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“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
I wonder if you’ve ever met someone who just can’t stop speaking? Maybe there have been a number of preachers, over the years, who have come into the pulpit and I know what you’re thinking, ‘Please come to an end! It’s time to wind up, it’s time to finish.’ Some people just don’t know when to stop. I will take you this morning, to one who wasn’t a preacher, who was a Christian and not even death could stop him speaking. Even as we’ve come here today, he has something to say to us.
In our lives, the one thing we soon realise is our life will soon be gone. Our memories will be gone even faster. Some of us can be forgotten even in life. We will certainly be forgotten in death. But what we have here in Hebrews 11 verse 4, is a man who, even when he was dead, the memory of him and what he has taught is for us, even this day. “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)
What we have here is something that perhaps we need to learn – a great lesson:
1 – How Abel worshipped God – that is what he still speaks and teaches us this day. He teaches us what we need to know this day.
2 – We are accepted with God and how to be accepted with God.
3 – You can have a life that can be lived which can actually, in some sense, be remembered. What we do by faith is utterly and vitally important.
What happens here in Hebrews is very simple. The letter is written to those who would become Christians. They were Jewish Christians who had learnt about the Lord Jesus. They must have come to a point where they believed that He was the Son of God. We know from the letter they have almost certainly believed and trusted in Him in that moment for their sins to be forgiven.
We know from Hebrews chapter 10, as the writer tells us, that now is a new and living way by which we can come to God –through the veil of His body which was broken on that tree. These people who believed in the Messiah came to know Jesus Christ, believed in a new way of worship – by that blood which was once shed. Remember what Jesus said? ‘I will destroy the temple. In three days, I will build it again.’ They came to know that, and as they came to know that their worship had changed.
But they were beginning to go back to their old worship: the ritual, the religion, the temple, the sacrifice, the priesthood. Now, you know what people say – it doesn’t really matter how we worship – a big thing this day. Well, I have news for you – you can either do it right or you can do it wrong. That’s what you’ve got in this verse. There are those of you this day who will say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter because we all worship the same God. In this lesson, first of all, you find it in verse 4, it’s simply this: that “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice.”
Chapter 11 of Hebrews is the great chapter of the Bible that concerns faith and the need of it. There are 39 examples given, of not great men or of great acts, but of what people did in their life by faith. There’s a verse, you know it off by heart, and there’s never a sermon I preach without quoting it!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47)
Faith is utterly vital for your Christian life. Abel had it. Cain did not. There’s not much we know about them. We know that Cain was the elder brother and Abel the younger. What happened on this occasion it that they went to worship. I believe that they went to the same place of worship. Can you imagine that? Two people coming to the same place to worship God, two people coming to worship the same God. Yet, one gets it right and the other gets it wrong.
What happens simply is this; Cain offers his first fruits of the ground. I must admit, at one time I felt sorry for Cain. What else was he supposed to bring? He was a tiller of the ground. That was is job. Abel was a keeper of sheep. Perhaps you think that Abel was in a better position than Cain. But listen very carefully. It is not the offering that makes the worshipper accepted, but the worshipper which makes the offering accepted. Here, the difference between them is this – by faith Abel offered his gift.
In the world in which we live, people think they can worship God as they can, in whatever way they can. Yet, I want to show you from Cain’s life that what he did was not adequate because it was lacking this vital ingredient. Faith. People have said, ‘Well, if I was born in the Middle East, I would be a Muslim. It’s only because now I am living in this country that I am now a Christian.’ You can worship God in this world in many different religions, as many people do. But it’s not going to help you one bit, even if you worship God in a Christian country, and you come knowing the good news of the gospel, knowing the good news, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). People have come being brought up in a place of worship, they’ve heard the gospel, they’ve sung the hymns. Yet unless you do it by faith, you won’t be accepted.
Abel comes in his worship by bringing the first fruit of the first offering of his flock. He was coming in a trusting, obedient way. In Genesis 3, on the day that Adam and Eve fell, God came to them and ministered to them in the garden. God made coverings for them of skins for tunics. At that moment, death enters into the world. A sacrifice had taken place. So it was, when Abel came bringing a lamb from his flock, he did it in the realisation, in the greater need that he had, in the belief, in trusting.
It’s like in the New Testament when the Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Two men went up to pray. One was a Pharisee who says to God, ‘I thank you that I’m not like other men, I’m not like this man here.’ The other man, a Publican, simply won’t raise his head, and said, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me.’ You see, when Abel was coming with his sacrifice, he came with a heart of trusting and believing. It is the lamb, which from the very beginning, was to point to the sacrifice to come, knowing atonement had to be made, mercy from God. That’s what Abel did.
There are two mistakes people make in how they come to worship. Firstly, they make the mistake of Cain – giving his work to God, worshipping God as Creator, but not as Redeemer. It is all about the things of this earth and creation – the sun and the sea and all the rest of it. Very good. We have to do that. But the reality is, it’s a mistake to think that you could offer to God anything that could be pleasing to Him – your works, your charity, your goodness, your religion, your ritual, offering yourself as if that’s acceptable. A big mistake. You’re trusting in yourself and what you have done.
There is another mistake that people make – there will be those who have known the gospel, actually sung hymns about the cross and about the Lamb of God, spent their life singing about ‘the old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.’
Then you ask them are they going to heaven, and they don’t know, they hope so. You ask, ‘What’s that about? They take the things of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and some today in various places of worship will be doing a ritual. They have not come to worship trusting and believing that at one time, in one place, at Calvary, that there was a Lamb that was slain so that sins could be forgiven.
To have faith is how you worship. Jesus said, ‘You come to me, you come to My Father.’ What you do this morning has great significance and how you do it. What you do, do it in His Name. You’ve offered prayers in Jesus’ name. They’re not great prayers, they’re not good prayers, but you’ve bowed your head and in Jesus’ name you believe that He’s heard you. You’ve confessed your sins before the Lord Jesus Christ, believing that he can forgive you. You’ve opened God’s Word, you’ve heard it, you’ve listened to it. What you’ve done, you’ve done simply by faith. That’s powerful.
What Abel did, even though he’s dead, still speaks. Because he’s shown us this day that there is a way by which you can come and worship God. There’s a right way and a wrong way to worship. You’ve got to have faith. You’ve got to have faith in that blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Then there is something else which we have to learn: “Through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.” (Hebrews 11:4b) That’s the second great lesson. If you want to know what the Bible is all about, and you want to know the message that God has for you, it couldn’t be clearer or plainer. This book is telling you the wonderful news about someone like you and me, who is wrong before God but can be right before God. Aren’t you happy that you didn’t have to look very far in God’s word to find it? You’ve only come to the fourth chapter and it’s as clear as crystal on the page. It starts here. What Abel does is the theme which is throughout Scripture itself – how human beings are made right with God. By faith, Abel offered a sacrifice of one of his lambs from the flock. He does it in such a way, as one version puts it, ‘he received approval.’ He obtained witness that he was righteous. That is the great theme of the book.
When you read Romans chapter 1 it says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17) In this great message is the news that you and me really need. God had actually given witness to this. What Abel did, God gave him witness. People have said, ‘What is that witness?’ What happened when Abel gave his offering and Cain gave his offering? There’s a tradition that says that when Abel did it that fire came from heaven. We don’t know. We do know of two occasions when fire came down from heaven (when Elijah was on the mountain, and in the temple with Solomon).
But I will tell you this – there is a witness, there really is. Turn to Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” There is a God who gives witness. You can be right with God. You need to believe God’s Word. God has given witness: by law, by the prophets. It tells us in Isaiah 53.
It’s the teaching of the book. Abel’s offering testifies to that – how one is approved and accepted by God. He was no longer in the bad books with God.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) You could be in this place, where everyone is friendly here at Penuel; you have a cup of tea after and a sandwich, but the reality is maybe you’re not one of them, you feel different, on the outside. You don’t feel accepted. One of the reasons is simply this; it’s not that these people here don’t accept you. It is because you’re not accepted by God. The reason is very simple. You’re lacking a vital ingredient, where, by faith you know that your sins are forgiven. This is utterly vital for one’s life.
Cain was not accepted. In Genesis, Cain was first. Abel was second. Here, in Hebrews chapter 11, verse 4, Abel is first and Cain is second. Cain’s offering was not accepted. God did not respect Cain and his offering. If you don’t know what it is to be right with God, and accepted by God, then listen very carefully because there is a Cain in everyone of us.
You’ve got to come to a place where you accept God’s, ‘No’ on your life. That what you’ve brought, what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved, what you are – there’s a negative to it. Real trouble. Such is our human nature in that everything changes. Have you ever noticed when things begin to change around in your life? Now Abel is first and Cain is not. All that took place – the hatred, the killing – why did that happen? It’s simply because one was accepted, and one was not.
If you don’t accept God’s ‘No’ in your life, there’s big trouble. That is the world we live in, a world of division. If you’re not accepted, that puts a whole load of emotion in your life, that somehow things are not right. In our relationships at work, someone gets a promotion and all of a sudden, they are first. At that particular moment, you’re threatened. You don’t feel as adequate as you once were. You haven’t got an assurance. Instead of seeing them as a friend, you seem them as a threat. You can see it any farm around here. You’ve got one farmer here, next door there is a farmer with a bigger combine harvester, bigger fields. Next thing, he’s not just your neighbour, he’s a threat. Have you ever met someone in life who’s not assured about their position? It’s hard work, isn’t it. They’re not firmly convinced that they’re loved in a family, and they’re not loved at home, they’re not appreciated in their work and their work is not acknowledged. You know what happens! All the undercurrents which take place, all the uncertainties which happen, the troubles and arguments.
There is nothing better than being accepted by God. When you’re accepted by Him, whatever else is taking place is of no significance to you. But beware! Sin lies at the door. What sin was that? An offering. Sin desires to rule over you. Although he is dead, Abel still speaks. It was a great gift that was given to him. He obtained it. He didn’t do it, he just received it as he came asking for the mercy, as he came with a sacrifice for his sins.
Thirdly, there’s something else. It’s very encouraging. “God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4c). So, Abel is still speaking today. And what he’s speaking to us this day is something I find encouraging – because there’s not anything more depressing than realising that your life will soon be forgotten and you’ll be forgotten in a moment. Don’t think for a second whatever you’ve lived for will carry on. Don’t believe any will you’ve written will be followed. All your desired and plans, that moment is gone. It’s depressing. In ten, twenty years, no-one will be thinking about you and me. But this man, even though he’s dead, he still speaks. People ask, ‘How come?’ Well, firstly, his name is written in God’s book and because it’s in God’s book, from the dawn of creation till now, we are hearing of what Abel did. What he did by believing in God is still being spoken about and we’re learning from it.
Someone else has said it’s because ‘your brother’s blood cries from the ground.’ (Revelation 6). But could it not also be this – because of faith there is something that has taken place that lasts longer than any life which is lived without faith?
It’s really interesting to hear someone speak about someone who has passed away who is a believer. They didn’t just go to church, they didn’t just say their prayers, they were believers! You’ll be surprised of grandparents and great grandparents – there’ll be something recorded of where they went and what they did. It may be very small, but it is remembered.
You have a 200th anniversary. 200 years ago, there were those who came to this spot, and they believed that there was a way to worship God -only one way – by coming and praying, living their lives before Jesus. And you know something? They built this place. And for 200 years there’s people in this community who haven’t got a clue about various things, but they say, ‘There’s a place of worship there.’ There were people who believed God. Their testimony still speaks. Even when you see churches which are closed and derelict in our nation, you can’t help but think of that time when people who worshipped God in Spirit and in truth.
I can see on that wall the giving for the preaching of God’s word. Amazing, isn’t it? People’s names are still there. You can read them. One has given £5. And it says they gave £5 for the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. What they did then still speaks this morning, 8th May 2022, in this place of the same truth.
I want to encourage you. There’s something that you desperately need to do by faith. Let’s worship God. It was Luther who said, ‘When Abel was alive, he couldn’t teach one person how to worship God by faith. But since he’s dead, he’s been teaching the whole world.’