The Second Sunday in Lent March 7, 2004
155, 372, 393, 528:1-2
Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
Dear friends in Christ:
Dreams are very strange. I don’t remember very many of mine, but the ones that I do remember generally do not make very much sense. We may dream of people that we haven’t seen for years. We may have very detailed dreams or just remember a general feeling. We also use the term dream to talk of a fantasy, such as a dream home, or a dream vacation. It is not very often that a dream we have while sleeping is the same as a goal which we have in life.
However, this was the case in today’s text. God, on occasion, used dreams to reveal His truth and will. In Jacob’s case, the dream revealing God’s truth was also what Jacob would wish for. His dream is the desire of every believer and speaks of a peace which the world also wishes that it had. Let us go back to Bethel (which means house of God) and delve into Jacob’s dream to see how God through His grace has made your life a dream come true. One night in Bethel God revealed to Jacob and to us: I. His renewal of the Messianic promise II. The nature of Jesus as the Mediator between God and man, and III. His protection and presence with the believer.
To fully appreciate what this dream and its words meant to Jacob, you need to know the circumstances that brought him to this place. He was not going toward Haran, the home of his Uncle Laban, because he was seeking adventure or looking for a change of pace. He was on the first leg of a 500 mile walk because his life was in danger. It was his very own brother, his twin-brother no less, who wanted to kill him.
This whole mess had come about because, true to his name (Jacob means Tripper), Jacob and his mother had deceived his father and brother in order that he might receive the greater inheritance and the blessing. God had intended this for him, but Jacob was not content to wait for God’s timing.
After Esau, Jacob’s brother, learned what Jacob had done, he became infuriated—so angry that he threatened to kill Jacob. Jacob’s mother advised him to lay low at her brother Laban’s home until things cooled down. Now here he was on the first night of his journey, alone and afraid. He had the blessing from his father, but he was on the run and had only a rock for a pillow. Where was God? Did He love him? Would He be with him? Would He fulfill the covenant made to Jacob and his father, Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham?
God sent Jacob the dream to set aside his fear, to prove God’s love toward him, and to begin the transformation from Jacob—the Tripper—to Israel—the Prince with God. There are three things to which our attention is drawn by the use of the word, Behold:
Behold the ladder to heaven!
Behold the renewal of the covenant!
Behold he promise of His presence.
Let’s look at the second ‘behold’ first.
“And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: ‘I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” [vv.13-14]
God had made the promise to both Abraham and Isaac that they would have the land of Canaan, their descendants would become a great nation, and in their seed—that is in one descendant—all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This last part of the promise pointed ahead to Christ. This was a covenant of grace. Neither Abraham or Isaac had proved worthy of this covenant and Jacob certainly had not been perfect. God’s grace is greater than our sin. God was looking to what would benefit the earth, and that would be to bring a Savior who would rescue sinners from their lost condition.
This promise that Jacob heard directly from God was very significant for him because it showed Him that God forgives, that God still loved him even though he had sinned and may have felt abandoned. It is also significant for us because the promise centers on Jesus, without whom we would perish.
The promise is also important to us because from it we learn that things are not always as they seem. We know of God’s promises to us to take care of us in life and also in death, but at times when we feel like we’re “going it alone” we need to be reassured. When there are times that we wonder if God has gone back on His Word we can look at His renewal of this covenant with Jacob and know that, at times, pain and hardship precedes the fulfillment of a promise. “We also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). The bottom line is that God does not forget, even though we do.
Now back to the first behold…“Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” [v.12]
The ladder reaching from earth to heaven is a picture of reconciliation with God—the bringing together of God and sinful mankind. Jacob saw a connection between earth and heaven. He saw angels going up and down this ladder and since angels are messengers of God it would seem that they were bringing the needs of people to God and also carrying out God’s commands on earth. This too is a picture of what actually takes place.
What a sight that must have been, especially considering Jacob’s state of mind. Here the God of his father and grandfather was right there before him, and there was a connection to Him!
Wouldn’t you like to have such a connection? You do. There is an allusion to this event in the New Testament. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel account, Jesus makes it clear what that ladder to heaven means. “And He said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’” (John 1:51)
The ladder to heaven—the connection between God and man—is the descendant of Jacob, Jesus Christ. As true God who took on human nature, Jesus became the Mediator, the go-between through whom the reconciliation takes place. The gulf that separated God and man was sin. As long as we had the “guilty” verdict hanging over our heads there was no way that we could approach God. Through the shedding of His life blood, Jesus opened heaven for sinners such as you and I!
Even though Jesus had not yet come, Jacob also reaped the benefits of Jesus’ work through his faith in the coming Savior. Because Jacob believed the promise of a Savior to come, his sins were taken away. The deception, lying, and trickery which reeked of condemnation were washed away and God accounted him as righteous because of the act of redemption which was to come.
Likewise, though we are thousands of years beyond the death of Jesus, you and I are also accounted righteous through our faith. All the times we have tripped up others, the times we doubted God and His mercy, the times of our self-centeredness — all of this guilt was taken to the cross, paid, and forgotten.
Keep the picture of the ladder to heaven in mind because it shows what is going on even now. You have access to God. You can approach God anytime you want. Even more importantly, He comes to you because of the connection you have with Him in Christ.
The final Behold takes us to another promise of God: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” [v.15]
Jacob’s mother wanted him to lay low for a short time, not knowing that it would be twenty years until he returned home. Jacob probably wasn’t even sure that he would see home again. He didn’t know what life would be like in Haran. There were idolatrous people all over. Would God be in that foreign land?
The concept of local gods was very popular in those days. Each people had their own god who was powerful in one area, but not another. Even many years later the Israelites won a battle in the hills, but were later attacked by the same because the enemies thought that the Lord was not a god of the plains. God assured Jacob that He was not just a local deity. He would see Jacob safely through his 500 mile journey and would even bring him back to this very spot. God did exactly that! Jacob left with nothing, spent this night with a rock for a pillow, but would return with 4 wives, 12 sons, servants, flocks, and herds—indeed a very wealthy man. Twenty years later Jacob would say to God, “I crossed over the Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies” (Genesis 32:10). God was with Jacob and blessed him in ways that he could not have even imagined on this night.
One of the terms that we use to describe God is omnipresence—present everywhere at once. He is with us as we worship, but also among the Christians in India at this very same moment. He will be with each one of you from morning until evening and through the night. In Psalm 139 we read these words, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if make my bed in hell [the grave], behold, You are there” (Psalm 139:7-8). These are words of dread to the unbeliever, but for you as a Christian they are words of great comfort.
When you go away to college, God is there with you. If you have served or will serve in the military God will be with you. Even looking toward death, God will be with you. God’s offer of protection to Jacob still stands for you. Satan will turn loose his fiery darts and they are aimed at you, but your Lord is there to protect your soul.
A number of years ago, a popular song’s chorus said, “God is watching us from a distance.” That offers zero comfort. I don’t want God at a distance. I want Him standing beside me, and He is! One of the names given to our Savior is Immanuel. That name is special and comforting because it means God with us.
Jacob’s dream did come true. It was no fantasy. It is a dream come true in your lives as well. God followed through on the promise of the Messiah who bridged the gap between God and man. God’s promise of protection and of His presence still stands today. Dreams are nice, but the reality of your life as a Christian is even sweeter. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.