daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, Sixth Week of the Year, February 18, 2019
Genesis 4:1-15, 25, Psalm 49, Mark 8:11-13

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted


"In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell" (Genesis 4:3-5).

This is the account of the sacrificial offerings of Cain and Abel, the two sons of Adam and Eve. Abel was a shepherd and Cain a tiller of the soil. So each brought the fruit of his labor and offered it to the Lord. Cain brought a vegetable offering, and Abel brought a lamb or a goat from his flock together with "their fat portions" (Genesis 4:4). Abel's offering was accepted by God, but Cain's was not.

When Cain saw that his sacrifice was not accepted, he became "very angry, and his countenance fell" (Genesis 4:5). The Lord then tells Cain why his sacrifice was not acceptable.

"If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it" (Genesis 4:7).

In other words, Cain does not have the right attitude or orientation. He is evilly oriented, not a lover of God, not devoted to him, as is his brother Abel.

So angry is Cain at his brother over this matter that he kills him in the field.

Then the Lord calls out to Cain, as he called out to Adam after Adam and Eve had sinned. To Adam God said, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). To Cain he says, "Where is Abel your brother?" (Genesis 4:9). In both cases God knows very well where Adam and Abel are. The question has a deeper meaning. In both cases God is calling these two men to admit their sin and repent. But both refuse to repent. Cain lies and says, "I do not know" (Genesis 4:9). Then he adds, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9b). Since Cain did not repent, God then pronounces his sentence:

"What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth" (Genesis 4:10-12).

Cain hears his sentence and realizes its horror, saying,

"My punishment is greater than I can bear, behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me" (Genesis 4:13-14).

Cain shall be hidden from God's face. This is the worst punishment of all. God's presence, which is the only authentic source of joy and peace, shall be forever hidden from him. And he shall be a wanderer and a fugitive on earth with no one to accept or welcome him.

King David, after committing adultery with Bathsheba and ordering the murder of her husband to hide his adultery, repents and says, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13). So Nathan the prophet says to him, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die" (2 Samuel 12:13b).

There is always forgiveness if we genuinely repent. But if we don't repent, God punishes us, and hides his face from us, as he did to Cain. About Cain's punishment John Wesley wrote:

"A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. By this he was here condemned, to perpetual disgrace and reproach, and perpetual disquietment and horror in his own mind. His own guilty conscience should haunt him where ever he went" (Wesley's explanatory notes).

Those that depart from God cannot find rest anywhere else. When Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, he never rested again.

This is a perfect description of the guilt that one feels after sinning, and it will remain his permanent state of mind and heart if he refuses to repent.

Now that we are living in the new covenant, forgiveness is made easier and more readily available, for our Redeemer has come and has sacrificed himself for our sins. People, who, like Cain, refuse to sincerely and genuinely give up their sin, admit their guilt, repent, and beg God for forgiveness will suffer like Cain away from the face of the Lord. That is why genuine repentance is so important for a Christian, because it opens the gates of God's mercy to him.

God's mercy is given to us through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, whereby he, acting as a human sin offering (a human sacrifice), takes our place and takes our death sentence for our sins upon himself and suffers it for us and instead of us.

But for us to benefit from this work of his on the cross, we must genuinely repent, express our sorrow for our sins, have the intention of immediately abandoning them (stop sinning), and put our trusting faith in Christ's death on the cross, where he atoned for our sins by propitiating God's righteous wrath against us for our sins by fulfilling the just requirement of God's law for us that we should die for our sins. Since Christ died for our sins for us on the cross, he fulfilled his own law that sinners should die for their sins.

But for this work of Christ on the cross to be connected to us so that we can benefit from it, we need to truly repent and put our trusting faith in Christ's death for our sins. Then God counts Christ's death on the cross as paying God our debt of suffering and death that we owe God in punishment for our sins, and sets us free, declaring us righteous.

What did we do to earn this forgiveness and righteousness? We only put our trusting faith in Christ; and justifying faith must always include genuine repentance (the sincere intention to immediately stop sinning). That is why St. Paul is always proclaiming that we are justified (declared righteous by God) by our faith, not by our good works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Christ is the one that does the good work of making reparation for our sins. His death on the cross does that for us. By faith we simply accept his gift of justification and express our firm intention of abandoning our sins. We then walk out clean and righteous.

Who earned and merited our righteousness with his good work? Christ earned it on the cross. How did this gift of righteousness come to us? By our faith in Christ, whereby the righteousness that he merited by his work on the cross is communicated to us, because our faith is simply our outstretched empty hand receiving the gift that Christ earned by his work of suffering and dying in just punishment for our sins. It did not come to us by our good works.

What should we then do, once we have received this gift? We must live a righteous life. And what will that do for us? It will sanctify us, which means that it will help us grow in holiness.

This sanctification requires our good works. But our basic forgiveness and God's proclamation that we are forgiven and righteous (which is our justification) is only God's work that we receive only by our faith, not by our works.


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