************ Sermon on Genesis 4:1-8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 27, 2011
"You Must Master It"
Remember what we learned the last time we looked at Genesis? We learned that Cain was his mother's favorite – not only was Cain the possession she brought forth but she hoped he was the man who would crush the serpent's head. We learned that Cain was probably his father's favorite – he followed in his father's footsteps and like his father was a servant or worker of the soil. The children of Israel hearing about Cain would view Cain as the favorite according to custom and culture – after all, he was the firstborn with the rights and inheritance of the oldest son. So, Cain was everyone's favorite.
As you know, there was one exception. "The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor" (Gen 4:5). Everyone but God favored Cain.
Last time we explored why God rejected Cain and his offering: unlike Abel, Cain did not give God the first and the best as an offering – instead, he simply went through the motions of worship; unlike Abel, Cain was not a man of faith; and unlike Abel, Cain was not God's chosen, God's elect – in fact, we are told in the New Testament that he belonged to the evil one (1 Jn 3:12).
I Cain's Anger
A How do you think Cain should have reacted to God's rejection? He could have rejoiced that his brother Abel's offering was consumed. He could have learned from his brother and imitated his brother and thus remedy his situation. He could have repented of his sinful attitude. Instead, what does Scripture tell us? "So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast" (Gen 4:5).
Reading between the lines, it sounds like Cain was a spoiled brat. Someone used to getting his way. Someone spoiled and pampered by those around him. Someone who threw a temper tantrum when things did not go the way he expected them to go.
Are you ready for this? Cain sounds like most American kids today! I have just finished reading excerpts from a book written by Amy Chua, a Chinese American, who dares to describe herself as a "Tiger Mom." People are upset about her book and what she does as a parent and I admit she does go overboard. However, she is right in her critique of how many parents today raise their kids. She asserts that American parents insulate their children from discomfort and distress; but kids are far more resilient and stronger than we think. She asserts that Americans slather praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks such as drawing a squiggle or waving a stick; instead, they should stress the importance of hard work. She asserts that Westerners allow their kids to waste unbelievable amounts of time – hours on Facebook and computer games. And, she asserts that today's parents do a very poor job of preparing their child for a future in a tough world.
Reading this made me look back at how we raised our kids. And, it made me wonder what Adam and Eve did as parents. After all, they were the first parents. They had no grandparents to call upon for advice. No elderly neighbor next door telling them what they were doing wrong. No Focus on the Family books, DVDs, or conferences on parenting.
As we will find out, Cain's problems went far deeper than sibling rivalry and a mother who played favorites. We should not be surprised by this. Scripture makes clear that Adam's sin has an effect on his children. Like every other creature, Adam bore a son in his likeness or after his kind. Meaning what? Meaning that Adam's sons – like Adam – are fallen. That they are lawless, self-centered, and idolaters.
B Cain was angry. In fact, "Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast" (Gen 4:5). Cain was angry with God – that God did not accept his offering. He should have been angry with himself for his own infidelity and hypocrisy. His face should have been downcast not in anger but in repentance and holy shame, as the tax collector, who would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, '"God, have mercy on me, a sinner" (Lk 18:13). Instead, he was angry that God treated him worse than he thought he deserved. And, he was angry that God treated Abel better than he thought Abel deserved.
Cain was also angry with his brother – for being God's favorite. Though his brother did him no wrong or harm, he was filled with hatred for his brother and thought of him as an enemy or a rival.
Cain was angry. Cain was angry with God and smoldered with resentment at Abel.
C Before going any further I want you to realize the focus of the whole story. The focus is not the relationship between two brothers. The focus is not sibling rivalry. The focus is not the first murder. The focus is not the control of anger. From beginning to end the focus is on a relationship with God: Abel's relationship with God, Cain's relationship with God. The offerings brought by the two brothers speak of their relationship with God. God's acceptance of Abel and rejection of Cain speaks of their relationship with God. All of God's words and questions to Cain are directed towards Cain's relationship with the Almighty.
We can go back to Genesis 3 and we see the same focus there: man's relationship with God. God did not question Adam and Eve in order to condemn them but because He wanted a relationship with them. And, God announced the Gospel promise of Genesis 3:15 because He wants a relationship with them and us. So, Satan will bruise Jesus by His death upon the cross but the stone of Christ's empty grave will crush Satan's head – all because God wants a relationship with His people. As Peter tells us, God does not want any of His children to perish; rather, He wants them all to come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).
II Our Gracious God Talks to Cain
A Getting back to Cain, we see that he was angry and upset and depressed. As we think about this, we need to remember what Paul writes to the church at Ephesus.
(Eph 4:26-27) "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, (27) and do not give the devil a foothold. (Cf Ps 4:4)It is possible to be angry – a righteous anger – without sinning; but the angry person needs to make sure the devil does not use and twist the anger to his purposes. Listen to God as He talks about this to Cain:
(Gen 4:6-7) Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? (7) 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."
We see here the graciousness and mercy of God. Remember the focus: Cain's relationship with God. God wants Cain to master the sin in his life because at stake is Cain's relationship with God. So God talks to Cain. God is so patient and so good. He deals tenderly with so hard a man as Cain.
B "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?" God does not ask because He does not know. God, after all, knows all things and sees all things; He is omniscient and omnipresent. Rather, just as with Adam, God mercifully gives Cain an opportunity to examine himself and repent.
"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" What is the "right" thing to do here? What does God have in mind? Cain needs to repent and believe, to soften his heart, to offer true worship, to turn from his unholy anger. When this happens then he, by grace and through faith, will be accepted, forgiven, and made right with God.
Did you hear how God pictures sin? God pictures sin as "crouching at your door" – like a lion waiting to jump on its prey, like a snake about to strike at its victim, like a cat playing with a mouse (1 Pet 5:8). "It desires to have you." To consume you. To control you. Sin is a hard task-master. It wants to be in charge. It does not settle for second place. In all of this, sin is Satan's servant.
Here Scripture pictures the perpetual struggle between good and evil that was predicted by Genesis 3:15. This is a struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, saints and sinners, godly and wicked, the children of God and the children of the evil one. But now we see the struggle is not just out there in the world; it is also in here, in our bodies and minds and souls. It is a struggle that every Christian is well acquainted with – from the Apostle Paul to you and me (cf Rom 6 & 7).
C "But you must master it." Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 6, "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires" (Rom 6:12). Do you hear what God is saying to Cain? And to us? Yes, we are fallen. Yes, we are sinful. Yes, we are under the curse of sin. However, if you are one of God's children, this does not mean you have to fall into sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit, all believers are enabled to live a holy life (Rom 8). However, you are foolish if you suppose that you are incapable of serious sin. So "you must master it."
"But you must master it." How? What can we do? What was Cain supposed to do? We need to put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Eph 6:10-18). We need to pray in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).
"But you must master it." How? What can we do? What was Cain supposed to do? We must flee from evil desires and temptations. An evil desire is the first step towards a more wicked act (James 1:14-15). So, we must flee from evil desires. If we don't flee, we give the devil the foothold that he wants (Eph 4:27). Think of David's wicked affair with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11). It began with an "innocent" glance at the woman's beauty (2 Sam 11:2). If we are not careful with what we look at, listen to, or think about, we may end up joining the long list of believers who introduced tragedy into their lives due to the failure to resist sin and temptation. Are there little things in your life that have the potential to become big temptations, which could lead to big sins? The Lord wants you to head them off. Take temptation away. Keep temptation away. Like Joseph with Potiphar's wife, flee from temptation (Gen 39). Remember what I told the children: garbage in - garbage out?
"But you must master it." How? What can we do? What was Cain supposed to do? Borrowing from the practice of the New Testament church, many believers today have discovered the importance of accountability. New Testament believers, if you remember, were often told about their duties to one another: encourage one another, pray for one another, support one another, admonish one another, and so on. In our struggle with alcohol, drugs, pornography, lust, anger, and other sins we are to find someone who holds us accountable, who prays with us, who dares to question us and rebuke us, who supports us.
"But you must master it." How? What can we do? What was Cain supposed to do? Instead of filling his mind with sin, anger, revenge, and other garbage Cain should fill his mind with thoughts of God and worship and praise and thanks. Remember what I said to the boys and girls: garbage in - garbage out? But the opposite is also true: fill your mind with the right kinds of things and the right kinds of things, by God's grace, will come out.
"But you must master it." How serious is God when He says this? I want you to think about these words of Jesus:
(Mt 5:29-30) If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (30) And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.God is concerned about our relationship with Him and wants us to take drastic action against sin and temptation. This doesn't mean He literally wants us to mutilate ourselves by cutting off our hand or gouging out our eye. But He does want us to fight and resist and struggle.
"But you must master it." Of course, as we all know, there is only One Who was successful in always mastering sin. I am talking about the Lord Jesus. Though He was tempted as we are (Heb 4:15), He was always able to master it. I say this not to discourage you but to remind you that when we do fall we can come to Jesus for comfort, forgiveness, and strength. He mastered sin and temptation in our place so that His righteousness can become ours. As Hebrews puts it, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb 4:16).
III Cain Kills His Brother
A Cain was so angry he would not be talked out of his sin – even by God. What a contrast to Eve. Eve had to be talked into her sin by Satan; but Cain "belonged to the evil one" (1 Jn 3:12). His heart was so hard that not even God talked Him out of his sin. So he makes no response to God's warning.
What follows is abrupt and stark. It takes only one verse made up of two sentences to convey Cain's dark deed.
(Gen 4:8) 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.
Do you see how sins heaps upon sin. First, Cain allows sin to master him. Second, Cain attacked his brother and killed him. The Hebrew clearly indicates that this is premeditated and intentional.
We also see that Cain's reaction is much more severe than that of his parent's. When Adam and Eve were confronted by God they resort to making excuses and pointing the finger. When Cain is confronted by God he resorts to violence.
Moses' original audience would have been especially disturbed by this account. First, an Israelite's brother had the primary responsibility to rescue him if he was in trouble (Lev 25:47-55). Cain does the opposite of what this obligation requires. Second, Leviticus says life is in the blood (Lev 17:11), and so the most defiling sin possible is the shedding of innocent blood.
B Let's do some theological reflection on what is in front of us. We see what happens when Cain allowed sin to master him. Obviously, Cain gave the devil the foothold that he wanted. Cain allowed the devil to pounce on him and take him captive. So let me tell you again, congregation, you must master sin lest you give Satan the foothold that he wants.
We see the sad effect of sin's entrance into the world and into the hearts of men. What a root of bitterness the corrupt nature is. Adam's sin of eating the forbidden fruit seems so little, but it opened the door to murder.
We see what happens in the age-long struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. This war takes no prisoners. It only takes casualties. There is no neutral ground in this struggle. You are either of the seed of the woman or of the seed of the serpent. And, whatever side you are on, the other side hates you and wants to destroy you.
We see the result of envy and hatred. Cain killed his own brother, at that time his only brother, his own flesh and blood.
We see not only the first murderer but also the first martyr for the faith. Because why was Abel killed? Because of his faith, his devotion, his religion.
Have you ever realized that at the cross and grave of Christ God replays the events of Genesis 4? It is God Who takes the place of Cain. He is the One Who is angry – angry with sin. He is the One Who kills – not a brother but a Son. As for Jesus, He takes the place of Abel. He is the One Who is hated and despised. He is the One Who makes an acceptable offering to God – His own life upon the cross.
Why? Why does God do this? Because God does not want any of His children to perish as Cain perished. Because God wants fallen man to have a relationship with Him.
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