When you take the time to read through the first book of the Bible, you see a striking picture of God’s faithfulness to us unfaithful humans. The all-too-human tragedies pictured in Genesis of “the Fall, the Flood, and the Flop at Babel” (as my former professor Walter Kaiser named them) are all met by a promise of God’s grace and provision. Yes, in this first book, we see the beauty and power of the Creation account, but turn a page or two and you’re at the most tragic chapter in the Bible, the Fall in chapter 3, brother murdering brother in chapter 4, and by chapter 6 we encounter the judgment of the Flood after hearing this assessment of the human situation,

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).”

These early chapters of Genesis tell us that things did not get bad gradually after the Fall, they got bad fast, like dropping off the edge of a cliff fast. But alongside these human disasters, we see a faithful Creator God dealing out grace and hope. After the Fall, God promises a Savior from the lineage of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15). After the Flood, this lineage is narrowed to Noah’s son Shem (Gen. 9:26-27). And after the “Table of Nations” in chapter 10 and the collective human rebellion at Babel in chapter 11, we hear the mother-load of God’s response of grace to fallen humanity as he makes this promise to Abraham, “and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This promise is so potent that the Apostle Paul quotes it and calls it “the gospel,”

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8).

It’s God’s faithfulness to fallen humans seen in his promise of a Savior who is traced in Genesis from Adam, to Noah, to Shem, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and finally to Judah, that gives this book its center of gravity. It drives most of the genealogies in the book and explains why God goes out of his way to protect these sometimes-wayward patriarchs. God’s promised Savior is the single golden thread streaming through the fabric of human messiness seen in Genesis (and the remainder of the Old Testament for that matter). The amount of Messianic ground covered here is actually quite stunning: we begin with God’s promise to those first sinners of a Savior who will crush Satan (Gen. 3:15), and by the end of the book we know this Savior to be a King, a “Lion” from the tribe of Judah who will possess the obedience of all the peoples of the earth (Gen. 49:9-10).

Along the way from chapters 3 to 49, we encounter Jacob: Abraham’s grandson and Judah’s father. When you read the Jacob narrative, you step into an adventure (I often think of Jacob as the Bilbo Baggins of the Genesis story). In Genesis 28, Isaac sends his youngest son Jacob north to find a wife. As he leaves his home on this 400-mile journey north, we come to a familiar story: Jacob makes camp, uses a rock for a pillow, falls asleep, and dreams of a ladder (probably a stairway) reaching into heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. And in this dream God repeats to Jacob the same Messianic promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 (see Gen. 28:14). The story has even been memorialized in an old spiritual song “We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder” and it goes like this:

We are climbing Jacob's ladder

We are climbing Jacob's ladder

We are climbing Jacob's ladder

Soldiers of the cross

Ev'ry round goes higher higher

Ev'ry round goes higher higher

Ev'ry round goes higher higher

Soldiers of the cross

This song originated out of an oppressed culture and its intent was to encourage spiritual growth, but it leaves one with the impression that we are the ones doing the climbing. However, the story of Genesis tells us that we as humans are not in our fallen reality able to climb up any ladder to God. The ladder is not so we can get to God, but so he can get to us with his provision for our journeys – just as he did for Jacob. The song is heard wrongly when we hear it as strapping us with the task of climbing. Basically, our problem in “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” is a human problem, for we are not very good climbers. In fact, we are not “climbers” at all, but “fallers” (Rom. 3:23). The Apostle Paul goes back to the Genesis story to identify our struggle as un-climbers who are descended from Adam,

“Sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

Genesis does indeed explain to us why we are sinners – it’s simply who we are naturally, born into the long lineage of those first sinners. But Genesis also teaches us that God is faithful to the unfaithful, and this dominant theme of the book sets the stage for the rest of God’s salvific activity in the larger narrative of Scripture. The Apostle Paul, the Old Testament scholar that he was, made a careful study of Genesis, and reminds us in Romans 5 that the problem of Adam’s Fall is our problem, but he also points us to the Second Adam: the Savior promised from Adam’s line, who is also ours to own. And leave it to St. Luke, the Gentile Gospel writer, to trace the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). His point? Jesus is the Savior of all, from the very beginning!

So, this Christmas season we are thankful that even though we “fallers” are unable to climb up to God, he came down the ladder to us. This is the important reality of the Christmas story, the story of the Incarnation, the story of God himself becoming our brother so he could join the family of humanity, be our substitute on the cross, and our life-giver in the resurrection.

The Bible is crystal clear that Jesus is the divine Son of God, but he was also born of a human mother, and because of this, he is the one and only God-Man. He is the perfect connection between heaven and earth. He is the fulfillment of Jacob’s ladder as Jesus himself explained to Nathanael: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).

This long-promised Savior from Genesis, this connection between heaven and earth, fixed our inability to climb up to God by taking our “fallenness” on himself at the cross, erasing our sin, and bridging the gap between an exalted God and fallen humans as Paul says:

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's [Jesus’] obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:18-19).

This Christmas season don’t forget to look up, and then thank God for coming down to us!