Summary: Despite his past, Jacob encounters God and sees that nothing is the same. God in Christ shows us how to protect ourselves from the devil’s claim that life is ordinary and meaningless.
Last week we established the fact that Jacob was a cheat. After that incident, and before the incident we read of today, we learn that he is a liar and a thief as well. You all know the story of how Jacob masquerades as Esau to obtain his father Issac’s blessing. It is not too much later that Jacob sets out to seek his fortune, and a wife, carrying with him the birthright he cheated his brother out of and the blessing he stole from his father. Other sections point out that Jacob is also motivated to get away from a justifiably angry Esau.
Jacob leaves Beer-sheba and travels toward Haran, the land of his mother’s family. When it grows dark, he takes an ordinary stone to use as a pillow, and falls asleep. During his sleep, he dreams of a ladder -- a stairway really -- “set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!"
God stands above the stairway, and tells Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants... and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed." And 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."
Jacob awakes from his dream, and looks around him. He sees the same rocks, the same hills, the same plains. Nothing has changed, and yet EVERYTHING has changed. Everything has changed SO MUCH, in fact,
that Jacob is led to say, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it."
He becomes afraid and says, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." And so, we are told, Jacob rises early and erects a pillar of stone, then annoints it with oil to mark this holy place, which he called Bethel, or "The house of God."
We turn forward now several hundred years, as Jacob’s descendant Jesus of Nazareth is trying once again to explain to his followers the nature of God and what God offers to those who would follow Christ.
Jesus says, There is good seed and bad seed. Simple enough, but the problem is, it is not until the time of the harvest that we are given to know which ones are truly the good plants and which are the weeds. They are left to grow together, and the weeds have ample opportunity to interfere with, pollute, molest, bullyrag, vex and otherwise mess up the healthy growth of the wheat.
Jesus says that this is the way of the Devil, the Evil One, maker of false promises, teller of lies, thief of souls, and bringer of eternal torment. So we say, "Fine. That’s OK as far as it goes, but weeds are weeds and people are people. It’s one thing to say that the Devil sows weeds among the wheat, but what about real-live people? How does this evil work itself into our lives, our work, our dealings with other people?"
It’s simple, Paul says. The Devil tempts us and convinces us to live according to the flesh. The weeds the devil sows are bad ideas, false hopes, and empty promises. The devil wants us to believe that any suffering, any discomfort in this life is too much to bear, that we are only human, after all, and that, since we have only one life to live, we must seek ease and pleasure in everything we do.
The devil wants us to believe that our loyalty to God through Christ is meaningless slavery, a foolish waste of the only life we have to live. The devil wants us to believe that by adhering to the laws of God we are throwing away happiness with both hands, and that when we come to the end of our lives, we will have nothing to show for it but years of suffering and misery.
The devil wants us to believe that the time is past when one person can make a difference or do any good. The devil wants us to believe that the sun has set, darkness is upon us, that the days of miracles and great works of the Holy Spirit are behind us.
The devil wants us to believe that because we are not pure, we are of no use to God, and we might as well just give up, before we embarrass God, ourselves, and everybody.
The devil wants us to believe that since the church is made up of people, and since people can never be free of sin, that the church is a wasteland of deluded, doomed fools, calling upon a God who despises them for their weakness and condemns them for their endless, constant sinning.