Michael Youssef - Your Bethel Experience
In the last message, we left Jacob where his father Isaac finally, finally obeyed God and obeyed the will of God and blessed him, truly blessed him, and then sent him on his way to Haran. Jacob now has gone far away from home, from the comfort of home, from the peace at home, from the security of home, but he never got away from the watchful eye of the heavenly Father. In my heart of hearts, having told you that Jacob was a home bod in the previous messages, I think he is not prepared for this journey. He is not ready to be all alone when he is a home bod and stayed home most of the time, not like his brother, Esau, who was wild and always loved the hunting and the fishing and all the wide open roads. He goes in there and he goes for a 500-miles walking.
They walked back then. He was not prepared for this lonely aloneness time in the wilderness and in the desert. This is the age of the desert. This is where Gaza Strip is, where Beersheba is, and he's going all the way through modern Israel, all the way to Iraq. There's no doubt in my mind, at least, that at that moment, Jacob's heart was filled with fear and anxiety. His mind was filled with worry and apprehension. He's asking himself probably over and over again, "Will I see Mom and Dad again? Would my brother Esau ever catches up with me? Would I ever get home again"? You see that, actually, in his own words. In a minute, I'll show you. And he's probably questioning in his mind, "Was all that stuff of deceiving my dad and getting the blessing, was it all worth it to be here alone in this desert"?
This episode in the series of messages, "Fear Deceives; Grace Sets Us Free," you find Jacob 500-miles journey, walking on the edge of the desert. This is probably his second night, so already walked two days and this is about his second night on his way to his uncle Laban's house in the land of Haran. And he comes in that town of Bethel and that's why I'm guessing it's two days because that's about the length of time if you walk. And that town used to be called Luz before Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob, had gone in there and built an altar to the Lord and he called and changed the name of the area from Luz to Bethel. Bethel, the house of God. Three things that I hope you'll always remember.
Always remember, when you find yourself in Bethel, all alone, three things: rejoice, respond, and remember. Rejoice, respond, and remember. Let's say them together. Rejoice, respond, and remember. Rejoice when you find yourself in Bethel. Rejoice when you find yourself in those circumstances. Respond immediately to your Bethel experience. And finally, remember to return back, to learn from your old Bethel places. Rejoice when you are in your Bethel. All Bethels in our lives are all different from one to the other. Whatever your Bethel may be, is the only place where God can get your attention. Often, Bethel is the only place we're not distracted with stuff, you know, the stuff of this world. Often, Bethel is the only place where you are ready to hear God and therefore, while it is painful and nobody ever can deny that, there is a silver lining and therefore rejoice.
Hear me right, please. If you only see your Bethel as a place from which you wanna jump and you want to run away, you're gonna miss out on a blessing. But if you see it as an opportunity to have an encounter, fresh encounter, with the living God, then you will see heaven itself in the middle of your Bethel. Why do I say this? Because for most of us, it not all of us, all we can think of immediately, "God, get me out of this. How fast can I get out of this? How can I shorten my Bethel experience? How fast can I run? How quickly can God remove me from this pain and loneliness, sorrow, and grief, and crushing experience"? I know of what I'm talking about. Been there, done that, and I do have the T-shirt to prove it. But often, in my Bethels, I discover that there are dreams and visions that can only be found in Bethel.
There are unique blessings that God can give you and they can only be found in Bethel, wherever your Bethel may be. There are messages that God can only communicate to you when you are in your Bethel, that there are manifestations of God that he wants you to receive only when I'm in my Bethel. There are some glorious lessons that can only be learned when you are in your Bethel. There are truths that God wants us to grasp but only when we are in Bethel. Why? Good question. Why? Because only in Bethel that we go through, we find ourselves not operating in our own strength, not filled with our own schemes and plans and ideas, not filled with pride of success, and oh, what a dream God gave Jacob. Oh, what a dream. A stairway to heaven, a stairway to heaven.
Question: how many of us who are so blessed of God, we find ourselves preoccupied. Preoccupation is another word for worship, because whatever it is that's occupying your time and your attention and your effort and your money and your resources, that's object of your worship. How many of us find ourselves more preoccupied with God's blessings than with him, the blesser? And that is why God has to take us into brokenness and aloneness and being alone in Bethel, and here God is reaching down to Jacob. Beloved, that's what sets the Christian faith apart. Our God reaches out to us. Can I get an "Amen"? Here, God reveals a bridge between heaven and earth, a stairwell, and the angels coming up and down, and the Lord himself is on top of that stairwell.
Listen, I believe with all my heart God wants us to experience his presence, but you cannot experience the presence of God without the cross. Why? Because the cross is the only stairway to heaven. The cross is the only bridge to heaven. The cross is the only highway to heaven. The Babylonians wanted to reach to God, but God is the one who reaches out to us. The Bible said: "No one seeks after God," because God is the one who seeks after us. God is the one who always reaching out to us. God is the one who always want to bless us. God is the one who always trying to pursue us, if we just stop long enough so he can catch up with us. Problem is all of these blessings can only happen when we stop our frantic efforts and that's why the Bible said, "Be still, and know that I am," what? "Be still, and know that I am God".
In Jacob's case, God waited until all of his scheming, all of his maneuvering, all of his plans and tricks, stopped. Until all of his pursuing of his ambitions, until all of the self-centeredness, began to fade in the background and he's all alone with God. What did God do? He gives Jacob a glorious vision, a glorious vision. And when Jacob wakes up from this vision, he couldn't help but conclude, verse 17, Genesis 28: "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gateway to heaven". And then he calls the place, like I told you, Beth, house, El, E-L, God: the house of God. He builds an altar just like his grandfather before him, Abraham, built an altar many years earlier.
Beloved, listen to me. This vision is nothing less than a vision of Jesus 2000 years before his incarnation. Can I get a witness? This vision of Jesus, it was the bridge to heaven. What a privilege for Jacob to see a vision of Jesus 2000 years before Jesus is incarnated. Just like his father and his grandfather Abraham, and that's why Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am," and then he said to them, he said, "Abraham saw my day". Can you believe that? Yes, he had a vision of Jesus before he came. And that's when they got mad, they wanna kill him. You see, that's the privilege that God has given to him in the midst of his brokenness, in the midst of his pain, in the midst of his confusion, in the midst of his loneliness.
Not only that, but he received the affirmation of the continuous blessing that God gave originally to Abraham. What was it? That the Messiah will be born through his line. Beloved, when God blessed Abraham, God blessed him because of his descendant. In the book of Galatians, it says: "The seed," in the singular and not seeds in the plural. And that "the seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ, will be born through Jacob's descendant". In fact, in John's Gospel, you find a man by the name of Andrew. He's Peter's brother. Andrew might not have been a great evangelist. He did not evangelize and tell people everywhere about Jesus, but you know what he was gifted in doing? Bringing people to Jesus.
Andrew went to a Jewish man who was very Jewish, who followed in the tradition of Israel or Jacob, and his name is Nathaniel. And he said, "Nathaniel, I'm so excited because we found the Messiah. The one that all of the Old Testament has been prophesying is coming, he's here". And Nathaniel said, "Where'd he come from? Who's his family? Who is he? How was he born? What is his ethnicity"? He said, "Come and see. I can't answer your question, but he was born in Nazareth". "Oh, Nazareth". I mean, they looked down their noses on Nazareth men. I mean, it was a stinking little town. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Are you kidding me, the Messiah"? "Yeah, come and see. Come and see".
And what did Jesus do when he came in? He knew that this is a man, a Jew of a very Jew who's absolutely followed in the tradition of Jacob or Israel, 'cause Jacob and Israel are the same person. And then he said to him, he said, "You are a Jew in whom there is no guile". Nathaniel kind of looked. He said, "Well, how do you know this"? He said, "Well, before Andrew called you, actually, to come here, I saw you under the tree," and Nathaniel became a believer. What is Jesus saying to Nathaniel? "I am the fulfillment of Jacob's vision. When Jacob saw the Lord on top of that ladder, he saw me, and I'm the fulfillment of that dream".
Rejoice in your Bethel. Secondly, respond to your Bethel. Respond to your Bethel experience. Beloved, I know there are so many people who waste their Bethel experience. They really do. They waste their times of brokenness. They waste their times of waiting for God, but Jacob responded to that vision and provision. How? By taking concrete steps of expressing gratitude to God. Listen carefully. Salvation by faith alone does something very significant. Eviscerates human pride. Paul said, "We were dead in sin and trespasses". Jacob said, "Not only I'm so overwhelmed by God's grace, I'm overwhelmed by God's revelation, I'm gonna do something tangible. I'm gonna give back 10% of everything he places in my hands".
Now, I want you to remember this. This was 400 years or thereabout, before the law of Moses was given, the tithe. Four hundred years. Grace was always, always the biblical teaching. Now here's something I don't want you to miss. Don't miss this. Jacob is gonna give something. Hello? Jacob, he's gonna give something. Jacob, who had spent all his life being a taker. Jacob, who had been a getter. All of his life he has been characterized by scheming and receiving and manipulating. All of his life he's been characterized by selfish ambitions, but now he's beginning to be transformed by the power of the grace of God. Here in Bethel, he responds to that grace of God by being a giver.
Listen, when I hear people say, "Oh well, tithing. That belongs to the Old Testaments, the old covenant," I say, "Now, wait a minute. Even if it is, are we supposed to give less under grace than they did under the law"? Think about that. Beloved friends, generous giving is in response to the generosity of God. Generous giving is in response to the grace of God. Generous giving is in response, not a legal requirement, but is a gratitude to the grace of God.
Listen carefully. When the Bible says God has a soft spot, I know your Bible says: "God loves a cheerful giver". Literally, it means he has a soft spot because God loves all his children. He'll even love the stingy, you know. He does, he love all his children the same, and you're not gonna change that. He loves the stingy, he loves the generous, he loves us all equally. But he does have a smile on his face when a generous giver name comes up in heaven. He has a very soft spot toward them. Why? Because they are imitating him. He's the giver. He's the giver of all time.
Rejoice in your Bethel. Respond to your Bethel. Remember and return and learn from your Bethel. Here's a fact of history. Jacob's Bethel experience did not transform him into a super-duper spiritual man overnight. Did you get that? It began the process because you're gonna see throughout this series of messages, he keeps going back to the same old territories. In fact, the word "sanctification" is a big word theologians use, but all it means is: daily process, daily becoming like Christ. I pray that I am more like Christ this year than I was last year, and that last year I was more like Christ than the year before. It's a process. Christ-likeness.
You and I daily often face all sorts of temptations. You and I often find ourselves in the same old territories that we thought we left long time ago. You and I found ourselves drifting into doubt and discouragement and despondency. You and I find ourselves in a place of fear and apprehension. You and I find ourselves often in a place of uncertainty and unsure which way to go.
Beloved, listen to me. Those are the times when we need to return to our past Bethels. Those are the times when we must return to our past experiences with God. Those are the times where we have to go back, where we have encountered the living God, where we've experienced his mercy, we've experienced fresh grace, and we experienced fresh love. Those are the times and the places that we need to go to in our minds, in our hearts, where we've seen him work on our behalf. These are the places and the times we've experienced past blessings. Those are the times and the places where we have seen God move mountains on our behalf. Those are the times and the places where have seen God heard the cries of our hearts.
Those are the times and the places where our memorial stones stand. Whether you are experiencing brokenness and pain, whether you're experiencing it now in your life, this moment, whether you're about to enter into it, or whether you just came out of it, you and I must remind ourselves over and over and over and over and over again the God who met us in our past Bethel is gonna meet me again. The God who forgave me in the past will forgive me again. The God who blessed me in the past in Bethel, he will bless me again. The God who touched me back then will touch me again. The God who gave me dreams and visions in the past is gonna confirm these dreams and visions again. And so rejoice, respond, and remember.