Today’s Bible readings come from Genesis 4, Matthew 4, Ezra 4 and Acts 4.
Genesis 4 is about Cain’s sin (4:1-8), judgment (4:9-15) and progeny (4:16-24), with a final statement (of hope) about Adam and Eve’s third son Seth (4:25-26).
This reminds me of a joke that Marcus Herod made a couple of Christmas ago: “How long was Cain mad at his brother? As long as he was Abel.”
Why did God not receive Cain’s offering? We know from Hebrews that Abel’s offering was “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4). Was it because Abel followed God’s lead in killing an animal as a substitute for himself, acknowledging how serious sin was, whereas Cain’s offering was a nonchalant view of sin.
For further reading:
Notice the image of temptation in verse 7: when we don’t do what is right, sin crouches at the door ready to spring on us. Sin doesn’t lie passively waiting for us to pick it up and try it on. No, it is always crouching right outside the door. We let sin in and entertain it.
[For an alternative understanding of Genesis 4:7, one which I just received today among the blogs I subscribe to, is one by David Schrock.
Cain was a whiner (v. 13-14) and God had mercy on him (v. 15). While he complained that he would be driven from God’s presence, his real fear was in being killed. That is shown by Cain going away from God’s presence (v. 16).
Years ago, I heard Bill Gothard say that “what parents do in moderation, their children will do in excess.” This was certainly true of Lamech (v. 24). By the way, that is not always true, but generally so.
Unlike Cain and Israel, Jesus was doing everything right–following the lead of the Spirit and fasting (Matthew 4:1-2).
Matthew 4 shows Jesus successfully dealing with temptation. Cain failed when sin crouched at the door, Jesus did not. Again, sin is active, “the tempter came [to him]” (Matthew 4:3).
The use of the first class conditional sentence here by Satan, “If you are the Son of God” means that Satan was not casting doubt on whether Jesus was the Son of God, rather Satan was trying to get Jesus to illegitimately use his sonship, to abuse it. He was trying to get Jesus to act independently of His Father, to pursue a crown without a cross. He was prompting Jesus to prove Himself in the wrong ways.
Jesus succeeded against Satan, unlike Eve and Adam, and Israel, unlike the best of us.
Was it a legitimate offer, Satan promises to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (vv. 8-9). I believe it was. Under God’s authority, Satan is the “god of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air,” so he can legitimately promise power, prestige and possessions. Of course, Jesus will eventually reign over all the earth, a promise made by His Father (Psalm 2), but the path to the crown lead through the cross.
When Jesus began to preach, he picked up on the same theme John the Baptist was preaching on (compare 3:2 with 4:17)–“repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Ezra 4 records outside opposition to the rebuilding of the temple. First, outsiders desired to join with the returned exiles, to help them rebuild the temple. Me, I would have accepted their help. But Zerubbable and Jeshua had more discernment than I, of the true motives of these people.
Being rebuffed by the leaders in Jerusalem, they trumped up charges against them and brought them before the king of Persia, thus stopping the rebuilding of the temple. The prophet Haggai’s ministry occurs at this juncture, rebuking the people for building their own homes when God’s house lay unfinished (Haggai 1). Zechariah’s ministry also occurred during this time. (Preview of coming attraction: Ezra 5 shows the people resuming the work and finishing the temple.)
Acts 4 shows that Peter, who had cowered before the servant girl only a few months before, stood bravely before the very group that had sentenced Jesus with blasphemy and called for His crucifixion, and proclaimed Jesus. What made the difference? The filling of the Spirit (see Acts 4:31).
The religious leaders were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John (Acts 4:13). I love what is said about them. They were uneducated, common men, but they had “been with Jesus,” That is our primary qualification for ministry–that it is obvious to others that we have been with Jesus, spent time in His presence, learning from Him.
Notice that miracles cannot be denied (Acts 4:16). They were the way that God established the apostolic message as truth.
While the religious leaders couldn’t hold them (due to their popularity), they commanded them to stop preaching Jesus. While Peter said, we cannot but speak about what we have seen and heart, when they returned to their brethren, they prayed that God would “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). That is certainly what we need today–boldness to speak.