God’s Mercy On Sinners

Genesis 4:1-15 (Luke 18:9-14) 8/16/15

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Genesis 4:15  And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…  We have before us today in both the Old Testament reading and in the Holy Gospel a clear indication from God’s Word as to how the sinful human nature reacts when sin comes knocking at the door.  Genesis 4 gives us, among other things, the now infamous quote, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” which was Cain’s response to God when he was asked where his brother Able was.  Sadder yet, Genesis 4 gives us the account of the world’s first murder.  But it is the conversation between God and Cain and the result of God’s action upon Cain that holds our attention this morning.

Most, if not all of you know the story.  God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath.  God had given to Adam and his wife Eve everything they needed by which to live their lives in the Garden of Eden.  In fact, God had given them only one restriction: they were free to eat of every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If they ate of that tree, God said, they would surely die.

Along came the devil in the form of a serpent and tempted Eve causing her to doubt God’s Word.  When she saw that the fruit of this forbidden tree was pleasing to the eyes and good for food, she took some and ate it.  She then gave some to her husband who was with her – and who did not stop her – and he ate.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  Adam tried to blame Eve, Eve tried to blame the serpent, and all three suffered the consequences of their actions.  The serpent was sentenced to eat dust and crawl on his belly, Eve was to experience pain in child-bearing and child-rearing, and Adam was sentenced to hard labor that by the sweat of his brow he would bring forth food from the earth.  Finally, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden never to return.

To this union were born two sons: Cain and Abel.  Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer and was thought by Eve to be the one who would crush Satan’s head in fulfillment of God’s prophecy in Genesis 3:15.  Abel, the second-born was a keeper of flocks.  Our text tells us that “in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to Yahweh.  And Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat.  And Yahweh respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering” (4:3-5).

In a classic example of Scripture interpreting Scripture, Hebrews 11:4 gives us God’s explanation as to why He respected Abel’s offering over his brother’s.  The verse says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain…”  Abel’s offering was given out of faith in God.  He knew that whatever he had belonged to God who gave it, and therefore brought the very best and fattest of his God-given flocks.  Cain, on the other hand, brought his offering in a careless and thoughtless way, out of obligation and not in faith.  God saw the difference and “did not respect Cain and his offering.”

We do not know exactly how God expressed His displeasure for Cain’s offering; it is really not important that we know.  What we do know is that Cain got the message loud and clear, and he reacted predictably.  Our text says that “Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”  I guess we could say that Cain pitched a fit.  His offering was rejected by God, something that Cain took quite personally, and he manifested this by putting on a long face.

We can see by God’s words to Cain that God knew this was a potentially dangerous time for the pouting man.  And so in His mercy God tried to guide Cain back to the right path.  God knew that Cain was not remorseful of his selfish actions, but that Cain was angry and jealous toward his brother and with God’s acceptance of his brother’s offering.  Cain was simply thinking more highly of himself than he ought, much like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel who prayed “with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men…I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’”

Cain was certain that God should have thought more of his offering; after all, he brought this offering of the fruit of the ground to God in order to have God be impressed with him and his work.  Unfortunately Cain was not pointing to God with his offering.  He was not giving glory to God for giving him this produce; he was pointing to himself.

In His love and mercy God warned Cain of his mis-focused attention and told him, “If you do well will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well sin lies at the door, and its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”  In other words, “Cain, take your eyes off yourself and give Me the glory; do well by living for and obeying Me.  Otherwise your focus and dependence upon your sinful nature will bring you down.”

God gave Cain a golden opportunity to make things right; God paved the way for Cain to turn from his selfishness and sin, but Cain’s pride was hurt too deeply for him to lift his eyes to heaven.  He went out and “rose against Abel his brother and killed him.”  Sin’s desire had its way with Cain.  The same demonic temptation that brought down his parents – the desire to be one’s own god and the insistence on ignoring God’s Word – brought Cain down too.

But God was still merciful to Cain.  Instead of requiring Cain’s life for his brother’s, like a good parent God laid consequences upon him which corresponded to the crime: the ground which he worked for a living and which received his brother’s blood would no longer yield produce for him, and he would wander the earth for the rest of his life.

Cain’s life was spared, which is something God did not have to do.  And we would think that Cain would have accepted this outcome with joy.  But no.  He still did not understand his sin, and went about crying out to God, saying, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!  Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”  In other words, “God, You don’t understand!  My brother’s offering wasn’t any better than mine; I brought You something from my fields.  I had a right to be angry with him.  My anger got a little out of line, that’s all.  You don’t know what You’re doing!  Don’t You realize how this will affect my life?  Not only can I no longer make my living from the ground which You now ruined for me, but I have to beg my way through life.  It’s dangerous out there, God!  People will kill me!  “My punishment is greater than I can bear!’”

Perhaps Cain needs a little cheese with that whine…  Notice how Cain is still focusing all his attention on himself.  He accuses God of being unfair and unkind, and all the while Cain completely misses the point.  He still has not owned up to his sin; he still has not confessed his sin; he still has not taken responsibility for what he has done!  He complains that his punishment is too great to bear when all the while he should have been repenting and crying out to God that his SIN is too great to bear.  Would that he would have know and believed enough to say with his New Testament counterpart, the publican in the temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Folks, it is God’s mercy that we cry out for day after day…or at lest we should.  It is God’s mercy – the fact that He does NOT give us what we deserve – that we should be craving all the more.  There is not one of us here, beginning with myself, that is without sin.  There is not one of us here who does not deserve God’s wrath and full punishment for our sins; there is not one person who is not responsible for his own sins  And, I hasten to add, there is not one of us here who, somewhere along the line, does not act as Cain did in our text.

We do not like to own up to our sin.  Too often we carry out our sinful human desires to do things our own way and ignore the clear Word of God.  We get our noses bent out of shape when our conscience has been convicted of sin, and we pitch a fit when we have been told by God’s Law that we are wrong and that we need to repent.

And we are very good at explaining it all away and trying to convince God not to be so harsh with us.  “God, You don’t understand.  If I confess my sin – if with my own mouth I actually say that I was wrong and that Your Word is right – if that should happen, God, You have no idea how hard that is!  You have no idea how difficult my life is now; and if I should dare confess my sin and own up to it things will only get worse.  I’m not like those other people out there who are so much worse than I.  I’m not out drinking, I’ve been faithful to my spouse, I’m not an extortioner. And God, have you noticed how much I give to the church?  God, have You noticed how good I am?”

I’ll tell you what God notices.  He notices that we are sinful by nature.  He notices that despite all of our pitiful excuses for our actions, we are still sinful, all the time, every day.  He knows that we deserve His full wrath and displeasure for our sins and that we deserve only death and hell.  He knows also that we are completely hopeless and helpless to do anything about it.  And the sooner we take ownership of that, the better off we are.

And what He wants you to notice and believe in is His mercy on sinners like yourself.  Like Cain whose life was spared, God has also spared your life in spite of the fact that you, like Cain, deserve to be destroyed.  Like Cain whom God tried to get not to focus on himself, your attention is directed to the One who alone can save you: Jesus Christ, the One who HAS come to crush Satan’s head and give you eternal life.

Like Cain on whom God placed a mark so that no one should kill him, you also have received God’s mark – the sign of the holy cross given at Holy Baptism “to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.”

It is Christ who has taken all your sins upon Himself, the sins for which you could never pay, the sins you cannot explain away, the very sins which condemn you to hell.  They are the very same sins which sent Jesus to the cross and for which He suffered hell and punishment in your place.  They are the very same sins which power over you was defeated in Christ’s death and resurrection.  And it is Christ’s work of suffering, death, and resurrection through which you have been given to rule over sin in your life – not by your own strength, not by your own power, not by your own ability, but through Christ who strengthens and forgives you.

So come, sinner, every week to this place, where you will receive a constant supply of God’s mercy.  Come regularly to receive His precious gifts of Word and Sacrament.  Come, sinner, to have His name and Word spoken to you in the words and works of Jesus Christ His only Son.  Come, sinner, to hear His Word of forgiveness delivered to you both corporately in the Divine Service and privately in Holy Absolution.  Come, sinner, to receive Christ’s true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Don’t be angry.  Don’t let your countenance fall.  Don’t pat yourself on the back and try to convince God and others how good you are.  Come in humility and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  And through God-given faith in Christ you will go down to your house justified – declared not guilty by God – because of God’s mercy on sinners like you.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.