Saturday Sermon: The History of the World in a Nutshell
Though some may believe that moving the science/faith dialogue forward is best left to scientists, scholars, and theologians, we at BioLogos recognize that our pastors play an invaluable role in the conversation. Across the globe, pastors are helping their congregations work through difficult issues of science and faith with honesty, insight, and a gentle spirit. To this end we present an ongoing series recognizing sermons (and the pastors who give them) that are helping to promote the harmony of science and faith. Today's sermon comes from Rev. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Click above to hear an excerpt. Below, is a brief summary written by BioLogos editorial staff. The full sermon, which we highly recommend can be purchased from Redeemer’s sermon store. Finally, if you know a sermon or podcast related to science and faith that has especially spoken to you, please let us know.
In tracing the fluid storyline of the Bible, Dr. Keller has first focused on the early chapters of Genesis, emphasizing both the ordained purpose of creation and the great Fall of humanity. The latter addresses the pressing question: what is wrong with the world? Scripture explains that Sin is responsible for the seen destruction and chaos. Through a close reading of the story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4: 1-10, Keller draws attention to the significant aspects of Sin—its potency and subtlety—as well as to the text’s foreshadow to the coming Messiah who will conquer Sin, once and for all.
Foremost, God’s description of Sin stresses its deadly power. In this story, Cain becomes angry when the Lord is not pleased with his offering. Then, the Lord comes to him, and tells him, “But if you do not do what is right, Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is to have you, but you must master it.” This image characterizes Sin as a predatory animal lurking in the shadows, eagerly waiting to kill its prey at the opportune time. It seems from this verse that Sin is an abiding, growing presence. A person is not overcome by it in a single action, but in a series of actions through which sin gains dominance in one’s life. In a quote from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis suggests that the “bigness or the smallness of the sin seen from the outside is not what really matters,” but it is the “twist in the central self” that dooms a man to destruction. Reflecting on this thought, Dr. Keller explains that first “you do sin, but then sin does you,” unless one turns to God in repentance. This picture of sin “crouching” also points to its hidden nature. It does not pounce on a person in plain sight, but stalks about in the darkness, in the places where vision is obscured. This is evident in the way one seeks to rationalize his or her shortcomings. When ignored, this force will overtake and kill a person; it should not be taken lightly.
Next, this narrative highlights the subtlety of Sin. The account clearly states that God looks upon Abel and his offering with favor, but does not look upon Cain and his offering with approval. This suggests that God prospers one, but not the other. Yet, no explanation is offered as to why God is displeased with Cain. Outwardly, they appear nearly identical—both present sacrifices before the Lord. Looking carefully at different verses, Dr. Keller explains that it’s a hidden issue of Cain’s heart. While Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, Cain brought forth some fruits of the soil. Since he cannot be sure of the increase of his flock without new offspring, offering a firstborn lamb demonstrated great faith on Abel’s part. However, Cain needs little faith to bring forth only a portion from his plentiful produce. In God’s eyes, Abel expresses gratitude and trust, while Cain seeks to earn his favor.
Then, when Cain murders Abel, God comes asking questions of Cain saying, “Where is your brother Abel” and “What have you done?” This is not to gain insight but to reveal to Cain his own heart. God, in his grace, has come to counsel him. However, God says in Genesis 4:10b (NASB), “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” In other words, God, being just, cannot ignore sin. In this case, it is the shedding of innocent blood. The Lord’s response demonstrates his gracious and just character.
Finally, triumph over Sin comes through Jesus Christ, the ultimate Abel figure. Jesus appears to a people filled with Cain hearts. They outwardly follow religious practices in the name of God, offering sacrifices and observing the Law, but inwardly breed corruption. They see Jesus’ loving spirit, and they despise him. They condemn Jesus to death, but he goes willingly for the sake of destroying all sin and death in the world. According to the book of Hebrews, it is now his sprinkled blood that “speaks better than the blood of Able” over humanity. Since Jesus paid the full price for every sin committed, God can no longer condemn those who have received the blood of his Son. His justice is now offering grace and love and life everlasting to all.
Tim Keller is pastor and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. The “Influentials” issue of New York magazine featured Keller as “the most successful Christian evangelist in the city” for his engagement with the young professional and artist demographics. He received his bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn., his Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hampton, Mass., and his Doctor of Ministry from Westminster Theological Seminary. Keller has helped start more than 100 churches throughout the world. He is the author of Counterfeit Gods; The Prodigal God; The Reason for God: Belief of God in an Age of Skepticism -- named book of the year by World Magazine in 2008; and the recently released Generous Justice.