Summary: Second in the Heroes of Faith series from Hebrews 11, this sermon is about Abel.
It was by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. God said he was pleased with the gifts Abel offered and called Abel a good man because of his faith. Abel died, but through his faith he is still speaking.
— Hebrews 11:4 NCV
My dad used to have a poster on the wall of Homer Simpson choking his son Bart, while shouting, “As far as anyone knows we’re a nice normal family.” Family dysfunction seems to pretty much be the standard these days. I mean, who knows what normal is anyway? But our dysfunctional families aren’t anything new. In fact, the first family (no, not the President and his wife, but the real first family) was about as dysfunctional as you can get.
Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden of Eden because they managed to break the only rule God gave them. Denied access to the life of luxury and ease they once enjoyed, they were now forced to work the land and carve out a life for themselves by the sweat of their own brows. And it wasn’t long after their eviction from Paradise that they decided to start a family. The Bible tells us that Eve “became pregnant and gave birth to Cain... After that, Eve gave birth to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel took care of flocks, and Cain became a farmer” (Genesis 4:1-2 NCV).
Following God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply,” Adam and Eve, of course, had many other children. In fact, over their nine-hundred-plus years of marriage, they probably had enough children to forge a small army. Yet, these are the only two children of whom any details are given. Actually, until the birth of Seth, these are the only two of Adam and Eve’s children mentioned at all.
Now, life must have been very difficult for this first family—building a home in the wilderness away from the safety and protection of the garden; it’s almost reminiscent of those early American families that moved out west in their stage coaches and wagon trains. And it was during this embryonic stage of humanity that faith makes its first appearance. Here’s the tale as told by God himself:
When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
“Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
Afterward the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”
“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”
But the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:3-12 NLT)
Despite the failures of his father and the apparent bitterness of his brother, Abel was able to become a man of great faith and enjoyed an authentic connection with God. Abel’s faith affected his life in astonishing ways—both good and bad. But first, Abel’s faith in God led him to...
The Bible says, “It was by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did” (NCV). People have argued over why God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Perhaps it was because God had specifically asked for animal sacrifices—which he received from Abel but was only offered a fruit and vegetable platter from Cain. It may have been that Abel brought “the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock,” while Cain may have only brought the leftovers. While both of these are possible, neither of them seems very probable. I don’t think either answer quite touches on the real issue.
Eugene Peterson got it right in The Message, which says, “By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference.” The difference was faith. Cain may have been going through the right motions, but not with the right motive. Warren Wiersbe puts it this way: “Cain wasn’t rejected because of his offering, but his offering was rejected because of Cain: his heart wasn’t right with God.” God isn’t interested in routines and rituals, he wants relationships! Abel’s faith in God developed into a genuine love and reverence for God which, in turn, translated into an acceptable sacrifice of heartfelt worship.