A case of mistaken identity
- Order of Service: Common Service, p15
- Lessons: Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-55
- Hymns: 23, 378, 32, 20
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
It was an understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. After nine months of pregnancy, after the first pain-filled labor and delivery, Eve holds her newborn son in her arms and thinks, “He’s the One! I have brought forth the man God promised, the Lord who would crush the devil’s head!” She named him Cain.
However long Eve may have felt that way, it all came to an end on the day Cain crushed his brother’s skull out in the back forty. After God rejected his offering because he brought it without faith, brought it in the hopes of gaining some favor or credit from God, Cain looked and saw that God approved of Abel’s offering, for Abel brought it with faith. And Cain hated Abel. And killed him. The sin that the LORD warned Cain about, the sin crouching at the door of Cain’s heart, the sin waiting, hoping, dreaming to have Cain, got him. And destroyed him. And, along the way, proved that Cain was not the Seed of the woman who would crush the devil’s head. He was not God’s Savior. The farthest thing from it.
Even before Cain murdered his brother, Adam and Eve and their descendants seemed to grow less certain that God would send this Savior-Seed in their own lifetime. They name their second, ill-fated son, Abel, which means “breath” or “vapor.” God graciously replaces Abel with Seth and he has a son whom he names Enosh, which means “human” or “ordinary.” While believing in God’s promised salvation no less, all these descendants of Adam and Eve realize that God will work in His own time. And that they should be cautious in identifying the Lord’s chosen Man, the Lord’s Savior and Messiah.
Because if they didn’t learn it from Cain, they learned it along the way: sin messes things up. It started with Cain murdering his brother. And continues as one of Cain’s descendants introduces polygamy and war into the world. And Adam realized that while God made him in God’s image and likeness, he was producing sons in his, Adam’s, image and likeness. Seth and his brothers and sisters lied to mom and dad, stole from each other, hit each other, cheated each other. And then, they died. There’s the sad refrain of Genesis 5: And then he died (Genesis 5:5, NIV84). A refrain we still sing today. If after all the lying, cheating, stealing, hating, hurting, and murdering, we don’t get that there’s all kinds of problems, problems not with the world, but with us, you, me, mankind, then death seals the deal. It’s literally the last nail in the coffin.
But we still make the same mistake today. We still misidentify things. We call babies innocent. We say that people are basically good. Pictures float around the internet in the wake of this terrible tragedy in Connecticut that assume that all those murdered children are in heaven, because, perhaps of the injustice of their death or simply because they’re children. They enjoy heaven’s glories if they had faith in Christ. And I pray that they did.
This is a worse case of mistaken identity than Eve’s. At least we can explain away Eve. She had recently heard God’s promise, “I will send a Savior. A woman will give him birth.” She had those words ringing in her ears as her body pushed out Cain. But we, we have thousands of years of children born in the image and likeness of mankind. We have billions of murders and lies and hurts and harms. We have Stalins and Hitlers and Husseins and Assads. Not to mention temper tantrums and naughty words and curfews broken.
We have the same violent sin crouching at our own doors too. It’s in our own obsession with guns and violence and hatred and harm that lead to our own Cain-like behaviors. We love violent movies. We love violent video games. We love violent sports. We glorify war. We glorify the Mafia. We glorify the Wild West gunfighters. And that mastered this young man in Connecticut. That violence within him burst out in a murderous rage. And Scripture assures us that this is how it happens in all of us. It starts with thoughts. It starts with temptations. It starts with desires. It turns into bitterness or anger. Or apathy and failure to feel. And then it comes out in brawling and slander, or, as happened last week, hundreds of rounds of bullets. And we think we’re good, or at least better than that dead murderer. We’re just Cain by another name.
That being the case, how could Mary know that she did have the Lord in her womb and how could Elizabeth say, “The mother of my Lord is here!” How could they know that they’d finally gotten it right after so many centuries and millennia of getting it wrong? It was, as always, the Word of God that made them sure. The angels, God’s spokesman told these mom’s about their sons and their future work. The angel told Mary specifically, “This Son is from the Holy Spirit, the promised One. He’s the Seed. You’re the woman.”
Likewise, as more people began to learn about this child, it was the Word that made them sure. As the wise men sought out the Christ, Herod’s priests pointed them to the prophet Micah, “The Savior will be born in Bethlehem.” Other prophecies pointed clearly to Christ – what he would say, what he would do – culminating in this one born of a virgin acting the true Shepherd: laying down his life for His flock, and taking it up again! And looking at Christ, we see we finally got it right. A boy from Bethlehem, born of a virgin, a sinless man, a death for all, a resurrection from the dead!
Don’t make the same mistake again. Eve mistook Cain for Christ. We often mistake ourselves and others for Christ by assigning to ourselves and others an innocence that just doesn’t exist. There is no other Christ except the one pointed to in the Word. He is the only sinless one. He is the only one who didn’t let sin have Him. He mastered sin. He mastered it on your behalf, being mindful of the humble state, the lowly state, the guilty state, of us. And in so doing raised us up, as Micah foretold: And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace (5:4b-5a, NIV84). When you look at Christ and see that, it’s no mistake. It’s heaven. Amen.