Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Second Sunday in Lent, 3/13/2022. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel at 11am. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent2 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Second Sunday in Lent, click here.
Jacob had seen angels before. Jacob had seen angels earlier that day. As he returned to his birth home, where he expected a conflict with his brother, Esau, angels of God appeared to him, stirring up his courage. Something he’d need since he was expecting violent conflict with his estranged sibling.
Jacob expected conflict, and he got conflict; though not with his brother, Esau. The Man who showed up to wrestle with Jacob was God, the preincarnate Christ, elsewhere called the Angel of the Lord.
This was no angel he’d ever seen before. It was the Son of God, who would at the proper time take on human flesh in Bethlehem. This is the One who knocked at midnight, let Himself in, and sparred with His many times great grandfather.
By sunrise, you might get the idea that the Man (i.e. Christ) had met His match. The text even seems to suggest it, for
When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. verse 25
It’s as if Christ is anticipating the humanity, the humility, the mercy, and even the sense of humor that comes out in the Gospel for today.
He could do anything He wanted to Jacob. But what He wanted was for Jacob to wrestle with Him. He wanted Jacob to stubbornly cling to and wrestle with the Him, the Word of God, to hold tightly to him even when it hurt, and his bones were out of joint; to strive for the only victory that mattered:
To see God face to face, to strive with Him, and to be blessed by Him.
It’s a marvelous account to put right next to this account in Matthew’s Gospel.
The woman who came to Jesus was a Canaanite. And as she herself recognizes that this would put her on the outside. Outside of Israel. Outside of the Kingdom. Outside of Christ. Outside the inheritance that belongs to the children of God.
Her status was a liability and a hindrance, kind of like Jacob’s. Legally speaking, Jacob wasn’t to receive the inheritance from his father, Isaac. That was supposed to be Esau. But, if you remember, Jacob tricked his father into thinking he was Esau, and sort of conned him into giving him a blessing that didn’t belong to him.
That’s really a whole other sermon, but the point is this: Jacob desperately wanted his father’s blessing and strove to get it, just as he wrestled with God in search of a blessing from Him.
This brings us back to the Canaanite woman. She is boldly coming to Jesus and asking for something that would not be hers by right.
It would be as if Jacob came to his father, Isaac, and said “Bless me, father, your son Jacob. Give to me as you would give to your firstborn, Esau.”
But just as Jacob did not get the blessing from his father without some cleverness, deceitful as it was; and just as he did not receive the blessing from God without wrestling Him all night, so also, the woman is more than willing to spar with Jesus, who says,
I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. verse 24
Thus began the wrestling match. But then she came and knelt before Him pleading for His help.
It’s a classic technique, well executed. But Jesus’ reply was like a body slam:
It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. verse 26
Maybe it was more like putting her hip out of joint. Regardless, she would not let go of Him or tap out.
Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. verse 27
With that proclamation of faith, the night is over. The sun is risen. The demon is cast out. And this Canaanite woman is made into disciple of Jesus, and an heiress, with you, of God’s Kingdom.
The Scriptures don’t tell us her name, but I’ll always think of some form of the name “Peniel,” for she saw God face to face and was delivered.
All of this is a bit difficult to hear because we recognize that we’re saved by grace through faith. And that’s true. But that faith is always active. It seeks out God’s Word. It strives for God’s blessing. It pleads for God’s mercy. Faith receives God’s gifts… and sometimes faith receives those gifts aggressively.
Luther says as much when he talks about Jacob’s new name, “Israel” and points out that it means something like a “prince” or “God’s fighter.” One who wrestles with God and wins. Something that happens through that faith which holds so firmly to God’s Word until it overcomes God’s wrath and obtains God as the gracious Father. (WA DB 8:137)
You see the point, I’m sure. Sometimes the answer to your prayer might be “no,” or “not now.” But sometimes you have not because you ask not. Or you ask with the same kind of trust normally reserved for fortune cookies.
This concept of wrestling with God goes beyond prayer. It goes to the heart of Christian teaching. What do I mean by that?
Consider how many things you have believed in your life as a Christian. Things that have no basis in God’s Word, or even things that God’s Word specifically preaches against; and you kept on believing them because you wouldn’t wrestle with God’s Word.
To have your own private doctrine, or your pet sin, which frequently gets relabeled and placed into some other category… You can only have these things by refusing to wrestle with God’s Word. This is the safe thing to do if you fear that your bone will be put out of joint; if you fear losing something so precious to you.
The other option is to wrestle against God’s Word, which is a different thing altogether. To wrestle against God’s Word is to try and bend it to your will, to twist it and pierce it and try to make it say something false.
Such a thing was endured by our Lord as he was interrogated, beaten, and crucified for your sake. And His Word will fare no better in this world.
Lent is a season for training, for wrestling with the Word of God. Lent is a season for discipline, for mastering your body according to that Word. Repent. Pray and fast. Bear the crosses in your life faithfully and in hope. Hold to your disciplines. Refuse to let go of Christ. Wrestle with His Word, even when it hurts. Call Him on His promises.
You are His own little brothers and sisters, after all. And what siblings don’t relish in a good wrestling match?
After all, the victory Jesus won on the cross, He won for you. You can’t lose.