NOVEMBER 9, 2008


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In a poem titled “Things to Worry About,” a boy ponders all the things that could go wrong in his life.  He thinks to himself,


My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board.

My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit.

Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special.

I could play tag all day and always be “it.”


Jay Spievach, who’s 14 feet tall, could want to fight me.

My mom and day – like Ted’s – could want a divorce.

Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan.

Somebody could make me ride a horse.


My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver.

My dad could decide that I needed less TV.

Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing.

Chris could decide to stop being friends with me.


The world could maybe come to an end next Tuesday.

The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head.

I maybe could run out of things to worry about,

And then I’d have to do my homework instead.


Well, after imagining all the bad things that might happen to him when he meets his twin brother again, the time of worrying has finally run out for Jacob, and after a rather sleepless night, the time has come for him to meet his brother Esau.  The last time they had seen each other was 20 years prior, when Jacob had cheated his brother out of his blessing. At that time Esau vowed to kill Jacob if he ever laid eyes on him again.  Now Esau was on his way with 400 men to meet his brother.  Jacob had spent the night wrestling with God and worrying about the meeting with Esau, and now the hour had arrived, in fact, the hour arrived even sooner than he had expected.  Before Jacob was quite organized, quite prepared for the meeting, Esau appeared on the scene, and let’s take a look at how they worked out the next chapter of their lives, and especially I want to highlight three things.

First, I want us to note the process of transformation.  Last week Jacob experienced the  watershed moment of his life.  Last week we saw Jacob wrestle with God, encounter God face to face, and after that wrestling match Jacob became a new man.  In fact, God gave him a new name, Israel, to commemorate the difference, and we see the change in him right away.  Listen once again to the beginning of our story for today.


Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and with four hundred men with him.  (Now note what Jacob does.)  So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids.  He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all.


Next comes the surprise, the new Jacob, the Israel in him starting to take over.


He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.


Isn’t that refreshing?  The old Jacob would have taken his place at the rear, sacrificing the women and children to save his own skin. Of course, he still has a way to go in terms of his spiritual and emotional maturity because he shows blatant favoritism among the women and children in his life by putting the maids in front with their children, Leah in the middle with her children and Rachel and Joseph bringing up the rear.  That way, if Esau was in a killing mood, Rachel and Joseph, Jacob’s favorites, would stand the best chance of escaping.  But still, Jacob went first and put the women and children behind him.  He finally has enough courage and integrity to face the music and not use other people for his own benefit.

And that is one of the evidences that we have met God.  How can we tell if a person is a Christian?  Well, what did Jesus say about that matter?  He said, “By their fruits (their actions) you shall know them,” and he also said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” In other words,  a legitimate conversion will lead to changed life.  Not all at once.  When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we do not instantly become Christlike, but bit by bit, over time that is the new course of our lives.  Jacob, is an example of that.  He still has a long way to go after meeting God face to face.  He still plays favorites, but he also takes responsibility for his actions.  The new Jacob, the new Israel, is beginning to peek through. 

It’s like burnt oatmeal.  Do any of you like oatmeal?  I love it.  Always have, always will, but if you burn oatmeal, it’s tough to get out of pan.  When you burn oatmeal, you need to run water into the pan and just let it soak for hours, and after a little while, some of the burnt oatmeal starts to loosen and float to the surface.  And then as the soaking goes on, gradually the older, deeper stuff starts to loosen and it, too, floats to surface.  Eventually most of the burnt oatmeal is loosened, and with very little scrubbing, the pan sparkles again. 

Here’s the point.  When we have been immersed in God, the burnt stuff in our lives begins to loosen and over time, some stuff right away, and other stuff much later, starts to float to the surface.  That’s what happens here with Jacob.  Some of the burnt, grimy stuff of his life has loosened, but it will be years of immersing himself in God before some of the other stuff breaks free and Jacob becomes a sparkling individual.

So note the process of transformation.  It does not happen overnight, but when we encounter Christ, we begin to change.  He loosens the burnt stuff from our lives.  Next I want us to note the beauty of forgiveness, and folks, let me tell you right now Jacob’s twin brother Esau is the hero of this story.  This guy is incredible.  Listen to this, verse 4,


But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.


Last time they were together, Esau was burning with anger, and now he’s oozing with forgiveness, and you know, I can’t help but think that Jesus had this story in mind when he told the parable of the prodigal son.  The grace and forgiveness modeled here by Esau is so eloquent, so beautiful, I cannot help but think that Jesus had this story in the back of his mind when he wanted to communicate the grace and forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.  What a story!  What a turn of events!  Instead of punching his lights out – which Jacob deserved; he had swindled and cheated his brother badly – instead of striking back, Esau hugs and kisses and weeps with his brother. 

Someone once said, “Revenge gets you even with your enemy; forgiveness puts you above him.”  When Allied troops liberated the Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1945, they stumbled on to the indescribable horror of 92,000 dead women and children – now I’m not talking about men – I’m talking about 92,000 dead women and children.  But in the midst of this horror they also came across signs of unparalleled faith.  The prayer was found written on a piece of wrapping paper near the body of a dead child:


O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will.  But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we brought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which had grown out of all this.  And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.  Amen.  Amen.  Amen.


“Revenge gets you even with your enemy, forgiveness puts you above him.”  The real hero in this story is Esau.  He stands head and shoulder above his brother.  Some of the saddest people I know, and some of the smallest are those who hold onto their anger, and like burnt oatmeal in a pan, they will not allow the grace of God to loosen it.

Then finally, I not only want us to note the process of transformation, the beauty of forgiveness, I also want us to note the necessity of accepting forgiveness. 

Listen to verse 4 once again ...


But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.


Folks, in verse 4, Esau forgives Jacob.  The account is square.  But notice Jacob’s behavior in verses 8-11.  In these verses Jacob insists that Esau accept his gift of livestock.  Verse 8,


But Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?”  Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.”  But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”  Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor.  (In other words, since you have so graciously forgave me.)  Please, accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.”  So he urged him, and he took it.


Did you see what happened?  Jacob felt so guilty he had difficulty accepting Esau’s forgiveness.  Maybe you remember about the Sunday School teacher who had just concluded the lesson and wanted to make sure she had made her point.  She said, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?”  There was a short interval of silence and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up.  He said, “Sin.”

Well there are certain things one needs to do to obtain forgiveness.  The boy is right, first you have to sin, second, you have to be offered forgiveness, and third, you have to accept the forgiveness, and it’s this last step that trips up most of us.  We do not accept the forgiveness after it has been offered to us.

We may shake our head at Jacob, but many of us are like him.  Many of us need to learn how to accept forgiveness from others.  In fact, for many of us receiving forgiveness from others is even more difficult than offering forgiveness to others, and as a result many of live with great guilt and in great misery.

Many of us are like the man President Andrew Jackson pardoned.  The man had committed a serious crime, and he felt so guilty about it he decided not to accept the Presidential pardon, and instead he decided to stay in prison.  That resulted in a great legal debate as to whether a pardon that had been refused was really a pardon.  They finally decided that until accepted, a pardon is no pardon at all, and they let the man stay in prison.

The man was pardoned, yet he stayed in his own prison.  And for all of us who remain in our own prisons of guilt because we have difficulty accepting and believing in someone’s forgiveness of us, let me say this: walk out of the cell.  You have been forgiven.  Live in it and pass it along to others.