The Old Testament story of Cain and Abel shows us some amazing things if we are willing to look at it closely. Abel humbly came to God on God’s terms. Abel’s brother Cain proudly came on his own terms.
Hebrews 11:4 “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.”
Now, Cain and Abel were born into a fallen race just like you and me. In order to understand the impact of this story in our life, we have to go to the book of Genesis. Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s sons.
Now, Adam and Eve, in the purest sense, were not people of faith. They didn’t need faith in the garden of Eden. In the beginning, it was Adam and Eve in the garden with God. They were innocent. But they didn’t need faith to approach God. God came down every day in the cool of the evening and while Adam and Eve understood and knew the Shekinah glory of God, they didn’t need faith in regard to their relationship with God.
Of course, we know how that ended, Adam and Eve chose to eat of the fruit God said not to eat of, and they got kicked out of the garden. Mankind fell. Before they fell there was no need for a covering, the scripture clearly tells us that they were both naked and felt no shame. But once a knowledge of sin came, they felt the need to cover themselves. They gathered fig leaves and they tried to cover themselves because they knew that God would come down in the cool of the day.
But God in in his love and his mercy showed them the only way they could now approach him. Even though they were being kicked out of the garden of Eden, it was obvious that God still wanted a relationship with them. So, God found an animal, and it was killed. God made tunics of skin to clothe them. We are not sure what kind of animal. But what we do know is that blood was shed. Something died to be able to cover up Adam and Eve’s shame.
Genesis 3:21 says “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.”
This was a powerful illustrated message to Adam and to his descendants. It should have spoken powerfully to Cain and Abel. God was laying down a spiritual precedent that was not just for Adam and Even and Cain and Abel, but all of us today. Man’s way of dealing with sin is not sufficient. Man’s thinking won’t do. Your fig leaves will not cover you up. There has to be blood that is spilled.
We begin to understand first of all that…
- GOD SHOWED MANKIND HOW TO COME TO HIM
I am glad today that we have the Bible that clearly tells us that Jesus is the way. It plainly says that only through the shed blood of Jesus we can come to him. That was foreshadowed in this situation with the first family in the lives of Cain and Abel.
As we are going to see the sons of Adam knew how to approach God. Cain and Abel knew from Adam and Eve that blood had to be shed to be able to approach God.
Genesis 4:2-5 tells us what happened: “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.”
If you just read the scripture without understanding the context of it, you would think that God was a cruel, unfair judge in all of this. You would think that somehow, he just loved Abel more than Cain. But that is not the case. While we do not have a record of God giving exact instructions on how to approach God and to worship. Here are the first two brothers coming to God, approaching Him in worship. We can imply that instructions were given.
Let me give three things that are implied in this passage
- There was a place where God was to be worshipped.
They had to bring that sacrifice to somewhere. Right? In Genesis 4:3-4, it says that they “brought” their sacrifices somewhere. This indicated that the Lord was somewhere where you could bring something. There had to be somewhere, someplace where they brought their gifts to God. I think that it’s very possible that the place was at the east of Eden, where God had placed an angel with a flaming sword and perhaps there was an altar there.
And it’s very likely that at the last place where God had spoken to Adam and Eve, –as they left the garden, where God had placed that angel –that that was the established point of contact with God.
Genesis 3:24 “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”
The very fact that there was a place where they knew that could come and sacrifice to the Lord shows us the grace and the mercy of God. God wanted them to come. Maybe there was even an altar there for Cain and Abel. And isn’t it interesting that God, in the initial moment that He expels man, he also provides a place by which man can come back and worship Him. We could call that place a “mercy seat.”
And that mercy seat, like the later mercy seat in Israel, was protected by cherubim. And the divine presence was there, perhaps, in some way. Whoever would worship God would approach this mercy seat by the way of sacrifice. So, there was a place where God was to be worshipped.
Aren’t you glad that you don’t have to come to a certain place to worship God? The veil has been torn in two. You don’t have to come to a church or a temple or an ancient altar to worship. You can worship in your bedroom. You can worship in your car. You can worship as you go for a walk. And then…
- There was a time for worship.
Genesis 4:3 says, “And in process of time, it came to pass…” Now, if you research that in the Hebrew, it really means at the end of days; literally, at the end of a certain prescribed time, it was time for sacrifice.
Maybe God had revealed that moment, kind of like a day of atonement, a special day. Perhaps this was the first occasion here recorded in chapter 4. We don’t really know. But He established a time when they were to come. I think that’s also indicated by virtue of the fact that they both came at the same time. Here are Cain and Abel coming at the exact same time to worship the Lord. They seemingly both had information regarding this sacrifice.
- There was a way to worship.
Not only a place and a time, but a way. God could be approached – now check this out – God could be approached only by sacrifice. Cain and Abel had been instructed that there was a place, that there was a time. And I believe that presupposes that they had also been instructed that there was a way to sacrifice. Now, Cain and Abel wouldn’t have known anything at all about doing this if God hadn’t told them. Right? Because the concept of sacrifice appears here for the very first time.
And so, they must have had some information from God about time, place, and how to. It’s presupposed by the very nature of the situation. They came to a place ready to make a sacrifice. There must have been something there for which they could – which they could use to do it. They came together, at the same time, to the same place. But they came with differing offerings, but God only accepted one of them, which indicates God had already established a pattern for them.
Now we know that faith comes by hearing. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by” – what’s the next word? – “hearing.” You cannot put your faith in what you do not know. Therefore, to assume that Abel offered a sacrifice by faith is also to assume that he heard from God what God wanted, and he believed God and obeyed God. You see? If faith then comes by hearing, Abel’s faith must have come by information from God. Beyond that they had the testimony of Adam and Eve. Why are you wearing that sheepskin dad? Well, son, that is because we tried to hide ourselves from God with fig leaves and God showed us that to come before him, blood had to be shed and garments provided.
- CAIN DECIDED TO COME TO GOD ON HIS OWN TERMS AND WAS REJECTED
There are a lot of people today who have gone in what the scripture describes as the way of Cain.
Jude 11 “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain…” The way of Cain refers to those who invent ways they think will be acceptable to come before God. There are many false religions in the world. Listen, no amount of religion will get you to God. There is only one way we can come to God.
Abel thought he could come however he wanted. He didn’t need to bring a blood sacrifice. He would just bring the fruit of his crops. We cannot come in pride saying, look at all the good things that I have done. Look at the fruit of my life! Nor can we come to God and say, I am just going to continue in my sin. There is no amount of good works that we can do, that will cover up the stain of sin in our lives.
A few weeks ago, a young man, a young Jehovah Witness came to my door. He was maybe 15, and he started to talk with me about his religion. I asked him a simple question: “If you were to die tonight and stand before God and he were to ask you, why should I let you into my heaven? What would you say?” He immediately answered, “Because I live a good life and I am out here testifying of Jehovah.” That young man unfortunately was underneath a teaching that lead him in the way of Cain.
He was saying I am going to come to God by working hard and showing him my fruit. Then God will accept me. I began to explain to him who I was. I said to him, I too, have been a missionary. We sold almost all of our belongings at one time to become missionaries. We gave up being able to see our parents for four years. We risked our children’s lives on the mission field. We have been faithful to live a holy life. We have been faithful in proclaiming the Word of God. But guess what?
All of that will not take away one sin that I have committed!
There is only one way that Bob Millsaps can have any righteousness at all. Like the old song says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” If I were to die tonight and stand before God and he were to say why should I let you in to my heaven. I cannot say, “Look at the miracles that I prayed for. Look at the demons I cast out. Listen to the sermons I preached. I cannot point to any good work to gain entrance into heaven.”
It is only by the blood of Jesus. There is only one way any person can gain right standing before God. That is through the shed blood of a lamb. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What did Cain do? Genesis 4:2 “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord.”
It would seem logical to you and me that would have been an acceptable sacrifice. However, that is not the sacrifice that God required. And God did not accept his sacrifice. God had already taught the idea of substitution. The wages of sin is death. All humanity is under the curse of death. The only way to approach God is by substituting a blood sacrifice that God will accept in your behalf. And Cain knew this.
Listen to the conversation he had with God: Genesis 4:5-7 “but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Cain was angry. All Cain had to do was to bring a blood sacrifice to God. Come to God on God’s terms. But even when God entreated him, he refused. Cain had to acknowledge his own rebellion against God. God was saying, just go get a sacrifice with blood. As I read that passage, I see the grace and love of God… sweetly urging Cain to do what was right. But Cain was saying, I will bring what I want. And when God didn’t accept it, he was angry.
Do you know why he was angry, he didn’t want to repent. He didn’t want to do what was right.
A couple of years ago, a friend and I were eating at Logan’s and my friend introduced me as his pastor. And almost immediately I got anger. The waitress replied, “I don’t think church is for me because God accepts me the way I am. Church people don’t accept me, but God accepts me.” I asked, “What do you mean?” She said, “I am not married, I live with a man, I don’t need marriage. I don’t have to follow Gods ways and God accepts me.”
She is coming to God on her own terms. That is sin. One of the hot button issues in Christianity today is this whole Gay Lesbian, Bisexual, movement that is out there. Some might think I would be picking on homosexuals by saying this. I want to say something:
Sexual Sin is sexual sin.
Adultery is just as wrong. Fornication is just as wrong. One night stands are just as wrong. But if you want to see the anger like Cain, just point a homosexual to h passage in the word that says, hey you have to repent. I have had people tell me who were in bondage to sexual sins of many sorts in angry ways. “We will come to God the way we want to.” That my friend is the way of Cain.
The sad part is that it didn’t stop there with Cain being angry. It didn’t stop there, but Cain murdered his brother Abel in the field. Abel’s blood fell to the ground and he died there. Cain became the first murderer. Pretty sad seeing that was the first family.
But that is what happens when we think we know more than God. When we say, “I will live the way I want. I will do whatever I want. I don’t care what God says. I don’t care what his Word says. It only leads to difficulty.
Read the rest of the chapter. Cain never repented. He only complained of his punishment.
- ABEL CAME TO GOD ON GOD’S TERMS AND WAS ACCEPTED
I want you to imagine what it must have been like growing up in the household of Adam and Eve.
They would share with their children how they had lived in the garden of Eden and had disobeyed God by eating of the fruit. Dad would come home and he was now weary because he was working by the sweat of his brow. Mom would talk of pain in childbirth. They no doubt told their children that to be with God one had to have a covering. Blood had to be spilled. The whole family knew the wages of sin was death. But God in his mercy had begun something that theologians today call Substitutionary Atonement.
Abel knew that to go before God, it required blood to be shed. If you want to come to God, and know God, and find forgiveness of sin, and have a relationship with God. I have really good news. It is spelled out how you come to God. There has to be blood spilled. Hebrews 9:22 NKJV “And according to the law almost all things are]purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” NIV says, “…and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Why not? It’s important to note that it is not the physical act of shedding blood that is the key. If that were the case, Jesus could have just had a cut on the arm and shed blood for us all! No, shedding blood is just a way of referring to the fact that without death, there is no forgiveness of sins. Throughout the Bible, the punishment for sin is death.
This starts right back in Genesis 2:17 , when God said to Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” That day Adam suffered spiritual death, separation from God.
Later on, he also experienced physical death, and that has continued to this day. This is powerfully shown in Genesis 5, which is a list of Adam’s descendants. We are told the name of each one, how long they lived, and then the phrase, and he died.
This is also affirmed in the New Testament. In Paul’s letter to the Romans 6:23 he writes that the wages of sin is death. So, blood has to be shed because the punishment for sin is death.
However, this leads us to another question. Why is the punishment for sin so serious? Isn’t death a bit over the top? To answer this question, we need to look at what sin is. Sin isn’t just a few silly things that we’ve done that can be ignored. Sin is rebellion against God, and it is so serious because of the greatness of the one we are rebelling against. In most countries, the severity of a crime depends not just on your actions, but also who you are committing the crime against.
In the UK, hitting someone would count as common assault. Hitting a police officer is a separate and more serious crime. Hitting the Queen would land you in jail for a long time! The seriousness of the offence depends on the one to whom it is against. God is the one who made us and gave us life, and continues to give us life and breath each moment; He is our Creator. Years ago, if someone committed treason against their government or their king, the death penalty would have been given.
How much more then, if each one of us has rebelled against the one who made us and enables to exist, is this a treasonous act, worthy of the death penalty? We may think this is harsh, but that’s because we’re not unbiased. We’re the ones who deserve to receive God’s justice! That’s the crime each one of us is guilty of and the punishment does fit the crime.
So why can’t God just let us off? Why can’t he ignore sin? It is not because he lacks compassion or mercy or a desire to forgive. It is because God is a God of justice.
The good news is that he has provided a way for us to come to Him. That way is through the shedding of blood. As you read through the Bible, it becomes more and more clear the love God has for us.
In fact, we powerfully see it, Abel offered a lamb for one person. When the Children of Israel left Egypt, God required the blood of one lamb for each family. When God established the day of atonement, he required one sacrifice per year for the nation of Israel. And finally, when the perfect lamb of God hung on a cross, it was a lamb for the whole world.
Why not put your complete trust in the shed blood of Jesus today? Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord! Turn from any and all sin and obey the Word! The same loving Jesus who laid down His own life for you, will become your constant friend and companion and he will guide you in the paths of righteousness.