The Wrestler

Posted: October 25, 2018 by keystoneyouth in Strange Encounters Lessons
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Screen Shot 2018-09-15 at 7.25.11 PM

Attention Funnel: Greatest Fights

  • What would you say some of the greatest fights in history have been? Real or fictional?
  • We have been doing this series called Strange Encounters… where we look at some of the interesting encounters people had with God in the Old Testament.
  • Tonight, we look at an encounter where God shows up and literally has a wrestling match with someone.
    • Read Genesis 32:30 – This is the end of the encounter, but I just want you to see it to know that I’m not making up that Jacob encounters God in this story… because it’s all a little bit weird.
  • I want to look at this encounter bit by bit to see what we can learn about what it means for us to know God and encounter him.

Main Points:

  • We encounter God in our weakness.
  • God wants to change us more than our circumstances.
  • It’s in submission to God that we win. 
  • God becomes weak so that we can encounter him.


  • I want to start with a question…
  • What is the biggest problem that you are currently facing? What’s the one thing in your life that you think, “If I could get rid of that, change this, or make this happen” then my life would be a lot better?
    • Maybe it’s more/better friends, maybe it’s more money, maybe it’s an issue at school, or in your family, or maybe something else.
  • We’re going to meet a guy by the name of Jacob tonight. And Jacob has been facing problems all of his life… but in this moment, he is facing the biggest problem of his life.
  • Read Genesis 32:22-23
  • We find Jacob on the edge of a river, completely alone, at night.
  • I don’t know what your life is like, but I don’t make a habit of going out to rivers by myself late at night. That’s not my normal Friday Night ritual… I need to be in bed by 10:00.
  • So why is Jacob standing out here all alone??
  • Here is the short answer why… Jacob is returning home after 20 years away. And in his 20 years away Jacob has been extremely successful – he has a large family and is very wealthy.
  • This should be cause for celebration, right? The wealthy successful businessman is returning to his hometown. If this were LMH they would make him Alumni of the Year.
  • So why is Jacob sitting alone, by the river, late at night, in what appears to be a state of anxiety and worry?
  • Because the last time he was home, his brother was on the verge of killing him. And he has just found out that his brother is coming out to meet him with a small army of 400 soldiers.
  • Have you ever had to walk into a situation that you were sure was going to end badly for you?
    • I remember the feeling I had as a truckdriver when I had to call my boss on one of my first days on the job and tell him that I had ripped down a set of cable and telephone wires at a customer’s house because I forgot to put the dump of my truck down. I thought, I don’t want to do this and this might end badly for me.
  • Imagine walking into a situation where you were pretty sure that you and your whole family were about to die or become slaves.
  • That’s the situation Jacob finds himself in. And it’s the situation he encounters God in.
  • What does this teach us about encountering God?


We encounter God in our weakness.

  • It’s when we realize and admit we don’t have it all together, we can’t control what’s going on, and we desperately need help. That is when we are primed to encounter God.
  • Up till this point in his life, Jacob would’ve said that he believed in God. He would’ve probably even said that he needed God.
  • But Jacob’s life didn’t reflect that. His life has been all about getting what he wants and remaining in control.
  • I wonder how many of us this is true of… Sure we believe God exists and we could feed the right answers about him. But he really makes no differences in our day to day lives.
    • He’s sort of like my Great Uncle Omer – Yeah, I know he exists. I met him at one time, and I could tell you a little bit about who he is and the facts of his life, but he really has no personal effect on my life.
  • If we think it’s up to us to handle every problem that comes our way. It’s up to us to prove ourselves and make something of our lives… then it’s not surprising that we never genuinely encounter God.
  • Apply: Have you been longing to encounter God – longing to experience him for yourself.
    • It may simply start with acknowledging that you don’t have it altogether, that you can’t figure everything out, and that you desperately need him.


  • But here is the danger, we can come to God in our weakness, but only in an attempt to get him to change our circumstances.
    • Why do I go to the mechanic? Because I really want to know the mechanic and to become close friends with him. Because I want us to have real talk about the struggles in our lives. NO! I go to the mechanic because I want him to fix my car. Sure, I need the mechanic, but I only need him because I want something else.
  • Even when we approach God in weakness, this can be our temptation. We go to him to fix something in our lives – some problem that we are facing (LOOK: It’s not bad to go to God with our problems. We should. But God is also not our spiritual mechanic).
  • We have this tendency to think that if we obey God and seek him then he’ll fix everything we want him to.
    • But what happens to Jacob? Jacob obeyed God when God told him to go home and now he is turning to God in his weakness.
    • And how does God respond? Read Genesis 32:24-25
  • God jumps him and starts to wrestle him in one of the worst nights of his life!
  • This is a God who is far more concerned about changing Jacob then about changing his circumstances.

God wants to change us more than our circumstances.

  • For Jacob, God wants to break his self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
    • And so, God is literally going to wrestle him.
    • Think about what happens when two people wrestle one another. What is going on? They are fighting for control. They are fighting to ultimately pin the other person and bring them to a point of submission.
  • As sinful people, we want to be in control. We want to decide the outcome of our lives. We want to choose what’s right and wrong.
  • And so, if it never feels like we are wrestling with God it might be a problem.
    • Apply: If you aren’t a Christianand you struggle with turning your life over to God and putting your faith in Christ. That’s a natural place to be. It means that you grasp what God wants from you.
    • Apply: If you are a Christian, growing in maturity and faith is almost always going to involve a struggle. We want change to be easy, but it never is. If there is something in your life that God’s calling you to do, something he is asking you to turn from, some person he is asking you to reach out to, something he is asking you to give up, it’s probably going to feel a bit like wrestling.
  • And God’s process of changing us is often painful.
    • Look at Jacob… God wounds him in the hip. Think about this, what could seem to be worse for Jacob in going into his big meeting with his brother, then to walk in with an injury.
    • And yet God injures Jacob in order to deal with a deeper issue.
    • In watching the Office recently I came across the episode where Michael accidently hits one of his employees with a car. He ends up breaking his employee’s hip in the process. And yet later in the episode we find out that his employee actually has rabies because of several recent animal bites (a bat, raccoon, and rat), and the only reason they discover and take care of the rabies is because she was in the hospital with a broken hip.
  • Often, God’s process of changing us involves suffering. It involves weakening us more than we ever thought we could take.
    • Whether that suffering is physical, mental, emotional or something else. It’s often through pain that God does his greatest work in our lives.
  • “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in ourconsciences, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –C.S. Lewis
  • Apply: We tend to want to avoid pain at all cost… take heart that in the midst of pain is often when we encounter God most clearly and when he does the most to change us.


  • After wounding Jacob, we see that God ultimately brings him to a point of submission.
  • How do we know this? Read Genesis 32:26-29
    • Jacob gives up his name, but God will not give up his. What is the significance of this?
    • It’s like if a wrestler taps out. When he taps that ground, he is admitting that his opponent is greater than him. He is giving into the demands of his opponent.
  • Normally submission is viewed in a negative light.
    • Nobody tends to brag about the Wars that they have lost. Americans may make boasts about being 2-0 in world wars, but I’ve never heard anyone brag about the outcome of the Vietnam War.
    • Nobody hopes that their team will go 0-16.
  • But it’s ultimately in submission to God that we win. How can that be?

It’s in submission to God that we win. 

  • Well let’s look at Jacob – all his life he has been trying to prove himself. From the earliest age, he was a momma’s boy who couldn’t seem to win the approval of his dad. He’s been trying to make a name for himself, to prove that he’s good enough, and to know that he is valuable.
    • He’s looked to the approval of other people, looked to winning the love of a woman, looked to becoming successful and wealthy, and none of it has worked.
  • But now he encounters God and he’s forced into submission, and he clings to God begging for him to bless him.
    • What does Jacob mean when he begs for that: something material? No he already has all of that. What he’s asking for is for God to bless him with approval. To hear God say, “You are valued and loved.”
  • And what does God do? He gives him a new name.
  • This is so significant!In this culture, a name defines you, it says the most important thing about you (an equivalent might be our job title, or the number of friends and followers you have on social media).
  • When God gives Jacob a new name, He’s giving Jacob the approval and love he has searched for all his life.
  • From here on out, Jacob is defined by God and what God says about him.
  • Apply:
    • We are all trying to prove ourselves, make a name for ourselves, and convince both ourselves as well as others that we are good enough.
    • There may be times where we are able to do that. But then we wake up the next morning and the struggle starts again. Will I prove myself today again? Will I be liked? Will I get noticed?
    • It’s only when we come to God that we find what we have been chasing after all our lives.
    • God renames us, gives us a new identity, and calls us his child.
    • Do you feel the weight of believing you’re not good enough, believing you are failure, believing you are worthless? The answer is not to work harder to prove yourself, or beat yourself up over how terrible you are. The answer is to turn to God in submission, let him rename you and trust what he says about you.


  • How can we know that submitting to this God is good? How can we trust him?
  • After all, doesn’t this story show that he sometimes hurts people to get what he wants?
  • I think the answer comes in the kind of confusing wording of this story.
  • Early on in the story it says that the man (who we know later is God) saw “that he could not prevail against Jacob”
  • What does it mean when it says God could not prevail against Jacob?? I thought God is all-powerful.
  • Not only that, but Jacob is likely an old man by the time this happens… 80-90 years old.
  • Can God really not pin an old man to the ground in a wrestling match?
  • That can’t be the case, so then what is it saying?
  • Here’s what I think it’s saying… God becomes weak so that we can encounter him.

God becomes weak so that we can encounter him.

  • My older brother is a father to three little boys. And two of the boys are just getting to the age where they like to wrestle. So every once in a while they will wrestle with their dad. What does my brother do? Throw them both to the ground, pin them until they cry out for mercy, and then flex because he just defeated a 3 year old and 5 year old? NO.
    • My brother lies down on his back to intentionally limit himself, and then he lets them come out him. So they jump, hit, kick, and wrestle with him. And at times it may seem as though they are winning – after all he is on his back and both boys are on top of him.
    • But what has my brother done? He has intentionally made himself weaker for the sake of his sons.
  • That’s a hint of what God is doing in this story. He doesn’t destroy Jacob. He makes himself weak so that Jacob can encounter him.
  • What does that remind us of?
  • It should remind us of Jesus. He comes as a man (intentionally weakening himself).
  • And then he goes to a cross (which by all outward appearances shows that he is weak and a loser). Winners don’t get crucified, losers do.
  • But its ultimately in weakness that Jesus wins. He defeats death and our sin and makes a way for us to encounter and enjoy God.
  • And this is the answer to our question… Why should I submit to God? Why should I come to a God who may wound me in order to change me? Why should I give up control? Why should I do what he calls me to do even if it doesn’t make sense to me?
  • Because he’s a God who made himself weak for our sake.
  • Like a Father that gets down on the floor to wrestle with his sons… that God can be trusted.

So What??

  • Where are you trying to manage and control the outcome of your life? Let your weakness and inability drive you to God.
  • Does God have you in the midst of something painful right now? Take heart knowing that God speaks loudest in our pain and is working to change you in the midst of it.
  • Have you experienced God’s approval in your life. Not just to you “know” that you are his child, but has that approval really sunk in? Submit to him, believe what he says about you is true.
  • Are you wrestling with God over some area of your life right now? See the God who can always be trusted (even when we are wrestling with him) because he became weak for us.


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