Today we begin a short Advent sermon series, called ‘Encounters with God’. We’ll be looking at dramatic divine encounters in the Old Testament of men like Jacob, Isaiah and Ezekiel, but which culminated when God’s Son took flesh in person of Christ at the first Christmas.
Jacob’s dream – a stairway to Heaven!
Today we look at Jacob’s dramatic God-given dream, described in Genesis 28. Let me set the scene:
- Jacob is Abraham’s grandson, son of Isaac. He became one of the famous founding fathers of Israel, one of its Patriarchs.
- But as we join him today, he is on the run. He is a fugitive, fearing for his life.
- With the help of his mother, Rebecca, he has double-crossed his brother Esau and claimed a blessing from his father that was rightfully Esau’s.
- Jacob had dressed in his brother’s clothes, put goatshair on his arms and hands, and tricked blind Isaac into blessing him.
- Esau is furious and out for revenge. Jacob is fleeing for safety to his relative Laban.
- A long, lonely journey to undertake. He was probably not feeling so blessed!
But one night, at a place that would become known as Bethel, God gives Jacob a remarkable dream:
- A dream to provide grace, comfort and reassurance to Jacob. A dream that would give him spiritual awakening and initiate a positive character transformation in a deceitful young man.
- A dream that would ensure Jacob felt truly and genuinely blessed.
So what did the dream involve? We are told in verses 12 to 13 that:
- Jacob saw a stairway come down from Heaven to Earth. A stairway that connects the two dimensions of existence, a stairway that suggests God is going to be at work in the world. (The direction is important, the stairway descends showing the divine initiative)
- Upon that staircase Jacob sees angels ascending and descending (like a supernatural version of what you might see on the escalators of a London Tube station?!).
- Finally, Jacob sees the Lord himself – a remarkable privilege, a glorious sight, given to very few people past or present.
God’s promises to Jacob
Then Jacob heard God’s voice. A voice which said three things:
- Firstly, God’s own comforting presence: “I am with you” says the Lord in verse 15. From that point on, Jacob knew he was never truly alone.
- Secondly, God offers Jacob his protection. “I will watch over you wherever you go”, he says. Neither Esau, Laban or nor anyone else will be able to lay a finger on Jacob without God’s approval.
- And thirdly, the reason God will protect Jacob is that he has promises to fulfil through him. The promises that God had first made to his grandfather Abraham will continue to be fulfilled through Jacob and his offspring. In verses 13 and 14 we’re reminded that these promises include possession of the land of Canaan, and descendants as numerous as the dust, as many as the stars in the sky.
When he wakes from his dream, its no surprise that Jacob is awestruck by what he has seen. No wonder he erects a memorial stone to commemorate the event. No wonder it begins a process of moral and spiritual renewal in his life.
In due course, of course, Jacob would be given a new name of Israel, and from him a great nation bearing that name would emerge in the land of Canaan – just as God promised it would.
Jesus’ promises to Nathanael – and us
Fast forward 2,500 years, and in our Gospel reading (Jn 1:43-51) today we meet one of Jacob’s great, great, great grandchildren. A man called Nathanael, whom Jesus recognises as a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.
But what is remarkable is that Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see something even greater than Jacob’s dream, all those years earlier. Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see Heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on him, the Son of Man. In short, Jesus is saying that he is the new stairway to heaven:
- To know him is to have access to a Heavenly Father.
- To have a relationship with Christ is to have a connection with our Creator.
- To know Christ is to know the perfect mediator between fallible people (like Jacob, Nathanael – and you and me) and our perfect God.
So as I finish, we may not have had a dramatic dream of the kind Jacob experienced. We may not (yet) have seen Christ face to face like Nathanael, but if we know and love the Lord Jesus we too have access to the throne room of Heaven:
- If we listen to Jesus’ words in the Gospels we have words from God – divine promises to hold on to, just like Jacob did.
- If we enjoy a relationship with Jesus we are enjoying God’s presence – he is literally “Emmanuel”, God with us.
- And if we trust in Jesus’ saving work on the cross we have unimpeded access to his Father and certainty of a place in Heaven – a promised land even greater than the one given to Jacob.
Jacob erected a memorial stone to help him commemorate his awesome encounter with God. An encounter in which he saw angels descending and ascending to Heaven. In a few moments let us share bread and wine as our own memorial of when God’s Son descended from Heaven to die on a cross for our salvation – before rising and ascending again!