Genesis 28:10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 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."
“Ugh! You are so stupid, Jacob!” Jacob was saying to himself as he pounded his fists against his head. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” Jacob cried out loud with tears streaking down his dusty face. “God had promised me the birthright! He had promised me the inheritance! He had promised me the blessing! Why couldn’t I wait?! Why did I have to take matters into my own hands?!”
Jacob was pretty stupid when it came to receiving the blessings God had promised him. Even though Jacob was the younger of twin sons, the Lord had promised Rebekah, their mother, “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” (Genesis 25:23). But the promise wasn’t enough for Jacob. He wanted the birthright outright, so he took advantage of his brother Esau, finagling the eldest son’s birthright for a bowl of lentil soup.
Years later, Jacob used goat hair to pull the wool over the eyes of his aging, nearly blind, father Isaac. He impersonated his brother and so tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was rightfully Esau’s. Jacob was now running away from this mess that he made, to live with some relatives that he had never met. He had loved his brother, but now Esau wanted to kill him. He loved his father, but he had deceived him. He loved his mother even more, but he would never see Rachel again.
You can imagine that Jacob was kicking himself for his stupidity for taking divine matters into his own hands. Now he was on the run. It was a 500 mile journey from Beersheba, near where Jerusalem is today, to the southern part of today’s Turkey. After Jacob had been on the road for several days, traveling about 70 miles, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.
Jacob was exhausted. He was scared. He was guilty. But mostly he was mad at himself. He was alone, running away from family, and running toward strangers. He was to blame for the rupture in his family. He had worked so hard to get Esau’s birthright and Isaac’s blessing. But now he had nothing. Except for a rock to sleep on.
Please understand, Jacob was not some impressionable young man when these deceitful shenanigans took place. He was a 76-year-old runaway. Admittedly, Jacob did live until he was 147, so that puts him at middle age when he packed up and left home. But still … you would think he would have known better. Nope, sin made him stupid.
And sin makes us stupid, too.
NBC news anchor, Brian Williams, proves the point. At the apex of his career, with the world watching, he invents some truth. The stupidity of sin is that we think we can get away with it.
Students cheat in school because they think can get ahead. But they only grow up not knowing how to do math precisely or spell correctly or speak the foreign language properly. Parents believe they can save a few dollars by lying about their children’s ages when going to the movies or the water park. They may save some money, but they have lost all integrity with their children. Couples think they are happy living together outside of marriage. But it doesn’t make God happy, and He does not bless a relationship built on lies and sin.
Partygoers may believe that they can handle their liquor. But then they have a few too many and they have lost the respect of their spouse and friends. People may feel good when they have expressed their anger and emotions on social media or even directly to someone’s face. But there is no earthly cure for the venom that spews from our minds, mouths, and fingers. Members may skip a few worship services to catch up on sleep or work overtime, thinking that it is a benefit to their bodies. But a few extra dollars or a few hours more of sleep is no compensation for the damage done to their souls. Their absence also affects their children. For our children closely observe everything we do … and they mimic it. Sometimes it is the good we do … but mostly it is the bad. Then years later, when they have forsaken their confirmation vows and refuse to have our grandbabies baptized, much of that blame falls on our present actions.
We are just so stupid!
We think we are gaining so much with our lying, our cheating, our deceitfulness. We believe we are just fine with our failure toward faithfulness, our marred sense of morality, our poverty of praise.
Sin never, ever, lets us get ahead. Not in the long run. It leaves us alone, afraid, guilty … and mostly mad at ourselves. We are left with tears streaming down our faces, pounding our fists against our head, crying, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”
Thank the Lord that God’s grace is greater than our stupidity! God knew that Jacob was a broken man. He could not reach up to God – because no sinful human can. So God reached down to Him! Even though Jacob had lied, cheated, and stolen, the promise God made to Rachel at Jacob’s birth was still true. God appeared to Jacob in a dream to reaffirm this promise, but it was a dream unlike any other.
In his dream, Jacob saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 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. 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.”
In our sermon series of seeing our Savior in the Old Testament, it might be difficult to see Jesus in this text. That is, until we hear Jesus comment on this text. He said, “You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Jesus Christ is the Stairway to heaven. The angels ascend to take your prayers up to God and they descend to provide protection to God’s children. There has to be a Stairway because in our stupidity, we humans have separated ourselves from God. Our sins and rebellion have created a huge gulf between the holy God and sinful human beings.
The world record for pole vaulting is 6.1 meters. The world record for long jump is 8.95 meters. No matter how high or how far we jump, we cannot reach jump over the huge chasm sin has created so that we might reach God. We will always fall short. That’s why the Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12) and “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There is no way for sinful people like Jacob or any of us to return to Him. Instead, God has to bridge that gap and bring His presence to us.
Jesus is the Stairway. He connects this disgraceful first floor of earth to the glorious second story of heaven. Jesus accomplished that by first descending to earth and becoming Man. Christ Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus is the Stairway that had to be lowered from above. It could not be raised from below. We could not build a stairway so that we could reach God. God had to reach down to us through His Son.
The place where God makes that connection of the Stairway here on earth is Bethel, which means “the house of God.” Even though he was poor, Jacob set up his own worship site by setting apart this small rock and pouring oil on it and calling it Beth El – Beth is Hebrew for house and El is short for Elohim, God. This was where God reached down to Jacob to assure him, forgive him and extend His promises to him once more. At Jacob’s church, his House of God.
We are just as homeless and hopeless and helpless as Jacob. We are just as sinful and deceptive and unworthy. And yet God reaches down to us, not in a dream, but in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Epiphany Lutheran Church is the House of God. Wherever Jacob’s Stairway touches earth, that place is Bethel.
Here in this House, we pause from the fears and troubles that surround us. Powerful and bloodthirsty enemies would like to kill us. The devil and his demons are trying to lead us to hell. Our own deceptive natures attempt to lead us away from God so that we feel alone and afraid. Even family members betray us.
But like Jacob, we pilgrims and wanderers are able to enter our Bethel. Here in God’s House a baby becomes a child of God in Baptism. Here in God’s House a teenager receives absolution for what he did the night before. Here in God’s House a member receives strength in the Lord’s Supper for another difficult week at work. Here in God’s House we approach the throne of grace so that our prayers may ascend to be heard by the Lord. Here in God’s house, the angels are present to receive glimpses of the glory of God on earth.
Not that we deserve any of this. No, just the opposite. Our sins have made us all stupid. Very stupid. And God knows that. And yet He still accepts us. He still loves us. He still comes to us. The Lord is not an abandoning God, but a seeking Shepherd who never rests until He finds His lost sheep. And there that night at Bethel, out in the middle of nowhere, the Good Shepherd found His lost lamb named Jacob, and put Him on His shoulders to give Him the promise of carrying Him to the green pastures of His heavenly home.
Fellow stupid sinners, Jesus isn’t automatically going to make us smarter. But being here in the House of God, He does make us less stupid. God’s Sacraments cause us to sin less. God’s Word gives us to power to live smarter lives for Jesus. God’s Absolution makes us forgiven after we fall back into our stupid, sinful ways. God’s Benediction grants us the ability to live lives dedicated toward His service.
And by the grace of God, heaven is filled with formerly stupid people like you and me and Jacob. But it is the Stairway of Jesus that forgives our stupidity and allows us to travel from the House of God here on earth to the Home of God in heaven. Amen.