Lent 2b

Preached: March 1, 2015

The Lord Trains Us for Our Heavenly Home
Genesis 28:10-17

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Genesis 28.

Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He arrived at a place and spent the night there, because the sun had gone done. He took one of the stones that was there and placed it as a headrest. Then he laid down in that place.

He had a dream. Behold a stairway set up on the ground and its top reaching to the sky. Behold angels of God ascending and descending on it. Behold the Lord standing above it. And he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth will be blessed in you and in your Offspring. Behold, I myself will be with you and will guard you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, since I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

Jacob woke up from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is nothing else but the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:10-17)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Jacob was a sly one. He was the younger twin, but even at birth he was trying to get ahead of his brother, Esau, grasping at his heal, trying to trip him up and pull him back. In fact, his name, Jacob, means “heel-grabber,” and he lived up to his name.

But that is not how a child of God lives. So the Lord trained Jacob for his heavenly home. And that is what the Lord does for you and me, dear friends. He trains us for our heavenly home; otherwise, we would keep grabbing on to whatever we could get in this earthly life, anchored to this world. But the Lord is training us. How does he do that? He brings home to us our helplessness, as he did for Jacob. And be brings home to us his promises, also as he did for Jacob. He trains us for our heavenly home.

A. He brings home to us our helplessness

As he lay down for the night at Bethel, Jacob was not feeling all that clever. In fact, he had made a huge mess of things. He and his brother had never gotten along. They were quite different. But now Jacob had gone too far. Their father, Isaac, was planning to give Esau the blessing, so he sends out Esau to hunt and prepare game for the special meal. Their mother, Rebekah, overhears this. She wants Jacob to get the blessing instead. So she has Jacob pretend to be Esau, since Isaac was blind due to old age. She prepares two young goats to taste like Esau's wild game. She has Jacob dress in Esau’s clothes so that he smells like the outdoors, and she covers his hands and neck with goatskin, so that he was hairy to the touch like Esau.

Jacob went along with all this. Remember Jacob is not a little boy here. He is a grown man and responsible for his actions. His only concern was getting caught, and bringing a curse down on himself. His mother simply said, “Let the curse fall on me” (Genesis 27:13 NIV84). So, clever Jacob tricked his father Isaac. He had finally tripped up Esau and gotten ahead of him.

But Esau was enraged. He carried a grudge and planned to kill Jacob as soon as their father died. Rebekah heard of this and knew it would be safest for Jacob to leave. So she convinced Isaac to send Jacob over 450 miles away to her family home at Haran in Padan Aram to find a wife, instead of marrying an unbelieving Canaanite.

So Jacob left the only home he knew to go to an uncle whom he had never met. He left without much more than the clothes on his back and a walking stick in his hand. By the time we meet him at Bethel, he's probably been on the road for three days, plenty of time to think about the mess he had made. Lonely, fearful, with his hopes shattered, he lies down for another night in the open. How could God be with him after he had ruined everything?

Have you had nights like that, dear friends? The silence echoes with your loneliness. Tomorrow's worries drive sleep from your eyes. Guilt haunts whatever rest you get. The future feels so bleak, even hopeless. What's the point?

Do you see what the Lord was doing for Jacob? Jacob had been holding on to his own cleverness and ingenuity to secure his place in life. But where had all that grasping and heal-grabbing gotten him? Whatever earthly prosperity he had hoped the birthright would gain for him now seemed long gone. Whatever comfort and support his family. especially his mother, could give him was now miles away and growing ever more distant. He had no one and nothing. The Lord brought home to him his helplessness.

What is it that you are holding on to? Is it some relationship with a special person that you just couldn't live without? Is it your family who gives you comfort and purpose in life? Is it having a good enough job to secure your future? Is it your own skills and abilities or your health, thinking that will get you through in life? Is it having good insurance or money in reserve just in case something bad happens? Is it having enough stuff to feel like a success in life? What is it that you are holding on to?

These can all be blessings from the Lord, but here is the soul-searching question for you and me: Are you holding on to any of these more than you're holding on to Jesus? So often we don't realize how much we're holding on to other things until they're gone, and we feel that lose, that disappointment, that heartbreak and helplessness. If we weren't holding on to them so tightly, we wouldn't have minded so much that God took them away. We wouldn't have complained or worried about it. But the fact that it hurts so deeply often means that we needed God to take them away because we were holding on to them too tightly. They, instead of our Lord, were becoming our heaven. We need our Lord to bring home to us how helpless we are, so that we're all the more eager for the real heaven, where our Father is. This is how he begins training us for our heavenly home.

But he does not leave us floundering helplessly. Look at what he did for Jacob. He does the same for you and me. He brings home to us his promises. That's how he trains us for our heavenly home.

B. He brings home to us his promises

Had he cut himself off from God? Jacob may well have wrestled with that horror. But what grace and mercy the Lord showed him that night at Bethel. He may have cut himself off from all earthly sources of help, but look! The Lord established a stairway on the earth reaching to heaven. Look! Angels were ascending and descending on it. Jacob's prayers and pleas were reaching God and help was coming down. Look! The Lord God stood at the top speaking to him, “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 to the east, to the north and to the south” (Genesis 28:13, 14 NIV11). The promises the Lord had made to his grandfather Abraham and to his father Isaac would continue through him. Although alone now, he would have many descendants. Although fleeing for his life, his descendants would possess this land.

And what's more, the Savior, who would bring blessings to all nations, would come through his family line. That's what the Lord promises with these words, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Genesis 28:14 NIV11).

Although those promises were off in the future, the Lord also assures him of help for the present. “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” (Genesis 28:15 NIV11).

“Well, that's fine for Jacob,” someone might say, “but God hasn't spoken to me in a dream.” But, dear friends, the Lord God brings his promises to us in an even better way. If he were to speak to us in a dream, how could we be sure we weren't imagining it? How long would we have to wait before he spoke to us again? As far as we know, the Lord didn't speak to Jacob again until twenty years later.

But you have something that Jacob did not have. We have God's written word. The Bible is filled with his promises. You don't have to wonder if you heard him right. You can go back and read it again. You don't have to wait twenty years for another message. The Bible is available every day.

Best of all, the Bible draws us to the One who alone is the Stairway to heaven. Jesus came from heaven, sent by the Father. Through his death on the cross he reconciled the world to God, opening heaven. His resurrection brings eternal life to all who believe. Jesus is that Stairway. He is the Way, the only Way, no one comes to the Father except through him. And to you who follow him in faith, he promises: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

God trains us for our heavenly home by bringing home to us his promises, his promises in Jesus. Today as we eat his body and drink his blood in the Lord's Supper we have a foretaste of the heavenly feast. In the Lord’s Supper Jesus says to you, “I am your Stairway.” What a way the Lord brings his promises home to us! Anticipate your heavenly home.

This night at Bethel was not the end of Jacob's training. In the years ahead, he would experience the Lord's blessings, but also more heartache and deeper pain. You see, as long as we are on this earth our training for the our heavenly home is not yet finished. Throughout our life the Lord brings home to us our helplessness so that he all the more bring home to you and me his promises. So, dear friends, let go of the earthly. It cannot help you get to heaven. In fact, the more we see this world as a desert drear, the more eager we are for heaven. The heavier our cross here becomes, the more eager we are for the glory that awaits. The greater our lose in this life, the more eager we are for what heaven brings.

So sing with the hymn writer: “Go, then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn, and pain! In your service pain is pleasure; With your favor loss is gain. I have called you Abba, Father! You my all in all shall be. Storms may howl, and clouds may gather; All must work for good to me. Haste, my soul, from grace to glory, Armed by faith and winged by prayer. All but heav'n is transitory; God's own hand shall guide you there. Soon shall end this earthly story; Swift shall pass the pilgrim days, Hope soon change to heav'nly glory, Faith to sight and prayer to praise” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 465:3, 4 “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken”). God's training you for your heavenly home. Grab on to Jesus and his promises until you get there. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313