“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith” (Hebrews 11:4 CSB).

The author of Hebrews encourages his fellow Jewish Christians not to draw back into unbelief, but to live their lives by faith. Note the final words of chapter 10:

“So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him. But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:35-39).

It is in that context that he wrote that amazing chapter that we will be studying in this series. It highlights several heroes of the faith, who serve as illustrations of what a life of faith looks like.

Abel is the first in the list, and he is one hero who we know very little about. Besides these four verses, he is mentioned in Genesis:

“The man was intimate with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have had a male child with the Lord’s help.” She also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of flocks, but Cain worked the ground. In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but he did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he looked despondent. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:1-8 CSB).

What is it that made Abel a hero, and Cain a villain? Is it just the fact that he died? Is that what makes a person righteous before God? If so, we are all set, because we are all going to die. But the author of Hebrews highlighted Abel not because he died, but because he manifested faith before he died. Abel’s story is also significant because it highlights only one act of faith. Abel had only one shot at being in the heroes list of Hebrews 11, and he did not throw away his shot.

Abel is a hero of faith because he believed in the unseen God who created him.

Abel’s one shot at faith in God gave him hope (1)

“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen”

Both brothers responded to a religious need to show their appreciation for God. Both gave from what they had to give. But God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and did not accept Cain’s sacrifice.
Why? We do not know, and that is the point. There is something going on in the heart of Abel that is not going on in the heart of his brother. It may have had something to do with the animal sacrifice that God performed in Eden in order to clothe his parents. We don’t know.

What we do know is that Abel’s hope was real, and Cain’s was not. But the only reality – the only evidence was Abel’s faith. It was Abel’s faith in God which led him to expect God’s approval.

My friend, if you have hope for the future today, then the reason for your hope cannot be explained by what you have experienced in the past. If you have hope for a permanent future, you did not manufacture that hope. It came from God, when he gave you faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NASB).

When God gives gifts, he gives them in bundles. The gift of salvation comes bundled with faith, hope and love. You get all of them at the same time.

That is why Abel was happy and hopeful about his sacrifice, but Cain was despondent and furious about his. He had no hope. It was in that hopeless, faithless, loveless condition that Cain decided that if he was never going to have a happy life, he was going to make sure that Abel didn’t have a long life.

Abel’s one shot at faith in God gave him understanding (3)

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

The world without God looks at itself and thinks “this is all we have, and it is all that is real.” Abel looked at his world and believed in its creator, even though he had never seen him. Abel dared to have a relationship with God sight unseen. That is faith. Faith filled in the blanks in Abel’s understanding.

Now, we live in a world just like Abel’s world. We can choose to only trust the things we see, or we can do like Abel did and let our faith fill in the blanks of our understanding.

Abel’s one shot at faith in God gave meaning to his life (4a)

“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts…”

What was better about Abel’s sacrifice? Well, we know that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness, but Abel didn’t know that. It was Abel’s faith that pushed him to give up the lives of his animals, but not just any animals — “some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.” He gave his best. He wanted to show his appreciation and respect to God. His relationship with God was what gave meaning to his life.

People who are in the royal family live different lives than others because of who they are related to. People related to celebrities live different lives because of who they are related to. We believers in Christ have been adopted into God’s family, and it is that relationship that gives meaning to our lives as well.

Abel’s one shot at faith in God outlasted his life (4b)

“and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.”

In our Bible studies in Ecclesiastes, we discovered that the name of Abel (Hebrew hevel) became a word describing anything that is temporary. Because Abel’s life was cut short, his name became synonymous with things that do not last.

Solomon discovered that the pursuit of knowledge is not as satisfying as he thought it would be, because it does not last. He tried partying his life away; that didn’t last. He tried building a bunch of things; that didn’t last. So Solomon concluded that everything was hevel. He finally concluded that the best thing to do is to fear God and obey him, because only a relationship with God will last. Our only future is him.

But Abel knew that. He did not live long, and he is dead today. He has not yet received the inheritance that God promised him. But Abel’s short life was worth it, and even though he is dead today, he still speaks by the example of his life of faith.

If Abel were to join us today, he would tell us that even if we are given only one shot at living a life of faith, we should not throw away our shot. We should take that one shot and make the best of it.

We have the opportunity to live lives of faith like Abel. We are not guaranteed long lives. Abel’s life wasn’t long. But God has prepared a city for us. He has another life in store for us. It is better to live a short life focused on God than to live a long life of hopelessness and selfishness.

In Wednesday’s Maranatha Devotional, Millie Griswold asked “Has your name been added to the litany of faithful people in Hebrews 11?” You may just get one shot a life of faith, like Abel did. Don’t throw away your shot.