Summary: Second in a series of sermons based on Hebrews 11. Abel’s sacrifce is lauded not because of its content as much as the faith it took to give it to God.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for tonight’s proclamation is taken from the Epistle, Hebrews 11:4;
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
In the name of Jesus dear Christian friends, what makes a hero? Webster’s defines a hero as a person “of distinguished courage, moral or physical; chief character in a play, novel, poem, etc.” One of my wife and I’s favorite movies is “The Prince’s Bride.” One character of the movie, Inigo Montya, fits the definition of hero found in the dictionary. He has distinguished courage, which is physical at the heart. He is a sword fighter who has searched years to find the men who killed his father over the price of a sword. Over the years he has dreamt of what he would say to the man and came up with “Hello. My name is Inigo Montya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Near the end of the movie, he finds and fights the man who killed his father. They fight, and Inigo is winning, so his enemy begins to try to bargain for his own life by offering gold and silver to let him live. Inigo tells him to offer him whatever he asks, and the man replies, “I’ll give you anything you want.” And his request? “Bring back my father.” That was the sacrifice that would have saved this man’s life, but, of course, he could not bring Inigo’s father back to life. Because of his love for his father, Inigo gave up 20 years of his life in the search. That’s a sacrifice. His distinguished physical courage shows Inigo Montya as a hero, but not the hero that we hear of tonight. Abel is not a hero because of physical courage, no. He is a hero because of his distinguished moral courage, something that Inigo lacked. Tonight we look back to the oldest human hero of faith, the short lived Abel whose righteousness, faith and sacrifice live on in the Word of God.
Looking back on the life of Abel, it seems almost non-existent. He’s born in Genesis 4:2, and by 4:8 he’s dead. That’s a short life. Of course, we have no idea how old Abel was when He suffered the first murder on the earth, but what we focus in on is while he lived, he lived a righteous, faithful life in God’s service.
Genesis chapter 4 begins with the first baby on earth God’s promise of a chapter previous, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel. (3:15)" and Adam’s faith, expressed in naming “his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. (3:20)” are both seen in 4:1. Eve brought new life into the world, and she thought her child was the promised Seed. “I have gotten a man—the Lord!” is a possible translation.
“Cain” means “acquired” — the baby boy was looked upon as a gift from God. Abel means “vanity, vapor” — it suggests the futility of life apart from God, or perhaps Eve’s disappointment that Cain was not the promised Seed.
Although not thought of as the promised Messiah, Abel shows his worth by tending to sheep for his living. Cain becomes a vegetable farmer. In time, and for unknown reasons, both brothers bring offerings to the Lord. This first recorded worship shows that the earliest family knew a place for and the reasons for worship, for both sons brought offerings to the Lord. This might mean that God taught Adam and his family how to approach Him in worship.
Both brothers knew, most likely by being taught by God, to bring a sacrifice, where to bring the sacrifice, but the last part is the part that sets Cain and Abel apart. Why bring a sacrifice? For Cain it was either only a formality, or the sacrifice he brought was for thanksgiving to God.
For Abel, who brought his sacrifice with faith, his sacrifice was both for thanksgiving, but also a sin offering. The plain state of the case seems to have been this: Cain and Abel both brought offerings to the altar of God. As Cain was a farmer, he brought the fruits of the ground, by which he acknowledged the being and providence of God. At this point, Cain’s sacrifice seems well and good.
Abel, being a shepherd, brought, not only a thanksgiving offering, but also of the produce of his flock as a sin - offering to God, by which he acknowledged his own sinfulness, God’s justice and mercy, as well as his being and providence.