HYMN Beneath the Cross of Jesus (Gettys)
1 Beneath the cross of Jesus,
I find a place to stand;
and wonder at such mercy
that calls me as I am.
For hands that should discard me,
hold wounds which tell me ‘Come’.
Beneath the cross of Jesus,
my unworthy soul is won.
2 Beneath the cross of Jesus,
his family is my own;
once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
now one through grace alone.
How could I now dishonour
the ones that you have loved?
Beneath the cross of Jesus,
see the children called by God.
3 Beneath the cross of Jesus,
the path before the crown,
we follow in his footsteps
where promised hope is found.
How great the joy before us –
to be his perfect bride.
Beneath the cross of Jesus,
we will gladly live our lives.
READING GENESIS 28:10-22
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he 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. 12 He 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. 13 There above it 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.”
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.”
18 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 household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and[e] 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.”
SERMON – Angels meet Jacob at Bethel
Here is the fugitive – fleeing for his life – and graciously God comes and speaks to Jacob. It isn’t because Jacob is a model of godliness that God has chosen to meet him – on the contrary! Yet even this wayward chap recognises that God comes in an incredible way to meet him – and now he responds with passion and humility.
In an attitude of worship, Jacob chooses symbols to commemorate this extraordinary meeting.
What we have, then, in these verses is God’s revelation to Jacob (10-15) and Jacob’s response (16 – 22).
The scene is set for us – it is the dead of night …
BEHIND Jacob is Beersheba and his twin Esau waiting to kill him …
AHEAD is Haran, where Laban is waiting to exploit him …. YET … THERE … in the dark of Jacob’s night … God comes and speaks to reassure him of His Divine presence – and then the sun rises – what a drama!
Back at the beginning of the section we read that Jacob left home – he made that break with his parents – he became a man in his own right – one of the patriarchs.
And as he lays down and sleeps he has the most extraordinary dream.
In this dream, Jacob is presented with an alternative lifestyle! Not only is he making a clean break with his family – but now he is offered a clean break from his dirty way of life.
The dream focuses NOT on the past (and all his failures) but on the FUTURE – namely an alternative lifestyle with God!
This is God sovereignly revealing Himself to Jacob. Neither had Jacob asked for a meeting with God – nor would he have chosen to have one, BUT God breaks in to the fugitive’s life.
The dream is of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending. Now what is all THAT about? Led Zepelin thought it was something that could be bought – but no – no-one could buy this – this is God opening young Jacob’s eyes.
The stairway (better translation than ladder) does NOT speak of man making a stairway up to heaven – this is not like Babylon. RATHER, this is GOD coming DOWN to man. Look who is ascending and descending – not humans – but angels.
And what of the said angels? Hebrews 1:14 may help us – it calls angels “ministering spirits sent to SERVE THOSE who will inherit salvation.”
And what does it mean that they ascend and descend? Well, it speaks of a constant activity between heaven and earth – there is regular communication – there are strong links between heaven and earth. God has not simply set our planet spinning and then gone off to the golf course to enjoy himself – God is vitally interested in everything that happens here – indeed he is INVOLVED in all that happens on earth.
Jesus Himself makes reference to this picture of the angels ascending and descending (Jn. 1:51) and He says this is a picture of HIMSELF as the true axis between heaven and earth. Or as Paul puts it in 1 Tim. 2:5 – He is the only Mediator between God and humans.
In other words there is a vital link between heaven and earth – and that vital link is Jesus.
In verse 13, God speaks. He confirms the Covenant He had made with Abraham: “I am the Lord… I will GIVE …” Now, this is a truly remarkable and surprising statement – God is promising the GIFT of salvation. In fact, and even more remarkable, it would seem that salvation cannot be gained in any other way than by the Gift of God!
And the blessing was not simply to be for Jacob and his clan – verse 14 reminds us that “all peoples on earth will be blessed …” – that was God’s promise to Abraham and now it is repeated to Jacob at Bethel.
God now gives three personal promises to Jacob (15)
- I am with you. God’s promises are not merely for the remote future – but also for right now! This promise of God’s presence is a special one which underpins all God’s other promises
- I will watch over you. This is a promise of both preservation and of protection.
PS 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
PS 91:12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
PS 91:13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
PS 91:14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
PS 91:15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
3. I will bring you back. It was his parents who sent Jacob away – but it will be GOD Who brings him back to Canaan.
How did Jacob respond? Well, for him the world of his dream is more real than his world of fear and guilt. I wonder if any of us could say that – the unseen spiritual world is more real than our daily routine?
Jacob says: “I was not aware …” I could kick myself for not seeing things as I now see them so clearly. How did I MISS all this?
Yet, at the same time he was afraid (vs 17). This is not the same response as we saw with Abraham and Isaac when God had met with them. Why Jacob’s fear? Well, he knew that he had wronged his father and his brother. In other words, he knew himself to be a sinner in the sight of a good God, and his right response was to fear the Lord.
He set up a pillar – a standing stone – a memorial of God coming to meet with him. And the place was called Bethel – the house of God. This may actually have been Luz – a thriving city – but what gave it real significance was that God had come to meet Jacob!
In verses 20-22 we have the longest vow in the OT. This journey which had started out as a flight for his life – NOW becomes a pilgrimage. Now he goes on his journey with God. And part of his vow to God is to give a tenth of all he has to the Lord. This marks a transformation in Jacob – his names means grasper, but now he has become a GIVER.
What will we learn from this incident? Well it speaks to us of God’s Covenant . God’s Promise is what stimulates Jacob’s promise of faithfulness.
God comes in a time of crisis and uses that crisis to transform Jacob – and thus God has continued to work – it is the trials that make us – not the times of joy.
We also learn here that our lives are not just private wanderings (my life is my own to do with as I please) – no – our lives have a God-given PURPOSE – as Christians we are journeying to the Holy City (Heb 12:22-24) – and along the way everything is transformed by God’s presence. Here was a man running away – but he ran straight into the arms of God; he feared his brother – but now fears God; he slept in a certain place – and it became God’s place – the rock became a temple – the night turned into morning – God transformed everything – and still does!
Hymn Jesus draw me ever nearer (Gettys)
1 Jesus, draw me ever nearer,
as I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage,
and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.
May this journey bring a blessing,
may I rise on wings of faith;
and at the end of my heart’s testing,
with your likeness let me wake.
2 Jesus, guide me through the tempest,
keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning,
let me love you even more.
3 Let the treasures of the trial
form within me as I go.
And at the end of this long passage,
let me leave them at your throne.