January 3

January 3, 10th Day of Christmas    JACOB‘S LADDER

Scripture: Genesis 28:10-17

10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” 17 But he was also afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!”

John 1:49-51

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”

Some thoughts:

     Today we come to a familiar Old Testament story. Here is an example of the pacing of God unfolding his grand plan some 1800 years ahead of the arrival of God’s Son. This story is two generational steps further down the road from God’s covenant with grandfather Abraham. Jacob is on his way to find a wife among his relatives. On his journey, he stops for the night. You know the story; he has a dream.

     In that dream he sees angels “ascending and descending.” We might ask, if the stairway, (ladder) is connecting heaven and earth, wouldn’t it seem that the angels (malach in Hebrew meaning “messenger”) should be descending and ascending rather than the other way around? But the stairway is the path connecting earth to heaven and heaven to earth. If you will, it moves us from where we are (earth) and bridges us to heaven (the presence of God).

     A further word here about this stairway is helpful. We may think of a stairway as grounded on the first floor and ascending to the second floor. The Hebrew words here paint a slightly different and significant picture. Think more of this stairway as descending to earth and ascending to heaven, more of a floating stairway, connecting two worlds, generated from heaven, not from earth. The angelic traffic on this bridge was executing God’s will to communicate and commune with his people. 

     You’ll recall in the New Testament Jesus picks up this very phrase (John 1:51) where he is talking with Nathanael who had just affirmed Jesus, calling him the Son of God, a phrase Jesus did not use of himself as he began his public ministry, but rather referred to himself as the Son of Man. Jesus went on to say to Nathanael, “I tell you the truth (another way of saying what follows is really important), you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.” Whereas Jacob had his name changed to Israel, which means in Hebrew “contending with God,” Nathanael, whose name means “God has given,” took a step of faith right away. In other words, where Jacob (Israel) was contending with God, Nathanael, an Israelite, was not contending with God and believed right away without “contention.”

    Jesus is the one who makes it possible for humans to move from earth to heaven. Carrying this thought further (Luke 22:67-70), in Jesus’ trial just prior to the crucifixion, as he stood before the religious leaders when asked if he was the Messiah, Jesus responded, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.” They all shouted, “so, are you claiming to be the Son of God?” And Jesus replied, “You say that I am.”

     What is the significance of Jacob’s vision? There is no amount of effort, planning, technology, or determination that will ever connect man to God, earth to heaven. Unless God reaches to earth in making himself known, Jacob and all of humankind are doomed. The Tower of Babel proved that. God loves his children and comes after them and goes with them . . . and with you and me.       

    Jesus interpreted Jacob’s vision for all time. He is the stairway enabling all human beings to connect with their Creator. In Christ, that stairway is open even as you read this. Jacob is the prototype for every person on earth. For being made in the image of God means there is a longing to know the Creator while at the same time there is the desire to rule oneself. There is an “Israelite” nature, contention with God, in every person and the stairway of Jesus Christ is the solution.

Music: “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”  King’s College Cambridge


Gracious Lord, grant us a truer understanding of the wonder of connecting heaven and earth and earth with heaven. We are so fraught with earthly endeavors, and earthly delights, and earthly ideas, that the temptation to believe in the reality of earth and the seeming unreal nature of heaven is all too real. May we better experience, trust, and live in Christ that we would know the great truth that God has come to earth bringing earth to heaven and bring redemption and restoration to the whole created order. May Jacob and Nathanael’s experiences become our experience today as we walk around in this world. And grant that we may see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one and only stairway between heaven and earth. In the name of Jesus, Amen.                                    —Daniel Sharp

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