The Lord Comes By!
Genesis 28:16: "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said,
'Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it."
Crossing a barren wilderness, Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham,
came by night to a lonely place where he lay down and went to sleep.
A stone was his pillow.
In his dreams, he saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven,
"And, behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."
He heard the God of his fathers calling him by name and promising him the same promise
that he had made to Abraham and Isaac.
That promise was that he would possess the whole land, and that his descendents would be
numberless, and that through them all the families of the earth would be blessed.
When Jacob awakened from his sleep, he could still feel the presence and hear the voice.
And he thought to himself, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it."
Then he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
That story should speak to our souls.
Many of us have wished that we could have such a vision as God gave to Jacob.
It would be a vital and unmistakable experience of God that confirms
all that we believe about Him.
It is difficult just to have faith, and go on trusting a God we cannot see.
It is even more difficulties in these days when so many voices ridicule our faith in God.
We think that If we could have a dream or vision where God comes to us,
that it would dispel all our uncertainty and doubt.
Other people have sometimes told of having visions, and we might have thought
that it is supposed to happen in our religious life, but most of us cannot say
that it has ever happened to us.
Most of us cannot point to a single place, a single time, or a single experience in our past life,
and say with assurance, "There I saw and heard God."
We hope that we could have a Jacob's ladder to bridge the infinite distance between earth and heaven.
We live in the hope that one day God will take the initiative, and bring us to the time and place
where we can say, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
The story of Jacob speaks directly to our need.
The vision of God comes in an unlikely place.
For Jacob, it was a rocky wilderness that was bleak and forbidding.
It was a lonely place of craggy mountains with deep ravines, and a dangerous place
inhabited by wild beasts.
That was the last place in the world where a man would feel close to God.
We have our own ideals about the environment were God ought to be found -- such as
in a beautiful old church, or on a majestic mountain or in a verdant valley
or in a lovely flower garden.
God came to Jacob in the most unlikely surroundings.
God, not man, decides on the place of a Divine visitation.
It may be a house of worship as it was for Isaiah.
It may be a penal colony as it was for John the author of the Book of Revelation
on the Island of Patmos.
First, the story of Jacob tells us that we must be prepared for God
in the place where we least expect Him.
God is not an actor who makes his entrance on the stage of life only when the props
are perfectly placed, and the scene is set, and the houselights are dimmed,
and the audience is hushed.
God creates His own stage, and it may be one that is disorganized and unlovely.
It may be that one day you will look back and say of some ordinary place,
"Surely the Lord was in that place; and I did not know it."
Next, the story tells us that the vision of God came at an unlikely time.
Let us take a closer look at this man Jacob who is sulking like a fugitive in the wilderness.
He was a fugitive.
Jacob was running away not only from his brother, but he was also running away from God.
In the hour of his shame, he did not expect a favor -- a visit from the Most High God.
God picked the hour of shame as the exact moment to come to Jacob,
and to give him a vision of heaven and a gracious promise concerning his own destiny.
It is really remarkable, but it characterizes God all through the Bible.
God has a way of tracking us down, and giving us His blessing when we least deserve it.
The writer of the 139th Psalm shared his conviction in a sublime prayer.
Remember that the God with whom we have to do is not a moral snob.
If He were a snob, he would have sent his Son to be born in the holy of holies
in the temple at Jerusalem, and certainly not in the cold and filth and darkness
of a stable in Bethlehem.
If God were a snob, Jesus would have called fire from heaven to fall upon the foolish
people who rejected Him.
And God would not have allowed them to put Jesus to death upon the cross.
Paul wrote, "One will hardly die for a righteous man though perhaps for a good man
one will even dare to die.
But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
God does not withhold His grace until we are worthy of it.
He comes not when we deserve Him but when we need Him.
His coming may seem like judgment, but even as judgment; it is still grace,
and we can pray with hope, "Forgive us our sins."
He made it so that one day you will look back on the hour of your greatest shame and say,
"Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it."
This story tells us also that the vision of God comes in an unlikely experience.
(See Genesis 32:24,31)
Jacob came away limping from this violent encounter, but Jacob was a better man,
and was closer to God than the Jacob who had not been lame.
This is one of the most difficult lesson to learn.
It is difficult for us to realize that God may be in our pain, and and many of the harsh
and difficult experiences of life.
We are not as realistic as the men who wrote the Bible.
They believed that all of life's comes under God's sovereignty and that even in the dark
and distressing experiences, and that when we look at Him long enough and carefully enough,
we may see a visitation of God.
These men saw God.
They found His presence and heard His voice. not only in sunshine, but also in the storm;
not only in the flower, but also in the earthquake; not only in health, but also in sickness;
and not only in victory, but also in defeat..
They recognized God in the sterner times of life as well as in its pleasant experiences.
And they saw His relationship with them, not only in times of comfort, but also in times of power.
Many people have been able to look back on the most disappointing, the most frustrating,
the most humiliating experience in their lives, and, because of what it did for them,
say with conviction, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it."
That awareness of God has happened to others.
The same sort of awakening came to Isaiah in church.
That same sort of awakening came to John Wesley in a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street.
Such an awakening came to Blaise Pascal one night in his study.
It came to Augustine in a moment of intense, moral struggle.
It came to Francis of Assisi in an act of lowly ministry to a leper on the Umbrian plain.
It came to Johann Kepler at work with his telescopes.
This awareness may come to anyone in different ways.
It isn't the manner of His coming that matters.
It is the fact that a person wakes up to God which is extremely important.
A father, walking with his son, tells him of an experience that he had when he was just
walking down the street.
Then his son said, "We were all going down the street, when suddenly along comes God."
God does not withhold His blessing until we have straightened up our lives,
and cleaned up our souls, and when we have gotten our lives in order
so that we could receive Him as an honored guest.
God comes unannounced as a friend who rings the doorbell the first thing in the morning
before you had time to make the beds and straighten up the house or even comb your hair.
God loves you in spite of the messes in your life.
"One sat alone beside the highway begging
His eyes were blind the light he could not see.
He clutched his rags, and shivered in the shadows.
Then Jesus came and bade His darkness flee.
Unclean, Unclean the leper cried in torment,
The deaf, the dumb in helplessness stood near;
The fever raged, disease had gripped its victim
Then Jesus came and cast out every fear.
And so today we find the Savior able
We cannot conquer passion, lust, or sin.
Our broken hearts have left us sad and lonely,
But Jesus comes to dwell Himself within.
When Jesus comes the tempters power is broken.
When Jesus comes the tears are washed away.
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay."
Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White