“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fourth chapter of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ: God warned him. He told Cain exactly what would happen. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 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.” With the Law’s warnings, God tried to drive the elder brother from his hatred, from his jealousy; He tried to impress upon Cain the seriousness of the situation he found himself in. Sin was at his very door, waiting to come in; God called on Cain to refuse it passage, to deny it a foothold, to do battle with the demons crowding around him.
But Cain gave in; he let sin enter into his house and make its home there. “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” Jealous thoughts overcame him, anger and hatred were allowed to fester within his heart; Cain didn’t do battle with sin’s temptations, he indulged them, and the devil who tempted his mother tempted him to do away with the source of his frustration. His response to God’s displeasure was not to repent, to bring his firstfruits in faith, but instead to murder the one who had received God’s favor. The obedient, innocent son died as a victim of Cain’s jealousy, as the seeming solution to his anguish. But Satan has deceived him. His brother is gone, but now, as God warned, his problems have only begun. Abel has been eliminated; what will he do with God?
The Creator of all things, the righteous One who had warned Cain from the path of unrighteousness, is not so easily done away with. “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” The blood of Abel was shed onto the ground, the ground that God gave as a gift, the ground already cursed in Adam’s fall. Abel is sacrificed to Cain’s hatred, his anger and jealousy; his blood is shed for no other reason than that he was righteous and his brother was not. But his blood has a voice, a voice heard only by God. It cries out for justice, for punishment, for the judgment that murder deserves, and God listens, He responds. “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 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.” The farmer is made a wanderer, detached from family, from civilization itself. The ground, cursed already in Adam’s fall, will openly rebel against him, and he will be left without a home, aimlessly roaming this earth.
For Cain, this punishment is greater than he can handle; he begs God, the God who spoke to warn him from sin, and then spoke to condemn that sin, for mercy. “Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Even though he deserves no such thing; even though his betrayal demands not just wandering, but death, God acts in mercy toward Cain the murderer. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” None who meet this murderer will slay him; the guilty one, though he faces his punishment, is protected by the very mark of God Himself. He who killed his own brother will be spared his family’s vengeance; this mark will protect him for the rest of his life. It will be an ever-present reminder of his sin and the just consequences of that sin, but it will also be a continual reminder of His God who acted in mercy.
God warned us. He told you and me exactly what would happen. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 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.” With the warnings of the Law, He tried to drive us from our hatred, from our jealousy, He tried to impress upon us the seriousness of the situation we found ourselves in. God knows how sin works within us, how our old evil foe relentlessly works against us. He knows that our jealousy, our envy, lead to frustration and anger, they lead to hatred. These emotions fester and boil within us, and when we indulge them, they soon lead to words and actions. Sin was at our very door, waiting to come in; God called on us to refuse it passage, to deny it a foothold, to do battle with the demons crowding around us.
But we gave in; we let sin enter into our house and make its home there. It was much more satisfying to give expression to our jealousy and anger, to speak words of hatred or even to strike our neighbor than to seek reconciliation. We didn’t do battle with sin’s temptations, we indulged them, and the devil who tempted Eve tempted us to do something about the source of our frustration Our response to God’s warning of the Law was not to repent, but instead to murder, in thought, word, and deed the one who had offended us. We allowed our sinful desires to control us, and our neighbors paid the price; not just the neighbor we raged against, but another neighbor who walked this earth two thousand years ago. It was for those sins, and others, that the obedient Son was put to death; the murderous rage of the Good Friday crowd toward Him was only the result of your murderous rage toward others. It was your sin, your jealous hatred of your neighbor, that nailed the obedient, righteous Son to the cross. His blood was shed on your account.
The blood of Jesus was shed onto the ground, the ground that God gave as a gift, the ground cursed in Adam’s fall. He is slaughtered as a sacrifice to our hatred, our anger and jealousy; His blood is shed for no other reason than that He is righteous and we are not. But his blood has a voice, a voice heard only by God. It cries out not for justice, for punishment, for the judgment that murder deserves, but for pardon, for forgiveness, for redemption. “You have come,” the author to the Hebrews says, “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies, but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries. The blood which soaks the stony ground of Golgotha cries out not for vengeance, but for forgiveness. He sheds His blood to redeem murderers, to save us, to give to us a home in the very kingdom of God. We are not driven out to wander, but in a stunning reversal we are given a permanent home, a place with Jesus in the new heavens and the new earth, the mansions He has gone before us to prepare.
Christ’s blood cries out on our behalf, and God hears its voice in grace. But for us, this gift is greater than we can handle; it is unbelievable that the God who warned us from sin would then condemn His Son in our place, it is unbelievable that the blood shed because of our sin would then cover that stain. It is impossible for us to believe this mercy and grace on our own as we wander in the wilderness of this world. God knows this, and so He acts in love. He places His mark upon us as He delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation to us, sealing us in Baptism, putting His name upon us, as a sign, a seal, a guarantee that all of His promises are true in Christ. None who meet us will be able to destroy us, even death cannot conquer us; we who were guilty are protected by the very mark of God Himself. We who have sinned in thought, word and deed will be spared the vengeance of Almighty God; this mark will protect us for the rest of our lives. Pondering it will remind us of our sin, but it more importantly will be a continual proclamation of our God who acts in mercy. Whenever we face trouble, whenever we fall into sin, in repentance and faith we return to the mark placed upon us at the font, the mark sealed in Christ’s own shed blood. There we cling in every trouble, for the mark of Baptism is the mark of God’s promise, the guarantee that as Jesus lives, risen from the dead, we too will live, even though we die, because everything He says is true. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.