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PRESIDENT REAGAN AND HIS TWO SONS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, July 6, 2014

“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).


Before I explain that verse I will tell you the story behind it. In the Book of Genesis we read about the two sons of the patriarch Isaac. The oldest son was named Esau, and the younger son was named Jacob. They had a quarrel and Jacob left home because he was afraid of his brother. Later Jacob was converted, but Esau never was. In the Book of Malachi God said,

“Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau” (Malachi 1:2, 3).

In the New Testament we also read what God said,

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13).

Why did that happen? Why did God hate Esau and love Jacob? To answer that question, I want us to think about the two sons of President Reagan. The first son appears to be a real Christian. His name is Michael Reagan. In an article written shortly after President Reagan’s death Michael Reagan said,

      During my father’s presidency my life was filled with challenges and personal trials. But the person I could most often turn to was my Dad. He was always there for me when I needed him.
      What I will remember is a man who changed my life. He gave me....a father’s love. He also shared with me his deep faith. He pointed me to God.
      My father loved God...This was the source of his boundless optimism....The greatest gift he has given me was the knowledge that [when he died] he went to be with his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. A finer gift cannot be given to a son. Thank you, Dad. I love you. (Michael Reagan, “From Gift to Optimism,” U.S. News and World Report, June 21, 2004, page 58).

Michael Reagan had a close Christian relationship with his father, which the President never had with his second son, Ron. The President’s biographer, Dr. Paul Kengor, tells us about the struggle between the President and Ron. It came to the surface when Ron was quite young, as a teenager,

      One Sunday morning, as his family was getting ready for church, Reagan found that his son, young Ron, was lingering in his room. Reagan went to check on him, only to find his son dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt. He asked the boy why he wasn’t wearing his suit. “I'm not going,” said the son defiantly. “I don’t believe it and I'm not going.”
      Some forty years later, Ron Reagan recounted the incident. “That bothered him for a long, long time,” he said of his father. “I don't think it ever stopped bothering him. [It was] one of the things that bothered him more than anything else.” Reagan was very concerned over whether Ron, as well as his sister, Patti, were Christians. “I wish they would accept Christ,” he more than once told his son Michael. One evening years later during a family dinner in Washington in 1984, shortly before Patti married, Reagan grabbed Michael's hand and whispered, “I wish Patti would accept Christ.”
      For Reagan, the distinction between “believing in God” and “accepting Christ” was real and meaningful. He feared that Ron in particular had done neither. It troubled him so much that as President he mentioned his son’s apparent atheism to [the Soviet leader] Mikhail Gorbachev in their first one-on-one meeting at the Moscow Summit (Paul Kengor, Ph.D., God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life, HarperCollins Publishers, 2004, pp. 117-118).

Reagan’s pastor said that he and the President often discussed “profound matters of salvation, eternal life, the divinity of Christ, the will of God, plus the day-to-day problems of living that touch upon these broader theological matters” (ibid., p. 119). The pastor said he had prayed with Reagan often, and said the two of them spent “many hours on their knees” (ibid.).

The unbelief of his younger son “bothered him for a long, long time,” said Ron. “I don’t think it ever stopped bothering him. It was one of the things that bothered him more than anything else” (ibid., p. 118). Michael, his older son [is an evangelical] Christian. The President told Michael several times that he wished Ron “would accept Christ” (ibid.).

To this day Reagan’s younger son Ron has never trusted Christ. No wonder he had nothing meaningful to say at his father’s funeral. Michael gave a wonderful testimony about Christ, but Ron only told a couple of half-hearted stories about his father.

What made these two sons so different? Why did Michael accept Christ, while Ron rejected Him? But before I answer that question let’s think about how this relates to you.

Here in church this morning there are two kinds of people. There are those who will accept Christ – like Michael Reagan – and there are those who will reject Christ – like Ron Jr. What makes them so different?

My mind goes back to the Bible, and I remember two brothers in the book of Genesis, Jacob and Esau. Jacob is given in the New Testament as a picture of a converted man (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28). Esau is given as a picture of a lost man, who never got saved (Hebrews 12:16-17).

What makes the difference between two people like this? Why is Michael Reagan an evangelical Christian, while Ron Jr. is not? Why was Jacob converted, but his brother Esau lost – for all eternity? What makes these men so different?

I. First, what makes one person a Christian, while the other is not,
isn’t that one is more sinful than the other.

I have read enough about Reagan’s two sons to know that they are both sinners. I have read enough about Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau, to know that both of them were sinners.

But even if I hadn’t read any information about them, I would still know that they were both sinners. The Bible says,

“There is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).

It is a terrible mistake to think that some people are not converted because they are too sinful – or that others are converted because they are less sinful. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the Bible goes to great lengths to point that out. For instance, I don’t see how anyone can read the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) without seeing this. Jesus made this extremely clear. Over and over you read in the four Gospels that the Pharisees, the religious people, spoke against Jesus, because He reached out to sinners. The Pharisees felt they were saved by being morally good – but time and again Jesus said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).

So the reason one man was converted and the other one remained lost can’t be that one was less sinful than the other. The Bible teaches that we are all equally sinful, in our own ways. The Bible says,

“We have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

So why did Michael Reagan become an evangelical Christian while Ron did not? And why did God say,

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13)?

II. Second, what makes one person a Christian, while the other is not,
isn’t that one had a weak father, and the other had a strong one.

A psychological view tends to color much of our thinking today. We look at Michael Reagan and say, “His father had a strong impact on him.” We look at Ron Jr. and say, “His father didn't discipline him enough.”

I don’t discount the psychological effects a man has on his sons – not at all. I realize that the same father can have totally different relationships with his sons and daughters. It is quite clear that this was true in the Reagan family. His two older children, Maureen and Michael, followed the example of President Reagan. But his two younger children, Patti and Ron Jr., rebelled against him. I’m sure there were psychological pressures involved. I’m also certain that there were generational pressures. Michael and Maureen were from the “Silent Generation” – my generation. Patti and Ron Jr. were from the “Baby Boomer” hippie generation. And I don’t for a minute discount the different psychological and generational influences that were brought to bear on their personalities. I’m simply saying that these sociological and psychological influences were not the determining factor in the outcome of their spiritual lives.

Jacob and Esau both had the same father – Isaac. And Isaac was actually quite a bit like President Reagan. He was a somewhat distant father-figure. Jacob and Esau both had a conniving, unspiritual mother. That was also true of Mike Reagan and Ron Jr., neither one of their mothers would win prizes for being model Christians.

So, where does that leave us? How then can we explain the totally different spiritual standing of these men – Michael and Ron – Jacob and Esau? Why did God say,

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13)?

III. Third, what really makes one person a Christian, while the other is not,
is a crisis conversion.

I don’t know enough about Michael Reagan's life to tell you very much about his conversion experience. But I do know this – no one has a real conversion without going through a crisis. The churches are filled with people who have had false conversions. But true conversions are always accompanied by a crisis. Put it down as an axiom of truth: no crisis – no conversion. Which brings us back, at last, to our text:

“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

The Scofield Study Bible calls this “Jacob’s crisis” (center column note “b” on Genesis 32:24). This was Jacob’s spiritual crisis – and it must be yours as well – or you will not be saved. You will not be a real Christian – unless you go through a crisis like that which Jacob experienced.

That’s the main thing that's wrong with modern evangelism. I don't care what anyone says, if there is no conviction of sin, then there is no true conversion. If there is no inner struggle, then there is no true conversion. That was true in all the great classical conversions – John Bunyan, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Wesley, C. H. Spurgeon, R. A. Torrey, the great pioneer missionary to China, James Hudson Taylor, Dr. John Sung – China’s foremost evangelist – all of them went through an inner crisis when they were converted.

You see, your inner nature is against God. You are naturally – by nature – rebellious against God – in your heart. It’s been like that ever since the Fall of man. That's what the Bible is talking about when it says,

“We were enemies” (Romans 5:10).

That’s what the Bible means when it calls an unconverted person,

“the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

That’s what the Bible means when it says,

“The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7).

Before conversion “we were enemies” of God (Romans 5:10). We were “the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Our minds were “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7).

Often a person doesn’t even realize that he is fighting against God! People often think they are fighting against their father, or another authority figure like their pastor. They feel that there is a contest of wills between them and their Christian father, or between them and their pastor, or between them and some other Christian authority figure.

Ron Jr. told his father that he wasn’t going to church anymore. “I don’t believe it and I’m not going.” Forty years later, Ron said, “That bothered him for a long, long time. I don’t think it ever stopped bothering him. It was one of the things that disturbed him more than anything else” (Paul Kengor, ibid., p. 118). It seems to me that Ron Jr. has never yet figured out that his conflict isn’t really with his father. His conflict is really with God! You can keep on coming to church and still have that kind of conflict going on in your heart against God. That's why you don’t experience a real conversion. That is why you are not really a Christian.

Jacob and Esau both had conflicts with their father, Isaac. Neither of them realized that they were really fighting against God. But finally one night Jacob had an experience that made him certain that God was real. He said,

“Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (Genesis 28:16).

Yet he was still not converted. Jacob’s conversion occurred much later, and is described in our text,

“Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

Dr. J. Vernon McGee gives the following comments on that verse:

Who is the one who wrestled with Jacob that night?...I think He is none other than the preincarnate Christ...who wrestled with Jacob that night...Jacob is not going to give up easily; he is not that kind of man – and he struggled against [Christ]...He found out that you do not get anywhere...by struggling and resisting. The only way you get anywhere with [Christ] is by yielding (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru The Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1981, Volume I, pages 133-134).

And so, my question to you this morning is this: will you yield to Jesus Christ? Will you stop struggling and fighting against Christ? Will you “give in” to Christ and trust Him? You have been struggling against Christ all of your life. Will you stop fighting Him in your heart? Will you yield to Christ and trust Him? Christ said,

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Stop your labour. Give up your struggle. Come to Christ and trust Him!

I have witnessed the conversion of many young people in my life. But none were more dramatic than that of John Samuel Cagan. Stand up, John. You may be seated. John would be the first to tell you that he hated his father, who is the associate pastor of this church. He hated this church. He hated me. And he hated his father! But since his conversion, I have seldom seen such a change. He was totally transformed when he yielded to Christ! Now he “hangs out” with his father as though they were best friends! He has become one of the finest young Christians I have ever known. Here are a few words he wrote about the moment he trusted Jesus,

      By the time Sunday morning came, I was mentally and spiritually exhausted, yet my fight against God seemed stronger and more intense...I would not surrender to Christ’s calling to come to Him...I could feel my sin seemingly pushing me down to Hell, but I somehow could not trust Christ...

“And [John] was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

      Suddenly the words of a sermon...came softly to my ears, “Yield to Christ! Yield to Christ!”...In a single moment I yielded to Christ and trusted Him. I can remember the exact moment, when I stopped trusting in myself, but rather I trusted in Christ...Jesus took me. He did not reject me as I had rejected Him. The struggle I was in [came] from how I would not stop resisting Christ. It is almost as if, that as soon as I “allowed” Jesus to save me, He immediately rushed to me, and washed [my sins away] in His Blood!...I left myself with Jesus, and that has made all the difference in my life. Jesus took away all the hatred and anger that had resided in my soul. He replaced my bitter heart with a new one...I love Jesus with all that I am, and rest in Him alone.

Jesus died on the Cross in your place. The judgment fell on Him, so it would not fall on you. And He poured out His Blood on the Cross so your sins could be completely washed away forever. No matter what sin there has been in your life, Jesus loves you. He is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, ready to pardon you and cleanse you with His Blood.

If you would like to speak with us about Jesus saving you from your sin, here’s what I want you to do. With everyone’s eyes closed, I want you to leave your seat and walk to the back of this auditorium if you’d like to speak with us about being saved. Dr. Cagan will take you to another room where we can talk about Jesus and His love for you. Go to the back of the auditorium now. Dr. Chan, please pray that someone will trust Jesus this morning.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Genesis 32:24-30.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Give Me Thy Heart” (by Eliza E. Hewitt, 1851-1920).


THE OUTLINE OF

PRESIDENT REAGAN AND HIS TWO SONS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

(Malachi 1:2, 3; Romans 9:13; Matthew 8:11;
Luke 13:28; Hebrews 12:16-17)

I. First, what makes one person a Christian, while the other is not,
isn’t that one is more sinful than the other, Romans 3:22-23;
Matthew 9:13; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 9:13.

II. Second, what makes one person a Christian, while the other
is not, isn’t that one had a weak father, and the other had a
strong one, Romans 9:13.

III. Third, what really makes one person a Christian, while the
other is not, is a crisis conversion, Romans 5:10;
James 4:4; Romans 8:7; Genesis 28:16; Matthew 11:28.