Good morning. I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Cain, the first child to ever be born. For a while, I was the best child this world has ever known. Every time I did something, I was the first baby to crawl, the first to walk, the first to be toilet trained, the first to speak. I was the first, I was the best.
You have the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and the sequel What to Expect the First Year, and then What to Expect from a Toddler, and you probably have What to Expect from Your Thirty-Year-Old who Still Lives at Home. But in my day, my mother, Eve, didn’t know what to expect. I was the first person to be born in this world. I was once the best child this world had ever known, at least until my little brother was born.
I’ll bet you have lots of questions for me. You probably want to know what Adam and Eve were like as parents, what they used for Pampers, and what life was like in general back then. I know some of you are probably wondering who I grew up and married. All of that is interesting, and maybe I can talk about it sometime, but that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here to tell you what happened between me and my younger brother. That’s not true. I’m here to tell you what happened between me and God. I learned a lot about myself through what happened, but I’m going to tell you, I learned a lot more about God.
Do you ever start off kind of okay and one day discover that you’re way off course, that you have no idea how you got to be in the mess you’re in? That’s what happened to me. It all started out one day when my kid brother and I went to offer God some sacrifices. You wouldn’t think that my problems started there, but they did. Sin starts out pretty small, but it has a way of growing and taking everything else over.
One day, my brother and I went out to offer God some sacrifices. My brother, Abel, was a shepherd, whereas I was a gardener. We both offered God some sacrifices based on what we did. Abel offered God some lambs, and I offered God some produce. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, but I knew right away that mine was rejected.
You may be wondering why God liked Abel’s sacrifice, but he didn’t like mine. It’s not that God likes lambs but he doesn’t like fruit. It’s not that Abel offered the best portions and I only offered regular fruit. The problem is that I forgot something very important. God doesn’t accept our worship based on the externals. God looks much deeper. God looks at the heart. God looked at me. and he knew that my heart just wasn’t in it.
I didn’t know what I do now. At first, I thought that it wasn’t really a big deal. What difference does it make how I worship God? What does that have to do with the rest of my life? But the more I thought about it, the more I got angry. What really made me angry was that God would reject my offering but accept my brother’s. Give me a break. I was the firstborn. I was around before Abel was even imagined. I knew Abel, and let me tell you, he wasn’t the perfect brother. I became very angry at God, but I also became very angry at Abel. I couldn’t figure out why God would accept his offering but reject mine.
God tried to step in and intervene, but I had my plans. I suggested to my brother that we step out to the field. Why wouldn’t we go? He had no idea what I was planning. I knew this was my chance to get rid of him altogether. So I killed him, and left him there. I’m not proud of it, but I did it. That was the end of Abel.
You might be a little bit shocked. I guess you had to be there to understand. To tell you the truth, it’s not really that shocking. I’ve seen this happen so many times. You think you can keep sin contained, in just one little area. But sin doesn’t want to stay there. It spreads, and it takes over. What begins as a fairly small thing ends up being a very big problem. I committed the very first murder. One thing led to another. I didn’t worship right, I got angry, my anger took control. It’s hard to keep sin contained.
God tried to warn me. He said, “If you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it” (Genesis 4:7). We tend to think that sin is only going to affect one area of our lives. I thought that I could get away with offering a sacrifice without putting my heart into it, but that led to something worse. Then I thought I could get angry and get away with it, but that led to something even worse. Then I did the unimaginable. I thought I could get away with killing my own brother. I didn’t really expect to get caught. I was just going to say, “I don’t know where Abel is. It’s not my job to keep track of him.” You can’t keep sin in one area of your life without it affecting everything else. Sin is waiting to attack and destroy us, if we let it. Sin isn’t a small thing. A little sin isn’t just a little sin. It won’t stop until it has us under its complete control.
Killing my brother was bad, but I did something even worse. God knew right away what I had done. He called me on it. I was caught red-handed with him. I didn’t know what to do, so I denied it. It was one thing to kill Abel, but it was even worse to try to deny it. I should have known better. What a mistake.
My parents had committed the first sin, which at the time they didn’t think was going to be a big deal. See where that got them. I was their first child, and I took it even further and killed my own brother. Within one generation, sin had escalated to murder. Later on, my descendents took things even further. In just seven generations, humanity had moved to complete autonomy from God, at least in their own minds. We think we can get away with sin, but once we allow sin to enter, it takes control. You can’t trifle with sin.
Some of you know what I’m talking about. You never made it into the mess that I did, but one thing leads to another, and before you know it, you’re in way over your head. Do you know what I mean? It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I can’t say it any better than God said it. Here are the words that he told me: “Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it” (Genesis 4:7).
The consequences in my life were severe. I was a farmer, a gardener, but God drove me from the ground. He made me a fugitive, a restless wanderer on the earth. My parents were cast out from the Garden of Eden, but I was cast out even further from God’s presence. You let just a little bit of sin in, and it takes over. Sin destroys.
But there’s another side to my story. My story is about my failure, but it’s ultimately a story about God’s mercy. What do you do when you’re caught red-handed by God? Where do you go? How do you face God after you’ve completely blown it? What hope is there for people like me who have made fatal mistakes, mistakes for which there is no recovery?
Even when we’re caught red-handed by God, even when we’ve committed the worst act, there’s something about God that you need to know. When we sin, even when our sins get out of control, God still shows mercy. My story isn’t ultimately about me, or about my failure. My story is ultimately about God.
God knew that I was angry when he didn’t accept my sacrifice. He knew it, and he called me on it. He challenged me. He said, “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it” (Genesis 4:6).
I didn’t listen, of course. I was too mad to even hear what God was saying. But he warned me; he gave me a chance. I missed that chance, and I killed my brother. Bang. You’d think that any chance I had for redemption would be gone.
When God told me that I would be a fugitive for what I had done, I was crushed. Everything was being taken away from me. I was losing my family. I was losing everything but my life. Even then, I was afraid that others who found me would kill me, because they knew what I had done. I threw myself on God’s mercy and asked for his help.
I suppose my motives weren’t completely pure. I needed God. I was fearful for my life. I suppose also that God didn’t have to hear my prayer. He could have ignored me. I deserved death.
But, to my surprise, God heard my prayer. He gave me a mark to protect me. He offered me his protection so I wouldn’t be killed, even though I deserved death. God became my protector. I still spent the rest of my life as a fugitive. He didn’t remove all the consequences, but he gave me mercy when I didn’t deserve it.
We all have a tendency to let sin get out of control. We all have a propensity to let sin get out of control, and to resent God and to hate our brothers and sisters. You may know, as I do, the terrible feeling of being caught red-handed by God, and the terrible guilt that comes from doing something that isn’t just wrong, it destroys the lives of others. You need to know what I know. Even when sin gets out of control, God still shows mercy when we cast ourselves on him.
Long after my time, God sent his Son to the world. It’s interesting that God himself, when he walked around, liked to hang around people who had done bad things, who at least knew enough to know that they needed God. He was called a friend of sinners. They meant it as an insult, but he took it as a compliment. Friend of sinners. I like that.
Someone else came along, and wrote this about why Jesus came into this world:
This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
So remember. Sin gets out of control. You let a bit in, you think you can control it, but it never works. It gets way out of control. If you think you can keep sin on a leash, or just indulge in a little sin, watch out. “Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it.”
But should you find yourself caught red-handed one day by God, with your life out of control, full of guilt and sin, remember – God will show you mercy. When you’re caught red-handed by God, you can run to God. Even when sin takes over, God still shows mercy.