Sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter (5/25/14)
Text: Genesis 4:1-16
Theme: Our Faith in His Love Conquers Sin!
What do you know about Pandora? No, I’m not talking about the online radio station. I’m talking about Pandora the person?
I’m sure you all have heard the phrase “opening Pandora’s Box,” and I’m sure many of you know that the phrase comes from Greek Mythology. For those of you who may not know the story, here’s a cliff’s notes version of Pandora:
Zeus wanted to punish the Titan Prometheus for giving the humans things only the gods were supposed to have – most notably, fire. So he concocted a plan to punish humans. Zeus created the first woman, Pandora, and gave her to Prometheus’ brother for a wife. He gifted Pandora with all sorts of special qualities like beauty, kindness, and patience. One special quality he created Pandora with was curiosity. When he gave Pandora to Prometheus’ brother he gave them, as a wedding gift, a box with the instructions not to open it until he said it was ok. This was all part of Zeus’ plan you see. He knew that the curiosity he had given Pandora would make it impossible for her to leave the box closed. Well, as Zeus planned, one fateful day, Pandora opened up her box and these ghastly figures came flying out. She tried to slam it shut again, but it was too late. She had opened the box and released evil into the world of humans.
Do you know what I find fascinating about the myth of Pandora ’s Box? I find it fascinating that the story of Pandora provides us with one more evidence from this world of what God calls the conscience. It’s just a fact that all people from all time have looked at this world and realized there is something wrong with it. People from all around the world have looked at this world full of tragedies, heartbreak, and sorrow and they just know that it is not supposed to be this way. People keep on doing bad things themselves, even though they know they are wrong – and they know that they are not supposed to be this way. People just know that we are not supposed to be as angry and jealous and envious and lustful as we so often are. So for all time, people have been trying to find a way to explain or fix the problems of this world. Pandora’s Box is just one of many proposed explanations for how this world got so evil.
Pandora’s Box is a fanciful explanation for the evil in this world, but obviously not the correct explanation, right? You and I know the real Biblical story. And you and I know that the real story is much more heartbreaking than this Greek Mythology, don’t we?
We know that the sin of Adam and Eve was the real Pandora’s Box. When they were tempted by the devil they introduced into this world sin and evil. Evil that made every day a struggle to survive. Evil that made them feel things like pain, anger and jealousy. Evil that would lead one of their own sons to kill his brother out of that jealousy. Evil that would cause heartbreak like they had never experienced before – heartbreak caused by death, the end result of sin.
Friends, there is a lot we need to learn from this account of Cain and Abel. These first chapters of Genesis are the only thing in this world that adequately explains why the world is the way it is. These chapters are the only thing in the world that adequately explain why people hurt each other the way they do. These chapters are the only thing in the world that adequately explain why we are the way we are.
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I always read this account of Cain and Abel and felt shocked. I mean, I had no delusion of perfection. I know I am a sinner. But I look at this account and thank my stars that at least I’m not like Cain, right? I mean Cain fits right into that category of psychotic killers like Ted Bundy, the Sandy Hook Shooter, or the Boston Marathon Bombers, right? I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not that kind of crazy, right?
But then I re-read this account, especially God’s warning to Cain and I start to see a little more of myself – so much so at times that it makes my skin crawl.
When faced with temptation God tells Cain, “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Unfortunately, even though Cain knew it was wrong, even though he had been warned by God himself that he was being tempted and tested, the sinful heart Cain inherited from his parents got the better of him. Cain sinned, even though he knew it was wrong.
Friends, do you ever know something is wrong, but do it anyway?
Have you ever had your patience tested by your children or that jerk at work? Have you ever felt that anger building up inside of you? Have you ever realized that you were being tempted to be short, to lose your temper, to get angry? Have you ever recognized sin crouching at your door, desiring to have you and not ruled over it? Have you ever allowed sin to rule over you?
It happens every day, doesn’t it? As Christians we know what is right, and we know what is wrong. We have the Ten Commandments. We study God’s word on a regular basis. So every time we sin, we essentially do the exact same thing Cain did. We have been warned by God that sin is wrong. We have been warned by God that sin and the Devil are crouching at our door waiting to devour us. We have been warned by God that we will be tempted and tested in this world. But so often, just like Cain, we failed to rule over sin, and let sin call the shots in our lives.
It is a sad, but inescapable fact that the Biblical Pandora’s Box has been opened. Sin has entered the world, and with it evil. And this evil isn’t something that has only affected the world around us. This evil has worked its way in into our very being. We were born with it. We were born with this obnoxious, but remarkably tempting voice that wants to rule over us and drag us to hell.
It’s a sad, but inescapable fact that there is something terribly wrong with this world. There is something terribly wrong with us. We know it, the world knows it, the ancient Greeks knew it. It’s that law written on our hearts, that conscience that God has given us so that when we look at the world we know just as surely as Adam and Eve knew that “this is not how this world was supposed to be. This is not how I am supposed to be, and I’m going to have to answer for that.”
And you know what? I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that the law and the conscience are doing their job. I’m thankful because the Bible tells us that God gave us the law in our hearts, God gave us a conscience, God gave us this conviction that the world isn’t right so that we would look for a way to fix this world – so that we would look for someone, like God, who could save us from ourselves.
And this is where we leave Cain behind this morning. Yes, we share some remarkable and heartbreaking similarities with Cain in our sinfulness, but for all the similarities, there are also some incredibly important differences.
The biggest difference between us and Cain is the same thing that made Abel different from Cain. It’s that little word but incredibly huge concept called faith – faith that God can and will save.
Faith is what made Abel’s offering acceptable to God, but not Cain’s. It’s not that Abel never lost his battles with the sin that was crouching at his door. Abel was accepted by God because he trusted in the promises of God – the promise God made immediately after Adam and Eve opened the Biblical Pandora’s Box – the promise to fix this broken world.
To use the Bible’s language, “By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.”
Abel didn’t earn the love of God. Abel, on his own, didn’t deserve to have his offering accepted by God. Abel didn’t deserve the right to leave this broken world behind for a perfect home in heaven. But God offered it to him, just as God has offered it to every other person who ever lived, and Abel believed. He simply trusted that God would keep his promise, and that faith (that trust) made Abel righteous in God’s sight – it made Abel and his offering acceptable.
Friends your faith, your God-given faith, takes you from the realm of Cain, and makes you acceptable like Abel. When I proclaim to you, as I did just a few minutes ago in the confession and absolution that your sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did, and you trust that forgiveness is real, the solution to this broken world, the solution to your broken heart is placed right in your lap. Your sins are forgiven, you are acceptable to God, because of Jesus.
This broken world has been fixed, you have been fixed. Those nail marks in that living Man’s hands and feet prove it. He died so that you might live forever in heaven. And He lives so that he can bring you safely there, just like he did Abel.
And just like it did for Abel, that forgiveness will move you and I to make sacrifices/offerings that are pleasing to our God. Not sacrifices of lambs, because none of you are farmers, but sacrifices none the less. No, instead of lambs for us, our sacrifices come in the form of love – the kind of love that John talked about in 1 John 3. Love for our brothers and sisters. Love that is more than just words, but love backed up by actions. Selfless love, because that’s the kind of love God showed us.
Just like it did for Abel, the love of God equips us to rule over the sin that crouches at all of our doors.
Look this side of eternity, this world is never going to be perfect, you and I are never going to be perfect. The Biblical Pandora’s Box has been opened. But we have a God who has promised to fix this world – who has promised to fix us. Have faith in that God, and let that faith move you to live for that God. Our faith in His love will conquer sin.