Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
July 31, 2011 Pentecost VII
Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 17:1-7, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21
From the Book of Genesis:
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.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
What does it mean, “To be blessed?” It means to be favored by God. Blessings therefore are directly associated with God and come from God. Therefore to express a blessing, is like bestowing a wish on someone that he will experience the favor of God. “May you have a blessed Christmas”, could be translated as: “May you experience the favor of God during the Christmas season.”
In Judaism, a blessing or berakhah is recited at a specified moment during a prayer, ceremony or other activity, especially before and after partaking of food. The function of these blessings is to acknowledge God as the source of all blessing. A berakhah typically starts with the words, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe..”
Judaism teaches that food ultimately is a gift of the one great Provider, God, and that to partake of food legitimately one must express gratitude to God by reciting the appropriate blessing. We refer to the blessing before the meal as saying “grace.”
In the Christian church, liturgical blessings are performed over people, objects, or are given at specific points during worship services. A service might be started with a blessing such as the call to worship and end with a blessing, such as the benediction.
When we look at St. Paul, he was considered a traitor to the Jewish nation. He ministered to the Gentiles and he taught freedom from the Law of Moses. He had preached in many synagogues and caused some trouble, and no doubt many of the Jewish believers in Rome had heard of his questionable reputation.
In the book of Romans, Paul showed his love for Israel and his desire for their welfare. In Romans 8:28-30 we read: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
St. Paul argued that the believer is secure in Jesus Christ and that God’s election would stand. But someone might ask, “What about the Jews? They were chosen by God, and yet now you tell us they are set aside and God is building His church. Did God fail to keep His promises to Israel?” In other words, the very character of God was at stake. If God was not faithful to the Jews, how do we know He will be faithful to the church?
In the 9th chapter of Romans, Paul defended the character of God by showing that Israel’s past history actually magnified the attributes of God. He specifically named four attributes of God: His faithfulness (Rom. 9:1-13), righteousness (Rom. 9:14-18), justice (Rom. 9:19-29), and grace (Rom. 9:30-33).
When Paul looked at Christ, he rejoiced; but when he looked at the lost people of Israel, he wept. Like Moses (Ex. 32:30-35), he was willing to be cursed and separated from Christ if it would mean the salvation of Israel. He was willing to stay out of heaven for the sake of the saved (Phil. 1:22-24), and willing to go to hell for the sake of the lost.
The theme of this chapter was God’s election of Israel; and the first thing he dealt with was the blessing of their election (Rom. 9:4-5). Israel was adopted by God as His own people (Ex. 4:22-23). He gave them His glory in the tabernacle and the temple (Ex. 40:34-38). The Glory of Moses bestowed on Mount Sinai came to dwell with Israel (Ex. 24:16-17). God gave Israel His covenants, the first to Abraham, and the additional covenants to Moses and to David. He also gave them His Law to govern their political, social, and religious life, and to guarantee His blessing if they obeyed. He gave them the promises and the patriarchs. The purpose of all of this blessing was that Jesus Christ, through Israel, might come into the world. All of these blessings were given freely to Israel and to no other nation.
But in spite of these blessings, Israel failed. When the Messiah appeared, Israel rejected Him and crucified Him. No one knew this better than Paul, because in his early days he had persecuted the church. Does Israel’s failure mean that God’s Word has failed? Of course not! God is faithful no matter what men may do with His Word.
I would like to read a little bit further into the 9th chapter of Romans, verses 6-8: “But it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” This means that it is not the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.”
There is a difference between the natural seed of Abraham and the spiritual children of Abraham. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael by Hagar and Isaac by Sarah. Since Ishmael was the firstborn, he should have been chosen, but it was Isaac that God chose. Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. As the firstborn, Esau should have been chosen, but it was Jacob that God chose. And Esau and Jacob had the same father and mother, unlike Ishmael and Isaac who had the same father but different mothers. God did not base His election on the physical. Therefore, if the nation of Israel – Abraham’s physical descendants – has rejected God’s Word, this does not nullify God’s elective purposes at all.
As we go to our Old Testament reading this morning, we have a very troubled and fearful Jacob. Two decades before, Jacob had fled from Esau to Laban; and now he was fleeing Laban only to be confronted by Esau! After twenty years, Jacob’s past was catching up with him; and he was afraid. It’s strange how we convince ourselves that we can escape the past and not reap what we’ve sown. We try to forget our sins, but our sins don’t forget us. What Jacob did to his father and brother was forgiven by God, but neither time nor geography could change the consequences of those acts.
As you study Jacob’s actions during this crisis time in his life, you can see the conflicts all of us occasionally experience between faith and fear, trusting God and scheming, asking God for help and then acting as though we don’t even know God. A crisis doesn’t make a man; it shows what a man is made of.
Instead of remembering the encouraging vision of God’s angelic army, Jacob divided his camp into two bands so that if one group was attacked, the other group could escape. It was a poor strategy against four hundred men, and Jacob would have been better off to maintain the original two bands – his company and God’s army of angels – and trust the Lord to see him through.
With Esau and his forces fast approaching, Jacob wanted to get his family to safety, which meant crossing the ford of the Jabbok. It was dangerous to ford the river at night, but Jacob would rather hazard the crossing than risk losing his loved ones; so he moved his family to what he hoped was a safe place. Having forgotten about God’s army, he wanted something between his family and his brother’s army. Jacob devised his own “two camps.”
Now Jacob was left alone, and when we’re alone and at the end of our resources, then God can come to us and do something in us and for us.
Twenty years before, Jacob had met the Lord when he was alone at Bethel; and now God graciously came to him again in his hour of need (vv. 28,30).
God meets us at whatever level He finds us in order to lift us to where He wants us to be. To Abraham the pilgrim, God came as a traveler (Gen. 18), and to Joshua the general, He came as a soldier (Josh. 5:13-15), Jacob had spent most of his adult life wrestling with people – Esau, Isaac, Laban, and even his wives – so God came to him as a wrestler.
At Bethel, God had promised to bless Jacob; and from a material point of view, the promise was fulfilled, for Jacob was now a very wealthy man. But there’s much more to the blessing of God than flocks, herds, and servants; there’s also the matter of godly character and spiritual influence. During that “dark night of the soul,” Jacob discovered that he’d spent his life fighting God and resisting His will, and that the only way to victory was through surrender. As A.W. Tozer said, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered him.” God conquered Jacob by weakening him.
More than anything else, Jacob wanted the blessing of the Lord on his life; and for this holy desire, he’s to be commended. But before we can begin to be like the Lord, we have to face ourselves and admit to who we are inside. That’s why the Lord asked him, “What is your name?” If you recall, the last time Jacob was asked that question, he told a lie. His father asked, “Who are you, my son?” and Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn” (Gen. 27:18-19).
The Lord didn’t ask the question in order to get information. God knew his name and God knew that Jacob had a reputation of being a schemer and a deceiver. “What is your name?” meant, “Are you going to continue living up to your name, deceiving yourself and others; or will you admit to what you are and let Me change you?” In the Bible, when one receives a new name, it signifies a new beginning and this was Jacob’s opportunity to make a fresh start in life.
Jacob had gained power because he prevailed. He lost the battle but won the victory! By seeking God’s blessing and finally being weakened and forced to yield, he had become a “God-empowered prince.” Like Paul, who had his own battle to fight, Jacob became strong only when he became weak (2 Cor. 12:1-10).
When God rules our lives, then He can trust us with His power; for only those who are under His authority have the right to exercise His authority. While at home, Jacob had served himself and created problems; and for twenty years he served Laban and created further problems, but now he would serve God and become a part of the answer.
When we think of blessings, we can’t help but think of Jesus blessing the five loaves and two fishes and feeding the 5,000. During this time, Jesus often withdrew from the crowds and spent time alone with His disciples (Matt. 14:13).
There were several reasons for these withdrawals: the growing hostility of His enemies, the need for physical rest, and the need to prepare His disciples for His future death on the cross. Unfortunately, the disciples were often caught up in the excitement generated by the crowds that wanted to make Jesus their King (John 6:15).
However, we must not think of these withdrawals, or periods of retirement from the crowds, were periods of inactivity. Often the crowds followed Jesus and He was unable to remain alone. He would unselfishly minister to their needs in spite of His own need for rest and solitude.
Jesus and His disciples desperately needed rest; yet the needs of the multitudes touched His heart. Jesus was “moved with compassion” when He saw the needy multitudes (Matt. 9:36). They were like sheep that had been lacerated from brutal fleecing – torn, exhausted, and wandering. Twice He was “moved with compassion” when He beheld the hungry multitudes without food (Matt. 14:14). The two blind men (Matt. 20:34) and the leper (Mark 1:41) also stirred His compassion, as did the sorrow of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:13).
The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is recorded in all four Gospels. It was definitely a miracle! Imagine what it was like for the disciples. They had more than 5,000 hungry people and nothing to feed them. They obviously knew that Jesus was powerful, yet they did not ask Him for help. Instead they took inventory and found a lad with five barley loaves and two fishes and a limited treasury. When they considered that it was getting late and the place was isolated, their solution to Jesus was to send the people away.
Jesus watched His disciples as they tried to solve the problem, but “He himself knew what He was going to do” (John 6:6). He wanted to teach them a lesson in faith and surrender.
Start with what we have – the boy’s lunch. God begins with where we are and uses what we have.
Give what you have to Jesus – Jesus took a simple lunch, blessed it, and shared it. The miracle of multiplication was in His hands!
Obey His commands – The disciples had the people sit down as Jesus had asked. They took the broken pieces and distributed them, and discovered that there was plenty for everybody. As His servants, we are “distributers,” not “manufacturers.” If we give what we have to Him, He will bless it and give it back to us for use in feeding others.
The Apostle John recorded a sermon on “the Bread of life” that Jesus gave the next morning in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:22ff). The people were willing to receive the physical bread, but they would not receive the living Bread – the Son of God come down from heaven.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 was actually a sermon in action. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and only He can satisfy the spiritual hunger in man’s heart. The tragedy is, men waste their time and money on “that which is not bread” (Isa. 55:1-7).
Jesus still has compassion on the hungry multitudes, and He still says to His church: “Give them something to eat.” I say this in all humility that Pastor Howard and myself try very hard, through God’s Holy Spirit to provide you with a worship service that is meaningful to you, contains sound doctrine and brings glory to God. We offer you “meat and potatoes;” something to sink your teeth into and not a “Fluffernutter sandwich.” Although the sandwich might be sweeter, you don’t grow from it except in the waistline.
Jesus asks that we give Him all that we have and let Him use it as He sees fit. A hungry world is feeding on empty substitutes, so we need to introduce them to the Bread of Life. When we give Christ what we have, we never lose. We always end up with more blessing than when we started.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, bless us and Your church oh Lord. As we wrestle with Your will and the distractions of this world, slow us down Lord with the touch of your hand. Help us to surrender to Your will and have faith that you will honor your promises. Take what we have Lord, bless it, and give it back to us so that we might feed your hungry people. Help us to grow in the knowledge of your Holy Word; that we may share this with others. Lead us to the path of righteousness and eternal life. May your Holy Spirit transform our inner being to be more like you. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.