Below is the text, largely as preached, for today’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York. The sermon is on Genesis 28:10-22, John 1:35-51 and Revelation 19:11-16 showing Jesus is the new and greater Jacob for Peter is the rock upon which Jesus Christ builds His church and Nathanael will see the angels ascending and descending on Jesus Christ. Sermon audio available here.
This Sunday we are going to take a step back in the Gospel of John from the wedding at Cana to the end of John 1. What are the opening words of John 1? “In the beginning.” And what is the other book of Scripture that begins, “In the beginning.” Yes, Genesis. So we are meant to be thinking of Genesis and then in the last verse of John 1 we read, “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus is alluding to Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven from Genesis 28:10-22, so we’ll read that first. In order to tie this together with some of my other sermons to you let me note that a few verses before this in Genesis 28 is the context. We read there that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and as he blessed him he directed him saying, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women.” What happens immediately after our passage in Genesis is Jacob finding his bride Rachel at the well. What happens immediately after our passage in John is the wedding at Cana. I think John included the detail that the wedding was at Cana because it sounds like Canaan and Jacob wasn’t to take a wife from the Canaanite women. In other words, Jesus was at the wedding at Cana knowing that it wasn’t His wedding but that He would have to go to a well in a foreign country and find His bride, which is what we read in John 4 when Jesus comes to Jacob’s well to meet the woman of Samaria who is like the church in many ways. Hopefully that will help you to see how this passage ties in with some of my other sermons this year. But for our purposes now what is important is that Jesus is the new Jacob or, even better as you remember that Jacob was renamed Israel, Jesus is the new Israel.
- We have found the Messiah spoken of in Genesis and all the Torah of Moses as well as the Prophets – He is Jesus of Nazareth.
- Jesus is the prophesied Messiah who is building the house of God upon a rock. You heard how Jacob took the stone that was under his head that night when he was dreaming and he set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it and then called the name of that place Bethel, meaning house of God. Jacob, who had left his father and his mother to seek his bride in a foreign country at a well, promised that if he would come again to his father’s house in peace then YHWH would be his God and that stone would be God’s house and Jacob would give his tithe (the ten percent of everything that he would get in Paddam-aram) to God. Now Jesus is the new Jacob who left His Father’s house in heaven and was seeking His bride at a well in a foreign country and who died for her on the cross before coming again to His Father’s house in peace. You heard in our passage how Jesus, the new Jacob, looked into Simon’s heart and called him Cephas, which is Aramaic, the Greek translation being Peter, which in English is rock or stone. John expects you to know the significance of the new name Peter. Matthew 16:18 says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus, the new Jacob, is building His church – He is building a new house of God. John tells the story of Jesus cleansing the temple immediately following the wedding at Cana. There Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” and John explains that He was speaking of the temple of His body (John 2:19, 21). Indeed, the gates of Hades did not prevail against it. Even in John 4, Jesus speaks with the woman at the well about the temple and how the hour is here “when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Thus Jesus, the new Jacob, not only is the new house of God but He is building the house of God upon a rock. The church is the body of Christ—it is the house of God—the temple of God. The new church of Jesus Christ started here in John 1 as Jesus began calling the twelve disciples, including the rock or Peter, just as Jacob had twelve sons who would grow into the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jesus is also the promised Messiah who is the ladder upon which the angels of God ascend into heaven and descend from heaven. In other words, Jesus is the mediator who restores the relationship of His people with their Heavenly Father. Moses and the prophets acted as mediators in the Old Covenant. One thing that an anointed prophet would do is get between God and His people when the people of God were in danger of being destroyed because of the holiness of God. Thus the prophet would speak to God on behalf of the people. They would also act as messengers from God to the people. The word angel actually means messenger. Sometimes angelic messengers would bring God’s word to the anointed prophet and the prophet would then bring that message to the people. Jesus is the mediator of a New Covenant. He is the promised Messiah in Hebrew or Christ in Greek– the English translation being anointed one. He is the prophet greater than Moses. Jesus saves His people from sin and death. He intercedes for us before the Father and He speaks to us His word. He is the ladder upon which the angels of God ascend into heaven and descend from heaven. You heard in our passage how Jesus looked into Nathanael’s heart and said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Jacob means deceit. He had tricked Esau into selling him the birthright, he had tricked Isaac into blessing him instead of Esau, he would meet someone cut of the same cloth when he met Laban who tricked him into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. The story in Genesis shows us how God changed Jacob and then when Jacob was wrestling with God then God gave him the new name Israel. No longer was Jacob a deceiver – he was someone who strives with God. Thus Jesus, the true Israel, sees that His new disciple is someone who is a true Israelite – in whom there is no deceit. The true Israelite responds in faith when they meet Jesus Christ and hear His prophetic word. And Jesus tells this new disciple who had been a skeptic but a true Israelite, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these” and “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Indeed, we have found the Messiah spoken of in Genesis and all the Torah of Moses as well as the Prophets – He is Jesus of Nazareth.)
- We too, who are true Israelites, can see this vision of heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
- It is in the book of Revelation where we see a vision of heaven opened and angels ascending and descending and we see the Son of Man. We can see a climax of this vision in Revelation 19:11-16. This vision, which I only read a few verses of, is a vision for those who follow the lamb, those who “in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless” (Rev 14:5). In other words, for true Israelites in whom there is no deceit. This is a vision of the Son of Man, which Jesus is using the phrase Son of Man to allude to the book of Daniel where the Son of Man is on the clouds. He has a name written upon Him like the name in the story of Jacob’s wrestling. But unlike Jacob who was touched on the thigh and went forth in weakness, Jesus’ thigh is His strength – for “on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Let me encourage you as you read the word of God for Jesus is the Word of God and the angels ascend into heaven upon Him and descend from heaven upon Him. The more I study the book of Revelation, the more I must confess that I do not understand. I have a commentary on the whole book of Revelation on my website, but I see something new every time that I study the word of God. You might consider reading John and Revelation together for John begins, “in the beginning,” and Revelation ends with the new heavens and earth. These two books are meant to be read together like this. You will find that many of the themes here in the opening chapters of John are not complete until the closing chapters of Revelation. Don’t be discouraged that you don’t see it all clearly. Many of the things I have pointed out today are things I didn’t see until someone else pointed them out to me. In any case, disciples of Jesus like Peter and Nathanael and like us today are encouraged by passages like the calling of Peter and Nathanael to study the word of God in order to see Jesus there – to see Jesus as the new and greater Jacob that we read about in Genesis and to see Jesus as the Son of Man in the vision of Revelation. What I am suggesting is the application of John 1:35-51. Jesus says, “Come and see,” and the disciples tell each other we have found the Messiah – Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Unlike the English Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures had three parts, the Torah of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. When they say, “Moses in the Law and the Prophets wrote, this is shorthand for the Hebrew Scriptures that we often call the Old Testament. The invitation is to come and see Jesus in the word of God – to come and see Jesus both in the Old and the New Testaments. It is an invitation to believe. Amen.