2nd Sunday of Lent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! In Jesus’ name, dear friends in Christ, C.S. Lewis, the author and Christian apologist once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” As I’m told, when your appendix bursts you experience an incredible amount of pain. In a way that pain is a good thing. It signals you to get some help. If it wasn’t for the pain, lethal toxins would be released into your body and you would die rather quickly. As I’m told, when you experience a sharp pain in your chest, it may be a sign of the beginning of a heart attack and signals you to get some help. Without that pain in your chest you would die rather suddenly. If you accidently rested your hand on a red hot stove burner in your kitchen, you will experience pain. But without that pain, you would soon lose your whole hand.
If you’re a human being living in this sinful world, you know what pain feels like. And it’s not just physical pain either, there’s emotional pain, there’s relational pain with other people, there’s heart pain, and mental pain. Our pain or suffering or hurts in life are often a consequence of our own poor choices or the poor choices of other people. So, why does our gracious and yet all powerful God allow pain in our lives? We need to understand that God doesn’t cause our pain, but He does allow it. Pain, all pain, is finally a result being sinful people, surrounded by sinful people, and living in a sinful and ruined world. But the miracle is, God brings good out of our pain in life by using it to lead us to Him and His comfort. And we can see God do this in the life of Jacob.
Before he was born God had already determined that Jacob, the younger son, would be the one who would be blessed by Him and who would carry the line of the Savior. Before they were born God revealed that to Isaac and Rebekah. Why would God choose one of the sons to be the ancestor of the Savior even before they were born? Well, because God wanted to show that His favor and blessing can come only in one way: grace, not by doing good things, not by proving oneself, not even by traditional birth rights, God wanted the message to be made very clearly: His blessing comes only by complete, unmerited grace, so God chose Jacob, the younger son to be the ancestor of the Savior- even before his birth.
But as the boys got older – even though God had promised it – Jacob wanted to secure this blessing for himself. He wanted this blessing so bad that he wasn’t going to wait for God to fulfill the promise. He felt he had to intervene and help God along a little bit. So, we’re told that once when Esau was famished, Jacob (whose name means ‘deceiver’ or ‘trickster’) tricked Esau into selling him his birthright as the older son for a bowl of stew. Then, later on, when his father Isaac was getting older and had very poor eye sight, Isaac intended to give the blessing to Esau because he was doing a horrible thing by playing favorites with his children and he favored Esau, but while Esau was gone, Jacob, along with his mother, tricked Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau.
And so, how did all of this “playing God” work out for Jacob? All of this relying on himself and his own ingenuity to help God along? Well, he ended up having to flee for his life because after Esau found out about what he had done, he was so angry, so jealous, so upset, so infuriated with his brother that he wanted to kill him. Now think about this for a minute. Now, because of his poor choices and his sins, Jacob had to flee for his life, he had to leave behind almost all of the things that he had schemed to get from his brother, he had to leave behind not just part of the family inheritance, but all of it! Not only that, he had to leave behind his father and mother, leave everyone and everything which he knew up to this point in his life, he had to leave home and travel to an unknown place, he essentially was left all alone, he had to start an entirely new life, he had to travel some 500 miles through some not-so-nice terrain to the city of his mother’s family, he went from being a rather wealthy son of a rich man to being homeless and having to spend his night out in the open and use a rock for a headrest! Jacob’s poor choices in life ended up leaving him feeling the full impact of those poor choices. Sometimes, in love, God has to step back and say, “Ok, you want to be God? Have it your way.” And it isn’t pretty and it isn’t fun.
Our pain in the hands of a gracious God can serve some very useful purposes for our lives. God was going to use Jacob as a great patriarch and as the ancestor of the Savior. But Jacob had some very serious issues that needed to be dealt with. Most of all he relied way too much on himself instead of on God. So God puts Jacob through a school of pain and discipline. “When in Pain, Pause and Pay Attention”
First of all, pain is God’s way of getting us to pause. If it wasn’t for the pain, would Jacob have changed his ways? Would he have continued to rely on himself, continued to trick and deceive, continued down a path further away from God? It seems so. You know, there’s a reason why we have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in our homes. They are warnings that something is wrong. If you were sleeping in your house one night and the smoke alarm goes off, you don’t take the battery out and say, “Problem fixed” and go back to bed. If your carbon monoxide detector is blaring, you don’t take a hammer and smash it and act like nothing’s wrong. That doesn’t fix the problem. Pain is like a warning light in our lives. Pain tells us that something is wrong, something isn’t right, something needs to be addressed. And when it comes to pain in our hearts, Satan and our own sinful flesh want us to smash the warning light or quiet the alarm instead of dealing with the true cause of the pain. It doesn’t solve the problem of our pain in life if we try to ignore it, suppress, it bury it inside of us, let it boil and burn in our hearts, or try to drown it with substances or things, all that does is cause more resentment, more anger, more pain. God often uses pain in our lives to pause us, to stop us and get us to face up to our poor choices, admit our faults, and acknowledge our sinfulness. Jacob had a lot of time to pause and think about his life on his lonely 500 mile trip to Haran. So, when in pain, pause: what’s causing this pain? What haven’t I dealt with?
But God also has another useful purpose for pain in our lives. God also uses pain to teach us to pay attention to Him. Someone once said: you will never know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got. Here’s Jacob, propped up against a stone, in the middle of nowhere, no home, no family, no possessions, his brother wants nothing more than to see him dead, he doesn’t know what the future will bring. And so, when his whole life is falling apart and he’s seemingly lost it all, that’s when he can see clearly the only One who IS remaining beside him, who hasn’t left him, who still cares deeply about him. And so, here he is, seemingly all alone, facing the pain of trying to be God and failing, and what does God do?
In incredible mercy God comes to him in a dream. All of a sudden…wow! There’s a ladder reaching from earth to the heavens…and wow! There’s angels going up and going down on this ladder…and wow! There’s the LORD at the top! And the LORD speaks to him, essentially saying, “I am the LORD- the God of free and faithful grace, the same God who was faithful to Abraham and your father Isaac, although you’re homeless now, one day all this land will be yours, although you aren’t even married yet, I’m going to give you many, many descendants, and guess what, through your offspring, I’m going to bring the Savior into this world who will be a blessing to all people. I’m not going to leave you, I will be with you and watch over you wherever you go.” And Jacob was just filled with awe at this and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” In other words, “Here I am, lost, alone, in a strange place, but God is with me and so this is like home. God hasn’t abandoned me or left me, he’s opened heaven to me.”
God has useful purposes for the pain and suffering we feel in life. Sometimes our pain is the result of our poor choices, sometimes it’s the result of the poor choices of others. But any pain that we feel in life is God’s way of getting us to pause and opening our eyes to the fact that we aren’t God, we need Him, we need to depend on Him. And when God gets our attention and we focus on Him in His Word and in the Sacraments, what does He do? Just like He did for Jacob, He assures us of His presence and His promises.
The same God who promised Jacob that through His descendants all people on earth would be blessed, is the same God who hundreds of years later kept that promise when Jacob’s descendant came and lived a completely truthful life, never deceiving or tricking, Jacob’s descendant Jesus came to take all the pain of God’s eternal wrath and all the pain of hell itself and suffer and die for it on the cross for you! And in Jesus God has given you the same promises of His presence, protection, and peace that He gave Jacob. And think about that, when God has come to us in grace, when God has suffered already for our sins in full, when God has revealed Himself to us as our gracious saving Lord, what sin of mine that’s causing me pain wouldn’t I lay before Him and confess? With such a Lord and His promises, why would I not see Him as the real and only answer and sustainer and strength in every pain in life? Why would I not see in Him my help today and no matter what the future may bring? So when in pain, pause: lay your sins before your Savior and pay attention to His grace, His forgiveness and His promises of His presence, protection, and peace- even in pain. Amen.