"The Mark of the Lord"
11th Sun. after Trinity
2nd Sun. in Apostles' Tide
August 19, 2012
IN NOMINE JESU
We can identify prisoners fairly easily. Their clothing identifies them as convicts, whether their uniforms are orange or striped. The handcuffs and shackles are their jewelry. The number they each wear on their uniforms indicates they are in the custody of the state, and it is the state's responsibility to not only punish them for their crimes, their sins against humanity, but they must also protect them from vigilantes, those who seek to go above and beyond what the law allows, lest anarchy rule the day and the laws of the land be totally disregarded.
Cain was marked by God for Cain's sin. Cain sinned against God by murdering Abel, Cain's brother. Cain's sin was borne out of jealousy, as God, who alone can see into a person's heart, accepted Abel's offering but rejected Cain's. As the writer to the Hebrews says, "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks" (Heb. 11:4). One day Cain and his brother were in the field, and Cain killed Abel. We do not know if Cain buried his brother's body or left it lying on the ground. We can safely assume, though, that Cain did not call the undertaker. The ground swallowed up Abel's blood, the blood that cried to God from the ground. God confronted Cain. Cain refused to confess his sin, but, like his father Adam, he tried to pass the buck and asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (v. 9b). Even when God punished Cain, Cain remained unrepentant. He did not show any fear until God banished him from working the ground. Cain still did not confess his sin, but he feared for his life, pleading to God and saying, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, You have driven me today away from the ground, and from Your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me" (vv. 13-14). Yet God, whose judgment on Cain was swift and severe, is still a God of grace. Even as He showed grace to His parents, Adam and Eve, He showed His grace to Cain as well, saying, "'Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.' And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him" (v. 15). The Lord protected Cain, whom He formed in the womb of Eve, Cain's mother.
Like Cain, we also need God's protection from those seeking to harm us—namely, the unholy triad of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We know that the devil, the old evil foe, still means deadly woe. We know that the world has no regard for the holy things of God. But we also need to be protected from ourselves because we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. The writer of James says, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10-11). And when we break the First Commandment, placing other gods before the Triune God, we are guilty of breaking all of the Ten Commandments. We break the Ten Commandments because we lack a proper First Commandment relationship with God. Like our first parents and their firstborn, we live as children of the devil and not as the children of God. We act those marked with three sixes, the number of the beast in Revelation 20, and not as those marked with the three crosses of Calvary. In verse 14 of our text, Cain feared that God would hide His face from him. In a few moments we will sing the Offertory, taken from Psalm 51, in which we pray God would not cast us away from His presence, lest we be attacked and killed by those things which seek to kill the soul. Being cast from God's presence is more than we can bear, and we cry out, "Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me."
We have a God who is slow to chide and swift to bless. God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden; yet He made clothing for them to cover the shame of their nakedness. God banned Cain from working the ground and sent him as a fugitive and wanderer; yet He placed His mark on Cain, protecting him from those who would seek to kill him. Just as God dealt with Cain and with Adam and Eve, He has dealt with us. God says to us through St. Paul in Romans 6, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23a), and we will one day die on account of our sins. But in that same verse the apostle says under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23b), and by God's grace through faith in Christ we will live in heaven into eternity.
What we witnessed here two weeks ago in the baptism of little Sydney shows what God has done for you and me as well. She received a white garment to show that in Baptism she is now robed in Christ's righteousness. God has clothed her (and you and me) with even greater splendor than Adam and Eve or even King Solomon. Through Baptism we are clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness that covers all our sin. So shall we stand without fear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the inheritance prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Just prior to her becoming baptized, Sydney was marked by God, even as we were at our Baptism, receiving the sign of the holy cross both upon our foreheads and upon our hearts to mark us as those redeemed by Christ the crucified. The mark of the cross God has placed on us is greater than the mark He placed on Cain. God's mark on Cain protected him from being murdered. God's mark on us points us to what He has done—and still does—for us in our Baptism, which "works forgiveness of sins, rescues [us] from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare" (LSB, p. 325). Jesus says to us, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (Jn. 10:27-29).
We belong to God; we are children of the heavenly Father. He has called us His own in Baptism, and He has marked us as His in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism—all for the sake of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Savior whom God promised Adam and Eve and who bore the greatest marks for our sake. "For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ bore on His body the marks of the lashings and the beatings, the nails and the crown of thorns, and the spear. From Jesus' marks came the blood of life—His blood, our life. Jesus suffered for us. Jesus bled for us. Jesus died for us. He died for you and for me. The blood He shed on the cross He gives us in His Supper for us to drink, along with His body to eat, that our sins would be forgiven. Jesus rose from the dead, "raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (2 Cor. 15:4b), His body still bearing the marks of His crucifixion, and by His stripes we are healed, for He gives us His healing medicine in His body and blood. We sang in the sermon hymn, "All newborn soldiers of the Crucified bear on their brows the seal of Him who died" (LSB 837:3), and we bear this seal in our Baptism, as the sign of the cross was placed upon us. We also bear on our tongues His covenant as we taste and see that the Lord is good, His body given and His blood shed for us—for you and for me—for the forgiveness of sins. Before we depart in peace, our Triune God will once again mark us with the sign of the cross as He places His thrice-holy Name upon us in the Benediction, blessing us as He moves us from his house to our vocations, where He has called us, that we by the Holy Spirit would lead others to be marked by Him, to be claimed by Him, to be saved by Him.
Take heart, fellow redeemed, for you are marked. You are His. You are forgiven, thanks be to God! Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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