The Dream Jacob Had
1. Jacob traveled from Beersheba towards Haran, the home town of his mother Rebekah; [he was on the road] because his life was being sought by his brother Esau. Please read the details of this in the story beginning in chapter twenty-five and verse nineteen. Getting to the point, it would go like this. Esau was the eldest son and Jacob was next in line. The eldest son has special rights as the eldest child. There are also blessings from God that the eldest son will inherit. Jacob the younger brother couldn't stand that, which is why he thought he would try to usurp the rights that were given to Esau. He deceived his brother Esau and stole the rights of the first born son, and he deceived his father Isaac, who had become old and blind, and stole the blessings of the first born son. In this way then, I suppose everyone may have within oneself the desire to acquire what he or she wishes for even if one deceives, traps, and makes someone else go down [to get there]. But, when we move based on these kinds of yearnings, it is also a fact that happiness is not always bound to it. In the end, Jacob [found himself] getting his life hunted after, he was separated from his home town, and he lived apart from his beloved mother for a long time.
2. What we read today is the events along the way of when Jacob was traveling wearily along by himself [because] he just about would have been killed by his brother under the conditions given before. Then, Jacob would soon meet up with God along this journey of his. It is really surprising what the Bible has written at this passage. It is not the fact itself that he has encountered God, [but the question of] "How is God involved with cunningly sinful Jacob?" Let's give this one a looking over together.
The Stairway From Heaven
3. He came upon a place. This place would later be named by Jacob as Bethel. In verse nineteen it has that "For your information, the name of that town used to be called Luz." But, as Jacob was clearly staying over here in this text, in this story the town was not yet in existence in that spot. Even though a town was made later, that place where Jacob stood was still a wilderness.
4. The sun set. Darkness covered all around. He had to spend the night there. Making a pillow of a rock that was there in that place, he laid himself down. It was really miserable. He must never have thought even in his dreams that such a night would ever befall him. Why did this ever happen? In going over the days gone by, his conscience felt remorse over them. What was going to happen now? When thinking about all the days starting tomorrow, they beckon to worry and fear. He has so far tried to gain happiness by his own hand and to carve out a future for himself, but now he is unable to find any hope anywhere. The black night that engulfed him seemed to symbolize his own life.
5. Any chance, you might have been through a night like that? Or, is there anyone who says I really have made a pillow from a rock in the darkness like that? The way we really are does frequently match up with the way Jacob really was. But, that's not the whole story. There's more to it. The Bible shows us that this very miserable night, when he made a pillow from a rock and laid himself down like that, was the night for Jacob for his encounter with God.
6. The Bible says the following: "Whereupon, he had a dream. A stairway extended to the earth, whose highest point reached heaven, and furthermore, messengers from God were going up and down it," (verse twelve). Don't you think that is a weird way to put it? If that were us, we'd probably say, "A stairway 'extended to heaven,' whose highest point reached heaven." But, the stairway clearly extended "to earth." This expression is actually used in this passage like that. "To extend" literally is the word "to be set up." Who set it up? God did. That's why it's "to earth" and not "to heaven." The direction is totally "from heaven to earth."
7. It seems like a small difference, but it's an extremely important one. Even though he had a dream of a stairway that is "from earth to heaven," it was not because it lead to salvation; for, the one who made a pillow from a rock here was a human being unable to even turn his face towards heaven. That doesn't go just for Jacob. I'd say we're all in the same boat. Because of [our] sinfulness, [we] can't even turn [our] faces toward heaven -- That's the [way] we human beings [are]. That's why even when one is shown a stairway extending from earth to heaven, one is not saved [by that].
8. The dream God let Jacob have was different. God extended the stairway from heaven in the direction of the earth where Jacob was. Furthermore even, [God] didn't say, "Since you've been saved, come and ascend up to heaven." There were already there the angels of God going up and down it. In other words, it means that God's grace does not remain in the high place of heaven, but reaches unto the earth where Jacob is. That's the dream Jacob had. God showed him this dream.
Behold, I Am With You
9. Then, Jacob heard the message from a truly awesome God. Please look beginning at verse thirteen. "Behold, standing by, the Lord said, 'I am the God of your forefather Abraham, the God of Isaac, the Lord. The land upon which you are now lying down I will give to you and your descendants. Your descendants will become many like the grains of sand on the earth, they will spread to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. All the families on the earth will enter into blessing through you and your descendants. Behold, I am with you. Wherever you may go, I will keep you and always bring you back to this land. I will never forsake you even until the fulfillment of what I have promised you,'" (verses thirteen to fifteen).
10. The voice did not echo out from the high place of heaven. Wow, the Lord was by Jacob's side. Though he seemed hopeless and forsaken by God, the Lord was standing right in Jacob's life, and he said to him, "Behold, I am with you. I have not forsaken you."
11. Then, Jacob woke up. He looked around him. Nothing changed. The darkness engulfing him didn't change. The situation he was put under hadn't changed any. But, that place where he had made a pillow from a rock, the meaning of that place where he used to expect it to be filled with sorrow and fear had completely changed. At the moment when he saw that the stairway from heaven was being extended to earth and that the Lord was standing by his side, the meaning of that place changed.
12. Jacob said, "Even though God was truly in this place, I wasn't seeing it." Then, trembling he added, "This place here is so terrifyingly awesome. This is truly the house of God. It is, here is the gate to heaven," (verse seventeen). The place he made a pillow out of a rock, in spite of the fact that it was wilderness still as ever, it turned into the house of God, that place became a gate to heaven.
You Will See
13. Well, in connection with this passage of scripture I am reminded of the words the Lord spoke to Nathaniel, one of the twelve disciples, when he had first met Jesus. Jesus said, "I truly say to you. You [all] will see the heavens opened, the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man," (John 1:51). "Son of man" is a phrase that points to Jesus himself. When we read just this [passage], we may get some kind of an idea in our minds of a comic book like image of small winged angels flying around Jesus' face. But, when we read it in comparison with the passage of scripture that we read today, it looks like what Jesus was trying to say to them. The Lord was speaking of that stairway that Jacob had seen.
14. In his dream, Jacob saw a stairwell extending from heaven to the earth. However, Jesus said, they would see a stairwell [with] angel(s) or son(s) of God going up and down it, not in a dream but in reality. Where at? It would be with "the son of man." That is, with this one named Jesus, who walked on this earth. So, did the disciples who followed after Jesus, beginning with Nathaniel, actually "see" Jacob's stairwell for real?
15. What those who followed after Jesus would soon see was the figure of Christ crucified upon the cross. But, they certainly did see Jacob's stairwell; because it was the figure of Christ who in order to redeem our sins, he took our suffering in our place and died. This cross of Christ, indeed, is none other than the stairwell that God had extended from heaven to earth. The very cross of Christ is the stairwell, which extended from right next to God unto the world right on the earth, which was unable to turn its face towards heaven. Through this one called Jesus, God has shown us this stairwell.
16. Therefore, by being with Jesus we too can also hear that message that Jacob had heard. The Lord is also saying to us, "I will be with you. I will never forsake you." And, like Jacob, we too will find that we ourselves are in the house of God and we are standing before the gate of heaven.
17. Next, we will sing a praise hymn called "Nearer, My God To Thee."* Often times this song is sung at funerals. But, we must not misunderstand it. After somebody has died, we are not singing "Nearer, My God To Thee." When a person dies, one does not automatically get nearer to God. Whether alive or dead, the act of a sinful human being having the power to draw near to God is not axiomatic at all. Being able to draw near to God is just by God's grace alone, as Jacob saw in his dream, and as God showed us in the cross of Christ. By God's grace, even the grave in which a human being will ultimately make a pillow from a rock and lie himself or herself down in, even there, it will turn into a gate of heaven.
* The [Japanese] United Church Of Christ Press, Hymns 21, song number 434
Also, Hymn Collection Number One, song number 320