************ Sermon on Genesis 28:15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 19, 2015
"I Am with You"
It has been five years now that we have been studying Genesis. Think back on everything we have seen.
We have seen God "in the beginning." We have seen God the Creator Who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them -- therefore evolution is nothing but a lie. We have seen God the Provider Who upholds and rules heaven and earth and all creatures -- therefore deism with its claim that the universe runs without God is a lie. We have seen God the Law-Giver -- therefore we must obey His commands. We have seen God the Lover Who makes covenants and gives gracious promises -- therefore we look forward to the coming of a Savior.
We have also seen man. We have seen man made in the image of God -- therefore, as male and female, we express the union found in the triune Godhead; therefore, as image-bearers, we have been given dominion over all the earth. We have seen man walking and talking and enjoying fellowship with God as he worked the ground and took care of the Garden of Eden. We have seen man's fall into sin and watched as man came under God's curse and was driven from the Garden.
Yet, regardless of what happens, God the Almighty continues to be present with His people in love. In fact, this is one of the main reoccurring themes of Genesis -- as well as throughout the Bible. As we hear in our text for this morning:
(Gen 28:15) 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.
I We are Undeserving of God's Presence
A We need to start with the admission that mankind does not deserve God's presence. In Adam we yielded to the serpent's temptation to make idols of ourselves and reject the Creator's commands. From that time on, man's natural tendency was to hate rather than love God and neighbor. From that time on, man began to live for himself rather than for God's praise and glory. Man became so corrupt that he was totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil. So God drove the man out of the Garden and placed a cherubim with a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24). The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain (Gen 6:5-7).
B Jacob is no better than Adam: He also does not deserve God's presence. Remember the setting of our Bible reading. Jacob is fleeing for his life. He is fleeing for his life because his brother, Esau, wants to kill him. Esau wants to kill Jacob because Jacob took the birthright and the blessing. Remember the stories? Esau came in hungry after a day's hunting and demanded some of Jacob's stew. Instead of saying, "Here brother, let me feed you," Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright" (Gen 25:31). Jacob took advantage of the situation. Jacob took advantage of Esau's appetite and lack of self-control. Then later, when Isaac sensed death was approaching, Jacob pretended to be Esau and deceived Isaac into giving him the blessing (Gen 27). Remember how Isaac trembled violently when he realized what happened (Gen 27:33)? Remember Esau's cry: "Haven't you reserved any blessing for me?" (Gen 27:36). Remember Isaac's answer: "What can I possibly do for you, my son?" (Gen 27:37). There is more of the same shameful behavior when Jacob and his father-in-law both try to take advantage of the other (Gen 29-31). Jacob was a scoundrel, a swindler, a con artist.
Fallen! Fallen! Fallen! That is Jacob, that is Esau, that is Adam, that is you and me. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We have all fallen from the heights. We have all fallen into sin and depravity. None of us deserve the presence of God in our life.
II The Lord's Gracious Presence in Genesis
A Yet, in spite of this, even right after the Fall into sin, we see the presence of God. God did not eliminate or destroy mankind. Instead, He came looking for man, "Where are you?" "Where are you?" (Gen 3:9). An ancient form of hide and seek. Man was hiding because he was ashamed and afraid. Yet, God sought him out. And talked with him. And made him a promise that the seed of the woman would crush Satan and remove the curse from His people.
Adam was banished from the Garden. But was he banished from God? Eve became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man" (Gen 4:1). So the Lord was not absent from them. "I am with you."
B Remember why Cain killed Abel? Because the Lord looked with favor upon Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor (Gen 4:4-5). Somehow the Lord made this known to the two brothers. In other words, He was not absent from them. And, then, after the murder, God talked with Cain and put a mark of protection on him.
C Brother Noah heard from God more than once (Gen 6:13; 9:1-17). And, when the flood came, it was God Who shut the door of the ark and saved and protected believing Noah and his family (Gen 7:16). And after the flood God made a covenant with Noah and set the rainbow in the clouds as a sign (Gen 9:13). Telling us what? Telling us God was with Noah. "I am with you."
D Man continued to shake his fist at heaven. He built a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens to make a name for himself and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. And the Lord confused the language of the whole world and scattered man over the face of the whole earth (Gen 11:1-9).
E The Lord said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you" (Gen 12:1). So Abram departed on an 1100 mile journey. With flocks and herds and women and children. He didn't know where he was going (Heb 11:8). He didn't have a road map. But that was okay because the Lord had promised to "show" him the way: "go to the land I will show you." So, as Abram traveled to the Promised Land the Lord was with him every step of the way. And, the Lord continued to be with him once he finally arrived. "I am with you."
F Remember Abraham's servant who was sent to get Isaac a wife? The servant had questions and doubts about his mission. But Abraham said,
(Gen 24:7) The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, 'To your offspring I will give this land'--he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son ...The Lord God was with the servant in the person of the angel. Remember how the servant prayed for a sign from the Lord: a woman to water his camels? Remember how Rebekah was the answer to his prayers? Remember how her family said, "This is from the Lord" (Gen 24:50)? "I am with you."
G Remember Isaac and Abimelech? Isaac lied and said Rebekah was his sister rather than his wife; Abimelech was outraged when he discovered the lie (Gen 26). Remember the wells that Isaac dug and Abimelech filled with earth (Gen 26)? Abimelech finally came to Isaac, hat in hand, and asked for a peace treaty. Do you remember why? "We saw clearly that the Lord was with you" (Gen 26:28). "I am with you."
H One last example is Joseph. The Lord was with Joseph in Potiphar's house (Gen 39:2). Similarly, the Lord was with Joseph in prison (Gen 39:21). In fact, the Lord was with Joseph every step of the way -- during good and bad. As Joseph said to his brothers, "God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Gen 45:7). "I am with you."
I Which brings us to Jacob and our text for this morning. "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ..." (Gen 28:15). This is God's promise to a deceitful, lying, scheming Jacob. This is God's promise to an unworthy Jacob. This is God's promise to one of His fallen children. "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ..." (Gen 28:15). Jacob doesn't deserve God's presence. Jacob doesn't deserve God's faithfulness. Jacob doesn't deserve God's blessing. But, out of grace, he gets it anyway. "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ..." (Gen 28:15).
Jacob may have doubted the Lord's presence at times. After all, two times he had to flee for his life. His father-in-law took advantage of him multiple times. His beloved wife, Rachel, died at childbirth. His favorite son, or so he was led to believe, was dead. There was famine in the Promised Land. Another of his sons was held captive in Egypt. But regardless of how Jacob thought or felt, the Lord was still there and was with him every step of the way.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in Psalm 125. I read it to those who suffer from illness or death or crisis or loss:
(Ps 125:2) As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.I mention that our valley, like Jerusalem, is surrounded by mountains. But because of wind and dirt and pollution we often don't see the mountains. But whether we see the mountains or not, they are still there. In the same way, God is still there whether we see Him or not, whether we are conscious of Him or not.
Do you see how the Lord's sure presence is one of the main reoccurring themes of Genesis? In spite of the imperfections of His people, in spite of their sins and shortcoming, in spite of their reckless disobedience, God remains with His people.
III The Meaning of God's Presence
A "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ..." (Gen 28:15).
This promise of God's presence is repeated often throughout the Bible. For instance, Moses is about to die and Israel is apprehensive about entering the Promised Land with its walled cities and giant warriors. Moses reassured the people with these words:
(Deut 31:6) Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." (Cf Josh 1:5)
Think of the words of Psalm 121. It is called "A song of ascents." This means it was sung by the Jewish pilgrims making their way up to Mount Zion and Jerusalem and the Temple. Listen to what this psalm says about God:
(Ps 121:3-5) He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber; (4) indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (5) The LORD watches over you--the LORD is your shade at your right hand;According to Psalm 121, God never slumbers or sleeps.
It is wonderful to know that no unconsciousness ever steals over God; neither deep slumber, nor light sleep. God never falls asleep. The point of this verse is this: because God never slumbers, even in the smallest amount, His people don't need to be afraid of harm coming during the night. Men and women sleep, a guard on duty may fall asleep, a ship's pilot may slumber at the helm, even a mother may fall asleep by the side of a sick child; but God is never exhausted, never weary, and He is never inattentive. He never closes His eyes on the needs of His people, or on the needs of the world. So His people can rest secure in His presence.
Isaiah has similar words of hope and comfort for a people about to enter the exile of Babylon:
(Isa 43:1-2,5) But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (2) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze ... (5) Do not be afraid, for I am with you ...Israel is about to face waters and rivers and fire. But fear not. Why? Because "I am with you."
Do you see the meaning of the Lord's presence? The Lord's presence gives His people the strength to keep on going. The Lord's presence gives His people the comfort they need in troubled times. The Lord's presence gives His people the courage to face obstacles and giants and walled cities.
The promise given to Jacob and Israel is also given to you and me.
(Heb 13:5-6) ... God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (6) So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"The God Who never left Jacob alone, has promised that He will not leave us alone either. Those whom God loves, He never leaves. "I am with you."
B All that God is -- eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, wise, just, good, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, forgiving wickedness and rebellion and sin (Ex 34:6,7) -- is represented by His presence. And, all that God does -- creation, providence, redemption -- is represented by His presence. The presence of God stands for all the fullness of His being and ways -- including Jesus Christ and our salvation. The presence of God stands for the fullness of His grace, favor, and good-will.
Among the children of Israel the presence of God was represented by a "pillar of cloud" or "pillar of fire" (Ex 33:9; 13:21). It was that presence which led Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground; and, it was that presence which drowned Pharaoh and his army. It was that presence which melted the hearts of the people of Jericho in fear and trembling (Josh 2:0-11). It was a presence both awesome and terrifying at the same time.
The presence of this great, big, mighty God is with you, congregation. So, do not fear. Do not fear cancer. Do not fear sickness. Do not fear death. Do not fear the attacks of Satan and the world. Do not fear for the Lord is with you. As Paul asks, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). The answer, of course, is no one!
Especially, though -- here is the most important point -- the presence of God means our salvation. Matthew says Jesus is Immanuel -- which means, "God with us" (M 1:23). He is the One Who will save His people from their sins. John says,
(Jn 1:14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.In Jesus we have the fullness of God's presence and therefore the fullness of God's grace, favor, and good-will.
C But, now, let us talk about the opposite. What happens if the Lord is not with us, if His presence is absent from us? Do you remember what happened right after the making of the golden calf? The LORD said,
(Ex 33:3) Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way. "But I will not go with you."
It is a serious matter to be without the presence of God. Moses says,
(Ex 33:15) If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. Moses and Israel are in the wilderness -- a bleak, forsaken place; a place of little water and grass; a place of sand and heat and drought; a place unfit for people and sheep and cattle. They are on their way to a land of milk and honey. According to Moses it is better to remain in the wilderness with God than to go to the Promised Land without God.
I hope you realize that Genesis is your history; that it is about you and your family. But, above all, I hope you realize it is also about the Lord Jesus Christ. His love. His salvation. His presence.
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