Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday, 2015 – “The Lamb: A Faithful Offering” – Genesis 4:1-5

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          Our Lenten theme this year is “Behold the Lamb of God” – those words of John we sing every communion service.  But John wasn’t just making up a cute term, he wasn’t spinning out something new.  No, this idea, this theme of the Savior being the Lamb of God was old, as old as the Scriptures, as old as mankind, indeed, laid out before the foundations of the world.  And so this Lent, we will get to look at various times in the Old Testament that we began to behold the Lamb of God, and tonight we will start at the beginning.  Our text is going to really center around Cain and Abel’s various sacrifices, but I want to start just a touch before that – Genesis 3:21 – immediately after the fall:  And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.  I want you to think on this for just a few moments.  The fall has just happened.  God has confronted Adam and Eve – he’s warned Satan that he will be crushed, he’s told Adam and Eve the consequences of their sin.  Pain in childbirth.  Friction between husband and wife.  Toil and labor, and then finally, a return to the dust.  And immediately after God says this… God clothes Adam and Eve.  Remember, they were hiding in the garden because they knew that they were naked.  Being naked, seeing their nakedness, was the sign, the emblem, the proof of their sin.  The reminder of the fact that they deserved every thing that God said was coming to them.  And while they are still standing there with shame and fear and regret – God clothes them.

          But did you note how God clothed them?  He didn’t whip up a nice cotton, he didn’t summon forth a spiffy polyester blend.  “Garments of skin.”  God kills an animal, and with the death of that animal, He makes clothes for Adam and Eve, He covers their shame.  This is lesson number 1 for sacrifice, for worship, for how things are going to be now between man and God.  The response for sin will be sacrifice made by God, a sacrifice that will cover and clothe and eventually, remove man’s sin and shame.  But right away – this is how it works.  Sacrifice to cover sin, to let us go about our day to day life until the Promised One comes and defeats Satan and Sin and Death for good.

          And now we move into Genesis 4, to Adam and Eve’s children engaging in Sacrifice.  In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, [4] 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, [5] but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”  Often I will hear people try to make excuses for Cain.  Well, why should he have known that his sacrifice wouldn’t have been deemed good?  Because God had already taught mankind what Sacrifice was to look like – indeed, Sacrifice was a holy thing, because not only did it cover our sin, but it echoed and mirrored what God had done for Adam and Eve after the fall; it sounded forth and proclaimed what God would do when He would send Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And what does Cain do?  He just doesn’t care.  He goes through the motions – here, take something, take this, it ought to be good enough.  Sort of lackadaisical.  Do you see what Cain with his sacrifice is declaring?  His indifference to his sacrifice proclaims his indifference to God – indifference to what God had done and what God would do in sending the Messiah.  And Cain knew better – to sacrifice, to worship, all this is to confess the faith in God, to confess that God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  To confess the sure and certain hopes of the Messiah, forgiveness, resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come.  Meh – here, have some of the low quality stuff, have some of the lousy produce that we have to suffer with because *Your* world doesn’t work right anymore God and I have to work by the sweat of my brow.  Of course God will have no regard for Cain’s disdainful sacrifice.

          Not so with Abel.  Abel makes a sacrifice in faith that confesses his faith.  He doesn’t just bring something.  The firstborn, that’s what Abel brings.  The fat portions – that’s the Hebrew way of saying the best of the best.  He doesn’t break out the cheapest stew meat on sale, he breaks out the Grade A Prime.  Why?  Because that is what His Heavenly Father would give in sending Christ Jesus.  This lamb that Abel sacrificed was a confession of faith, it was Abel declaring that God would indeed be merciful to Abel by giving His own Son, His most precious, His best for our sake.  And this becomes the issue, this is what all the sacrifices, the offerings, the ways in which the tabernacle and temple were decorated and endowed pointed to.  It’s not that God was greedy or needed sacrifice, it wasn’t a matter of trying to placate Him.  Abel wasn’t buttering up God - but rather his offering confessed his faith.  Likewise, the care of the tabernacle and temple was a confession of faith – The Ark of the Covenant was covered in gold, and why?  You don’t put tinfoil on the Ark because the Mercy Seat of God ain’t a tinfoil chair.  You don’t give God junk, because the Messiah whom God gives to us, Christ Jesus, isn’t junk.  Our actions, our approach to worship and reverence ought to declare and reflect who God is and what He has done.

          This holds through even into the New Testament.  There is a great example of this in Acts 5 that is informative for us.  But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, [2] and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. [3] But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? [4] While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."   It’s not that God *needed* the money.  No, there was freedom – God had given Ananias and Sapphira that land, they were the stewards of it, they could use it as they saw fit.  Sell it or keep it – they were free.  Give part to the Church or give all – they were free.  But the problem comes in when they claim to give it all (like others were doing), but only give a part.  Is that how God treats us – Did you really mean to declare that God doesn’t really fulfill His Word, that the Lamb of God doesn’t really take away all the sins of the world but just a part?  And they both end up dying.  Rather than pointing to the glory of God, they were indifferent.

          It holds true even to this day.  I love the lintel beams around our door there in the back – fantastic wood.  When they built this church, it didn’t have to be like that, the ceiling didn’t have to be this high – it could have been done on the cheap… but instead it was a confession of faith that this place was to be set apart to declare the riches of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, and you don’t cut corners there.  And it still holds true.  When we were still doing the after school program here, I’d every once in a while bring the kids in here for opening devotion – and the ones who hadn’t been here before – their eyes would get big.  The building confesses the faith.  In fact, Pastor Nehrenz from down in Norman – the other week when I talked to him, when he had done Larry Gilchrist’s burial, he got driven by here, driven by Trinity, and he saw from the outside the stained glass, and he wants to come up one of these days just to look around, to see inside these churches, to see the confession of the greatness of God and His mercy that they make.

          This is precisely what is going on with Cain and Abel and their sacrifices.  While Cain really could care less, Abel is declaring what God would do for Him and for all mankind – that is what Abel’s sacrifice, what His worship does.  It points to Christ Jesus and no where else.  And now here we are tonight.  And all that we do here in this place, from the beginning to the end, from the opening address to the ashes to the hymns to the readings to the sermon (hopefully) to the Supper to the benediction – all of this is a confession of our faith that God Himself gives us full and rich salvation in Christ Jesus; that God holds nothing back and that He has covered all our guilt and shame and sin in Christ.  And let’s be honest – the world tries to run us down and make us forget God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus.  Satan tempts us away from this.  Our own sinful flesh wars against us.  Which is why we are gathered here in repentance tonight, gathered in repentance whenever there is service here, and we receive from God his mercy and declare the riches of what Christ Jesus, the very Lamb of God, has done for us.  Because of Christ and His death upon the Cross, God is well pleased with you, God has great regard for You, for Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and with His Sacrifice for you, God is well pleased.  Amen.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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