The story of Cain and Abel has always fascinated me. The lightning-fast descent of humanity from the purity of the Eden is astounding. By generation two, we had already sunk from true communion with God, all the way to murder. Think about that. You can start reading our history from the time before sin, and within about two minutes you get to where we're killing each other. If you want a good illustration of the depths of our depravity, there you have it.
There's something in this story that's real easy to gloss over, but if you slow down and think, it can reveal a lot about our natural state. We'll pick up the story in verse 3:
In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn 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.
This is the first thing we read about after Adam and Eve rebelled and were banished from the garden. They had kids including Cain and Abel, who then grew up and offered sacrifices to God. Why did they start sacrificing? Scripture doesn't explicitly tell us, but there's no reason to think they came up with the idea themselves. Most certainly God told them what to do and how to do it - He was the one to institute the sacrifice.
Now why did God regard Abel's offering and not regard Cain's? Although we don't know exactly what they were commanded, the most reasonable conclusion is that Abel obeyed and Cain didn't. This is reinforced in the NT, where we are told plainly that Cain was evil and Abel righteous. Abel obeyed God and worshiped the way God commanded, while Cain disobeyed and worshiped the way Cain wanted. And God only accepted Abel's worship, while completely rejecting Cain's.
Now how would you react if God had clearly let you know that your actions were disobedient and unacceptable? Would you be repentant? Ashamed? Convicted? Or perhaps the reaction would be denial, self-justifying, trying to make excuses? Let's see how Cain responded:
So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
Interesting. Cain disobeyed, God called him out on it, so Cain was very angry. Now who was this anger directed at? Certainly Abel to some degree - no doubt he was jealous that little brother was the one God accepted, and this jealous anger led to the first murder.
But above all, Cain was angry at God. 'Who does God think He is, not accepting my sacrifice? Sure, it's not what he told me to do. But isn't my way good enough? I should be able to worship Him however I want!' Again we see how quickly and thoroughly we were corrupted. Just a couple chapters ago we were created out of dust, and already Cain is trying to dictate terms to God, and upset when God doesn't bow to his wishes. The clay is furious at the potter.
Cain's reaction should make us vomit in terror. The audacity of being angry with God, as though He were in any way answerable to us... And yet, how easy is it to see this same thing going on today? All you have to do is point out the Biblical teaching that salvation is only through faith in Jesus, and watch the fur fly. Oh, that's so unfair! What about people who do this and that other thing? God wouldn't reject them! If God is truly good, he wouldn't be so cruel as to condemn people just for rejecting Jesus. Well fine, if God won't accept such and such, then I don't want anything to do with him! Who does God think he is, anyway?
God's amazingly gracious response to Cain says it all. If you obey, will you not be accepted? It's really not that complicated. God will decide how God is to be worshiped. What right do we have to complain or get angry at the rules our sovereign creator has established? Is it not enough that, while we are all deserving of instant death and condemnation, He has graciously provided a means for salvation and worship? When we complain that the way God has appointed is insufficient, that He should accept worship any way we offer it (as long as it's sincere!), we are no different from Cain.
God owes us nothing. We have earned nothing from Him except wrath. The most spectacular news the universe has ever seen is that God has graciously placed our sin on Jesus on the cross, pouring out on him the fullness of wrath due to us, has counted us as righteous with Christ's own righteousness, and though we had been His enemies, He has through no merit of our own raised us up with Christ to bless us now and forever.
Let us be overwhelmed by the matchless grace God has provided, and stop insisting that we deserve more and better options. We don't even deserve this. Don't be like Cain and think God had better be happy with whatever we offer. Let's be like Abel and glory in the grace and goodness of what God has done.
44 minutes ago