November 9, 2014 Genesis Sermon # 5
“God Meets You at Your Need” Genesis 28:10-22
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
The last few weeks have been a hard time for many of you, haven’t they? We as a church have had all kinds of needs. You’ve been in the hospital; you’ve had root canal work; you’ve gone for biopsies, MRIs, CAT Scans, and blood tests; you’ve wrestled with migraines, depression, worries, and problems at work; you’ve dealt with dysfunctional and sinful family members, and we’ve been shocked by the sudden death of our brother Jerry. We’re a needy people!
But there is good news! The good news is that God loves to meet us at the point of our needs. The Lord God, Our Heavenly Father, wants to meet you, His child, at your deepest need.
Jesus Christ, the One who died for you and was raised to give you life, stands before you with open arms, and shows you on the palms of His hands, your name, engraven there.
The Holy Spirit is bearing witness to your spirit that you belong to God and He will never let you go; and that he will care for you and reveal Himself to you, at your point of deepest need.
Do you believe that? Well, to help you to believe that, let’s see how God met Jacob at the point of his need.
In Genesis 28, Jacob is sent away from his home and his family. For while Rebekah’s plan for him to get the blessing from Isaac was a “success”, in another sense, it was a terrible failure. Jacob was forced to leave home, to escape being killed by his furious brother Esau. So Jacob gets the blessing… but he has to leave the inheritance with Esau.
Fortunately for Jacob, and for us, God loves to chase down those who are failures, those who are weak and vulnerable, and those who are on the run. (Does that include you?) This is one of God’s defining features—He comes and meets with fearful, weak and rebellious people, to care for them, to encourage them, and to save them. In fact, when God chose to become a human person, in Jesus, He came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). So this story, in Gen. 28:10-22, gives us a picture of how heaven comes down to earth; of how God will meet you at your point of need.
In v.10 we read “Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran” In this journey Jacob was retracing the steps of his grandfather Abraham, who came from Haran to the Promised Land many years ago. But Abraham left behind him a settlement of people in Haran, so it was natural that his mother, Rebekah, would think of Haran when she looked for a safe haven for her youngest son. The trek from Beersheba to Haran was far enough away that Esau, who wanted to kill his twin brother Jacob, wouldn’t follow Jacob there.
Rebekah’s plan was simple. By sending Jacob to Haran, she was putting him in a safe place for a few months until Esau’s anger subsided. Then she would send word for Jacob to come home. In the meantime, she hoped that her son would marry one of his relatives in Haran and eventually return home, bride in hand. It was a good plan, and in fact it came to pass….but not exactly as Rebekah envisioned. Rebekah really wasn’t in control, was she? (And neither are you!)
In v.11 we read “When he (Jacob) reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.
One, while the wording of “a certain place” makes it seem almost accidental, as if by chance, yet in reality, this place – later know as Bethel- was to be a divinely appointed choice for Jacob to stop at. God is in control of our every move, our every stop.
Two, it is surprising that we find Jacob sleeping outside the city, in the wilderness, instead of inside the city walls, as hospitality, even to strangers, was a custom of the times. Perhaps Jacob was feeling introspective and just wanted to be alone. Perhaps he was wondering what his future was going to be. Maybe his self-confidence was at an all-time low. If so, then this was the ideal time for God to break into his life; for now Jacob knew how much he needed God.
When you are feeling alone, when you don’t want to be with others, might be the very time, and place, when God wants to meet with you. Shut off the TV and your music; put your smart phone and computer away, and say to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
v. 12 tells us more: “(Jacob) had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
Note that Jacob had his first encounter with God while he was sleeping! God meets Jacob not while he is scheming or cooking or working, but while he is sleeping. (One way of understanding Psalm 127:2 is that “the Lord provides for those He loves while they sleep.”I love that idea! It’s while we are tired and exhausted and have no more strength that the Lord Almighty gives us everything we need!)
Brothers and sisters, God loves to meet us when we are weak, tired, empty, lonely, and even when we are running away from Him. God wants to meet you when your life is falling apart… because it is then that you have run out of other options!
Heaven comes down to earth when we are the most in need of God. Do you feel your need of God? Do we as a congregation feel our need of God?
Next we read in Gen. 28:13-15 “There above it (the ladder) stood the LORD, and he said: “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. 15 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.”
What is this stairway Jacob sees in his dream? Putting aside any Led Zeppelin interpretations, we can discern that the stairway/ ladder is a symbol of the fellowship between God in heaven and his people on earth, even as it is mediated at times by God’s angels. And if that is correct, then we can contrast it with the tower of Babel, in Gen. 11, in which rebel humanity attempted to reach up into heaven, by their own efforts. The ladder in Jacob’s dream brings heaven down to earth, while those building the tower of Babel tried to bring earth to reach heaven. But our efforts to reach heaven with our works and with our good deeds are never effective. We can only access heaven when God comes down to earth, and that’s what the story of Christmas is all about.
“Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake, becamest man; stooping so low but sinners raising, heavenward by Thine eternal plan. Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake, becamest man.”
Ultimately we see that the ladder is Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 1:51, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus is our stairway to heaven. He is our access to heaven. He is the means by which heaven comes down to us and by which we can go to heaven. Jesus does not show us a way; He is the way. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” In 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
The image to ponder is that of a Coast Guard rescue helicopter, where someone is lowered down on a cable to grab and lift up a person who is about to drown in the choppy seas.
Ultimately, it was Jesus Christ who bridged the gap between heaven and earth. It is through Him that God has come down to man. It is only through Him that you and I can have access to God. Therefore, when you are so needy, when you are hurting so badly, don’t think you have to build yourself up to God or even to build yourself up to some kind of normalcy, health or sanity. No. Open yourself to the One who has already come down to us, to meet our deepest needs. You don’t have to “get your life together”; you have to give your life to the One Who will get it together for you, in Christ.
Notice also that when God speaks to Jacob, He does not rebuke Jacob for the shameful and deceitful things he has done to his brother or father. God doesn’t say to Jacob “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into!” No. Instead He speaks words of promise and blessing and encouragement! What a gracious and loving God! We often think God is unhappy with us, yet the truth is He loves us and wants to speak words of encouragement and grace to us. Think for just a moment about how much you love your children or grandchildren. Do you think a perfect and loving God loves you any less? Of course not!
No, instead of rebuking Jacob, the Lord gives him wonderful promises.
Think of all the needs that these promises of God address (directly to Jacob and indirectly to us, in Christ)
Feelings of shame and betrayal: “I am the God of your father Abraham and Isaac.” “Jacob, even though you feel like you have blown it (and you have), I can take away the embarrassment of your life and use you. Jacob, I know you’re feeling like you betrayed your dad (and you did). Nevertheless, I am the God of your fathers and I will not fail, even when you do. I can be trusted.”
Loss of belonging and a separation from family: “I will give you this land.” “Jacob, I know you’re on the run now, laying your head on a stone for a pillow, but one day I’m going to give you and your descendants the Promised Land. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. Jacob, I know your family relationships are strained but I will give you many other descendants.”
Feeling insignificant: “All peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” “Jacob, right now you may feel very small and insignificant, but your life is going to count for me. It may not seem that way right now, but I will use you.”
Fear of the future: “I am with you…wherever you go.” Jacob is beginning a 500 mile trip to a place he’s never been to before, to meet relatives he’s never met before, and he might very well be scared about what’s going to happen in the future. So the Lord says to him: “I am with you” (v.15). It was a promise that God later repeated to Moses (Ex. 3:12) to Joshua (Josh 1:5), to Gideon (Judg 6:16), and it would find it fulfillment in Immanuel, God with us (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23); so that all of us, who are His followers of Jesus, can have the same assurance (Matt 28:20; Heb 13:5-6 “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Think of Michael Card’s song, “Immanuel, our God is with us; and if God is with us, who can be against us, our God is with us, Immanuel!”
God is with you right now. You may be on the verge of a mental collapse; but although you cannot sense it, God is with you right now. You may be quite ill. You may be misunderstood by your friends. You may be abandoned by a husband, a wife, or your children. You may have lost a job. You may be discouraged. You may feel that no one will ever care for you again.
I want you to hear God speaking to you, “I will be with you!”
Fear of failure: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” “Jacob, I know that life seems unpredictable and out of control, but I want to assure you that I am in control. And I am faithful even when you are unfaithful. I will make good on all my promises in Christ.” He will never fail you! He is faithful, forever!
Now God speaks all of these promises to Jacob, of all people. Why Jacob? Why does God choose Jacob? Because God loves to use the weak and foolish people of this world (1 Cor. 1:27-29). He does this to shame the wise and strong, so that He gets all the glory.
Brothers and sisters, these promises to Jacob, and to us, in Chris, are a supreme display of God’s grace, unsought for and undeserved; abundant and awesome. God gives no reproaches nor makes any demands; He only supplies a stream of assurances flowing from His grace:
From the past (13a) to the distant future;
From the spot where Jacob lay (13b) to the four corners of the earth (14)
From Jacob to all of mankind (14b)… and that includes us, in Christ. Gal. 3:29 “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
(Think about it: Jacob is our great, great, great…. grandfather, in a spiritual sense. Imagine trying to trace your spiritual roots? Think about who led you to Christ; then who led that person to Christ, and keep working backwards. Eventually you would get to Jacob!))
Jacob, on this journey, was alone – but he would become the father of a vast family
He was “homeless” – but he would inherit all these lands
He was vulnerable – but God would provide ultimate safety and security and safe conduct.
Jacob had left behind his father’s house, but he would build God a house.
God speaks to Jacob at the moment of his aloneness and his need. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasure and shouts to us in our pain. Pain, he said, is God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world. Now God speaks to Jacob in his pain, in his need, and He will do the same for you, in your pain, in your need.
Our story concludes in vv. 18-22: “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. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
There’s a lot here, but allow me to make a few brief observations.
Jacob here was saying, “If God will help me, I’ll fulfill my commitment.” Jacob was acknowledging that he could not do it alone. He needed God’s help. God would have to make it possible for him to carry out his commitment. Jacob wasn’t making a bargain with God; he was affirming his faith in God. He was promising God his life, his worship, his money, and his possessions. This is God’s expectation for all of us as well.
All of us must claim the great promises of God for ourselves and step out in faith, making our own commitment to Him.
God wants to meet you at your need. And then He wants to believe not only that God can meet your deepest need, but also that your deepest need is knowing, loving, and trusting God. In the words of the first Q and A from the Heidelberg Catechism:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
Listen to the Heidelberg Catechism, Question #1
[My only comfort in life and death is] That I, with body and soul, both in life and death (Rom. 14:8), am not my own (1 Cor. 6:19), but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14), who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins (1 Pet. 1:18, 19; 1 John 1:7; 2:2, 12), and delivered me (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8; John 8:34-36) from all the power of the devil (John 6:39; 10:28, 29; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5), and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head (Matt. 10:30; Luke 21:18); indeed, that everything must fit His purpose for my salvation, (Rom. 8:28) therefore by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:16) and makes me heartily willing and ready, always, to live for him. (Rom. 8:14; 1 John 3:3)