Tag: redemption

Sermon: What’s Your Story?

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.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Glad Tiger Didn’t Win The Masters

I’m glad Tiger Woods didn’t win the Masters this year.  It would have been a great sports headline:  “Disgraced Tiger Redeems Himself in Golf’s Classic Tourney.” Actually, the golf commentators had already begun that line of thought.  They were treating Tiger’s Masters appearance as if a good showing, or even winning, would redeem Tiger’s reputation.

So I’m glad Tiger didn’t win this year.  Normally I’m a Tiger fan, and I did track the Masters and felt a twinge of disappointment especially on Sunday when Tiger played so poorly.  But Tiger is never going to redeem himself on the golf course because his golf game was not the problem.  His character was.  And while we saw a “kinder, gentler” Tiger at the beginning of Masters week, we also saw the frustrated Tiger spew some of his verbal venom when things went wrong again.

Tiger has a long way to go.  I for one wish him well.  I hope his marriage survives and his family is reunited.  But if that happens it won’t be because of what happens on the golf course.  It will be because of what happens in his heart.  After all, redemption doesn’t come at the Masters; it only comes from the Master.  What do you think?