************ Sermon on Genesis 48 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 31, 2014
"A Map for 2014/2015"
Old Year's 2014
Does anyone use maps anymore? Instead, you simply punch your destination into the Magellan, Tomtom, or Garmin GPS device in your car. Or, you use the Google app on your iPhone. Right after the service this evening, for instance, Ruth and I are driving to a hotel in Sacramento. I punched the address into my Garmin this morning and I will simply follow directions tonight.
Yet, if we take a long trip, I do like to dig out my Rand McNally Road Atlas ahead of time. I want an overview of where I am at and where I am going. I want to see the big picture – something you can't see on the little screen of your iPhone or GPS device.
As you stand at the end of 2014 and look towards 2015, wouldn't it be nice if a map was available to give you an overview of your life? So you could see where you are at and where you are going? Is your life destined for the curvy mountain roads of the Sequoias or will you be cruising the freeways of our valley? Will it be a scenic route? Will you ever run into a dead end?
The future is unknown to us. Tomorrow you might face death – your own or that of a loved one. Terrorists bent on revenge and with no regard for human life might do an indescribable deed. You might lose your job. You might be diagnosed with cancer or heart-disease. Another financial meltdown might cause the loss of your hard-earned assets. We just don't know.
But this does not mean we ought to despair or give up hope. Although we don't have an actual map for our lives, all we need do is remember God's faithfulness in the past and have faith for the future.
I God's Faithfulness in the Past
A Jacob is at the end of his life. His life sure has taken a lot of twists and turns. He has climbed some mountains and gone through many deep valleys. Review with me the details of his life:
-his brother Esau vowed to kill him so he fled to Uncle Laban
-on the way he had that marvelous dream at Bethel of a stairway reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending and God at the top speaking to him
-Uncle Laban tricked him into marrying Leah
-his flocks and herds increased
-he fled from Uncle Laban
-he wrestled with God
-he was reconciled with Esau
-his daughter was raped
-his sons killed the men of Shechem
-his favorite wife Rachel died giving birth
-Jacob was told Joseph was dead
-famine struck and he and his sons left the Promised Land and went to Egypt
We know that most of Jacob's problems were of his own making. He took advantage of his brother (Gen 25). He deceived his father (Gen 27). He used trickery and gene manipulation to steal from Laban (Gen 30). He used his wits to appease his brother (Gen 32). He worried more about his reputation than his daughter's rape and remained silent about Reuben's sin (Gen 34). He ignored the anger and envy caused by making Joseph his favorite (Gen 37). According to Scripture, Jacob was a liar, a schemer, self-reliant, careless, a poor parent, a manipulator.
We look at Jacob and his life and we think, "What a miserable man! Thank God he is not my son-in-law or brother-in-law." Imagine having someone like him in your family. Or maybe you do have someone like him in your life!
B The map of Jacob's life shows many twists and turns, lots of mountains and valleys. Jacob went through them all. So what stands out as Jacob looks back on his life? What stands out is the faithfulness of God – even though Jacob was so faithless. What stands out is how God keeps His promises – in spite of Jacob's character. Jacob said to Joseph:
(Gen 48:3-4) God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me (4) and said to me, 'I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.'
What did God promise to Jacob? God promised something better than the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness guaranteed by our constitution. God promised descendants, God promised a community, God promised a land.
God promised descendants: "I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers." A few chapters back we looked at the members of Jacob's family which went to Egypt. They were seventy in all (Gen 46:27).
God promised a community: "I will make you a community of peoples." Implied by this is a community under God marked by love and fellowship. Community was God's promise but that was not Jacob's initial experience. He lied to his father, he cheated his brother, he was at odds with Uncle Laban, he played favorites with his sons and his wives. His life was marked with broken relationships, with disharmony, with distrust. But God's grace broke down all barriers. So Jacob parted on good terms with Uncle Laban. So Jacob was reconciled to Esau. So Jacob watched as his sons rallied around each other, loved each other, and supported each other once they came to Egypt; the brothers even put aside their envy of Joseph.
God promised land: "I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you." At this point in time Jacob had received but a down payment on this promise:
(Gen 33:19) For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.This is the piece of land Jacob gave to Joseph (Gen 48:22).
Jacob looked back on his life. He meditated on God's faithfulness – His faithfulness to His promises.
C As Jacob looked back on his life he came up with three names for his faithful God and Father (Gen 48:15-16).
First, He is the "God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked." Telling us what? Telling us God does not change. Telling us God is the same from generation to generation. Telling us God keeps His Word and His promises and His covenants from generation to generation.
Second, He is the "God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day." Think of Psalm 23:
(Ps 23:1-4) The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. (2) He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, (3) he restores my soul. He guides in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (4) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Third, God is "the Angel who has delivered me from all harm." Jacob is thinking of the angel with whom he wrestled by the Jabbok River (Gen 32:22-32). This angel was not a mere creature. He was the Angel of the Lord. Jacob's wrestling match with this Angel marked a turning point in his life. For the first time he realized he needed God's blessing. For the first time he realized it was not up to him but up to the Lord. For the first time he realized it was not his plans and schemes that protected him but the hand of God.
The God of Abraham and Isaac, my shepherd, the Angel – these three names emphasize the faithfulness and dependability of God.
D Looking back on your life in the year 2014, don't you also see many twists and turns, mountains and valleys? And, like Jacob, many of them were of your own making and due to your own sin. But as God's people what should stand out is God's faithfulness – His faithfulness to you and His promises. When life is uncomfortable and nerve-racking, when one thing after another goes wrong, what we remember is His faithfulness. He Who was faithful to Jacob is faithful to all His people in Christ. He Who is the God of Abraham and Isaac is also – in Christ – your God, your Shepherd, and the Angel Who watches over you.
Looking back on our church during 2014, we also see twists and turns, mountains and valleys. We had the privilege of hosting Synod. We had 5 baptisms: CJ Clark, Jacob Jongsma, Bentley Kelly, Maverick Struiksma, Maggie Ton. We had 5 weddings: Cyle & Elyse Bakker, Robert & Shelby Laber, Kip & Carolyn Lambel, Ryan & Kelly Lapadula, Joey & Christina Shropshire. But we also had 4 funerals: Darwin Houtsma, Maxine Swank, Joe Veenendaal, Walt Visser. Again, what should stand out is God's faithfulness.
We stand at the end of 2014 tonight. We look forward to 2015. The first thing we need to do is remember God's faithfulness in the past.
II Faith for the Future
A The second thing we need to do is have faith for the future.
As you know, Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. It gives us example after example of faith:
(Heb 11:4) By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.Did you hear that last item? Of all the episodes in Jacob's life, the author of Hebrews chooses the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh as an example of Jacob's faith. Isn't this a strange choice? What about Jacob's dedication of himself to the service of God after the vision of the stairway to heaven with God at the top and the angels ascending and descending (Gen 28:10-22)? What about the wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord (Gen 32:22-32)? What about the death of Rachel or Isaac (Gen 35:16-29)? What about the first time he saw Joseph again (Gen 46:28-30)?
(Heb 11:5) By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death ...
(Heb 11:7) By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.
(Heb 11:8) By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
(Heb 11:17) By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
(Heb 11:21) By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Of course the author of Hebrews had no choice in the matter because this is what the Spirit prompted or inspired him to write. Yet, the choice seems odd because to us there are so many other events which seem to be better examples of faith.
B Before going any further let me explain exactly what Jacob did. Jacob had been thinking about his beloved wife Rachel and her death (Gen 48:7). Which in turn made him think of Rachel's son Joseph. So what did he do?
Now, remember, in that time and place the firstborn son normally received a double portion of the father's inheritance. In Jacob's case, this means it was Reuben who should have been especially blessed. But what did Jacob do? Here is how Chronicles puts it:
(1 Chr 5:1-2) ... [Reuben] was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father's marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, (2) and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph ...This is not immediately obvious from our Scripture reading this evening but we are being told that Joseph, and Joseph's sons, were blessed in the place of Reuben and Simeon.
That's the first thing Jacob did, by faith.
C Here is the second thing: Jacob blessed Ephraim over Manasseh. Jacob blessed the younger over the older. Joseph protested this and tried to stop this (Gen 48:17-18). But, out of faith, Jacob insisted.
Joseph, like so many others, expected God to work in a certain way, but found that God is often pleased to work differently than we expect. So Jacob, by faith, knowingly delivers a better portion to the younger, crossing his arms before everyone present to place his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Manasseh (Gen 48:14). For four consecutive generations this pattern of blessing the younger over the older has been followed: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh.
D We look at the two things done by Jacob and we learn something about God. We learn, again, that God is sovereign. That God is free to accomplish His good will apart from our plans and presumptions. That God is not tied down to our way of doing things. That God owes no one anything and is free to give gifts according to His good pleasure. Here is another reminder that everything in your life and my life is of grace and mercy and not because we are deserving.
E But we also learn something about Jacob. According to Hebrews, Jacob's actions shows him to be a man of faith. Don't forget, "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb 11:1). Faith recognizes that God's ways are not man's ways. It took Jacob a lifetime to learn this. But he learned it, and so now he blessed the younger over the elder.
Life is a journey. We stand at the end of 2014 and at the start of 2015. When we map out our life we see many twists and turns, mountains and valleys. We are unsure what the future has in store for us. But this we know: God has been faithful in the past and we are called to have faith for the future.
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