Today’s Scripture: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4)
Hebrews 11 is the “Hall of Fame” of the faith. It records the faithful examples of many of God’s servants throughout the Old Testament. These faithful servants are help up as true heroes, something that our generation is in desperate need of. Beginning in verse 4, the writer of Hebrews takes us all the way back through redemptive history, way back to days immediately following the events of the Garden of Eden. In so doing, he is showing us how faith has always been the plan of God.
Have you ever heard the phrase “as old as Cain and Abel?” Well, it can be said that faith is as old as Cain and Abel, because it the story of Cain and Abel that the writer of Hebrews starts with. Genesis 4 tells us that Adam and Eve had two sons. Cain was born first, while Abel was born after Cain. The Bible says that both of the young men were hard workers. Abel was a keeper of sheep, while Cain was a tiller of the ground. Both of the young men were taught to worship God, their Creator. I imagine that both of the young men were instructed in the ways of God from a very young age as Adam would bring them close to himself and tell them of his earlier days in the garden and how he and Eve had disobeyed God. Because they were the children of Adam, the Bible says that both Cain and Abel were sinners who needed to be saved. The difference between the two, however, was the object of their faith.
Genesis 4:3-5—“And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.”
Four things emerge about Abel’s worshiping faith in contrast to Cain’s dead faith:
First, Abel’s faith resulted in SALVATION.
Verse 4 says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous…” Abel came to God the way that God had specified. He came with a blood sacrifice. Abel was acting on truth that he no doubt had heard from God—the fact that sinners need to bring a blood sacrifice to the altar of worship. This was true long before the law of Moses, for we see the first blood atonement made mention of in Genesis 3:21 where God Himself shed blood in order to cover Adam’s nakedness. Abel acted on the Word of God that he had heard.
Romans 10:17—“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Compare Abel’s sacrifice of blood to Cain’s sacrifice of fruit. Abel’s offering was based upon what God wanted; Can’s offering was based upon what Cain wanted. The Bible says that God accepted Abel’s worship, but He rejected Cain’s. Simply looking on, there is a lot about Cain that would impress:
- He was a hard worker
- He came from good stock
- He grew up in an ideal environment
- He was religious
From the human point of view, Cain was a man of good works and moral character. He works hard in his field, he came to the altar, and he brought God a sacrifice. Looking on, he would seem to be a good man. But from the divine viewpoint, Cain’s ‘good works’ were seen as evil works because they were without faith and obedience to God’s Word. Cain may have been RELIGIOUS, but in no way was Cain RIGHTEOUS. The truth is that righteousness is not something that a person earns by his own effort; righteousness is something that a person receives through faith. Cain rejected salvation by faith through a blood substitute. His religion wanted nothing to do with blood because it plagued his conscience. Bloodshed reminded him of how big a sinner he was deep down, and he perished at the thought. Though he wasn’t willing to spill the blood of a lamb, he sure was willing to spill the blood of his brother. Abel’s faith resulted in salvation because of his faith in God’s Word and the sacrifice that God had specified as the only one worthy of acceptance. For this reason, Jude 11 refers to religion without the imputed righteousness of God as “the way of Cain.” Beware of the religion that does not lead to salvation. In contrast, Abel was declared righteous because of his faith. The Lord Jesus refers to the blood of “righteous Abel” in Matthew 23:35.
Second, Abel’s faith is reflected by SACRIFICE.
Verse 4 says, “…God testifying of his gifts…” It means that God accepted the sacrifice that Abel offered to Him in worship. It means that his worship had God’s approval and sanction. As a passionate worshiper of God, Abel was to be found at the altar offering to God the very best of his flock.
Genesis 4:4—“Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.”
It means that his faith resulted in his giving the very best of what he had to the Lord as an act of worship. Thus, his worship was evidence of his faith. Where there is no passionate worship, there is no personal faith. Abel came to the altar of sacrifice with a holy hush. His faith moved him to great godly fear. Unlike many in the church today, he didn’t dare burn the candle to please himself and then blow the smoke in God’s face. The word ‘worship’ is a contraction of the words ‘worth-ship.’ It means that worship is to declare the worth of value of something or someone. Abel’s worshiping faith resulted in his declaration of the worth-ship of God. By bringing the very best of his flocks to God, he was declaring in faith that God was worthy only of the best of the best.
Third, Abel’s faith is refined through SUFFERING.
Notice that verse 4 also says, “…and through it he being dead…” Lest we forget, Abel paid the ultimate price for his faith in that it cost him his life. Not only was Abel the first death recorded in Scripture, he was also the first martyr. A martyr is one who dies for his or her faith, and this would be an encouraging truth to those under persecution. They were not the first to ever suffer for their faith. We learn from Abel’s example that it costs to be a man or woman of faith. Genuine faith always carries with it a price. There is a high price for discipleship. Faith is always persecuted by the unbelieving world. These who are held up as God’s heroes were the world’s zeroes. In your life, you have to determine whether you want to be one of God’s heroes or one of the world’s heroes. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. And, friendship with God is enmity with the world. Faith always swims upstream against the current.
Matthew 16:25—“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Abel may have lost his life, but he gained the approval of God. Cain sought to save his own life, but he lost his soul in the process. The bottom line is that if we live to please ourselves, we always become the ultimate losers in the end. We become like Cain. But if we choose to please God, we become the ultimate winners in the end. We become like Abel. Faith is all about pleasing God. Without it, it is impossible to please Him.
Fourth, Abel’s faith remains to SPEAK.
The last part of verse 4 says, “…and through it he being dead still speaks.” This means that Abel’s faith outlived him. In fact, his righteous example of faith continues to speak to us even today. Amazingly, nowhere in Scripture do we ever read any of Abel’s words. There are no recorded words of Abel to be found anywhere in the Bible. But, O, what a sermon he preaches! In fact, the Bible only refers to the voice of Abel’s blood that cried out to the Lord from the ground. It wasn’t the voice of his mouth that Scripture makes mention of; it is the voice of his blood. His life was righteous, therefore his life’s blood cried out to God from the ground. God always hears the cries of the righteous. It is still the voice of Abel’s blood that preaches to us even now. It remains to speak of faith in God, in the way of God, in the finished work of Christ. Thus, Abel’s legacy is one of faith. Because of this, he is held up as faith’s first hero mentioned here in Hebrews 11.