************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:4 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 27, 2016

Hebrews 11:1-4; Genesis 4:1-12
Hebrews 11:4
"Abel's Faith"

There is so much violence today. Think of the silly and ridiculous rioting after the election. Think of the whole "Black Lives Matter" campaign in response to the shooting of blacks by police officers. Think of all the police officers who have been shot and killed. And this is not just in our big cities. I searched for "shootings" on the Visalia Times-Delta website and came up with 64 entries.

There really is nothing new under the sun. Way back at the beginning of time, brother was plotting murder against brother. The first son of the first human couple committed deliberate, willful, pre-meditated murder.

We can't blame the usual culprits that are blamed today. Cain did not kill Abel because he was a disadvantaged child who grew up without a father in the home. We can't blame alcoholism or drug addiction or depression. We can't blame racism, income inequality, or underfunded public schools. We can't blame the government. The first human born to fallen humans plotted the death of his brother because he was poisoned by the serpent. He showed himself to be the spawn of Satan. As such, he raged against the obedient faith of his brother.

Abel is the first example of faith Hebrews wants to hold before us. By grace, Abel had a faith that was living, active, and obedient. As we will find out, this faith brought about violence, persecution, hatred, and death. Hebrews starts with Abel because the persecution and enmity and hatred he experienced on account of his faith the Hebrew Christians were also experiencing because of their faith.

I Faith that Offers a Better Sacrifice
A According to Genesis, Cain and Abel both brought offerings to the Lord.
(Gen 4:3-4) In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. (4) But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.
About this Hebrews says "Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did."

Abel's sacrifice is "better." But we need to ask, better according to whom? Who is it that says Abel's sacrifice is better? Genesis tells us,
(Gen 4:4-5) The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
Notice, it was God Who declared that Abel's offering was better. It was God Who was pleased with Abel's offering. It was God Who was not pleased with Cain's offering. It is the Lord Who decides. This is His decision.

B To properly understand our text we need to look at the word "better." The word "better" does not refer to quantity. Abel's offering was not better because it was bigger, more costly, and more abundant. In the same way, I am sure you realize it isn't the size or amount or cost of our offering that ever counts with God.

Abel's sacrifice was "better" than Cain's. The word "better" can also be translated as "more important, more appropriate, more acceptable." The word "better" refers to quality. It isn't quantity but quality that counts with God.

C What makes Abel's sacrifice more acceptable to God? What makes it better and more appropriate and more important? The answer is found in the two words of our text which are repeated three times: namely, "By faith."
(Heb 11:4) By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
Acting on the basis of faith, Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.

Now, remember what we learned from the first three verses of Hebrews 11? We learned that faith is our response to God's revelation, God's Word. This means that in response to the Word and will of God, Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.

We can go a bit further and say Cain did not offer a sacrifice "by faith." This means Cain did not make an offering in response to the Word and will of God. So why, then, did Cain make an offering? Maybe out of custom. Maybe out of superstition. Maybe because his parents expected this. Maybe it was a form of sibling rivalry. Scripture does not tell us.

Abel's faith response to the Word of God was a better sacrifice than was the sacrifice of Cain. You might wonder, what Word? When did God speak to Abel. Well, we know God revealed His pleasure in Abel's sacrifice and His displeasure in Cain's. It isn't a stretch to say that maybe God said something to Cain and Abel before their sacrifice and offering. And, if God did not speak directly to them, He certainly spoke to them through Adam and Eve. These parents of the human race told their sons the story of the Garden, the fellowship with God, the command of God about the forbidden fruit, the serpent, the fall, the curse, the removal from the Garden, the angel guarding the way to the tree of life, the covering of skins. Whenever it was, whatever it was, Abel had a faith response to the Word of God and thus offered a better sacrifice.

Let's tie this in with you and me. The single most important mark of an authentic Christian is having a faith response to the Word of God. We shape our lives around the Word. We obey the Word. We believe the Word. We respond to the Word.

This is the faith that Abel had.

II Faith that is Commended
A The second sentence of our text tells us that Abel was commended:
(Heb 11:4) By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.

Who commended him? Again, this was something done by the Lord. Abel, as a sinner, could not commend himself. This is something only the Lord can do out of grace and through faith because of Christ. As Genesis tells us, "The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering" (Gen 4:4).

B Abel was commended. Look at what Genesis says about this:
(Gen 4:4-5) The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
Try to imagine the scene: two brothers, side by side, making an offering to God. The Lord looked with favor on the one and not on the other.

Question: How did Abel know God commended him? And, on the other hand, how did Cain know God did not commend him?

Throughout Scripture God displays His approval of sacrificial offerings by sending fire out of heaven that powerfully consumes the offering. This is what happened at the dedication of the Tabernacle. This is what happened in the contest of Elijah against the prophets and priests of Baal. Most commentators believe that is what happened in Genesis 4. God consumed Abel's offering by fire. In an instant the fire of God came down and his offering was devoured. Meanwhile, Cain's offering a few feet away was left untouched by the fire of God, not so much as scorched or even warmed. God made clear His approval and His disapproval.

C By now you should realize there is a basic difference between the two brothers. Hebrews uses the word "righteous" to describe Abel. Jesus uses the same word for Abel in Matthew 23:35. 1 John 3:12 also describes Abel as "righteous." Abel was "righteous." This means he was a right living man. This does not mean he was sinless. This does not mean he was perfect. But it does mean the bent of his life, by faith, was to obey and love and serve God. And for this, he was commended. Remember what was said back in Hebrews 10:38? "The righteous will live by faith." That's what Abel did. "By faith he was commended as a righteous man."

Who declared Abel to be righteous? Again, this was something done by the Lord. Abel, as a sinner, could not declare himself to be righteous. He could never declare himself to be righteous. This is something only the Lord can do out of grace and through faith because of Christ.

Abel was a righteous man of faith. Astounding faith. So God looked on him and his offering with favor.

D As for Cain, God comes to him and tells him not to be angry and to do what is right. That is, God gave him the Gospel message to repent and to believe.

So what does Cain do? He says, "Let's go out to the field, my brother" (Gen 4:8). Maybe to look at the crops. Maybe to eat some of the harvest. Maybe to admire the rising or setting of the sun. Maybe to look at the straight furrows and weedless rows. We don't know the reason he gave his brother. But it was all deception. Because Cain had something else planned: premeditated murder.

Listen to this very carefully: Cain responded to Abel's righteousness with murder. Cain responded to Abel's faith with murder. Cain responded to Abel's favor with murder. This is the response of the sinful world to faith and righteousness. And, get this, this is also the response of the Roman world to the faith of the Hebrews. The Roman world responds with persecution to the faith and righteousness of the Hebrew Christians.
(1 Jn 3:12) Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? [LISTEN TO THE REASON] Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.

(Jn 15:18-19) "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (19) If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

(2 Tim 3:12) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...

I warn you, congregation, that the world continues to respond this way. Someday and in some way we can expect the world to hate us for our faith and our righteousness. And, to a certain extent, we saw this in our election campaign. How the media and the politicians laugh and scorn the faith of what they call the fly-overs. How they love to portray us as intolerant and bigoted and narrow-minded. Many here even have family members saying the same thing. Because of our faith and our righteousness we are told we are unloving and intolerant!

The world wants to do to Christians what Cain did to Abel. Strike us down. Snuff out the light of righteousness. Get rid of our nagging and uncomfortable righteousness. Our culture -- which prizes tolerance above all else -- does not tolerate faith and righteousness and obedience.

III Faith that Continues to Speak
A Cain discovered something when he killed Abel. He discovered that Abel continued to speak. He discovered that dead men do talk. No, I am not talking about the kind of evidence collected by a CSI crime lab. Rather, I am talking about the cry of Abel's blood:
(Gen 4:10) The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground ..."
Abel's blood cries out.

Abel's blood was crying out for vengeance, justice, retribution. Abel's blood was asking God to make things right. So God put Cain under a curse. Abel's cry was heard and answered.

B Four thousand years later Abel still speaks. Look at the third line of our text: "And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead" (Heb 11:4). Abel speaks to the Hebrew Christians. Abel speaks "by faith."

So what is Abel saying to the Hebrew Christians? What is Abel saying to you and to me? He is no longer crying for vengeance and justice. That cry has already been answered. Rather, he is speaking about faith. He is speaking about an obedient faith. He is speaking about a living faith. He is speaking about a righteous faith.

"Listen," says Abel. "You need to have faith no matter what. Even if it costs you your life. Even if the world mocks you and persecutes you and hates you. No matter what, you gotta believe."

Isn't this amazing, that Abel still speaks? Isn't this amazing, that Abel speaks to you and me? Quoting loosely from Martin Luther, "When alive he could not teach his own brother but when dead he teaches the whole world."

We look at Abel and we see an Old Testament saint with an obedient faith. But we don't fix our eyes on Abel. Remember what follows the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11? I mentioned this the last time we looked at Hebrews:
(Heb 12:2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The obedient faith of Abel points us to the obedient faith of Jesus. It is Jesus, more than any other, Who was persecuted for His faith and His righteousness. It is Jesus, more than any other, Who cries out to us to live by faith. It is Jesus, more than any other, Who is commended by the Father.

So we look to Jesus. We see His perfect obedience. We see His sacrificial death. We see our righteousness because of His blood.

We are to continue to listen to the message of Abel who though dead still speaks. But we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
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