TEXT: Genesis 35:1-15
CNN’s website featured an article about Frank Warren, editor of the book The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book. After a troubling period in his own life, he handed out 3000 self-addressed stamped postcards to people on the street, asking them to anonymously mail him their secrets. It began as a sort of public art project in 2004. To his surprise, the cards started pouring in. He doesn’t have to hand out cards anymore. He has received over 100,000 cards, many of which are works of art in themselves. It has led to PostSecret.com, and there are now many sites like it where you can confess your sins or tell your deepest secret anonymously. One postcard had an old picture of a Santa Claus with two boys on his lap. On the picture were written the words, “I wish my sons would contact me.” Another that I was particularly drawn to was one where a man had taken a picture of his hands praying, and written on the picture: “I don’t know how to go back to God, and I want to more than anything else in the world.” Both cards were about finding your way back home. One from a father’s perspective who missed his sons, and the other from a lost son who could not find the way back to his heavenly Father.
When you talk to a person who is not yet having a loving relationship with Jesus, and would ask them about coming to Jesus, they just couldn’t figure out how they can have that relationship with Him, they simply don’t know the way…On the other hand, when you talk to a Christian who had grown cold in his/her love for Jesus, to come back in fellowship with the Lord, they too couldn’t figure out how to get back in the arms of the Lord…What is it that makes it difficult for people, Believers and Unbelievers, to find their way back home – to find their way back in the fellowship with God.
I believe the first thing is:
1. THE INNATE REBELLION OF MAN’S HEART.
If we could have interviewed the prodigal son in Jesus’ story, he might have told us that he did not like all the rules at home. He may have said that he did not like having to answer to his father for everything. Like Jacob, he wanted to get away from his older brother. He just needed to get away from home and have a change of scenery. He wanted to sow his wild oats. But for Jacob, he had created his own problems through deceit and self-centeredness which had created a lot of destructive things in his life.
Im a blogger and also a blog reader. I happened to read a blog written by a guy named Robert, entitled In Search of Meaning (The Day I Became A Rebel Against God)…Robert narrated:
“So, here’s this story. In the period between 1990 and 1991 I spent nine months in Australia, learning about human psychology and getting trained as a psychotherapist. During that time yoga and yogic meditation was my method of personal growth, and it was a big thing in my life. At the same time an acquaintance of mine from my home town was in New Zealand, staying with a rather radical Christian community. And so we were exchanging letters back and forth, about what was going on in our lives etc. Yes, this was the pre-internet era, good old pencils were still in use back then. But we did have electricity already…
Anyway, in one of the letters I mentioned my yoga practice and this information sort of freaked him out, as it seems. Soon I got a really looooong letter from him, warning me about this non-Godly practice of mine. He told me that God Almighty was really unhappy with people doing yoga, Zen, Buddhism, actually anything but the only right spiritual practice (which was, by sheer coincidence, the one he was using). He informed me that all the other spiritual practices, philosophies and religions were the work of Devil and that with them God was testing our faith. He warned me that God always severely punishes every soul that dares to follow other practices. This was supposed to be a sign of his divine love for us (frankly, I really struggled with this one). At the end he told me I should really be careful about my choices, choose God’s way and save my soul, otherwise I was going to be doomed forever.
You see, it became totally clear to me that I would rather burn in hell than obey such a narcissistic, aggressive, brutal, manipulative, non-respectful, full of hatred, non-empathetic, cruel control freak. Not only that, I felt I was ready to fight this monster because this was not the universe I would want to support.
It was a liberating feeling. I did not care about anything, I felt I regained my identity and I was happy, peaceful, loving. And just to make sure this was clear to anybody who might had been witnessing, while standing in the meadow I turned my face toward the sky (don’t know why, it just somehow felt as the right direction) and said it all out loud. That I did not approve of this tyranny and that I was going to rebel against it. Forever.
So, my friends, I guess I am doomed.” (robertkrzisnik.wordpress.com)
I see a lot of people today who would rather continue in their dysfunctional lifestyle, which is not working for them at all, than to turn their lives over to God. They would like for God to help them with some of their problems, but they have no intention of surrendering their lives to God. They are caught up in a web of self-destruction, but they would rather live with the destruction their choices have caused than give up the control of their lives.
All of us, some more than others, have had or are having times of rebellion against God. For some, the rebellious spirit is obvious by our attitude and actions and in others there may be an outward pretense that covers a rebellious heart. MEN WOULD LIKE TO HAVE CONTROL OF HIS OWN LIFE…we want to do things our way…That’s why he finds it hard to go back to God…
Sometimes there are those who manage to break the cycle.
What is it that makes it difficult for us to find our way back home? Not everyone is a rebel. Some folks, like the man on the postcard, are lost and don’t know how to get back home.
So the second thing that makes it hard to find our way home is:
2. WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW THE WAY
Jacob is a man who needed to find his way to God, but he did not seem to know how. His father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham both had life-altering encounters with God, but nothing has happened to him at this point. All he had to go on were the stories of what happened to his father and grandfather. Life had been pretty good for Jacob. He had grown up to be a shepherd and he lived a serene existence. Jacob had not had much need for God. We never read about any conversations about God or with him. We never read about him worshiping, nor any encounters with God in all of his life up until he meets God at Bethel. But Jacob is desperately in need of God now. He has swindled his brother out of his birthright and inheritance, and the conflict between him and his brother has escalated to the place where he is in fear of losing his life. He needs to go home to God, but he doesn’t seem to know the way.
The good news is that when we cannot find our way to God, God will come to us. Jacob is running from his brother and his problems — the problems he has created. Finally, as he is on the run, the night comes and he falls asleep. There is a rock for a pillow under his head, and above his head the open heavens. As he is asleep, God reveals himself to Jacob. In his dream there is what appears to be a large ladder, or staircase of light, the top of which reaches to heaven and the very throne of God. God reveals himself and promises Jacob that he will inherit the promises which God had made to his father and his father before him. The Lord repeats those promises to him personally saying, “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… 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” (Genesis 28:13-15).
Jacob calls the place “Bethel,” which in Hebrew means ‘House of God.’ This special place seems to him to be the very dwelling place of the Lord. Jacob has met God. He wasn’t expecting to meet him. He wasn’t even thinking of God. It was purely grace. Meeting God was probably the last thing on his mind. He did not even want to meet God. He was only thinking of getting away from his brother. His mind was full of thoughts about where he was going and what was ahead of him. But God broke into Jacob’s self-absorbed world in a dramatic way. God opened his world to Jacob, even when Jacob had closed his world to God.
For us, Bethel, is that place of rest, letting God speak to us, revealing his promises to us. Bethel is the place where we experienced God’s awesomeness and said for the first time yes Lord. “Yes, You are my God and I will serve you.”
We can also look at Bethel, as the place where God started working on the character of Jacob, and it is the place God started working on ours also.
There comes a time when God commands us to go back to Bethel. Read (Gen.35:1) Why? Because we need to go back to our Bethel, and let God reveal these things to us again. To put us back on track with His will for our lives – TO MAKE US SEE THE RIGHT DIRECTION IN GOING BACK TO GOD.
Returning to Bethel also meant a time of cleansing. Read (Gen. 35:2) To make progress in our Christian walk we must make a complete break with the old life that hinders our faithfulness to God.
Before Jacob and his family could move forward, they had to clean house first.
- They had to rid themselves of idols, which represent anything which we trust, desire, or prioritize over God.
- Then they had to purify themselves, which was an outward washing, which represented the inward cleaning the Christian’’s experiences as they confess, repent, and renounce sin in their lives.
- They had to change their clothes, which was symbolic of leaving the old sin tainted clothes behind and putting on garments of righteousness.
- They even got rid of all their ear rings (verse 4), which apparently had some association with paganism or cultism.
In summary, they had to completely renounce and rid themselves of those things which offended a holy God and hindered their spiritual walk.
What does this mean for us? It means that we cannot make progress, we can never go back to a loving fellowship with God until we willingly lay aside anything in our lives that the Bible or Holy Spirit has shown us is offensive to God.
We must abolish all loyalties competing with Christ!
Jacob collected and buried the pagan images his family member had picked up along the way and carried with them. He even pulled the earrings off the idols so that his sons wouldn’t be able to recast the metal into new idols. Jacob did everything in his power to declare total loyalty to the Lord God. All competing loyalties to other gods were cast down. Jacob understood this needed to happen to make the Lord the only God of his family.
Idols actually keep us from God’s presence. Whatever holds our loyalty also holds our attention. God is not threatened by the idols people worship, but He is concerned about what they do to us:
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.” Psalm 115:4-8
Idols make us deaf, dumb, blind, senseless, and paralyzed to the things of God. There is no renewal, no coming back to the original design of God for fellowship with men, when God’s people are carrying idols.
I’m confident that none of us bow to little images, but more of us actually engage in idolatry than you might think. Today our idols have taken a different form. It works like this: “whatever consumes our thoughts, whatever takes up our time, whatever we spend out money on determines our true loyalty is an idol in our life.” One person said that you can tell what someone worships by looking at their calendar and checkbook.
“Pope Benedict XVI condemned the love of money and power during an outdoor Mass in Paris. He argued that both money and power have become idols in today’s world. ‘Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?’ He asked.” (sermonnews.com )
Jesus said that you cannot serve two master or you will love one and hate the other. He said love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. He promised that if we’d seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that all the things we’re tempted with idolizing because we’re so preoccupied with obtaining them that He just give to us. God will not share your loyalty. He will not bless your life, my life and even this church, until we put down idols that keep us from His presence. If you want to really experience Him once again, mightily in your life…to go back to that on fire relationship with Him, I invite you to begin asking Him to reveal these things to us.
For each one of us It may be something different than someone else’s, but the point is that we cannot move forward in our spiritual life without leaving something behind! For example some of these things could be our plans, ungodly attitudes, goals other than God’s.
Returning to Bethel is a time of consecration. This is the consecration of Jacob’s heart as he return’s to the Lord. Read (Gen.35:3).
Consecration is the act of setting apart, or dedicating yourself to God. Let’s do as Jacob said to his people, “let us arise and go”. Lets go back to Bethel. Setting ourselves apart will allow us to do as Jacob did, worship the Lord, become faithful to Him (God).
What is it that makes it difficult for us to find our way back home?
3. CHOOSE WHAT REALLY MATTERS.
a. Choose to have an encounter with God
When Jacob sent for Esau and heard that he was not only coming, but bringing 400 men with him, he thought he might be attacked and killed. He made a decision to send a gift, a peace offering to Esau. He sent him hundreds of animals: goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys.
Next, he sent all the people with him in groups over the Jabbok river to meet Esau. The last people he sent were his wives and children. He sent over all his possessions.
He had to come to the place where he decided what was important in his life, what really matters – GOD! When he stripped himself of all the things dear to him, then it was just Jacob and God. And here we can see one of the most indescribable experience of a man with God – Jacob wrestled with God all night.
Jacob struggled with God…At daybreak, God asks Jacob to let him go, and Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” God blesses him and gives him a new name, and Jacob says, “I saw God face to face and my life was spared.” Jacob held on to God…He decided to have a personal encounter with God…enough of the stories of his father about God, enough of the stories that has been told to him…he made that decision that if I must go back home, I must have an encounter with God.
This must be your decision alone.
b. Choose to be right with others.
Only after Jacob wrestles with God is he ready to meet his brother. And when they meet there are tears and an embrace. Then there is this wonderful exclamation that Jacob makes. He says to Esau, his brother, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 32:10). Now there is the best part of the story: Reconciliation came when Jacob saw God in his brother. He had seen the face of God twice. Once when he wrestled with him, and the second time when he was reunited with his brother. When he was reunited with God, he was reunited with his brother.
It is interesting that Jacob’s journey back to God involved a journey back to the people he had wronged in life. Jacob’s life involves a trail of broken relationships. Before he returns again to Bethel, he must face Esau. Before he meets God, he must meet his brother.
In the process of healing our broken relationship with God, our broken relationships with others must be faced.
Becoming right with God involves becoming right with others.
But in order to do that:
- You have to get over your hurt.
- You have to forgive the past.
- You have to forget about who is right and who is wrong.
It begins when you begin to want to have a healing in those relationships more than you want to be right. You pray for that healing and work toward it. It may or may not be possible for there to be a healing, but you have to want there to be.
When Jacob was reunited with his brother, he was reunited with God. Now he is ready to complete his journey home as he heads back to Bethel, the place where he has first encountered God.
I want you to hear this if you hear nothing else today: God is interested in you. He is looking for you. He is looking for a way he can come into your life and lead you home. He made you with his own hands. He longs for you, and he is looking for a way for the two of you to meet. There is so much he wants to do for you if you will only let him in.
It may be that you are running like Jacob.
- You may be running from family, from problems, or from God.
- It may be that your life is in an upheaval.
- There may be broken relationships as there were with Jacob.
- It may be that you are heading into an uncertain future.
God can meet you in any of these circumstances. You never know when he is going to show up. Any day could contain a most unusual visit from God. There extends a stairway from the heart of God to your heart right now. Wake up and say with Jacob: “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16,17).
In his book The Spiritual Life of Children, the famous Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles, tells the story of Alice, a ten-year-old girl who came from a family that did not believe in God. She expressed her doubts to him with these words: “I remember… I saw the people next door coming home from church, and I looked out the window after they’d left and I tried to ask God if they were right and we were wrong, because we never go. But how can you talk with God? I said, ‘All right, God, please, I’m young, and I’d like to know, so give us a signal, me and my mommy and daddy.’ I knew he wouldn’t — and he didn’t.” But then she says, “Later, when I went to the park, I thought there might not be a God, but somehow we have this park and the flowers are out, and how did all of this begin, that’s what I’d like to know!”
God met her in the park, when she least expected him, and astounded her with the miracles that were all around her. Don’t miss the signs that are pointing the way home. He is there and he is longing for you to come home.