Genesis 28: 5-22
Trinity 19. 2023
What is the meaning of repentance? Is it a matter of a resolve to change your life? Can there be true repentance apart from Christ? Today, we consider the doctrine of Confession and Absolution. This involves repentance. A correct understanding of repentance is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. We look at this doctrine from the viewpoint of the story of Jacob and the account of his vision of the ladder leading up to heaven.
The book of Hebrews says this of Jacob: “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” The LORD in grace and mercy had chosen Jacob as the forefather of his people and the ancestor of His Messiah. Yet, Jacob had serious and grave faults. The most serious of these faults showed up in his relying too much on his own resources and cleverness to make certain that he would receive the spiritual inheritance promised him through Abraham.
This sin involved direct rebellion against the First Commandment and deception of his father Isaac and his brother Esau. And yet, in spite of Jacob’s sin, in the account that lies before us today the LORD assures the penitent Jacob that he was standing in God’s favor. This is meant to be our comfort as well as therefore we consider:
CHRIST IS OUR LADDER.
Christ was for Jacob at Bethel.
Christ is for us at our Bethel.
The circumstance that caused Jacob to flee his home and arrive at the place of the vision of the ladder involves his deception of Isaac and Esau. When Esau realized what his cheating brother had done, he vowed to kill his brother. Jacob’s conscience bothered him because of this act and to avoid the wrath of Esau, he fled immediately to his uncle Laban’s home at the behest of his mother Rebekah.
On the first day of his flight from Canaan, Jacob came to the town of Luz. Here the LORD appeared to the penitent Jacob in the vision of the Ladder. In this vision, the LORD was standing at the top of the Ladder and announced to Jacob, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” The remarkable feature of this Ladder is that the LORD set it up, not Jacob. Jacob had no input into the construction of this ladder or into his salvation. The angels were ascending and descending on the Ladder which reached from heaven down to earth.
This is significant. Jacob did not see himself or any other human being on the ladder; only the angels of the LORD. This vision, given to Jacob purely by the grace and mercy of the LORD assured Jacob, the sinner that he was standing in God’s favor. Jacob was repentant. A loving, merciful and faithful God knew that Jacob needed to be made sure of his pardoning grace.
The vision was nothing short of a vision of Christ. Jacob saw Christ. Jesus lays claim to this vision, to this appearance in John 1, “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1: 51).” The ladder of Jacob was the pre-incarnate Christ, the Son of God.
In this vision, the Son of God reveals and manifests that He descends from heaven to come down to earth to connect a sin-laden earth with the holy heaven, and to win a world lost in sin. Jesus alone is the bridge from this world to the next. As Jesus said to the disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes unto the Father except through Me.” Through this vision, the LORD assured Jacob of his forgiveness and eternal favor in the eyes of God.
Now someone might object and say, “But where is the vision of the Ladder today? Where is this vision when I need comfort and consolation in the midst of my troubled conscience?” Dear Christian, that is what the account of Jacob’s Ladder is all about. Secondly then this morning, we hear about the assurance the LORD gives us today in our lives.
In the account of the Transfiguration of our Lord, the LORD appeared on the mountain in the form of the cloud which led the Children of Israel by day through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Out of that cloud, the voice of the Father placed His seal on Jesus, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am will pleased. Listen to Him.” This is the same voice that spoke to Jacob here at Luz. It is the voice of the LORD who reveals Himself as the only true God; the God of all mercy and longsuffering. The LORD wants you to listen to Him.
It is the same voice that speaks to us in the midst of our sins. According to Scripture, God does not distinguish between sin in the heart and what the world calls “actual sin.” Indeed, God sees the sins of the heart as the “real sins” as Jesus says, “Out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts.”
What sins and evil thoughts have invaded your hearts this last week? Do you like Jacob rely on your own resources to resolve the temptations that come into your life? When you are tempted and tested with financial problems, where do you go first, to your checking account or to the promises the LORD made with you. When you are wronged, or insulted or mistreated at your workplace or even in the church among your fellow believers, where do we go first for guidance and counseling, the Word of God or the advice of our sinful heart?
Not much is shocking any more. Homosexual marriage is now an accepted thing. Men and women living together apart from marriage has been accepted for many years. So when we see all this, our sins seem insignificant in comparison, indeed, seem like no sins at all. So our consciences have been dulled by our culture.
But the sins the Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to list as sins that prevent one from entering the Kingdom of God are the seemingly “mundane” and “common” thoughts and acts: hate, bickering, anger, quarreling, envy, drunkenness and selfishness. Yet it is these mundane and common sins that anger God.
One might now say, “Pastor, we get the message. You are right, I will resolve today to straighten up my life.” Dear Christian that is not the right answer! Even if you were to stop your habitual sins, that would not place you in favor with God. The Law makes no one godly.
Sadly, that is what so many people believe and teach. You may well go to hell for cleaning up your life. God is concerned about the attitude of your heart. Our Lord calls upon us to repent of our sin; that is the heart and core of the message of God’s Word. The mandate given to the church is to “preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Anything short of this does not understand the nature of sin and how it angers God. But our LORD does not merely want a resolution to stop sinning. Our Lord desires to work in our hearts deep sorrow and horror over our sins in order that He would bring us to the cross of Christ. As God afflicted Jacob to bring him to repentance, so the LORD first has to rub our nose in the stink of our sin. This is the bottom line: There is no forgiveness without repentance.
However, when Jacob realized that it was truly the LORD that had appeared to him in the vision of the Ladder, we hear his say ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ “And he was afraid and said,” ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God (Bethel), and this is the gate of heaven.” Jacob’s heart and conscience were set at ease with the vision of the Ladder for he then knew that the LORD did not hold his sins against him.
In the midst of your sin and as you tremble in horror with a guilty conscience, the LORD and God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob desire the same for you. In the Hebrew language, the phrase “House of God” is “Bethel.” This little church is our “Bethel.” Here is where our LORD has condescended to connect the grace and mercy of heaven to this sinful earth.
Here is where is where our Savior lets you hear His voice of absolution. Here is where our LORD lets us see forgiveness in the water of Baptism. Here is where our blessed Shepherd assures us of His favor by serving up to us sinners His very own body and blood which He shed for us on the cross. You see, in these humble Means, our LORD assures us of forgiveness as surely as He did with Jacob almost 4000 years ago. Christ, our Ladder has come down to us.
If your conscience bothers you this day, this sermon is especially for you. In order to give you the assurance that your sins were laid on Christ for all eternity, the LORD has instituted the Office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these Means we hear the voice of God as surely as Jacob; as surely as Peter, James and John.
Through these Means, even as the LORD assured Jacob in the vision of the Ladder, the LORD gives the Holy Spirit who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. So you see, the LORD gave us our own “Ladder” in Word and Sacrament, because He wants you in heaven and knows that you desperately need the assurance of salvation each new day. To God alone be the Glory. Amen.