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6th Sunday of Easter
1 John 3:11-18
Thanks be to God! He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking along holding a cup of some liquid (maybe coffee, juice, water, etc) and someone bumps into your arm, what happens? Whatever was in the cup spills out. Now, why does that happen? This isn’t that profound. Whatever it was that spills out comes out because that’s what was in the cup. Well, that same thing is true about our lives. The inevitable knocks, bumps, irritations that we encounter in life cause what’s inside of us to “spill out.” So, if you’re full of anger, and someone bumps you, what’s going to come out? Anger. If you’re full of hate and someone bumps you, what’s going to come out? Hate. If you’re full of kindness, on the other hand, and someone bumps you, what’s going to come out? Kindness. Inevitably what’s inside of us is going to come out in our words and actions. So the unexpected knocks, bumps, irritations of life give us a pretty good indicator of the quality of life on the inside. Jesus said the same thing, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Our text this morning tells us what it is that God wants us to be so full of on the inside that it just spills over into the rest of our lives- in our words and actions. And the apostle John uses our Old Testament lesson about Cain and Abel as a case study about this.
God tells us, “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.” Now try to picture this: Cain and Abel had grown up together. Perhaps Abel was only a couple years younger than Cain. They had likely played together, worked together. Can you picture Cain showing his little brother how soft a lamb’s fleece was or showing his brother how after planting little seeds in the ground they sprout and grow into plants? They had both been raised by the same parents, both had been told about the Garden of Eden and how perfect everything was until they had taken the fruit off the tree and disobeyed God and how God had banished them from the Garden, but how God had promised to send a Savior who would crush the head of the beast. Both Cain and Abel had been taught by their parents to respond to God’s goodness by giving back to the Lord.
So, as our first lesson pointed out, they both gave offerings to the Lord. And we’re told, “The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” Now, perhaps we’re a bit troubled by that. What was wrong with Cain’s offering? My goodness, he’s at least bringing an offering!! Why wasn’t God pleased with it? You see, the difference wasn’t so much with the offerings that were given, it was what was on the inside. Martin Luther said, “Abel could have brought a nut and God would have been pleased.” The problems wasn’t the offering, bu the heart of the one giving the offering. Cain didn’t care. Cain brought an offering because he had to, it was expected of him he felt, it was necessary, he was simply fulfilling the rules and regulations, it was repulsive to him. Abel, however, brought offerings to God because he wanted to, because he knew God as the gracious and forgiving God, because he knew God had promised his parents a descendant who would crush the serpent’s head, who would undo the damage in the world caused by sin and its effects.
“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” Hatred boiled in his heart. When he thought of Abel, his nostrils flared, his teeth clenched, he felt a burning in his chest. He couldn’t stand his brother anymore. Rage surged within him. He brought his brother out to a field where he slaughtered him.
You see, there was a battle being fought in the heart of Cain and he gave in to the Beast within, his anger and hatred against God boiled over against his brother and killed Abel. That same battle is raging right within you too. You see, what’s inside of you will come out in your words and actions. Have you ever felt a loathing for someone close to you? Have you ever been a little shocked that you could feel such hatred toward another human being? Have you ever naively toyed with the idea of what life would be like if he or she was out of the way? God sounds his warning, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
It’s the bumps and irritations of life that will reveal what’s inside. If you’re angry or upset, ask yourself why? What’s behind this attitude? Could it be that God is allowing you to see a sin that you’ve allowed to take root in your heart? Could it be that God is opening up your eyes to Satan getting a foothold? If there’s greed or coveting on the inside, it will show itself with an ungenerous spirit, with selfishness, with a lack of care for others. “If anyone has material possession and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?“ Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” What’s on the inside will come out.
What sins are you clinging on to? What sins might God giving you warning about? What sins are crouching at the door of your heart wanting to master you? Anger, jealousy, hatred, bitterness? What sins have mastered you? Have mastered me? Are we any better than Cain? No, we haven’t physically murdered someone but who here can stand when God says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life”? We deserve nothing from God but His eternal judgment.
But notice how God deals with Cain. God could have struck him dead right then and there, God could have sent him to hell right then and there. But notice, did you see? God’s repeated seeking love for Cain. He doesn’t leave him in his sin, but he comes to him, confronts him, questions him, calls him to repentance. And in further love and mercy and totally undeserved grace God puts a mark on Cain to spare his life, to give him a lifelong reminder of God’s undeserved love for him to call him to repentance. That’s the kind of God we have.
If hatred ultimately reveals itself in murder, love, then taken to its conclusion, reveals itself in sacrifice. Hatred seeks to destroy another’s life, love, however, gives its own life so that another may live. Abel wasn’t only the first human being to be killed, he was also the first shepherd to be killed. But there was another Shepherd who was killed, killed for his sheep. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” We don’t know if Abel struggled or not, but we do know that Jesus willingly let it happen to him. He laid down his life for us. Jesus never felt the rage and hate that stormed through Cain. Although Satan tried plenty of times to get Jesus to become angry with his disciples, or to hate those who hated him, or to curse the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross, all that could come from Jesus’ lips were, “Father, forgive them.” It was Jesus who took upon himself all the rage and hate and unrighteous anger, all the filth, all the sin that we let fester in our hearts, Jesus took it all upon Himself and took all of God’s righteous wrath for the sins of the world on the cross paying for it in full.
In grace God marked Cain to spare his life. God has also marked you. In your baptism God brought all his love and forgiveness to you working faith in your heart. When you were baptized the minister said, “Receive the sign of the cross on the head and on the heart to mark you as a redeemed child of Christ.” Through faith in Jesus you have passed from death to life. You live and will continue to live forever. God has filled your heart with love, true love. Love not just with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.
This week you’re going to be bumped and knocked and irritated and whatever is in your cup is going to spill out. So what’s it going to be? Hate, anger, jealousy, bitterness? No. Look at the love God has for you. He’s filled you with His love. At your baptism he marked you as his child. In His Word He fills you with the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. And in His Supper this morning once again this morning He presses to your lips Jesus’ own body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. Let God’s love and kindness for you spill out everywhere in your life. Amen.