************ Sermon on Genesis 4:7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 20, 2011
"Sin is Crouching at Your Door"
I was waiting at the dentist's office. I picked up a golf magazine. I was so intrigued by what I was reading I asked if I could take the magazine with me for sermon material. Now normally I would not read or watch golf because that is about as exciting as watching grass grow or paint dry. [I hate to admit this, but I am sure some of you would say the same thing about cycling or hockey.]
What caught my eye? Did you know that TV viewers watching a golf match can call in rules violations to golf authorities? It happened at least twice this year. At a tournament in Hawaii, eagle-eyed viewers busted a pro-golfer who flicked away a small obstruction as his ball rolled backward – and failed to call a penalty on himself. In Abu Dhabi, another golfer slightly moved his ball with his hand as he removed his ball marker on a putting green – and failed to call a penalty on himself.
Both times, morally upright viewers noticed the penalties. Both times, they alerted the authorities. Both times, proper punishment was meted out – disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard.
And both times, crowds of whiners cried foul at these simple applications of the Rules of Golf. In other words, they prefer golf to be a game of shadows; a world where players look left, look right, and if the coast is clear, move their ball to a better spot. If the TV cameras don't catch it, don't worry about it.
I refuse to capitulate to such watered-down standards. None of the Rules of Golf end with an asterisk, "This rule is merely a suggestion; feel free to apply your own rule as you see fit." Likewise, none of God's rules or commandments for life end with an asterisk, "This rule is merely a suggestion; feel free to apply your own rule as you see fit." In other words, God's rules of life are not relative. When we break them we cannot pretend we have done nothing wrong and we must confess our sins.
I want to spend some time this morning looking at Cain. When we look at him, we see the nature of sin. And, we see a failure to properly deal with sin.
I The Nature of Sin
A Our Scripture reading tells us two things on the nature of sin. First, sin impacts family and all other relationships.
Every once in a while I hear someone wish they lived closer to family. Yes, it is nice to be near family for Thanksgiving Day or Christmas or Easter or when there are birthdays and anniversaries. It is nice to be near family when there are emergencies. However, in this fallen world there is also another side to family relationships. A side that we see in the story of Cain and Abel. A side that makes me think to myself, "Be careful what you wish for."
You know the ugly, ugly story of Cain and Abel. You know that Cain was angry, very angry, that 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). You know that Cain, in his anger, killed Abel in cold blood.
Because of the Fall into sin, family and other relationships are typically filled with conflict, jealousy, anger, and even hatred. Look at Cain and Abel. Two brothers. Raised by the same parents. All that they have is each other. Obviously, they did things together – or else Abel would never have gone into the field with Cain. Yet, Cain was angry and his face was downcast so he killed his brother Abel.
You might say to yourself, "Pastor, the story of Cain and Abel is not typical. You sure have a negative view of life." Really? The story of Cain and Abel is not typical? Well, then, let me remind you of what we see in the rest of Genesis.
Noah pronounced a curse upon Ham's son Canaan (Gen 9:25); he cursed his own grandson. Abram allowed his wife, Sarai, to become Pharaoh's plaything and in so doing he threatened the covenant line of the Redeemer (Gen 12). Abram and his nephew, Lot, were forced to separate because of conflict (Gen 13). Sarai and Hagar might have been friends at one time; but by the time Hagar became pregnant they were enemies (Gen 16). Lot's daughters tricked him into an incestuous relationship (Gen 19). Ishmael hated Isaac from day one already (Gen 21). Jacob and Esau competed against each other in the womb already and later for their parents' affections (Gen 25); Jacob stole from Esau and tricked Isaac and ended up fleeing for his life (Gen 25, 27; cf Gen 32). Uncle Laban and Nephew Jacob went back and forth for years: about wives, sheep, employment, pay (Gen 29-30). Genesis ends with the sad, sad story of Joseph, his dreams and his coat, his brothers' jealousy and hatred, his bondage in Egypt (Gen 37ff).
I repeat what I said before: because of the Fall into sin, family and other relationships are typically filled with conflict, jealousy, anger, and even hatred.
Don't we see the same thing today? Don't we see this again and again? Conflict in marriages. Conflict among brothers. Conflict between parents and children and grandchildren. Conflict between employers and employees. Conflict between interest groups. Conflict between extremists on the left and extremists on the right. Conflict between political groups and among nations. Conflict even in the church. Conflict that results in hurt, pain, and broken relationships. A woman I know has not seen her grownup children in over seven years even though they live in the area. I know a man who had not seen his son in over 15 years – now they will never see each other because the father died of a heart attack last year. I pray daily for those in broken relationships that the relationship be repaired.
Conflict is nothing unusual. It is to be expected in a sinful and fallen world. As she grows and matures, Elizabeth Jean Thorpe can expect conflict: with her playmates and cousins and friends. So, we should be thankful when things go well. And, when there is conflict, we are to have confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will ever separate us from His love even though we may be separate from everyone else.
B The second thing our Bible reading tell us about the nature of sin is in the form of an image. God says to Cain, "sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you ..." (Gen 4:7). Crouching. What animal comes to mind when you hear that word "crouching"? Does it make you think of an elephant, giraffe, horse, penguin? The word "crouching" makes me think of the blessing a dying Father Jacob pronounces on his son Judah:
(Gen 49:9) You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness – who dares to rouse him?Jacob compares Judah to a crouching lion. Using similar language, God compares Cain's sin to a crouching lion.
"Sin is crouching at the door." Not knocking like an honest man. Not picking the lock. Not peeking through the keyhole. The image is that of a wild beast ready to spring. "It desires to have you." What scary, chilling words.
Ruth and I have been watching and recommend to all of you a fascinating new movie on the National Geographic channel entitled "The Last Lions." A lioness with three cubs loses her mate, flees a fire, and is attacked by a rival pride of lions headed by a cub-killing lioness nicknamed "Silver Eye" because she is blind in one eye. The lioness and her cubs escape by swimming a crocodile-infested river and end up on Duba Island. The lioness has only one job – to find food for herself and her cubs. We watched with fascination as she crawled through the grass and swam in the river in order to crouch and spring upon a baby buffalo protected by a herd with huge, slashing horns.
"Cain," says God, "sin is like that lioness ready to spring on its prey. It wants to eat you alive, Cain; swallow you whole. You don't realize that you are on the brink of being destroyed."
Cain didn't listen. The beast sprang and struck and his brother Abel lay dead in a river of blood.
Now, where is this beast called sin? Where is this beast called sin? Usually, we think of the beast as being outside. We too often buy into the image of sin trying to get in, to devour us and destroy us. But we should know better. Sin isn't trying to get in. It is trying to get out. It is panting for the chance to wreak havoc. It doesn't whisper in our ear, like a cartoon devil; instead, it hammers in our heart, coils in our stomach, and churns in our gut. It has one scream and one goal: LET ME OUT! Let me do my evil. Let me be free to do damage and inflict pain and cause hurt.
It was Adam who chose to let the beast in. Ever since then it has been clambering to get out. And, there will come a day when Jonathan and Kandice will see the beast rear its ugly head in the life of Elizabeth Jean. Why? Because the beast is inside of all of us. It is inside you and me. It is inside Elizabeth Jean. It is inside everyone who has ever been born except for the Lord Jesus Christ. We all are sinners. We all are born with the beast of sin inside of us.
II Master Sin (and confess it)
A Sin damages family and all other relationships. Sin lurks like a crouching lion inside of all of us. Notice what we are supposed to do: God says to Cain, "but you must master it" (Gen 4:7).
The Hebrew word for "master" is found in Genesis 1 and 3 already. The sun and moon are said "to govern [master] the day and the night" (Gen 1:18); which means they are the most prominent lights in the sky. Eve, representing all wives, was told that in the home the husband "will rule [master] over you" (Gen 3:16).
The same word is used for Abraham's servant, Eliezer of Damascus; we are told that Eliezer was "the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had" (Gen 24:2; cf Gen 15:2). Joseph had a vision that the sheaves of his brothers bowed before his sheave; upon hearing this, his brothers – using the same word – angrily replied, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" (Gen 37:5-8). The word is also used for Joseph's administration of Egypt as Pharaoh's prime minister; Joseph stated he had been made "lord of [Pharaoh's] entire household and ruler of all Egypt" (Gen 45:8; cf Gen 45:26).
Master. That is, rule, govern, control, be in charge, exercise authority over, have dominion. That is what God is telling Cain to do with the sin in his life. Master it. Control it. Instead of it mastering and controlling you. Make it submit to you instead of you submitting to it.
This reminds me again of "The Last Lions," the National Geographic movie Ruth and I were watching. At one point in the movie "Silver Eye," the enemy lioness cowers before and submits to the star of the movie. From that point on Silver Eye becomes a follower instead of a leader.In the same way, Cain is told to make sin submit to him instead of him submitting to sin.
How? How is Cain, how are you and I, how is Elizabeth Jean, supposed to master the strong and scary beast of sin?
Let me tell you what the Bible says. Let me tell you four ways to master sin.
First, says Peter, we are to "be self-controlled and alert" because "your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). Do you see the image of the lion again? We need to watch for the devil's attacks. We need to be discerning so we can see what is of Satan and what is of God (cf 2 Cor 11:14).
Second, we need to realize the truth about ourselves: that "by ourselves we are too weak to hold our own even for a moment" (Q&A 127). Our strength is like grass and like the flower of the field – here today and gone tomorrow (Ps 103:14-16). However, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:13). In other words, rely on God's strength rather than yours. With the strength of God's Holy Spirit we do not have to go down to defeat and can firmly resist our enemies.
Third, the enemy of sin is strong and scary and wants to devour us. However, God always provides a way of escape.
(1 Cor 10:13) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.Let's say your temptation is internet pornography. The way of escape is easy: throw out the computer; or, put the computer in a public location; or, use one of the blocking programs that are available. Let's say your temptation is greed. Don't put yourself in a situation where you handle cash that doesn't belong to you. Let's say your temptation is alcohol or drugs. You might need a new set of friends, friends who don't drink and smoke and use drugs. There always is a way of escape if you only look for it.
Fourth, make sure you pray. In teaching us how to pray, Jesus said, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Mt 6:13).
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. But God does give us a way to master or conquer sin.
B "But you must master it" (Gen 4:6). Obviously, Cain did not master it. The crouching lion sprang and his brother lay dead.
God confronts Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" (Gen 4:9). Cain responds with a lie: "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9).
Wrong answer! Wrong kind of answer! Cain has been given a wonderful opportunity to confess his sin to God. Instead, like the golfers I mentioned, he pretends he did nothing wrong.
"Master it." That is what God says to you and me as well. And, we fail as miserably as Cain failed. In fact, there is only One Who has truly mastered sin. There is only One Who never fell. There is only One Who has kept sin in subjection to Him. That One, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we fall into sin, my brothers and sisters, God does not want us to pretend we have done nothing wrong. God does not want us to lie about the situation. God wants us to make the confession that Cain failed to make.
In our Reformed tradition we have problems with confession. Here is one area where the Roman Catholics generally do it so much better than we do (but for the wrong reason). Let me tell you the "Seven A's of Confession. Again, the list is not meant to be exhaustive:
-First, address everyone involved, including God. Confess to each person who has been affected by your wrongdoing (Ps 41:4; Lk 15:21).
-Second, avoid ifs, buts, and maybes. Consciously delete words that dilute your confession, excuse your conduct, or shift the blame to others (1 Jn 1:8-9). As one person put it, "If it contains an excuse, it isn't a confession."
-Third, admit specifically what you did wrong. Don't hide behind vague generalities. Specifically identify your sinful attitudes and actions and admit they are sinful (Ps 51).
-Fourth, apologize. Acknowledge and express sorrow for how your actions hurt God and man.
-Fifth, accept the consequences. This may require fulfilling a promise, making restitution, or losing benefits (Lk 15:19; Lk 19:8).
-Sixth, alter your behavior. With God's help, commit to changing your sinful behavior.
-Seventh, ask for forgiveness.
You know the result of doing this? You should. How does John put this?
(1 Jn 1:9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.Forgiveness – that is the result. Cleansing – that is the result. Purification – that is the result.
Why does God forgive? On what basis does God purify when we confess? On the basis of Christ's obedience and sacrifice. Christ took on our sin and experienced our punishment. And, Christ gave us His righteousness and holiness. So, it is as if I have never sinned nor been a sinner. It is as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me.
The lion is crouching, congregation. It is waiting to do its damage. Do you strive to master it? And, when you fail, do you confess and throw yourself on the mercy of God?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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