Rev. Bruce Goettsche. . . . . . . . . September 5,1999
At one time or another you have probably known what it was like to feel alone. Maybe it was a time:
Most of us have had times like this in our lives. And I don't know anyone who likes them. Ravi Zacharias points out that many of today's "advances" create loneliness.
It is surprising to think that the book of Genesis could possibly have something to say to our world. But loneliness is not new. It is not true that "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world". What is true is that people who need people are the ONLY people in the world.
In our text this morning we find Jacob a very lonely man. The great plot to receive the blessing from Isaac was a great success . . . in one sense. However, in another sense it was a terrible failure. Jacob was forced to leave home to escape being killed by his furious brother. So, Jacob gets the blessing but he has to leave the inheritance with his brother.
Jacob is sent to his uncle's home to find a wife. The journey to Haran was a long one. When he was about 70 miles from home he reached what is now known as Bethel. It is surprising that we find Jacob outside the city apparently sleeping in the wilderness. It was common practice that visitors in a city would be extended hospitality for the night. So . . . either Jacob arrived after the gates were closed, or he was so depressed that he didn't want to be sociable.
It is hard to imagine what was in Jacob's head that night. Was he filled with regret over his actions toward Esau? Was he mad at his mother, his brother, or his father? Was he feeling sorry for himself? Did he feel that God had deserted Him? We don't know, but any or all of those things are possible. Jacob may have felt like Joe Bayly who wrote this "Psalm of My Life"
A Psalm In a Hotel Room
I'm alone, Lord,
a thousand miles from home.
There's no one here who knows my name
except the clerk,
and he spelled it wrong,
no one to eat dinner with,
laugh at my jokes,
listen to my gripes,
be happy with me about what happened today
and say that's great.
No one cares.
There's just this lousy bed
and slush in the street outside
between the buildings.
I feel sorry for myself
and I've plenty of reason to.
Maybe I ought to say
I'm on top of it,
praise the Lord,
things are great;
but they're not.
[Joseph Bayly, Psalms of My Life]
If you have ever experienced a "gray slush" time of life then you will gain something positive from this experience of Jacob's.
GOD'S MESSAGE TO JACOB
While sleeping Jacob has a dream. This was a unique dream because immediately Jacob knew that God was communicating to him. I don't know about you, but most of my dreams leave me shaking my head. I have no idea how such wacky things get into my head. This was not a typical dream. It was a message from God. Jacob saw a ladder or stairway that went from the earth to Heaven. On the stairway angels were going up and down. At the top of the ladder the Lord stood. Jacob heard the Lord say,
God sends Jacob several messages,
He is here. In Jacob's day it was common to think of God as being very territorial. In other words, there was a God who oversaw your city but only your city. Other gods governed other cities. So, for Jacob it might have seemed that he had literally left the presence and protection of God Almighty.
God reminds Jacob that He is present. In theological terms we could say that God affirms His "omnipresence." He is present everywhere. We are never outside of His domain. David understood this when he wrote Psalm 139,
Jesus told his disciples, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the earth." The message is simple. You may "feel" alone, but you are NOT alone. We must rely on truth and not feelings in the lonely times.
He is working. The Lord tells Jacob that
"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. . . .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 promised."
Jacob may have felt that God had forgotten Him. But God is still at work. Jacob doesn't see it but God is molding Jacob's character. He is preparing him, even in the wilderness, for the work He has for him to do.
The ladder has angels going up and down. The thought is that the angels going up were bringing the needs and requests of the people to the Father. The angels coming down were bringing God's answers and provision. God is not absent . . . He is involved and at work in your life. If you are a child of God, you can be certain that He has not forgotten you. He has told us that He will "never leave us or forsake us." Just because we don't see what He is doing, doesn't mean he isn't doing anything.
Have you ever watched the artist that draws landscapes on PBS? Usually the painting is near completion when he takes a dark color and starts dabbing it all over the canvas. Now imagine that you are the canvas. You certainly would conclude that the artist was ruining the painting. You might even conclude that he didn't care about art at all. But what you don't realize is that he is putting shadows in the painting and those shadows bring the painting to life.
That's the way God sometimes is working in our lives. We see the darkness and we don't understand it. We conclude that God is trying to hurt us. But what he is really doing is bringing depth and character into our lives.
He is Committed to Us. God tells Jacob that He will be with Him until He fulfills His promise to Him. Do you understand how incredible this is? Jacob has acted the part of a scoundrel. He has deceived his father and brother. He has lied and deceived and now was being chased from his home. And in this setting, under these circumstances, God still says, "Hey, I'm going to see this through with you." Paul wrote "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion" (Philippians 1:6).
It's possible that you feel all alone because you have failed. You have done foolish things and believe that you don't deserve any friends. Truth is . . . that may be true. You certainly don't deserve to be loved by God. And neither do I. But the message is simple, God is committed to you even though you may be weak in your commitment to Him.
There is a Way to God. There is a ladder going from earth to Heaven. God is accessible. But the question we must ask is: what does the ladder represent? Good works? Church membership? Baptism? Great experiences? The Bible tells us that the ladder is Jesus. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me." Paul affirms that there is "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 2:5)
Quite frankly, the reason you feel so lonely may be because you have not come to God in the right way. God has provided a bridge, a ladder for you. The Gospel is clear; we can never earn God's love. We have already done too many things against Him. Our life is filled with rebellion. A just God must punish, not overlook, sin.
Jesus became our "stairway to heaven" when He took our place and died for our sin. The Bible tells us that we must place our hope and confidence in Him in order to become part of God's family. We can only get to Heaven by using this stairway.
When I was in high school I had a period where I was supposed to play with the orchestra. The orchestra room was on the fourth floor. Unbeknownst to me, the fourth floor did not go all the way around the school. There were two sections where there was a fourth floor. On the first day of class I couldn't find the orchestra room. I'd go up some stairways and they would stop at the third floor. I found one that went to the fourth floor but I couldn't find the orchestra room. Finally someone pointed me in the direction of the correct stairway to the orchestra room. When I went up those stairs I found what I was looking for.
It is the same in the Christian life. There is only one stairway that leads to Heaven. This stairway is Jesus Christ. I'm sure Jacob didn't understand this at the time of his vision but I think the message was there for you and me to understand now. So, here's the key question: Have you taken the stairway to Heaven? Have you placed your trust in the one who died for your sin? If you haven't, the first step toward dealing with your loneliness is to trust the Savior.
JACOB'S RESPONSE TO GOD'S PROMISE
I know sometimes we need a hug, or someone to listen to us, or cry with us. But I suggest this morning that we don't really understand what a blessing it is to have God at our side. We pass it off as nice sentiment but don't understand the profound blessing it is. Do you realize that God is far superior to any friend you could hope to have?
There is no human friendship that can come close to what God offers us. Paul understood this. He said, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Asaph wrote in Psalm 73, "Whom have I in Heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
Don't miss the message. If we have the Lord, everything else is decoration. If we have everything BUT the Lord, we have nothing. Jesus is the friend that can and will supply your need. Other people are nice, but what you really need, you have, in Christ.
Jacob worships. We read that Jacob was afraid. He said "this is none other than the house of God." This is not a fear that comes from threat, it is a fear that comes from respect it is a fear that comes from awe. This is a common reaction in the Bible. Over and over again someone has an encounter with God and they are terrified. His greatness overwhelms us.
Jacob realizes that He is on Holy Ground. When you are on holy ground you become aware of your sin. Jacob knows he deserves nothing from God's hand. But God has, in His mercy, given Him life. In response to this blessing he sets up a monument from the stone he used as a pillar and uses the stone as a reminder of His encounter with God. That stone became a pillar of grace. It served as a reminder that God has not given to us as we deserve . . . He has instead given us His mercy and His love. When we realize this we bow in worship.
He vows to serve God. The last words of Jacob are somewhat perplexing.
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."
It is hard to tell whether Jacob is saying, "O.K. if you deliver on what you promise, I will serve you." Or whether he is saying, "In light of the fact that you are going to be with me and provide for me, I will give you my life." Frankly, it doesn't matter. The point is clear: If we understand God's promise to us and receive it . . . we should be led to serve Him with our lives.
Jacob knew that in response to God's love, He should give His love and devotion in return.
He would worship Him. He would acknowledge him with a tithe of his income. He would honor Him with His life. I
hope the message is clear. We can do no less. The God who comes to us in our loneliness deserves the best we have
to give in return.
So, for those of you who understand loneliness I remind you that you are not really alone. You may not see Him. You may not feel Him. But He is present.
Will you receive His love? Will you take advantage of the stairway to Heaven that He has provided? Will you trust Him today?
If you have trusted Christ . . . if you have taken the stairway to Heaven, then I have other questions for you:
I encourage you this week to erect your own monument to the Lord to remind you of your best friend. It doesn't have to be a granite statue in your back yard.
Do something that will remind you that you are in the presence of the Lord. I hope that you will always have friends around you. I hope they are good friends . . . the kind that care, and love, and support you. But even if you don't . . . I hope you'll remember that because of your faith in Jesus Christ, you will never walk alone.
Rev. Bruce Goettsche