Stairway to Heaven Genesis 28:10-22

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
And when she gets there she knows if the stores are closed
With a word she can get what she came for
“Stairway to heaven” by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant recorded by Led Zeppelin is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. It has also been recorded by dozens of other singers and groups. There are theories that the words found their roots in the legends of the elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The one thing we can say for sure is that the idea of a stairway to heaven actually comes originally from the story of Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28.

We find Jacob on the run. No surprise- the name Jacob means usurper, deceiver, cheat.
First off, Jacob had cheated his older twin brother Esau out of his birthright of the double blessing and the family name, just for a bowl of stew. Then Jacob had deceived his father Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing by disguising himself as Esau, taking advantage of Isaac’s old age and blindness, lying to him and even breaking the yet to be given Third Commandment, misusing the Name of the Lord, in the process.

Two weeks ago we saw that Jacob the cheat was a scumbag, through and through.
With the result – no surprise – Esau his brother was angry and jealous and wanted to kill Jacob!
Gen 27:41 ¶ Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
42 When Rebekah (their mother)was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself with the thought of killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides.

So Jacob is on the run from his brother. He’s also on the run from his past and the things he has done wrong! He’s on the run from himself and the person that he is. Alone, scared, tired after a journey of around 70 miles, there was Jacob on his way to Haran when he came to “a certain place”. Not a special place, up until that point the place didn’t even have a name –it was just “a certain place”. Definitely not a place where people customarily went to meet with God. Just an ordinary nondescript place. But as often happens, even though Jacob was not looking to meet with God, God was looking to meet with Jacob!

And it is no coincidence that this was a time and a place which were not comfortable for Jacob. He was on the run! He was living rough! He didn’t seek out hospitality in the city near that “certain place”. Instead he pulled up a stone for a pillow and slept under the stars. This was a hard place, a low point in Jacob’s low life! But it is so true that it is often at such places that people meet with God. When things are going well, many people haven’t any time for God. For many people it is only at the low points, the hard places, that God can break in and reveal His glory. In this hard and unfamiliar and uncomfortable place, Jacob would meet with God in a way he never could have if he had remained surrounded with all the comforts of home.

Gen 28: 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.

What an amazing dream! Of course God often speaks to his people in dreams. Abraham. Joseph. Daniel. Joseph when he was engaged to Mary. Perhaps God has spoken to you in dreams, or visions, or pictures or even in a still small voice of calm. God speaks to us in these ways more often than we hear Him!

God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. And that dream impacted on Jacob’s life in at least THREE ways.
1. For Jacob – a reminder of God’s promises

13 … 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.”

Promises of God’s provision – descendants like the dust of the earth, filling the Land first promised to Abraham and then to Isaac.
Promises of God’ blessing flowing through Jacob and his descendants to all peoples on earth.
Promises of God’s presence – I am with you, I will not leave you
Promises of God’s protection – I will watch over you

Jacob the cheat had messed up big time! His brother was out to kill him. But this vision in a dream and the words of the Lord God Himself reminded Jacob that God’s promises still held firm. God wasn’t going to abandon him or reject him even though he had cheated his brother and deceived his father! Because God’s promises are forever! God is the God who keeps his promises. However much we fail Him, He NEVER fails us!
God’s provision, God’s presence, God’s protection are OURS – whatever we do – however fast and however far we try to run away from God His promises still hold true!

WHAT ABOUT US TODAY?

We also have received so many PROMISES from God. Hear the word of God as He speaks these promises to YOU again this morning.

Promises of God’s provision – descendants like the dust of the earth, filling the Land first promised to Abraham and then to Isaac.

These are the promises God made to the Patriarchs – to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. These are God’s promises to His chosen people Israel. And these are the promises which are fulfilled spiritually in God’s chosen people, the Church. We are included in the descendants of Abraham, who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Promises of hope and peace. Promises of eternal life which even death cannot take away. Promises of glory and heaven! All the blessings of the unsearchable riches of Christ and EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms!

1 Peter 1:3 ¶ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade- kept in heaven for you,

Promises of God’ blessing flowing through Jacob and his descendants to all peoples on earth.

The church is God’s ark of salvation. God’s desire and purpose is save the whole world through us Christians and the gospel we proclaim.

Promises of God’s presence – I am with you, I will not leave you

Jesus – I will be with you always, to the end of the age Matt 28:20

Promises of God’s protection – I will watch over you

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you- the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm- he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.

Hear these promises from Scripture – they are God’s promises to YOU today!

2. For Jacob – a reminder of God’s presence

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.”

It’s one thing to know in theory that God is with us everywhere we go. It is quite another thing to have an encounter with God, an experience of God’s presence, which shows us without any trace of doubt that God is INDEED with us, right here, right now.

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.”

Lots of people go through life without knowing that God is there and that God cares for them. Too many Christians go through life without realising that God is with US, every moment of every day. We forget God. Sometimes we even carry on with life as if God doesn’t exist at all.

But here, in this “certain place”, although Jacob had forgotten God, God hadn’t forgotten Jacob. And Jacob was made to recognise that God was right there with him. That God was ALWAYS with Him just as God is always with us.

WHAT ABOUT US TODAY?

A reminder of God’s PRESENCE. Not just in theory – but a real experience of the nearness of God! Maybe this reminder will come to us in a dream as it did to Jacob, Maybe we will experience God’s presence in a vision. Maybe some words of Scripture will speak powerfully to us. Perhaps God will speak to us through a friend. However this encouragement and assurance might come to us, may WE know God’s presence and God’s closeness today and in the week ahead.

Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Then that dream had a third effect on Jacob.
3. Jacob turned his life around

Of course it would be more accurate to say that God turned Jacob’s life around. Because this was the moment when God’s grace first broke into Jacob’s life and began to transform him from the lier and the cheat into the man of God, the third Patriarch. But the passage describes what God was doing in terms of what Jacob did – how Jacob responded to this wonderful revelation from God.

He began by worshipping: te turned that rock pillow into an altar. The symbol of his hardship became instead a symbol of worship.
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.

Then Jacob marked that “certain place” as a special place. Jacob didn’t want to forget that place where God had met with him. And he didn’t want future generations to forget either. So he gave the place a name, “Bethel” which means “the house of God”.
19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Then Jacob committed his life to God
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.”

Jacob the cheat had never cared before about the God of his fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac. The blessing he wanted from Isaac and the birthright he stole from Esau were just property and the riches. He wanted the family fortune, not the family faith. But that vision of God turned Jacob’s values upside down. Now what he wanted was God. God’s blessings. And so he makes this simple promise. Crude and selfish but nevertheless Jacob commits his life to God in solemn vows. He promises that “the LORD will be my God”. He promises to worship God, “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house”. And perhaps just as important, of all the money and possessions that Jacob had cheated and lied to get hold of, “of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Did you notice that God didn’t tell Jacob to do any of these things? Jacob was not obeying God’s command. He was just doing what his heart told him was right. There in Bethel Jacob had discovered that the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac was His own God too. Jacob had realised that God was there beside him even when Jacob had ignored God and was running away from God. Jacob knew now that despite his lying and cheating, God still loved him and had plans for him, even for Jacob the cheat! So the response Jacob made was not obedience to commands but rather his heart’s response to God’s grace revealed to him. If you have truly met with God, and experienced His presence, and received His grace and forgiveness and new life, you won’t need me or anybody else to tell you how to respond to God’s love. You will know in your heart the response of gratitude and love and worship which God deserves!

So Jacob makes solemn promises. The LORD is my God, so I will worship him, I will hand over my whole life to Him – and symbolise that by giving back to God one tenth of everything He gives to me.

Jacob had experienced in his own life the transforming power of God – power to save from the guttermost to the uttermost. Power to transform cheating lying Jacob into a man of God, the third Patriarch of God’s chosen people Israel. The power that would transform Saul the persecutor of the church into Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. The power that saved that woman caught in adultery to whom Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. The transforming power of God had broken into Jacob’s life.

WHAT ABOUT US TODAY?

God turned Jacob’s life around. Has God turned your life around? Have you experienced the saving power of God? Have you met with God in a way which has transformed your life? This vision of God was not the end of Jacob’s journey of faith – it was only the beginning. Has there a beginning in your Christian life? How have you responded to the incredible amazing love God has for you?

“the LORD will be my God” Jacob declared. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is he your God? Is Jesus your Lord?

“this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house,” said Jacob. Is worshipping God at the centre of your life? Gathering regularly where you know you will meet with God to worship and to pray and to learn and to enjoy fellowship? Being in the Lord’s House with the Lord’s People on the Lord’s Day?

And then Jacob said, “of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” This is an important principle. Not one tenth as a fixed rule. But recognising that everything we possess and everything we earn comes from God and part of our worship will be to give back to God some of what belongs to him anyway. God did not tell Jacob to do these things. But these are the things Jacob decided he would do as a proper response to God’s love and faithfulness.

“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.”

Think about everything Jesus has done for you. What response are you going to make to his amazing love?

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