ďLest We Forget, Itís GraceĒ†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† February 5, 2012
INTRO:† Thereís an old childrenís story Bible called
†† The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes.† My parents read it to me, we read it to ours.
It had heavy, glossy paper, and one picture on each page.
†† Beside the picture was a short story and questions.
To this day if I see those pictures,
†† they bring back my earliest memories of Bible stories.†
This story, this pictureóJacob dreaming and the stairway above him with angels
†† ascending and descendingóI can remember it.† And I can vaguely remember
†† being tucked into bed at night and being fascinated with one detail.
What do you think that was?
†† What would a child fixate on in this story?† The stone pillow.
†† It sounded both horrible and intriguing at the same time, to have a rock for pillow.†
This is one of the great stories in the BibleóJacobís ladder, the stairway to heaven.†
†† It has inspired religious art and poetry.†
It has even worked its way into popular culture.
†† There is Led Zeppelinís rock anthem ďStairway to HeavenĒó
†† which has absolutely nothing to do with Jacob whatsoever.
When we began this study a few weeks ago I pointed out that there are three people
†† in Genesis whose lives are told in detailóAbraham, Jacob, and Joseph.
If we were to give a one word summary of the life of Abraham,
†† that word would have to be faith.†
Paul says Abraham is the father of those who believe in Jesus Christ.
If we were to give a one word summary of the life of Joseph,
†† that word would have to be providence.†
His life is perhaps the most detailed description in the Bible of Godís
†† perfect preserving and governing of a believerís life,
†† working out every detail for good and salvation.
And if we were to give a one word summary of Jacobís life,
†† that word would have to be grace.
The unmerited favor of God poured out on a very undeserving man
†† for no other reason than Godís sovereign pleasure.†
The greatness of this story is that it is such an awesome picture of Godís grace.
†† Jacob awakes and says:† How awesome is this place.
What I hope for every one of you here this morning, and what I hope for myself,
†† is that we catch a glimpse of that grace.
That we feel that shiver of awe that our forefather Jacob felt when he awoke
†† and realized what God had revealed to him.
And then when we see Godís grace, we do all we can to get it.
What we will see in this story is a pattern that emerges in Jacobís life.
†† In those times when Jacob thinks heís in control, when heís wheeling and
†† dealing, when he doesnít seem to need the Lord, Godís grace is still operative,
†† but itís hidden, itís pushed to be background.
But in those dark and grim moments, when Jacob is desperate and at the end of
†† his rope, Godís grace comes shining through.†
And Jacob is reminded, and we are reminded, that itís always Godís grace
†† all the time, and only by Godís grace that we live.
The practical benefit of studying his life is that it gives you a longing for grace.†
And it shows how you must live so that you appropriate Godís grace,
†† make the most of it, and donít miss it.†
Three points for you note-takers.
1.† Why you need Godís grace
2.† Where you get Godís grace
3.† How you appropriate Godís grace
MP#1† Why you need Godís grace
You need Godís grace because of the destructive power of your sin.
†† When you break Godís law, it breaks you.† Godís law is not arbitrary.
†† It is woven into the foundation of creation.† Itís the way things ought to be.
So there is a rippling effect when his law is broken.† There are consequences
†† that not only affect individual lives, but spread to other people and generations.
Unless the Lord intervenes, unless he graciously rescues and preserves,
†† sin will enslave you and destroy you.†
You have to know how bad the bad news is before the good news makes any sense.
†† And the bad news is bad.
Jacob alone in the darkness is emblematic of the destructive power of sin.†
Think what had brought Jacob to this point.
First of all, he wasnít a teenager, he was at least in his mid 40s.†
†† He should have been in a very different place in life.
†† He should not have been lying down with a stone for his pillow.
The immediate cause was Jacobís own sin.
†† The way he deceived and dishonored his father.
†† The way he tricked his brother.
God had promised him the blessing, but instead of trusting the Lord,
†† or instead of respectfully confronting his fatherís plans to give the blessing
†† to Esau, challenging his father with Godís wordóhe used clever deception.
And look where it got him.† The very opposite of what he had wanted.
†† Thatís typical of the destructive power of sin.
But it goes much deeper than that.† Jacob was where he was because of the sins
†† of his father Isaac.† Isaac knew the prophecy.† He knew God had said that the
†† older would serve the younger, but he set his heart on his oldest twin Esau.
He doted on him.† He never contradicted him.† Never disciplined him.
†† So Esau grew up to be a man without self-control.
And Jacob, because his father ignored him, and didnít have much time for him,
†† became deceptive and manipulative.†
All it took was the conflict over the blessing and there was a perfect storm.
†† Jacob deceived and manipulated and Esau responded by threatening to kill himó
†† and the family was ripped apart.† Isaacís sin came home to roost.
And the sin didnít stop there.† Everywhere Jacob went he alienated people.†
†† He moved 500 miles away and his problems followed him.
Until almost the very end of his life, all of his relationships were troubled.†
†† Jacob the deceiver was deceived by his father-in-law, Laban.
He found himself married to a girl he didnít want and couldnít love.
†† And that marriage forever soured his marriage to the woman he really did love.
He eventually alienated himself from all his in-laws.
†† He never accepted his children from the wife he didnít love, Leahís children.
†† He showed favoritism to Rachelís children.
The family had bitter tensions, profound dysfunctions.†
†† Tt was only the grace of God that kept that family from being utterly destroyed
†† by sins that had been passed on from generation to generation.†
You may think that your sins are like rocks tossed into a rock pileó
†† they rattle around a bit, make a little racket and then sort of disappear.
But the fact is that your sins are like boulders dropped into a pond.†
†† The effects expand and harm other people and future generations.
It doesnít matter how private your sins are.
If you indulge in sexual fantasies in your mind that cause you to pull away from
†† your wife, and your wife, because of that compensates by getting the affirmation
†† and affection she should get from you from her children instead.
That sin will ripple outwardóchildren will grow up spoiled or over disciplined.
It doesnít matter how socially acceptable your sins are.
If you idolize appearance and body image.† If thatís where you find your identity.
†† If you reprimand your children for the way they look, if you comfort them with
†† words like, Honey, youíre so pretty.† If you stress appearances.
You pass on that idolatry.† Your children could be enslaved by appearance, may
†† even marry someone based on appearance, and so perpetuate the cycle.
Jacob was from a family of believers.† They were they only believers.†
Abrahamís descendants were the church in those days.
†† These were people who knew the true God, heirs of his promises.
But sin is so destructive and enslaving that without Godís grace
†† the effects will pile up in your own life and follow you to the grave,
†† and then they will be passed on to your children.†
The bad news is bad, and weíre only 10 minutes into the sermon.
†† But thanks be to God for the next point.
MP#2† Where you get Godís grace
You get Godís grace from Jesus Christ.† Now we come to this dream.
Jacob sees three things and hears three things.†
†† He sees a stairwayóa ladder itís sometimes called.†
†† He sees angels ascending and descending on this stairway.† Lots of traffic.
†† He sees, above it all, the Lord guiding and dispensing his blessing.
And then Jacob hears three things and each addresses his condition.
†† Heís friendless, heís alone, the Lord saysóI will be with you.
†† Heís defenseless, his lifeís been threatened, the Lord saysóI will watch over you.
†† Heís penniless, the Lord saysóI will prosper you.†
And the vision itself confirms these thingsóheaven is open to Jacob.
†† The Lord is sending his angels right down from heaven to the very place
†† Jacob is sleeping.† He could reach out his hand and touch the bottom step.
Now there are three things about this vision that canít help but strike you.
First is that God came to Jacob even though Jacob wasnít looking for God.
†† We have no reason to think that when Jacob laid his head down on that rock
† †and closed his eyes that he was begging God to show up.
If anything, Jacobís mind was spinning through all the scenarios.
†† How can I get out of this one?† How can I still come out on top?
The Lord comes to this man who is not seeking him,
†† makes himself known and pours out upon him blessing on blessing.
And thatís the second thing that strikes you.† There is not a word of reprimand.
†† If we were writing this story, we would have the Lord say.
Jacob, why are you here?† Did you lie?† Did you wreck your family?† Yes.
†† Are you truly sorry for what you have done?† Yes.
†† Do you promise never to do it again?† Yes, Iíll try.
†† Ok, then if youíre really sorry and try your best, Iíll bless you.
For many people, thatís what the Bible is, especially the Old Testament.
†† Itís a bunch of stories about how we are supposed to be.
You read the story of Abraham, the lesson isóbe faithful like Abraham.
†† You read the story of Josephóbe pure like Joseph.
†† You read the story of Davidóbe brave like David.
†† You read the story of Solomonóbe wise like Solomon.
But thatís not what the Bible is about.† The Bible isnít a book of virtues.
†† If the Bible was a book of virtues then morality would be our stairway to heaven.
Be faithful, be pure, be honest, be brave, be wise.
And step by step you will get closer to God and his blessing.
†† But the problem is that Iím not any of those things.† And Jacob wasnít either.
And thatís the third thing that strikes you about this dream.
†† Jacob doesnít climb the stairway in his dream.† God doesnít say, climb up here.
Instead angels ascend and descend.† They are the messengers and servants of God.
†† They come from the throne bringing blessing, return to God with prayers and
†† requests for Jacob, and then descend again with more help and blessing.
Itís a vision of great activity, all initiated from God, all from above.
So what is this stairway to heaven?† Weíre not left to wonder what it is.
Weíre told in John 1 when Jesus Christ meets Nathanael.
†† And after Nathanael expresses his wonder and worship Jesus says:
†† ďYou shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on Son of Man.Ē
Jesus Christ is the stairway to heaven.
†† Heís not an example for you to imitate, heís not a ladder for you to climb.
The eternal Son of God, born of a virginís womb in likeness of sinful flesh
†† is the one who connects heaven and earth.
On Christ your needs go up to God and on Christ Godís grace to you descends.
†† Jesus comes to you when you are not looking for him.† He chooses you.
†† He comes in your absolute weakness and failure to give you his grace.
Francis Thompson was an English poet who lived in the late 1800s.
†† His most famous poem is The Hound of Heaven in which he compares Jesus to
†† a hound dog tracking him down in spite of his attempts to run away.
Thompson grew up in a Catholic home and wanted to become a priest,
†† but he was rejected as an unsuitable candidate. †
So he turned his attention to medicine, but failed his examinations three times.
He ran away in disgrace to London and became an opium addict.
†† He was homeless.† He sold newspapers and matches to survive.
In his despair, he contemplated suicide, but the Lord sent a friend to him,
†† who helped him to recover and to find his peace in God and Christ.
Listen to the way he described that turning point, when God met him in his despair.
†† Itís not in The Hound of Heaven, but in another poem.
He mentions in this poem the place it happened in London, Charing Cross.†
†† A spot near the center of the city, near Trafalgar Square where three
†† major streets come together.† Perhaps he was there selling newspapers.
But when so sad thou canst not sadder
Cryóand upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacobís ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross.
Hereís a man who has failed in everything, in religion, in schoolingó
†† an addict, a failure, living on the streets of London, contemplating suicide.
And what does he see?† That same ladder that once stood between heaven
†† and this lonely place called Luz where Jacob slept with a rock for a pillow.
But now itís between heaven and this street corner in London.
All of you here have your Luz, or your Charing Cross.
†† You have that place of darkness where you were not even looking for Godó
†† and he found you in Christ and poured out his grace.
That leads us to the final point . . .
MP#3† How you appropriate Godís grace
Iíve said all along in this study of Jacobís life, that the benefit of this study is that
†† it not only makes you long for Godís grace, but teaches you how to appropriate it.
The Lord extends his grace.† How do you then receive that grace and enjoy it?
†† Jacob shows us howóbut he shows us by negative example.
You appropriate Godís grace by giving up control of your life and trusting him.
†† Thatís exactly what Jacob refused to do.†
So God begins a wrestling match to pry Jacobís fingers off the control of his life.
†† Itís a wrestling match that lasts a long time, we wonít see the end for many years.
After this incredible revelation in which Jacob is brought into the very presence
†† of God and sees the very gateway of heaven, he saysóLetís make a deal.
Hereís the deal, God.† There are three conditions.†
†† And these are the very same conditions we try to impose on God.
†† I got these from a sermon by an old friend of mine, Geo. Robertson.
The first condition is relational harmony.†
God, if youíll give me relational harmony, Iíll live in relational harmony with you.
†† Donít forget what Jacob was doing, he was going to seek a wife.
†† Get me a wife, and Iíll make you my God.
Many believers still do that.†
†† Lord, if you cause somebody to love me the way I want to be lovedó
†† then Iíll love you, God, and Iíll love my neighbor too.
The condition is, I have to be loved first.
Is that where you are?† Is that what youíre trying to control?
†† Bargaining with God, withholding your love until that person whose love you
†† crave, or the person who his giving you so much trouble,
†† loves you the way you deserve to be loved and want to be loved?
Iím not sweeping relational problems under the rug.
†† Iím not saying that a desire for love and marital harmony not worthy desire.
But when God is real to you, when you know Jesus is stairway to heaven,
†† you donít have to wait in co-dependency for someone to fill your love bucket
†† before you can pour out your love on other people.
Do you want to appropriate Godís grace?†
† †Give up bargaining with God for relational harmony and trust him.
The second condition is resource independence.† This was a big one for Jacob.†
Give me food to eat and clothing to wear and hereís the dealó
†† Iíll give you a tenth.† Isnít that generous of me, God.
Iím not asking too much.† Iím not asking for the moon.† Just give me what I need.
†† Hereís what I need.† Hereís my list.
And when you give it to me, and when itís all safely accounted for in my account,
†† then Iím going to give you a tip.† Wonít that be a useful thing for the church?
The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills.† He give you life and breath.
†† And besides all that he is completely self-sufficient.
If you really want to appropriate his grace, then you have to trust him.
†† And that means that you quit bargaining for resource independence.
Instead you do the opposite.† You give before you get.
†† You give because you know that God will supply.†
Heís proved it by supplying his Son.† Jesus is the stairway to heaven.†
†† Your job is not to worry and to seek his kingdom and give your first-fruits.
†† You will enjoy his grace because his angels will continually care for you.
Third bargaining chip that can keep you from appropriating Godís grace is
†† relief from suffering.† Relieve my suffering , Lord, then Iíll worship you.
Jacob says get me back to my daddyís house, and Lord,†
†† this rock will be a cornerstone.† Iíll come back and build you a temple.
So often Christians bargain in the same way when suffering.
I canít worship you.† I canít sing your praises.† I canít call you good.
†† I canít be with your people.† I canít go to church.
Until you show me how you are going to take this suffering out of my life.
†† Then Iíll be free to worship you.†
And God says:† I found you.† Only in your coming to me will your suffering
†† be redeemed.† Only in me will you find resources to live through suffering.
There are no conditionsóworship me.†
†† Realize that I am the one who forgives you and walks with you.
†† And when you do that, will be able to worship regardless of circumstances.
Do you want to experience and appropriate Godís grace?†
Do you want to be able to reach out your hand in your sleep tonight and feel
†† the bottom rung of that ladder, and know that in Jesus the very gateway of
†† heaven is open to you?† Do you want that?† Then give up bargaining with God.
Love him, trust him, worship him.†
But you donít even have to wait till tonight.
Thereís a stairway to heaven in this room.†
†† And you can reach out your hand and feel it and gaze upon it right now.
Here it is in front of me.† Join me at the Lordís Table.† Eat the bread, drink the cup.
The Lordís Supper is a memorial to this great promise and realityó
†† Itís like that stone Jacob set up as a pillar.† It commemorates all Jesus did for you.
And itís more than a memorial, itís a means of grace itself.
†† If you partake in faith then you will commune with him,
†† you will participate in him.
And you will leave church this morning saying:
†† How awesome is this place.†
†† This is none other than the house of God,
†† This is the gate of heaven.†