The Telltale Blood
A review of the Fifth Commandment
A sermon based on Genesis 4:1-12
Sunday, July 20, 2014 – Pentecost 6A
Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boomba-boomba-boom! He could hear the heartbeat clearly. He could hear it getting faster. It sounded like it was getting louder. The strange part though, was that the man to whom that heart belonged was already dead. He was certain of it. He had killed him. He had also chopped him up and buried him.
In his grisly short story, The Telltale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe described the cold-blooded murder of an elderly man. The murderer then dismembered the corpse and buried it under the floorboards of the man's room, leaving no evidence behind. But when the officers came in response to a scream, the murderer's conscience gave him away. Ba-boom! Ba-boom! Ba-boom! He heard the beating of the dead man's heart, the telltale heart. He cried out for the incessant noise to stop and confessed to his wicked deed.
How similar to a murder we hear about this morning! Not only did Cain slaughter his innocent brother, Abel, but when called to account, he denied any involvement or even concern with that famous line, "Am I my brother's keeper?" But he wouldn't get away with it. The telltale blood of his brother cried out from the ground convicting him of his guilt. Listen to the account in Genesis 4…
Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man." 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
10 The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."
The two boys loved to sit and listen to mom and dad tell them stories about the garden, about a time when the world was sinless and perfect. Their parents would care for the animals and tend the garden, but how much easier it must have been back then. Now, decades later, the boys were all grown up and were doing the hard work themselves. Cain worked the land, tilling the soil, planting the seed, and harvesting the crop, while his brother, Abel, subdued the animals that filled the earth, taking care of the flocks.
But one day, as they gave their weekly offering to God, just as their father had instructed, something odd happened. Cain had placed a large basket of fruit on the altar. Abel put the fat of two of his best animals next to it. Suddenly, fire shot down from heaven and swallowed up the altar (Fwoosh!). But when the brothers approached the altar, they saw that while Abel's sacrifice was gone, Cain's was still there, neither burnt nor scorched, both untouched, and unaltered.
Now we don't really know the details of the story, whether they were taught to sacrifice by God or by Adam, or if it was a just a spontaneous act of thanks and praise to God. We don't know how God revealed which sacrifice was pleasing to him and which was not. But in whatever way it was Cain knew it. And when Cain discovered that God wasn't pleased with his sacrifice the problems began. Long before he picked up the knife or spear, the problem began. It began in his heart. Filled with jealousy and rage, he began to plot.
Now here's an amazing detail of the story. Long before Cain picked up a knife or a spear, God stepped in to intervene. He spoke directly to Cain and tried to talk him down of the dangerous ledge on which he stood. "Sin is crouching at your door," he said. Like a lion prowling around looking for someone to devour, sin was ready to pounce on Cain and consume him, ready to strike and ready to kill.
Cain could master it, but he wouldn't. Even though God himself tried to talk him out of his sin, he would have none of the warning. The red alert fell upon deaf ears and blind eyes. And so Cain murdered his own brother, deliberately, deceitfully, brutally, and callously, even though Abel had done him no wrong. And poor Abel, whose name means "Meaningless" or "Vapor," amounted to nothing. His life seemed meaningless.
God again spoke to Cain, and giving him a chance to repent he asked, "Where is your brother?" But, like father, like son. Just as his parents refused to repent of eating the forbidden fruit, so too, Cain feigned ignorance of the matter and even talked back to God, claiming no responsibility for anyone other than himself. "Beats me! I don't know where he is!" "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Did he really think that God didn't know what he had done? Did he really think God didn't see him do it? Even if God hadn't seen, there was no hiding his sin from God. Because just like the telltale heart kept beating, the telltale blood of Abel cried out from the ground. It cried out to God for vengeance! And God had every right to slay Cain just as Cain had slain his brother, for God later decreed, "And from each man… I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed!" (Genesis 9:5-6) And yet, while God disciplined Cain so he might learn not to repeat his wicked sin, God didn't strike Cain down. He showed him mercy. In fact, he promised to protect him as he wandered the earth!
Neat story, huh? But what does it have to do with us? You shall not kill. Great! I got it. I won't stab anyone in a back alley somewhere. I won't abort a baby or help an old person with euthanasia. I won't even send out a hit on someone (like King David did) and murder someone by someone else's hand. And I won't even get in any bar fights so I hurt or harm my neighbor in his body.
But is that all this commandment really says? Or is there more? So, again we ask, "What does this mean?" Well, when did Cain commit murder? When he stabbed his brother, right? Wrong! At least if we believe what Jesus says in his sermon on the mount: "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,'" (a four-letter word in Aramaic) "is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matthew 5:21-22) Cain murdered his brother before he picked up the weapon. He was a murderer in his thoughts.
And the same is true of us. God is concerned with more than just outward worship and going through the motions. That's evidenced by Cain and Abel's offerings. Outwardly, both looked the same, but God looked at the heart. Have you ever called someone a fool? Or maybe something worse? Have you ever carried a grudge or secretly wished harm upon someone else, even if you never expressed it? Then you are a murderer!
And we break this commandment not only in what we do, but in what we don't do. By our attitudes that think, "Am I my brother's keeper?" and do nothing to help or care for others, we are murders! Jesus also said, "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 25:42-43,45)
You know, sometimes I think the world gets this concept better than we Christians do. Don't believe me? Then read the warning labels on the products that you use every day. A cardboard sunshield that keeps a car cool warns, "Do not drive with sun shield in place." On a toner cartridge for a laser printer is a label warning, "Do not eat toner." And my personal favorite: A label on a toilet in a public sports facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan reads, "Recycled flush water is unsafe for drinking."
Why do companies put these sometimes ridiculous warning labels on their products? It's because they don't want to be sued for negligence. Failing to warn others, to help people use their products, to be concerned about their safety with an attitude that says, "Am I my brother's keeper?" just won't fly in the courts. And it won't fly in God's court either. For the attitude that thinks, "I can't help that person out because I might be inconvenienced, I might risk a loss, or I might get hurt," you and I are murderers!
And finally, this commandment doesn't just pertain to other people. It also applies to the way we treat our own bodies and the lives that God has given us. For our excessive use of alcohol, for the use of drugs that harm our bodies, for our laziness in avoiding the exercise our bodies need, and yes, even for the junk we eat, we are murderers!
Why are all of these sins against the fifth commandment? Because they allow hurt or harm to come to the body that God gave. Life is a sacred gift of God. Eve expressed that when Cain was born. She said, "With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man." Life is a gift of God. Only he can give it and therefore only he and the representatives he has established in government have the right to end it. For failing to respect this gift of life and for failing to remember that our bodies are not our own but belong to the Lord, we deserve punishment. And in a certain sense, by breaking this command, you and I killed Jesus. You see, it was for us that he went to the cross. He was murdered there, not by our hand, but because of our sins. And the blood of all those we've hurt cries out against us to God for vengeance against us. For breaking the fifth commandment we deserve to have God slay us forever in hell.
But that's not what we'll get. Why not? Because of a better telltale blood: the blood of Jesus. The author to the Hebrews reminds us that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Hebrews 9:22), but he also adds, "You have come… to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." (Heb. 12:23-24) You see, "Abel's blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; But the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries."
What beautiful irony! While we murdered him on the cross and spilled his blood by our sins, by that same blood, he brought life to us when we were dead in sin. (Eph. 2:1) Jesus always respected God's gift of life. He never murdered or killed or had a hateful or unkind thought. He always sought to care for others and heal not just their souls, but their bodies. And what's so great about that is that because he did consider himself his brother's keeper, he gave that perfection to you and to me. And by dying an innocent death and suffering the torture of hell in our place, he took our every sin away. Now Jesus blood really does cry out to God for our pardon. "You've already punished every sin in me. You can't punish it again!" And so, you and I will not go to the hell we deserve. We will not be slain by God in hell, but will live eternally in the glory of heaven.
And what response can we possibly have other than that of Abel, who gave his best gifts to God? Hebrews 11:4 says, "By faith Abel offered God 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." So we too, by faith in the blood of Jesus, will offer our thanks to God. We'll remember how much he values human life: So much that he gave the life of his Son to save it! We'll take care of our bodies treating them not as if they were ours to do with them as we please, but as they actually are: on loan from God. We'll take care of others, going out of our way to help and defend them. And we'll turn our anger and hatred over to God, to master the sin that crouches at the door, to keep the fifth commandment even in our thoughts. And finally, we can't help but tell others of this telltale blood that cries out to God for our pardon and cry out in praise to him:
Glory be to Jesus, Who in bitter pains Poured for me the lifeblood From his sacred veins. Grace and life eternal In that blood I find; Blest be his compassion, Infinitely kind! Lift we, then, our voices, Swell the mighty flood, Louder still and louder Praise the precious blood! (TLH #158) In Jesus name, and by his blood, dear friends, amen.