Genesis 4:1-15 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost)
“More Than I Can Bear”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 23, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Reading from Genesis 4:
1And Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of Yahweh.” 2And again, she bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a shepherd of sheep and goats, and Cain was a worker of the ground. 3And it happened in the course of days that Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground, an offering to Yahweh. 4And Abel also brought some of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And Yahweh looked upon Abel and his offering with favor. 5But He did not look upon Cain and his offering with favor. And Cain was very angry, and His face fell. 6And Yahweh said to Cain, “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? 7If you do well, will your face not be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but as for you, you must rule over it.” 8And Cain spoke to Abel, his brother, and while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. 9And Yahweh said to Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?” And he said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper? 10And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. 11And now, cursed are you from the ground which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground it will no longer produce for you. A fugitive and wanderer you will be on the earth.” 13And Cain said to Yahweh, “My punishment is too great to bear. 14Behold, you have driven me away this day from the face of the ground and I will be hidden from Your face. And I will be a fugitive and wanderer on earth and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15And Yahweh said to him, “Therefore, anyone who kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And Yahweh put a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should smite him.
“The stillness of that sacred grove Was broken, as the serpent strove With tempting voice Eve to beguile And Adam too by sin defile. O day of sadness when the breath Of fear and darkness, doubt and death, Its awful poison first displayed Within the world so newly made.” How powerfully Pastor Stephen Starke paints the picture of Genesis 3 and the Fall into sin in the hymn, “The Tree of Life”! Fear and darkness, doubt and death enveloped God’s “very good” creation like a dense fog over the newly harvested fields. And God came to Adam and Eve, asking, “Where are you?” But they hid themselves from His face. In their guilt and shame, they could no longer look into God’s eyes and be right in His presence.
Years later, the sin-power inherited from Cain’s parents, Adam and Eve, was ready to break out in sin-deed. Sin was crouching at the door ready to pounce and overpower. And when sin sprang, murder was the result. Like his parents before him, God approached Cain. This time it was not, “Where are you?” but rather, “Where is Abel, your brother? What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now, cursed are you from the ground which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer produce for you. A fugitive and wanderer you will be on the earth.” And Cain knew what this meant. “Behold, you have driven me away this day from the face of the ground and I will be hidden from Your face.”
The ultimate punishment for sin is separation from God, that if not remedied, becomes what is more accurately called hell or damnation. It is eternal death apart from God. In Cain’s continued earthly existence after the murder of his brother, he saw only this separation from God. It is as if Cain was saying, “Now I can no longer be an effective farmer. The ground that received Abel’s blood is cursed because of me and it will no longer produce for me. What’s more, God will now hide His face from me. He will no longer be with me and whoever finds me will surely kill me. I’m as good as dead now. My punishment is too great for me to carry.”
There is, you could say, poetic justice in the punishment for Cain’s sin. Having defiled the ground with his brother’s blood, it is only “fair” that Cain would find it difficult to grow crops from that ground. We would say that the punishment fits the crime. But it’s probably not this aspect of the punishment that Cain dreads the most. It is the fact that Cain would be “hidden from” God’s face, separated from God even now, experiencing what we would probably call “hell on earth,” hell literally being the place where God is not. To be hidden from God’s face is to be concealed from His presence. To be concealed from His presence means to be separated from God and all that He is.
There are times when that might not be so bad. For example, David prays in Psalm 51, “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities” (Psa. 51:9 ESV). In this case, David does not want to be in God’s presence so that God will not look upon His sin. Rather, David prays that God would hide His face and blot out David’s sin according to His mercy and grace. Think of it like this, changing a really dirty diaper on your child. You don’t want to see it. You don’t want to smell it. You turn your head as much as you can and get that diaper off and into the diaper pail as fast as you can. Blot it out! The reality of diaper changing, however, is that you have to be in the presence of the dirty diaper. You can only turn your head for a moment as you “blot out” the grossness. That’s what David asks regarding His sin. “God, turn your head for a moment. Don’t really look with intent upon my sins. Don’t take a deep whiff. Just get rid of them so I can be right in your presence.”
To be separated from God’s presence, totally hidden from it, however, is altogether different. It isn’t just for a moment. It’s more permanent. “I will be hidden from your face. And I will be a fugitive and wanderer on earth and whoever finds me will kill me because I am no longer under Your care. I’m lost and condemned because of my sin, and I have earned by that the punishment of hell, separation from God forever.”
All humanity has earned that punishment because all have inherited sin power that blossoms into sin-deed. “For the wages of sin is death,” both physical death and eternal damnation forever separated from God (Rom. 6:23). Your punishment and mine is this too. We deserve nothing but God’s wrath and condemnation because of the sin with which we are conceived and born, called original sin. And this original sin causes us to “do sin” in thought, desire, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we leave undone. In this condition, the King would say to us at the Last Day, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41 ESV). Our punishment is more than we can bear—forever separated, apart, from the Lord and Giver of Life so that we would only experience endless death.
“I will be hidden from Your face. And I will be a fugitive and wanderer on earth and whoever finds me will kill me.” But Yahweh said to Cain, “Therefore, anyone who kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And Yahweh put a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should smite him. To Cain, a murderer of his own brother, God gave mercy. Some translate the “therefore” as “Not so!” “Whoever finds me will kill me,” Cain said to God. And God said to Cain, “Not so! I will show you mercy and grace.” And in some way God marked Cain and, in this mark, assured Cain that he was not forsaken or abandoned by God. Yahweh in His mercy and grace would remain with Cain throughout his days.
Yahweh is the God of mercy and the God of grace. He has given His grace and mercy, His loving-kindness, His undeserved love, to all fallen humanity. In the fullness of time, God the Son became the seed of the woman in His incarnation. The eternal Son of God took to Himself a true human body and soul in the womb of the virgin Mary by the power of God the Holy Spirit. He became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Quite the opposite of abandoning His creation, the Creator took on creation’s flesh and blood and lived among us for a time. Jesus—Yahweh saves—is the promised Seed of Genesis 3:15. He is “God in man made manifest”! (LSB 394). Jesus came to seek and to save those lost under the condemnation of sin and the punishment of eternal death.
And so it was that Jesus, true God and true Man, placed Himself under our sentence of death, although He had done no wrong. He had not sinned, nor was there any sin in Him. Nevertheless, out of His great love and mercy, He bore our sins in His body on a cross. Jesus was forsaken, abandoned, separated from God in that cosmic experience of hell itself as He suffered in pain, pouring out His blood into death for the life of the world. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt. 27:46 ESV). He cried out in dereliction so that you and I and the whole world would never, ever have to do so. And in His final cry, “It is finished,” you have the assurance that your sins are forgiven—the original sin with which you were born, and the sins of thought, word, desire, and deed that you have committed as well as all the good you have failed to do. It’s all forgiven. It’s all atoned for. Covered in the blood of Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone, you are right with God. He will not hide His face, His presence, from you. Jesus says to you, “I am with you always.”
To give and to assure us this amazing gift of love and grace, the Lord has put a “mark” upon you. We don’t know what protective mark Yahweh put upon Cain. But we do know the mark placed upon us. A cross mark, a water mark! The mark or sign of the cross is made upon those who are baptized. “Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your T forehead and upon your T heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” A beautiful image and reminder of all Christ Jesus has done for you with His death and resurrection and what He does for you in Baptism, uniting you to Himself in His own death and resurrection through baptismal waters. The water combined with God’s Word is poured upon your head in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are now water-marked in Christ and have been given by Baptism saving faith, the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.
Rev. Rossow from our St. Louis Seminary put it like this, “Conceived in sin and born in iniquity, we enter this world, like Cain, fugitives and vagabonds, hidden from the face of God, and destined for a destruction greater than we can bear, crying out, ‘If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?’ (Ps. 130:3). Instead of marking our iniquities, our Lord marks us as His own children in Baptism.” Our punishment for sin—death and hell—were carried by Jesus to the cross and the gave for us. In His resurrection, Jesus left our sin and its curse dead and buried in the tomb as He rose again for us. In Baptism, He claims us as His own people, His brothers and sisters, children of the heavenly Father. He has marked us with the seal of Baptism in water and Word. Our sins are forgiven by His mercy and grace. We stand right before God the Father in the blood of Christ, never separated from Him. He is with you now and forever. Amen.