We are now one month into our sermon series in the opening chapters of Genesis, some of the most foundational chapters of the Bible – not just because they come first. So far we’ve looked at Genesis 1 to 3, and been introduced to the Creator God, to human beings he has made, and sin that entered the world when Adam and Eve rebelled against him.
And we rejoin the story in Genesis chapter 4 today, a huge question mark hangs over the human race.
• What will happen to humans now sin is in the world? Now Adam and Eve are outside Eden, what will the consequences be?
• And most importantly of all, is there any way humanity’s relationship with God can be restored?
Abel’s faith (v.1-5)
Let me read again the first two verses of our passage: “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 Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.”
If you stop to think about it, those two verses are a wonderful testimony to God’s grace and mercy. And wonderful evidence that sin does not derail God’s good purposes for the world. You see, God clearly did not abandon or destroy Adam and Eve after they had disobeyed him and been thrown out of Eden. He did not even let the human race simply die out. Quite the opposite – he allowed Adam and Eve to become parents and gave them the gift of two sons.
By allowing Cain and Abel to be born, God was carrying on with his plan for humanity that he had announced in Genesis chapter 1. His plan for humans to go forth, multiply and look after the earth.
Indeed, it seems that Abel became a shepherd and Cain became an arable farmer. Both were good jobs, responsible ways to ‘steward’ and take care of Creation. Between them, Cain and Abel took responsibility for flocks and fields, for sheep and soil.
Cain and Abel also acknowledged that there is a Creator God. A God to whom we owe worship, a God we need to be in right relationship with. We know that Cain and Abel knew something about God because in verses 3 and 4 we’re told that they each brought an offering to the Lord.
So far so good, but if you are a parent you will know that children can have very different characters. Having the same mum and dad, the same DNA, doesn’t guarantee that your children’s characters will be exactly alike. Take my children James and Alice as an example – one is an extrovert, the other is more introverted. We wait to see how Emma will turn out!
What happened next in our story shows us that Cain and Abel could not have been more different – despite sharing the same parents. Let me read verses 3 to 5 again for us: “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruit 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.”
Bible scholars speculate exactly what it was about Cain and Abel’s offerings that made one pleasing to God, while the other was not. Some suggest for example, that Abel’s offering was better than Cain’s because Abel gave God the “firstborn” of his flock. In other words, Abel gave God his best lamb whereas Cain only gave God “some” of his crops.
There’s certainly some truth in that theory, I think. We should certainly try to give God our best. For example, do we give to God the best of our time, talents and income, or do we give him what is left over after we’ve satisfied our own desires? I very much hope its the former.
But I think something else ultimately lay behind God’s pleasure in Abel’s offering and his rejection of Cain’s crops. It seems that Abel gave his offering to God in humility and faith, whereas Cain’s offering was built on pride and self-sufficiency. Faith and humility are always the right way to approach God and earn his favour, not pride and self-righteousness.
God is not impressed by our successful career, our flash car, or our bank balance. On the contrary, God is pleased when we come to him in humility, repentance and faith. God is willing to forgive us and bless us when we acknowledge our sins, ask for his mercy, and thank him for his grace and goodness.
That’s the attitude Abel had in his heart when he brought his offering to God, and what Cain’s heart was sadly lacking. That’s why God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s. Tragically, Cain’s heart was in the wrong place.
Cain’s choice (v.6-16)
Like most men, my anger gets the better of me sometimes. I get bad tempered when I’m tired, when my latest DIY project fails etc etc. I think a lot of us men could do with some anger management!
Cain could certainly do with some anger management, because verse 5 tells us that he was infuriated when God accepted Abel’s offering but not his. Cain seethed with anger at God and was consumed with envy and jealousy towards his brother Abel. Here we see the first ever case of sibling rivalry!
But do you notice that in verse 6 God gives Cain a second chance? He does not condemn Cain – instead he calls him to repentance. He tells Cain to manage his anger, control his temper and change his ways. “If you do what is right” says God, “will you not be accepted?”.
You see, God gives Cain a choice. He can resist temptation – or he can succumb to sin. Cain can exercise self-control and rule over his sinful desires, or he can let them rule over him. We all face a similar choice every day, don’t we? A choice whether to resist selfishness and sin, or give in. If we are Christians, the good news is we have the Holy Spirit to help us win the fight.
Sadly Cain made the wrong choice, didn’t he? Because we see in verses 8 and 9 that he gave in to temptation, murdered his brother and even lied about it before God. As a consequence God puts Cain under a curse. God’s judgment rightly falls on the guilty party. Cain is destined to spend the rest of his days away from God’s presence, wandering aimlessly, restless in body and soul.
In truth, that remains the situation of every unrepentant sinner today. Its the experience of every man or woman who gives God no place in their life and lets themselves be ruled by their own sinful, selfish desires. You see, apart from God, people are spiritually lost – they are wanderers on this earth – unable to find true contentment, meaning or purpose for their existence. Unless they repent and turn to Christ, they will find themselves separated from God’s presence forever, just as Cain was.
It’s a dreadful prospect – and so Cain’s experience should serve as a warning for the world, and a motivation for us as Christians to seek & save the lost.
Jesus: A better Abel
But let me finish this morning on a positive note, because we shouldn’t forget about Abel. Abel may have lost his life at the hands of his brother, but he hadn’t lost his soul. Even though his blood was shed, we can be confident that Abel was right with God.
In fact, the Bible tells us about another man who had the same attitude as Abel. Another innocent man who was murdered by jealous, envious, evil men. Another man whose blood was spilt, yet enjoys eternal friendship with God the Father.
That other Abel, that greater Abel, was of course the Lord Jesus Christ. In faithful, humble obedience to God, Jesus allowed himself to be crucified for our salvation.
You see, when the first Abel died, verse 10 tells us that his blood cried out to God. Abel’s blood was like a word telling God about Cain’s guilt. When Jesus died he also shed blood. Blood shed on the cross that cries out to God the father for our forgiveness. Blood that can restore human being’s relationship with God. So let’s thank God for Jesus, that greater Abel, whose blood has bought us back to God.