You have probably heard the Bible story of Cain and Abel. If not, here's the condensed version:
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because they sinned by eating fruit from the tree that God had expressly forbidden. Once they were out in the world, Eve gave birth to two sons, named Cain and Abel. Cain was a crop farmer, and Abel was a shepherd. One day they both approached God to offer a sacrifice of some of the fruits of their labors. For some reason, God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but was not pleased with Cain's. Cain got angry at God, and angry at his brother, and managed to attack and kill Abel. God sent him away, still under his protection, but out of his presence.
Got all that? It's a bit confusing to me, even now. I mean, what was actually wrong with Cain's sacrifice? Why was God so harsh on him?
Luckily for me, Pastor Singleton shed a little light on the subject this morning. It seems to boil down to God's command, man's sin, and God's promise of redemption.
1. God's Command
What did God command? His first command was “Be fruitful and increase in number" (Genesis 1:28). So, that's what Adam and Eve did. Even when they were banished from the garden, this command was not taken away from them, nor was their ability to fulfill it. The birth of their children was within the will of God. Cain, the first-born of their children, was a sign that God's anger at their sin did not nullify his command to them. They still had a purpose, and God was not going to take it away from them.
2. Man's Sin
The word sin means "missing the mark," like in archery. Not hitting the bulls-eye. In this instance, it means missing God's mark, or doing something outside of His command. Nowhere can "kill your brother" be construed as following God's command of "be fruitful and increase in number." The problem is that sin breeds sin. Reverend Singleton likened it to cancer. It is hard to see from the outside, but when it gets into you, it can spread and can destroy you from the inside out. We can't see it with our eyes. We can only see the effects. But God knows our innermost being. He can see the first cancer cell, and he can also see the first sign of sin. He knew what was in Cain's heart, and was reacting to that, rather than to Cain's physical offering. Cain apparently tried to offer the right offering with the wrong heart. When his duplicity was called out, he tried to fix it by adding more sin - pushing himself farther from God.
Do you ever just "go through the motions?" I know I do. Sometimes we do things just because they have to be done, not because our hearts are into it. And it is hard to be invested in everything you do, all the time. But God does expect our best. He expects to have our hearts, not just our hands. Our offering to the Lord, whether it is time, money, or actions, needs to be not the best, but our best. It needs to come from a right heart, so that we don't slide farther away from God's will for us.
3. God's Promise of Redemption
So we are left with God's promise. Psalm 111:9 states: He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name. As Christians, we believe that the redemption promised by God came through his son, Jesus. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus made a way out of sin for us. He showed us the way back to God's will. He invited us to follow him. Cain followed his parents into a life of putting himself over God. Jesus showed us how to instead put God over ourselves.
This world has grown callous. It has continued to reject God's command, and with it, God's promise. There is little respect for human life. Murders are happening every day. People are judged as fit to live or die depending on their perceived usefulness, rather than their status as human beings. This cannot continue. All life is precious. It is given by God. It is not up to us to decide who deserves to live or die. It is up to us to do what we can to make life better for everyone. As God said to Zechariah: "Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another" (Zechariah 7:9). And as Jesus said: "This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17). Mercy, compassion, justice, and love. Go into this week with the command and the promise of God.