February 24 & 25, 2018 Lent 2
Genesis 28: 10-17
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
27 billion dollars. That’s billion with a “B.” That’s how much one magazine has estimated the inheritance to be for the 4 children of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, if he and his wife were to die. The kids haven’t done anything special to earn that money. They just were born (or in the case of one, adopted) into the right family at the right time. Often time young heirs and heiresses end up wasting the inheritance in living excessively and indulgently.
That seemed to be the path that Jacob was on. Jacob also was set to be a wealthy heir. He hadn’t done anything special at all, yet from birth he was promised countless blessings. The Lord had promised that Jacob would be the one to receive the eldest son inheritance, even though his twin Esau was older. The older son always received a double portion inheritance in those days. So though he had done nothing to earn it, Jacob was chosen to receive the greater share of land and possessions. And as the dominant heir, Jacob would also receive the special blessings that his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham were promised. He would be the father of many nations. He would be the father of a powerful people. All nations would be blessed through him because the Messiah would come from his line.
The promises of God weren’t good enough though. Jacob reasoned he had to make sure he got those promises himself, by hook or by crook. Once when Esau was famished after an exhausting day of hunting, Jacob swindled Esau and traded him a bowl of stew for his birthright. God had promised the birthright to Jacob, but he felt the need to make sure he got it on his own.
Later, when their father Isaac was nearing the end of his life, trickster Jacob was at it again. He put on some of his brother’s clothing. He put animal fur on his arms so that he felt like his hairy brother Esau. He even sprayed himself with Old Spice deer scent for men so that he smelled like Esau. The aging and nearly blind Isaac was fooled. Thinking it was Esau, Isaac gave the special blessing to Jacob. God had promised the blessing to Jacob, but he couldn’t wait for God. He felt the need to take matters into his own hands.
What a mess his life had become! Jacob the promised heir seemed to have lost it all. His brother wanted to kill him. He was running for his life. He was already 70 miles away from home and traveling further. He was all alone. He had no wealth or fortune. He was sleeping on the ground with a rock for a pillow. Jacob’s life had become a mess because he didn’t trust the Lord’s promises.
The Lord has promised plenty to us as well. He promises to give us our daily bread. He promises to provide whatever we need in this life. He promises that he will be with us all the time. He promises that he never changes but is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He even promises to forgive our sins and to give us eternal life in heaven.
What incredible promises! We haven’t done anything special to deserve any of those things. We haven’t earned any of those things. Yet God has promised all of those things to all of us. We are set to receive countless earthly blessings and an incredible inheritance in heaven!
But the promises of God sometimes aren’t quite good enough. Sometimes I need to take matters into my own hands. So what if God promised to provide for me? I still worry every day that I will have enough money to survive. Yes, the Lord has promised that all things will work out for my good. But things haven’t exactly been “good.” I’m going to have to make things good on my own. I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands a bit because I don’t think I want to wait for him anymore. And I’ll certainly be upset any time I have any problems in life, because I can’t see any good in having problems.
I also have the promises of forgiveness and eternal life. I am the heir to eternal treasures. But what about that thing I did when I was 16? Will that be forgiven? What about that thing I did last week? Will that be forgiven? What about what I said last week? What about what I thought today? Will those things be forgiven? I’m promised eternal life, but what about when I’m faced with death? Do I still believe it? Do I really think that when I breathe my last I’ll open my eyes in heaven? Could that really be true?
Jacob isn’t the only one. We tend to doubt God’s promises at times too. This is a God who made the heavens and the earth. This is a God who never failed Abraham or Isaac. But Jacob didn’t quite believe that God would give what he promised. In the same way we doubt God’s promises as well. His power doesn’t matter. His track record doesn’t matter. Fear and doubt, or greed and impatience, get the best of us.
Jacob’s life had become a mess because of his sinful doubt. Our lives have too. We have stress and anxiety. We have broken relationships. We have failures. We feel all alone. All of this stems from our doubts.
These are just worldly problems. We, who join Jacob in doubting our God’s promises and taking matters into our own hands, deserve much worse than a few bumps and bruises in life. We disbelieve and take for granted what God promises so often that he would have every right to revoke his promises, remove his blessings, and give us more problems and pain. Though he has promised us to be heirs to eternal life, we really deserve to have our eternal inheritance taken away forever!
So there slept Jacob, tossing and turning on a rock pillow in a field in a city called Luz. What a mess he had gotten himself into! Then suddenly he had a gloriously spectacular dream. Jacob saw a stairway, or a ladder, standing on the earth but extending all the way up to heaven. On this stairway the angels of God where going up and coming down. What a glorious sight!
Yet the most majestic and gloriously grandiose part of the dream was at the top of the stairway. There stood the Lord at the top who spoke to Jacob: “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. 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. 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.”
Even though Jacob doubted the promises of the Lord and took matters into his own hands, even though Jacob lied and cheated and deceived, even though Jacob had to run for his life because he didn’t rely on the Lord and his life had become a mess, the Lord mercifully renewed his promises to Jacob. No amount of sin would ever be able to stop the Lord from keeping the promises he first made.
How gracious our Savior God is to renew his promises to us as well! Each week we return to this place and confess that our lives are again a sinful mess. Each night we rest our heads on our pillows (fortunately much softer than a rock) and we realize that it was another day of sin and wrongdoing. We doubted our God. We took matters into our own hands. We forgot how gracious our God is.
But day after day and Sunday after Sunday, the Lord continues to renew his promises to us, as with Jacob. As Jacob saw a ladder connecting earth to heaven, so Jesus is our bridge between heaven and earth. He made possible and fulfilled all the promises of God. These are the promises that the Lord will not fail to keep for us.
As he promised that his Son would take away the sins of the world, his blood continues to purify us from all our wrongs. As he promised that though our sins are as scarlet we shall be as white as snow, so we stand before him washed, clean, and forgiven. As he promised that our sins would be drowned in the depths of the sea and remembered no more, so the Lord has forgotten all the wrongs we have done.
No amount of sin can change that. Each and every week we return here after seven days in which the Lord has provided for us and cared for us, just as he promised. Each and every week we return here after seven days of the Lord working every moment of our lives for our good, just as he promised. And each and every week we return to this place with still more sins to confess, yet each and every week he keeps his promises by granting us forgiveness in Jesus. The Lord Will Keep His Promises. Remember that!
When Jacob woke from his dream he hardly knew what to do or say. He was in awe. Verse 16: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it . . . How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob took a stone and made a memorial pillar that he would later turn into an altar. He made a vow to remember what God had done and to serve the Lord. And he renamed that city Bethel which means house of God.
In the same way, we too are left speechless. What do we say to a God who is so gracious? What do we do for a God who is so faithful to his promises? How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God! This is the gate of heaven! This is where we come to hear our forgiveness once again! This is where he offers to us his body and blood to strengthen and forgive and reassure. This is where God interacts with his people, listens to their prayers, and blesses them. How awesome is this place, the house of God! So, like Jacob, we respond to the promises of God. We respond with hymns of praise and thanks. We respond with our very best gifts and offerings. We respond by living every moment in love for him. Treasure your time spent here with the Lord and his Gospel. Amen.