But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. —1 John 1:7
The gospel frees us to be honest – with the Lord, with ourselves, with one another. It frees us by showing us Jesus, who died for our sins. There’s no need to make ourselves look better than we really are. It’s out in the light that the blood of Jesus cleanses and cleanses and cleanses, and no sin can stand up to his power, if it’s brought out into his light.
Walking in the light is an honest relationship with Jesus and one another, so that we’re free to grow. It’s an unhindered relationship with Jesus and one another. No unconfessed sin. That honesty together is Christianity, as the apostle John teaches us.
That matters for you and me today, because – well, is anyone here today thinking, “I have no regrets. I don’t need to change. I’m amazing”? We’re not thinking that. We don’t like where we are. So here’s what we can do about it. Trust in the Lord enough to step out into the light of honesty and confession, where God promises us two things: fellowship with one another, and cleansing from above. We think, “If anyone knew the real me, they wouldn’t love me. I don’t even think God can forgive me and help me.” That is not true. That is walking in the darkness. We can and must let that go and walk every day in the light of the gospel.
Here’s how it worked out in one man’s life, and he is so much like every one of us. His name was Jacob. God loved Jacob, but Jacob didn’t believe it. So Jacob had to cope by his own strategies, which didn’t work. But God loved him so much, God eventually led him out into the light, where everything changed.
The story is in the book of Genesis. Bruce Waltke’s commentary on Genesis sums up the theme of the whole book this way: “God’s promise to establish his kingdom through his grace that overcomes human sin.” The people God blesses in Genesis are a mess. In chapter 12 God promises Abraham that he will bless that man and bless the whole world through that man. And Abraham believed God’s promise – some of the time. Whenever his faith wavered, bad things happened. And he did a lot of bad things when he stopped believing the promises of the gospel. The whole family of promise in the book of Genesis is mixed. They believe God sometimes, but when they get nervous they shift around for other strategies for success and it never works. Today we look at Jacob, a man who learned the hard way how to walk in the light. So take courage. In the Bible God is telling you he blesses broken people. God has a purpose of grace and greatness for broken people like Jacob, like us. Are we willing this morning to join the ranks of the needy, the weak, the sinful and step out into the light of Jesus, just as we are?
How to walk in the darkness
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” —Genesis 27:1-4
Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a stud. Jacob, his little brother, was a weenie. But Jacob was the one God said he was going to bless (Genesis 25:23). God loves to bless unlikely people. And Jacob was doubly unlikely as a man set apart to God for blessing. He was a despicable weenie. His name “Jacob” means something like “Cheater,” and he lived up to his name. Esau later says about him, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times” (Genesis 27:36). Jacob’s Hebrew name seems to suggest the picture of someone sneaking up behind someone else to trip them up, to take advantage of them. In a way, I can’t blame Isaac for not liking Jacob as much. But it was Jacob God meant to bless.
Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’” —Genesis 27:5-7
God is going to use Isaac’s unwise favoritism toward the older son and Rebekah’s unwise favoritism toward the younger son – the attitudes of both parents are wrong – but God is going not only to bless these people but he is going to bless them through their stupidity. They will suffer for their folly, but God will overrule and bless them in spite of themselves. What does Rebekah want Jacob to do? Act out his name, “Cheater”:
“Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.” —Genesis 27:8-13
Well, there’s Jacob for you. He has no qualms about getting involved in tricking his own father. His only question is about how convincing the scam will be. Will it work? Later we’ll see that Jacob has changed, when he wrestles with God himself. But here, at this moment in his life, he doesn’t even wrestle with his conscience.
So Jacob went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob. —Genesis 27:14-17
Can’t we see ourselves here? We think, “My Father won’t bless me. I won’t find favor in his eyes. If only I were someone else, maybe he would bless me.” So we look around and, sure enough, there’s a worthy person, there’s a strong Christian, there’s somebody the Father will surely bless. That someone over there, that person I wish I were – he has the right personality, the right theology, the right everything. She gets all the breaks, she has what I wish I had. I think I’ll pose as that kind of person, we think. I’ll make myself out to be like him or her. I’ll role-play someone else. I’ll falsify who I really am, because no way can I find favor with God.” Don’t you recognize something of that thought in yourself? And there is a grain of truth in it. God won’t bless me. He really won’t. He will only bless someone who deserves it. But that special Someone is not who we think. And we don’t have to fake being that Person. God has a better way for you and me. But more on that later. For now, let’s just see ourselves with new honesty in Jacob here, as he poses before his own father.
So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” —Genesis 27:18-19
That is a rotten lie. And that is walking in darkness. “Who are you?” the Father asks. “I am Someone Else,” we say. “I am not who I really am. Let’s overlook who I really am. I can’t face who I really am, so how much less can you? I am Someone Else, Father, and I have done as you told me. I have obeyed. I am ready for your blessing!”
But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” —Genesis 27:20
Jacob adds to his lie the further sin of blasphemy. Now he takes the Lord’s name in vain. How did you make progress so quickly, Jacob? “The Lord made me successful.” Sin compounds sin. But we shouldn’t be surprised, because where did it all start? It started deep in Jacob’s heart when he didn’t believe that God cared about him. So he had to live by his own wits, by his own self-reliance and his own strategies and coping mechanisms. Deceit is a small step to take, even blasphemy, for a heart not filled with assurance in the love of God. This is why we Christians sin so horribly toward one another. It isn’t a breach of manners. It isn’t because our mamas didn’t raise us right. It happens when we stop believing that God is taking care of us, and so we have to do this our own way. There is no end to the treacherous things we’ll do, the instant we stop believing God loves us freely because of the cross. For Jacob, the proof of his deeper sin of unbelief appears in the words “the Lord your God.” He didn’t say, “the Lord my God,” because that is the whole problem. He believes in God. He even believes in the blessing of God. But he believes that God will bless anyone but him. He does not believe and feel that God is his God too.
Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” —Genesis 27:21-24
Jacob probably didn’t hear the loving voice of God himself when his dad’s human voice asked him, “Are you really my son Esau?” God was inviting Jacob to take off his disguise and step into the light and say, “Father, enough of my foolishness! I have so dishonored you. I have insulted you. I have tried to manipulate you. I have treated you as if you were a gullible fool. Forgive me, please.” I wish Jacob had said that. He wasted many years of his life walking in the darkness. But we do the same thing. We treat our Lord as if he were blind, like old Isaac. But the Bible says, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). The Bible says he has eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14). By our blind unbelief in his love, we push his blessing away. We waste years of our lives not believing the gospel. We treat the gospel as irrelevant to that very point of pain in our lives where we most need the word of his love. Is there any reason to go on that way one moment longer? The time to believe the gospel is now, because the Bible from cover to cover is all about the love of God for the undeserving through the finished work of Christ on the cross. Why not believe that and risk your future on the grace of God in Christ? You can stop posing. You can come out of hiding. You can let God love and bless the real you, because he will, for the sake of Christ.
At this point in the story, we’re ready for three questions. One, who is God? God is not like Isaac. He does not show favoritism. He is not driven by appetite and need. He is not dying any time soon. He is not blind. He cannot be manipulated. And he is not limited in his blessing. God our Father lives and loves to bless us without our Halloween costume righteousness.
Two, who are we? We are so afraid we’ll miss out on the blessing. We are more sneaky than we know. We lurk in the shadows and cannot relax and be free and rejoice in God. We don’t deserve his blessing.
Three, who is Jesus? He is, as it were, our Better Self. He is a worthy Son. At his baptism the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” When we receive Christ with the empty hands of faith, God gives him to us as our covering, our worth, our new identity. God reaches out and touches us, and he feels Christ. He does bless us not because we have fooled him but because he rejects the stupid tricks we think are impressive and he puts Christ in their place.
How to walk in the light
Fast-forward about twenty years. Jacob fled from Esau after defrauding him of his father’s blessing. Now the two brothers are about to meet each other again. Jacob is terrified. Verse 7 of Genesis 32 says, “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” And he starts into his typical Jacob-like schemes, to cope with his guilty fears. But God comes to him, to change him forever. Jacob finally learns how to walk in the light – though he’ll walk there with a limp.
The same night Jacob arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. —Genesis 32:22-24
Jacob the trickster and deceiver, the fugitive running from others and from himself, is alone. Tomorrow morning he’ll face Esau, and the word is out that Esau is coming with 400 men (Genesis 32:6). Jacob has no reason to expect he’ll live out the next day. What does he do? He prays, in verses 9-12. It’s the longest prayer in the book of Genesis. What does he pray for? The promises of God. He is finally banking on the one true hope he’s had all along. What else does Jacob do? He sends presents out ahead to Esau, in verses 13-21. He owes Esau an apology and restitution. Jacob is striving with God and with man. How is it going to turn out for him?
Initially, it doesn’t look good. A man comes out of nowhere, an unexplained man, and picks a fight with Jacob. Verse 30 makes clear, it’s God. The moment has come for Jacob to wrestle with God, with no smarty-pants quick thinking of his own. The hour is too late, too desperate. So Jacob goes after God with all his might. And God, in mercy, allows him to win:
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. —Genesis 32:25
God could have nuked Jacob. This is the God who created the universe, back in chapter 1. And when God does disable Jacob, he just touches him. Just a touch, and Jacob goes down with a career-ending injury. So Jacob is finally reduced to weakness. A man can’t wrestle with no leverage from the waist down. All Jacob can do is hang on and plead for God’s mercy. He does. And God is not offended. God is pleased when we’re so desperate for his blessing that we refuse to let go of him but so broken all we can do is plead his mercy in Christ. Look what happens:
Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Genesis 32:26-27
God could have gone a long time without asking that question. But Jacob must not only face God, he must also face himself. You see how Jacob is starting to walk in the light. He admits his name. He names himself the trickster and deceiver. He owns up to his past, to his very nature. He’s walking right out into the light. He’s ready for a new identity and a new beginning that only God can give, and God does:
Then God said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” —Genesis 32:28
God himself puts the past away with a new name. What does his new name mean? Something like “Contender,” even with God. Do you see what has happened to Jacob? He simply clung to God, according to God’s own promises, and he would not take No for an answer, even though it meant facing himself right there in the presence of God. And God loved it. Jacob didn’t give up in despair. He went all the way into the light of who God really is and who he really was, and that’s where God blessed him.
Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. —Genesis 32:29-31
As Dr. Waltke says in his commentary, “The limp is the posture of the saint.” No more need to control and leverage every situation. A new willingness to live by the apparent precariousness of the promises of God. A new willingness to be weakened with a limp, in order to be strengthened by grace. If you will face up to what God says you are and put away your posing, God will surprise you with his blessing. You will limp. But you will walk into a new dawn of blessing from heaven above.
Come to Christ as you are, and he will give you himself as he is. Will you, right now?