And in the process of time, it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. – Genesis 4:3
When I read the Bible from start to finish, every time I get to these words in Genesis 4, I think “right here was the birth of religion.” As far as I can tell, God never asked for any kind of offering to be made. It appears that Cain and Abel, maybe with some help from dad, came up with a religious system. They felt it would be a good thing if they made an offering to God.
Abel chose wisely. He chose the very thing that God used to cover up his mom and dad’s sin. Genesis 3:21 says, “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them.” Most speculators believe that it was the skin of a lamb, especially considering Jesus would go on to give His own skin as “The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” It makes sense that Abel would choose the same animal as an offering to God. I imagine his thought process, “You covered mom and dad with the life of a lamb, now cover mine.” How could God resist blessing such an offering?
Cain offered up some sort of plant. We know that Adam and Eve tried to use plant life to cover their own sin. Genesis 3:7 says, “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” We know for a fact that this was not sufficient to cover sins. We know even today that it is not by our own efforts that the Lord saves and restores us, it is by the blood of Christ, and Christ alone who saves us from sin.
Why do Christians still get it so wrong? Why do churches get it so wrong? Why do I still get it so wrong? I would swear that when I’m studying the Word, doing right, praying regularly, and figuratively sewing those fig leaves that He is so pleased with me. Then, on the other hand, when I just feel tired and slack, and I get away from my devotion to Him, I think the Lord is displeased with me. After all this time, I can still think it is by my might and my strength that God is pleased. Abel is still teaching me, “The lamb is enough, and the lamb is sufficient.”
A couple of weeks ago I went back to some old habits. I was thinking about the lukewarm church of Laodicea and how God asked them to go back and do the things they did when they loved Him . . . the things they did “at first.” (See Revelation 2:5). I was thinking of this on my couch in the living room. I thought about how for the past few months, I had spent time with the Lord in a different room and it hadn’t been as powerful as when I used to spend my mornings with Him on the couch in the computer room. To make a long story short, the glory of the Lord fell immediately when I went back to where I’ve always considered my “prayer closet.”
Here is where the religion aspect comes in. I was thinking that God would make me spend a few weeks doing things “the right way.” In my mind, if I did well, then He would know I was serious and maybe we could get back to being really close. Believe me, writing this down right now, I know how stupid it sounds. But, in the moment, it was just the way my mind was working. Well, on the third day, God just opened heaven and filled me up. He filled me up with forgiveness, with mercy, with grace, with presence . . . it was so much more than I could stand at one time. I was crying so hard, and the thought entered my mind, “You would do this for me Lord after only three days?” He didn’t even have to say anything. I knew instantly that every good and perfect thing in my entire existence had been a gift from Him all along. I didn’t earn a thing. He just freely gave His presence simply because I did what His Word said from a heart that simply wanted more of Him.
I have no idea if this makes any sense to you guys or not. But I want to plead with you for a moment. If you think God’s favor is upon you because you help people, attend church regularly, give an offering, read a devotion every day, or are simply a good person, think again. He flat out says, “There is no one good.” (Mark 10:18). I’m not saying those things are bad, they can be good if done from a heart of love for Him. I often wonder how many times I’ve traded a God thing for a good thing . . . that is a lousy trade. Today, tell Him today that you love Him, or at least want to love Him. Tell Him you just want to be close to Him. Tell Him you want to feel His presence and all the fullness of His goodness. Is there anything you don’t do now that you did at any other time in the past simply because you loved Him? Is there a place you used to meet? Is there a song you used to sing? If the answer is yes and you aren’t as close to Him as you were before, go back to the things You did “at first.” You just might find presence like you’ve never known.
Lord, thank you for having Moses write about Abel. He simply offered up the same sacrifice you made for His mom and dad. Once again, I receive the same sacrifice that You made for me and countless others on the cross at Calvary. I want to live for You. I want to serve You. I want to want You above everything else this planet offers. I want to work for You out of a heart of love, not out of a sense of earning anything. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and help me to walk by that same Spirit. There is nothing like being close to You . . . the Good Shepherd. Amen.