I updated my weather app multiple times throughout the day. According the weather forecasters, we were in for a barrage of storms many having the potential for tornadic activity. I walked by our storm shelter dreading the point I might have to go down into it. I have christened it, “The hole” for that is what it is to me. A concrete hole with a thick metal sliding door that will keep us safe from the storm. Kevin had cleaned it out a few weeks ago making sure there weren’t spiders, mice, or any other furry rodents that I would not want to share my shelter with. I get a little anxious just describing “The hole”. Seriously, the tornado would have to be on my street before I would go down into it, but I know that shelter is our safe place in times of turbulent storms. I have seen the destruction of Oklahoma tornadoes, so I am thankful I have a shelter to climb down into. I have seen wall clouds swirling around in the sky straight overhead to form one gigantic funnel cloud. You bet, I am going down into “The hole” when those form. My tornado shelter is our safe haven from the debris and chaos of spring tornadoes of Oklahoma.
Jacob was escaping the chaos of a violent relationship with his brother, Esau. He needed to find a safe haven. He wasn’t really looking for God as he laid down his head on a stone the night he dreamed of “The Stairway.” It didn’t matter, God met Jacob there anyway. God met Jacob in a dream in a village called Bethel. I was curious about this village. I looked it up. Bethel was a city known to be a place to have communication with God. One of the first mentions of Bethel is found in Genesis 12.
“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.”
Genesis 12:4-8 NIV
Bethel. The name means, “house of God.” It was an ancient city located in the Judean hill country. It is mentioned in over sixty verses in the Bible. Several key encounters with God happened at Bethel. The Hebrew people viewed this town as a dwelling place of God. It was a physical place to remind them of God’s Presence here on earth. It was here that Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrew faith, built one of the first alters mentioned in the Bible. Here in Bethel, Abraham first invoked the name of the Lord.
Upon first entering the Holy Land and after conquering Jericho, Joshua and the Israelites conquered Bethel. Bethel was one of the first places where the ark of the covenant of God was set up, and the priests offered sacrifices and inquired of God.
God, of course cannot be contained to a singular place or city. He is bigger than that. The earth is His footstool, but we as humans aren’t. We are tied to a specific spot. We cannot be everywhere at the same time as God can. We need a Bethel. We need a place where we can come to God. We need tornado shelters where we can run and escape our storms of life. We need a place we can fall on our knees and say, “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this place.” We need someplace to say, “This is the very gateway to heaven.” The cross is that place for us. Only at the cross can we look up and see our Savior. The cross isn’t a beautiful sight. It doesn’t give out warm fuzzy feelings just like my storm shelter is not pleasant and inviting. In fact, the cross is gory to reflect on. The cross drips with the blood of Jesus. The cross is old and rugged. It is an emblem of suffering and shame. Jesus hung there for six hours one dark afternoon. He exchanged royal robes to wear a crown of thorns. The blood that dripped crimson from that old rugged cross is the blood that cleanses us and open up our communication with God. The cross bridges the great divide from our shame and disgrace to bring us to a highway that leads us to our Bethel. Jesus is the only gateway to heaven. The cross is our Bethel. At the cross we can inquire of the Lord for all our needs. Only at the cross can we see heaven opened and the blessings of God rain down on us.