TRUE FAITH LOOKS UP
The Church has had its share of critics. Many of them point to the bloody wars which have been fought from holy motives. One may ask them if truth is not worth fighting about, what is? That only makes them doubt whether truth exists. War, however, is a fact of life. It has been a constant companion of God’s people since the Exodus. Holy Scripture describes for us how God’s chosen people undertook His bloody mission to conquer the Holy Land, and cleanse it of its former inhabitants. Later in the days of the kings, there was always somebody else to fight. Josiah was killed in combat. The Apocrypha records the deeds of the Maccabees, the second century BC freedom fighters, who fought a guerrilla campaign against King Antiochus. Constantine secured the peace of the Church on the battlefield. Three centuries later began the jihad, the obligatory warfare of Islam. They kept invading and harassing Christendom until our fathers decided to be proactive instead of reactive and inaugurated the Crusades. More recently we behold those sectarian struggles that followed in the wake of the Reformation. The heathen accuse us of lacking love for one another, but many Reformation Era Christians fought their brethren precisely because they did love them and wanted to correct them. Catholics and Protestants were breaking the Fifth Commandment, but they were not breaking the Golden Rule. They were doing precisely what they would have had the others do if the roles were reversed. In the end, though, all those good intentions accomplished a horrible evil. Christendom became afraid of the truth, and refused to discuss it any further.
Why would the dealings between God and man lead people to fight? For the same reason why many Americans refuse to talk about it – because it is so very important. Anything that important is dangerous. Remember, religion is the devil’s favorite subject. It becomes a bone of contention because people are sinners, and thus deluded and beguiled they think they can find a path to God. There is no such path. God can come to us, but we cannot come to Him. The prophet Hosea taught us God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Something inside all of us says the opposite. It’s a universal affliction, the opinion of the Law. We think we can find a way to please God. In our text, the example of that opinion is Cain.
Cain and Abel were the first two named children of Adam and Eve. Cain gave an offering of produce, while Abel brought an offering of sheep, to which Moses adds, “Especially the fat pieces.” The Israelites thought that was the best part. So Abel was parting with a choice portion. In the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Abel made his offering “by faith.” We have no idea what that faith might have been. Revelation up to that point had been rather skimpy. But there is a key in Psalm 51 – the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. Both Moses and David tell us that the human heart is too full of itself to ever approach God. But a heart can hate what it has become. It can repent, and look to being rescued from itself. When it does, we say the person is “seeking God.” He won’t find God, but he will get the garbage out of the way so that when God comes to him he can see Him. Reason tells us nothing of this. Without the Bible we would be completely ignorant. But thank heaven we have revelation. God’s pure and holy Word is available. We must hear it, learn it, strive to understand it, and be disposed to obey it. Since we fall short of that, we have wars.
The first clear sign of trouble is that Cain’s religion made him sad. He would not look up. True faith looks up, but Cain was turned in upon himself. Somehow he knew that God did not accept his offering. Cain looked down, depressed in soul, calculating how his produce might fulfill his religious duties. That is the devil’s way of thinking. Cain was no longer standing in God’s retinue, but face to face with Him like a merchant. True faith does not do business with God. It follows in His train. True faith does not seek independence from God, but relies on Him who never deceives.
Over the years many have misunderstood this story as if it were intended to teach the work ethic. Nothing in the story suggests that Abel was more industrious than Cain. Both men worked at their vocations as diligently as the friendly environment of the world before the Flood required. It was not because of works that Abel’s offering was more acceptable. Rather, it was because of the Lamb of God. The fact that Abel had to kill his offering, the bloodshed, points us to Calvary. Adam and Eve had seen that once before, when God made them clothes. The Hebrew said God covered them. Moses chose this term carefully because two books later he would describe a “day of covering,” a yom kippur. God covered the sins of His penitent people – the first couple, Abel, and later Moses and his people. He gave them another child, the only other named child, Seth. From Seth came the genealogy of Jesus. Furthermore, when Seth was born Moses tells us people began to call on the name of the Lord. Imagine that! Thousands of years before the burning bush, Seth called on that sacred name. God never took a vacation from shepherding His people. His love would continue, so would prophecy and preaching, so would salvation history as it moved to its climax when the Messiah came.
Note that Abel’s religion made him happy, while Cain’s made him sad. People are going to fight about religion as long as what they believe makes them sad. We must not misplace the blame on creeds and confessions of faith. We must present the Gospel of Jesus crucified and risen against those who would teach something different. Human nature, with the devil’s urging, always tries to mix some Law in with the Gospel. The love of Jesus constrains us to admonish and correct those who need such things. But it does not constrain us to kill them. The Commandments make that very clear.
True faith looks up to the crucifix of Calvary, to the resurrected Lord in His glory, to the One who will pardon our offenses. The Church is a body of sinners. Often in the past we have sinned against love. Those who are the Church’s loudest accusers sin against it every day, but God pardons our sins. True faith receives that pardon and gives thanks. That is why we look up. True divine service takes place when God serves us with grace. May His true flock always look up and be fed. AMEN
by: Rev. Lloyd Gross