Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE LADDER TO HEAVEN”

Genesis 28.12-17; John 1.36-51

 

Mankind’s investigations in the pursuit of truth are limited to that which can be grasped by our five senses and the technology that we develop to extend the reach of our five senses. However, not all truth can be discovered by means of the five senses or our technical extensions of these senses. Most of the profoundly important truths are beyond the reach of man’s independent inquiry and can only be known by means of God’s Word, the Bible. For example: Science cannot tell us how we came to be, because science relies on observation and no one was around to observe how we came to be. Therefore, we are utterly dependent upon God to tell us how we came to be. Thankfully, God does tell us how we came to be. We came to be as a race from God’s creative enterprise, by which He spoke the time-space-matter continuum into existence from nothing, and then formed the physical universe. It was on the sixth day, as the LORD God’s final act of physical creation, that He “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,” Genesis 1.26-27 and Genesis 2.7.

All was well with Adam and his wife Eve until The Fall, when by a simple but rebellious act of disobedience toward God man fell from his lofty spiritual innocence into the degraded and defiled muck and mire of spiritual deadness and sin. Whereas communion with God was once enjoyed and pleasurable, the entrance of sin and the tragic alteration of man’s nature made such delight impossible. That event is known as The Fall.[1] As a result of The Fall, man was estranged from God, separated from God by an impassible gulf, and degenerated from being the highest of God’s creation to becoming God’s enemy.[2] In response to man’s rebellion, and to deny him access to the tree of life that would enable him to live forever in this life as a sinner, God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and all its beauty and pleasures.[3] From that point forward the ground was cursed and would yield to man its bounty only grudgingly.[4] Life would henceforth be hard, requiring toil. Roses now had thorns. Bees would now sting. Vipers would now bite. Soil now had to be cultivated. The vine had to be pruned and the fruit of the vine had to be harvested. Furthermore, death would now be experienced by every creature that drew breathe, including man. So desperate had every man become since sinking into the dark pit of sinfulness that the first child born to the first woman murdered his own younger brother.[5]

Over time, mankind sank deeper and deeper into the darkness of depravity. Eventually the stench of wickedness and spiritual death was such that God determined to judge the entire human race with a worldwide flood. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”[6] God used him as a preacher of righteousness and directed him to build the Ark, by which he saved his wife, his three sons and their wives, and pairs of animals that were taken into the huge wooden craft.[7] The Flood came and destroyed everything but what Noah had in the Ark. When the waters of The Flood subsided and the animals were released, “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” Genesis 9.1.

What does it mean to replenish the earth? The Hebrew word translated replenish is found 240 times in the Hebrew scriptures, and it generally means to fill.[8] What God wanted was for people to spread out and prosper, to scatter and apply themselves as they multiplied. The problem, of course, is that even in the generations after The Flood men had passed down to their succeeding generations the stories of life in Paradise, what it was like for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before their sins. This is why, from then until now, men have dreamed about Paradise, and about escaping the harsh and backbreaking toil associated with living off the cursed soil.

Nowadays, of course, men are so far removed in time from creation and The Flood that many even deny the existence of God and laugh at any notion of the supernatural, or the existence of Paradise. However, even while scoffing at the notion that there is or ever was a Paradise to be gained, men still resort to social engineering in a vain attempt to create a sort of heaven here on earth. Karl Marx and his rich friend Friedrich Engels imagined a communist utopia, achieved by bloody revolution. The 20th century is witness to the bloodshed caused by their foolish theories. Socialists imagine a socialist, government-controlled paradise here on earth, with universal free health care and liberty from the tyranny of capitalist oppressors. Europe is now rapidly retreating from the failed policies orchestrated by socialists, even while politicians here in the United States are still married to the absurd notion that you can create a heaven here on earth by passing the right laws. Long ago, however, long before the supernatural was completely denied by the self-anointed intelligentsia, and when no one doubted the existence of an afterlife and the possibility of eternal bliss in the afterlife, men not only believed in the existence of some type of heavenly Paradise, but many of them thought they could gain Paradise in this lifetime (or guarantee Paradise in the next life) by their own inventions.

This morning we will survey the means by which men can (or think they can) reach from way down here to way up there to gain access to eternal bliss in the hereafter:

 

First, THERE WAS THE TOWER OF BABEL

 

There is no doubt that God’s intention when He commanded Noah and his sons to replenish the earth was for them to scatter and over spread the world. Keep in mind that it has always been God’s overall design for mankind to disperse, with only God’s people authorized to gather and to congregate.[9] Yet along comes an evil man named Nimrod, an Old Testament type of the antichrist, who built an empire with great cities.

That Nimrod was antagonistic toward God is clear from his description in Genesis 10.8-9:

 

“And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.

 

It was under Nimrod’s leadership that the tower of Babel was constructed.

Genesis 11.4 provides mankind’s three primary motives for doing the opposite of God’s will:

 

“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

 

Their first motive, of course, was to gain access to heaven by means of a man-made religion. Not that they wanted a building so high that it could physically reach heaven, but to serve as the center of idol worship, a temple to pacify their false gods so they might gain access to Paradise in the hereafter. This, of course, was an outrage to the one true God.[10] Their second motive was also born of rebellion: “and let us make us a name.” Thus, pride and a desire for prominence drove their efforts. Third, we see that they were determined to gather, though God wanted mankind dispersed:

 

“lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

 

Men, blinded by their wickedness and rebellion toward God, fashioned their own false gods, exhibited a determination to thwart the will of the real God, and yet fashioned a false religion complete with the tower at Babylon that they might somehow reach their goal of bridging the great gulf that barred their passage to Paradise in the afterlife.

God’s response to this idolatrous and blasphemous attempt to reach up to heaven by means of their own connivings? He confounded their language so that they might scatter, Genesis 11.7-9:

 

7      Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

8      So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

9      Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

 

Next, JACOB’S LADDER

 

You may remember from your Bible reading that Abraham’s son, Isaac, was the father of twin boys, Jacob and Esau, who throughout their lives were constantly at odds. Esau is described in God’s Word as a profane man, while Jacob was no better, only different.[11] After a particularly volatile confrontation, Jacob fled for his life to live with his uncle Laban to the East.

Notice the irony. Jacob had lied to his father and tricked him so that he might secure his father’s blessing that was reserved for the firstborn. Yet there he was, fleeing for his life with nothing, the son of a wealthy sheik now reduced to sleeping with rocks for pillows.[12] It was at that low ebb in his life that Jacob was given a dream by God. Turn to Genesis 28.12-17, and read about it with me, if you will:

 

12    And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

13    And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;

14    And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

15    And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

16    And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.

17    And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

 

Quite different from the tower of Babel that was designed to reach heaven, is it not? The vision of this ladder was sent without being sought. This ladder features the angels of God ascending and descending on it. As well, at the top of this ladder stood the LORD, restating His covenant to Jacob. What the Babylonians imagined and sought to construct themselves, a means for reaching from where sinful men are to where the holy God is, actually does exist. Its existence was revealed to a man while he was sleeping, meaning that such a means of reaching God in heaven was achieved by grace and not by works of righteousness which any man has done or can do.

Waking from his sleep, Jacob realized several things, whether by revelation or illumination (I am not certain which): First, he realized the LORD was in that place, even though he had not known it; something each of us would do well to remember. Second, he was afraid. A man who does not experience fear for God and fear in the presence of God is simply foolish.[13] Though he was a slow learner, Jacob was beginning to wise up. Thirdly, he recognized that the place he was at (which is connected to the vision of the ladder) is dreadful, is the house of God, and is the gate of heaven. Thus, the ladder represented something that inspired dread and awe, was at the same time the house of God (the Hebrew word house here is frequently the word found in the Old Testament for the temple), and is also the gate of heaven.[14] Keep these things in mind.

That which is counterfeit (the tower of Babel) was built to advance selfish motives. It was the contrivance of Nimrod to aid in the control of his subjects so that he might bolster his prestige, so he might keep the population under control so they would not scatter, while at the same time being the central feature of a counterfeit idolatrous religion that purported to provide access to heaven. Jacob’s ladder, on the other hand, was not built at all, but was revealed. It was no contrivance by any mortal, but really was the means by which the great gulf between God and man was bridged.

 

Third, JACOB’S LADDER REVISITED

 

We now leap ahead about 1500 years in human history, from the time Jacob saw the vision of the ladder reaching to heaven in his sleep to the first days of our Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry following His baptism by John the Baptist and being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness for forty days. His baptism and temptations took place in the South, near where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea.

Following these opening events in His earthly ministry, and after being pointed out by the Baptist to a group of people as “the Lamb of God,” the Savior gathered from among John the Baptist’s disciples three to be His own, Andrew and Peter, as well as an unnamed man who I take to be John, the brother of James, John 1.36-42:

 

36    And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!

37    And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

38    Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?

39    He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.

40    One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

41    He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.

42    And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.

 

Interesting as that may be, it is what happened the next day, when the Lord Jesus returned north to Galilee, that concerns us at this time. Please read with me from John 1.43:

 

43    The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me.

44    Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

45    Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

46    And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

47    Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!

48    Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

49    Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

50    Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

51    And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

 

Fix your attention on verse 51, where the Lord Jesus Christ identifies Himself to Nathanael as the ladder Jacob saw in his dream as he fled from his brother, that ladder which Jacob recognized to be the house of God and the gate of heaven. What are the implications of what Jesus of Nazareth said to Nathanael? There are two: First, the Lord Jesus Christ, by revealing that He is Jacob’s ladder, showed Himself to Nathanael as the One who bridges the great gulf that separates God from man. Next, that He is the house of God (the temple in which God is housed), and that He is the gate of heaven (that is, to get to heaven you have to go through Him). This reminds me of course of John 14.6, where the Lord Jesus said,

 

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

 

Finally, WE CONSIDER THE SON OF GOD

 

We know that Jesus Christ is God from eternity past,[15] that He was miraculously conceived and born of a virgin named Mary,[16] and that He lived a sinless life before dying on the cross of Calvary.[17] Thus, Jesus Christ is both God and man, making Him to be that Person who alone bridges the great gulf between mankind and God in heaven. However, though He spans the great divide, how is it accomplished that we who are sinners, who are born dead in trespasses and sins, and who are separated from God by iniquities that He will not hear us, take benefit from this one Who is Jacob’s ladder?[18] After all, our hands are defiled with blood, and our fingers with iniquity; our lips have spoken lies, our tongues have muttered perverseness, Isaiah 59.3.

Here is where we must appreciate the limitations of the imagery presented to us in the Bible. By means of imagery we see the gap that exists between sinful men and the holy God. We, of course, recognize that the gap between sinners and God is not a gulf of distance, but a moral and spiritual gulf. The picture of Jesus Christ as the ladder serves to show us by symbolism that He is the only means to cross the great divide. What the symbolism of the great gulf and the ladder Jacob saw does not reveal to us is how sinners can come to benefit from Christ. How are we to scale the ladder? How are we to pass through the gate of heaven, which gate is Jesus Christ? Remember that near the end of His earthly ministry He said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved,” John 10.9.

The question that must be asked is how the sinner enters in, how the sinner climbs the ladder, how the sinner passes through the gate of heaven, so to speak? To phrase the question another way, how am I to benefit from Christ’s saving work, since I know that I can do nothing to save myself? The Philippian jailor posed the question to Paul and Silas in this way:

 

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”[19]

 

What can Jesus Christ accomplish that no Babylonian pyramid or idolatrous posturing and incense-burning can do for a sinner? Jesus Christ accomplishes all of it. He addresses every issue, delivers from all sin, authorizes the imparting of life, satisfies the righteous demands of God that sin be punished, and restores the sinner to a relationship with God that is actually superior to that enjoyed by Adam before he sinned in the Garden. What then seals the deal? What brings the sinner into union with Jesus Christ? What makes possible the sinner’s elevation up the ladder into the presence of God, so that according to Ephesians 2.6 the Christian is raised up with others to sit with them in heaven in Christ Jesus? The Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves,” Ephesians 2.8. Along with Silas, he responded to the Philippian jailor’s question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” by answering, in Acts 16.31,

 

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

 

As for the Lord Jesus, Himself, He provided a number of directions that are essentially the same. In Matthew 11.28, He told those weighed down by guilt and conviction, “Come unto me.” In John 11.25-26, just before raising Lazarus from the dead, He told Martha that those who believe in Him would have eternal life.

By whatever terminology the concept is expressed, it is clear in God’s Word that faith is the means by which sinners are reconciled to God, with Jesus Christ being the only saving object of faith. Thus, a sinner whose faith is in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins will be saved from the penalty of his past sins, from the present power of sin, and someday from the very presence of sin.

 

Take note of the way men have always behaved and you can see the desire to have, the longing to enjoy, some form of Paradise. Sometimes they resort to political theories in an effort to make their heaven here on earth, be it communism or socialism. Others resort to making vast sums of money in order to create for themselves a Paradise here on earth, such as seeking to retire to Tahiti by the time they turn thirty. Of course, such efforts are nonsense and will produce only heartache in the lives of those who pursue such courses, and frequently even greater damage in the lives of those affected by their misguided and sometimes savage naiveté. Those who are not materialists will seek Paradise by means of works of righteousness and false religions. Muslims desire Paradise, though their religion promises only uncertainty when it comes to eternity, unless you die a martyr’s death in jihad. For Buddhists it is a matter of good karma that no one has any control over to attain Nirvana.

However, the Word of God shows that heaven is a real place, a place enjoyed by those who are in communion and harmony with God, which is accomplished for an individual whose faith is in Jesus Christ, the Savior. So, how do you get to heaven? You climb the ladder. Oh, it is not a literal ladder that you laboriously ascend, rung after rung, until you reach the sky. The ladder is the Lord Jesus Christ, who bridges the gap between sinful man and holy God. How do you climb that ladder? By faith. Simply trust Christ and He will bridge the gap between you and your God instantly and permanently.



[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), pages 215-223.

[2] Romans 5.10

[3] Genesis 3.22

[4] Genesis 3.17-19

[5] Genesis 4.8

[6] Genesis 6.8

[7] Genesis 6.14-22

[8] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), pages 569-571.

[9] Exodus 23.17; Hebrews 10.25

[10] Exodus 20.3-6

[11] Hebrews 12.16

[12] Genesis 28.11

[13] Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 9.10; 15.33

[14] BDB, pages 108-110.

[15] John 1.1-4, 14

[16] Isaiah 7.14; Matthew 1.18-23; Luke 1.26-2.20

[17] Hebrews 4.15; 9.28

[18] Ephesians 2.1; Isaiah 59.2

[19] Acts 16.30


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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org