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Jacob and the Blessing of God's Presence

October 21, 2018 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Genesis: Beginning the Journey Home

Passage: Genesis 28:10–22

How does heaven come to earth?

When I was growing up, my dad worked as a carpenter for a group of brothers. Sometimes their dad would work with them too. Their dad’s name was Ralph and my dad informed me about something called “the Ralph zone.” This referred to the zone where Ralph preferred to work. It was a zone that was above his waist and below the top of his head. Why? Because then he didn’t have to bend over or reach up to do anything. He didn’t have to stretch either up or down. No straining. It was comfortable.

We all have a Ralph zone in our lives but we call it our comfort zone. We have certain activities that don’t stretch us or strain us and we would prefer to do those. Then there are others that are outside our comfort zone because they stretch us and strain us, they make us bend over and reach up. But what makes our comfort zone comfortable? What makes it a zone where we aren’t strained or stressed?

To get at that answer, it might be easier to define the opposite. What are the kind of activities that are out of our comfort zone? What makes those situations uncomfortable for us? (the right side of the whiteboard is our brainstorm)

whiteboard-comfort-zone.JPG

Series Introduction
This evening we are continuing our series called Beginning the Journey Home in the book of Genesis. In this part of the book of Genesis, the focus is on the grandson of Abraham, a man named Jacob.

Sermon Introduction
We saw last week how Jacob schemed his way into inheriting the blessing of God from his father, Isaac. God chose to bless Abraham and his family so that they can be a blessing to the rest of the world. But not every physical descendant of Abraham is chosen for God’s purposes. God chose Isaac instead of Ishmael and now he has chosen Jacob instead of Esau. But as we saw, Jacob is a deceptive trickster. Is this really God’s draft pick for his team? God’s choice to bless Jacob and use him only shows us God’s amazing grace.

This week, we get more insight into the blessing God wants to give to the world through Abraham and his family.

The big question this passage answers is: How does heaven come to earth? How does heaven come to earth?

Let’s set up this week’s story with what happened last week.

Jacob Sent Out of His Comfort Zone (Genesis 27:41-28:9)

Jacob took advantage of his brother Esau’s hunger to purchase his birthright as the firstborn son. Later he took advantage of his father’s blindness by lying to him and tricking him to give him Esau’s blessing. His father, Isaac, was shocked when he realized it and Esau broke down in tears. Now, Esau hates his brother Jacob and wants to kill him but he is waiting until their father dies.

Jacob’s mom, Rebekah, helped arrange the stealing of the blessing so now she is estranged from Esau but Jacob is her favorite anyway. When she learns Esau wants to kill Jacob, she convinces Isaac to send him away to her brother, Laban. But she doesn’t tell the whole truth. She tells Isaac it’s because she wants Jacob to marry someone of their own people. Are you sensing a messed up family situation yet? Isaac agrees to send Jacob to Haran where Rebekah’s brother lives so he can find a wife. Before he goes, Isaac again pronounces the blessing of God on Jacob’s life.

Now, let’s talk about Jacob’s comfort zone. Jacob was the son who liked hanging out in the tent with his mom. He wasn’t a great hunter who knows the wilderness and how to survive in it. But now he has to make a 550 mile journey to Haran that will take over a month. He got what he wanted from Esau - the rights of the firstborn and the blessing of God - but at what cost? How blessed is he feeling right now? What kind of mental and emotional state is he in? He’s in danger, distressed, and vulnerable. He is leaving everything he knows to go stay with family he doesn’t know in a place he doesn’t know. Would you say he’s out of his comfort zone? But it’s in this moment of vulnerability out of his comfort zone that God begins to work.

Isn’t it true that we most often experience God when we finally come to the end of ourselves? When things are running smoothly, it’s easy to rarely think about God. We are in our comfort zone. We’ve got everything under control. Everything is going as planned. But when we get the call that the lump is cancer or that we are being laid off or let go or that mom is fading fast with days to live or that we’ve been cut from the team or that we failed Geometry, that’s when we feel the ground crumbling beneath our feet. When we are faced with a situation that requires more than our resources to get through, then we turn to God. Jacob needs a wake up call and we often do as well but sometimes we aren't listening. God will remove you from your comfort zone in order to unplug your ears.

We already brainstormed what sorts of situations are out of our comfort zone. I want to use the 4Gs to define what our comfort zone is. The 4Gs are four truths about God that we can come back to for comfort, strength, and encouragement. These are four truths that we need to believe about God. But let’s focus on the second part of each of these.

Let’s draw a circle that represents our comfort zone. What makes our comfort zone comfortable? These four statements are true about our comfort zone.

I am in control. In our comfort zone, we are in control. There is nothing out of our control. There is nothing we can’t handle. Things go as we have planned.

I am not scared. There is nothing that scares us in our comfort zone. There is nothing risky or challenging.

I am not in need. In our comfort zone, our needs are met. We don’t need anything from anyone else. We are self-sufficient.

I have proven myself. In our comfort zone, we aren’t required to do anything we don’t already know how to do. There’s no uncomfortable learning or mistakes or failures.

(see left side of whiteboard)

whiteboard-comfort-zone.JPG

Back at home in his tent, Jacob felt in control. He had already secured Esau’s birthright and his scheme for the blessing from Isaac worked. His plans are going as he wants. In his tent under his mom’s love and protection, he wasn’t scared. His needs were met by his family. He didn’t have to prove himself because he was already his mother’s favorite.

How comfortable is he feeling now? Out of our comfort zone, here’s what’s true. I am not in control. Jacob planned his way into taking from Esau what he wanted, but then it spiraled out of his control. Esau wanted to kill him and his parents sent him away to his uncle. He’s out of control.

I’m scared. Jacob isn’t a traveler or a hunter. He likes being in the tent with his mom. But now he’s out on the road traveling to an unknown place.

I’m in need. Who is going to provide for his needs now? He has left his family.

I haven’t proven myself. Jacob is going to be staying with his uncle, Laban. He’s going to be a stranger and a nobody there. He is going to have to establish his place and position with his uncle. Will Laban and his family accept him?

It’s out here, out of our comfort zone, that we come to realize our need for someone outside of ourselves because we feel our limits, our inadequacies, our weakness, and our neediness. We realize that “I” just won’t cut it. It’s in this place that God meets Jacob. Let’s look at Jacob’s encounter with God in verses 10 through 17 of chapter 28.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. (Genesis 28:10-11)

About 60 miles or a couple days into his 550 mile journey, Jacob is settling in one night for sleep when something remarkable happens. Verse 12 says:

12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it... (Genesis 28:12-13a)

God appears to him in a dream. He sees a ladder or staircase connecting heaven and earth on which angels are walking. Some are heading back to heaven, perhaps to report in to God. Others are heading out, perhaps on assignments from God. At the top of the staircase, he sees God looking down at him. God is about to say something to him that his father told him already. Before leaving for Haran, Isaac blessed Jacob, saying:

3 God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4)

Now hear what God says to him in verse 13.

13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 28:13-14)

It’s one thing for your dad to tell you what God Almighty is going to do. “Sure, dad, you are into all this God stuff, but I don’t know if I am.” It’s another thing for God Almighty himself to tell you what God Almighty is going to do. God confirms that he will give Jacob the blessing of Abraham, meaning he will give him the land of Canaan, make him into a great nation, and bless all the families of the earth through him. That’s pretty amazing in light of what Jacob just did to his brother and his father! We heard Isaac give the blessing, but maybe God will revoke it. Nope. God confirms it. In spite of Jacob’s horrible sin, God makes these generous promises which show his amazing grace.

But that’s not all. As Jacob is leaving his home and family for a foreign land, God comforts and reassures him. Look at verse 15:

15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15)

“I am with you. I will keep you. I will watch over you. I will bring you back here. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised.” Far out of his comfort zone, doesn’t that sound like good news for Jacob?

It’s when we get outside of our comfort zones that we need the good news about who God is. That’s when we need the 4Gs. When we realize that “I” is not enough, we look to God. As long as we are unwilling to leave our comfort zones, we will continue looking to our own resources. God called Abraham to leave his comfort zone and he did. But if we are unwilling, sometimes God will force us out of them, like he did with Jacob. God needs to do some work with Jacob and now he’s got Jacob listening.

We see Jacob’s immediate response to this dream in verses 16 and 17:

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17)

In the ancient world, another name for a “house of God” is a temple. A temple was a place where heaven met earth - where a gateway to heaven allowed you to experience the presence of the gods. Jacob isn’t in a physical structure, but at seeing the staircase to heaven his conclusion is that he is in a house of God - a temple. There’s a gateway to heaven here. We’ll come back to that shortly.

That’s Jacob’s immediate response. We get his full response in the morning. Look at verses 18 through 22.

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Genesis 28:18-22)

Does Jacob respond in faith? Kind of. Does Jacob respond by worshiping God? Kind of. There’s a big dose of Jacob’s usual deal-making tendencies and a hint of faith. Starting in Genesis 4, the usual way of responding to God in worship is to build an altar and call on the name of the Lord. Noah does it, Abraham does it, Isaac does it. But Jacob responds differently. He performs a pagan ritual of setting up a pillar and pouring oil on top of it.

He also doesn’t respond with wholehearted devotion to God and doesn’t seem to fully trust God will do what he says. Instead he makes a vow which basically says, “If you get me out of this mess, you will be my God. If you keep your promise, I will worship you.” Jacob is setting the terms for his relationship with God. “If you do this, then I will devote myself to you.” He makes a deal with God.

We can easily relate to God the same way. “God, if you get me out of this, I’ll do anything for you.” Or we can let our level of devotion to him go up and down based on whether he is doing what we want. Has someone ever suggested that you turn to God for help and your response was, “God? What has he ever done for me? I’ve been praying and it’s done nothing”? I’ve thought that and said that.

The amazing truth is that God in his grace doesn’t say to Jacob, “Alright. I take it back. Until you can respond with perfect worship and perfect faith, we’re done. Give me a call when you can do that.” No, God keeps his promise despite the weakness of Jacob’s faith and devotion. That should encourage us. When your devotion to God fluctuates, his devotion to you never does. Salvation is not based on the strength of our faith but on the strength of our Savior. God meets Jacob where he is at and he does the same with each of us.

The big question this passage answers is: How does heaven come to earth? The answer is: God moves into the lives of selfish people. Heaven comes to earth when God moves into the lives of selfish people.

Jacob is selfish. He’s concerned with what he wants and is willing to make shady deals and hurt people to get it. And yet God has moved into his life. God says, “I will be with you.”

In this moment with Jacob, God connects the blessing that Jacob’s family will give to the world with his presence. In Genesis 1 and 2, God created the world to be a place where he dwelt with humanity. The garden of Eden was a temple for his presence with Adam and Eve. Our home is supposed to be with God. But Adam and Eve rejected God as their King so they had to leave his presence. In Genesis 11, the builders of the Tower of Babel wanted to created a tower with a staircase reaching to the heavens but God put a stop to it because we can never come back to God’s presence through our own schemes.

God was with Abraham and wants to use Abraham’s family to bring the world back home to him. God was with Isaac and now he is with Jacob. Later in their family history, God saves the people of Israel from Egypt and dwells among them in a tent. Then later King Solomon built a temple for God to dwell in. Because of their constant rejection of God as their King, God removed his presence. But Israel’s prophets looked forward to a day when God’s presence would return.

That day came with Jesus, who called himself the staircase to heaven. He said he would be the one to make a way for heaven to come to earth by dying the death we deserve in our place. He paid the penalty that our rejection of God as King so that we could be made clean to be in his presence. One day, Jesus will return to bring heaven to earth in a new creation and we will see God face to face. Then we will be home with God.

In between now and then, Jesus said his followers are the temple of his presence. When someone trusts in Jesus as their King, he sends his Spirit to dwell in them.

When you leave today, remember this truth: Know that God has made you his house. God has made you his house. The house of God is not a place; it’s a people. That’s the blessing God wants to give to the world through Abraham’s family: his presence. If you have trusted in Jesus, God dwells in you.

Without God, we all live for ourselves. That is everyone’s condition. We live as king of our own lives. But God moves into the lives of selfish people. God brings heaven to earth by moving into our lives with his presence to transform us. Without God, we live in our comfort zone. This is the kingdom of self. It’s all about “I.” When God moves in, he remodels. Not just a new paint job, he completely overhauls our lives. By the end, we look like totally different people.

But perhaps you are wondering, “If he lives in me, why does it often seem like he’s so far? If I am his house where he lives, why do I often feel home alone?” I’ve often wondered that myself and it was helpful for me to reflect on that this week. I realized that there are lots of ways we can be in the same room with someone and not be hearing them or aware of them. They are physically close, but relationally far. We are “with them” but we still feel disconnected and distant.

So what makes us feel disconnected and distant from God? Four things. First, distraction makes us feel disconnected from God. If we aren’t paying attention to him, we aren’t going to feel connected. Even if you are sitting right next to someone, you can feel distant from them if they are distracted by their phone or the TV or something on their mind. You can be talking all you want but they may not hear you.

The truth is that we fill our lives with a lot of noise. We have a device in our pockets, on the table in front of us, or next to our beds that lets us call people, text people, play video games, watch TV, read books, browse websites, and check Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and whatever else at any time we want. We never ever have to be bored or sit in silence with nothing but our own thoughts because whether we are in the check out line, in a waiting room, or unable to sleep at night we have infinite options of distraction at our fingertips.

Do you ever take time to turn down the volume on everything else in your life? Do you ever just sit in quietness and listen to what’s going on in your own soul or to what God might be saying to you? Do you ever turn the radio off or the TV off or put the phone away to be quiet and still? What if we turned to God as much as we turn to our phones? Imagine if you cut your phone usage in half to pray or listen to God instead? What would that do for your connection with God?

Second, disinterest makes us feel disconnected from God. This means we don’t care about what’s important to him. I feel connected to people who show interest in what’s important to me. I also feel connected to people when I show interest in what’s important to them.

Two people can live in the same house and be disconnected because they don’t care about what’s important to the other person. If a husband doesn’t care about what’s important to his wife, she can tell him as much as she wants that she wants him to fix something and he might hear the sound waves but not really listen and do something about it. You might not be that excited about your spouse’s project at work or how nap times went, but that is an opportunity for connection because it’s what the other person cares about.

God may feel distant because you aren’t interested in what’s important to him. Do you take time to learn what’s important to him by reading the Bible? God gave us the Bible so we can get to know him. Are you seeking him in it?
Our problem is, we always think we are most important.

Third, disharmony makes us feel disconnected from God. This means we aren’t dealing with our sin. If you never deal with the ways you have hurt another person and they have hurt you, you can be sitting next to them but your relationship can feel cold and distant. Every sin, hurt, and wrong that you don’t deal with is like a brick put up between you. If you are letting your sin pile up unconfessed and aren’t aware of it or don’t care about it, you aren’t going to feel close to God. You need to recognize it and take it to him so you can be forgiven.

Lastly, discontent makes us feel disconnected from God. This means we aren’t thankful for him. I doubt you feel connected to people you complain about a lot. If you don’t think someone brings anything good into your life, you aren’t going to be thankful for them and won’t feel connected. If you only see what someone doesn’t do, you are going to feel disconnected and distant from them.

In the same way, if we are only making requests to God about what we don’t have in our lives, we won’t be thankful for what he has given us and we will feel disconnected from him.

Which one of these do you need to deal with in your relationship with God?

These all apply to our relationship with God, but they also apply to our relationships with other people. Is there a relationship where you feel disconnected and distant? One or more of these is probably going on.

Conclusion
The blessing God wants to give to the world is his presence. That presence is in us as his house. God sends us as his presence into each other’s lives and into the world but we need to make sure we are connected.

More in Genesis: Beginning the Journey Home

December 9, 2018

Jacob and the God More Powerful Than Him

December 2, 2018

Jacob and His Sons Fail to Walk with God

November 18, 2018

Jacob's Search for Acceptance