Genesis 4:5-8 “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 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 master it.’ Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”
The first murder in the world was a terrible event; the angels looked down in horror at the sight of a person made in the image of their Lord and Master lying dead on the ground; they also looked aghast at Cain, another man who bore God’s likeness, who had actually killed his own brother. It was not because of poverty, or a deprived upbringing and parental abuse that Cain murdered Abel. He couldn’t plead he had been hardened by looking at pornography or by reading horror stories. He had not been calloused by war or brutalized by the sight of its many victims. Cain had not fallen in with bad company and so been led astray. None of those things was true. Where must we look for the explanation of such evil?
Cain’s parents must bear their share of blame. Once they had been perfect men and women mightily blessed by Jehovah. God loved them, gave them everything and spoke to them simply and directly; both Adam and Eve had clearly heard the Word of God and one thing it forbade them to do was to take from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they’d listened to the voice of the serpent and had defied the Lord. They had rebelled against God, took the fruit and ate it and done what was evil in his sight. They began to die that very moment, and inevitably that death was going to register itself in physical death. The children whom they gave birth to showed the same spiritual rebellion through this genetic-spiritual union in fallenness with their parents. The kids received a sinful heart from their parents; they lived at enmity against God going astray from their mother’s wombs. No greater proof of this innate depravity could be seen than in the violent incident before us. It was not that first children born in the world were occasionally petulant and could say an unkind word to one another. It was not that after centuries passed that men and women became more violent. No. Immediately one killed another – there in the very first generation of mankind. A child of Adam and Eve grew up to become a murderer and the one he murdered was his lifelong playmate and bedmate, bone of his bone and flesh or his flesh, his own brother. King David had to acknowledge after his terrible sin, “I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psa. 51:5). Cain would also have to admit the ultimate reason for his behaviour in similar words, and so do we all. Look at the behaviour of any child; look at the way of the whole world. Isn’t the doctrine of depravity scientifically confirmed? Let us see the descent to murder in the life of Cain. Where did it start?
1. SIN CAME FROM WITHIN CAIN.
Sin is within each of us. The Lord Jesus said that, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” (Mk. 7:15). The apostle Paul refers to this indwelling sin as the ‘law of sin,’ ‘this body of death,’ ‘my sinful nature,’ ‘my flesh,’ ‘sin living in me.’ James describes to us the way that this inward corruption will at times flare up and overcome us, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14&15). Then see how our text is plain in confirming the inward source of Cain’s murder; Moses tells us that “Cain was very angry” (v.5). In other words, the heinous death of his own brother had its first stirrings in a heart of hatred. The Lord Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matt. 5:21-23). You think there is a chasm between anger towards a man and killing that man, but Jesus says it’s but a membrane. The same commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” is being broken whether it is hatred in the heart, words of contempt on the lips or with a club in the hands. The disciple John, especially loved by Jesus, says by the Holy Ghost, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (I Jn. 3:15).
2. SIN’S FIRST APPEARANCE WAS A DOWNCAST FACE.
More than that we are told that the anger which Cain felt in his heart he actually displayed on his countenance; “His face was downcast” (v.5). He showed to all his contempt and rage for the decision of God in rejecting his offering, and for the blessing his brother knew; he paraded it for anyone to see. I remember an elder once saying about a few people in a church members’ meeting, “I could see the anger on their faces.” It’s a terrible thing. We seek to mortify our sins, our contempt and bitterness and hatred, but when we’re willing to parade before the whole congregation our sin then we are glorying in our shame.
I often have reminded you that there are theological and doctrinal truths which God has taken such pains to teach us. Such we must believe. They are the historic Christian faith. Then there are also principles of ethical and moral conduct which God requires of everyone who claims to be his child. Such we are to do; they are the historic Christian life. But I have often reminded you of one more thing, and will do so again for to me that is safe. There is a whole range of acceptable emotional responses to God and his providence that the Lord also requires of us. For example, God demands from us love and joy and peace, and are they not godly emotions? Yes, I know that they are much more than that; they are stringently ethical, but you may not remove them from that sphere of godly affections. God also requires contentment, or again, we are told that God loves a cheerful spirit. Our Saviour desires an attitude of trust and delight in God’s ways. I would guess that the Christians who made the greatest impact on our lives did so first of all by sweet emotions, their rejoicing and tranquillity and love. That is what impressed us so much about them. We admired their personalities, and we wanted to be like them, and later we discovered more and more about what they believed about Jesus Christ and his grace and his free salvation. Some time passed before we made discovery about their strong moral and ethical convictions. First of all we were won by the way they handled both grievous and blessed providences – such as we must all face in this fallen world. They behaved so sweetly because they were Bible-believing Christians.
So God stands before men and women and he challenges them about their emotions. Our Lord’s most frequent command to his disciples was, “Fear not!” It’s a sin to respond to providence by panicking. Our Lord also told his disciples, “Do not worry,” (Matt. 6:25). To fret is a sin. The Lord through the self-consciousness of the psalmist says to himself, “Why are you downcast O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psa. 42:5). He repeats that interrogation three times in the next ten verses. The Lord looks at Elijah lying suicidally under the juniper tree and he says to him, “What are you doing here Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9). There is no justification for the prophet or the psalmist behaving as they did. God approaches the prophet Jonah and he says to him, “Have you any right to be angry?” (Jon. 4:4), and of course he had no such right. There are emotions that are simply sinful emotions, and they are as sinful as stealing, as sinful as committing adultery, as sinful as lying. The anger that started in Cain’s heart soon showed itself in Cain’s face.
3. CAIN’S SIN SOUGHT TO JUSTIFY ITSELF BY RELIGIOUS REASONS.
How often do we find that? Very often. Men in the past hundred years have pleaded a religion, or a philosophy, or a theory as justification for killing millions of people. They do so still. Cain’s anger burned until it resulted in a murder and it all came out of religious reasons. The one true and living God was the One who rejected Cain’s worship, the One who made this known to Cain. He refused to accept Cain’s offering, and Cain knew it. God is not someone who leaves the world in the dark until the Day of Judgment, only then explaining to people his standards. God has put a conscience inside us all. He condemns us when we do wrong and encourages us when we do well. God has given the 66 inspired books of the Bible to mankind. The world by Scripture knows what God is like, how all men without exception need to be saved, and that the Saviour is the Lamb of God who alone takes away the sin of the world. None other Lamb! None other Name! None other hope in heaven or earth or sky! None other hiding place from sin and shame! None beside Thee! It is not that men will not know this until they meet him after death. It is plain in the Bible, and his principles of conduct are written in the hearts of all men.
This God did not look on Cain’s offering with favour. “This is not the way to approach me,” said God. “Abel’s way is the acceptable way. By trusting in me; by bringing the fat portions of the firstborn of the flock to me. Bring me the best!” Cain had not done that. He imagined God to think just like he thought, and that God would accept whatever he sincerely brought him. He brought his agenda for religion to God for the approval of the divine rubber stamp, but the Lord said No. Instead of Cain pricking up his ears, vowing to get it right immediately, hurrying off and getting a firstborn lamb from his brother and sacrificing that to God Cain internalized the rejection. “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice? What does God think he is doing telling me how I’m to approach him? Who is my younger brother Abel to bring a sacrifice acceptable to God?” He hated God for saying No to him. God had to be the great affirmer of everybody, and Cain hated him and his brother.
Is there any greater hatred than religious and ideological hatred? Don’t you find that when the Lord Jesus was on this earth? He rebuked the Sadducees and the chief priests for their religion; he told the Pharisees that their creed was unacceptable. He told Pontius Pilate that he was Christ the Lord not Caesar. They all hated him more and more, especially when he didn’t back down; men who formally despised one another ganged together and plotted his murder, and it all grew from Jehovah Jesus rejecting their religion. Jesus could have lived to a ripe old age and died in bed surrounded by his grandchildren if he had stuck to healing people, and stopped rebuking the religious leaders of his day, but he couldn’t be a faithful servant of the Creator who sent him into the world without saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me” (Jn. 14:6). It was to sign his death sentence to make a claim like that, but make it he did – God’s great prophet.
So it has been through the history of the church. “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard,” said the apostles, and so it was the most religious people who hated them, stoning them to death, killing them with the sword and perpetrating all kinds of abominations upon them. They were so angry with them that they took their lives away. They killed William Tyndale for translating the Bible into English; they killed hundreds of men and women under Queen Mary. They are killing hundreds of people in the Middle East and south Sudan and Pakistan today, and they are religious people who are doing this because they hate our God and what he clearly says is acceptable religion.
There is nothing as bitter, relentless and merciless as religious anger. Sinners take it to their graves. They think that if they can clothe their anger in religious terms that that will justify their behaviour. If they plead great Christian convictions that this somehow excuses their loveless attitudes to their neighbours or their religious brethren. I tell you it does not. What does the Saviour say? “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” – even if that anger is motivated by religion. You are playing with the fires of hell in refusing to love a fellow Christian. Your anger is a sign of a murderous heart.
4. GOD PLEADS WITH THE WORST OF SINNERS TO CHANGE.
But I have to tell you something else, that God has brought you to this very moment in your life not to condemn you for your anger but to save you. He is now giving you another chance of seeking his mercy even though your anger might have resulted in your killing your own brother. I must affirm this truth even though the result may be that you abuse such words of grace. I want to assure you that this may not be the final time he will give you such an opportunity. He will probably speak to you again about this – though that is his sovereign option. Listen to what he said to Cain, and what he is saying to you, “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 master it” (v.7). The blood of his own brother is still trickling out of his corpse; the horror of the action could not be more vivid, and yet God doesn’t say to this murderous man, “Wicked man! You’re fast bound for hell!” No. The Lord pleads with him to do what is right. “Change your life! Change your attitude to approaching me. Change your attitude to your own brother. Please change. Turn around. Do what is right and then you will be accepted.” God doesn’t come and smile at Cain and assure the murderer of his ‘unconditional love.’ God is pleading for Cain to show a repentant attitude.
Is there any salvation without repentance? Has one unrepentant sinner ever entered heaven? Not one. In the glory you will meet a company of people more than anyone can number. They come from every nation and tongue and tribe and they all have this one thing in common, they all have turned from their sins. Everyone of them has repented of what they thought, or of their sinful emotions and sinful words and sinful actions and sinful omissions. All of them have cried mightily to God to forgive them. All have been accepted through the Lamb of God. They have all been forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
Some of them were murderers. Didn’t Moses in a fit of anger murder an Egyptian? Didn’t David conspire in the murder of brave young Uriah? Yet they are both in glory today. Didn’t Saul of Tarsus conspire in the killing of Stephen and other Christians? But he too cast himself on the mercy of God. These men and women pleaded for the forgiveness of their monstrous sins in the Lord’s name, and divine mercy they found. That mercy is being offered to Cain. Mercy for murderers! Mercy for the chief sinner this world has ever seen, whoever that might be, maybe he’s you, or maybe me, but if you turn from your sin and ask Christ for salvation he will in no way cast you out. Heaven is full of sinners, but in order to be there everyone of them has done what is right, and because of that God has accepted them. God talks personally to Cain and he tells the killer this; “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” He is the God who stoops to sinful men and gives them another opportunity to get things right. He is the Lord who restores Peter who cursed and denied him. He is the God who sends a man to talk with King David as he has sent me to talk to you today. He is the Lord who meets with torturer Paul on the Damascus road and changes him. He is the Lord who sends Peter to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and he preaches to the men who murdered his Son. He tells them to repent and be baptized and they would receive the Holy Spirit. He has brought you here today to this end to plead with you to do what is right and offer you peace with God – acceptance through the work of Jesus Christ. Why carry the weight of your sin and guilt any longer? Why go to hell? What is the purpose of holding on to your pride any longer? It is a barrier that is keeping you from God. Do what is right. Deal with your hatred. Accept what God says and God will accept you.
5. GOD ALSO WARNS THE SINNER.
There is more, after God’s plea and offer there comes a warning; “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (v.7). Your real enemy is not me, and it is not God, it is sin. If you leave a church just as defiant and reluctant as you came there then standing just outside the vestibule at the top of the chapel steps is a fearful monster, Sin, the demon; Sin, your worse enemy; Sin which is going to spend eternity in the lake of fire; Sin which does not want to be alone in the place of woe but wants to take you there for ever. That sin is waiting for you, it is always waiting for you, like a crouching beast from hell at every door as you leave. He is waiting there to fasten itself to you again. It desires to have you, to take you to the pit. It’s going to walk home with you; it’s going to get into the car with you.
Heed the words, “sin is crouching at the door.” It is, of course a metaphor, and why does Moses use this vivid figure of speech? It is to bring a great truth to our emotions, and the truth is this, that we daily live under the threat of sin. Daily we go into situations where sin is out to destroy us and we’d better know it. You are not safe leaving your home, nor leaving your church. Nowhere can a sin-free doorway be found. It doesn’t exist. If you don’t do what’s right sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you.
It desired to have King Saul who never dealt with his jealousy at the success of David. He let his envy sink its roots deep into his heart and soon hatred turned to attempted murder. That was the sin that desired to have Saul. Saul tried to kill David, flinging a spear at him, trying to pin his body to a wall with a javelin. Sin was always itching to have Saul, and it got him in the end didn’t it? Will it get you? Demas was a companion of the apostle Paul. He heard the mightiest preaching any man could have heard, full of the Spirit sent down from heaven. He saw miracles and hundreds of people converted, but he also saw all the glittering prizes of the world, how desirable they were, how exciting and life-enhancing compared to this pathetic little group of Christians with their disagreements and their inconsistent ways. They limped and fell, they let you down, you had to keep going after them, writing them letters, and helping them, and forgiving them seventy times seven. What were these ordinary congregations of mere Christians compared to the glories of the world? Sin was crouching at Demas’ door to have him and it got him. Is it going to get you too? Are you more privileged and stronger in faith than Demas? Judas had such amazing privileges; he was a companion of the Lord Jesus; he saw Lazarus raised from the dead; he heard the Sermon on the Mount; he was present in the Upper Room. What extraordinary privileges and yet all the time sin was crouching at the door of his life desiring to have him. And isn’t sin crouching at the door of your life too? Doesn’t it desire to get you to the place prepared for sin, outside the kingdom of God for ever?
I knew a young boy twenty-five years ago from a strong Christian home. What fine parents and older brothers and sisters he had, and he himself made a profession of faith and married a Christian girl, but then he began to dabble with the Internet and its vile sites. This year he secretly visited chat rooms, and there he talked to someone he thought was a 13 year-old girl who seemed ready to have sex with him. His pulse beat faster at the thought, but when he arrived at the secret rendezvous the 13 year old girl turned out to be in fact a forty year old detective and he was on video camera as he knocked the door. He was arrested and is now accused of being a paedophile. He was photographed and his name and picture appeared on television and in the papers along with the other 12 men the police caught in this sting. Soon this 25 year old will be tried, and he faces a four year term in prison. Every time he applies for a job he has to inform his future employer about his record. His wife is sticking with him, but he and she have left home. He may not live near a school and fortunately his mother does not live near one. He dabbled with the Internet porn sites, and all the time, there, crouching alongside the monitor as he looked at the images and spoke to the people on the chat room, sin was crouching waiting to get him.
I tell you this as your best friend, warning you of the eternal battle that is going on right now for your life. If I knew that an armed rapist was waiting at your front door would I be loving if I ignored his existence? Would I be loving to let you walk out, to argue to myself that I mustn’t disturb your peace and give you a great sense of concern? No. To be loving is to say what God in love told this sinner, “if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (v.7). Don’t you know that as a Christian God is offering you a suit of armour, and only if you put that on will sin, as it waits at your door, be unable to hurt you. “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephs. 6:14-17). In other words, believe the truth, live a righteous life today, hold high your faith in the Lord, and be sure hat your mind is a saved Christian mind. That young man I have mentioned to you started to ignore the armour of God. He went out day after day thinking he was naturally shielded by his Christian background, and his tricks, and cleverness, and that day sin, which was crouching at the door, pounced on him and it got him.
See what God tells us to do – you master your sin. You are the one to do it! You must master the sin that wants to destroy you. It is not that God will do it and you simply let go and let God do it. You do it. By the energy of the Holy Spirit, by the armour of God, by depending on the Saviour’s help, by the mighty word of God, yes those are the means, but you must master it. That may require you to pluck out your right eye, and then you won’t be able to see those images on your Internet monitor. It may require that you cut off your right hand and then you cannot click on the addresses of those monstrous web sites. Better to go to heaven with one hand or with one eye than to go to hell with both hands and eyes. Master your sin or your sin will master you. Put remaining sin to death or remaining sin will put you to death – its desire is to eat you up. These recent sad years have been marked by the histories of men and women refusing to do what is right, and sin got them and ruined them. It desires to have you. It desires to have the oldest most mature Christian here today. It wants to get the sweetest little girl and the dearest old lady. All your intelligence, and experiences, and the knowledge of the Bible you have had, your most favoured upbringing and the mightiest preaching you’ve sat under will not profit you at all unless you are getting the mastery over your sin.
I will explain what I mean by mastery over sin as simply as I can. I am thinking of two little boys who wouldn’t brush their teeth at night; they turned the taps on and wetted their tooth brushes and switched on the motors and then turned them off telling their mother they had brushed their teeth. I am thinking of how these boys would also pick up the pills their mother would give to them, would pretend to swallow them but slip them into their pockets and later throw them down the toilet. Sin was crouching at the bathroom door, mastering these little boys until the time they started to cry to Jesus Christ to be their Lord. Only then, through illimitable access to the indwelling Spirit, did they begin to change their lives and instead of sin getting them again and again, they began to gain the mastery over sin, overcoming deceit and falsehood.
God is speaking to you today; he is offering you pardon; he is telling you to do what is right; he is reminding you that sin is crouching by the door eager to have you for ever. Kill sin, he is saying, but he is saying more than this. “Look to the Lamb,” he is telling Cain. The acceptable sacrifice is the firstborn Lamb without spot and blemish. Let the Lamb be your plea, not your own religion, not your sincerity, not your achievements, not how you think men should worship God. Look to Jesus, and look to him alone. No one ever went to hell who was looking unto Jesus. No one went to hell who desired that heaven where Jesus is all in all. Nobody in hell wanted Jesus Christ. No one who stood at the throne of glory and cried have mercy on me for the sake of Jesus was ever rejected. Nobody in hell ever wanted the Lamb. They didn’t want him as they died. They didn’t want him at the throne of judgment and they don’t want him still. That is why they are in hell and that is why they are still in the place of woe and will be there for ever because they are murderously angry with Jesus.
So I have told you that the origin of Cain’s murder was to be found in Cain’s own heart and that God pleaded with him to do what was right and that if he refused then sin would have him, even then it was crouching to get him. Did Cain listen to the word of God? He heard it, and that was a privilege, but he did nothing about it. Don’t be like Cain. Take Samuel Medley’s great words and plead for mercy from God:
“To Thee I come, a sinner vile,
Upon me, Lord, vouchsafe to smile,
Mercy alone I make my plea:
O God, be merciful to me!
To Thee I come, a sinner great,
And well Thou knowest all My state;
Yet full forgiveness is with Thee:
O God, be merciful to me!
To Thee I come, a sinner lost,
Nor have I aught wherein to trust;
But where Thou art, Lord, I would be:
O God, be merciful to me!
(Samuel Medley, 1738-99)
6th August 2006