Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Homily for Lenten Vespers In the Week of Invocabit (The First Sunday In Lent)
GOD'S VINDICATION OF THE INNOCENT SUFFERER: The Innocent Blood of Abel
Luke 22:1-23; Genesis 4:1-16
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Genesis chapter three tells the account of our First Parent’s rebellion and fall into sin. Genesis chapter four begins with the very first murder. Things don’t get any better thereafter. The wages of sin is always and only death. Whether death comes quickly or slowly, it always comes. Jesus acknowledged this fact at His Last Supper with His disciples when He said prophetically, “The Son of Man goes as it has been determined” – death always comes – “but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” And, that is what we see in Cain, as well as in Judas, in our First Parents, and in ourselves – betrayal. We have betrayed God. We have betrayed our spouses. We have betrayed our brothers and sisters. We have betrayed each other. Are you your brother’s keeper? Yes, you are. And He is yours. His blood is on you and your children. But, thanks be to God that His blood speaks a better Word than does Abel’s.
But, what word does Abel’s blood speak? We sang in our hymn a moment ago, “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies.” Jesus says that Abel was a prophet. But, in what way was Abel a prophet, and what did Abel prophesy? A prophet is one who speaks for the LORD. Or, better still, a prophet is one through whom the LORD speaks. The great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel, and many others, proclaimed both a word of judgment and a word of comfort to the LORD’s people. They proclaimed the Law of God in all its severity, and they proclaimed the Gospel in all its sweetness. However, they always and only proclaimed the Word of the LORD. But, what word did Abel prophesy when he was alive? And, what word does Abel’s blood speak still?
“The LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.” The Preacher to the Hebrews tells us that, “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.” In truth, Abel didn’t say anything. Abel didn’t do anything. He confessed that all he had was on loan from God and he gave back to the LORD a portion of his goods as a sacrifice and confession of his faith. Abel didn’t say anything. Abel didn’t do anything. But, the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering. In stark contrast, Cain was angry when the LORD had no regard for his offering. But, why was Cain angry? The fruit and grain he offered was no more his than was Abel’s lamb offering. Rather, Cain’s anger was the fruit and confession of his faithlessness. Cain made his offering, not out of love and thanksgiving, but out of fear and coercion in bitter resentment. Cain believed he was doing something in his sacrifice, paying God back or earning His favor. Thus, “The LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”
It was because of Abel’s God-given, Spirit-created faith that the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering. However, the preacher to the Hebrews continues saying, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” Though his brother Cain murdered him and spilled his blood, Abel still speaks, he still prophesies, through faith. But, again, we must ask, “Speaks what?” The preacher to the Hebrews says that he, though dead, still speaks. But, what does he speak? And, the LORD said to Cain that the voice of his brother’s blood cried out to Him from the ground. What does Abel’s blood cry out? We have a clue from the Revelation to St. John. When the Lamb opened the fifth seal of the scroll, St. John “saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies.” Abel is a prophet of the Law, of judgment upon those who refuse God’s grace and attempt to take His kingdom by violent force and works. Abel cannot save, but he can warn unto repentance. The LORD will avenge the innocent shed blood of Abel and all the saints. The LORD will avenge the innocent shed blood of His Son. The blood of Abel still speaks – “Flee to the blood of Jesus that cleanses from all sin. Repent and flee to the blood while there is still time! But, O LORD, for the sake of your innocent One, may that time be short. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Come.”
“Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries.” Like Abel, Jesus was betrayed by His brother. Also like Abel, Jesus did not count His own life to be His own possession, but willingly gave it up unto death according to the will of His Father. “The Son of Man goes as it has been determined” – death always comes – “but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” “But the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries.” Jesus’ blood cries pardon even for Judas, and for Cain, and for you, and for me. The LORD even promised vengeance for Cain’s blood, placing a mark upon him.
As the LORD said to Cain before he murdered his brother, “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.” This “doing well” and “being accepted” is a poor translation. What the text means to say is that, in doing what you have been called and given to do you will have contentment and peace with God and man. It has to do with faith and the intentions of the heart. It is the reason that the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering but did not have regard for Cain and his offering. But, if you refuse and reject to do what you have been called and given to do, and if the intention of your heart is not good, sin is crouching at the door for you as well. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it by resisting temptation in faith. The only way to do that is to flee to Jesus in humility and repentance and be cleansed in His innocent shed blood again and again throughout your life. This is the purpose of Abel’s prophecy. This is the purpose of the Law of God – to drive you into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He has put His mark upon you in Holy Baptism and He will not let you go. Though you are a greater sinner than you think, the good news is that Christ is a greater savior than you can imagine. “Grace and life eternal in that blood I find; blest be His compassion, infinitely kind!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.