The Heart of Worship
Text: Genesis 4
Proposition: The heart of worship has both intent and content, the intent of a trusting faith and the content of a sufficient sacrifice.
Introduction: As Adam and Eve were banished from Eden and began to find a life full of challenges one of the most difficult soon came upon them. In Genesis 4 it describes how they began to have children, two sons were born whose names are renown, Cain and Abel. As this young family took their first steps in a hostile land there was a need to divide the work, to focus on the herds and to till the soil. For Cain it was the hard work of breaking ground, of seeding, watering, weeding and harvest. For Abel it was the challenge of learning the ways of animals, of being a shepherd and a herdsman. Perhaps for Cain the backbreaking character making ways of his work made the task of a shepherd seem slack and contemptible. The story of Cain and Abel not only contrasts the iconic battle between farmers and ranchers, between brothers that are different, it lays out the details of the first murder. It sets worship as the trigger that leads to murder, it puts squarely before us the significance of worship in everything we do, from the earliest days of mans existence and even to now. Let’s read Genesis 4.
I. In Cain and Abel Are Not Just Contrast But Also Succession. Cain is Eve’s first born, her choice of words point to where the name Cain comes from. She says, “Now I have acquired a man from the Lord”, the word ‘aquired’ is same root word behind the name Cain, meaning ‘possession or aquisition’. Interestingly it’s the same root that the modern Hebrew word ‘kanyan’ comes from, ‘kanyan’ means shopping mall. Perhaps this suggests that Cain was like that part of us that is all about acquiring things, where acquisition and status become the most important things. The name Abel or ‘Hevel’, means, ‘breath, steam or vanity’. For Abel it seems life was not about physical things, there was not this grip upon him to possess, rather to him it was easy to part with a choice lamb. The issue for Cain was about rights and power and entitlement, he was after all the first born. For Abel the understanding of who he is was not attached to things, it was welded to something else. Abel, who saw life and death daily in his animals, had an understanding of faith. In the New Testament it says this about Abel in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” The faith of Abel still speaks to us today, perhaps the understanding that we are but a mere breath, a vapor, is where we learn to let go of things. The truth of who we are is not in things it’s in God who has made us and that’s a faith idea that governs all our life. Perhaps though we start out like Cain, Abel is more the truth of who we are. Though Abel follows Cain in age, it’s this succession of faith over possession that God recognizes and even prizes above all other. It’s what made Abels sacrifice acceptable.
II. How we Approach God (Worship) Affects How We Compare Ourselves to Others (Life). If Abels sacrifice was acceptable, or more excellent as Hebrews 11 puts it, what was it that made it different from Cains? Let’s put the obvious things on the table:
1. God had a right and reasonable expectation of how they were to approach Him.
2. That expectation would be known to Adam and his family.
3. How they approached God had everything to do with the exile from Eden.
4. The exile from Eden had everything to do with sin.
5. The price of sin was the shed blood of sacrifice.
Cain’s approach to God was based on his own worthiness, his ability to show how good he was by virtue of his own efforts. Abel’s approach was to shed the blood of the first born of his flock and even then he brought the fat, the choicest part, to be sacrificed to God. How we approach God is an every minute of every day thing. It permeates our thinking and alters our perspective from acquiring to inquiring. We begin to move from a pride based way of living that constantly compares ourselves to others and shifts this to seeking to know who we really are and why we are and who God is. Cain’s response to God when his offering was rejected was not one of inquiry, it was anger. That’s because Cain felt justified in what he had done, he believed he was right simply because it felt right to him. That’s the problem, how can you trust feelings that are governed by a sin influenced nature? Faith is the means that God has created as the counter balance to the blindness that sin generates.
III. The Heart of Worship is Both Intent and Content. In the ensuing conversations that God has with Cain what becomes clear is that Cain has no justifiable reason for being angry, the anger will in fact predispose him to foolish actions and the choice for how he will handle this is set squarely in front of him. God warns Cain that sin will try to devour him, its desire is for him but that he should rule over it. Cain refuses to listen, God has essentially asked Cain to repent, to change direction, but he would not. Cain’s anger against God is now exercised against another, his brother Abel, and the first murder in the history of mankind is perpetrated. Even Cain’s response to God after the murder reveals how foolish sin can be, he tries to lie to God saying he doesn’t know where Abel is and then he mocks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The heart of worship, which is an everyday moment, everyday thing, is an intent that wants to be seen by God, it requires a desire to want to hear what God has to say, it requires a will that wants to repent, to change the things that need changing. The heart of worship is also content, it requires that sin’s damage be paid for and the price for sin’s damage is life. That’s what the blood sacrifice system was all about, the price of sin is life and blood is the essence of life. Abel’s sacrifice of the first born of his flock pictured the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus Christ as that which would pay for all time the damage of my sin. The content of worship is that this is how God says that we are to come to Him, by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. It’s not by my efforts, not in my righteousness which is really just like a filthy rag. The only way that I can come is through the righteousness of Jesus. The heart of worship is both intent and content, the intent of a trusting faith and the content of a sufficient sacrifice. The heart of worship, which is an every moment, every day kind of thing, recognizes that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life…for me.