Two men. Two different jobs. Two different offerings. The story of Cain and Abel is the story of the first dysfunctional family; two brothers come before God making offerings and find God responding in two very different ways.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 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. 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.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” - Genesis 4:1-9
At first glance, we can read this and think that perhaps something’s going on with the offerings. After all, Cain and Abel did not bring the same offerings. Did Cain bring the wrong type of offering and Abel did it right? Was this a story about fruit versus livestock?
While it might appear that this might be the case, this is not a story about fruit or livestock, this is a story about worship. It is a story about two worshippers who worship two very different gods.
Church of Cain vs. Church of Abel
In many ways, Cain and Abel look a lot alike. Martin Luther actually referred to them both as a picture of two churches.
There are two churches that are worshipping and making offerings. On the surface, the Church of Cain and the Church of Abel look very similar. They both make offerings, they both have sacrifices, they both require faith, and they both are worshipping. But when the Church of Cain does the same things that the Church of Abel does, they don’t mean the same things.
Cain can do the same things and say the same words but it is clear that he means something different.
Cain worships, but his worship is not the same as Abel’s. Can has faith, it’s just in his own offering and not in God. Cain approaches God as though he actually has something to offer. This is why he gets upset when God doesn’t look favorably at him; he thought he had something to offer.
Abel on the other hand worships God with nothing to give. Abel doesn’t think that God owes him anything. Abel’s faith is not in what he has to offer, but in what God has to offer. Abel trusts in the radical message of grace; he trust that God’s favor is completely unmerited.
And this pisses off Cain.
Because Cain thinks he deserves God’s favor and he doesn’t get it. And Cain thinks Abel doesn’t deserve it and Abel gets it. The Church of Cain is not okay with the good news being shown to the Church of Abel.
The theologian Michael Horton said it this way when he said, “The doctrine of grace and the theology of the cross will always result in the wounded getting healed and the self-righteous getting angry.”
This is what happens in the story of Cain and Abel and this is what happens in the life of Jesus. Jesus comes preaching this message of grace. And this message is so radical and scandalous that Jesus even starts preaching it to sinful people like tax collectors and prostitutes.
And the religious people get ticked.
Because that’s what the self-righteous people do. They get angry when the see God’s grace extend to certain groups of people. When you and I believe that it is up to us to earn God’s favor, we will get angered by the scandalous lengths that God will go to in order to love everyone.