God is in the business of transformation. And Jacob's story is off the one the first. A man who deceived his way to the top, yet God worked in his life through grace, through others and trials to be radically different.
Growing up I had a very unique childhood. Unique not in the sense of growing up in the jungle, one of 12 kids, Mum was Beyonce, unique in the sense that at 3 years old, MBM was born and as I grew up so to did this church. We both went through various stages, growth spurts, awkward teen years, getting older, independence, it was a unique but precious upbringing I have had. Precious in seeing lives changed and transformed, story after story, people meeting Jesus and never being the same afterwards.
On this 30th anniversary of MBM we hear another transformation story, not from MBM but one of the first-ever. Jacob’s story and it’s a long story, Genesis 28-35. By the time we get through them all, we will be at the 31st anniversary.
God might be at work in transforming you, no matter where you are at.
1. Transformed by Grace
Quick bio: Jacob is the grandson of Abraham and Jacob is a man who you never feel you can trust. Jacob means deceiver and that is exactly what he does. He deceived his brother and Father by using his father’s disability against him and his brother's ego and love of food against him. He knows peoples weakness and preys on it.
After all this trickery and deception, hurt and pain and anger Jacob runs, he flees his family and heads into the wilderness.
He has nothing and exhausted he sleeps.
When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 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.” ~Genesis 28:11-15 (NIV)
Now was Jacob searching for God? Running to him? Nope. Jacob was fleeing, from the consequences of his sin not seeking and yet God was seeking him.
I don’t know why you are here either onsite or online, this is not a chance encounter, it is not random, God is seeking you. The people that God is seeking are not those whose lives are together (Look at Jacob) but those who encounter him and know his undeserved love.
Did Jacob deserve this dream, was it part of God's promises? No! That’s called grace, undeserved kindness and love, the very thing God has shown you too.
There is no accident of the timing of this dream, in the wilderness where there is nothing, it's not a holiday location. Jacob physically had nothing. He grabs a rock for a pillow to sleep. Now I like a hard pillow, but there are limits. Jacob had hit Rock bottom. (Pun intended). Everything is taken away, and its Jacobs fault that he has nothing and then God gives him everything he needs, More!
Jacob could not say “Of course God loves me” when Jacob wakes up he asks why me? That’s Grace. It's no coincidence that people become Christians after they have hit rock bottom. When physically you have nothing to offer God and spiritually you have nothing to offer God.
John Gerstner said “If you want to become a Christian all you need is need. All you need is nothing and very few people have that.”
A young boy, who was handsome, strong and skilled at fighting. During a fierce battle the boy became frightened and hid in a cave. He was brought before Alexander The Great for judgement. Alexander asked, "Son, what is your name?" "Alexander" was his quiet reply. Alexander picked up a sword, raised it over the boys head and said, “Change your ways, or change your name!”
That is the way we expect people to change, just do it, fix yourself up and do better. Jesus comes to you if you are fleeing, running, in the cave, absolute worst, guilt and shame. Change your ways, but he knows you can’t, he raises the sword of judgment but turns the sword on himself. On that cross, Jesus condemned himself so that you free, the unlovable know they are loved and the sinners are forgiven.
God's love for you is not based on your performance, but on Gods character. Until you realise you are in need and have nothing to offer and accept the Grace given by God then your transformation will not begin, not last and will only be superficial at best.
Jacob gets it and is gobsmacked by it. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
But the road to transformation for Jacob had only just begun, the transformation of the Christian is slow and gradual and happens in ways we do not expect.
2. Transformed by others
God places people in your life to transform you and change you.
Enter Laban, it seemed like Jacob was stumbling along the dessert and just out to the blue, came along Laban. God was orchestrating it all for Jacob to meet his match. A deceiver for a deceiver, Jacob could trick everyone but not Laban. Laban wants Jacob to be paid for the work he was doing, enter his daughter, Rachel. It was love at first fight, meet round the old school water cooler (well). Jacob says ‘I will work for 7 years… and it felt like 7 days…”
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.” ~Genesis 29:21 (NIV)
You will notice Jacob does not say the word “Rachel.” But "wife". Laban uses this to his own advantage, he had an older daughter Leah, not beautiful and with a physical deformity, but he wanted her married off.
Now weddings are different then to how they are now, on the wedding night, no walking down the aisle, marriage happened at consummation. Jacob woke up shocked the next morning because when he awoke there was Leah!
What does Jacob say:
…So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” ~Genesis 29:25 (NIV)
Notice what Jacob does not say “Oh this is what it's like to be deceived, how horrible” How could I do this very thing to my Dad and brother. Jacob drank deeply of his own medicine and could not handle it.
Do you think that Jacob realises the hypocrisy? We often don’t.
God puts people into our lives, a mirror of ourselves. This is what life is like on the other side of you. Hurt and damage because of the sin you have caused. It's to expose our sin. An act of Grace to graciously show us, here is someone to show you, what you are like, eg People who are rude or arrogant or Gossipers who whinge about you. God put them in your life show you, you.
God is graciously putting mirrors in your life to show you the pain of your sin. Why? To prompt change, can you see it? can you feel it? It's okay for a week or two but you know Jacob dealt with Laban for 20 years. Jacob had 20 years to change his character.
But sometimes God places people in your life for even longer, enter Rachel and Leah, two sisters from birth.
Rachel who has everything going her way. She is hot, has a great figure: “Oh I am so annoyed, I lost 3 kgs” and Jacob loves her.
Leah has struggled all her life, guys looked at her but in disgust,
she struggles with weight and body image but Jacob puts up with her. Imagine how she felt on the 1st day of marriage.
But God placed them into one another’s lives, God placed Jacob in their life to expose who they truly worshipped. Where there is envy, bitterness, fighting and discontent, if you look underneath, they worship something other than God. They find their meaning, purpose, identity and longings in something other than God.
It's messy, they have babies to get the approval of their husband so that they can get the validation of their sister and be better. The law prohibits this
“Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living” ~Leviticus 18:18 (NIV)
God does not want them to stay like this. Transform his people but exposing our idols. God does it in different ways
Rachel had everything going for her, except she could not get pregnant. God withholds from her the very thing she wanted, and what she believes she was entitled to.
“Give me children, or I’ll die!” ~Genesis 30:1 (NIV)
Why? Rachel needed to be emptied of her pride and privilege before she would ever be filled. Gods decision that this is not her purpose, this is not her all and she is not in control. Was she listening? For Rachel when God stopped withholding and Naphtali her 2nd son was born
Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” ~Genesis 30:8 (NIV)
Do you think she really had won? Was she happy or satisfied?
Are you worshipping something that takes its toll, and the demands are great, are you sleepless, envious, annoyed, worried, empty, depressed. When you worship anyone other than God you never win.
God gives Leah a child, many in fact and the name of each of her children tells the journey she goes on, tells of her transformation.
...Reuben, for she said “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” ~Genesis 29:32 (NIV)
“Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. ~Genesis 29:33 (NIV)
“Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. ~Genesis 29:34 (NIV)
Just because God gives you something you want or answers prayers doesn’t always = good thing. God kept giving Leah son after son so this will make Jacob love me, appreciate me, notice me! This never fulfilled her deep longings.
Every idol, good things, relationships, children or approval of friends leaves you always wanting more. But you notice a change because God was working in her.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. ~Genesis 29:35 (NIV)
Change, even if my husband has not noticed me God has noticed me and that’s all that matters. Maybe not loved by him but loved by God, not seeking the praise of my husband but Praise the Lord. Satisfaction in God.
It was no accident that the son that changed her, Judah, it was from this son that would come the son of God and truly fill her.
The only one who will satisfy the longing that you have, like Leah, the son of Judah. Jesus Christ. The only one who never leaves, never forgets, never overlooks, always loves, always protects and always notices.
God is putting people in your life, FOR YOUR GOOD. GIVING AND WITHHOLDING….
Expose your own sins to yourself.
Expose the false idols we still cling on to.
Drawback to what you need and long for satisfaction, the never-ending, quenching love of Jesus Christ.
But God is not done with Jacob.
3. Transformed by Trials
20 years sees Jacob with Rachel and Leah, 12 boys, all livestock, head home, heading back to meet Esau. Expect a fighting match happens, but the fight we expect to happen between Jacob and Esau doesn’t happen, it happens with Jacob and God.
It’s the oddest and most unique moment in the Bible.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” ~Genesis 32:24-30 (NIV)
What is the point of this strange incident? Why did God deal with Jacob in that rough-and-tumble way? Wrestle? This was a trial, a physical trial, a test by God and with God. For his own good, to expose his faith.
Jacob had to learn an important lesson, he had always been fighting people, his Dad, his brother, Laban, causing fights between wives and his default was to trick and deceive his way to the top and behind him was a trail of broken relationships.
Gods goal in transforming Jacob was so that he knew that his ultimate struggle was NOT against others but against God. God was breaking down his strength, changing his character, exposing his need so that all that Jacob could do was cling to God.
Notice one thing, Jacob wanted to be left alone, but in this encounter, Jacob was seeking God. Jacob sought after God.
Old Jacob, 20 years before:
God had been working in his life and now it’s a different Jacob. Jacob is so different that we hardly recognise him. Trial exposes his faith and God had been radically working in this life. Jacob was given a completely new name (not a slight change like Abram to Abraham) but a complete transformation to Israel.
Now chances are you are not going to have this fight with God in this way, but trials will come for you to wrestle with God, and go on for a long time. These trials will push you to the limits, but God puts them in your life to show the change. It shows that you ARE BEING TRANSFORMED, your faith is stronger, you are more Christlike. The old you, reacted differently, the old you ran away, the old you relied on yourself. But that’s not you anymore.
Often, we don’t see the change in our spiritual life. This is not where I want to be, but by God's grace I am not what I use to be. God is in the business of transformation.
This is Jacobs story, what’s yours? I guarantee that the events in your story will be very different, I presume no dreams, no multiple wives and no wrestling matches with God. But that moments of transformation will be similar. God puts trials to expose your faith. The Holy Spirit is at work and you’re not who you use to be.
For 30 years, this church’s heartbeat has been on about Gods heartbeat, ‘To see lives transformed through Jesus to the glory of God.’ Story after story of men and women, young and old, born here or overseas, different nations, cultures and tribes, dysfunctional and messy lives, organised and lovely, meeting Jesus Christ, and never being the same afterwards.
By Gods grace, many more stories like Jacobs and yours transformed through Jesus to the glory of God.