Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rejected?

The next bit of Genesis is about Cain and Abel and their sacrifices. As we look at what happened I’m hoping that you will be able to gain a fuller answer to the question, ‘Who is God and what is He like?’ We’ll start by looking at one particular aspect of who God is that is assumed in what happened with Cain and Abel.

Listen to what Moses wrote.
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.  Genesis 4.3-5
We start where we always need to start. We ask the question, ‘What happened?’ And the text is quite clear. Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices to Yahweh. They came to worship Him. But there’s a problem. Yahweh ‘had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard’.  In effect, God is saying to Cain, ‘You didn’t do it right’. He rejects Cain’s worship.

What does this tell us about God? Well, here’s one thing that I think is worth noting: God has expectations when it comes to worship. What I’d like to do is to explore this notion of God’s expectations for worship. This is a very large topic with all sorts of things going on. I’m only going to look at two aspects of God’s expectations in this.

Here’s the first. God expects to be worshiped by everyone. That Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices as an act of worship was the right thing to do. It was a necessary thing to do. God expected it. The Bible makes that clear.

Here’s one place where people are called to worship God.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! Psalms 96:7-9
That seems pretty clear. Everyone everywhere throughout all the earth is being called to worship Yahweh.

Now, God insists on this to such an extent that one of the basic charges against unbelievers is their refusal to worship the true God. Paul explains.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:19-21
According to Paul, a look at creation, ‘the things that have been made’, gives us all more than enough reason to worship the true God, to honor Him and give thanks to Him. Those who refuse have no excuse. And as Paul makes clear in what follows that passage, God holds people accountable if they refuse to do that.

So, let’s put together what we find in that Psalm and in Paul. God expects all people to worship Him. That is, everyone is to ‘ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name’. He has revealed Himself well enough so that we all can ‘honor him as God’ and ‘give thanks to Him’. The nature of this God, who He is and what kind of God He is, all this is revealed in creation. So, in a way, worship is simply acknowledging reality. It’s recognizing who God is as Creator and Sustainer, and responding appropriately: glory and honor and thanks. God expects this. He expects to be worshiped in this way.

That’s the first expectation that God has about His worship. Here’s the second: that this worship be real and honest. 

Jesus reacts to the hypocrites of His day using words from Isaiah.
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me. Matthew 15.8,9
In fact, God got so fed up with the phony worship of Israel in Isaiah’s day that He said this about all their different acts of worship:
When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. Isaiah 1.12-14
God expects real worship, honest worship from the heart. So, no just going through the motions. If worship is going to be real there needs to be some thinking, some remembering who God is and some remembering who we are in relation to Him. It’s when people do that that real worship can occur.

So, God has expectations when it comes to worship. That’s what was going on in the incident with Cain and his sacrifice. One expectation is simply that He be worshiped. Secondly, He expects to be worshiped in a particular way.

Now, we may feel a little uncomfortable when we begin to take these two expectations and apply them to ourselves and what we do on a Sunday. But it gets worse when you realize that for God Sunday worship is only one part of the picture. Worship isn’t just limited to one day a week. Worship is to be a way of life. To quote Paul again,
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10.31
All of life is to be about ascribing to Yahweh the glory due His name. All of life is to be honoring Him and giving thanks to Him. All of life is to be worship. That’s what God expects. And He will reject all those who fail to meet His expectation. That’s what He did with Cain. Why should it be different today?

Now, even a moment’s reflection on this can crush a person. ‘Rejected?!? By God?!? Might that happen to me? Has it happened to me?’ But few people are crushed by all of this. I have three reasons why that might be the case.

Here’s the first reason. There are those people who have never really thought about the idea that God might reject their worship, what they do on a Sunday as well as how they live during the week. They’ve never heard it before. ‘Could God reject my worship and thus reject me?’ He really could, and it’s important that people know that. But not many have ever heard of this.

Here’s a second reason why someone might not feel crushed by all of this. And here, I speak from personal experience. This person looks at himself and notices how well he does at some particular aspect of his life. He compares himself to others and sees that he does so much better than they do. And so, he is sure that the worship of his life is something that God is pleased with. He is sure that he is accepted and not rejected. He is not crushed but quite content. It’s obvious to him that he’s doing fine.

There are times, though, when God acts and interrupts this fantasy. The Spirit taps him on the shoulder and asks, ‘You’ve looked at one area of your life. But what about these other ninety-nine areas? How are you doing there?’ And then, he sees how poor the worship of his life is when it comes to those other areas. Maybe there is some worship there, but it’s not real. Or maybe there isn’t any worship at all. And it dawns on him that when he looks at the whole picture, not just the one area that he thinks he is doing so well in, he is failing to meet God’s expectations. And then he realizes that even in that area where he thought he was doing so well he really isn’t. At that point it becomes clear that God really should reject him just like He rejected Cain. He’s at the brink of being overwhelmed by the truth, crushed by it.

But then, there’s the third reason why someone wouldn’t be crushed by all of this. It’s not because of some proud opinion of himself. And it isn’t because he’s never thought about God’s expectations. Actually, he has thought about those expectations, and he actually knows that he has failed to meet them. He knows that he should be rejected. But he also knows the Gospel. He knows that Jesus has come to deal with that very legitimate threat of rejection. He knows that Jesus’ life was a life of perfect worship of God - honoring Him, thanking Him, living every moment for His glory. And he knows that Jesus has exchanged His own perfect worship for that person’s ugly excuse for worship. As a result, this person knows that he hasn’t been rejected and won’t be - because of Jesus. But that’s not all. Jesus doesn’t just take care of the past. He deals with the future. This person knows that by the Spirit Jesus is changing him into someone whose worship is becoming acceptable, becoming perfect. And that is a matter of great joy because this person wants, more than anything else, to worship his God well - not in order to be accepted, that’s been taken care of, but in order to give to his God the glory and honor and thanks that He deserves. To worship God with the whole life just makes sense to him. It has become his chief joy. And Jesus is changing him so a life of perfect worship becomes a reality.

It seems to me that what is normal for Christians is to be all three people. There are so many things that we don’t know about who God is and what He is like. The normal Christian life is all about coming to know more of those things. There will be those times when coming to know God better will result in becoming that second person. Now that we understand God a little better we see that we aren’t meeting His expectations - not even close. He should reject us. We see that, and we feel that. But then, we become that third person. We come to Jesus, aware of our failure, aware of what God should do. We come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. And every time the response is the same. ‘Of course, I’ll forgive you. And not only that, I’ll change you, too.’ And hearing that we rejoice. Instead of being rejected we are fully accepted and on the way to becoming the kind of person we so desire to be, someone who worships God in a way that He deserves. And then, the cycle starts all over, learning something new about who God is, seeing that we’re not doing as well as we thought, being forgiven and changed. And on and on it goes until one day the cycle comes to an end. Finally, our lives really are all about the worship of God. Jesus has completed His work. This is the Gospel, and we are blessed to have it.

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