Jesus Is the Way
Sermon 1746 Genesis 28.10-22 May 23, 2021
Dreams. What do they mean? TV dreams mean maybe the producer was a penny-pincher and let Bobby go from Dallas, killing him off and ruining the ratings, only to bring him back two seasons later comforting his wife over her bad dream about him getting shot. Or maybe they mean the writers of St. Elsewhere wrote themselves into a corner and couldn’t get out, so they ended the whole series as a dream inside a boy’s snow globe. You can tell what happened on TV in the late 1980’s had no effect on me at all. Lazy writers. Cheap producers. Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, believed dreams were the psyche trying to teach the individual something. Others, toning Jung down a bit, say dreams are your brain trying to work out problems, whether they be the problems of the day or something more vexing.
The Bible is no stranger to dreams. Rulers have dreams—Pharaoh, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar. Pilate’s wife dreams. But most famously Jacob dreams. It is our final Sunday School lesson for this year, Jacob’s Dream. While Jacob is running away from home he dreams of a stairway, a ladder to heaven. That dream is telling Jacob something.
Jesus is the Way
1. The Promise still holds (10-14).
2. God’s hand holds us still (15-22).
Here’s a man with a guilty conscience. Jacob had worried that he would be found out, that it would be known he was tricking his father. “I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing (Genesis 27.12).” Well, that didn’t happen. He got away with tricking blind Isaac, at least up to the point where he got the blessing. Rebekah had a fool-proof plan as far as it went. But now everybody knew Jacob had deceived his dying father. How low can you go? We wink at everyone claiming to be Irish on St. Paddy’s day, but how can you overlook lying to a dying father?
And look what he was lying to get--the Promise of the Savior, the promise of the Promised Land! Can you keep something you obtained illegally? Criminals have to return the loot from the bank heist. Countries cough up the art works they pilfered long ago during wars or archaeological digs. God is behind the promise Jacob stole. Would God condone his deceitful ways?
Jacob’s deceit was costly. He must run away from his own family, run for his life from a murderous, vengeful brother no one could control. Would he ever see them again?
“Jacob 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. 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. 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. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring (10-14).’”
God repeated the promise Isaac had made to lying, cheating, heartless Jacob. Jacob’s descendants would get the land where he was sleeping. They would rule this land and multiply, spreading out in all directions, north, south, east and west as a great nation. There’s the earthly promise we’ve been seeing. God promised Abraham and his descendants that this land, Canaan, would be there possession.
That’s where the family tree of the Savior would put down its roots. The LORD, and you will notice the name God uses for himself, capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D—the God who promises the Promised Savior and works through every hardship and overcomes any obstacle to fulfill that promise of a Savior. He also is the embodiment of that Promise, the Savior himself, our Jesus, Beautiful Savior, Lord of lords and Friend of sinners. God also promised that Isaac’s blessing regarding the Savior was valid, even though Jacob lied and cheated to get it. All peoples on earth would be blessed through Jacob’s greater descendant, Jesus Christ.
Jacob needed this blessing to be repeated. Jacob needed to hear this blessing come from the LORD himself, though he was in no way worthy of even asking the LORD for this verification. He was guilty, guilty, guilty. Liar. Thief. Rebellious son. Heartless brother. Home wrecker.
How can the LORD put up with someone like Jacob? How can the LORD put up with someone like us? When we get to know someone well, the stories of the past come out. If they are true friends they will confide in us and we in them. Undoubtedly there will be stories that are prefaced with, “I’m not real proud of this part of my life,” or “I’d rather put that behind me.” Skeletons in the closet, we call them. Everyone has them. We’d rather forget. But God doesn’t forget. He didn’t forget Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel. He didn’t forget Ahab and Jezebel murdering Naboth to get Naboth’s vineyard to turn into a royal garden. He didn’t forget Jerusalem’s sin of stoning the prophets and killing those sent to her. He won’t forget what Jacob has done. He won’t whitewash what you and I have done, either.
How can we stand before the LORD? Jesus is the Way. The Promise still holds. Jesus himself tells us. When Jesus was calling his first disciples, he came across Nathanael. Nathanael was a little suspicious about anybody being anything if they were from Nazareth, but Jesus won him over. “Before Philip called you I saw you under the fig tree (John 1.48).” Nathanael gushes the praise of Jesus. Jesus tells him to hold on, because he will see greater things. He will “see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (51).”
That’s Jacob’s dream! That’s the stairway, the ladder to heaven! The angels, “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1.14),” come from God down to earth and return to God after their work is completed. But the stairway they walk on is Jesus. He is the one who makes us heirs of heaven. He is the one who makes us people of God, those God turns his protecting eyes towards. Jesus is the life and the truth. When it comes to getting to heaven, Jesus is the way. Our sins can’t stop that. The Promise still holds.
That explains how guilty, guilty, guilty Jacob and guilty, guilty, guilty you and me can stand before God. Through the Promised Savior, Jesus Christ, God has burst through our lies, he has broken down our deceptions, he has torn apart all our trickery and opened the way to heaven. Jesus is the way.
The way does not depend on our goodness. It does not depend on our desire. It does not depend upon our irreplaceable status in God’s scheme of things. God can raise up children to Abraham from these rocks, John the Baptist warned the smug, religious leaders come out to investigate him. The way depends on God’s mercy. Jesus is the way. The Promise still holds in spite of our sin.
Guilty Jacob can rest easy. The Savior’s family tree will come through him.
Jesus is the Way. God’s hand holds us still. “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 (15).”
I would like to say Jacob woke up from the dream strengthened by the LORD’s explicit promises to him. I would like to say Jacob woke up from this dream standing firm on the promises of God. I would like to say Jacob woke up from this dream a changed man, but he didn’t. He wakes up afraid as he recognizes the LORD was in this place. The shyster sticks to us like stink on a skunk. He is worried, not about his relationship with the LORD, but he is worried about his future, clothes on his back, bread in his belly, that kind of stuff. You can tell by what he says in response to the LORD’s words to him. Jacob does not sing an “Amen,” he replies with an “if.”
“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 so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God 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 (20-22).”
Other characters in the Bible, David, Solomon, Daniel, praise God for his surpassing revelations of goodness to them. Jacob starts haggling. Give me this day my daily bread. Deliver me from evil. If you do this, then you will have proven yourself to be my God and I, in return, will worship you as my God. The ball’s in your court, LORD. Do what you have promised. To sweeten the pie a little bit, I’ll give you back a tenth of what you give me if you bring me back to my homeland safely.
You give me everything and I will give you a tenth. That sounds like a Ponzi scheme, a Bernie Madoff business plan! You give me all your money to “invest” and I will give you back a 10% return. Hop on it, because that’s a pretty good return nowadays. It’s almost as if Jacob has heard the LORD, but something inside of him kept twisting the words. Prayer is good, our sinful human nature admits, but it won’t earn a pay check. “Trust but verify” made Reagan sound like a genius in his dealings with the Soviet Union, but it is blasphemous in our relationship with the LORD.
The LORD has spoken. His promises stand true. Not only does the Promise still hold, but God’s hand holds us still.
I think we would all agree we are saved by faith alone. It has been beaten into us as Lutherans. That’s what grace means. Nothing in these hands I bring, only to the cross I cling. The angels rejoice. God claims us as his own. He even pokes the bear a little bit by boasting to the devil about our faithful deeds. I was hungry and they fed me. I was thirsty and they gave me something to drink.
But the LORD goes even farther. He is not only the Savior of the world, the LORD of nations. He is the Savior of you. He is such a precious Lord, he takes me by the hand. God’s hand holds us still.
Like an arms merchant who sells weapons to both sides in a conflict, I will tell you fathers what I tell the boys in Catechism class. When, later in high school, you ask Dad for the good car because you have a special date with a special girl, and he, in a moment of insanity, consents, don’t stop there. Ask him for twenty dollars so you can put gas in the tank to make sure it is full when you return. If he’s given you permission to drive the car, which is a big deal, he will give you the twenty also, which is not such a big deal. In fact, he might laugh and say, “Son, twenty won’t get near to filling that tank. Here’s a fifty!” Now you can buy her desert with the dinner, too! I am not one of those who want to relive my high school days. I know too much now.
But one of the things I know is how our heavenly Father takes care of his children. He gave us his Son to die on the cross. I know of no greater sacrifice than that. Each of us, when our children were sick, would have wished we had that sickness instead of them. We want the hardships to fall upon us instead of upon our children. There can be only silent respect for the unspeakable sacrifice a gold star mother has made in losing a son or daughter in battle for the defense of our freedoms.
That’s the sacrifice God the Father made. He sent his Son, his one and only Son, his beloved Son, to die for our sins. It wasn’t a heroic death. It was a shameful death. Executed on a Roman cross as a terrible criminal. It wasn’t the passing pain of earthly death, it was the eternal punishment of hell decreed for all the sins of all the world for all of time which landed upon Jesus’ shoulders when he hung on Golgotha’s cross. O woe indescribable! How great the love of God for us. By his wounds we are healed.
If God our heavenly Father was willing to send his Son to the cross for us, will he not also, with Jesus back alive again, triumphant from the grave, will God not also give us all things? Clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse, children, good government, good health, good weather, good jobs, good friends, is the arm of the LORD too short to extend these blessings to us? Yes, because of our short-sightedness we do not often see every good and perfect gift comes down from heaven, but the blessings still come. He makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. We live on earth by grace and that covers the physical blessings we need. Our sin can limit those blessings through wastefulness and greed. But our sin cannot stop those blessings. God’s hand holds us still.
And there is one more thing I must say. In crowds or unexpected situations, small children feel anxious, timid or scared. How is that resolved? The groceries have to be purchased. Summer swimwear must be purchased. All it takes is a mother’s hand. All that is needed is a father’s strong grip. The child’s troubled heart is stilled. God’s hand holds us still, too. Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you.
Jesus is the Way
1. The Promise still holds (10-14).
2. God’s hand holds us still (15-22).
I have a print, “Jacob Dreams a Ladder,” which Karen and I bought when we were newlyweds in Michigan. We paid the princely sum of forty bucks back then. “It will appreciate in value,” I assured her. Well, Egbi never got famous, so long after his death the print is being sold on E-bay for $30. But that lithograph hangs in our bedroom. It reminds me I will never have to wrestle in my sleep with what the way to heaven is. Jesus is the Way. Better dreams tomorrow night.