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Life East of Eden

June 3, 2018 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Genesis: Beginning the Journey Home

Passage: Genesis 4:1–4:26

What happens when we shut the door on God and open it to sin?

Landlords of apartment complexes are often selective about the people who they allow to live in their units. You have to fill out applications, get your finances checked, go through a background check. Landlords do all this because they know who they let into their apartments will influence what sort of environment their apartment complex will have. They also know that who they let into their apartments will influence the condition it’s in when the person moves out. So they are selective about who they let in.

If you owned a house that you were renting to people, you would also be selective and careful about who you let in. You want to make sure they will pay their rent, you want to make sure they won’t trash the place, you want to make sure you won’t be getting complaints from neighbors about your tenants.

In the same way, often people are selective about who they let into their life. Imagine your life is a house and you have the choice about who you let in and who you don’t let in. Who you let in is going to influence your life and its condition. They are going to influence your tastes, your hobbies, how you spend your money, how you talk, what you look like. Who you let into your life will have an influence on the quality of your life.

Series Introduction
Today, we are continuing our series in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Genesis is a book of beginnings. In the opening chapters we saw the beginning of humanity’s home. God created the world as a place for us to dwell with him and call home. But then our home with God becomes the first broken home in human history. Genesis is all about how God puts a plan into motion to bring us home. That’s why the name of this series is: Beginning the Journey Home.

Sermon Introduction
Chapters 2, 3, and 4 were introduced with the title: these are the generations of heaven and earth. In other words, this is the story of heaven and earth - this is the story of how everything got the way it is. Genesis 2 showed us a picture of God’s good creation with everything as it should be. Genesis 3 showed us why everything isn’t as it should be. Genesis 4 is going to show us how the choice made in Genesis three by Adam and Eve, the first humans, has tragic effects for all who come after them. It also shows us how each of us have the same choice: will we trust God or not?

The main character in this story, Cain, is presented with a choice: welcome God into his life or welcome sin into his life. If Cain’s life is a house, he has both God and sin knocking at the door and God warns him about what will happen if he welcomes sin into his life. But he chooses to do it anyway. He chooses the way of the serpent rather than the way of God.

The big question this passage answers is: what happens when you shut the door on God and open it to sin? What happens when you shut the door on God and open it to sin?

This passage stands as a warning to all of us about the influence sin will have if we welcome it into our lives. We “sin” whenever we refuse to trust God and follow his ways.

Let’s look at what it does to Cain’s life when he refuses to trust God.

Introduction to the Story (4:1-7)

Remember, Adam and Eve have just been kicked out of the garden of Eden. God created a wonderful home to dwell in with them with one rule: do not define good and evil for yourselves; trust my definition of what is good and what is evil. But through deception, the serpent got them to doubt God and then to desire what God said is off limits and it had disastrous consequences. They were ashamed, they hid from each other and from God, they took no responsibility but played the blame game. God warned them that if they did not trust him to define what is good and evil - right and wrong - that they would die. Though they do not physically die, they are exiled from God’s presence and from the tree of life.

Now in verse 1 of chapter 4, we are told that Adam knew his wife, Eve. This is the Bible’s discreet way of saying that they had sex. But it also shows that sex is not only a physical act: it’s a deeply personal, knowing act. Eve became pregnant and she named her son Cain. Then she became pregnant again with another boy and named him Abel. Then we are told that Abel becomes a keeper of sheep, a shepherd, and that Cain becomes a worker of the ground, a farmer.

At some point in time, they both decide to offer a sacrifice to God from the fruit of their labors. So the starting scene of this story is one of worship. In that time, sacrificing animals or produce was a way of expressing thanks to God and trust in him. Both Cain and Abel do an act of worship. Abel is a shepherd so he offers a sheep for sacrifice. Cain is a farmer so he offers some of his produce.

But God doesn’t respond to the sacrifices in the same way. Verses 4 and 5 tell us that God took notice of Abel’s sacrifice but not of Cain’s. Both animals and produce were acceptable things to sacrifice so the problem isn’t in what they sacrificed.

From the outside, it’s hard to tell a difference between the two. Both offer a legitimate sacrifice. So if God takes notice of one and not the other, we should infer that there is a difference on the inside. There is an issue of the heart at work here. This is exactly what the New Testament tells us in Hebrews 11. It says that Abel’s sacrifice was more acceptable than Cain’s because he did it by faith. His heart was in the right place.

We are given a clue of this here because Abel offers the firstborn and the fat portions, meaning he offered God the best which expresses his devotion to God and his trust and love for him. We are told Cain simply brings “an offering of the fruit of the ground” - not the firstfruits or the best fruits; just some fruit.

When I want to show Katie that she is special and that I love her, I will sometimes buy her flowers. I know that Katie’s favorite flowers are light pink roses. Now, I could try to go on the cheap side and get her other flowers that are light pink like carnations or something. But is that a great expression of how much I love her? I know pink roses are her favorite but I wasn’t willing to spend the money to get her those and instead got a cheaper substitute?

That’s what’s going on here. Abel offered a sacrifice that was costly - he gave the best. It showed his love for God because it cost him something. Cain offered a sacrifice, but his heart wasn’t in the right place. Our acts of worship are supposed to be an outward expression of an inner reality. But the outward expression without the inner reality is meaningless to God.

Cain shows us that you can go through religious rituals - going to church services, reading your Bible, praying at dinner and before bed - and yet have a heart far from God. You can schedule God things into your life and yet not welcome God into your life. God knew the difference between Cain and Abel’s acts: one expressed devotion to him and the other expressed something else.

Why did Cain offer the sacrifice in the first place? The only answer we can give is that he did it for the wrong reasons. Maybe he thought he was supposed to? Maybe he was trying to offer something to God to get something in return? We don’t know. But when we do “acts of worship” for the wrong reasons, we know that God is not pleased. He wants us to do it from a heart of love for him. He doesn’t want us to do things because we know that we are supposed to or because we are trying to manipulate him into giving us something. You don’t have to give God someone else’s best. Cain didn’t have to bring an animal to sacrifice when all he had was produce from farming. But you need to give God the best you have.

But even though God did not take notice of Cain’s sacrifice, he still takes notice of Cain. Even though Cain’s sacrifice was empty of love, God is not empty of love for Cain. When Cain saw that God took no notice, the end of verse 5 says that Cain was very angry and his face fell. You can tell when someone is upset or sad because their face is looking down. God didn’t respond to Cain’s half-hearted sacrifice with the pleasure and acceptance that Cain thought he should so now he is angry. Sometimes we can act like Cain. We’ve been too busy to give God any attention for days or weeks or months then we get into a stressful situation, send out a quick half-hearted prayer for God’s help, then get mad at him when he doesn’t fix everything. “What good is God?” we say. Or we give God the bare minimum requirement of the time we think he wants from us and wonder why he seems distant. The good news is, God is gracious so he gives us what we don’t deserve and he gives Cain what he doesn’t deserve. Even though Cain doesn’t want to give God his best, God wants what’s best for Cain so he tries to guide Cain back. Verse 6 says:

6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 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.” (Genesis 6:6-7)

God gives Cain two options. This is a fork in the road moment for Cain. Option 1 is that Cain can do well or another way to say it is “do good”. Remember, who is the one who defines what is good and not good? God is. Option 1 is for Cain to do what God says is good. Option 1 is to follow God’s guidance, trust him, and love him. God asks him, “If you follow my ways, will you not be accepted?” The actual word is, “Will you not be lifted?” Cain’s face has fallen because God wasn’t impressed with his half-hearted religious ritual. God says, “Cain, why are you angry? Why has your face fallen? Do good and it will be lifted up. You are upset that I didn’t take notice of your sacrifice but if you want to be accepted by me, then you need to really devote yourself to me and not just put on a religious show.” That’s option 1: follow my good ways and you will be lifted up.

Option 2 is that Cain can not do good. He can choose to not devote himself to God. But if he chooses that option, God warns that sin is crouching at his door. It’s desire is for him, but he must rule over it. Sin is pictured as this wild animal ready to pounce on Cain and destroy Cain. Sin desires to make Cain its slave. But he must not let it.

Cain has two people knocking on the door of his life. One person knocking is God. If Cain will welcome God into his life, he will be welcoming God’s good guidance into his life, following God’s ways, and he will be accepted. Sin is also knocking, crouching outside his door like a wild beast ready to devour him. If Cain does not want to follow God and his ways, he will be welcoming sin into his life. Though the serpent is not a visible character, he is still tempting people to shut the door on God and open it to sin.

The big question this passage answers is: what happens when you shut the door on God and open it to sin? Let’s see what happens to Cain.

What happens when you shut the door on God and open it to sin?

First, sin takes over. When you shut the door on God and open it to sin, sin takes over. Verse 8 says:

8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)

Notice that because there is a problem with Cain’s vertical relationship - his relationship with God - it creates problems in his horizontal relationships with other people. Verses 1 through 7 show us that Cain’s relationship with God isn’t right. He doesn’t trust God. He is holding out on God. He wants to do the bare minimum for God. Cain just wants to go through the motions and for God to be happy with it. But God doesn’t accept that so Cain thinks God is against him.

Then God gives him a choice: welcome me into your life or welcome sin. God shows Cain that he isn’t against him. But Cain chooses sin anyway. With both knocking at his door, why does he shut the door on God but open it to sin? Because he believes the same lie that his parents believed: that God isn’t that good and sin isn’t that bad. He believes sin is better than God and that sin has more to offer him so he lets it into his life. And he believes God is against him. God’s guidance in verse 7 can’t be trusted. If he believed God, then he would have done what God said.

Look at the disastrous effects of believing that God is against him: he murders his brother. At the root of Cain’s actions, is the belief that God is against him. And that belief grows the fruit of murder in his life. Cain believes God is against him so Cain is against his brother. If you think you disobey God and don’t do what he says because you are just making mistakes or that you just have bad habits, you are mistaken. You keep sinning and not doing what God says because of what you believe. When it comes to your beliefs, actions always speak louder than words. Do you find yourself always at odds with other people? Do you have a hard time getting along with coworkers? Do you fight with your parents, kids, spouse, os siblings? If you always find yourself against other people, it probably means you believe God is against you. It would be easy to look at Cain and think, “I’m nothing like that. I’ve never murdered someone and I never will.” But we are only a few steps - a few decisions - from being Cain and if we harbor the same beliefs as Cain, we may end up like him. Our first reading from 1 John 3 told us not to be like Cain who hated his brother. Instead, we are supposed to love others. So if we hate others, then we are like Cain. And how does it describe hate? Seeing someone’s need but walking by them and doing nothing about it.

First, sin takes over. Second, responsibility moves out. When you shut the door on God and open it to sin, responsibility moves out. Verse 9 says:

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

When Cain’s parents disobeyed God, they hid and when God questioned them, they blamed. This pattern escalates with Cain. God questions him and he lies. He knows exactly where his brother is; he’s dead in the ground. Then he denies all responsibility for his brother: am I my brother’s keeper? God, his Creator, questions Cain and he has the nerve to throw a question back at God suggesting that God’s question to him is inappropriate.

Which lead us to the third thing that happens when you shut the door on God and open it to sin: God is unwelcome in your life. Cain doesn’t think God should be questioning him and holding him accountable. He just wants God to buzz off.

If this is the case, then fourth: you are unwelcome in his presence. When you shut the door on God and open it to sin, you are unwelcome in his presence. Verse 10 says:

10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.12 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.” (Genesis 4:10-12)

The ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin and he was sent out of God’s presence in the garden of Eden. Because of Cain’s sin, the ground is again cursed and he is cast even further from God. Cain has already shut God out of his life and God makes sure Cain knows the result of his actions. If sin is at home in your life, you can’t be at home with God. If you welcome sin into your life, you won’t be welcome in God’s presence.

Fifth, selfishness moves in. When you shut the door on God and open it to sin, selfishness moves in. Responsibility moved out and selfishness took its place. Verse 13 says:

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13-14)

God confronts Cain about the evil act he has done but Cain expresses no remorse. He doesn’t express sadness about what he has done to his brother. He only complains about the consequences for himself. Sin makes us focus only on us.

Sixth and finally, sin infects and intensifies. When you shut the door on God and open it to sin, sin infects and intensifies. Starting in verse 17 and ending in verse 24, we hear how sin infects Cain’s family and intensifies as the years pass. We end with a song by Cain’s great, great, great, great grandson, Lamech. Lamech takes two wives, which is a violation of how God created marriage to work back in Genesis 2 between one man and one woman. Then verse 23 says:

23 Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain's revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:23-24)

Lamech boasts about his murderous, vengeful lifestyle. Cain was afraid that someone would kill him if he is sent out to be a wanderer and fugitive. But God says if anyone kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on that person sevenfold. In other words, God will enact justice on anyone who kills Cain. But then Lamech takes that promise from God and turns it into a license to seek his own revenge with greater severity. In verse 24 he says:

24 If Cain's revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:24)

Cain’s murder of his brother and his cold-hearted response to it infects his family and intensifies until it reaches a climax in Lamech who accumulates wives for himself and is proud of seeking revenge 77 times worse than what people do to him.

Interestingly, one of Jesus’ followers asked him, “How many times should I forgive someone? Seven times?” Jesus’ response is, “No, you should forgive them 77 times.” Jesus shows a better way than Lamech’s vengeance. Instead of seventy-sevenfold vengeance, you should show seventy-sevenfold forgiveness (Matt 18:22).

Cain welcomed sin into his life and in doing so, he allowed it to infect his whole family. But this passage is not all bad news. We learn two important truths about God.

First, God’s justice toward Cain is good news. We tend to believe the lie that God is overly strict and severe and should lighten up a bit. Can’t God just give Cain a break? Couldn’t he give Adam and Eve a break?

But God’s justice is good news. The fact that God doesn’t let people off the hook when they break his commands is a good thing. We want a God who is consistent and fair. When people break the law, we want police and judges to enforce the law. If they don’t, that means they are corrupt. God isn’t corrupt. You can count on him to always uphold justice and righteousness. You can count on him to always uphold the law.

It’s easy to believe that God judging people and punishing them is in contradiction to his love. But if God let evil go unpunished, that wouldn’t be loving. Of course, we all want to get off the hook for the wrong we have done. But we don’t want others to get off the hook for the wrong they’ve done to us. God’s love is one that doesn’t allow sin, disobedience, and evil to win the day. God loves us too much to let us live in the darkness of sin without experiencing the consequences. We would never repent from sin if there were no consequences.

Cain’s punishment is fitting. He becomes homeless. Verse 16 says:

16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:16).

Just like Adam and Eve were sent east out of God’s presence, Cain also moves further east of Eden, further from the presence of the Lord. God gives Cain what he wants. He doesn’t want God in his life. But Cain is also exiled from his family. He is sent out to be a wanderer and a fugitive because he killed his own brother. Cain’s actions have alienated him from God and his family. Perhaps you feel the same way. Perhaps you feel like your relationship with God and your family or other people is strained. There is good news.

The first truth we learn about God is that God’s justice toward Cain is good news. The second truth we learn is that God’s grace toward Cain is good news. It’s remarkable that God continues to deal with Cain. God comes to Cain and talks to him. Even when Cain shows total disregard for God and no remorse, God still puts a mark of protection on him. And God allows Cain to have children and allows them to succeed in music, metalworking, and raising livestock even though they are following in their father’s footsteps. Worldly success is not always a sign of God’s pleasure with someone. And even though Abel was godly, his life was cut short. God continues to let both good and bad people to live in his creation and continues to provide for both purely from his grace.

In this passage, we also learn an important truth about us. If we welcome God into our life, we can overcome sin. If we welcome God into our life, we can overcome sin. Sin has deep roots in our world and in our lives. It’s not like we just have a couple weeds in the garden; the whole thing is overrun.

But a glimmer of hope is given in verse 25. It says:

25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. (Genesis 4:25-26)

The glimpse of hope in the curses of chapter 3 was that Adam and Eve’s offspring would one day be able to defeat the serpent. Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel. Abel was godly. God accepted him. Perhaps he would defeat the serpent? But Cain killed him then sin took over Cain’s family. But here, Adam and Eve have another son named Seth and his family begins calling upon the name of the Lord. They welcome God into their life - they welcome his help, his instruction, his guidance, his discipline, his plans and agenda for them.

When the New Testament book of Luke traces Jesus’ family history, he traces it back to Seth. Jesus is the ultimate Snake Crusher. He is tempted like Adam in the wilderness but does not give into temptation. He trusts God and his word.

So what are signs that sin is welcome in your life? We could go back over all the symptoms in Cain’s life, but here are three. First, you don’t take responsibility for your sin when someone points it out. You justify or defend of blame instead of taking responsibility, saying you’re sorry, and turning away from it. Second, God is not welcome in your life. You set your plans and agenda and he doesn’t have a say. When he tells you to go one way, you take it under consideration instead of obeying. Third, you are selfish. You are focused on yourself when someone points out your sin or when you experience the consequences of your bad decisions. You feel no remorse but instead complain about how it’s affecting you. You play the victim.

We can be liberated from the grip of sin and Satan if we too welcome God into our lives. Sin’s goal is to take you down. God’s goal is to lift you up. It’s nothing but a downward spiral for Cain and his family once he gives into sin. When you welcome God into your life, he moves in and he makes us fit to be his dwelling. Jesus paid for all the times we welcomed sin into our lives even though he never did. Sin was always unwelcome in his life and yet he died the death of someone who did. Through him we can be forgiven for our sin. When God moves in, he restores the damage that sin caused when it lived in our lives.

Sins desire is to make you its slave. It doesn't just come in for a quick visit and leave with your life in tact. It takes over and runs the show. And it doesn't only want you. It wants your kids and their kids and their kids and their kids. The decisions you make today are decisions that will affect your great great great grandchildren. Leave them a legacy of saying “yes” to God and “no” to sin.

That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It means you need to show them what a life of trust and dependence on God looks like. If your kids are already older and grown, you can still start now. Show them what it looks like when their mom or dad changes their life to start following God. Show your grandkids. A change in your family starts with you welcoming God into your life and shutting the door on sin. If you don’t have kids, let your life show those around you what it looks like to welcome God in. Be a light.

As we go through the chapters 3 through 11 of Genesis, there is a lot of darkness. Adam and Eve opened the floodgates of sin, evil, and wickedness into God’s good world. These nine chapters show us just how bad sin is and we need to hear them because it is too easy to take sin lightly. It’s too easy to think disregarding God and disobeying his commands have no effect on us or our world. We still believe the lie of the serpent: God isn’t that good and sin isn’t that bad. These chapters show us otherwise. They aim to convince us of the badness of sin. But even though the sky is dark, there are rays of hope. We see the goodness and grace of God shining into the darkness to give us hope.

More in Genesis: Beginning the Journey Home

December 9, 2018

Jacob and the God More Powerful Than Him

December 2, 2018

Jacob and His Sons Fail to Walk with God

November 18, 2018

Jacob's Search for Acceptance