August 20, 2017
Part 1: There is a Difference
Sibling rivalry is a thing. And I’m sure that you can think of many examples of it. In the world of tennis there is Venus Williams and Serena Williams. In The Lord of the Rings there is Boromir and Faramir. I don’t remember anything from AP European History, but if you do, perhaps you can remember the rivalry between Anne Boleyn and Mary Boleyn. And in the shoe and apparel industry there is the founder of Puma and the founder of Adidas: Rudolf Dassler and Adolf Dassler. Rudolf was nicknamed Rudi, while Adolf was nicknamed Adi. I bet you can figure out which brother started which company.
Many people have heard of the story of Cain and Abel. And many people see it as a story about sibling rivalry. But they are mistaken. At the end of the day, today’s scripture text is not about sibling rivalry. It is about kingdom rivalry. It is a story about two different brothers with two different destinies. Two different hopes and two different dreams. Two different responses to the wonderful gospel promise of Jesus Christ. Two different ways to live in a world that is covenantally cursed because of sin and filled with suffering and death.
And this rivalry was played out in Cain and Abel’s offerings and Cain and Abel’s personhoods. There was a difference between what they brought to the Lord and who they were before the Lord. The writer of Genesis made it very clear in the original Hebrew language - and many translators make it very clear in the modern English language - that “the LORD had regard for Abel… and his offering, but for Cain… and his offering he had no regard.”
So, what was the difference? What was the difference between the person and work of Cain and Abel? And what did the difference say about their different kingdom destinies?
Part 2: What Happens in Egypt Cannot Stay in Egypt
If you were an Israelite of old, you would have noticed something special about Abel’s offering. You would have noticed that it was a firstborn of his flock. Those words have so much history and glory behind them. The Israelite mind would have thought of the tenth and final plague in Exodus and the day when God broke Egypt.
For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let Israel go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. But for the nation of Israel, there would be a way for them to be spared from this judgment. They could redeem their loved ones, but only by the blood of a sacrificial passover lamb. And so there was blood on Israel’s doorframes. And they were not struck down by the destroyer.
Years later, when Israel entered into the promised land of Canaan, God commanded them to offer a sacrificial lamb for every firstborn animal or son that they had. They were to do this in order to remember what happened in Egypt.
Abel’s offering is a gigantic nod to Israel’s Exodus story. And Israel’s Exodus story is a gigantic nod to God’s ultimate promise of salvation in Genesis 3:15. God promised that an offspring of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. But this offspring would also be bruised in the process of his victory. This meant that there must be blood. And Abel’s offering was a full yes and amen to that gospel promise. There was nothing of that sort in Cain’s offering. Abel’s offering involved blood and death. Cain’s offering did not. Abel’s offering came loaded with the idea of redemption and substitutionary atonement. Cain’s did not. Abel’s offering was a big picture offering. Cain’s offering was a disconnected, vaccumized, zero picture offering. There was a difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering. And what a difference it was. The difference was like that of loincloths of sewn fig leaves versus garments of skins. There was no comparison between the two. In a sense, you could say that there was no rivalry. There was a huge difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering.
But there was also a huge difference between the person of Cain and the person of Abel.
Part 3: Hold the Sauce
Cain and Abel differed in two ways.
The first difference between Abel and Cain is revealed to us in Hebrews 11:4. There it is written, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” You see, Abel was a person of faith. Cain was not. Abel looked at God’s promise of salvation and said, “Yes!” Cain looked at God’s promise of salvation and said, “Whatever.”
The second difference between Cain and Abel is revealed to us in 1 John 3:12. There it is written, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” You see, Abel’s deeds were righteous. Cain’s deeds were evil. Abel obeyed the Lord. Cain did not. By including the fat of his animal offering, Abel honored the Lord and acknowledged that he was worthy of the highest honor. By failing to bring the agricultural equivalent of a firstfruits for his grain offering, Cain dishonored the Lord and acknowledged that he was not worthy of the highest honor.
And you could say that Cain, in his hypocrisy and irony, brought steak sauce, while Abel, in his obedience, brought steak. Follow me on this.
There is a famous story in 1 Samuel 15 about King Saul and Samuel, the prophet of the Lord. When the Lord commanded King Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites, Saul disobeyed him. And instead, Saul spared the best of the sheep and oxen and animals. He supposedly spared them to offer them as a sacrifice to the Lord. And so Saul came to Samuel and said, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
But Samuel said these famous words to Saul, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Here’s the million dollar question: Why is it better to obey than sacrifice? The answer is this: Because the whole reason why sacrifices exist is because perfect obedience doesn’t exist.
You can know a steak house is legit when A) it charges you $100 for a steak, B) it only accepts cash, and C) it does not offer you any steak sauce in a bottle. If you visit the best steak houses in America and asked for some A-1, you might be asked to leave. And the reason is simple. The best steak houses know that their steaks are so good that there is no need for any steak sauce.
Brothers and sisters, here is my point. Steak sauces exist because average steaks exist. Just as it is better to steak than steak sauce, so also it is better to obey than sacrifice. Just as a perfect steak renders steak sauce obsolete, so also perfect obedience renders sacrifice obsolete, since sacrifice was invented by God in the first place as a way to make up for imperfect obedience. Cain was hypocritical and ironic because he brought a sacrifice to the Lord. That is steak sauce. But Abel was obedient and righteous because he brought obedience to the Lord. That is steak.
It is super hypocritical, super ironic, and super sad that Cain gave his offering to the Lord but totally missed the point of what his offering was all about. Meanwhile, it is super obedient and super awesome that Abel did it the right way. He had faith and believed in God’s promise of salvation. And in the words of Romans 10:16, he obeyed the gospel. Abel’s deeds were righteous. Cain’s deeds were evil. Abel obeyed the Lord. Cain did not.
And so, at the end of the day, there was a difference in the person and work of Cain and Abel. And that difference… made all the difference. One brother was regarded and accepted by God. The other brother was not.
And that is the whole point of life after the fall. To be right with God. To be accepted and regarded. To not have your face fall, but instead to be able to follow after the beautiful words of Psalm 3:3, “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
Part 4: The Best Offering and the Best Person
Thousands of years after the story of Cain and Abel, God’s promise of salvation came true. The offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent came. But he would not just come to bring an end to the serpent. He would come to bring an end to all sacrifices and offerings and priests and everything that pointed forward to him. And he would do it by providing a better offering and a better person, a perfect offering and a perfect person, a final offering and a final person: himself, and himself.
When this promised savior said from above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of his body once for all.
And every priest stood daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which never took away sins. But when the promised savior had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Brothers and sisters, I am talking about the person and the work of Jesus Christ. And against what he brought and who he was, there is no rival. Cain was a worker of the ground. Abel was a keeper of sheep. Christ was a crusher of the serpent. Cain had ironic hypocrisy. Abel had big picture faith. Christ had perfect righteousness. In the course of time, Cain brought the fruit of the ground. Abel brought the firstborn of his flock. Christ brought himself.
Praise God for the person and the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! We needed a perfect offering that would pay for the covenant curse for us. And we needed a perfect person who would earn the covenant blessing for us. Well, God has supplied every need of ours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. And God made obsolete the weak sauce of fruits and firstborns and portions of fat. It is all obsolete because Christ as our new representative and final Adam has obtained the tree of life for us. And now in him, our faces cannot fall.
Part 5: In Closing
Brothers and sisters, do not be like Cain. Do not be like him because there really is no rivalry at all. Cain’s way is worthless. What a sad and tragic way to go. His way is the way of the world. His hopes and his dreams are only based on a conviction of things that you can see. Cain said, “Whatever,” to the wonderful gospel promise of Christ. Cain looked at a life after the fall and a world filled with suffering and death and decided to go at it alone and pledge his allegiance to a counterfeit kingdom. Do not be like Cain. Like the Israelites of old who remembered this story, be warned. Do not be like Cain.
Instead, cling dearly to the promise of God’s salvation in Christ. And as we wait for his return, lift up your eyes to heaven. Be glad in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Between Serena and Venus, I don’t care who you root for. Between Adidas and Puma, I don’t care what you wear. But between the way of Cain and the way of Abel, I do care about the way that you go. There is a difference, Highland Church. May you know it and see it more clearly, and may it make a difference in your life as you wait for the return of Christ.