The Testimony Of Abel Who Lived By Faith - Hebrews 11:4
If I were to go and visit the NFL Hall of Fame I would see some names that I would instantly recognize. However, there would be so many other players that I have never heard about before. I know one thing for sure. If I spent several weeks there learning as much as I could about these players I know that I would not become a better football player.
However, as a church we are going to take weeks to study the people who are found in Hebrews 11,which has been called ‘God’s Hall of Fame of Faithful Men and Women’, and when we come to the end we will be exhorted to join with them. When we come to the end of this chapter we will read in Hebrews 12:1-2these words, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”.
Every name that we find in Hebrews 11, or every type of faithful person, that will be referred to in this chapter is worthy of our consideration and emulation. Some of these names you will be very familiar with but there will be others that you may not know at all.
Our text this morning is Hebrews 11:4and it speaks of someone who may not have been at the top of our list of faithful saints. He may not have entered into our minds if we were trying to put together a list of faithful Old Testament saints. However, even after the author of Hebrews realized that he was not going to be able to mention all of the saints that deserved to be there he did not remove Abel to put in someone else (Hebrews 11:32). The Holy Spirit wanted Abel to be remembered. He did not want us to forget about this man! This is encouraging because this reminds you and I that God remembers every faithful saint and He will not lose any of those that belong to Him (John 6:39).
Let’s read Hebrews 11:4together, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
This morning we are going to ask three questions:
Who is Abel?
What was the context of his life?
Why should I care? How does this apply to me?
I would like to mix up the order of these questions.
First, I’d like to talk about the context of his life.
Second, I’d like to discuss who he was.
Third, I’d like to consider why we should care.
The Time In Which Abel Lived
The context of Abel’s life would have been sad. It was sad because Abel’s parents were at one time living the good life. They lived a life that was free of trouble, pain, sorrow, despair and anxiety. But they sinned against God and they had disobeyed His Word. Because of this they stood guilty before Him and they were condemned. In that moment they died spiritually and they began to die physically. For the first time they experienced shame, conflict and separation from God and each other.
After they sinned they were cast out of the perfect environment of the Garden of Eden and they were never allowed to return. To ensure that they could never return God placed a Cherubim at the entrance to the garden with a flaming sword to keep them out and to deny them access to the Tree of Life.
I don’t think we can truly appreciate the sadness, remorse and regret that Adam and Eve must have felt when they contemplated their disobedience and all of the ramifications that their sin would bring upon everyone who was to come after them. If it had not been for the mercy of God towards them there would have been no hope.
After they sinned God showed them unexpected kindness and mercy by coming to find them as they ran from His presence (3:8-9), He fashioned for each of them clothes from the skins of an animal and put them on Adam and Eve (3:21),and the LORD gave them a promise in Genesis 3:15in which He promised that He would send a savior who would crush the head of the serpent through the seed of the woman. He said to the serpent and to them these words, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal.” From that moment on there was a battle that would rage between the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness.
How great the anguish must have been that Adam and Eve experienced as they considered the garden and their inability to return there. How great the sorrow must have been when they realized that the close and intimate fellowship that they once enjoyed with God was over. They could not, through any effort of their own, regain that which had been lost. And there was no way that they could keep the ramifications of their sin from effecting everyone who came after them. Not only were the ramifications of their sin external but they were internal as our whole natures were changed. From that day on the only way that they could live before God was by faith. They had to believe the promise that God had given to them and trust in the LORD alone for salvation.
Consider these words from the London Baptist Confession as we attempt to appreciate the sad reality of this moment in our history. “Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.” (6.2)
It continues, “They being the root, and by God’s appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity...being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the LORD Jesus sets them free.” (6.4) It continues, “From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite of all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed from all actual transgressions.” (6.5)
These words describe the terrible consequences that came upon all mankind the day that Adam sinned. Genesis 3ends with these sobering words, “He (God) drove out Adam and Eve, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the Cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (3:24)
I cannot help but wondered if Adam and Eve would have often be found themselves looking longingly towards the west and wondering, ‘What would life have been like if only we had not sinned? What would our life have been like if we would have believed God and responded in faith on that day of temptation?’
Even if they were tempted to ask these questions as they looked in the direction of the Garden of Eden it would not have been of any advantage to them. After the Fall there was only one way to live. They were to live by faith. They were to remember the promise that God had given in Genesis 3:15and live faithfully in all things concerning what He has said.
Immediately after Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden we are introduced to Abel in Genesis 4:1-16. Let’s read these verses together,
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him seven fold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
All of these things that we have just considered gives us the context in which Abel lived. It is in the midst of all of this that we see that he lived by faith in the promise of God and he sought to obey the LORD and His Word. This brings us to our second question.
Who Was Abel?
Everything that we know about Abel we get from just a handful of places in Scripture. We learn of him from the passage that we just read in Genesis 4: 1-16 and from four other verses that are found in the New Testament. It is these passages that help us answer the question: ‘Who was Abel?’
We can learn a lot about Abel from Genesis 4:1-16. Let me briefly summarize some of the facts that we see here.
Abel was the second son who was born of Adam and Eve. He was the second generation of all of mankind.
As we have just discussed, Abel grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. He did not live in the Garden of Eden but out in a world full of sin and death. In Eden there had been no sin, no shame, no death, no danger. In Eden Abel’s parents enjoyed fellowship with God and with each other, but all of this had been lost in the world that Abel was growing up in.
Abel lived in a difficult world where the shadow of death had come upon everything. Abel grew up and became a keeper of sheep, and he had to keep a close eye on His flock because they were prone to wander off and get lost. His sheep would have also been hunted by wild animals so he would have had to have worked hard to protect them and provide for them under difficult conditions.
We also know that Abel was a sinner who had to take from his flock and offer the very best animals to God as a sacrifice for sin. Abel obeyed God and he offered these things in faith. Because of this Abel was commended by God and was considered righteous.
We also know that Abel was the younger brother to a man named Cain. Unlike Able, the offering that Cain made was not received by the LORD. Cain was a faithless man and therefore he was a wicked man who allowed sin to dominate his heart so he killed Abel in a fit of prideful jealousy.
As I first considered the question, ‘Who was Abel?’ I thought it might be hard to answer this question because so little is written about him in Scripture. To my surprise, however, it has not been very hard at all to discover what type of man he was. From what little we are told in Scripture we can discover a lot about this man.
Let me begin with a story that might help us appreciate Abel and the man that he was, To know who he was requires us to think a little differently than we often do about people. (The story that I am about to share is being shared with the permission.)
Recently, I talked with a man who had received the very sad news that his mother had passed away. To be honest, this gentleman was not close to his mother. At one time he had attempted to find her so that they could reconnect with each other but he was unable to do so. In fact, his mother had not kept in contact with anyone in the family for about the last twenty years.
As we talked he told me that among all of the siblings who are now preparing for this funeral they have only been able to locate three pictures of his mother. He also mentioned that he was also having a difficult time writing her obituary. Despite having talked to all of her brothers and sisters there was no one who has has had any contact with her or who was able to give him much information about her.
As he has tried to write her obituary he said that he was struggling to describe his mother in a way that would honor her life and reflect the value that she had. Yet, as hard as he has thought about her life he cannot come up with much that she had accomplished. He has searched but he is not aware of anything that he could say to inform others about what she may have achieved over the years. You can probably imagine how hard this would be and how difficult we would all struggle with this situation.
In that moment I tried to encourage him that accomplishments, resume items, achieved goals and hobbies are not what is most important to God. These things seem important to us. These things are what we most want to brag about, acknowledge and find our significance in. But God considers different things. Therefore, we should try to view people the way that He does. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
I mentioned to this man that God wants us to live quiet and peaceful lives with dignity so that people come to a knowledge of salvation in Christ (1 Timothy 2:1-5). Peter tells us that God is pleased with a woman who is respectful and walks in purity. He is pleased with a woman who has a gentle and quiet spirit. He is pleased with a woman who does good and is not fearful of anything that is fearful (1 Peter 3:1-6). He is not always pleased with the woman who adorns the external with beauty and costly things brings God no pleasure.
Because of this I suggested that he should think back to the times that they had together and write about the virtues that His mother possessed because she was created by God. We do not know if she was a Christian but she had been made in the image of God and therefore she still reflected some of the virtues that God desires to see in people. I asked if he could remember times when she displayed any of the virtues that Peter describes in 2 Peter 1:3-11: virtue, faith, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. If so, write about these things.
We also discussed the need to look for the grace of God that could be seen working around her during the years that they spent together. God’s common grace reaches out to every one of us in this fallen and broken world. His common grace reaches out to every broken person, every broken family, every broken society. Therefore, we should remember to look for the grace of God and glorify Him for the fact that He was faithful to work in our lives and in the lives of those who are around us. Testify about those things.
I mention this story because as we consider Abel and the few scriptures that refer to him we may think that there is not a lot that we could know about him. In some sense this is true, but the few things that we are told about him end up being very significant. Nothing is more significant about this man than what we read about in our text. He was a man of faith. It was a faith that brought him commendation from the LORD. It is his faith that made him righteous and acceptable before God.
And because Abel had this type of saving faith he would have been enriched in every way (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). Because he possessed the type of faith that justifies a person we can assume that his life was full of the virtues that God desires to see in a person. I say this because of what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:5-7, ‘For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.’
We don’t know that much about Abel but we we do know is very significant. He was a man of faith, he was a righteous man, he was a virtuous man, he was a man who spoke the Word of God to his generation, and as a result of this he was persecuted by His brother and was murdered for his faith. And we know that even though he died his blood still speaks to God.
We know of these things because of what we read in Genesis 4and in four other places in Scripture: Mt. 23:35; Luke 11:51; Hebrews 11:4, 12:24. From these five texts we see that Abel is always spoken of very highly and so this man should not be overlooked or neglected by us.` There is a reason why the author of Hebrews put this man in Hebrews 11and in the ‘Hall of Fame of Faith’!
Let’s look briefly at the other three verses in the New Testament that mention Abel and I will summarize the main point very briefly.
In Matthew 23:29-36 Jesus speaks about Abel and He calls him righteous. We read, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Note: Abel is declared righteous and his death is a warning against all who reject the Person to whom His justifying faith was in.)
In Luke 11:45-52 Jesus calls Abel a prophet whose righteous blood was shed. We read, “One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.’ And he said, ‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Note: Abel is called a prophet who received the Word, obeyed the Word, spoke the Word, and died on account of the Word. He blood cried out against Cain and it still speaks out against rebellious unbelievers who reject God’s message and His Messiah.)
In Hebrews 12:22-24 we are told that Jesus’ blood speaks a better word than that of Abel’s. We read there, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Note: Abel’s blood condemns all who reject God’s Word of Promise. Abel’s blood speaks against those who reject the Messiah and His work of redemption. Christ’s blood can save the worst of sinners who will repent of their sins and believe upon Christ and they will be saved. To them Christ’s blood will not condemn, but it justifies, it sanctifies, it glorifies!)
In these verses we see that Abel was a prophet and a righteous man whose faith justified Him before God. Even though he was murdered by Cain because his faith had made him acceptable to God his blood still speaks. It speaks not only to Cain but to every generation. It speaks of a warning to all who would reject the Promised One. It speaks to believers and reminds us that even in his death he still lives.
I find it very significant that every time the story of Abel is mentioned in the New Testament it is used as a warning against those who would practice any sort of faithless religion. When his story is mentioned we are reminded that there is only one way to worship, to draw near to God, to be pleasing to God, to be justified before God. And all other ways will not lead a person to find favor, approval, acceptance and justification with God. On the contrary, all other forms of religious practice lead to damnation. The only way to be justified before God is through faith in Christ whom He had promised to send. In Christ alone are our sins removed. In Christ alone is there eternal life.
Why Should The Story Of Abel Matter To Me?
1st Application: As we have considered Abel we must ask ourselves a question. Have we heeded the warning that Abel testifies to? His life was a testimony that living by faith will justify sinners and produce in them the virtues of grace that God admires. Abel’s life testified to the fact that we are worship God according to His Word. His blood still testifies today against all faithless forms of worship that would seek to worship God in any way that we would choose. It condemns a form of worship that is more concerned with the vertical world and not concerned with a faith that looks to honor God.
Faithless worship does not produce the virtues God desires. Abel’s saving and justifying faith produces growth in the things like: ‘virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.’ However, Cain’s faithless life produced the opposite. His faithlessness produced the sins of our flesh. He pretended to be a God fearing man but he was a fake. Paul speaks of this type of people when he says in1 Timothy 6:3-5, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant frictions among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” The day that a faithless man’s religion cannot provide for him some means of gain he will turn away from God and hate those who are commended by God for their faith.
In all five places that the testimony of Abel is considered in scripture it is within the context of the danger of being faithless and rejecting the Word of God and the promise that He has made to fulfill all these things. Abel was like us, he was a sinner, and he looked by faith to Christ to be justified, sanctified and glorified. Abel’s blood condemns faithless Cain and anyone else who would not come to God in faith. Yet, Christ’s blood now speaks a better word than that of Abel’s. Any person who will turn to Christ in faith can be justified, sanctified and redeemed.
2nd Application: Perhaps Adam and Eve and all their children have been tempted to continually look back at what they have lost. They cannot get beyond the loss of these things and they fail to walk forward by faith in the promises that God has made.
We must, therefore, ask ourselves if we are looking back at our sin and our circumstances and finding ourselves hopeless and stuck in our shame? Are we remembering God’s mercy and kindness and looking at the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promises in Christ? Are we considering the grace of God that has been freely given to you and I so that the grace of God can overcome the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and enable us to serve God faithfully by His strength?
3rdApplication: Are we living by faith? If we died today would people remember us best by the things that we loved about this world or by the virtues that our faith produced. Have we labored for the things of this world or for the Kingdom that is yet to come? Does our life showcase our faith in God and His Word or does our life give testimony to the things that pass away? Are we willing to daily die to the things of this world or are we in love with this world like Demas. Do we boast about our accomplishments or do we boast about what God has accomplished through Christ?
4th Application: How are we responding to the people around us? If we are around someone like Abel and we see their faith producing blessings are we angry at these things? If so, we need to hear God say to us, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (4:7) The faithful Abel’s in our lives are not the problem. The sin that is crouching at our door is our greatest problem and we must learn to rule over it by responding to God and His Word in faith. Therefore when He says, “You must rule over it!”, the LORD is asking us to respond in faith and let the grace of God accomplish it (2 Thessalonians 1:11; Ephesians 1:19-20, 3:20).