’s name and Jacob realized then that it was with God he was wrestling. Jacob therefore named the place “Peniel,” meaning “face of God.” Jacob explains, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:22-30).
His life was delivered? Why? God could have killed him at any time. He could have ended the match at any time. Yet, he let Jacob struggle against him and then finally credits him with victory, even though he dislocated Jacob’s hip and could have ended Jacob’s life right then. And yet, not only does he let him live, but he blesses him, gives him a new name, and credits him with the victory.
This is the pre-incarnate Christ who Jacob wrestled with. And it is the same with us.
We also wrestle with God. We doubt, we fear, we struggle against His will and His Word. But, God subdues us under the power of His Word. He shows us our sinful nature. He causes us to cling to Him for a blessing.
And God does this for us; He gives us a blessing. He won’t let us leave Him. He won’t let us die. He blesses us, gives us a new name in Baptism, and credits us with the victory of Christ. For Christ won this victory for us on the cross and empty tomb. He died for our sins and rose from the dead to defeat death. And this victory is ours, because He gives it to us.
And yet this victory we have is not readily and always apparent, is it? Like Jacob, we often struggle through the night, in fear of what is coming. Was Jacob’s brother coming to kill him? Would this man with whom he was wrestling kill him? Where was God?
The irony is that God was right there all along with Jacob. It was God, ultimately, whom Jacob was struggling against. The same with us. In all our doubts, fears, problems, and uncertainties we are ultimately struggling against God, wondering where He is in all this. The truth is, though, is that He’s right here with us.
And that is the essence of the new name Jacob is given. Israel is the people of God – the Church – and we struggle with Him. We “have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed,” as the pre-incarnate Christ told Jacob. And we too have prevailed through Christ. He credits us with the victory, because he has made us God’s children.
This is the point of Jesus’ parable in Luke 18, where Luke explains that “[Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus tells them about an unrighteous judge in a certain city. A widow in that city continually came to the judge to beg for justice against her adversary. The judge kept refusing, but finally agreed in order to get her to stop bothering him. This judge was unrighteous and had to be nagged into doing what is right.
Jesus juxtaposes this with the righteous judge, God. He says, “And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8). The point is that if even an unrighteous judge will give justice if petitioned enough, will not God – who is righteous – give justice to His people?
And yet we don’t see this justice here yet, do we? We see evil people getting away with evil in the world. We see horrible people in power. We experience pain, sickness, death, suffering, troubles, problems, and doubt. We cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10).
And yet Christ assures us that God is bringing justice. We just have to wait and have faith that it is coming. It may not come in our lifetimes. We may not see it now, or receive it in this life. Yet, it is most certainly coming with the resurrection at Christ’s return.
For on that day justice will finally arrive. The Old Testament prophets called it “The Great and Awesome Day of the Lord.” Christ will cast out sin, death, the devil, and all evil from the world. And only the Church Israel – God’s redeemed people through Christ who struggle and yet are credited with Christ’s victory – will remain.
Will Christ find faith on earth on that day? The early New Testament Church prayed to the east, looking for Christ’s return on the horizon. Will Christ find his people still looking for his return, trusting in his return?
Will our faith be as the Psalmist’s is (Psalm 121)?:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
It is hard at times to keep the faith. It can be very difficult. But, we can look to those who have gone before us for inspiration.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, the writer talks about the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and the other Old Testament faithful. He says, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
God has prepared for you a city, and He will bring you into it. You are those of whom the world is not worthy; strangers and wanderers on the earth. Yet, this earth belongs to you, and you will receive it as your homeland when Christ returns. But, not in its present fallen state, but rather in a state of perfection which Christ is restoring it to, so that you can live in it with God and each other, in peace forever. You just have to wait for this better country to arrive with Christ’s return when he resurrects your bodies and brings you and all the other saints into the land long promised to you.
(Image Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, from the Exterior of the Duomo in Milan; By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons )