Archive for the ‘Genesis 4:1-15’ Category

Humbled by the Mark of Cain

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

22nd Sunday after Pentecost C, October 24, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Our starting point for this morning is this portion of our Old Testament reading: “And the Lord put a mark on Cain”. [Genesis 4:15a]

Many wonder what the mark was that God gave to Cain.  Some say that it was a tattoo, while others theorize that it was a physical affliction or deformity.  The truth is we don’t know… no one does.  Whatever it was, it was evident to everyone that Cain was evil; he was someone that you shouldn’t mess with.  This morning we’ll look at a chain of sinful events that moved God to put that mark on Cain, and hopefully we’ll understand Cain and ourselves a little better.  And as we look deeper into these sins of Cain, we must remember that they are all related to the original sin of Adam and Eve.  Remember, Adam and Eve’s sin was pride; they desired a degree of independence from God; they wanted to know as God knows.  They didn’t like mysteries; we could say that they lost their faith in God. And that was the cause or the sin that moved God to banish our first parents from paradise.  But God didn’t remove them without hope.  He gave them the promise that from the bloodline of the woman, that is from her future offspring, paradise would be restored and mankind would once again be able to relate with God through love and trust.  So through His promise of a Savior, God was still with Adam and Eve.  He didn’t leave them to fend for themselves.

In verse 1, we see that even in a fallen and sinful world, life goes on.  We see this in these Words: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.””  And here is the first of five events that led to the demise of Cain.  It is our first indication that the sin of Adam and Eve was still at work, still trying to separate sinful man from their loving Creator.

1. The first sin that led to the mark of Cain lies in the actions of the boy’s parents.  You see, Eve chose a name for her first born son that would keep her eyes and the eyes of her son not on the Creator but on the creature.  Did you notice that she didn’t say “I have gotten a son with the help of the Lord”?  Instead she said, I have gotten a “man”!  Why?  Well, she didn’t like unanswered questions.  Because she didn’t want to wait for the Lord to identify who that “Savior” would be, she decided that Cain would be “her” descendant that would destroy Satan and return her family to paradise lost.  But God never told her that; no she was telling God that “this boy IS the man who will be our Savior.  Can you imagine what kind of childhood that boy had; always being reminded that he was chosen by God to be the champion of creation?  And what about her other child Abel?  Why was there no prophecy spoken about Abel?  Scripture only says that “she bore his brother Abel.”  Poor Abel, he was only a footnote or an afterthought in his mother’s heart.

2. The second sin that led towards the mark of Cain was Cain’s own pride.  He came to believe that because he was the savior of mankind, his status was more important than his relationship with His creator.  Instead of seeing paradise restored as God’s own work of unfailing love and mercy, he saw the hope of mankind being placed on his status as the first born.  But God wouldn’t let this pride remain in Cain so he lovingly pointed it out to him.  In verse 3 we read: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portion.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” [vs. 3-5a]

Why did God receive Abel’s offering as good but then reject Cain’s offering as evil?  Was it because of what they offered?  No!  It was because of the heart of the person that made the offering.  And this has been the purpose of God’s probing into sinful men and women’s hearts ever since.  It is why God delivered the 10 Commandments through Moses and it is why those commandments are written into every person’s heart, even yours. 

This truth becomes evident in our Gospel reading.  Listen to the words of the self-righteous Pharisee “God I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (standing over there trying to pray to you).  I fast twice a week; I give (to you a 10th) of all that I get.” [Luke 18:11,12] Can’t you hear the pride in his words?  I, I, I!  Friends, God does not hear the prayers of a self-righteous fool and neither does He accept their service or their sacrifices to Him!  But He does hear the humble, the heart that knows it neither deserved nor earns God’s love and forgiveness.  He receives the prayers of those who humbly trust in God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.

Listen to the words of the tax collector who beat his breast in fear and desperation and said “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”  It is to this honest and humble confession that God hears and gives His peace.  Jesus assures us of this truth when He says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house (forgiven and saved), rather than the (self-righteous Pharisee). [Vs.13,14]   

Abel in his gift to God was acknowledging that he was unworthy of forgiveness; he was saying that he was a poor sinner.  And with that type of heart he took refuge in God’s mercy; he believed that his creator was gracious, forgiving, and willing to show compassion.  And so God looked at the hearts of the two brothers and judged one justified and the other condemned.

3. The third sin of Cain that led to the mark was his choice of ignoring God’s warning about the sin in his heart. Instead of agreeing with God, he chose to become angry and jealous of his brother’s favor in with God.  And because God knew the heart of Cain, he asked him a very pointed question and then offered Words of hope and forgiveness.  He said, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?” [vs. 6]  In other words, God is saying, “Snap out of it boy!  Your solution isn’t in what you do for me, but instead it’s in what I promise to do for you!  You either believe that I am your only hope or you don’t!  Your brother believes and that’s why I am pleased with Him.  Now quit looking to your own strength and turn to me in faith!”  And God ends his discussion with this warning: “Sin is crouching at the door (of your heart).  Its desire is (to own) you, but you must rule over it.”

How?  How was Cain and how are we to rule over our sin?  If we think that we have the power to rule over your own sin, then I’m afraid that we’re just as lost and confused as Cain.  The Law, or God’s demand that we do good can never be satisfied because we are sinners!  So it only stands to reason that our help must come from outside of ourselves… it has to come from God!  Why did God ask Cain and Able to bring a sacrifice to Him as part of their worship?  So that His Gospel Word of promise could be attached to it!  Why did God institute circumcision, temple worship and sacrifice?  For the same reason!  And why does God give us simple things like water, bread, and wine?  So that through His gospel Word of forgiveness and these simple things, we will know that we are forgiven, and that our salvation isn’t a result of our own work but God’s work.  Friends, God has always used simple things to remind and assure us of His forgiving love.  But for many these simple things are rejected as insufficient.  They seem to always want to add their own work to God’s promise of forgiveness.  That was the problem with Cain, and it’s what led to his next sin.

4. The fourth sin of Cain that led to the mark was refusing to allow God to help Him master his sin.  And this refusal led to his act of murder!  Cain allowed the sin in his heart to determine his sinful action.  When he refused to agree with God that He was hiding sin, he allowed that sin to own him!  And like Cain, we too fight that same battle today. Will you agree with God that you are poor sinners in need of a Savior or will you hide your sin?  If we choose deception then I’m afraid that we will follow the same path as Cain, a path that led to his next and final sin.

5. The fifth and final sin of Cain that led to his mark of shame and judgment was denial.  Why didn’t he know that the God who knew his secret sin of jealousy could also see his open sin of murder?  Because he was arrogant!  Listen: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?  (Cain said), “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  Even now, when facing his almighty Creator there’s pride and defiance in Cain’s heart!  It’s the heart of a condemned and damned sinner.  And now he must face the judgment: “And the Lord said, “What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.  And now you are cursed… you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” [Vs. 9-11]

Here in these Words we learn two things.  First we learn that Abel’s blood cries out to God.  In other words, his plea for mercy and forgiveness because of his faith in God’s promise of salvation is heard by God and counted to him as righteous.  So Abel is the first saint who is welcomed back into paradise because He had faith in God’s promise of forgiveness and mercy.  Second we learn that Cain is the first person to be condemned to hell.  He no longer has God’s presence.  He can no longer seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.  But there is a third thing God would have us learn, and we hear it in the final words of our reading.  Listen: “Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear… I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Not so!  If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”  And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. [vs. 13-15]  What was the mark of Cain?  I don’t know, but I submit to you that it was something physical that carried with it the threat of God.  It was a touchstone that spoke God’s Word. Remember, God always chooses to use simple things to communicate with us.  But unlike the simple elements of water, bread, and wine that carry God’s promise of peace, this mark carried with it God’s threat of punishment to anyone who harmed Cain.  Was this mark enough to protect Cain?  No, not really.  You see eventually Cain would die and he would have to face the eternal punishment for his sin of pride.  But the sins which caused the mark of Cain did not die with Cain, no instead they were passed down to His descendants who were all killed in the flood! 

But did those sins die in the flood also?  No, those sins are still with us today. Parents still neglect to teach their children about sin and God’s means of salvation, the Son of God Jesus Christ.  The truth is friends, this sin is even more condemning for us, because we no longer have just the hope of a coming savior; instead we know that our Savior has already come!  It is Jesus Christ, who is God in our flesh; a God who came to us and lived the perfect life on our behalf and died the death of Cain for us; a death we deserve to die.  But the benefits of Christ work will be shut off from us if choose to live like Cain and believe that our salvation and hope comes from our own resourcefulness.  It will be our own sinful pride that will cause us to reject God’s Savior and His completed work upon the cross at Calvary.  But, if we are like Abel and the tax collector we will see another way back to paradise.  We will see a boy born to Adam and Eve after the death of Cain and Abel.  We will see a boy named Seth who was the ancestor of Noah, the same Noah saved from the judgmental waters of the flood.  Through Seth we will see hundreds of people who are his descendants including King David who was promised that his Son, his offspring would be the Messiah, the Savior of the Word.  And then by faith we will see a simple virgin girl who was a descendant of David, Noah and Seth.  And through the off-spring of this simple girl we see God’s means of grace.  We see the Living Word of God, the Gospel attached to our human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  And because we see, we know by faith that we CAN turn to God in humility and cry out “God have mercy on me a sinner!”  And through this cry of faith God hears us and opens a way for us back to paradise.  Because of this truth, God humbles us through His Word and He turns us to another mark… the sign of the cross that was placed upon our brows and upon our chests in the waters of Holy baptism; it is a mark that has sealed us by God’s own Spirit.  And through this mark God assures us that paradise is now open to us forever!

May God continue to grant each of us the faith to believe this truth; I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!