Illustration: Hall of fame, the centerpiece of the building are the sculptures of each player.
As we walk into the hall, the first hero we approach is an unlikely person that I do not think we would expect to begin with. The record for Abel is:
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. (Hebrews 11:4)
To understand why Abel is one of our heroes of faith, it is important for us to read the original story concerning Abel. We do not get to know much about Abel. Only one event of Abel’s life is recorded and it is that one event that brings about his death. Turn to Genesis 4:1-12.
The writer of Hebrews makes three points about Abel that we are going to look at in this lesson. Unfortunately, studies of Abel often degenerate into studies about Cain. But the writer of Hebrews does not discuss Cain. The writer does not say by a lack of faith Cain killed his brother. Rather than talking about what Cain did wrong, the writer discusses what Abel did right.
The writer begins by speaking about Abel’s act of worship. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. Abel’s worship was accepted by God, but Cain’s was not. What an interesting beginning, not only to the heroes of faith, but to creation with one of the first judgments by God. We live in a time when the religious world teaches that all that matters is that we worship God. It does not matter how we worship, but we just need to worship, each in his own way. We live in a world that says we should “go to the church of our choice.” We are told that it does not matter what religion you pick, as long as you have some sort of spirituality.
But let us remember that Cain is not an unbeliever. Cain is not a heathen. In fact, he had spoken with God and God spoke to him, as we see in Genesis 4. We cannot think that Cain did not believe in God. He clearly did. So what was the problem for Cain and the commending for Abel? Obviously, how we worship God matters. This idea that we can go to any church is completely false. This notion that we can worship God how ever we like is simply wrong. If this were true, then Cain’s worship would have been acceptable to God as well. Abel knew that how we worship God matters. Therefore, Abel was able to follow what God had proscribed for worship. Cain, however, did not. Cain was upset that his worship was not accepted. But God’s response was quite simple: “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:8).
I wonder if we would have the same reaction as Cain if God stopped our worship and told us if it was acceptable or not. Can you imagine what our response might be? “Hey, I got out of bed and got ready to be at services. What more do you want from me? This is how I want to worship You, so cut me a break.” While we think that we would never say this to God directly, this is exactly how we act we speak about proper worship. We have this idea that as long as we show up that our worship is good enough. Cain showed up, but the worship was not accepted.
How we worship God matters. If you have been a guest with us for the first or for some time, you will probably notice that we do things differently than other churches you may have attended. But there is a reason for that. There is a reason that we do not have a laser light show, movies, stage dramas, mechanical instruments, or other acts that you might have seen elsewhere. The reason is not that we do not have the money. Nor is the reason that don’t think those things would be fun. But Abel teaches us something very important from the beginning of creation:
True trust in God means I will worship God his way, not my way.
We cannot worship God however we want. We cannot go to the church of our choice. We cannot turn worship into a time for entertainment or hobbies. Our worship is different because of this conviction that how we worship God matters. God wants worship offered according to his will, not ours. By faith Abel offered a better offering than Cain. Abel trusted that God wanted the sacrifice offered the way God said. Cain did not trust God in that. Cain trust in himself, thinking that his way was just as good.We cannot have this arrogance before the Lord.
Giving Our Best. One aspect that we see Abel doing is giving his best to the Lord. Abel brought the firstborn of the flock and the fat portions. These were considered the very best by the Lord and it is the best that Abel offers. God continually demanded of the worshippers of offer their very best. The leftovers were never accepted by God. Our worship to the Lord needs to be the best that we can possibly give. It is not a comparison that someone else can do it better. But it is that we are giving the best that we can. I must remember that I am not to give my best in my study of the scriptures and presentation of the word of God to impress you, but because God demands the best. I need to do things toward God with excellence. God does not want my tired, mindless leftover. Our Lord’s Supper memorial cannot be a 15 minute mental vacation for each us. God demands our best as we remember the sacrifice of his son. God does not want mindless, rehearsed prayers. God wants our hearts to be speaking to God. He does not want us falling asleep while our eyes are closed. We need to give our best energy, our best effort, our best devotion when we worship because God has always demanded that we do our best before him.
Declared Righteous Through Faithful Obedience
There is another statement about the writer of Hebrews that tells us more about Abel. Notice the writer tells us that it was through this faithful offering that God commended Abel as righteous. God accepted Abel’s gifts. The writer tells us that we need to look deeper into the life of Abel. Abel’s life was not simply performing a faithful offering. If after making his sacrifice, Abel had gone and hated his brother Cain, then he would not stand as a hero of faith. Faithful worship generates from faithful living. Otherwise, our worship is simply hypocritical.
One complaint people have is that churches are full of hypocrites. How true this charge can be! Faithful worship can only be generated from faithful living. My worship to the Lord will not be found acceptable and will not be commended if I have not led a life in keeping with God’s will. It is outrageous to think that we go through our week living for ourselves, doing what we want, having no regard for God, and sinning when we choose, but then come here on Sunday and think that we are offering acceptable worship to God! How our worship must turn the stomach of the Lord if these are the kind of lives we lead. It is hypocritical worship at best and out right deception toward God and toward others at worst.
Jesus taught this very principle in the sermon on the mount.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24)
Jesus says we need to think about what we have done in life before we think we can make a proper act of worship to God. If we are aware of our sins and offenses, we need to take care of those things. We cannot think that God accepts our worship if our lives reflect worldliness rather than godliness.
Faithfulness Leaves a Legacy
The writer concludes by stating about Abel, “though he died, he still speaks.” Do you think that Abel knew that his life would be recorded as a legacy of faith? Do you think he knew that thousands of years later his life of faith would still be remembered and used as a teaching tool to the Hebrew Christians? But faithfulness leaves a legacy. Abel’s faith still speaks to us even today as we examine his life.
The faithfulness of those who have gone before us leaves a legacy. This church would not exist in its current way without the faithfulness of many who lived before us. These were the beginning Christians in West Palm Beach who had the courage to serve God here. Family also has a legacy of faith. Some of us have had the benefit of the faithfulness of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I stand as one preacher in a lineage of preachers from our family for over 150 years. Their faithfulness to the Lord turned the course events to give me the spiritual advantages I have now.
What spiritual legacy are you leaving for your family? Will you be remembered for your faithfulness? Will you be remembered for your dedication to worship? Will you be remembered for your knowledge and devotion to the word of God? Our spiritual choices greatly impact those who will go on after us. Look at the rest of chapter 4 in Genesis and notice that Cain’s spiritual legacy is that of wickedness. However, Seth and Abel’s spiritual legacy is that of faithfulness. What legacy are you leaving for your children? We are so concerned about what we will leave for them physically when we die. But who cares? More important is what you will leave for them spiritually. Bringing your children to church is not a legacy. Are you teaching them the way of the Lord at home? Do they see you reading your Bible? Do you share with them the stories of the Bible? Do you show them that God comes before everything else in this world, even more important that sports, school, homework, hobbies, comfort, work, and anything else that we have to do? What will your children remember you for: God or something else as more important? Be honest.
What spiritual legacy are you leaving for this local church? Will you be remembered for your work of faithfulness as you served the Lord? Will you have been someone who made an impact with other Christians? Will you be someone who followed up with the spiritually sick? Will you be one who helped the physically ailing? Will you be one who was hospitable and helpful to unbelievers and visitors? What is your legacy for this congregation? Are you having an impact in this area or are you just one of the crowd? We have many great people of faith who have left for this church a legacy of faith, like Lem Caldwell, Jean Schmidt, and Harriett Butts. What will be our contribution?
What is your spiritual legacy with God? Will we be the kind of disciples that God could write these words about Abel about us? Through our faith would God commend us as righteous? Will we stand before God and we will be able to be placed into the hall of faith just as Abel?
Or does our life look more like Cain? We believe in God and we brought our worship, but we know it is not acceptable. We have not lived a life of faith and trust in God. We are living for self while pretending to worship God with our attendance? To the context of Hebrews 11, it is this faithfulness in times of difficulty where the legacy is crystalized. It is when life was difficult that our faithfulness is remembered the most. Our second faith pillar is that we must be faithful even to death, for that will leave the legacy of faith to our children and to other Christians. Our third pillar of faith is that we trust God to do things God’s way.