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wrestling with Christ

Matthew 15:21-28

Rev. Andrew Eckert

St. Paul's Lutheran Church  
Wellston, Oklahoma

Sun, Feb 28, 2010 

[This sermon borrows heavily from a sermon by Johann Gerhard.]

In Genesis 32, it is recorded that the patriarch Jacob wrestled all night with One who was a Man, yet more than a man.  This was the Son of God Himself.

How strange that Christ our beloved Lord would fight against one of His own saints, and His own ancestor!  We may ask why the Lord would wrestle this way against someone who, at other times, He helped and treated in a loving, kindly way.

But Jacob struggled against this Man persistently, patiently, untiringly, until the Lord gave Him help and blessing.

A similar spiritual battle took place in the Holy Gospel today.  A Canaanite woman wrestled with Christ, not in a physical way, but spiritually, through prayer and petition.  Although we know that Christ is ever-loving and generous, yet He acted coldly towards her.  Still she persisted, until she obtained help and blessing from Him.

Here we learn a difficult lesson.  We understand more easily that we must battle against flesh and blood, against the evil world, and against the prince of this world.  But sometimes even our best Friend of all friends, Christ our dear Lord, hides His blessed face from us.  He presents Himself as if He were a stranger whom we have to engage in a wrestling match.  So our faith must persist patiently to overcome Christ.

Christ does not resist us because He is unloving.  We know that this could never be.  No, He resists us in order to test and strengthen our faith.  So we must endure various sorrows, temptations, trials and ordeals, even though we beg Christ in prayer to remove those troubles.  He does not immediately remove them.  He may wait far longer than we think right.  But in this testing, our faith grows.

The woman in our Gospel had a heavy cross laid upon her by having her daughter plagued by the devil.  What a terrible burden!

God allowed it to happen so that the tribulation could produce patience, as St. Paul says.  With us as well as her, God wishes for faith to shine forth, not dimly, but as a bright light in a dark place.

The woman did not let the trial crush her faith.  She went straight to Christ and begged His help.  So our crosses should move us to pray.  The fire of tribulation should drive a believing heart to fervent prayer.  We should acknowledge our most extreme poverty and weakness, our need and unworthiness.  We should lay ourselves in the dust in abject humility.  As Abraham prayed, "With embarrassment I have squirmed to speak with the Lord, even though I am but dust and ashes."  If this great patriarch prayed in this way, what is appropriate for us?

So we cry out as the woman did: "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!" We can only cry for mercy.  Nothing in us is strong or worthy.  We are beggars before the royal Son of David, the King of all kings.  In Him, the perfect, overflowing Fountain of every blessing, we receive help.

Yet He often delays.  Our prayers seem to receive only silence.  He may test us by making it appear as if the promises of God are not for us at all.  Christ said He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  The woman could have thought, "Oh, well, I guess I will receive no help from Him."  But she persisted nevertheless.

Sometimes we are tempted to think that God's promises of grace and protection are not really for us.  We may think that there is something wrong with us, so that God is not really on our side.  This is especially tempting because it is actually what we deserve.  But our prayers are never based on our worthiness.  Instead, we see our worthiness in Christ.  In Him, all the promises of God lay open for us.  His greatest love and help are for us, since He receives us in the Name of His Son.

So hold on to this promise: "Come to Me, all you who are worn out and over-burdened, and I will give you rest."  Although that rest may be delayed, it is the most certain promise of God in Christ.  Also He says to you: "God wants that all men be helped and come to the knowledge of the truth."  "All men" is also you, whether you are young or old, male or female.

For Christ did not give His life only for a certain few.  No, He suffered for all.  He poured out the favor of God with His precious Blood to justify all men, not just some.  So you know for certain that He has atoned for your sins.  You yourself are a beloved child of God, even His precious and chosen people, the true spiritual Israel.

Although you, like a little puppy, beg for the crumbs of grace to fall from the Master's Table, He never really gives crumbs.  He gives gigantic blessings.  He gives His Body and Blood.  He gives full and complete forgiveness of your sins - not once, but over and over, so that grace may overflow.  He has shown you the fullest revelation of His blessing in His Son, hung upon the Tree of Calvary for you.

Therefore, a little delay in these physical trials is nothing.  You have the kingdom and the glory of God and the life that can never be removed.  What are the brief troubles of life compared to that?

When it seems that God is uncaring towards your needs, remind yourself that He has given you all things in Christ.  What you lack in life, He will surely supply in His time.  Be patient, and wait for His mercy to come.  Pray without ceasing to the Lord who can rescue you.  He will see to all your needs.

In the Name of this all-gracious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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