Lord, Lord, Did We Not?
Have you ever pondered Jesus's haunting words in Matthew 7:21-23? "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, in Your name did we not prophesy, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name do many miracles:' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; Depart From Me, you who practice lawlessness.' If you are like me, you have wondered if you will hear those terrible words on judgment day. We must acknowledge the enemy can deceive us into thinking we are doing the works of God when we are not. So, how do we serve the Lord with confidence we are firmly in His will?
In Genesis 4, we find the story of Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel. Their interactions are informative as we seek to understand Jesus's words in Matthew 7. Setting the context in Genesis 3, the Serpent entered the garden and deceived the woman by enticing her to eat from the tree God had forbidden them. Sadly, Adam followed his wife and ate from the tree, plunging the human race into sin. After this, Yahweh confronted the man and the woman. They had initially hidden from Him and tried to cast blame. But there was no getting around it; they had disobeyed Yahweh. He responded with several curses upon the Serpent, childbirth, and the ground. He also sent the man and woman out of the garden so they would not eat from the tree of life and live forever in their cursed state.
After being thrown out of the garden, the text says Eve gave birth to Cain. Eve responded, "I have gotten a man with the help of Yahweh (Gen 4:1). The Legacy Standard Bible rightly gives an alternate translation of this verse, "I have gotten a man, Yahweh." I would argue that she was referring to Genesis 3:15, where Yahweh promised an offspring who would crush the head of the Serpent. We know from later revelation He would send His Son to strike that fatal blow. The question is, what would Adam and Eve have understood about Yahweh's promise?
We need to think about this from their point of view. In Genesis 3:16, Yahweh promised great pain in childbirth. When Eve gave birth to Cain, she must have experienced this pain but also remembered the promise of an offspring who would crush the head of the Serpent. I would argue she believed her offspring, Cain, would return them to the paradise of the garden. Genesis 4:2 tells us that Eve gave birth to Abel, and Abel was a keeper of the flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
We will pick up the story in verse three -
So it happened in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to Yahweh of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part, also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And Yahweh had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard (Gen 4:3-5 LSB)
So, why did Yahweh reject Cain's offering and accept Abel's? Many have pondered this question. I believe the text gives us the answer and will help us understand Jesus's warning in Matthew 7. In Genesis 3:21, Yahweh God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. This act set the precedent that the shedding of blood covers sin, pointing to Jesus's ultimate sacrifice on the cross (Lev 17:11, Heb 9:22, Matt 26:28).
We should note that Abel's sacrifice was of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. I would argue that his sacrifice showed his trust for Yahweh by following the pattern He gave to Adam and Eve in the garden. But Cain did the complete opposite - he brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Why did Yahweh reject this offering?
Earlier, I said that Eve believed that Cain was the promised seed who would crush the head of the Serpent and return them to the garden. You may notice that he was a "tiller of the ground." I would argue that Cain arrogantly thought that he was the one who would return them to Eden by rebuilding the garden in his own power. In other words, Cain believed in himself and his works instead of trusting Yahweh's provision like Abel.
After Yahweh rejected his offering, Cain became angry and sullen. He came against Abel, his brother, and slew him. In response to this violent act, Yahweh warned, "When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth." Cain's response betrayed his heart. He said, "My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground." Cain had trusted in his works over Yahweh's provision; now, he couldn't bear the thought that Yahweh had rejected his works. In other words, it was all about him.
The Apostle John picked up on this theme in 1 John 3:11-12. He warned his readers to love one another, "not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous." Putting these things together, I would argue that John concludes it is unloving and unrighteous to trust your works instead of God's provision. When we do so, we open the door for all sorts of sin!
This gives us great insight into Jesus's warning in Matthew 7. Yahweh has provided the ultimate provision for sin in the sacrifice of His Son, the Lord Jesus. If you have trusted in your works of righteousness like Cain, you will hear those dreadful words, Depart from Me! But if you have firmly put your trust in Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, you will find life eternal! I believe it is as simple as that. In Jesus's words, "he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been done by God" (John 3:21 LSB).
The words of a Stuart Townend song beautifully capture these truths:
I will not boast in anything:
No gifts, no power, no wisdom,
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer,
But this I know with all my heart:
His wounds have paid my ransom.
This I know with all my heart:
His wounds have paid my ransom.
Have you trusted in Jesus's life, death, and resurrection? If so, you will not hear those dreadful words, Depart from Me, on that final day! But the sweet sound of the Savior's voice saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"