Pentecost 2 June 14, 2020
23, 297, 425, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
At the “Father Son Banquet” many years ago, my boys won a goldfish. Boys being boys, they took the fish home and placed it in its little bowl right next to the cat’s food dish. I won’t tell you what they hoped would happen as a result of that arrangement, although you might guess. But what did happen? Instead of making lunch out of the tiny little fish, the cat stuck its face in the bowl and actually rubbed noses with the little swimmer. You might say that a cat and a fish made a connection.
What about your connection with the Lord? Maybe right now you don’t feel as though the LORD is connecting with you. Sometimes He may seem faraway and disinterested in you. At times you may think that you and God just aren’t connecting. If you ever feel that way, you need to remember that the LORD’s connection with you does not depend on your feelings. It depends on God’s Word. Feelings go up and down, but the Word of the LORD stands constant and firm. It never changes. Dear believer in Christ, God’s Word alone assures you that THE LORD IS CONNECTING WITH YOU!
We base thoughts today from God’s Holy Word, as recorded in GENESIS 28:10-22, reading as follows:
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!” Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.
Jacob was a man who certainly felt disconnected. He was disconnected from his family due after being forced to leave home because he cheated his older brother, Esau, out of the family birthright. Esau hated Jacob so much for what he had done that he wanted to kill his younger brother. One night, while on the run, Jacob found himself all alone in a place called Luz, not only estranged from his family, but, no doubt, also feeling alienated from God. Using a stone for a pillow, Jacob must have felt that the God of Abraham and his father Isaac, was a billion miles away.
But the LORD was much closer than Jacob thought. We are told that Jacob had a dream in which he saw a stairway reaching from earth to heaven, with the angels of God going up and down on it. The LORD was connecting with Jacob in a powerful way.
How so? First of all, the LORD was connecting with Jacob in a providential way. What does that mean? God’s providence is God using His almighty power for the benefit of His people. God’s providential power extends over all his creation. The Bible says that in Christ “all things hold together”—Colossians 1:17, meaning that if God would ever withdraw his almighty hand from His creation, it would all far apart. Without God’s hand on creation, the sun would stop shining, the earth would fly out of its orbit, gravity would cease to function, plants would quit growing and producing food, our very hearts would stop beating.
In our text, we find that part of God’s providential care involves the angels. While God does not need angels to exercise His control over the world, He chooses to use them for many purposes. Angels are very busy, as we see in Jacob’s vision, going to earth to fulfill a task the LORD sends them to do, then returning after the assignment has been completed.
God is not a far-off deity who leaves this world to fend for itself. No, He keeps in very close contact with it. This wonderful truth became very personal for Jacob didn’t it? That stairway led from Heaven right to Jacob. The LORD was saying to Jacob, “I’m right here Jacob. Right where you are. On this lonely, lonely night, Jacob, I am with you. My loving hand of providence, My almighty power, is at work in your life.” This is all emphasized the LORD’s personal promise to Jacob in v. 15: “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.”
I don’t know how connected to the LORD you feel right now. But, dear Christ-believer, your life is resting in the almighty hand of the LORD God, whether it feels like it or not. The LORD in His Word assures you of that in so many, many passages: I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5) … I am with you always (Matthew 28:20) … yea thought I walk through the valley of the shadow I will fear no evil for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4) … He will give His angels charge over you (Psalm 91:11) … and on and on it goes.
The stairway from Heaven travels right to your doorstep, right to wherever you may happen to be in this world. God’s providential connection is always there. It’s there even in your disappointments, your sicknesses, your financial problems, your family problems, even when you sin. Doesn’t His Word say: “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose”? (Romans 8:28) God’s providence is so strong and so loving that even the bad and evil that comes into our lives must be made to work for the eternal good of God’s believing, baptized children!
The LORD is connecting to you in a providential way, but there is another more important way in which the LORD is connecting with you that we see in this “Stairway to Heaven.” The Lord also connects with you in a saving way, and this is a connection that sinner Jacob, sinner you, sinner me, desperately need to see.
You see, the Bible makes it clear that this Stairway is a picture or a type of Christ Jesus, the God-man, who came down from heaven to earth to connect a sin-wrecked world with the holy heaven, and to win a world lost in sin back to God. In an obvious allusion to our Old Testament text, Jesus, in the New Testament book of John says: “you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
People all over the world like to think they can build their own stairway to heaven, and that by their own good deeds, their own wisdom and strength, they can climb it themselves. Ever been to the Grand Canyon? It’s quite a sight. It is over a mile deep, and some places 18 miles from one side to the other. Now if you got a running start, and used every ounce of your strength, in an attempt to jump from one side to the other you just might make it…about fifteen feet before you fell to your death. The gap between earth and heaven is infinitely wider, and the result, if we try on our own to make it, would be nothing but a headlong plunge to hell.
God Himself had to bridge that gap for us, and He did it through the perfect life, the shed blood, the death, and the resurrection of His Son. Jesus is the only way to escape hell and end up in Heaven. Yes, many would claim that what I just said is hateful and unloving. “Are you saying, Pastor Wilke, that all other religions who teach a different way to heaven are leading people to hell?“ Yes, I am. Only I’m not saying it, God is! “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Let it be proclaimed far and wide, with all boldness, that Jesus lived, died and rose again for each and every sinner who has ever lived, who is living now, or who will ever live! Let it be declared with all joy that every man, woman, and child has been justified and forgiven through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ! Shout it from the rooftops that Jesus has made full and final atonement, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world!
But let it also be said, that whoever rejects Christ in unbelief, does so to their own eternal peril. Dear friends, do not ignore this most blessed and essential of connections. You and I are sinful human beings. We are guilty of countless sins, many of which we don’t even realize we have done, but all of which merit for us hell. But God in His mercy has placed the stairway of Jesus Christ and Him crucified right at the door of your heart. Through Baptism and the Word he’s connected you to the fullness of His love. Through the Lord’s Supper and the Word he keeps that connection strong and safe. Praise God, through Jesus Christ, the LORD and you are firmly connected to one another now and forever!
Finally, we see how the LORD connecting to Jacob brought a change in his life! Something happened to Jacob that day. This connection affected him. He set up a monument in honor and thanks to God. He made a vow that the LORD would be His God. He promised to give His Savior God a tenth of all he had. Jacob, before this dream, was already a believer in the LORD. But this revelation of God’s goodness and forgiveness strengthened his determination to show his faith by his life. God’s providential and forgiving love sparked within Jacob a powerful change!
We have seen, with eyes of faith, exactly what Jacob saw that night long ago. From the Scriptures God has shown us that He is with us at all times, never for a moment failing to perfectly care and provide for us. We have seen Jesus and His free and full salvation. Can we walk away now and not be changed? Can we leave here today with no determination to change the way we think and live? Can we watch the offering plate pass us by without a heartfelt desire to give our best in return to the God who gave us His best? Can we meet an unbelieving relative, friend, or neighbor and not want to share with them the One Who has changed our lives?
Sadly, maybe we can, and maybe we do. Sadly, maybe we don’t always respond to God’s mercy and grace in Christ with the same life-changing enthusiasm Jacob exhibits in our text.
How can that change? By continuing to bring our sins to God for forgiveness. By staying connected to God through His Word and Sacraments. Only then can the life-changing power of God’s Spirit flow into us, through us, overflow into our homes, and out into the world!
Rest assured, God is connecting with you! He’s connected to you every day—to every detail of your life! He’s connected you to heaven through Jesus! And you can be sure He’ll keep connecting to you to make whatever changes in your heart and life are necessary! AMEN!