“By Faith, Abel…”
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb.11:1) Would you repeat that together with me please? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I think that it is safe to say that all of us would like to have a stronger faith in God than we have. We all struggle with our faith. We all wish we were more “assured” of what God’s Word and promise tell us than we are. We all wish that we had more “conviction in the things that are unseen,” but that God’s Word tells us we will one day see, than we have.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gives us a list of people who are good examples of those who had a ‘strong faith.’ How do we know that? Other than the fact that the Bible tells us so? Isn’t “faith” a matter of the heart, hidden inside us that only God can see?
And the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ it is a matter of the heart and only God can see what is in a person’s heart. But ‘faith’ is also ‘visible.’ It is ‘visible’ in the way we live our life. Far more than we are willing to admit, we all live our lives according by faith. The decisions that we make and the actions that we either take or don’t take are based on what we believe.
So, we are able to see the faith of those who are put before us by the decisions they made, they actions that they took or didn’t take. These are the outward indicators of their inward faith.
And by their example, we see what a ‘strong’ faith looks like. And the idea is, we should be encouraged by their example to imitate them in our own life.
The goal then, is to hear their story, which is embedded in the Bible and therefore is God’s Word, trusting that in doing so, our faith will be strengthened.
Our first example is Abel.
“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.” (Heb.11:4).
As we heard in our first reading from Genesis 4, Abel is the second son of Adam and Eve. His older brother was Cain.
We all have memories of our family and growing up and what growing up in our particular family was like. What do you think growing up was like for Cain and Abel? His parents were Adam and Eve, the only two people in the whole world never to have had a belly-button; the only two people who could ever say, ‘we used to live in Paradise.’
If we were fortunate, we knew our grandparents and maybe even our great grandparents. If not, certainly our parents told us about them. But Adam and Eve didn’t have parents and so Cain and Abel didn’t have grandparents. They had very little 'family history.' In fact, their 'family tree' went back no further than their own parents.
What were the stories that our parents told us about their life and what it was like – 'back in the good old days'? What stories would Adam and Eve have told their children? Certainly, Cain and Abel would have heard their parents tell them about how they used to walk with God in the Garden of Eden and how God had told them how He created the world and how He made them. How many times do you think Adam might have showed his two sons that scar on his side and Eve would have said, ‘that’s where I came from’?
As children do, they would have asked questions, questions like, ‘why don’t we live in the Garden any more’ and ‘can we go and see it?’ And their parents would have recited the story of the serpent and the temptation, and their terrible sin.
And they would have also certainly told them about what happened after their fall into sin. That day that they called, ‘JUDGEMENT DAY.’ God had told them, “the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And that’s exactly what they had expected would happen.
But instead, a remarkable thing happened. Not only didn’t God kill them, but He promised them forgiveness and life through a Savior who would undo the damage that they had done.
As they would have told it to their sons, it was really that serpent that was on trial before God. And the sentence that God spoke against the serpent went like this, 'I will put enmity between your offspring and her offspring, he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.'
In stunned silence, as the words sunk in, they looked at each other and said, ‘did He say OFFSPRING? Are we going to have a baby? Dead people don’t have babies. And our baby will be our Savior and restore things to their original righteousness and open the gates to paradise resettle us in Garden of Eden again and we will resume the close communion with God that we had once had.’
How often do you think Adam and Eve must have told that story to their children? It must have been one of those stories that Cain and Abel must heard over and over again. And they would have told it with “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen.”
Which makes us want to examine ourselves. How often have we told this story to our children, which is really our story just as much as it was theirs? And with what “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen' have we told it to them?
How do we know that Adam and Eve believed the promise that God made to them? By the decisions that they made and the actions that they took. With “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen” they did what husbands and wives do to have a baby.
“Now Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man, the Lord. And again, she bore his brother Abel.”
As soon as the birth announcements are made, we skip forward to time when the boys are both grown, or at least old enough to be working. Their doing just as their parents were charged with doing in the Garden when God gave them dominion over the animals and plants and told them to tend and keep them. “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a worker of the ground.”
“And 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.”
As soon as we hear the evidence presented, the investigator in all of us jumps into action. Why did the Lord have regard for Abel's offering and not for Cain's? And we search for clues. Was it because the Lord prefers meat to vegetables? Or was it that Abel offered the 'firstborn' whereas it doesn't say that Cain offered the 'first fruits' but only 'the fruit of the ground'?
But before we go any further with this investigation, we remember that the case is already been closed by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures tell us why the Lord regarded Abel's sacrifice. “BY FAITH, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.”
Abel believed the promise that he heard through his parents. He was “assured of the things hoped for and convicted of things unseen.’ And this ‘faith’ shaped the decisions he made and the actions that he took or didn’t take.
And what about Cain? “For Cain and his offering, the Lord had no regard.” It is awfully tempting for us to get sidetracked here and make this more about Cain than about Abel. And that’s not what I want to do because our purpose here is to learn from Abel.
But maybe just this much might be helpful in understanding the dynamics involved in this family into which sin has entered. Cain is the firstborn son of Adam and Eve. And when Cain was born, Eve says, “I have gotten a man – the Lord.” There is every reason to believe that Eve believed the promise so completely that she thought that Cain was the Messiah.
The word ‘Cain’ in Hebrew literally means, ‘gotten.’ Cain is the ‘GOTTEN ONE.’ He is the “OFFSPRING OF THE WOMAN” who would reconcile the fallen world to God. Or so she thought. And who knows but under her influence, Cain didn’t grow up thinking that he was the fulfillment of the promise.
So, when a second son is born, he is given the name ‘Abel,’ ‘avel’ in Hebrew. ‘Avel’ literally means, ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless’ or ‘nothing.’ It’s the same word that Solomon repeats five times in the introduction of Ecclesiates. “Avel, Avel…” “Meaningless, meaningless. Utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl.1:1)
Maybe this helps us to understand why Cain was so angry when it became obvious that the Lord regarded Abel’s offering more than his. It’s not at all clear how this was obvious. Did lightening come down from above and consume Abel’s offering while Cain’s just sat there. Or did God seem to answer Abel’s prayers and Cain’s went unanswered? Did Abel prosper and Cain struggle? However it was, it was obvious that ‘the Lord had regard for Abel’s offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”
That’s not the way it’s supposed to work if he is the Savior. “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” Here, the Scriptures open Cain’s heart to us so we can see what is inside of him. He was truly bothered by this. “Why is he so blessed by God and I’m not?”
Cain received a stern warning from the Lord to REPENT. “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you. But you must rule over it.” But Cain ignored the word of the Lord and refused to repent.
It is also entirely reasonable to think that Abel believed that his brother Cain was the ‘offspring of the woman’ that God promised. So when his brother invited him to go with him to the field, maybe where he grew his crops, Abel gladly and willingly followed.
‘What was it that you wanted to talk to me about my brother?’ And when he saw his brother stoop down to pick up a rock and raise the rock, Abel would have said, ‘no my brother. This is not right. The Savior does not murder his brother, he is murdered FOR his brother. The Savior doesn't take his brother's life, He lays down his life for His brother.’
However it might have gone, Abel stands as the first ‘MARTYR OF THE FAITH’ in the bible. He lived in a land where others were jealous and angry with him because of his faith. Sound familiar? He was murdered because of his faith, and he paves the way for many more faithful brothers and sisters to follow in his footsteps.
The Lord spoke to Cain saying, “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Here’s how we know that even as his brother “rose up against him,” Abel put His trust in the Savior yet to come, yet UNSEEN. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying TO ME from the ground.” Not crying to Cain, but crying to the Lord.
Let Abel be an example to us all. Through the Holy Scriptures, he still speaks to us. Do not put your faith in the wrong object that cannot save you and that only seeks to kill you. Put your faith, your ‘assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen,’ not in the GOTTEN ONE, but in the ONLY-BEGOTTEN ONE.
The woman is Mary and the 'offspring of the woman' is Jesus Christ. He has crushed the head of the serpent and had his heel bruised in doing so. AND THE LORD HAS HAD REGARD FOR HIS OFFERING. Abel’s offering was a foretaste, a sign of the offering of Jesus Christ. And the reason that we know that God had REGARD for Jesus’ offering is that GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.
Abel made his offering of a lamb in anticipation of the offering that the Savior would one day make. An offering of thanksgiving for the Lamb of God, offered for the forgiveness of the sin of the whole world. The , ‘once for all’ offering to reconcile God to the world, to make all things new, to open the doors of paradise, to bring men and women into a close communion with God again.
Say with me please. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”