ALONE, YET NOT ALONE
Dear friends in Christ,
Judy and I vacationed a couple of times in the mountains of Colorado. A few summers ago, the plan was to take our two granddaughters for the week and have Kristina, our daughter, and Troy, our son-in-law, join us a few days later. Sarah and Catie, our granddaughters who were about 3 ½ and 9 would spend those days with us. I was concerned how they would fare the first night. They were away from Mom and Dad. The two had two beds but they slept together. Catie and Sarah were having a conversation. They missed Mom and Dad. Before they fell off to sleep they agreed that “they would get through this time together” until Mom and Dad came. They weren’t alone, but they weren’t with Mom and Dad.
I read a story about a football player who is 6’5” and 325 pounds who accepted a football scholarship to the University of Southern California; he is from the state of Georgia. He has quit school in California. You know why? He is homesick. It is kind of hard to imagine a man that size being homesick. There are plenty of people around him, just not the right ones.
Jacob, one of the patriarchs in the Old Testament, knew that feeling. I am convinced feeling alone is something we all experience now and then. Yet Jacob learned “He Was Alone Yet Not Alone.” 1) His aloneness was a result of his sinful mess he created; 2) The solution came from our Gracious God.
The other night at Bible class we briefly talked about Abraham. Someone mentioned that there were times when he was anything but a good example for us. Twice he passed off his lovely wife as his sister to save his own skin from rulers who took a liking to her. He and his wife devised an adulterous plan to help God out in fulfilling a promise of a child-heir. When it came to straighten out the mess they created, he passed it off to his wife Sarah instead of manning up to provide leadership for his wife.
Less than stellar lives characterize all people, even those whom we call biblical patriarchs and matriarchs. Yet we identify with them because we miss the mark too. Jacob was another example of a bad example who grew after time in his godliness.
We meet Jacob who was on the run. His older, but twin brother, told his mother, Rebekah, that he was going to kill Jacob. Why? Twice Jacob took advantage of Esau’s weakness and stole the inheritance that was intended for the oldest son. That was followed by stealing the promise that had been given to the family of Abraham’s who was his granddad that all nations would be blessed by his offspring. We will talk about that later.
“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 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.” Jacob didn’t come from a destitute family. Abraham, his granddad, was a very wealthy man. That inheritance was passed down to Isaac, Jacob’s father. But Jacob was on the run camping out under the stars with clothes on his back and little else. When he needed to rest, he found a rock to use for a pillow. This was not the Ritz.
Why was he in this mess? He took advantage of his dysfunctional family. He was coddled by his mother and took advantage of his aged father. He deceived his brother. He was threatened. He had to run. So there he was alone….under the stars, three days out from his family, 400 miles from Haran where he was seeking refuge with distant and unfamiliar family. Lots of questions. Lots of fears. Lots of wondering about his future. Alone!
That’s a reality that we can identify with. Many times from messes we make. We say unthinkable words to relatives and friends that put our friendships at the edge of the abyss, or maybe even beyond. BFF’s turn into FNM’s. Best Friends Forever turn into Friends No More.
Even worse, there Jacob was under the starlit sky trying to somehow get to sleep on his rock hard pillow. His mind began to race. As he peered into the sky, perhaps he thought what the psalmist one day would write, “The heavens declare the glory of God and he skies proclaim the work of his hand.” What had his sin done to his relationship with one who had made the rock on which he slept or the stars that were shining down from above. The Bible says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Had his sin put an insurmountable distance between him and the one who created him? Alone.
Yet there are times when the loneliness we have comes from over which we had no control. I have been here at Messiah for almost fifteen years. I used to see some of you come through the entryway with partners that are not here anymore. The good Lord decided to take them to heaven, but some of you are now alone. Recently I heard a member of my family say, “I sure wish he (her sainted husband and my brother) were here to help” through one of those times of life where she could use some help. Some of you know exactly how she feels. All of us will know how it feels one day when the Lord takes your spouse or someone near and dear to you to heaven.
Yet even that separation goes back to Eden when God said to Adam and Eve because their commitment to God lapsed and were not fully obedient to the Lord. God’s curse was pronounced onto the world, “For dust you are, and to dust you will return.” Loneliness is part and parcel of the mess that sin brought.
Despite his loneliness and all of his problems, Jacob did fall asleep. Amazingly he awoke with a different perspective on things. God communicates with him. In his grace God made promises that brought him all kinds of comfort, “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. There above it stood the Lord.”
I want to point out two significant items. This vision was coming from the Lord. Despite his sinful conduct, his cheating and deceitfulness, the Lord was communicating with him. The Lord cared about Jacob. He cares about us; he speaks to us too. Not in a dream that comes and goes but through the Word that stands forever. It is found here in this book. Read its pages. You can see he cares.
The second significant point is that Jacob sees a stairway that connects heaven and earth. It connected Jacob with the Lord. Heaven and earth, humankind and God are not separated by some insurmountable gulf. Jesus made sure of that. While sin separates us from the Lord, and if it remains unforgiven it will stay that way, but Jesus remedies that. He is the remedy. The Lord does not turn away but now turns his face toward us.
“And the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” The Lord sends his angels who protect. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” God says in his word. Imagine how relieved Jacob must have been. He was alone. The road to Haran was dangerous. God’s angels were on duty ready to serve this sinner.
Then God speaks. “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. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 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.”
Four things are said that were awesome. “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” 1) This was Yaweh. That was God’s name by which God’s people called him. We translate it LORD. The Lord himself identified what that means and what we, his people should think of when we hear that name. He is the God of free and faithful grace, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. He is patient and compassionate and forgiving. He is just and holy and demands that of his people to get into heaven. He solved that problem by sending his Son who supplies the perfection we need. He supplies us with the robes of Jesus’ righteousness. Yes, Jacob was conniving and deceitful but was also holy and righteous through Jesus whose coming was in the future. We, as conniving and deceitful as Jacob, wearing the same robes of righteousness first fitted on the day of Baptism when we were connected with Jesus.
2) This is the same LORD God was granddad Abraham’s God. This is the same LORD God was Dad Isaac’s Dad. He is Adam and Eve’s God and Noah’s God. He is our God. He is the Creator God, the Redeemer God and the God who brings us into fellowship with himself. This is the only God of all of history.
3) “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.” It is interesting that Jacob was getting out of Dodge. He was leaving the land. He was going to Haran to be family. Yet there was a prophecy. He would come back. One day his descendants would occupy this land. They did. God didn’t lie to him. He doesn’t lie to us.
4) Now the most important item of all. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” You have heard those words many times before. They were first given to Abraham. The family of Abraham was the most blessed of all time. From them would come the Christ. From them would come the Savior of the nations. The Seed of Abraham and Jacob makes it a reality what is said in the book of revelation when John received a glimpse of heaven, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Count yourself among them one day.
“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 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.” Jacob awoke seeing his life quite differently. He would never trade that rock for a pillow for a suite at the Ritz. Under that starlit sky with the ground for a mattress he says “God was in that place.” He really learned about God’s love.
You can think that way about this house too. Think that way about a baptismal fount where you were cleansed and fitted with the robes of Christ’s righteousness. Think that way about this pulpit and Sunday School rooms where heard and hear all about God’s incredible promises and the incredible Savior who lived and died for you. Think that way about this altar where we receive the body and blood of Jesus and how the Lord assures you of his forgiving love. He assures you that you are never alone. You are always on his radar here and there in heaven.