So, Hebrews 11 begins by telling us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for, being certain of what is not seen,” and that “this is what the ancients were commended for”. How were people justified before God before Jesus was born? By their faith – by their being sure of the truths they were told that were not yet seen but that they hoped for. ALL the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 were from the Old Testament, the scripture of the New Testament writers. Faith was the requirement for righteousness long before Jesus came around.
And the first person held up to us as a great example of faith was Abel, of the Cain-and-Abel-debacle in Genesis 4.
By faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. By faith, he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offering. And by faith, he still speaks today, even though he is dead.
I’ve heard many theories on why Abel’s offering of a lamb was accepted and Cain’s offering of produce from his farm was not. One is that Genesis specifically states that Abel offered the best of his flock; by contrast, Cain’s produce was apparently not the best he had to offer. Another take is that Abel was offering a blood sacrifice, blood being the means to cover sin, as God instructed Adam’s family; Cain’s vegetables didn’t do the trick.
Whatever the reason for it, Genesis makes it clear that God knew that Cain knew better than to sacrifice what or as he did. And Cain’s actions after the rejection of his sacrifice make it clear that the condition of his heart was the source of the problem.
Abel’s sacrifice, on the other hand, was given out of faith. He sacrificed that lamb because he was certain of something he had not yet seen but was hoping for. Certain of God honoring the sacrifice and covering his sin? Certain of the ultimate sacrifice coming later that this symbolized? Certain that God would meet his needs if he gave Him his best? I’m not sure. But the heart behind the sacrifice is what made it pleasing to God, and that is how Abel speaks to me today, even though he is dead.
We traditional evangelical folks – especially we women of the breed – have a tendency to lean toward martyrdom. Oh, the things we suffer for our Lord! Oh, the trials we bear! Oh, what I have sacrificed to serve my Savior! And yes, Christ has called us to take up our cross and follow him, but those sacrifices are only commendable when the heart behind them is right. Not a heart that says, Look how much I’ve given up for you, God! Surely you must be impressed and want to bless me now. But a heart that says, You’ve told me, Father, that you are all I need, and I have faith – I have certainty – that this is true. These things I sacrifice are nothing compared to what I have in you.
He is El Shaddai: The All-Sufficient One. And I only discover that to be true when I believe it and act on it in faith.