Am I my Brother's Keeper? Yes. You are!

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Hi. It’s great to be with you. And can I say thank you for your love and support of Chris & Rosy & baby Lydia – it’s been a joyful few weeks and our other son’s wedding is still to come! However, we must now turn to the devastating effects of sin on human relationships in Genesis 4, to Cain & Abel and the First Murder. Devastating effects which are tragically still so prevalent today, even in the friendly North East.
As we saw from Genesis 3 Man opted to reject God's perfect rule and make a bid for the throne himself. But that bid wasn’t without huge consequences. In his justice, God sent the first human pair out of the perfect garden he’d made for them. He said death would enter the world, and human beings would have to grind out a living from the earth. By chapter 4, things get much worse. Mankind begins to find new ways of sinning. Sin's hold over man gets stronger and stronger. And one of the most devastating effects of sin is its effect on human relationships.
Yet even though we’re now outside the perfect garden, God isn’t absent. Even in a sinful and decaying world, God’s still at work in his mercy and grace, giving us blessings we don’t deserve. This chapter, like many in Scripture, moves between the wickedness of mankind and the grace of God. So, first
1 The Sickness we all Suffer
Now although this passage speaks of the disastrous effects of sin, right at the start there’s some good news. V1: "Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying "I have produced a man with the help of the LORD. And again, she bore his brother Abel." God had always said to Adam and Eve that they were to populate and care for the world, and this was a mark of God's blessing. So here outside the garden, in a sinful world, we have a mark of God's blessing - children. In a world doomed to die, still there’s life. Eve acknowledges that she gave birth with the help of the Lord. Even today, having children is a wonderful sign of God's blessing. But sadly, even Cain and Abel, the first children born into the world, leave a legacy of destruction we’re still reaping today. And it all begins with an innocent act of worship, v2:
"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn 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 face fell." You ask what exactly had Cain done wrong? Well, detective work in the NT reveals more. Hebrews 11.4: "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts." 1 John 3.12 says Cain's actions were evil and his brothers’ were righteous. So, Cain’s problem was his heart. It's not what they sacrifice. Rather it's how they sacrifice. Abel offered his sacrifice by faith. He was trusting that God would accept him on God's terms. Cain seemed to be trusting in himself. He wanted to approach God on his own terms. And that’s confirmed when Cain’s rejected by God. The rejection isn’t met with humble repentance, but with stubborn selfishness. Cain throws his toys out of the pram and spits out his dummy. This isn’t the humble attitude of his brother Abel. This is a proud and stubborn heart which says, I'll do it my way, an attitude that has horrific implications. Cain's heart was evil. And that’s the attitude each one of us has to God. None of us has any immunity from this disease. We all think we can do things our way, and we get very upset if we don't get our way. And the God who graciously cares for us, even in a world which is far from perfect, is shut out of our lives and the door is bolted from the inside. And sadly, this way leads to trampling on anyone who gets in our way.
There’s a story about 2 backpacking students and a man-eating tiger. They heard the tiger’s roar and ran, but suddenly one of them stopped and swapped his boots for trainers. The other student said: "What are you doing? You can't outrun a tiger!" "No, but all I have to do is outrun you!"
You see the sickness we all suffer is that which says I'm no. 1. Cain was a prime example. You say, I'm not as bad as Cain. But God says we're all suffering from a terrible disease called sin, putting ourselves on the throne and saying we're king.
2 The Symptoms we all Share
Now Cain's actions, whilst extreme, give us a snap shot of the sorts of symptoms we all share and display of this horrific disease.
First disobedience v6-8: "Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry and why has your face 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 rule over it.' Cain spoke to Abel his brother, and when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Notice it’s God who takes the initiative to come to Cain. Cain had gone off in a huff in v5. But God seeks him out. Here again is the God of grace, the God who hunts out sinners, the God who pursues sinful people like us to reason with us. And God reasons with Cain. He patiently tells him that he can do what’s right if he wants. But he must rule over his sin, otherwise it will rule him. Sin isn’t something to be played with. It must be mastered. You can’t cuddle it or caress it. It’s like a python ready to strike. You must either kill it, or it will kill you. Unless you master it, it will master you. But without God’s help we can’t master it or kill it. Which is another reason to turn to Christ, who has defeated sin, death and the devil and is able to sympathise with our weaknesses & help those who are being tempted as he, in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 2.18 & 4.15).
As Christians it's a decision we must make every day. Are we going to seek to master sin today with God's help or will we let it master us? You see one reason this passage is in the Bible is that it teaches us the full horror of sin. We tend to think of sin as being naughty but nice. But God says sin is something which will kill you, physically and spiritually, unless you’re ruthless with it. It will destroy your life. It will devastate your relationships. It will determine your destiny. You have a choice. Either be ruthless with sin, or sin will be ruthless with you.
Let me ask you this. If you go parachuting, do you listen carefully to the instructor? Of course, you do! So, if we’ll listen to a human being on how to avoid death, why are we so slow to listen to God’s critical warning? Don't disobey God. For it's not just this life you’re playing with but your eternal destiny.
So how does Cain react? Instead of accepting God's advice and going God's way, he ignores God. And here Cain’s worse than Adam and Eve. When the serpent tempted Eve, she at least tried to stand up for God and his ways, even though she gave in. Cain opts straight for disobedience. He takes his brother outside and murders him in cold blood. It’s a premeditated homicide. Jealousy led to hatred which in turn led to murder. Disobedience led to destruction. All because Cain ignored God's advice.
After disobedience comes denial, the second symptom. Still, we see God's grace in the bleak scene. God again comes searching for Cain and asks him: "Where’s your brother Abel?" God did the same to Adam. "Where are you?”, asked God in the garden after Adam and Eve had sinned. Adam answered God truthfully. Here Cain goes further and lies deliberately, "I don't know! Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain denies any knowledge of and any responsibility for Abel. Even worse, denials led to indifference. He doesn't care. But care for others is exactly what Cain should’ve been doing. To be human is to be responsible for my neighbour, my brother. But Cain’s rebellion against God led to rebellion against his fellow man. It’s always the way. Sin against God is never an isolated crime. It always leads to sin against people. V8-11 underline this, repeating ‘brother’ 6 times. Cain has murdered his brother. All because he disobeyed God and let his sin run away with him.
And let's not deceive ourselves. Before we plead ignorance, this pattern of disobedience, denial and indifference is exactly what happens with you and me. We suffer the same sickening symptoms of the disease. So? we say, no-one’s getting hurt. The fact is sin matters because it affects you, it affects others, and most seriously of all, it effects God. That's why there are serious consequences of Cain's sin. Whilst Cain's destiny isn’t a symptom of his sin, it is the outworking of his sin. And we too are in the same boat.
God can’t sweep sin under the carpet. When we disobey God and then deny our sin, God's justice must be done. And Cain's sin is clearly visible to God. (12) V10: "The LORD said, 'What have you done? Listen! The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.'" Abel's blood screams out at God for justice. And God as the just judge punishes Cain's sin. He must be banished from God's presence. Cain's fate is even worse than Adam's. Adam was banished from the Garden. But here Cain is cursed. V16, Cain’s sent away from God’s presence, to the land of Nod, which doesn’t mean sleep, but rather restlessness or wandering. Cain will never be able to settle down. He’ll always feel he’s not at home, even though he builds cities. His mind will be one of constant restlessness. Significantly Cain moved East. To move East is to move further from the garden, from the paradise God had made for man. Paradise has been lost, and man can never again enjoy friendship with God in the intimate way he knew in Eden. All mankind’s under that judgement.
And that’s the situation human beings find themselves in today: restless and lost, people who’ve forgotten that we were made for relationship with God. So, we try and find our purpose in anything apart from God. But nothing fills that hole in the human heart that was made for relationship with God. As Augustine said: "We are restless until we find our rest in thee, O God."
So those are the frightening symptoms of our sin. We’re by nature disobedient and we’re in denial, as Cain was. And God's judgement is to banish us from his presence forever. That begins in this life and carries on for eternity. So, is there any hope? Is there any cure for this terrible disease? Well yes, so thirdly:
3 The Solution we all Seek
All the way through chapter 4, whilst there’s been terrible news of anger, disobedience and death, God has been at work, even in this sinful world. He helped bring new life into the world, v1, he graciously offered Cain a way out v7 and approached Cain v9. God keeps taking the initiative, even in v15. Amid the judgement of banishing Cain from his presence, God is still merciful to him. Cain is fearful of being avenged for Abel’s death. So, what does God do? He gives him a mark which means no-one will touch him. Even in such horrible circumstances, God is still being merciful, even to a man who showed no remorse.
There is hope through God. God alone is able to take the initiative to save us and rescue us from the mire we’ve put ourselves in. For in the Bible, Abel's blood isn’t the only blood that’s shed. Someone else's blood was also shed in anger. Yet his death didn’t lead to condemnation. This second death leads to life. Hebrews 12 v 22-4: "You have come to... Jesus the mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." Abel's blood cries out 'condemnation'. Jesus' blood cries out 'rescue'. Because Jesus died in your place on the cross, you can be forgiven for all your disobedience and denial. You can be cured of the hereditary disease called sin. You can be freed from the slavery to disobedience and denial and find rest in Christ. Simply come to me, Jesus says.
But there’s a final challenge here as we close. Not only does the blood of Jesus cleanse us from all our sins, it enables us to be the kind of people God designed us to be. To be people who no longer hate but love, who are no longer jealous of others' achievements but who foster loving relationships, who go against the flow and put others first. The birth of my first grandchild, Lydia, has brought this home to me even more – that we’re to be people who tell and live the Gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to turn the world upside down for Jesus’ sake – for Lydia’s immediate future and yours. But we must do so humbly and lovingly. 1 John 3.11-16: "This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother… By this we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers."

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