Offerings That Please God

When it comes to offerings that please God, Abel’s was the first, but Jesus’ was the greatest.

Abel offered the first and fattest of his flock. He brought more than leftovers and whatevers like his brother. The cost of Abel’s sacrifice was great, the cost of Christ’s even greater. The offering was “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Our High Priest was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). His own body and blood were the price of atonement.

Abel made sacrifice as worship in thankfulness. Jesus made sacrifice as substitute for unthankful sinners. Abel’s sheep expressed his obedience and communicated personal affection for God. Christ’s sacrifice redeemed the disobedient and reconciled spiritual adulterers to God.

Cain killed Abel because he was jealous that God received his brother, not him. Christ was killed because His brothers were jealous and God received that death as a sacrifice. We know that when Christ “gave himself up for us” it was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). God not only regarded His offering but also His offspring. In Christ, the Father receives all of us who believe as justified for eternal life.

As Old as Dirt Made into Man

Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another. He told them that such love would identify them in the world and that He His life was the standard of love. Love for your brother is a distinctive of believers but was actually meant for every image bearer from the beginning.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

When is this “beginning”? Maybe John meant the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But the biblical reports of Jesus’ early message were about calls to repent not calls to love. More likely John’s use of “beginning” refers to the beginning of beginnings, the beginning when the Word was with God and was God and then made all things. The message of brotherly love began in Genesis.

Further evidence for the historic nature of this message follows from John’s illustration in the next verse.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. (1 John 3:12a)

We’ll can consider why Cain killed Abel later. For now, let’s meditate on the fact that the call to love is as old as dirt made into man. From the beginning men were created in the image of the God of love and we are to love the people we can see (family, brothers, one another). We are to do it in deed and in truth, not just in word or talk.

According to John “we know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers” and “whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). How we treat one another, not merely how many Hebrew or Greek or English words we can list for love, is the behavior expected from the beginning.

Sharing in the Symbols

When we partake of the cup and the bread we partake in the nature of the Lord. To share in the symbols of His sacrifice is to identify with the God who sacrifices.

This is one of the reasons why Paul forbids idolatry before he gives instructions about communion in 1 Corinthians 10. Many of the Jews were idolators and he warns the believers to “flee idolatry” (verse 14). Behind idols are demons and “you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (verse 21). Be careful to choose the right table.

When we eat the bread we participate in the body of Christ. We worship one who gave His physical life for us and we learn how to do the same. When we drink the cup of blessing we participate in the blood of Christ. We identify with dying to bring life.

This is how it must be. We either serve demanding idols and become demanding of others or we serve the God who gives grace and become merciful. We either identify with false gods who consume or we identify with the true God who was crucified for others. “Those who eat the sacrifices [are] participants in the altar” (verse 18).

Our sacrifices are not original. We cannot save another man’s soul. But we can imitate the ultimate sacrifice. The lesson is on the Table before us.

Which One Looks the Most Shady

As Paul described the “old self” in Ephesians chapter 4 he compared it to the life of the Gentiles. Unbelievers are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, hard-hearted, calloused, and greedy for impurity. Then he said:

But that is not the way you learned Christ…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, (Ephesians 4:20–22)

The last phrase is striking: “deceitful desires” (ESV) or “lusts of deceit” (NAS). This doesn’t mean that non-Christians want to deceive others, though that is true many times. Instead it means that sinful desires deceive the desirer. Such a person believes his own press; he’s also happens to be the author, editor, printer, and delivery boy.

The worst villains aren’t those who know their own evil, those who try on multiple black hats to see which one looks the most shady. The worst villains believe that they do no evil; they might even wear white lab coats. They allege that others misunderstand what they call “serving the greater good” or “helping mankind.” For example, Planned Parenthood advertises its abortion services as a way that they save lives.

On the individual level, and it is true of individual Christians as well, sin lies to us. Sin hides from others, but it is most dangerous because it hides from us. It’s why we must keep looking at the mirror of God’s Word. It’s also why we need to listen to others who know us and won’t accept our bull.

If people–such as your parents, disciplers, other counselors you’ve had previous reason to trust–persistently tell you that you want something that is wrong, maybe they finally cracked and now only want to make your life hell. Or maybe your desires have deceived you. The new self lives in true righteousness and holiness. Keeping sin around will keep you from seeing that clearly.

The Lifeblood of Fiction

My mom really wanted me to read when I was a kid. She taught English before I was born, then she stayed home to care for me (and my sister who joined us two years later). Summers included weekly trips to the public library where, as I remember, my sister would return her borrowed stack and collect a new tower for the following week while I thought about whether or not I really wanted to read the next McGurk mystery.

Maybe it wasn’t quite that pitiful, but after Encyclopedia Brown and McGurk and The Mad Scientist’s Club I spent my time reading things such as road signs. I don’t remember any book from my elementary school classes. I do remember much better the books I was assigned in Junior High and High School that I didn’t read. Somehow I graduated, and Lord of the Flies left the greatest impression. That’s what happens when you only read one.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of college I became a Calvinist. That got me excited about studying and reading but only so far as it concerned “the Truth.” The novels assigned in my Humanities class were for the “less spiritual” in my book. Through college and seminary I devoured works full of propositions and despised those filled with plots and characters. When I met Mo, she told me it was wrong that I hadn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So I read it, earned the respect points, and then quit somewhere in the first chapter of Prince Caspian.

More than a decade later, not only did I realize I was missing out, I realized I needed to repent. My disdain for fiction was dumb. Willful neglect truncated my imagination, my worldview, and my relationships. It also pruned my theology and worship. There is more to say about all this, and I’m excited to say it at the Raggant Fiction Festival.

Fiction Festival

Our keynote speaker for the festival is Douglas Bond. He’s an actual author (!) and I’ve enjoyed Betrayal and am almost finished reading the first of three in the Crown and Covenant series to our kids. His talks will make the day worth the cost. Also speaking will be our school’s headmaster, Jonathan Sarr. Among other things he teaches our Omnibus class which includes many of the shapers and staples of Western culture. Andy Bowers was our first full-time teacher and has covered all kinds of literature with our older grammar students. New to our faculty this fall is Leila Bowers who will teach another Omnibus class. She’s been teaching at a community college for several years and will bring more narrative mettle to the pot than most of us.

But I get to lead off. I am the least qualified to talk about the merits of all the fiction books that should go on one’s shelf, but I am definitely excited to talk about the need for fiction to be on the shelf. Good fiction is a lifeblood for Christian faith and faithfulness. It cannot replace the Bible nor does it intend to. It does help us think about how to live out the Bible and, done right, moves us to want to.

If you are a fiction hater, or ignore fiction, and especially if you hate or ignore with fussy theological reasons, then this Festival is aimed to bless you. If you already love fiction, then you will probably enjoy it as well. Check out the event page and consider hanging with us in Marysville on Saturday, September 26.

That Sickening Feeling

We can be thankful to God for the work of the Center for Medical Progress and their exposure of Planned Parenthood. Many Christians have been fighting on behalf of the unborn for decades and the calloused nature shown in the recently released videos have spread that sickening feeling. May the Lord grant our nation repentance before another boy or girl is killed.

Christians have hope that righteousness will ultimately prevail because another Son was murdered. His limbs and organs weren’t harvested for profit but His life was sold for silver. His calvarium wasn’t crushed but it was pierced by thorns. Forceps didn’t pull Him apart but other men did force His arms into position. Calloused men mocked and gambled for his clothes before making sure He was dead, yet He was more innocent than any aborted baby.

Isaiah prophesied about this Son. “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance” (Isaiah 52:14). “He was despised and rejected, “as one from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 53:3). “He was cut off out of the land of the living” (53:8). He was barely recognizable, but in His death we are redeemed.

What adjectives could we use to describe the unbelievable killing and marketing of our own nation’s children? The same adjectives that would struggle to carry the injustice done to Jesus Christ. And yet it was His willing endurance of oppression and slaughter that saves us and gives us hope in the midst of senseless evil.

Those who have crushed little children to death can be forgiven because Christ was crushed for iniquities. Those guilty of murder can be declared justified because a guiltless man was murdered as an offering. Jesus is our hope of life, and He is the life we announce for the sake of hope in this culture of death. The good news is good for such a time as this. We eat and drink the symbols of the chastisement that brought us peace.

It’s Already Hitting the Fan

When the laws regulating human society are so formed as to come into collision with the nature of things, and in particular with the fundamental realities of human nature, they will end by producing an impossible situation which, unless the laws are altered, will issue in such catastrophes as war, pestilence and famine. Catastrophes thus caused are the execution of universal law upon arbitrary enactments which contravene the facts; they are thus properly called by theologians, judgments of God.

—Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Kindle Locations 303-306

Stiff-arming the Truth

Though a short exhortation always precedes the act of confession in our Lord’s Day worship, why not place confession after the sermon? Imagine the large variety of sins that could be harvested by spending more time in the Bible field. More Spirit-inspired truth gives the Spirit more tools to dig for deep rooted sins.

There’s nothing wrong with liturgy in a different order. Revelation provides reasons to repent so presumably more revelation leads to more reasons leads to more repentance. But just as often God describes the reverse: repentance leads to accepting the truth.

Peter and James both assume that a Christian must deal with sin before consuming the Word. “Putting away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” crave the spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:1-2). Likewise, “putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness, receive the implanted word” (James 1:21). Sin spoils our appetite for Scripture. Sin stiff-arms the truth.

Paul presented the order even more plainly to Timothy as he explained the process for persuading opponents. Correct opponents with gentleness and “God may perhaps grant repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25). He isn’t describing the proper order of a Sunday worship service, but the principle applies. Repentance enables knowledge.

Which comes first: the understanding of truth or repentance from sin? Sometimes we don’t need more information or another sermon before we change. Sometimes we can’t see the truth because we’re clutching sin patches over our eyes. What sights we’ll see from the place of repentance.