The birth of a child is something truly special, especially if it’s your first child. Sometime before Faith was born, my brother-in-law was trying to describe to me what it would be like when she was born. The thing is, he couldn’t really put it into words. There is really nothing which can describe that instant love you have for someone else, for your child the first time you truly see them. Having your hopes, dreams, and joy all bundled up in a baby’s blanket and handed to you for the first time is absolutely breathtaking. As great as it is for you and me, imagine for a moment how Adam and Eve felt when their first born Cain made his grand entrance into the world.
To really grasp this though, we have to back up to chapter 3. There we find the Adam and Eve living peacefully in the Garden of Eden, having daily walks with God, and tending to the perfect creation. But then the serpent puts doubt into their minds. The serpent makes them believe that they should no longer be content being creatures of God living in the garden, taking care of it and listening to God, no, the serpent makes them believe that they should want to be in charge and they can be in charge and that they can be like God. This sin of wanting to be like God, this is what led them to the eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which they weren’t suppose to eat.
Upon their eating of the fruit, their eyes were opened and they all of a sudden realized what it was they had just done. They’re devastated, they’re scared and they do what any scared disobedient child does … they hide. But God doesn’t let them hide, He comes to them. God comes to them already knowing what had happened and yet He asks the man, “have you eaten from the tree that I command you not to eat from?” (Gen. 3:11). “That woman you put here, it’s her fault!” The woman is like, “Nuh-uh! This ain’t my fault! That talking serpent You made, he deceived me!” Parents, you know these kind of arguments, the ones when you ask each child who did something and everyone says “not me”? When I was younger, “not me” did a lot of stuff, but yet both my brother and I got punished. Same thing here. Everyone is shifting the blame and so not only do the man and woman receive the punishment for their sin, so does the whole creation. And yet, in the midst of the punishments, there is this glimmer of hope. God speaking to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal.”
Banished and living outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve have to figure out how to live on their own. In the midst of this, Eve becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, to her firstborn. She names him Cain and most translations have her saying something like, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” or “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Gen. 4:1). However, a more literal translation of the Hebrew has Eve saying, “I have gotten a man, the LORD.” Notice the difference? Bore Cain with the help of the LORD or she believes Cain is the LORD. The more literal translation fits in more with the promise which God made to Adam and Eve. You see, they both believed that promise and had faith that God had sent the Promised One, the LORD, to clean up the mess they made in the Garden. Their hopes and dreams of things being fixed and going back to how they were before were all wrapped up in that baby’s blanket. How disappointing it was when this son turns out to be the first murderer instead.
But how did Cain become the first murder? Well the obvious answer is he is the first one to kill a person, but let’s dig a little deeper than that. Listen again to these words. “In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Gen. 4:3-4). It’s not a case of farmer verses shepherd, grain versus animal. God will use both of them later on. The issue here is with the attitude in which the offering is given. The LORD desires first-fruit giving, not leftovers. Abel offered the best part from the firstborn of his flock, Cain, he gave the LORD his leftovers.
Because Abel gave from the firstborn of his flock, “the LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering” (Gen. 4:4). Now you can imagine that didn’t sit well with Cain. He’s the first born son, he’s believed by his parents to be the chosen one, the one who would clean up the mess they made in the Garden. But instead, Cain out of anger and embarrassment, says, “Hey Abel, let’s go for a walk out in the field, I want to show you something.” And out in that field is where Cain kills Abel and spills innocent blood.
Already knowing what had happened, the LORD comes to Cain and asks him, “Hey, where is your brother Abel?” Cain responds, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” Like his parents, Cain tries to shift the blame. Adam blamed the woman the LORD gave him. Eve blamed the serpent the LORD created. They both blamed God for their disobedience and Cain is following right along in their footsteps. “It’s not my fault, You made all this, You set this all up. Aren’t you suppose to be the keeper of all things?” It’s Cain’s use of “keeper” where he shifts all the blame over to the LORD.
And the LORD is the “keeper” of all things. Scripture make that very clear. In the Aaronic blessing, our benediction it says, “The LORD bless you and keep you …”. In the Psalms, in one of my favorites, in Psalm 121 it says, “The LORD is your keeper.” It’s the LORD who “keeps” His people and His creation. He is the creator and sustainer, the keeper of all things. So through Cain’s response, we can see how it is he is blaming God for not protecting, for not keeping Abel safe from him. Like father, like son.
And like father, like son … Cain is punished for his act of murder. The punishment is the same as that of Adam. Adam use to walk with God in the Garden, after his sin, he was separated from him by having to live outside the Garden. After Cain’s sin of murdering his brother, Cain is being separated from the LORD and if that isn’t enough, he is also separated from the land and his family. Cain is left to wander the earth. Nothing could be worse than to have the LORD turn His face away from and to be separated from Him. Total separation from God is exactly what hell is. Cain even says that. “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wander on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Gen. 4:13-14). Cain is worried about his future.
God eases that pain for him. He promises Cain that if anyone kills him, they will suffer even more than Cain. And then the LORD places a mark on Cain. We don’t know what this mark was, we don’t know what it looks like, but the LORD puts this mark on Cain to assure him that he is not to be killed by anyone who comes across him. The mark, it’s a sign of God’s grace. With the mark the LORD preserves Cain’s life, which gives him time and the opportunity to repent, to return before the face of God. Whether he does or not, we don’t know.
Like father, like son, like daughter … you and I may not be physically killing anyone like Cain did, but just like with Adam and Eve, with each sin we commit, with each time we go up against God and His law … that’s just another time we are trying to put ourselves in the place of God and another time in which we take step away from Him. With each sin we commit, the gap, the separation between you and God, between me and God, it continues to grow. And this should concern us for if we stray too far … we could become left to wander the earth and cast out of God’s presence forever.
And so to ease our concern, to give us peace, God gives you a mark. Unlike Cain, you know the mark. You may not remember it, but you have a received a mark. When I go to baptize a child or an adult, there is a part in the service in which I say, “Faith, receive the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” You are marked by God at the holy waters of baptism.
But what if I wasn’t baptized in a Lutheran church? Well you still receive the marking of the cross. After we confess our sins, I typically say something like, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As I say those words, I make the sign of the cross to mark you as one who is forgiven. At the end of the service when I pronounce the benediction upon you, I again make the sign of the cross to mark you as one who has received the blessing of God and the peace of God. That blessing, that peace … it goes with you, just as our crucified and risen Savior goes with you. The cross is a mark which you can look to and know, believe in your heart that you are chosen by God. You come back to Him knowing the forgiveness He offers. You come back to Him knowing the peace which He provides. You come back to knowing that through the cross of Christ, you have the promises of His presence and of an eternal life to come. Life isn’t always easy. It isn’t always full of happiness and it isn’t always wrapped up in a cute baby’s blanket. The hope and joy of life comes from the cross and what it is which Jesus has done for you. So having been marked with a blessing of the cross, go in peace and share God’s love, knowing that the Prince of Peace, our Savior Jesus Christ, goes with you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.