"I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Philippians 3:12
Touched by an Angel
Most of us remember the television series from about fifteen years ago where Roma Downey and Della Reese portrayed angels who intervened in human affairs, met the needs of ordinary folk, and guided those at the end of their lives to heaven when the time came. The angels interacted gently with their human assignments, and the episodes always ended with the three main angels walking together in some remote place while a white dove flew above them. Touched by an Angel was a huge success which enjoyed nearly a decade-long run and reinforced our hopes of a quiet, uplifting experience with one of God’s messengers, if not God Himself.
Genesis 32: 22-31 records a quite different experience of someone who really was “touched by an angel.” The Bible tells us that Jacob and his twin brother Esau were rivals from before their births, and that eventually Jacob had to serve his deceitful uncle Laban for twenty-one years to pay for Jacob’s wives, children, flocks, herds, and also his own sins towards Esau. At the end of the twenty-one years, Jacob returned to his homeland, but on his way there he learned that Esau was coming to meet him with an army. He prayed to the Lord for help, “O, Lord, please deliver me from destruction at the hand of my brother Esau, for I am frightened--terribly afraid that he is coming to kill me and these mothers and my children. But you promised to do me good and to multiply my descendants until they become as the sands along the shores—too many to count.” Genesis 32: 11-12
Since the Lord did not immediately answer, Jacob prepared gifts to appease his brother and then moved his entire family to safer quarters and returned alone to his encampment. And it was there, alone, that night, that Jacob, the “grabber” who had spent his entire adult life cheating and scheming to get ahead, had his own real encounter with God.
“But during the night he got up and wakened his two wives and his two concubines and eleven children and took them across the Jordan River at the Jabbok ford and returned again to the camp and was there alone and a Man came and wrestled with him until dawn. And when the Man saw that he couldn’t win the match, he struck Jacob’s hip and knocked it out of joint at the socket.
Then the Man said, ‘Let me go, for it is dawn.’
But Jacob panted, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’
‘What is your name?’ the Man asked.
‘Jacob’ was the reply.
‘It isn’t anymore!’ the Man told him. ‘It is Israel—one who has power with God. Because you have been strong with God, you shall prevail with men.’” Genesis 32: 22-28 TLB
The passage goes on to say that Jacob limped for the remainder of his life because of the injury the Man gave him that night—a permanent reminder of his encounter with God. And the injury served a dual purpose—to remind Jacob of the event and also to reaffirm to him that he did not ‘win’ the wrestling match—his opponent was much stronger than he was. But God wanted Jacob to want that blessing enough to wrestle for it and to take hold of it.
The Christian life is about many things, but among the most important is letting go of the things that are past and taking hold of those things that God has for us. He paid the price for our salvation, but we have to take hold of salvation personally by accepting Jesus. After we take that initial step, we have to continue to take hold of the life He wants to give each of us personally. This is what Paul meant when he wrote in Philippians 3:12 “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (NIV) In the next verse Paul explains how he is able to do this, “Forgetting those things which are past, and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race.” Philippians 3:13 TLB
God does not want a half-hearted, ‘I hope this turns out okay’ response from us about our salvation or about the Christian life or about the individual tasks He has assigned us to complete. He wants to be passionate about Him and about the work He has given us. We cannot “take” anything from God—we cannot win the wrestling match—but He wants us to want what He wants, to love what He loves and to hate what He hates--passionately. God had already promised to bless Jacob—Jacob could have just said, “You’ve already promised to bless me so I’m not going to have a problem” and gone back to sleep. But that night, at one of the most stressful moments in his life, he wanted to hear for himself once again that God was going to deliver him and was going to bless him, and he wanted that blessing so badly that he held on all night to get it. Through that struggle, Jacob’s name and his life were changed. In order to fully grow in the Christian life, each of us has to come to a place where we have our own version of Jacob’s encounter with the Lord—our own moment where we are ‘touched by angel’. God wants to us to want His blessings badly enough that we will ‘take hold’ of the future He has for us and not let go, even when we are wounded and exhausted. When we have that level of passion, we can begin to truly live productive lives in Him.