9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”Some might ask, "But is not the shame and guilt of sinners such that God would want us not associate with them, even if they cry out for mercy from God?"
I am reminded of the story of Jacob. He lied and deceived the people closest to him. He sought instant gratification instead of patiently finding contentment in his relationship with God. He failed his family, including his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. He was by adulthood, in almost every sense of the word, a failure.
Yet God loved him, and God pursued him.
In a wrestling match with God, Jacob found the very thing upon which he relied (his own strength), God broke. God crushed Jacob's hip. Literally, Jacob became a cripple. Yet, it was in his brokenness and through the crippling process that an utterly crushed Jacob "met God face to face." So it is that often in our brokenness and pain caused by sin we really meet our God.
Interestingly, after the breaking, God changed Jacob's name to Israel. The lying, deceiving, and self-absorbed man God pursued became the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel, the chosen people of God in the Old Covenant.
Yet, throughout the Old Testament, when the prophets would urge the nation of Israel to repent, they never identified God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Why? It seems God Himself wished to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Listen to how God revealed Himself to Moses and the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai - at the very moment of entering into a covenant with them.
"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." Exodus 3:6Israel is who Jacob became, but God kept Jacob's name before His people to remind them that He loves and pursues sinners. I believe it is always helpful for us to remember that God identifies as the God of sinners who cry for mercy.
He is the God of Jacob.