Stay of Execution

I hope your weekend gave you some time to relax and regroup and you’re already off to a great start with this week. This was certainly a beautiful weekend for me. I’m really grateful for it!

Last night, I sat on my couch for a few minutes and just prayed “Lord, what do I write about this week?” Almost immediately, I felt a tug toward Genesis 4. I went and got my tablet to see what the scripture said there. I had no idea what would I find, but as I read I did find something really interesting to look at in this familiar story of Cain and Abel.

Most of us know the story. Abel and Cain were the sons of Adam an Eve. Abel was a shepherd and Cain farmed the land. Both of the young men made offerings to God. However, as the story goes, Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God and Cain’s wasn’t. At the section where we are entering the story, we find Cain sulking over the fact that his offering was rejected by God. God sees Cain’s pity party and speaks to him:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 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 rule over it.

- Genesis 4:6-7

Notice the B section of verse 7. God gives Cain a warning “listen dude, there’s something dangerous brewing at your doorstep and you need to get control of yourself before you fall into it.” I found it interesting that God was so gracious as to warn Cain. But that got me thinking, doesn’t God usually give us the same kinds of warnings? Doesn’t he usually (by his Spirit) give us that nagging suspicion that we’re making turns toward bad ends?

A lot of us are like Cain: blinded by emotions. One of the side effects of being caught in our emotions is a loss of reality. We are aware of God’s flashing red sign that says “DO NOT ENTER” but we can’t resist. Our emotions are at the helm of our hearts - just the same way Cain’s emotions were. We ignore the warning and we charge on toward the calamity.

Cain ultimately ignored God’s warning that he needed to check himself, and wound up killing his brother. And this wasn’t some “heat of passion” killing. He plotted it. If Cain were to stand up for trial in our legal system today, he would have been charmed with first degree murder. The Bible says he lured Abel into a field and killed him there.

Cain’s decision to ignore God’s warning led to judgement. We the sentence that God issues to Cain in verses 11-12. God says that Cain would no longer be able to produce food from the ground through his own labor. God says that Cain would be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth as a result of his crime of murdering his brother.

This is the part where the story gets really interesting to me. The word “fugitive” jumped out at me. God said Cain would be a fugitive in the land - running for his life - when he initially issues his just sentence for what Cain had done. After God pronounced the sentence, however, Cain cried out for mercy. Look down at verses 13 and 14.

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.

- Genesis 4:13-14

So, let’s line this up again: Cain displeases God. God warns Cain to get out of his pity party because it was leading up treachery. Cain ignores God and his pity party turns into rage. He kills his brother. God issues a judgement to Cain that he will be a fugitive and a wanderer, - on the run for his life - unable to produce food for himself from the earth. Cain cries out for mercy saying the sentence God has passed it too much for him to take. He knows that whoever finds him will kill him - after all, he is now a fugitive.

When Cain cries out for mercy, God listens, though! Not only does God listen, but he graciously reverses a portion of his judgement and provides him with protection. He issues a stay of execution. Look at verse 15:

But the Lord said to him, “Not so ; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

- Genesis 4:15

Even though the sentence God had passed on Cain was completely just, God took some of the sting away by sparing Cain’s life. I think this story tells us a lot about the nature of God. This is only the fourth 4th chapter of Genesis, but already we can see in the Biblical narrative a trend with God - he is not slow to exercise his grace! God extended grace to Cain in the same way he had extended grace to Cain’t mom and dad when they had fallen to disobedience in the garden. Already by chapter four of Genesis, God’s grace is a prominent theme.

I marvel at this, but then I consider my own life. I think of all the times when I have charged forward, knowing full well that I felt God pull me in a different direction, or warn me against my plans. No, I have not escaped consequences, but I’m no fool. I know that my wrongness warrants far more draconian discipline that my Heavenly Father gives me. Considering Cain’s story caused me to consider my own. I woke up this morning with a hyper-active gratitude for the awesome grace of God in my own life.

The theme that’s already clear by chapter four in Genesis, is the theme of the whole book. The climax of this particular theme is the sacrifice of God’s own son, - his only one - to restore us to relationship with him. It really is breathtaking to think about!

Think about how long your own personal rap sheet is! Think about the things you’ve done that nobody knows about! Think about those thoughts you keep! You don’t have to answer. I’ll answer for myself: I deserve death, just like Cain did! Yet, because of his unfathomable graciousness, God looked at my rap sheet and wrote “not guilty” because his son paid my price!

This week, I encourage you to take time our everyday to reconsider how gracious God is to you. Think about the blessings you’ve received. Think about your past. Don’t do it in a guilty way, but with a heart of awe. If you’re honest, you’ll find the same thing that I’ve found - we all deserve death. Coming to this realization leads to a place of profound gratitude. This realization leads to a place of wonder at the expansive grace of our perfect and glorious God and his love for us.

I don’t know about you, but I am SO glad that he (through his son Jesus) has issued for me an eternal stay of execution!

Questions. Questions. Questions!

  • How often do I think about God’s grace?
  • How can I do better at taking heed of God’s warnings?
  • Do I approach God with a heart of awe for his graciousness towards me, or do I approach him with a sense of entitlement?
  • Am I doing the best I can to be an extension of God’s grace to others?