Can two walk together, except they be agreed. Or, in other words “Do two people walk hand in hand if they are not going to the same place?” This sounds like a profound theologian or a new age life coach, not a statement from a minor prophet. However, that is indeed where we receive this amazing insight into how we should view our relationship with God. Amos 3:3 gives us insight into how God expects our relationship with him to work. The only way that we can gain the full potential of God’s blessing and promises of a life filled with hope, is to agree to meet him and walk side by side with him. We can only expect from God what we are willing to input into the relationship first. In Genesis twenty eight, Jacob must, for the first time in his life, make a personal commitment to walk hand in hand with God. Jacob needed to allow his faith in God to grow, so that he could be filled and walk in the hope filled plan’s of God. It is what we can look forward to because of a relationship with God that we will study this morning through the story of Jacob’s ladder and the promises of the Nativity.
Speaking of Nativity, this morning marks the first Sunday in the Advent season. Many churches in the four Sunday’s leading up to Christmas will focus on a different theme or attribute of Jesus. Today, marks the first Sunday, so to follow a little bit of church history we will focus on the Hope that God promises us.
O.K. so I know what many people may be thinking, how does hope or even the nativity story relate to the dreams of a young man. Hopefully with a little understanding and open minds we can allow God to guide our words and thoughts this morning. Let’s get into the text shall we.
First, we read about a journey, a solitary journey to a certain place, (Luz), but to be honest the name is not important at the present moment of the story, but come the end the name will come back to us. The important part is that he tarried all night because we read that the sun is setting. The oddity at this point is that under Old Testament culture the locals should have offered up a resting place for Jacob. We read in Judges 19:17-20 that “only lodge not in the streets … Peace be with you.” Whenever a cultural norm is dismissed in the Biblical text, we as readers need to take note because more often then not a work or the will of God is about to be revealed. So, we have Jacob hopelessly alone, abandoned, scared and fleeing, he has also been ignored by the locals. Think of how Jacob must have been feeling. most of us hate when we are stuck feeling only one of these emotions, now add on five more negative feelings and you have most off us curled up in a corner thinking the world hates us and is against us. Now we can move on because we feel Jacob’s heart.
However, we have a great truth of God shown to us in the following verse. Jacob lies down and begins to dream, dream about a ladder to be more exact. Now this ladder is special because he sees angels using the ladder to ascend and descend from heaven – a two way street that leads from earth to heaven or heaven to earth depending on your outlook. Now, Orangeville has many two way streets, but get down to where Amy and I live in Toronto and we have many one way streets. These cause many headaches for many drivers, which leads to a vast array of horns, voices and aggravation. But, for Jacob he witnesses a flow that is uninterrupted from heaven itself, what a vision of hope! To make things even better Jacob witnesses God standing at the very top of the ladder as a witness to the work of the angels, and to allow Him access to the creation that he called good. Why is this such a vision of hope for Jacob? At his lowest, loneliest moment God shows himself to fill Jacob with a purpose, direction and of course hope for the future. God arrives to give Jacob more then a promise of hope, he is about to give him a covenant that will drastically change his life forever. This covenant is not going to be a regurgitation of a previous covenant, just fiddled with to suit Jacob, this is going to be an individual uplifting because that is how God works. That is the beautiful nature of our God and the beauty that is Jacob’s story, but more importantly for us, our story. Just like Jacob, we have been given hope as a gift from our God, a personal God that provides us with what we need as individuals partaking in his creation.
We need to be careful that when we think of our God that we do not box him into what we think his limits are. Our God is not prepackaged because he is God, his will, nature and existence beyond time is beyond our own understanding. God’s message of hope that is given to each of us is personalized to our own individual needs, just as our Christmas gifts are individualized to our loved ones.
How do we know our God is a personal God? Turn with me to verses thirteen through fifteen, as, in these verses, we can understand how God leads Jacob through his personal covenant. It also allows us to witness the amazing hope that God places in Jacob’s future. “And behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father and the God of Isaac: The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places wither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” God gives Jacob four very distinct and personal messages of hope and fulfillment. The covenant that was once Abraham and Isaac’s has now been personalized to fit God’s will in Jacob’s life. God has now given Jacob what Jacob needs to thrive as a follower of God. Jacob has been filled with hope that God has a desire and need for him on earth.
The first personalized promise of God, is a promise of assurance. That God will be present in Jacob’s life, but it is more then that. God is not just present there in Jacob’s present dream-state, God will be with Jacob ALWAYS. This is God’s answer to Jacob’s feelings of desperation and hopelessness as Jacob was searching for companionship. “I am with thee and will keep thee.” This is important for Jacob, who grew up in his father’s house surrounded by a strong community of companions, but now he is alone, asleep and dreaming of companionship in the wilderness. When all is thought to be lost God comes to make Jacob aware that he will never be alone again. God gives Jacob a choice, not a command to follow and walk with Him. God allows Jacob the chance to live a life full of hope, all he needs to do is believe and make his own choice to follow him, just like we read earlier, can two walk together unless they choose to? That is the question God gives Jacob.
The second personal message from God to Jacob is the promise of land. “And will bring thee again into this land…” Jacob was rich, however in order to escape quickly and effectively he had to leave all his possessions behind, including as we can determine from the text, this included his pillow. This leaves us, the readers of the story to conclude and decipher that Jacob most have been filled with a feeling of impoverishment. Here, he is sleeping on the ground, surrounded by rocks, when he is used to nice five hundred thread count Egyptian sheets. Again, God shows up to give Jacob hope and a promise that he will once again be able to go back to his earthly dwelling place. There is more to the dream then Jacob being able to return to his earthly home, that two way ladder promises Jacob a home within heaven. Jacob will be welcomed into heaven by God and all those that love him also.
Thirdly, God gives Jacob the personal message of a hope through the promise that he no longer needs to live in shame. God tells Jacob that his shame will be lifted and that his ancestors will be like the dust, numerous and uncountable. “And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth.” Jacob receives a blessing that assures him and that can assure us, that no matter how much guilt and shame may be filling our lives, God has an answer, and that answer is life through Him. God is always willing and able to begin with us again, where we are, so that we can become agents of blessings onto others. The prophet, Jeremiah, tells a story of a potter at his wheel working the clay even as it becomes blemished in Jeremiah 18:1-6. “And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again, another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” Key words here are as follows: “so he made it agian… as seemed good to the potter.” Just like in Jacob’s life we can take great hope in knowing that when we become marred, like the vessel, and Jacob, we can be reshaped through Jesus. We have to remember and take to heart the following lesson though. We do not become second hand. I will repeat, we do not become second hand. We are just as clean in the eyes of God, as we were, and as the vessel is to the potter, at first creation. Once we confess our sins and repent to God we become as white, unique and beautiful as the snowflakes that will fall this Christmas season.
The fourth and final individual message of hope for Jacob is that he will return home. Unlike the second assurance from God this is not about feeling impoverished, this is a promise of a hope filled future that goes beyond this world, into heaven. We can read about this promise in Matthew 28:20, as it tells us that “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, Amen.” God tells Jacob that even when he acts outside of His will God will still be there, watching, guiding and loving him. Even when we act outside the will of God, he is still there, watching over us, and it is through that kind of grace, the grace of mercy and promise, that should make us want to leave all sin behind.
When God encounters Jacob at Bethel (the name is now important, as it means house of God), Jacob grows spiritually, making the choice for the first time to personally follow God and accept full responsibility for his relationship with God. God’s promises came in the form of a dream, but Jacob’s response of worship as he built the alter to God, came in a state of waking-alertness. Jacob found that the dreamworld presented to him by God to be more convincing, more appealing and a world that was filled with hope more attractive than the world he fell asleep to. Jacob chooses promise over fear, love over guilt and hope filled future over uncertainty. We must all claim our promises from God ourselves, others cannot do it on our behalf. We need to personally step out in our faith and embrace our promise of a hope filled future. Faith is a wonderful thing, it believes that God is true, hope however, is looking ahead with anticipation for the day Christ reveals the truth. Faith believes that God is our father, hope is our anticipation and longing to be in the continued presence and revelation of God our father. Faith is knowing that we have eternal life, whereas hope is anticipating eternity. Faith is our foundation and hope nourishes this foundation and is the glue that keeps our faith together.
Just as God, the father was the source of Jacob’s hope, Jesus’ birth at nativity becomes our hope. This is the season that allows us to narrow in our focus and celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, the source of our eternal hope. We can read in John 1:45-51 of the influence of the events surrounding Jacob’s dream as Jesus talks to Nathaniel. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Jesus is our ladder, our bridge, and the only bridge that allows us the ability to pass from earth into heaven.
Today we can close on one question. Why is the birth of Jesus and the story of Jacob’s ladder essential to our understanding of hope? In the large part we learn best through the examples of others. If we can see how God worked in Jacob’s life providing him with a personalized plan we can look into our own lives and see how we too, are blessed individually.
Another reason why these two stories are important is that as a fallen creation we are never able to grasp the complete nature of heaven. In order to understand we would have to pass through the gates and in our humanity this is not an option laid before us. Yet heaven is able to come to earth, in the form of a baby, the perfect gift. However, heaven itself cannot be poured out into a tainted creation, so there only becomes one viable solution. God comes to us, in a manger, as Jesus Christ. God had sent many prophets, many times, but now he would do something far more shocking. He would leave the throne of heaven and walk among His creation – a king in disguise – humbled as one of His own. Now we as humans can hear, feel and experience all that is important to Him. God entered our world through the doorway called Bethlehem and our world would be changed forever. John 1:14 says this, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld of the father,) full of grace.”
As we look at the connections that are evident between Jacob, Jesus and the Nativity, I have one verse left up my sleeve. The Magi (or wise-men as they are commonly refereed to), as they followed the Star on their journey to see Jesus, would have carried the Law of Moses (the first five books of the Bible), with them. So, it is in Numbers that we read “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob.” A star out of Jacob, Jesus lying among men, who would be one of the descendants of the personalized promise of hope that God gave Jacob in Genesis 28. It all fits together like a perfectly crafted puzzle that only a God, that could provide us with perfect hope could accomplish.
We may feel alone, impoverished, fearful and even be filled with despair, but as we go through the Advent Season let’s remember the lessons from a dream and the advice of Amos. We can only walk with our Savior once we agree to personally take His hand and enter into a two way relationship with Him. Once we do that the only thing left for us is to live a life that is filled with Hope. Amen