Here’s the audio of the sermon for our radio broadcast on Sunday, January 10, 2021, which is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. The title of the sermon is “Why was Jesus Baptized, and Why Should We Be Baptized?” The text is Mark 1:4-11. Our full 30-minute radio broadcast is found at our church website, chathambc.net, at this link. I hope this is a blessing to you.
This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 19, 2020, from Genesis 28:10-19. It’s the story of what we call “Jacob’s Ladder,” but there’s much more to it than that. The link for the audio of the worship service containing this messsage is at our church website here.
Even When We’re Unaware, God is Still at Work
Genesis 28:10-19 NIV
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran.
11 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.
12 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.
13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “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. 14 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. 15 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.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 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.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
A Familiar Story with a New Twist
This is a familiar story to us. It’s the story from which we get the song, “Jacob’s Ladder.” But, before we go any further today, let’s stop right here because we need to remember the backstory behind it.
The story begins with Jacob leaving Beersheba to go back to his ancestral homeland called Harran.
But Jacob doesn’t just leave Beersheba for no good reason. He has to leave because his brother Esau is planning to kill him.
And why is that? Because these are brothers who don’t get along. These are brothers who, even though they are twins, are as different as night and day.
Abraham and Sarah’s son is Isaac. Isaac grows up and gets married to Rebekah.
When Isaac’s wife Rebekah gives birth, she gives birth to twins. Esau is born first. But his brother Jacob emerges gripping Esau’s heel, as if he – Jacob – is trying to pull Esau back so he can be first.
But Jacob is not the first born, which bothers him to no end as he grows up. To top it off, his mother, Rebekah, likes Jacob best because Jacob stays home among the tents.
Isaac likes Esau best because Esau is a hunter and an outdoors kind of guy. Plus Esau is ruddy and hairy, and a real man’s man. So, Esau and Jacob have not gotten along since the day they were born.
And, it gets worse as they grow up. One day Esau returns from hunting and he is famished. Jacob just happens to be cooking some stew, and Esau begs him for a bowl of it before he dies, which was a bit dramatic, but Esau was really hungry.
So, Jacob says, “Okay, you can have some stew, but give me your birthright.” Now the birthright is the right of the firstborn. It conveys the firstborn’s right of inheritance and blessing.
Have you ever been really, really hungry? Well, imagine that time when you were really, really hungry and multiply that by maybe a zillion and you get how starved Esau thought he was.
So, Esau says, “Why not? What good will my birthright do me if I’m dead?” Again, a little dramatic, but he was really, really hungry.
But it gets even worse.
After Jacob takes advantage of Esau, and gets Esau to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew, he and his mother, Rebekah, conspire to deprive Esau of one more thing.
Their father Isaac is really old and blind by now. Isaac knows that he is going to die soon. So one day, Isaac asks Esau to go hunting, and then make a meal for him of Esau’s famous stew so he can eat it one more time before he dies.
Then, after he has eaten, Isaac says to Esau, that he will give Esau the blessing of the firstborn, which is rightfully Esau’s
Rebekah, the mother of both Esau and Jacob, overhears Isaac asking Esau to go hunting and them cook him a meal.
However, she wants Jacob to get the blessing from Isaac, so she calls Jacob, and fills him in the situation.
Rebekah instructs Jacob to go get a couple of goats, which are in the pens close by. And, Rebekah cooks a meal for Isaac of his favorite foods.
Jacob sees a problem with Rebekah’s plan because he and Esau are so different both in body and personality. Jacob asks Rebekah if Isaac won’t know that he’s not really Esau when he brings his father the meal.
Rebekah replies, “I’ve got a plan for that.” Or words to that effect. And she does have a plan.
She grabs a set of Esau’s clothes, with the scent of the outdoors on them, and gets Jacob to put them on. Then, Rebekah puts goat skin on Jacob’s rather hairless arms to fool Isaac, just in case blind Isaac wants to touch the son that he thinks is Esau.
By the way, nobody ever said that families in the Bible were perfect.
So, Jacob – dressed in Esau’s clothes and with his arms covered with goat skin so that he feels hairy — goes into Isaac’s room with the stew his mother Rebekah has prepared.
Isaac, who is blind, says, “Well, that didn’t take long.” Isaac, although frail and blind, isn’t stupid. He knows how much time it should take for Esau to hunt, find, and kill wild game, and them cook it to prepare his father’s meal.
When questioned about this, Jacob says, “The Lord your God gave me success!”
So, Jacob adds another lie to his deception, and blasphemously brings God’s name into his plot as well.
Then Isaac does what Rebekah and Jacob feared he might do. He asked Jacob, who is posing as his brother, Esau, to “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” So, the old man suspects something!
Jacob comes closer, and Isaac feels of Jacob’s goatskin-covered arms. Isaac says, “The voice is Jacob’s, but the skin is Esau’s.” So, after he eats, Isaac mistakenly pronounces the blessing of the firstborn on Jacob.
No sooner than Jacob has left his father Isaac, Esau returns, brings Isaac the meal he has prepared, and asks for his blessing. Realizing he’s been tricked, Isaac tells Esau that he can’t give him the blessing of the firstborn because Jacob already has it. (No one seems to know why Isaac cannot correct this injustice, but he can’t.)
Esau is hopping mad and says, “After my father is dead, I’m going to kill Jacob.” Rebekah hears about this. Realizing that Jacob had better leave home quickly, Rebekah tricks poor old Isaac into sending Jacob away to get a wife.
Which is why Jacob leaves Beersheba and sets out for Harran. Okay, let’s get back to our story.
Jacob flees from his brother Esau, and travels about a day’s journey where the Bible says Jacob reaches “a certain place.”
Well, of course he reaches a certain place, but why doesn’t the writer tell us the name of this place? Be patient, because the name will be very important. But to Jacob, this is just any old place, and he stops for no better reason than because it is nighttime.
He then beds down for the night.
Have you ever had a pillow that just didn’t work for you? Maybe it was too hard, or too soft, or too lumpy, or to big or too small. Well, imagine using a rock for a pillow.
Jacob apparently was not as picky about pillows as I am, because even with a rock as a pilIow he goes right to sleep. No wonder he dreams strange things.
Of course, dreams can be important in the Bible. Later on in Genesis, we’ll see how Joseph, one of Jacob’s future sons, is given the gift of interpreting dreams.
Listen to the writer of Genesis describe Jacob’s dream:
- Jacob 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.
Okay, this is pretty straightforward. This is where we get the idea of “Jacob’s ladder” and the song by the same name. Of course biblical scholars now tell us it was probably a stairway that curled around and up, like the stairways on the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia — Like the Tower of Babel was supposed to have been, in other words.
In any event, the stairway connects heaven and earth. And God’s messengers — because that’s what angels are — are going up and down from heaven to earth and back again. But here’s the important part of the dream, revealed in verse 13:
- There above the stairway stood the Lord, and he said: “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.
In the ancient world, ziggurats were built to get as close to God as possible, because ancient people believed God was at the top of the ziggurat. Which is why the earth’s early inhabitants tried to build the Tower of Babel. And so, in his dream, Jacob sees this familiar image of the stairway reaching up to heaven, and God is at the top looking down.
God identifies himself to Jacob with a familiar Old Testament formula: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”
Of course, Isaac is Jacob’s father, but the idea here is that Father Abraham is the first and key figure. That phrase, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be repeated often.
Let’s read the next verses again to see what God promises to Jacob.
- 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.”
Here God promises Jacob five things:
1) God will give Jacob and his descendants the land on which he is lying. (v.13)
2) Jacob’s descendants will be numberless, live everywhere, and be a blessing to all peoples. (v.14)
3) God with Jacob and will watch over him…(v. 15)
4) God will bring Jacob back to this land…(v. 15)
5) God will not leave Jacob until God have done what He promised to Jacob. (v.15)
These are the same promises God has made to Abraham and Isaac, and now Jacob. So, God’s covenant with Abraham continues through Abraham’s son, Isaac; and, now through Isaac’s son, Jacob.
Obviously, for Jacob, who is running away for his life, this is very reassuring. And, Jacob, not previously known for great spiritual insight, understands that God is present with him.
In verse 16, the Bible puts it this way —
- When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
Finally, the crafty, cunning and not too likable Jacob meets God! Jacob thought he was running away from his brother, but he was really running right into the plans and purposes of God.
Jacob found out that no matter where you wind up, or why you got there, God is there, too. God still has a plan for us, no matter what the present circumstances of our lives are.
My father is 100 years old. Actually, he likes to say that he’s a 100 and a half, because his 100th birthday was this past January.
He was a pilot in World War II, and he flew C-47s, dropping paratroopers, and delivering cargo. He flew in England and North Africa from 1941 until he had to come back to the US in 1943. He had to come back because he was malnourished and developed physical problems that kept him from being able to captain his plane and crew.
Because his group flew at night and other odd hours, and the mess hall was often closed when they returned from a mission, he was literally starved of the nutrients he needed to stay healthy and fit.
He was sent back to the states and hospitalized for over a month, where he recovered. After he recovered, he was sent to Missouri where he became a flight instructor for new pilots until the war was over.
The day after he was sent back to the states for medical treatment, the group of C47s he had been a part of came under heavy fire. The plane that he had piloted was shot down and the entire crew was killed. If he had not been sent home, he would have died along with his crew.
Dad told me that story several years ago. Then he said, “I didn’t know it at the time I got sick, but God was with me and preserved my life.”
Just like Jacob, it is often in looking back on our lives that we realize, God was there and we didn’t even know it!
But Jacob also realized that God not only was with him in his dream, but that God was still with him. Jacob uses the present tense when he says, “God is still here and I didn’t even know it.” Here’s what happens next.
- Jacob was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
- Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel….
Jacob recognized that he was in the presence of God, and that the place he so casually picked to camp for the night was a sacred place, the gateway to heaven, the house of God.
And so Jacob named that “certain place” Bethel, which is made up of two words. Beth means house, and el means God. Beth-el means “the house of God.”
And then Jacob takes his pillow, the rock on which he had his dream, and erects it as an altar. He pours oil on it as both a gift and symbol, and marks the spot as the place where he met God.
Jacob would go on to marry, have twelves sons, have his name changed to Israel, and have the tribes of Israel bear the names of his sons. But that story is for another time.
The point of this story for us today is that even in the darkest moments of our lives, God is still present with us.
Like Jacob, we have to stop, and allow ourselves to experience God’s presence.
Jacob experienced God’s presence in a dream — a dream that was so real, so vivid, that Jacob knew unmistakably that he had been in God’s presence.
Have you ever wondered if God was aware of your situation, If God knew what you were going through?
The story of Jacob and his dream – the story of Jacob’s ladder – is the story that God is still at work in this world.
God’s messengers are constantly moving between the presence of God and His creation, carrying God’s messages to those who need them.
And, the primary message is this – God still has a plan for us and God is still working in our lives to fulfill His promises.
Let’s pray together.
Here’s the sermon I’m preaching on Sunday, July 12, 2020. You can listen to the audio that will be broadcast at 11 AM on that Sunday by clicking our church website, www.chathambc.net. I hope you have a glorious Sunday worship experience!
Genesis 25:19-34 NIV
19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah….
21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
23 The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
More Stories in the Abraham Saga
The Bible is full of stories. And the stories are mostly the stories of people, and families, and tribes, and even nations.
And we have another one of those stories today. A very strange story. A story from which we are hard-pressed to draw a moral because every character in this story has serious character flaws.
And, all the characters are related. As a matter of fact, they are parents and children. And, none of them come off as particularly noble, and none of them are role models for much of anything positive.
But, there is a point to this story.
So, let’s get to it.
First of all, the writer of Genesis brings us up to date as Chapter 25 begins.
So, in verse 19, the writer tells us that “Abraham became the father of Isaac.” In six words the writer sums up what previously had taken him or her 12 entire chapters to tell.
Now, I won’t tell the whole story again because we have been telling the Abraham story for several weeks now just to get us to this point.
But, the thing you need to know now is that both Sarah and Abraham have died. The heir, the son of promise, Isaac, is now the main character on the stage of our story.
In verse 20, the writer again summarizes our story of last week when he writes, “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah…”
We won’t retell that story either, but in 2 short verses the writer of Genesis has brought us up to date and set the stage for what he’s about to tell us.
So, in verse 21, we get to the heart of the matter – “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife (Rebekah), because she was childless.”
In the ancient world – and remember this is about 2,000 years before Christ – having children wasn’t just a nice thing to do, it literally was a matter of survival. The Social Security system of the ancient world was to have children who could take care of you in your old age. Not to mention help with the herds, flocks, crops, and all the attendant chores of ancient nomadic life.
But, there’s a bigger point here: Remember God’s promise to Abraham to make him the father of a great nation? That promise was in jeopardy because Abraham and Sarah had no children of their own.
Now, that same scenario is repeating itself. Is the line of Abraham going to end with Isaac? Isaac was already quite old – 40 – at the time of his marriage. Young men could be expected to marry when they were in their late teens, or certainly by the age of 20.
But, for whatever reason, Isaac had not married until Abraham sent his servant to find a suitable wife for Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah, and one would expect children to begin to fill their home.
But, not so. Now, we don’t know when Isaac started praying and asking God for a child, but we do know that Isaac and Rebekah got married when Isaac was 40. Their twin sons are not born until Isaac is 60. So, 20 years pass. I’m sure Isaac starting praying long before he approached 60, but we don’t know.
What we do know is that God heard Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah conceived.
If Isaac’s problem was that he had no heir, then Rebekah’s problem was the whole thing of expecting a baby. There was no book titled, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” like the popular bestseller, now in its fifth edition.
Verse 22 says, “The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’”
Now considering that Isaac had prayed and God had answered his prayer, you might think that everything would have gone smoothly. So, maybe that’s why Rebekah asks, “Why is this happening?”
One might expect that when God answers prayer that everything will turn out just fine. So, “Why is this happening?” is a good question, considering the difficulty Rebekah is having.
But, Rebekah doesn’t just ask, “Why is this happening?” – she asks “Why is this happening to me?”
But, apparently this pregnancy is pretty rough. And so when Rebekah asks God, “Why is this happening to me?” God’s answer is less than reassuring.
Verse 23 – “The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
Wow. God could have said a lot of things to Rebekah, but I’m sure she wasn’t expecting this. Before these boys are even born, God tells Rebekah that the two babies within her are also two nations, two peoples, who won’t get along now or in the future.
In other words, God is giving Rebekah a glimpse into the future. Her two sons represent the future of two vast peoples – two nations – one stronger than the other, but the older subservient to the younger.
It’s understandable that one son could be stronger than the other, but that the older son would serve the younger one was incomprehensible. That wasn’t the way things happened in the ancient middle east.
The older son, by nothing but the accident of birth order, inherited a double portion of the father’s estate, and the younger received the leftovers.
For God to proclaim that the older would serve the younger was a real reversal of the cultural norm of the day.
Then, we get to the actual birth story. The firstborn’s complexion was ruddy – the Bible actually says “red.”
Can you imagine your newborn son being described as being “red and his whole body was like a hairy garment?”
Esau was not the cutest baby ever born.
And, based on his appearance, they named him Esau, which sort of means “red.”
Then, no sooner is Esau born, than his twin is born, too. They’re almost born at the same time, because as Esau is delivered, Jacob comes right along clutching at his older brother’s heel.
So, they named the second baby, Jacob because that roughly means “heel snatcher.”
A Turning Point and a Defining Story
Now that, as Paul Harvey used to say, brings us to the “rest of the story.”
In verses 27 and 28, the writer of Genesis covers a lot of years this way –
“The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
So, there it is – these two boys, Esau and Jacob, are about as different as night and day. They look different, they like different things, they act different, and they are each loved by a different parent.
This sets the stage for what will be the defining story of both Jacob and Esau’s lives from Genesis 25:29-34.
The story is that Esau has been out hunting, while Jacob had stayed around the tents. Jacob is cooking a stew, and Esau comes home famished. Actually, Esau is probably not about to die. We are not the first ones to use the phrase when we’re hungry – “I’m starving to death!” Of course, we’re not and neither was Esau.
What he is really saying is “I want to gulp down that red stew you’re cooking because I’m hungry and I want something to eat right now!”
Down through the centuries after this event, Esau will be thought of as a impetuous, immoral man with ravenous appetites for food and other pleasures.
Jacob also shows his character here. Because Esau wants something Jacob has — namely a savory stew — Jacob senses that his older, stronger brother is in a weak position.
So, Jacob sees his chance and takes it.
“First, sell me your birthright,” Jacob demands.
Now, a bowl of stew may be worth a lot to a hungry, impatient hunter like Esau, but it certainly isn’t worth one’s birthright.
Jacob, possibly egged on by his mother Rebekah, knows what a birthright is, and wants it. To have the position of firstborn, to inherit the bulk of Isaac’s considerable fortune, and to garner the respect of the community that comes with the birthright is important to both Rebekah and Jacob. We know all of that from another story when Rebekah and Jacob conspire to steal Isaac’s blessing from Esau.
Esau, a man who lives in the moment without thought for the future replies dramatically, “Look, I am about to die! What good is a birthright to me?”
So, he trades his birthright for a bowl of stew. And, it’s not even meat stew! It’s stew made from lentils – bean soup, in other words.
But, Esau, after swearing to Jacob that his birthright is now Jacob’s, gobbles down the lentil stew quickly. The bible says, “He ate and drank, and then got up and left.”
But then the writer of Genesis adds an editorial comment – “So, Esau despised his birthright.”
In other words, Esau did not treat his birthright with the respect it deserved in that day and in that society.
Esau is an example of bad judgment even into the New Testament era, about 2,000 years later.
In Hebrews 12:16, the writer warns first century Christians –
“See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.”
So, this story becomes the defining story for both Jacob and Esau.
It is interesting that Jacob is not criticized for taking advantage of Esau’s impetuous nature and short-sightedness. Maybe Jacob was seen as a shrewd negotiator, or perhaps this story explains why the Jews and Edomites split into two nations.
Whatever the reason, the story of Jacob taking the birthright of Esau does two things: first, it confirms Jacob’s name as the “heel snatcher” — the one who tries to get an advantage over another, especially his older, stronger brother; and, secondly, it continues the focus of God’s promise to Abraham through Isaac and then Jacob.
We’ll see other Jacob stories. As I mentioned earlier, Jacob and Rebekah conspire to take the last thing that Esau has left as the firstborn son – the final blessing of his dying father, Isaac.
And, Jacob will get tricked himself when he tries to take Rachel as his wife, and gets stuck with her sister, Leah. So, what goes around comes around for Jacob.
And, Jacob has the dream of Jacob’s ladder. And he wrestles with a man who is probably God himself.
So, Jacob is never portrayed as a pushover. Maybe because he was the second-born and the smaller of Isaac’s two sons, he thought he had to be more cunning, scrappier, and more aggressive than he might have otherwise been.
But the point is, this story is a turning point for Jacob and it defines him for the rest of his life.
What’s Your Story?
Is there a defining story in your life? A turning point that you look back on and think, “Wow, if I hadn’t made that one decision, things might have been different.”
Of course, those defining stories can be good or bad. Jacob’s defining story was a bit of both. While the Bible from that point on focuses on Jacob, Jacob still has to deal with the fallout of his deception for decades.
My point today is that the stories of our lives can define us for the rest of our lives.
Good stories can help propel us into the future, confident that because we made the right decision one time, we can continue to do so to our benefit and the benefit of those around us.
But, what about bad stories that also can define us? Stories of poor decisions, missed opportunities, devastating disappointments which lead us to lament, “If only I hadn’t made that one decision things would have turned out better!”
Well, let me tell you what happens to Jacob.
Years after Jacob deceived Esau twice, Jacob prepares to meet Esau in hopes of reconciling with his brother. Because he is not certain what Esau will do when they meet, the night before, Jacob sends his family, servants, and household away to safety while he alone remains.
As he attempts to make it through the night, the Bible says, “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”
We know now that this is probably a theophany – an appearance of God in human form.
The story goes on –
25 When the man saw that he could not overpower Jacob, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
So, Jacob, formerly known as the “heel snatcher” gets a new name, Israel, which means, “one who strives with God.”
This name change will be confirmed in Genesis 35 when God tells Jacob – “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.”
Israel has 12 sons, who are the beginnings of the 12 Tribes of Israel. The 12 Tribes of Israel become the nation of Israel and the rest is history, as they say.
My point is that although most of us have a story in our lives that defines us, that story can be changed by the presence and power of God, as we, like Jacob, wrestle with God.
In Revelation 3:12, John records the words of Jesus,
“The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.
To have a new name is to have a new story. A story that defines us, not by our mistakes and failures, but a story that defines us by God’s mercy and grace, by the love of Christ, and the sacrifice Jesus made upon the cross of Calvary.
The important part of the story of Jacob is that Jacob didn’t change his own name, God did.
And by changing Jacob’s name from “heel snatcher” to “one who strives with God,” God changed Jacob’s story forever.
And God continues to change lives and stories today.
On Pentecost Sunday, I preached from Acts 2:1-21, which is the story of the coming of the Spirit of God and the birthday of the Church. It’s an amazing passage with lots to say to us today. And, to make it even more special, each year our congregation wears red on Pentecost Sunday, making it a festive occasion. Here’s the audio of my message:
On Mother’s Day 2018, I preached from Psalm 1, focusing on the phrase in verse 3, “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water.” Our Mother’s Day worship service included dedicating the newest member of our faith family, 8-week old Ella Kaitlyn Hall. It was a great Sunday, and I hope yours was, too! Here’s the audio of the sermon from last Sunday:
On Easter Sunday, I preached from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth — 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. In that passage, Paul says, “I am what I am by the grace of God…”
Isn’t that what Easter is about? We are what we are — not what we used to be, not what we will be — but we are what we are by the grace of God. Here’s the audio of that message. I hope your Easter was glorious!
Photo credit: The Acrocorinth. By Marina Loukas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s a passage packed with dramatic moments like “get behind me, Satan” and “take up your cross and follow me.”
For the second Sunday in Lent, I preached from Mark 8:31-9:1. The lectionary reading did not include Mark 9:1, but I felt it was important to add that verse to get the full effect of Jesus’s words to his disciples.
Here’s the message title, “A Difficult Call To Discipleship.” I hope it’s helpful.
Last Sunday I preached from Matthew 25:31-46, the story of the separation of the sheep and the goats. After Jesus places the sheep on his right and the goats on his left, he turns to the sheep and delivers this message —
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Of course, that sounds like all we have to do is feed, give water, take in strangers, clothe people, visit the sick and those in prison and we get to go to heaven. But, who were those in the first century who were hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Because knowing who they were gives us insight into why this is Kingdom work. Here’s the audio —
Yesterday I preached from Luke 17:11-19, on the healing of the 10 lepers. You remember the story: Jesus healed 10 lepers, but only 1 of them returned to thank him. But, there is certainly more to this lesson in thanksgiving. Here’s the audio which runs about 16 minutes. I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
From Joshua passing the river Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, 1800, by Benjamin West. Wikipedia.
Last Sunday, November 5, 2017, I preached from Joshua 3:7-17, the account of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River. Joshua was connected to the past because he and Caleb were the only ones of their generation to endure and reach the promised land. But, Joshua was also a new leader for a new day in a new place. God’s promise to Joshua was “I will be with you as I was with Moses.” Here’s the audio of “Connected to the Past, Facing the Future,” which has insight for our churches today. I hope you find it helpful.