************ Sermon on Genesis 4:2-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 23, 1997
"Is Your Offering Acceptable to the Lord?"
This coming Thursday, as all of you know, is Thanksgiving Day. This coming Thursday we will be gathering together to thank God for all His good gifts and blessings towards us.
How can we show thanksgiving to God this coming Thursday? One way is through prayer and song. Another way is by the giving of gifts: our children can give canned goods for the poor and elderly of our community; the rest of us can designate gifts for the General Fund, CRWRC, Love Inc, Salem Christian Home, or any of the 25+ causes on the "Suggested Thanksgiving Offering List."
I need to ask, congregation, a question about your and my offering of thanks for this coming Thursday: it's a question about our songs and prayers; it's a question about our gifts — whether our gift be big or small, whether it be canned goods or money, whether it be designated for the General Fund, CRWRC, Love Inc, or whatever our gift. Tell me, will God accept your and my offering of thanks this coming Thursday?
I ask this because, as our Scripture passage shows us, God does not accept everyone's thank offering.
Does God, will God, accept your offering of thanks?
I God Rejects Cain's Offering and Accepts Abel's
A Adam and Eve's first two children were sons: Cain and Abel. The only detail Scripture tells us about these sons is their occupation: one was a herdsman while the other was a gardener. This detail is mentioned because of what follows. By searching Scripture carefully we notice that Adam was involved in both occupations (Gen 2:15 & 3:17-19; 2:19,20 & 3:21). His sons merely divided this work among themselves — each taking a branch of their father's work.
B "In the course of time," that is, after a considerable lapse of time, Cain and Abel both brought an offering to the Lord.
(Gen 4:3-4) ... Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. (4) But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The gardener sacrifices an offering of produce from the garden, the herdsman sacrifices an offering of meat from the flock or herd — just as one would expect.
These sacrifices offered by Adam's sons are the first recorded sacrifices of the human race mentioned in Scripture. Nowhere does Scripture tell us that God commanded this sacrifice. We can only conclude that the sacrifices were offerings that Cain and Abel presented to God of their own free will.
These first sacrifices were offered after the Fall. Therefore they reflect the fact that man is spiritually separated from God. And, they were designed to satisfy the need of the heart for fellowship with God. This need must have existed in the life of Cain as well as Abel, otherwise neither would have offered a sacrifice to God.
We can't read into these sacrifices, however, the idea or concept of atonement that the law of Moses gave to sacrifice. These sacrifices were not sinful man's attempt to make himself right with God; by these sacrifices the sons of Adam were not expressing a desire for the forgiveness of sin. There is no hint in our passage of expiation, propitiation, confession, or sorrow for sin.
What, then, did the sacrifices of Adam's sons mean? There is only one possible meaning: the offerings were expressions of gratitude to God. They were thank-offerings freely given to the Lord. Cain and Abel were thanking God for all they had. But more than this, they were also asking for God's continued blessing to be showered upon them.
Those first sacrifices were the first counterpart of our modern age Thanksgiving Day — a day in which we also thank God for all His blessings and ask for His continued blessing to be given to us.
C Scripture tells us, "The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor" (vs 4b,5a). Somehow, someway, the Lord made His response known to Cain and Abel. We are not sure how the Lord did this. Some commentators since ancient times are of the opinion that the Lord did for Abel's sacrifice what He did for Elijah's — namely, that He showed His approval by sending down fire from heaven that consumed the offering. Others think that perhaps the Lord spoke directly to Cain and Abel thereby indicating His approval or disapproval. However the Lord did it, He clearly indicated that He accepted Abel's thank-offering and rejected Cain's.
This leads me back to the question I asked earlier: will God accept or reject your and my offering of thanks on Thursday? Let me tell you, big changes are necessary in your life if the Lord rejects your offerings!
II The Difference of the Heart
A Why did God reject Cain's thank-offering? What was wrong with it? And why did God accept Abel's offering? What did He find pleasing about it?
Some say the reason why one offering was accepted and the other rejected lies in the difference between the two offerings — namely, that Abel offered a bleeding sacrifice whereas Cain offered a bloodless one. This can't be right because this makes our God into a blood-thirsty tyrant. Besides, the offerings were thank- offerings, not guilt or sin-offerings. God requires blood for the payment of sin — that's why His Son died upon the cross; He doesn't demand blood for the offering of thanks. Also, as already explained, the offerings differ from each other because Cain was a gardener whereas Abel was a herdsman; gardeners, of course, offer the fruit of the soil and herdsman offer from the flocks or herds when they present sacrifices of thanks.
Others say the acceptance or rejection depends totally on God. To this effect they quote Exodus 33:19 where the Lord says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (cf Rom 9:15). The Lord speaks here of His mysterious electing love. This, of course, is the underlying or root cause of all rejection or acceptance by God — whether the person is elect or reprobate. And, we have to remember that God's ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts, so we cannot understand His purposes.
However, we cannot merely look at the purposes of God to explain the acceptance or rejection of sacrifice. Scripture clearly indicates to us that wrapped within God's eternal ways here is a human dimension or element.
B What, then, is the human element that explains the difference in reception by God? That element, my brothers and sisters, lies in the heart! We can look at the state of the heart to explain why God accepted Abel's sacrifice and rejected Cain's.
There was a difference in Cain's heart as compared to Abel's. This is seen already in the gifts that are offered. Scripture says Abel "brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock" (vs 4). Abel offered the fattest first-born of his flocks. He offered to the Lord the first and the best of his flocks. Cain, on the other hand, brought "some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord" (vs 3). Scripture indicates to us here that Cain was not very fussy about what he brought to the Lord — he brought to the Lord the fruit of the garden that was most readily available but not the first-fruits. It is fair to say that Abel brought a choice offering to the Lord whereas Cain did not.
The story of Cain and Abel reminds me of the story of a brother and sister.
One rainy Sunday afternoon, the two children didn't know what to do with themselves. Suddenly one of them remembered the Sunday School lesson that morning: "Let's play Noah and the ark." The little boy agreed he would be Noah and his sister would be Mrs. Noah. For an "ark" they found an old cardboard box which they started to fill with their animals. The bathtub became the place for the "flood." They turned off the lights, and the "sun" disappeared. They turned on the shower, and the "rain" descended. After some time they turned off the shower, and the "rain" stopped and the ark floated on the waters. They turned on the lights and the "sun" reappeared. They pulled the plug out of the tub, and the "floods" disappeared until the ark once more rested on "dry ground."
When his sister started to leave, the boy said, "we're not finished yet." You see, he remembered that Noah and his wife had offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. The children decided the kitchen stove would be the place for them to burn their sacrifice. Reaching into the ark the little boy found one of his sister's animals and said, "Let's burn this. It would make a good gift for God."
"Oh, no," said his sister in alarm. "We can not burn that." Then reaching in the ark she found one of her brother's animals and said, "Here, let's give this to God instead."
Her brother did not agree with her. For some time they wondered what to do. Then the little girl had an idea. She ran off to the attic and in a few minutes returned with a little toy sheep. It had only three legs, its head was smashed, it had no tail, and it was so covered in dirt no one could see its white wool. "Here," she said, "let's give this to God. We will never want it again."
Her brother agreed, so they made their sacrifice. They burned the old toy sheep on the kitchen stove. The little broken lamb they did not want was given to God.
Boys and girls, forget about the mess in the bathroom or the fire in the kitchen. What do you think: were this boy and girl right in offering to God the little broken lamb they did not want? Do you think God was happy with their sacrifice?
The story of Cain and Abel reminds me that God always wants us to give Him our best. You see, Abel gave his best to God. Abel's gift shows the sincerity of his thanks to the Lord — that it comes from the depths of his heart; that it is sincere, well-meant, real. Abel truly desired to offer praise to the Lord.
We can't say this about Cain. God Himself indicates the true condition of Cain's heart when He says, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" (vs 7). Things were not right between Cain and his God. The words of Proverbs 21:27 apply to Cain: "The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable ..." Cain was wicked. So the Lord could not accept his offering. It becomes clear that Cain, unlike Abel, didn't really give his heart to the Lord. An educated guess tells us that Cain made an offering merely to keep on good terms with God. He offered something to the Lord in the expectation of a gift in return. He thought he could buy the Lord's favor through his offering. This sort of expectation is a great offense to the Lord.
The testimony of other portions of Scripture confirms this conclusion. I think of 1 John 3:12 which says,
(1 John 3:12) Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. I think also of Hebrews 11:4 which says,
(Heb 11:4) By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. Abel sacrificed out of faith. Cain, presumably, did not.
The thank-offering of a wicked Cain is not acceptable to the Lord whereas the thank-offering of a righteous Abel is.
C What does this mean for you and me? Our thank-offerings — whether Thursday's, or next Sunday's, or today's — are unacceptable to the Lord if they are not offered to Him out of true faith. If we lead a wicked life the Lord does not, can not, will not, accept our offerings.
Learn my brothers and sisters, from Cain and Abel. Your thank-offerings of prayer, praise, songs and gifts — offer them out of faith; offer them as righteous men, women, and children of God; offer them out of true thankfulness and not with the expectation you can earn a reward.
D I would like to direct your attention to what the Lord is really interested in! When you come to church to offer your thanks, what is the Lord most interested in: your wallets? your songs? your prayers? What will the Lord look for on Thursday: the amount of money we give to CRWRC? the number of canned goods we give to the poor? I looked over some of the church's records this past week. In 1994 we gave $10,290 in the Thanksgiving Day offering. In 1995 we gave $19,432. And in 1996 we gave $22,796. These amounts are impressive but is this what God is looking for?
God wants our best. But what is our best? Let me read to you from the familiar words of the prophet Micah. Micah asks,
(Micah 6:6-8) With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? (7) Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (8) He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This passage is so clear. It isn't my gifts — no matter how big they may be — that the Lord wants first of all. It is our hearts that He wants. He wants us to walk with Him and to live with Him — that is giving God our best!
Let us also be reminded of the words of King David in Psalm 51:
(Ps 51:16-17) You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. What God wants is repentance and obedience — that is giving God our best!
Finally, let us turn to the words of God through Samuel. God had commanded King Saul and the Israelites to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them. After the battle Samuel was surprised to hear the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle. He asked King Saul about this. Saul answered,
(1 Sam 15:15) "The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest." (cf vs 21). That sounds pretty noble, doesn't it? Who could complain about saving the best in order to sacrifice them to the Lord? Then comes the immortal words of Samuel that interest us today:
(1 Sam 15:22-23) "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (23) For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. What the Lord wants, my brothers and sisters, is obedience — that is giving God our best! What the Lord wanted from Cain, but did not get, was obedience. What the Lord wants from us is obedience. He wants us to walk in His ways. He wants us to serve Him in all of life. He wants us to give Him our hearts. And, all of our thank-offerings — whether they be by prayer, in song, through the giving of gifts — means nothing apart from this. Cain found that out, much to his sorrow and anger.
On Thursday let us offer our thanks to the Lord. Let us do that today too. Let us do that everyday. But more importantly, let us give God our best. Let us first offer our hearts to God. So I plead with you, congregation, give yourself to God. I plead with you, young people and children, accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Offer your heart to God and then bring your thanks. Offer your heart to God and then know God will accept your thanks.
I ask you, will God accept your offering of thanks this coming Thursday?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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