Religious wars - Genesis 4:1-16
There were two determined women, a street full of shops, but only one parking place. It was a hot July day in Andover, Hampshire, when two women came to blows over one parking place. Mrs Julie Brown, aged 43, a chef and mother of three, had parked her car in a spot in a car park, only to be confronted by Melanie Andrews, aged 20. Miss Andrews drove up to Mrs Brown's car, and began to force it back out of the parking place. Mrs Brown then put on her hand brake and her son, Dominic, aged 14 got out of the car and began to push. But Miss Andrews was driving too hard, to the extent that she pushed Mrs Brown's car fully out of the place. The result was two damaged cars and one arrested woman, and a street full of bemused shoppers. Since the whole episode had been caught on CCTV, the offending woman, Miss Andrews, later admitted dangerous driving. Liz Gunther for the prosecution said that the only words which could sum up this incident was "parking rage".
Well believe it or not, whilst this little incident in Andover is very trivial, yet it is actually a window into the most serious problems our world faces. At every level in society there seems to friction between human beings. It is seen in small ways like petty arguments. Virtually every week, we find there is a new sort of rage. Air rage, road rage, parking rage, even trolley rage, especially if you are in Tesco's on a Friday night. Human conflict is also seen in more serious social breakdown. One in three couples who got married this summer according to present statistics will get divorced, two in three if you live in London. And every year in Britain, almost 200,000 children find themselves at the centre of divorce cases. And if you continue up the scale, you get to inter tribal wars and then world wars. And at their heart there is a breakdown in relationship that has happened somewhere along the line which has caused these catastrophic disasters. From the car park to the UN there lies to same problem. People don't get on. And in the worst instances they try and kill each other.
And the obvious question we ask is why? Why is there this constant flow of relational breakdown and heartache? Why is it that we just cannot get on? Well this passage before us today, Genesis 4, tells us why we cannot get on. It tells us that the first child to be born on the earth was a murderer and the second child to born on the earth was his victim. And the reason this chapter gives for this horrific breakdown in relationships is human sin. Rebellion against God which works its destructive fingers out into human relationships at every level- from the chance meeting in a car park, to the stage of international politics. It's the fact that at the heart of every relational breakdown there is a heart of sin. You see as we discovered last week, sin is the willingness to put ourselves at the centre of our lives. It is the pride which says I'm king and I'll do what I want. God gets booted out of the picture. And so we are left with millions of us running our lives according to our criteria. And it is no surprise that conflict occurs. And Genesis 4 gives the first instance of this relational conflict and it is something we have been living with ever since.
If you remember Genesis 1 and 2 showed us something very beautiful. A perfect world which God had made for human beings, where humans were designed to live in friendship with God enjoying all that he made for us. And yet sadly that perfection was ruined. Man opted to reject God's perfect rule and make a bid for the throne himself. And yet that bid was not without huge consequences. In his justice, God sent the first human pair out of the perfect garden he had made for them. He said that death would enter the world, and human beings would have to grind out a living from the earth. And when we get to chapter 4, we find that things get a lot worse. Mankind begins to find new ways of sinning. And sin's hold over man gets stronger and stronger. And one of the most devastating effects of sin is it's effect on human relationships. Slowly but surely this disease creeps along infecting everything it touches.
And yet, even though we are now outside the perfect garden, God is not absent. We'll see that even in a sinful and decaying world, God is still at work in his mercy and grace, giving us blessings we do not deserve. This chapter like many in the Bible, moves between the wickedness of mankind and the grace of God. And we'll end by seeing God's grace in all its beauty and fullness. So let's look at this chapter together and we will see that although the events took place many thousands of years ago, yet it's message is such that it could be talking about us in 21st century.
1) The Sickness we all Suffer
2) The Symptoms we all Share
3) The Solution we all Seek
1) The Sickness we all Suffer
So let's see first of all the sickness we all suffer. Now although this passage speaks a great deal about the bad news of the effects of sin, yet right at the start there is good news. Verse 1: "Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." Later she gave birth to his brother Abel." Now God had always said to Adam and Eve that their job was to populate and care for the world. And this according to chapter 1 was a mark of God's blessing. So here outside the garden, in a sinful world, we have a mark of God's blessing which is children. In a world doomed to die, still there is life. And Eve acknowledges that she gave birth with the help of the Lord. And even today, having children is a wonderful sign of God's blessing. But sadly, even these two children, Cain and Abel, the first children born into the world, leave a legacy of destruction which we are still reaping today. And it all begins with an innocent act of worship in verse 2.
"Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favour on
Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So
Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast." Now we might be tempted to feel a bit of sympathy with Cain here. I mean, what did he do wrong? Why has God taken sides? Well all sorts of answers have been given. Some people have suggested that God prefers shepherds to farmers. Some have suggested that God wanted blood sacrifices as the OT would later show. But of course, God delighted also in grain offerings as well as blood sacrifices. The fact is that Genesis doesn't tell us why God accepted Abel and not Cain. It's only when we come to the NT that we get a hint of what is going on. For instance in Hebrews 11 v 4, the writer says: "By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man when God spoke well of his offerings." And then in 1 John 3 v 12, we read that Cain's actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. So here we get closer to the heart of the problem. His problem was his heart. It's not what they sacrifice. They had no way of knowing that anyway! Rather it's how they sacrifice. Abel offered his sacrifice by faith. He was trusting that God would accept him on God's terms. Cain seemed to be trusting in himself. He wanted to approach God on his own terms. And that theory is confirmed when Cain is rejected by God. The rejection is not met with humble repentance, but with stubborn selfishness. Cain throws his toys out the pram and spits out his dummy. He storms off with a face like thunder. This is the not the humble attitude of his brother Abel that the NT tells us about. This is the proud and stubborn heart which says, I'll do it my way. And the events of the next few verses reveal the horrific implications of that attitude. Cain's heart was evil.
And like it or not that is the attitude that each one of us has to God. And none of us has any immunity from this disease. We all think we can do things our way, and we get very upset if we don't get our way. And the God who graciously cares for us, even in a world which is far from perfect, is shut out of our lives and the door is bolted from the inside. And sadly this way leads to trampling on anyone and everyone who gets in our way.
You may have heard the story about the two students who were backpacking around foothills of the Himalayas. And one night they came to a small village whose residents warned that on the next stretch of the track there was a man eating tiger who would go for travellers. Well the next day they set out nervously, hoping to catch a lift with a passing vehicle. Sadly no lift materialised so they walked all the way. At last, as evening was beginning to set in, they saw the lights of the next village up ahead, but just at that moment, they heard a terrifying blood curdling roar. It was the man eating tiger. Quick as a flash, they darted off towards the village, but then suddenly one of the students stopped. He sat on the ground, and began to take off his walking boots and put on his running shoes. The other student turned to him and said: "What on earth are you doing? You can't outrun a tiger!" "No, replied the student. All I have to do is outrun you!"
You see the sickness we all suffer is the sickness which says I'm no. 1. Nothing gets in my way of achieving what I want, not God not anyone else. And Cain was a prime example. And already, even in this early history of the world, the disease was spreading. Now you may say, Oh, I'm not that bad. Certainly I'm not as bad as Cain. But the Bible's verdict is what matters. And God says we're suffering from a terrible disease called sin. And whilst the symptoms may differ, yet the root cause is the same. It's putting ourselves on the throne and saying we're king. That's sin. And that's the sickness we all suffer.
2) The Symptoms we all Share
But having seen the sickness, let's look at the symptoms we all share. And Cain's actions, whilst extreme, provide us with a snap shot of the sorts of symptoms we all display of this horrific disease. And the sobering truth is that as time goes on, the disease spreads further and gets more of a grip on humanity. Because even in the short time between Genesis 3 and Genesis 4, yet Cain is more hard hearted and thoroughly sinful than his father Adam. And the more this disease spreads, the more relationships are destroyed. And yet at every point, whilst there is tragedy and death all around us in this chapter, God's grace is seen at every point. So let's look at the grim symptoms as we find them in chapter 4. And we see there are two in particular that Cain has:
First there is disobedience in verses 6-8: "Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.' Now Cain said to his brother Abel, 'Let's go out to the field.' And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him." Now notice in verse 6 that it is God who takes the initiative to come to Cain. Cain had gone off in a huff in verse 5. But God seeks him out. And here again, in the midst of a black day, is the God of grace, the God who hunts out sinners, the God who pursues sinful people like me and you to reason with us. And God reasons with Cain. He tells him that he can do what is right if he wants. But he must master his sin, otherwise it will master him. Notice that sin is not something to be played with. It must be mastered. You cannot cuddle it or caress it. It is like a python ready to strike. You must either kill it, or it will kill you. Unless you master it, then it will master you. It's a patient rebuke from the Lord to do the right thing.
And it's a decision we must make each day if we are Christians. Are we going to seek to master sin today with God's help or will we let it master us. You see one of the reasons these sorts of passages are in the Bible is that they teach us the full horror of sin. And many of us do not see just how horrific sin really is. We tend to think of it as being something naughty but nice. The stolen biscuit from the biscuit tin. The extra doughnut when you're on a diet. But God tells us here that sin is something which will kill you, physically and spiritually, unless you are ruthless with it. It will destroy your life. And it will devastate your relationships. It will determine your destiny. You have a choice. Either be ruthless with sin, or sin will be ruthless with you.
Now this is true for all of us, but it is especially true for students surrounded as you are by friends who don't care what God thinks. Unless you make firm stands in the area of sex, alcohol, drugs, time management and the rest, you will be swept away. The Lord says to you: "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Will you cuddle sin or kill sin? That's the question you must answer. If you are not a Christian, then the Bible's verdict is that you are a slave to disobedience. You will naturally go against God. And it's only by God's mercy that you are not as bad as you could be. You have that first symptom. But for the Christian, then the question is will you fight with God's strength to obey God, or will you too show this first symptom of the disease, rank disobedience. The Christian by God's grace has a choice. If you choose to disobey, then you're on Cain's road to death and destruction. Don't take the first step. Listen to what God is saying. Don't disobey him.
Someone once told me about the time he went on a course in order to train to do a parachute jump. And at the first session everyone was sitting in a room waiting for the instructor to arrive and trying to act and sound as if they weren't at all nervous about jumping out of a plane a mile high. Well eventually the instructor, a royal marine, arrived. He walked into the lecture room, and without saying a word walked up to the blackboard and wrote in large capital letters - PARACHUTE JUMPING CAN BE LETHAL. And with that he walked out of the room again and just let the class mull over the words on the blackboard. Well the bravado and cockiness subsided somewhat and a very nervous silence descended on the class. After a while the instructor returned again - and this time he spoke. He said: 'After jumping from a moving aircraft, a human body travelling at terminal velocity, when it hits the ground will be distributed over an area approximately equivalent to the size of two football pitches - THEREFORE WHAT I AM ABOUT TO TELL YOU IS VERY IMPORTANT.' And after an introduction like that I have no doubt that everyone in that room listened very carefully to his instructions about safe parachuting. So if you and I will listen to a human being telling us how to avoid death if we go parachuting, why are we so slow to listen to God when he is warning about something far more important. Don't disobey God. For it's not just this life you are playing with. It's your very eternal destiny.
So how does Cain react? Instead of accepting God's advice and going God's way which would have been the right way, he ignores God's advice. And here Cain is worse than Adam and Eve. When the serpent tempted Eve, she at least tried to stand up for God and his ways, even though she gave in. Cain though opts straight for disobedience. He takes his brother outside and murders him in cold blood. It is a cold blooded, premeditated homicide. Jealousy has led to hatred which has in turn led to murder. Disobedience has led to destruction. All because Cain ignored God's advice. That's the first symptom of the sickness called sin- disobeying God.
But after disobedience there comes denial, the second symptom of this disease. And again we see God's grace in the bleak scene. God again comes searching for Cain and asks him a question: "Where is your brother Abel?" Do you remember God did exactly the same to Adam? "Where are you, asked God in the garden after Adam and Eve had sinned. There Adam answered God truthfully. Here Cain goes a step further and lies deliberately: "I don't know! Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain denies any knowledge of Abel and he denies any responsibility for Abel. It's a straight lie. And even worse, denial has led to indifference. He just doesn't care. But in fact, care for others is exactly what Cain should have been doing. To be human is to be responsible for my neighbour, my brother. But Cain had rebelled against God and it had led to rebellion against his fellow human. And that is always the way. Sin against God is never an isolated crime. It always leads to sin against people. And as if to emphasise the point, the word brother is repeated 6 times in verse 8-11. This is his brother that Cain has murdered. All because he disobeyed God and let his sin run away with him.
And again, don't let's deceive ourselves. Before we plead ignorance, this pattern of disobedience, denial and indifference is exactly what happens with you and me. We suffer the same sickening symptoms of the disease. We know lying is wrong and yet we do it. And then we convince ourselves we haven't lied. And then we are not bothered whether we have or not. Or a little bit of lust, or little bit of lack of self control in the areas of sex or alcohol. Oh, it doesn't matter we say. No-one is getting hurt. The fact is sin matters. It matters because it effects you, it effects others, and most seriously of all, it effects God.
And that's why there are serious consequences of Cain's sin. And whilst Cain's destiny is not a symptom of his sin, yet it is the outworking of his sin. And we too are in the same boat. When my brother and I were at home, whenever my Mum went out shopping or the like and left us home alone, she would always says, "Don't play football in the house r you'll break something." And every time we would disobey her. And every time we thought the inevitable wouldn't happen. Well one time the inevitable did happen. I hit the sweetest of volleys straight into Mum's prize vase of flowers. There was a moment of silence and then blind panic as we frantically tried to conceal the evidence. But although we got rid of the broken vase and moped u the water and buried the flowers, Mum still found out. When she came back in she instantly knew, as Mum's do, something was wrong. We denied it, but to no avail. And we suffered the consequences of our disobedience.
And to a far greater extent, God cannot sweep sin under the carpet. When we disobey God and then deny our sin, God's justice must be done. And Cain's sin is clearly visible to God. Look at verse 10: "The LORD said, 'What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.'" Abel's blood screams out at God for justice. And God as the just judge punishes Cain's sin. He must be banished from God's presence. And Cain's fate is even worse than Adam's. Yes Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden. But here Cain himself is cursed, something that did not happen to Adam. Now you are under a curse, says God. And in verse 16, Cain is sent away from the presence of God, into the land of Nod, which does not mean sleep, but rather means restlessness or wandering. Cain will never be able to settle down. He will always be feeling that he is not at home, even though he builds cities. His mind will be one of constant restlessness. And significantly we are told in verse 16, that Cain moved East. To move East is to move further and further from the garden, to move away from the paradise God had made for man. Paradise has been lost, and man can never again enjoy friendship with God in an intimate way that he knew in Eden. And all mankind lies under than judgement.
And that is the situation human being find themselves in today. We are in a world of wandering. We are restless, people who have lost their way and forgotten that they were made for relationship with their God. And so we try and find our purpose in all sorts of things apart from God. We may try money, we may try sex, we may try work, we may try sport. But nothing fills that hole in the human heart that was made for relationship with God. As one writer puts it: "We are restless until we find our rest in thee, O God."
So those are the frightening symptoms of our sin. We are by nature disobedient and we are in denial, just as Cain was. And God's judgement is to banish us from his presence forever. And that begins in this life and carries on for eternity.
3) The Solution we all Seek
So is there any hope? Is there any cure for this terrible disease? Well there is and this brings us onto our final point- the solution we all seek. You see I hope its been clear that all the way through chapter 4, whilst there has been terrible news of anger, disobedience and death, yet throughout God has been at work even in this sinful world. He was the one who helped bring new life into the world in verse 1. He was the one who graciously offered Cain a way out in verse 7. He was the one who graciously approached Cain in verse 9. God keeps taking the initiative throughout the chapter. And he even does it in verse 15. Amid the judgement of banishing Cain from his presence, yet God is still merciful to Cain. Cain is very fearful of being avenged for the death of Abel. So what does God do? He gives him a mark which means no-one will touch him. Quite what it was we don't know. Writers spill gallons of ink discussing the options. One says it was a tattoo, another a distinctive haircut, another even suggests God gave Cain a pet dog to ward of avengers. These people get paid to write this stuff! Frankly it doesn't matter. What matters is that even in such horrible circumstances, God is still being merciful, even to a man who showed no remorse.
And that gives me hope to wonder whether God could do something about his horrific disease we are all infected with, the disease of sin which destroys us and makes us not what we were meant to be. And the Bible's news is that there is hope through God. God alone is able to take the initiative to save us and rescue us from this mire that we have put ourselves in. For in the Bible, Abel's blood is not the only blood that is shed. There is someone else's whose blood was also shed in anger. Yet his death did not lead to condemnation. This second death leads to life. Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews says in 12 v 23-24: "You have come to.... Jesus the mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." Abel's blood cries out 'condemnation'. Jesus' blood cries out 'rescue'. Because Jesus died in your place on the cross, you can be forgiven for all the disobedience and denial that you have performed in your life. You can be cured of the hereditary disease called sin. You can be freed from the slavery to disobedience and denial. You can at last come home and find rest in the one who takes all our burdens. Do you know that rest for your souls that Jesus offers? Only he can give it. And unless you come to him, you will never find rest and you will have to give an account to God for your disobedience to the king of kings. So come to Jesus tonight.
But there is a final challenge from this story as we finish. You see not only does the blood of Jesus cleanse us from all our sins, but it enables to be the kind of people God designed us to be. To be people who no longer hate but love, who are no longer jealous of others' achievements, but proud. It enables us to be people who foster loving relationships, to be people who go against the flow and put one another first, to be people where God's blueprint for humanity can be seen in action. In John's first letter John urges Christians in this way: "This is the message we have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain who murdered his brotherThis is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ lay down his life for us. And we ought to love one another." We're not to be a people who are at each others' throats, but who care and love one another. That's the sort of community of people I want to belong to. And I believe it is possible to achieve it with God's help.
In the early 1970's the great painting by Reubens that hangs in the chapel of King's College in Cambridge was vandalised by the IRA. A notice appeared by it the following day: "It is believed that this masterpiece can be restored to its original condition." Well God sent his Son to save and restore humanity, his masterpiece. Jesus came to cure the sickness we all suffer from; he came to deal with the symptoms we all display; he is the solution we all seek.
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