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Minor Men With a Major Message: The Man God Marked

Genesis 4:1-7

I read to you from the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis, beginning at the first verse. This is the Word of God. “Now Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’ And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering. But for Cain and his offering, He had no regard. So Cain was very angry. And his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you. But you must master it.’ Cain said to Abel, his brother, ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel, your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold Thou hast driven me this day away from the ground. And from Thy face, I shall be hidden. And I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. And whoever finds me will slay me.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so. If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the Land of Nod, east of Eden.’” Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Did you ever hear the story about the preacher who was fresh out of seminary, and he stood for the first time in the pulpit of his first church ready to preach his first sermon? He began his sermon by quoting the words of the text, these words from Scripture. “Behold. I am coming to you soon.” But then because of his nerves, his mind went blank. He couldn’t think of a thing that he was going to say. He began to get a little panicky inside. And so he decided that he would repeat what he had said earlier in hopes that maybe somehow his mind could get back on the track. And so he said, this time a little more forcefully than before, “Behold. I am coming to you soon.” Still blank. Couldn’t think of his own name. So he decided that he would try it a third time. Hopefully, this time, maybe something in his mind would click. And he could continue. He was growing desperate. And so this time, well, the words fairly erupted out of him, “Behold! I am coming to you soon!” And he said it with such physical and emotional energy that he literally toppled out of the pulpit and into the lap of a lady of the first row. She was mortified and he was even more so. And he gathered himself up and began to brush himself off, and he began to make a profuse apology. And the lady put her hand up to stop him and looking out at him from beneath her hat which was now considerably askew, she said, “Oh, Preacher. That’s all right. I mean, after all, you warned me three times.”

Well, speaking about warnings leads me quite naturally to what I want to preach about today. For you see, the Scriptures warn us again and again about the separating power of sin in our lives. All through the Scriptures from beginning to end, the warning is repeated, that sin can separate us from the things we value most in life. That sin can shatter our human relationships. Jacob had his relationship with Esau shattered to pieces simply because of Jacob’s theft of the birthright. Peter denied Christ, and the Bible says he went out and wept bitterly. The relationship was broken, shattered by his cowardice. Judas betrayed Jesus, and the Bible says he went out and hanged himself. The relationship was shattered by his treachery. Again and again, the Bible speaks of the shattering, separating power of sin in our human experience. But perhaps, the most potent illustration of them all is the story of Cain. The story of the man God marked.

You remember what happened. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. The Bible tells us that Cain was a tiller of the soil; he was a farmer. And the Bible tells us that Abel was a tender of the flocks; he was a shepherd. And the time came for the two of them to bring their offerings to God. And Cain, because he was a farmer, brought to God the first and the finest fruits of the fields. And Abel, because he was a shepherd, brought to God a little lamb without spot or blemish. Now, I know it would’ve appeared, I suspect, that Cain’s great heap of luscious, fresh, newly gathered, brightly colored, carefully chosen fruits and vegetables were far more attractive and impressive than Abel’s little lamb.

But the fact is, outwardly at least, both gifts were equal. They were the same. There was no difference at all. And yet, in spite of that, the Bible says that Cain’s offering was rejected while Abel’s offering was accepted. Why? Well, as you read through the passage, I think it becomes clear. The message is that God’s acceptance of our offerings is not dependent upon the size or the beauty or the value of the offering itself. Rather it is dependent upon the attitude and the character of the one who presents the offering. It’s not so much a matter of what’s in the giver’s hand as what’s in the giver’s heart. The old adage is true. The gift without the giver is bare.

It’s quite clear from the story, that Abel was not only offering his lamb. Abel was offering himself and Cain wasn’t doing that. No, Cain was simply going through the motions of worship; his heart wasn’t really in it. Not at all. And so it’s quite clear as you read through the passage, that God is saying that He doesn’t want Sunday Christians. God doesn’t want just a part of our commitment. He wants it all. He wants not just the things we can bring Him. He wants the gift of ourselves. Cain was willing only to give the first fruits of the field; not himself. His offering was rejected. He became rather angry about that. And he began to brood about it. He became filled with resentment, not directed to God, but directed against his brother Abel. So much so that the Bible says that one day Cain invited his brother Abel to go walk with him in the fields. And there, Cain attacked Abel, and in cold blood and hot anger, he murdered his own brother. And for the first time in human history, the earth ran red with spilled human blood.

At that point, God said to Cain, “Where is your brother?” And Cain answered by lying, “I do not know.” And then to add insult to injury, Cain became insolent. You can hear it in what he says. Oh, I know that the translation here says – that Cain said, “Am I brother’s keeper?” But that’s not really an adequate translation of what Cain actually said. No. What Cain actually said – and he was sarcastically alluding to his brother’s occupation. What Cain actually said – and you can almost hear the insolence, whining in his voice. What Cain actually said was, “Come on now. Am I supposed to be the shepherd’s shepherd?” That was too much for God. And the judgment of God came like a bolt out of heaven. And God marked Cain with a visible sign and banished him to the Land of Nod, the land of wandering and restlessness. He was driven away from God and from all of those whom he loved. Condemned. Not to solitary confinement, but to something infinitely worse. He was condemned to solitary wandering.

It takes only 16 verses in Scripture to tell the story of Cain. And yet those 16 verses are awesome testimony to the shattering, separating power of sin in our human experience. And so today, I want us to consider that power.

Think first how sin shatters our relationships within the family.

The family is the basic unit of society. It is now; it has always been. It is the basic unit of this society. It is the basic unit of every society. That is not some Christian reality. That is a universal human reality. The family is the basis of every society that has ever been or ever will be. And the fact is that when family life in a society is strong, that society is strong. But when family life begins to crumble, then that society itself begins to crumble. That’s a fact. And we know that. And we can understand that. But I suspect that there are not many of us here, if any at all, who can understand the strange bonds that tie us together within families. I mean, we can’t define them. We can’t measure them. We can’t even explain them. And yet there’s not a single one of us within the sound of my voice today who has not, at some point in life, in some way in life, experienced the reality of the profound and powerful unity that comes from the family. It may only have been for a short time. But every one of us has experienced that sense of unity that holds a family together.

Nothing can break the family apart. Miles cannot separate a family. I stand at this moment hundreds of miles away from my larger family. And yet even as I stand here, I am aware of the fact that though they are a long way away, that right now at this moment, they are thinking about me and praying for me as I preach. I know that. As a matter of fact, just last Sunday afternoon, I received a phone call from my 92-year-old grandmother. She calls frequently just to check in. But last Sunday afternoon, she said, “I just want to remind you of something that’s been true all along, and it will stay true. Every Sunday morning when I know that you are standing up and preparing to preach, I am praying especially for you.” Miles cannot separate the loving members of a family. Not even death can separate a family.

Rufus Jones was a Quaker, one of the great Christians of this century. And on one occasion, near the end of his life, he was asked a name of the individual who had had the greatest influence upon him in his life. He said, without a moment’s hesitation, “My son Lowell.” And the questioner said to him, “Sir, that’s impossible. Your son Lowell died when he was just 11 years old and that was more than 40 years ago.” And Rufus Jones said, “No. It is true.” And he then went on to tell how years before when his son Lowell was just 8 years old, on one occasion, Rufus Jones heard Lowell say to a group of his playmates, “When I grow up, I want to be just like my dad.” And those words wrapped themselves around Rufus Jones’ heart and never turned loose. And he determined from that moment on that he would live his life in such a way that it would always be worthy of the imitation of his son. And so his son had exercised a profound influence upon his living even though death had claimed the boy years before. I say it again. Not even death can separate the members of a family.

Did I say earlier, nothing can break a family apart? Oh, no? There is something that can. Sin can. Sin can do it. That’s the one thing on earth that can do it. Sin can do it. I’ve seen sisters cutting and slashing one another with razor-sharp tongues over the very casket of their own father. So angry and hostile and resentful of one another they had become because of their sin. I’ve had couples in my office, husbands and wives, who took solemn vows that they would live together for life and love. And now they’re engaged in a war of words from which there will be no survivors. And even though I hold up before them the faces of their children, the ones who are most hurt in such separation, even though I do that, it cannot pierce the hardness and the harshness which sin has encrusted about their hearts. My friends, miles cannot break up a family. Not even death can break up a family. But sin can shatter a family beyond all hope of repair. He who has the ears to hear, let him hear.

But think, secondly, about how sin shatters our relationships with friends.

Oh, a friend is a precious thing indeed. That’s why Cain, condemned to solitary wandering, wanted so badly to build a city. That’s what the Bible says. He wanted to build a city. He wanted to get some people around him again. He wanted to have some friends. But what he didn’t understand was that simply having people in close geographical proximity does not mean necessarily that they will become our friends. The poet Shelley once said that “Hell is a city much like London.” The point’s well made. There are some times in some instances when a city can be a hellish place. You can be surrounded by literally thousands of people, and yet still be terrifyingly alone in the midst of that crowd.

Simply having people around us is not enough. No, not anywhere near enough. For Cain, he thought that would be enough. And he reached out for a friend, someone who would be his friend. And he discovered there was no one there. There was no friend to care because sin had shattered his ability to have a relationship with other human beings.

Do you know the name Benedict Arnold? Yes, you surely do. That one who was traitor to his country in the Revolutionary War. Are you aware of the fact that just recently, historians have uncovered a cache of letters written by George Washington when he was president of the United States? And in those letters are a number of expressions of deep concern for poor Benedict Arnold. If you go to West Point, you will find a spot where there are displayed plaques honoring all of those who have graduated from West Point and gone on to become generals in the United States Army. Each plaque contains the name of one general. Each plaque has a name. Each plaque, that is, save one. Benedict Arnold’s plaque is empty. No name is inscribed there.

After the war, he went to Great Britain to live. Remember, his betrayal had benefited the British, and he thought that that would be an answer for him. And yet even there, he was reviled and ridiculed and ultimately, tragically, he died absolutely alone, utterly friendless, totally and completely separated from all human relationships about him. Absolutely alone. My friends, sin can drive away friends like nothing else. He who has the ears to hear, let him hear.

Well, think, thirdly, how sin shatters our relationship with God.

I don’t know if you noticed in the reading or not. But it states that Cain became afraid. He cried out, “Someone will slay me, Lord.” He was afraid that someone was going to kill him. Why? I mean, he had been condemned to solitary wandering, but he was afraid. Why was he afraid? I tell you it was because he knew that down in his heart of hearts, because of his sin, he had separated himself from God, and thus, he had separated himself from the security which God offers us in life. And that’s a terrible thing. To go through life without knowing the ultimate security that comes from God. But that was Cain’s problem. That’s why he was afraid. And he cried out, “Lord, I am hidden from Thy face.” It’s the cry of the God-forsaken. The cry of those who’ve lost touch with the Almighty. But do you notice something here? It’s not God who says, “Cain, I will hide my face from you.” No. No. It’s Cain who says, “Lord, I’ve lost sight of your face.” Do you hear that? It’s a crucial point right there. The point is this. That even though sometimes we may feel separated from God because of our sin, God is not separated from us. God still loves us in spite of our sin. And God is reaching out to us to save us from that sin.

God marked Cain with a visible sign. Do you know why He did it? He did it so that no one would kill him. He did it in hopes of saving Cain. He marked him with a visible sign. And I suggest to you that God has marked you with a visible sign, the sign of the Cross. For there, God has said to you that even though you may feel separated from God because of who and what you are in life, God is not separated from you. His arms are stretched wide to you. He is longing to restore in you those relationships which have been shattered by sin.

It’s a true story; It actually happened. Out in a little village, years ago, in the American West, a man was caught stealing sheep. He was convicted. And in the terms of American frontier justice, he was branded. That’s right. With a hot iron, they branded the letters ST into his forehead. Sheep thief. He would be marked for life. Everyone would know of his sin. He would live out his days in utter disgrace. He thought, at first, of leaving that place because of the shame of it all. But then through another man, he happened to encounter the reality of Jesus Christ in life. And Christ changed his mind so that then suddenly he said, “By the grace of God, I shall try to build a new life for myself in this place.” And that’s what he proceeded to do, thinking God’s thoughts after him. He proceeded to build a life of integrity and courage. It wasn’t easy. Oh, no. It wasn’t easy. But he did it. Years later, years and years later, decades later, a stranger was passing through that little village. Stopped at the general store. And as he prepared to enter the general store, he happened to pass there an old man with a brand in the center of his forehead. He was shocked at that. And so when he entered the general store, he went up to the young man who was tending the cash register and he said to him, “Tell me.” He said, “Who is that old man I just encountered there, and what are those terrible marks on his forehead?” And the young man at the cash register said, “I’ll tell you, mister. That old man has been here a long, long time. And I don’t reckon that there’s anybody who rightly remembers the story behind those letters on his forehead. But I’ll tell you this. I know that old man. I know what he is. And I’ll tell you what I think. I think that ST stands for saint.”

Yes. Make no mistake about it. Sin can fracture a family and shatter a friendship and drive us away from God. That is one of life’s realities. But my friends in Christ, there is a greater reality in life. A reality summed up by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8, in words which you know as well as I do, “I am persuaded,” Paul writes, “that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor anything else shall ever be able to separate.” Did you hear that? Shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is ultimate reality. And that is our faith. A faith by which to live, and a faith in which to die.

So I do not call you today to believe in the power of God. You can look at the glistening stars and the shining and the silvery moon and understand it all. I do not call you today to believe in the beauty of God. You can see his signature scrawled in scarlet across the sunset sky, and that ends the question forever. I do not call you today to believe in the holiness of God. Your conscience whispering from the deepest springs of your inner self gives adequate testimony to that truth. No. I call you today to believe in the love of God. That God is like a shepherd who simply will not rest until all the flock is safely gathered in.

Cain, do you hear that? Cain, you’re here today, marked by your own sin. So come, Cain. Come to the one who is marked by the print of nails in hands and feet. Cain, you don’t have to be separated anymore. Cain, God in Jesus Christ is longing to embrace you in his love.

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