16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
We are currently in the middle of a sermon series on Faith Tests. These have been a chance for us to consider how we would have acted in that Old Testament situation and how we do react in similar situations. The man being tested in today’s lesson is Jacob.
Jacob came from a family of faith. He was Abraham’s grandson and Isaac’s son. He had been raised in a God fearing family. He had been blessed by God with lots of wealth.
But when we meet Jacob in chapter 28 of today’s lesson, he doesn’t have any of that stuff. He is in the wilderness. He is all alone.
I imagine that as Jacob tried to start a fire and prep a campsite for the night that he couldn’t help asking the same thing.
I. Jacob’s Fear
Jacob was the younger of two twins. But he was not identical to his brother Esau at all. Jacob liked to sit at home. Esau liked to be in the wilderness. Jacob liked to tend sheep. Esau liked to hunt. Jacob had smooth skin. Esau had gruff, red hair all over his body.
Traditionally that meant he would not receive the family blessing. Instead, the family farm would go to his older brother Esau; Esau would get double the inheritance of his family’s wealth; Esau would carry on the family’s name; and in a special blessing that was only given to Abraham’s family – the firstborn would have the promise of the Savior given to his genealogical line.
Jacob—the younger son –wouldn’t get any of that.
As Jacob stoked the fire – he wished he had just let it be.
Jacob had learned that his father was going to give the blessing to Esau over a special meal. While Esau went out into the field to kill something extra tasty for this special moment with his dad, Jacob and his mom plotted. She began preparing some stew of her own and Jacob created a disguise. He put on his brother’s clothing and then covered his arm with goat fur so he’d be just as hairy as Esau. By the time he was dressed, his mom was done with the stew and Jacob went in to see his dad.
Now – you might think that a dad would know the difference between his two sons –especially two sons as different as Jacob and Esau. But Isaac was very old. His eyesight was fading. When Jacob entered with the stew, all he saw was his favorite meal.
Still – Isaac was cautious. He questioned if it really was Esau returning from the fields so quickly, but his nose caught a whiff of Esau’s clothing and his heart was at ease. Similarly when his ears became on alert when he heard Jacob’s voice, but the hairy goat skins convinced him that Esau must have just had a very bad cold.
Isaac blessed Jacob when he thought he was blessing Esau.
As the sticks his was rubbing together started to smoke, a tear rolled down his eyes. Jacob had done wrong. He had deceived his father.
Moments later Esau came in from the field. He was ready to have that special moment with his dad. They were both furious to find out that Jacob had just been in and received this irrevocable blessing.
Esau was furious. He immediately plotted to get revenge. He was going to kill Jacob.
As Jacob stoked the fire, he couldn’t blame Esau for his anger. He had done wrong. He had stolen from his brother.
But that wasn’t the worst. Another memory popped into Jacob’s mind. It was the memory of his mother’s assurance – “God himself has promised that you will be the one receiving your father’s blessing. Though you are younger – God has promised that you will be the one who gets the birthright. Don’t worry.”
Jacob had worried. He had doubted. He had deceived his dad, he had stolen from his brother, and worst of all – he had doubted God!
Now he had run away. He didn’t have his crime mate – his mother with him. He didn’t have the wisdom of his father. He didn’t even have the headlocks and playful fighting of his brother. He was all alone.
II. God’s Test
I imagine it was hard for Jacob to sleep that night -- not just because he was using a rock for a pillow. Like a YouTube video on repeat – his mind kept replaying his sins over and over again.
“If only I hadn’t deceived my father…If only I hadn’t stolen from my brother…If Only I had trusted God…”
It was frightening to stay awake because all he could think of was his sin. But when exhaustion kicked in and he began dreaming, it got a whole lot more frightening:
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven. This wasn’t just some stone made stairway to the plateau that his brother and him would climb to check out all of their ranch. It was other worldly. It reached to heaven. It was intimidating.
It was filled with angels. Verse 12 continues the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Not sheep. Not cattle. Not his dad’s servants. Not even a bunch of clones of his brother Esau – who had been running through his mind.
Angels. Glowing with light, dressed in white, sometimes winged, always otherworldly—angels.
There above it – at the top of the staircase --stood the Lord. God himself. The Holy, world creating, floodgate opening, hurricane twirling, earthquake shaking Lord of heaven and earth himself.
Can you imagine how frightening that was for Jacob? There stood his Holy God—His Holy God who HATED sin. He hated deception. He hated stealing. He hated those who didn’t trust in Him.
Jacob had just done all three of those!
Now God had found him. Now God had caught up to him. Now God was going to deliver the final blow!
Jacob winced as God spoke:
I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
Wait, what? Suddenly this wasn’t so terrifying after all. Suddenly this meeting with God had become very awesome.
For starters, God hadn’t destroyed him. As Jacob felt his body to make sure it hadn’t been burned to a crisp, he must have been elated. God was giving him a second chance. God held back his holy and righteous anger against him.
Instead God spoke kindly to him. There’s no hint of terror in what God is saying. He introduces himself as “The LORD.” That’s the Old Testament name that referenced God’s covenantal love. He calls himself “the God of Abraham and Isaac.” This filled Jacob with thoughts of God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac and thoughts of God gifting his family with blessing after blessing. It reminded Jacob of God’s promise to send a Savior from sin. A Messiah. The Christ.
And from his own family’s line.
Then, God blesses him. Write those blessings down. He promises to bless Jacob with the land that he’s lying on. He promises to bless Jacob with many children –to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. (A promise that meant he would live! God wasn’t going to kill him like he deserved.)
Then, take a look at that last part of verse 14. He promised that “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” That’s the promise of the Savior. The promise he had stolen from Esau. The Promise that God had promised beforehand would go to Jacob. In spite of the wrongs Jacob had committed, God was blessing Him with that incredible honor.
For Jacob it took on a new meaning. It didn’t just mean he would have a neat place in the line of salvation history. It meant he was forgiven. God had forgiven him for deceiving his Father. God had forgiven him for stealing from his brother. God had forgiven him for not trusting in Him.
But that wasn’t it. God continued, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God Promised to be With Jacob. Though Jacob was hundreds of miles from home and though there wasn’t a soul in sight. God now promised to be with him. Not just as a buddy either. He promised to watch over Jacob. Not just for a day either. Or a few weeks. He promised to not leave…until He had done what He promised.
III. Jacob’ Response
Then, Jacob wakes up. No sign of the stairway. No sign of the angel. No sign of God.
Did Jacob really believe that God could love him and be with him even though he did wrong?
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was in awe and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Fear had changed to joyful awe! There’s a whole character change that takes place. Jacob trusts God and is in awe of God’s. His awesome power and his awesome love.
He makes a confession of faith. “Surely the LORD is in this place!” He doesn’t say, “Surely I had some bad mushrooms for dinner.” “Surely I had a restless sleep with strange dreams.” He says, “The LORD is here!” He believed it. He trusted it.
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. It wasn’t that there was anything special about the stone, other than the fact that this was the place he heard God’s Word. So Jacob regards the place he heard from God as holy. He called it Bethel which literally means “House of God.”
Then, Jacob reveals that he is all in, “If God will be with me…then the Lord will be my God…and of all that you give me, O God, I will give you a tenth.” Jacob is confident that God is His God. He is confident enough to devote his life to him. He’s ready to change. Ready to be truthful. Ready to be trusting. Ready to give (even his wealth) to God because he trusts God. He trusts his words. He trusts his mercy.
IV. Your Response
What does this mean for you? Three things.
1) Trust God When You’ve Done Something Wrong.
Have you ever felt like Jacob before? Have you ever done something wrong – so wrong that you have lost friends over it? Or lost a spouse’s trust? Or lost a job over it? Have you ever done something that is so wrong you feel like God couldn’t forgive you? In fact, you run away from God. You avoid church. You avoid prayer. You never open your Bible, because you are convinced that you have done too much wrong for God to want to be by you.
Do you see the problem? You’re looking at you.
Today’s lesson reminds us to look at God. He is merciful. He is loving. He is compassionate. He is forgiving.
Remember that promise he mentioned to Jacob? He promised that through Jacob all nations on earth would be blessed. That’s because one of Jacob’s offspring ---great, great, great, many times over grandchild—was Jesus. Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for our forgiveness.
When you’ve done something wrong, don’t avoid God. Don’t ignore his love. Don’t try to numb your mind with alcohol. Don’t give up and dive head first into your sin.
Come to God. Confess to God. Trust that he will respond with mercy just as He did with Jacob.
2) Regard the Place You Hear from God as Holy
When he woke up, there was just a rock. No ladder. No angels. No glory of the LORD. It didn’t look special at all. Yet Jacob considered it holy. The simple looking place remembered for an incredible message from God.
Today we also have a simple looking place that we hear the Word of the Lord. No heavenly ladders. No Angels. No shining glory of the Lord—20 some wooden pews, white washed walls, and a few brown sided front that until a cross was added recently, some had mistaken for a doctor’s office. Doesn’t sound like much.
But it is. This place. Gethsemane. This is where we hear God’s Word. We hear it in song. We hear it lessons. We hear it as we study God’s Word.
Regard it as holy!
Don’t just think of this as a social club. Don’t just think of it as a place to gossip. Don’t just think of it as a place to get your fill of donuts on a Sunday morning.
This is the place where you hear from God. It’s the place where you hear of God’s love. It's where God reminds you that you are a sinner and that God sinner.
Consider this place holy. Make every effort to be here. If you can't, hear from God on the web. Then, make time in God’s Word a special time. In your car on the way to work with your SmartPhone blasting the Word of God. In an easy chair with your Bible opened. Whatever it it...Make it a time that you don’t want to miss. Take advantage of the next step opportunity to hear from God! Tell your friends to come and hear of his love too!
3) Devote your Life to Jesus
When Jacob got up, what else could he do? He had been all alone. Now he realized he was with his compassionate Lord. How could he not listen to him? He owed him an unpayable debt of gratitude. He could figure out now better way to serve God than to devote life to Him.
You do the same. Serve the Lord. Serve him by getting involved at church. Serve him by telling your kids about Him. Serve Him by giving your money to support the ministry going on here. Serve the LORD by taking the Easter invitations and sharing the message of God’s love.
Now as you finish reading this, you are about ready to go back into the world. Soon the devil will come into your thought. Your memory will be jogged to some wrong you have done. He will try to convince you that you can't be forgiven. Your pride will get you to think "I need to do better and then come to God."
Remember the story of Jacob.
Remember that God is compassionate.
Remember what God did for you.
Jacob must have done that. When haunted by his sins, he looked back to when he saw God at the top of the ladder and God was compassionate.
You do the same. When haunted by your sins, look up. Look up at --not the ladder-- but the cross. See God at the top of it. See his compassion. See his mercy. See his love.
Trust God...Even When You've Done Wrong.