Easter 6a

Preached: May 29, 2011

The Lord's Mercy Calls Out despite Cain's Refusals
Genesis 4:1-16

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit calls us to keep trusting in Jesus is Genesis 4.

Adam had relations with his wife, Eve. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the LORD's help I have brought forth a man.” She gave birth again, this time to his brother, Abel. He was a shepherd, and Cain was a farmer.

After a while, Cain brought an offering to the LORD from his crops. Abel, as well, brought some of the firstborn, the best of his flock. The LORD looked favorably on Abel and his offering, but not on Cain and his. Cain became very angry, and his face was downcast.

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do right, won't there be acceptance? If you do not do right, sin is lying at the door. It desires you. But you must rule over it.”

Cain spoke to his brother, Abel. Then while they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?”

He said, “I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?”

The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground, which opened its mouth to take your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer give you a good harvest. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is unbearable. Look! You've driven me off the face of the earth today. I'll be hidden from your face. I'll be a homeless wanderer. Any who find me will kill me.”

The LORD said to him, “Therefore, anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times worse.” And the LORD gave Cain a sign that anyone who found him would not kill him. Then Cain left from the presence of the LORD and lived in the wandering lands (Nod), east of Eden.

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

He had ruined everything. The ground was cursed because of him. Pain and suffering increased. Death ruled. "[S]in entered the world through one man, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12 NIV1984). Adam had ruined everything. Can you imagine the guilt that burdened Adam and Eve? They knew what they had lost. They knew what their sin had forfeited. How hard those days must have been after exile from Eden!

But they had the Lord's promise -- his free, gracious, unconditional promise. His promise lifts up and takes away even the heaviest guilt. The Offspring of the woman was coming. He would crush Satan's head. He would restore their ruined relationship with God.

The Savior would be born from a woman. So the Lord's previous command to be fruitful and multiply had new meaning. Not only would having children fill the earth, but that's also how the Savior would come. So "Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain" (Genesis 4:1 NIV1984).

What hope and joy that birth must have brought! In the face of death, life. In the face of despair, hope. Here was the firstborn to carry on the promise. Wouldn't the Savior come through him? His parents certainly groomed him for that role. He was trained as a farmer to work the soil just as his father, Adam, did. For wouldn't Cain, as the firstborn, be the future leader of the human race? How devastating when Cain refuses the Lord's mercy. He refuses to listen to the Lord's compassionate warnings and refuses his gracious calls to repentance. But despite
Cain's refusals the Lord's mercy nevertheless reaches out for him.

As we revisit this familiar account from the beginning of history, may the Holy Spirit keep the Lord's mercy before our eyes. For as we listen to his mercy calling to us, then we will not follow the path of Cain. Remember the theme: The Lord's mercy calls out despite Cain's refusals. And what does the Holy Spirit teach us from this? First: Don't abuse his mercy by letting sin crouch at your door. Second: Humble yourself before your merciful Lord.

A. Don't abuse his mercy by letting sin crouch at your door

Our Lab often lies at the front door, quiet and relaxed. But as soon as the doorbell rings or a knock raps, she's up, barking, even lounging against the door. Like a ferocious beast sin crouches at the door. All seems quiet, but then sin pounces to devour. How devastating! Let's consider the sins crouching at Cain's door.

Both Cain and his brother brought sacrifices. "The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor" (Genesis 4:4, 5 NIV1984). What was the difference? The difference wasn't about how much each offered or what kind of sacrifices they brought. The difference was in the persons. Notice how the persons are listed first. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and so also on his offering, but not on Cain, which also then made his offering unacceptable.

What was the difference between Cain and Abel? The Holy Spirit tells us in Hebrews: "By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did" (Hebrews 11:4 NIV1984). And that fits in with everything else the Bible says about our works. Only the works that come from a believing heart are acceptable to God. All other works, no matter how pure the motive or magnificent the work, they are all unacceptable. So how foolish to imagine that works can make anyone right with God! Nothing we do is acceptable until after we are already right with God through faith in Jesus. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6 NIV1984). Faith makes the difference.

We could well see how pride instead of faith filled Cain. He was the firstborn. He was the heir of the promise. He was the future leader of the human race. All that was his birth right. Did he really need God all that much? Oh, he would do his duty to God -- yes, his duty. He brought his sacrifices. But he did not trust the Lord. He relied on himself instead.

Pride crouches at the door. Life flows along well as pride quietly feeds on successes and accomplishments. Isn't that when we feel the most pride, when life is going well? "Look at what I've done. Look at the goals I've reached. See how well my family has turned out." How quickly pride pushes Christ off the throne in our heart, and we don't even realize it, as long as all is going well! Real faith so quickly disappears, and pride thinks all is fine.

Cain thought all was well, even though his pride was leading him to hell. He thought all was well until he Lord stepped him. The Lord's mercy showed Cain that his sacrifice was unacceptable because his heart was not right with God. He wants Cain to know there's problem before it's too late. Does Cain listen to the Lord's mercy?

Not at all. He refuses. He lets his pride roar up in fierce jealousy and envy, devouring him with anger and hatred. He can't take it out against God, but his brother, who follows the Lord, is much more accessible.

When our pride is injured, jealousy, envy, anger, and hatred raise their beastly heads. "I work as hard as he does, I should have as much." "Her criticism makes me so mad. Who does she think she is!" How often when we think others are strutting, it's because our own pride has been challenged. We see the sin of pride in them, but not in us. Don't let pride crouch at your door.

The Lord's mercy calls out again to Cain: “[S]in is crouching at your door” (Genesis 4:7 NIV1984). Again he refuses. He hides his anger. He acts friendly toward his brother. But he is just biding his time. He keeps sin crouching in silence at his door. Then alone with his brother in the field, his anger springs up and kills.

Has the Lord's mercy now finally come to an end for Cain? No, so great is his mercy, that he reaches out even to this murderer, who kill his brother in cold blood. He wants Cain to confess his sin. “Where is your brother” (Genesis 4:9 NIV1984)? But Cain's refuses. "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9 NIV1984), her retorts. Notice how in his defiance he shows his unbelieving heart: "I'm not my brother's keeper. Why should I love my brother as myself?" Remember what the Bible says, "[A]nyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20 NIV1984).

The Lord's mercy hands down the punishment: Cursed as a wandering exile. This is still mercy at work, wanting Cain to see how serious his sin is. But Cain still refuses. He complains that his punishment is too great. His defiance gives way to despair. When the crouching beast of sin pounces and devours it leaves only despair in the end. Even in his despair Cain refuses the Lord's mercy.

In one last act of mercy, the Lord preserves Cain's life with the warning that any who kill Cain would suffer seven times worse. What mercy in giving Cain this extended time of grace to see his sin and repent. But Cain refused and went out from the presence of the Lord.

B. Humble yourself before your merciful Lord

Dear friends, humble yourself before your merciful Lord. Just as his mercy called out to Cain, his mercy calls out to you. Don't refuse his mercy. Rather humble yourself.

When Cain's offering was not accepted as he though it should have been, he had the opportunity to examine his heart and see how his pride had driven out faith. The problem was in himself. When life does not treat you as well as you expect, see the Lord's mercy at work. Rather than handing out blame, humble yourself before the Lord.

Nothing you do will make you acceptable to him. Rather humbly cling to the cross of Jesus. Only his sacrifice in your place makes you acceptable to God. Clothed in Jesus' righteousness and washed clean in his blood not only are you acceptable but also all that you do in faith becomes a sweet fragrance rising up to the Lord, your God. What a wonderful truth that is! In Jesus you and your works of faith are like Abel and his offering.

Now when the Lord said to Cain, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" (Genesis 4:7 NIV1984), it's only through faith that Cain or any of us can do what is right in God's sight. It starts with faith in Jesus and blossoms into right actions, which are the evidence of faith in the heart.

The Lord continues: "But if you do not do what is right [in other words, if you continue in unbelief], sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7 NIV1984). How would you have responded? I don't think the Lord wanted Cain to say, "I'll give it my best shot. I'll do what I can."

Rather, I pray, that I would have responded like this: "I can't, Lord. I don't have the strength in me to overcome my sin. I need your help. I need you to rescue me. I cannot time this beast. I need you. Without you, I'll fail, completely fail." That's humbling yourself before the Lord.

And what does the Lord do for the humble? He lifts them up. Again and again the Scriptures echo that theme. He takes reluctant Moses and lifts him up to face down Pharaoh. He takes the foreigner, Ruth, and brings her into his family. He takes the lowly shepherd boy and makes him king of Israel. Look at Jesus' life. Look at whom he picked for his Apostles. What lowly origins! A pregnant virgin from lowly Nazareth sums this up as she says, "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble" (Luke 1:52 NIV1984).

"Lord, I need you. Sin is crouching at the door. I do not have the power in myself to master it. Rescue me! Have mercy on me!”

His mercy answers you: "I sent my Son to overcome sin and win the victory for you. See his empty tomb. He has risen from the dead. He has won the victory, and he gives you the victory. In him you have the strength. In him you have the power. For his Word is real food. His body and blood feed your soul to give you the strength to overcome. His promises cannot be broken. Lean on him. Rely on him. Trust him."

Then no matter what we face in this life, even if the enemies of the cross kill as Cain killed Abel or if they drive us away from our homes to wander aimlessly, the Lord's mercy has not failed you. For Jesus overcomes our despair. No one can separate you from his family. For as long as you continue in your baptismal faith, you are God's dear child. No one can rob you of your heavenly inheritance. And what a permanent home that is! What mercy the Lord has shown us! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313