Sermon: Case Studies in Faith: Abel’s More Acceptable Sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4)

Case Studies in Faith:

Abel’s More Acceptable Sacrifice

Hebrews 11:4 (ESV)

[4] 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.

Genesis 4:1-10 (ESV)

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” [2] And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. [3] In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, [4] 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, [5] but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. [6] The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? [7] 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 for you, but you must rule over it.”

[8] Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. [9] Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” [10] And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.

As we continue on from last week’s Attributes of Faith, to this week’s Case Studies in Faith, I pray we will through the course of the next few weeks truly understand what saving faith is and what it looks like in the life of a believer.  In this text before us, we have a contrast between brothers Cain, the firstborn and Abel, the righteous.  I hope to answer the age old question about the sacrifices offered and why one was accepted and the other rejected.

For the church, faith is a much misunderstood concept.  Faith is what separates religious hypocrites from genuine worshippers.  It’s what is shown by genuine fruit in contrast to a self-elevating act.  Faith is what apprehends the future rather than walking in the present.

As humans, we need to depend entirely of the merits of Christ and guard against coming to God based on our works.

Truth Taught- Saving faith believes God’s Word so strongly that it shapes how we live and how we come to God.

1. Abel’s Faith (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4)

[4] 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,

[4] 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.

The first thing to notice is what motivated Abel to offer his sacrifice?  By faith.  Immediately we understand something.  We realize that Abel was not trying to please God by works.  He wasn’t being religious.  He wasn’t seeking acceptance based on his deeds.  He saw something that Cain didn’t see.  Abel saw into the future to the day when Christ would take away the sin of His people.  Before Jesus was born, before the Egyptian plagues, before the Ten Commandments, before Abraham, before about everything else, Abel, by faith, offered a sacrifice.  That’s a rather strange fact.  Abel offered a blood sacrifice for sin.

There’s probably no better picture of the sacrificial system than the coverings God made for Adam and Eve after the fall.

Genesis 3:21 (ESV)

And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

God killed animals in order to provide a covering for Adam and Eve. It’s also important to see that they tried to provide for themselves covings and they were worthless.

Genesis 3:7 (ESV)

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

If they were to stand before God, as sinners, they had to be clothed in a covering that He provided.  Today, as sinners, We also must be covered by what God has provided.  Today, we can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ.  We can have our sins atoned for through the shedding of Christ’s blood and new covenant.

Hebrews 9:22 (ESV)

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

By faith Christ becomes our Mediator, standing between the sinner and a God who demands righteousness.  Abel knew this truth.  He knew that his sin had separated him from God and that like his parents, an animal sacrifice had to be made to cover his sin.  By faith he placed the blood of the sacrifice between him and God.  By faith, he knew more was coming in the future.  God accepted his sacrifice because it pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Abel knew the gospel…

Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

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 heel.”

Abel knew that one of his own descendants would be born and crush the head of the serpent.  In this early prototype of the gospel Abel believed and it was counted to him as righteousness.  He proved that his faith was real as he acted on what he believed.

We know that Abel knew these things because genuine faith always comes after Divine revelation.  He could not have brought his offering, by faith, if he didn’t have a foundation of Divine revelation.  God’s Word always precedes saving faith.

Romans 10:17 (ESV)

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Faith was operative in the life of Abel.  He heard God’s Word and followed what God said.

Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.

Notice the difference between how Abel brought an offering to God because He was a sinner and how Adam and Eve tried to hide from God because of their sin.  Something is different with Abel.  Abel had been brought to life spiritually by the Holy Spirit.  He new the truth about his sinful nature and it caused him to run to God for aid rather than run away from God in fear.  The same is true of us today.  When the Spirit of God converts us we stop seeing God as the Divine Judge and begin to see Him as heavenly Father.

What about Cain?

2. Cain’s Works (Genesis 4:3-5)

[3] In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground…[5] but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

From these verses, we know a couple of things about Cain.  He believed in God.  He brought to Him an offering.  We could even say that Cain was a worshipper.

The situation went from bad to worse.  Cain did not bring his offering, by faith, because he had no regard to God’s prescribed method.  Cain had not been brought to life spiritually.  He thought that he could approach God in his own way.  Cain knew the truth that Abel knew but he disregarded it.  He wanted to approach God by his own merits.  He wanted to work his way to God.

Truth Taught- Saving faith believes God’s Word so strongly that it shapes how we live and how we come to God.

Cain’s offering was worthless because…

Hebrews 9:22 (ESV)

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

He deliberately ignored the way God set in place for people to be justified in His sight.

The religions of the world could be compared to Cain.  They are all trying to work their way to God.  They are all sewing together their own coverings and offering God fruit of their hands but have disregarded the only way in which salvation takes place.  Only through the blood of Jesus Christ will any one ever please God.

I’m sure Cain had everything placed in the bowl just right.  I’m sure he brought God the best that his garden produced.  I’m sure that he dedicated it to God.  However, God doesn’t accept our good works for salvation.  Cain knew the right way and ignored it.

Thus, in Cain we behold the first hypocrite.  He refused to comply with the revealed will of God, yet cloaked his rebellion by coming before Him as a worshipper.  He would not obey the divine appointment, yet brought an offering to the Lord.  He believed not that his case was so desperate that death was his due, and could only escaped by another suffering it in his stead; yet he sought to approach unto the Lord, and patronize Him.—Arthur Pink

Don’t feel sorry for Cain.  Don’t think for a second that God is mean and that Cain was the victim.  Cain knew exactly what he was doing.  Cain reaped the consequences of his actions.

Like Cain, a person can look like a worshipper of God.  A person can even do the right things and be rebellious and despise grace the whole time.  Do you see yourself as a sinner to the point of desperation?  You can’t turn over a new leaf or start over apart from Divine grace.  Unless God works you will try to please God by works because you won’t think that your sin is really all that bad.

Abel saw his desperate situation and by faith came to God with an appropriate sacrifice.

3. A Picture of Christ

And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

In these closing words in verse 4, we have a very interesting not by the Apostle.  He says there is something about the death of Abel that is still speaking today.  His sacrifice or offering still speaks.  It shows us what God expects.  We can only come before God as sinners and this only after the appropriate sacrifice is made.  For us, it’s the blood of Christ.  However, he specifically says that through his death he still speaks.  How did Abel die?  What the Apostle is getting at is that Abel’s death is a picture of the ultimate death.  Abel in this sense is a type of Christ. Abel was righteous before God and was killed by an angry religious Cain.  Christ was put to death by those who were religious.  Just as Cain was the first hypocrite, so Jesus died at the hands of hypocritical religious men.  In another way, by way of contrast Abel’s death points to Christ.

Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance…

Genesis 4:10 (ESV)

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.

Christ’s blood proclaims forgiveness.

Hebrews 12:24 (ESV)

and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

4. By Faith or By Works

As we wrap up this case study in faith and understand the contrast between Abel and Cain, it’s important to nail it down.  Faith is the opposite of works.  Cain thought he could get God on his side because of the works of his hands.  He thought that God would certainly have regard for his offering.  What Cain thought is exactly what most religions think.  Work hard and do good deeds and be very devout and in the end God will say, well done good and faithful servant.  However, from this passage and from others we must come to the conclusion that God will not accept sinners apart from His prescribed method.  Only by grace through faith does God welcome sinners.

Faith is the one heart attitude that says, I am completely dependant upon God for everything. When we come to Christ by faith, we say, I give up.  I will not depend on my good works or on myself any longer. Faith says, I know that I cannot make myself righteous or in any way acceptable to God. Faith says, I will trust Jesus Christ alone for everything God requires. Faith sees Christ as the only answer to man’s sin problem.

Abel knew the desperate need he had.  He knew that apart from God’s prescribe way, he would be lost.  Cain on the other hand, didn’t see his sin as something all that bad.  He felt he could add a little good works to his bad deeds and even things out.

As we think through this text and apply it, it’s important for us to see and model Abel’s faith.  We can model the faith of Abel as we realize like he did that sin is too great an evil to ever work our way out of it.

It’s not by works we can be justified.  It’s not even by faith plus works.  It’s not God’s grace and then a little bit of our works.  Salvation is completely and entirely a work of God.  Abel’s sin was atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ.  That same blood reaches forward to us today and saves.

Truth Taught- Saving faith believes God’s Word so strongly that it shapes how we live and how we come to God.

Does God’s Word shape the way you live?  Does it shape the way you approach God?

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