Summary: this message looks at the relationship between faith and the things we do for God
This chapter was written to encourage some believers who were having a hard time. These examples of faith were meant to inspire them to keep on trusting and living for God even though they could not yet see the things they were believing God for. The first example of that is Abel.
When you have children you are amazed how 2 kids from the same parents can be so alike but also so different. Cain and Abel were very different. I’m sure that Adam and Eve were amazed at the contrasts between their offspring as all parents ever since have been. When they grew up Cain became a farmer, Abel a shepherd. But they also related to God differently. When you’re children relate to God differently it’s not your fault. Children are individuals, with minds of their own. The time came for Cain and Abel to make an offering to God. The nature of the offering that they were to offer was one of worship, of homage or allegiance, like that which was later brought to a king. It was an acknowledgement of lordship, a sign of submission. God accepted one but not the other. Why this was so the writer picks up here in Hebrews 11. Cain was so mad about it he killed his brother. So we see that the very first family was a dysfunctional one – which I find encouraging!
1. God looks at the person not the sacrifice
Many people have said that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable because it was a blood sacrifice, Cain’s wasn’t. In all the references to this incident there is no inkling of this. Indeed it seems somewhat unfair on Cain. Besides it was an offering not of atonement, but homage. It’s acceptability was not in blood or not, but in the man himself. The acceptance of our service, our worship, our sacrifice to and for God does not lie in the offering itself but in us. The problem with Cain’s offering was not the offering but Cain’s heart. So - what are we doing for God? Giving, worship, prayer, fasting, reading bible? Do you live a godly life? Do you serve God? Good – but why do you do them? Do you do it to gain God’s favour? Are you striving for it? Are you like the sparrow in the story? A man who was traveling on his donkey came upon a small fuzzy object lying in the road. He dismounted to look more closely and found a sparrow lying on its back with its scrawny legs thrust upward. At first he thought the bird was dead, but closer investigation proved it to be very much alive. The man asked the sparrow if he was all right. The sparrow replied, "Yes." The man asked, "What are you doing lying on your back with your legs pointed towards the sky?" The sparrow responded that he had heard a rumor that the sky was falling, and so he was holding his legs up to catch it. The man retorted, "You surely don’t think that you’re going to hold it up with those two scrawny legs, do you?" The sparrow, with a very solemn look, replied, "One does the best he can." It is not necessary because it is not the offering but the person that counts. Specifically…
God wants our worship before our works – the story of Mary and Martha illustrates this. Martha desperately trying to get preparations done as Jesus was coming to dinner. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. Which would you have been doing – honestly? He wants our devotion before our duty and our love before our labour.
He looks at the heart not the outward appearance. Take Saul and David. Saul was appointed the first king because the people wanted a king. God gave them what they wanted, a king that looked good. Saul was a head taller than all the other men. People are impressed by all sorts of things; looks, ability, charisma. But not God, He looks within. You can’t fool God. Revels! This can be seen when Samuel went to get a replacement for Saul after God rejected him. The older brothers of David were all fine young men. But it was a boy, David, who was overlooked by his family whom God chose because his heart was right before God.
He desires obedience not sacrifice – Wholehearted obedience is the sacrifice that God really desires e.g., Saul in 1 Sam. 15:22. Saul was rejected as king because instead of obeying God’s clear command he did what he wanted to do and then sacrificed to God.
2. God looks for faith
All this points to this fact: God is looking for is faith – this is what pleases him. This is what makes us acceptable to God. It’s not about works. Abel was acceptable & Cain was not because of faith. Faith means different things in the bible. Different writers used the term differently. To James faith = believing something is true; to John and Paul it means personal trust and commitment (that is the reason for the apparent disagreement between James and Paul – one says we are justified by faith alone the other says not. It is obvious they mean different things by the word). It is obvious here that to the writer faith is more than believing in God Cain believed in God and brought an offering.