Friday, July 15, 2011

Heaven in Unlikely Places

It is only three verses after the birth of Jacob and Esau that we begin to here about Jacob's conniving and self-serving ways.  Genesis 25:19-26 tells of the birth of Jacob and Esau.  Verses 27-28 give us a short summary about Esau and Jacob.  Verse 29 begins the story of Jacob bartering for Esau's birthright.  Jacob's story has barely gotten started and he is already portrayed to us as someone who is looking out for his own gain, trying to find the best angle to better himself.  His brother is hungry and rather than treating him as a brother he sees Esau as someone who has something he wants.  He refuses to share food with his brother until his brother gives up his birthright as the firstborn.  Of course, this trend continues in Genesis 27.  Jacob deceives his father Isaac in order to receive the blessing that should fall to Esau as the firstborn.  Isaac, being too old to see well, was easily deceived when Jacob put on his brother's clothes and used goat skin to make himself feel hairy like his brother.  So Jacob succeeds in obtaining both his brother's birthright and his blessing through questionable means.  Surely Jacob is not the kind of person through whom God plans to fulfill his promise to Abraham.  Surely God will look elsewhere.

As the story moves to Genesis 28, there has been no mention of any remorse or repentance on Jacob's part over what he has done.  In fact, his only concerns seems to be his own survival.  His mother has made up an excuse about him looking for a wife so that he can get away from home in order to avoid his own brother murdering him out of anger.  So in this chapter one who is a proven deceiver and con-artist and fleeing from his family out of concern for his own self preservation finds himself in a "certain place" that is so unimportant as to be unworthy of a name at this point in the story and the only reason he has stopped in this place is to get some rest.  There is nothing sacred about this person or this place or this journey or this activity.  Jacob could not be any less interested in God.  There is no reason for God to show up here.  

But as Jacob sleeps, he has a dream about a ladder that reaches from earth to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on this ladder.  And this is not just any dream filled with wishful thinking.  Scripture tells us that God speaks to Jacob in this dream explaining the meaning of the vision.  This is the God of Abraham and Isaac and this God is now extending the same promises to Jacob that he promised to Jacob's father and grandfather.  God promises to be with Jacob and to keep him until the promise of inheriting this land on which he sleeps is fulfilled.  God binds himself by these promises to a con artist who has spent no time or energy seeking God.  Heaven has come to earth in this most ordinary of places.  It is only after the dream of promises made by God that Jacob in turn promises himself to God, binding himself to be faithful to God if God will keep his promises.

Naturally, we wonder why God would do this.  Why make promises to a man who has only served himself?  Why should God reveal himself to one who was not even seeking?  Why bind yourself to a man who felt no bond even to his own brother?  What does God have to gain in this endeavor?  While it may be difficult to answer those questions in a satisfactory way, we do find that this is a pattern with God.  God is constantly showing up in places where we least expect, not least in the person of Jesus Christ.

The end of John 1 tells of Jesus' call to Philip and Nathanael.  Jesus calls Philip first who then goes and tells Nathanael about Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathanael is skeptical asking "Can anything good comes from Nazareth?"  However, upon meeting Jesus, Nathanael is quickly convinced of Jesus' messianic qualities.  But Jesus says to him "You will see greater things than these....Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."  Jesus is letting Nathanael know that just as heaven came to earth in that unlikely place where Jacob dreamed now heaven has come to earth in a whole new way in the unlikely place of this man from Nazareth.  The God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who makes a habit of bringing heaven to unlikely places.

No comments: