SERMON – Jacob, the Missional Rebel

SERMON – Jacob, the Missional Rebel August 20, 2007
I preached the following sermon at Jubilee Church, London yesterday. You can read the notes, download the audio, or listen to it right here:

HEROES—At the outset I should warn you that Jacob is not your typical biblical hero. We often go to the Bible to learn about how to behave. We want to read about great men of God who we can model ourselves after. We want to learn how to behave, how to be a good father, a good husband. Jacob is not that kind of hero. Actually it is fair to say that none of the biblical heroes are without flaws. Jacob, I am sorry to say, had many flaws. He was not a good husband. He was not a good father. In fact, there is very little that we can positively learn from the way he lived his life. He constantly made mistakes. Initially, I wondered why this story was even in the Bible:

  1. Because it is TRUE—an evidence for the Bible’s truthfulness we often forget is the terrible flaws of its heroes. No other nation on earth describes its founder in such unsavory terms.

  2. It is there to teach us a message—possibly one of the hardest messages we come across in the whole of Scripture.

Romans 9:13 “. . . when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

I guarantee that you will have all kinds of questions about that verse; I know I do But the life of Jacob shows us that what the Apostle Paul says in Romans is true —God chose him not because of anything in him, but because he chose him. God’s love for Jacob is so great that in comparison it is as though he hates Esau.

We have to ask ourselves a simple question: If we are a Christian, is it because of something in us or is it because of something God has done for us? When we look at an unbeliever, do we feel superior to them, or does it make us tremble to think that God could also have passed us by and left us in the mess we have made of our lives?

We might say, “Haven’t I got free will? Yes, but God’s is freer!” (Terry Virgo)

God is the initiator. He can never be forced to act. He is sovereign and we must remember—HE IS GOD AND WE ARE NOT!

John Piper says it in this way, imagining what God might have said to Jacob:

“I have loved you with free, sovereign, unconditional, electing love; that is how I have loved you.

  • My love for you is electing love because I chose you for myself above your brother Esau.
  • My love for you is unconditional love because I chose you before you had done anything good or evil—before you had met any conditions—while you were still in your mother’s womb (Genesis 25:24).
  • My love for you is sovereign love because I was under no constraint to love you; I was not forced or coerced; I was totally in charge when I set my love upon you.
  • And my love for you is free because it’s the overflow of my infinite grace that can never be bought.”

“. . . Why do I tell you this?

  • To humble you.
  • To take away your presumption.
  • To remove every ground of boasting in yourself.
  • To cut the nerve of pride that boasts over Esau as though your salvation were owing to anything in you.
  • To put to naught the cavalier sense of self-reliance that lets you dally in my presence as though you were an equal partner in this affair.
  • To make you tremble with tears of joy that you belong to God.”

The story of Jacob is the story of God’s unstoppable mission. Nothing Jacob can do will stop God’s determination to bless him. It’s not about Jacob, it’s about God.

Actually that can be very encouraging for us. As I have been spending time getting to know Jacob, I have been encouraged. Here is a man who makes me feel like saying, If God can use him, perhaps he can use me too!

We see in the life of Jacob that it really is not all about him. We often say in this church that it’s “all about Jesus.” Jacob’s life truly was “all about Jesus.” It was all about a plan that God had set in motion to call a people to himself. Jacob’s grandfather had received promises. Despite being a man of faith—the father of faith—he hadn’t really founded a nation. Isaac, Abraham’s son, had repeated many of his father’s mistakes (passing off his wife as his sister) and had also not fathered a nation.

Jacob was an “expressive” leader, but he was not always received; he lived in the future, but tried to help God out. He got angry; he told people what to do; he wasn’t reserved. But somehow he was charming. He had strong reactions.

We can look at JACOB’S CHARACTER by examining some of the words he said.

Jacob’s first recorded words: “Sell me your birthright now.” (Genesis 25:31). And also verse 33: “Swear to me now.” He steals from and blackmails his brother, and then cheats him again.

“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.” (Genesis 27:11). Not “But mum, that would be wrong!” and then lies to his own dad and steals from his brother.

We then see Jacob, whose name means “grabber” or “supplanter” or basically “thief” running away. When God appears to him, we might expect God to punish him, maybe strike him dead.

“He was in disgrace, had incurred the bitter hatred of his only brother, and had shown himself a thief, liar, and scheming, mercenary wretch.” (McMillin, Bib Sac Volume 91 [1934]: Jacob At Penuel).

But by his grace, God instead reaffirms his promise to bless him. God makes an unconditional promise to an unreliable man.

Genesis 28:13-15: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

JACOB’S RESPONSE was to make God a conditional promise!

“If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God . . . .”

He would have made a good 20th century Christian—if God will look after me, I will follo
w him. Too often our faith is about what we can get out of God rather than how we can serve him.

We then see that when he meets the shepherds of Laban, he immediately begins to boss them around and tell them what to do!

He then BUYS his wife! “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

Then he was tricked himself as he and Laban try to outdo each other in trickery.

He was a terrible husband (Genesis 29:30-31) “So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.”

He was incredibly insensitive. “Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:2)

He even let himself be bought for the night.

He had a RIGHTS BASED approach to life. He argued with Laban about who had tricked each other the most. Christianity is not a rights-based religion. Instead, it is about our responsibility.

Finally, having left Laban and heading back to an uncertain meeting with Esau, he humbles himself. His prayer is finally something we can copy!

Genesis 32:9-12 “And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

God never could prevail against one who used the weapons of “weeping” and “supplication.” (McMillin)

Jacob’s wrestling with God was in some ways reminiscent of his life—he had been one who fought with God and man. God doesn’t get rid of the fighting spirit, but directs it appropriately, and even names his people “one who struggles with God.” Are WE those who struggle with God?

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26)

“For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:31)

Why delivered? It was Jesus who would save him and allow him to be hidden in his brother, not as a deception, but by the will of the father, and not so that he remained unchanged, but that he would be changed by being united with Christ. In fact, he was changed.

God made him say and own his name one more time before it could be wiped away. This is what God wants us to do. It’s not “I had a bad father; he loved my brother, Esau, not me” or even “I am struggling with a problem.” NO . . . it was “I am a deceiver, I am a cheat, I am selfish. I am in need of you. I need your blessing, Lord. I have messed up my life, but you keep blessing me.”

Actually lots of so-called “fighters” are as fearful and weak underneath as we later realize Jacob was. We are just better at hiding it! Fear leads some to be timid, and others to put a brave face on things.


God does take on fighters sometimes. He certainly isn’t frightened of them. If, like me, you are a bit of a fighter by nature, then know that if God takes you on, it might be a painful process. He will bring you low. He will take the brash over-confidence of youth and strip it away like he did with Jacob. As an older man he is almost quite timid, frightened of Esau. Then when God gets you to a timid, dependent state, he will cause you to rise up again—this time in HIS STRENGTH rather than your own, acknowledging HIM as King, and this time because ONE MAN PLUS GOD is the majority. No one will be able to fight against you. Why would you go on fighting against people and God? Why not surrender to the KING and let him lead you to fight on HIS side?


Finally became humble. Then he humbles himself with his brother, and is honored for his faith in passing on the blessing at the end of his life.

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Genesis 48:15-16)

I love the way Isaiah 41 describes this way of God handling us:

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand . . .
Fear not, you worm Jacob,
you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
and you shall make the hills like chaff;
you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

To become a valiant warrior for God we must first surrender to him and recognize we are “a worm.” Some of us have issues we need to resolve with God today.

Illustration of my debate with myself about getting up to go to the prayer meeting. You know what the outcome of this debate is going to be—give up the struggle and walk with God today!

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