David Jeremiah - A Martyr For His Faith
When I was dating my wife and she found out that I was going to be a pastor, she broke up with me, and one of the reasons for breakin' up with me was, she wanted to travel. And that's kind of funny to us now because we've been all over the world. One of our favorite places in all the world is London, England, and we've been there many times, and if we could, I think we'd go back every year. It's such a historic place and so represents so many things that we've read about and studied about in history in the beginning of the church.
One of the places that we visit when we go there, and we've been there, I think, three times, is the Westminster Abbey. You've probably heard about that. There have been some major things that have taken place in that Cathedral, but what most people may not know is that the Westminster Abbey is really a mausoleum. It is a place where many, many famous people are buried: many of the poets of England, many of the musicians, many of the creative-arts people, some of the royalty.
As you walk around in that building, you see stone plates on the floor, and all of a sudden, you realize you're standin' on top of Edgar Allan Poe or somebody like that. It's quite an amazing place. Not a few people have said that Hebrews chapter 11, is the Westminster Abbey of the Bible because there you have the names of a lot of famous people. But one of my friends, Warren Wiersbe, takes great exception to that. He says that isn't possible, that we should never compare Hebrews 11, to the Westminster Abbey.
First of all, all the people in the Westminster Abbey are dead, and the people in Hebrews 11, have life in them, not just physical life, but spiritual life. But the major difference between the people in the Westminster Abbey in London and the people in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, is the simple fact that the people who are in the Westminster Abbey in London are famous people, people who were known throughout their life for great accomplishment, popular people, well-known artists, as I've mentioned, and musicians. But the people whose names end up in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, were ordinary people just like you and me. They're not in the Hall of Faith because they were great people. They're in the Hall of Faith because they were ordinary people who expressed great faith in the things that God could do through them.
And one of the first heroes we meet in the Hall of Faith is a man by the name of Abel. The Bible says, in Hebrews 11:4, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts, and through it he being dead still speaks". At first glance, he seems to be a rather strange candidate for the Hall of Faith. I mean, there isn't much about him in the Bible, and, in fact, there is not one word that he spoke, recorded in the Scripture. In order to find out more about him, we have to go back to the book of Genesis and find out from the history of this man how he got included in this illustrious group.
There, in the book of Genesis and the 4th chapter, we have the story of Abel and his older brother, Cain, and the sacrifices that each of them brought to God. And the only way we're gonna understand why Abel got into the Hall of Faith is to find out why Cain didn't get into the Hall of Faith. Here are two brothers born to the first parents in the world. One of them makes the Hall of Faith, and one of them does not. They were well taught, these boys. Among other things, they knew there was a God, and they knew that sin was an offense to him, and they knew that God had to be approached with a sacrifice.
Now, we might wonder how they knew all of this because there's nothing in the Bible right here in the context to teach us, but watch carefully. The answer is found in the fact that, after the sin of Adam and Eve, which is recorded in the earlier part of Genesis, we are told that God came down, and when Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness, they tried to clothe themselves with fig leaves, and God, the Bible says, Genesis 3:21, covered their nakedness with the skins of animals, and the blood of those animals had to be shed in order to cover their nakedness. So with this background to the story, let's sort out why Abel was listed in the Hall of Faith. First of all, Abel had a revealed faith. "By faith," says the Scripture, "Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice".
Now, it's evident that both Abel and Cain were sinners because they inherited the sin nature of their father and mother, and both of them needed righteousness, and they were both born in sin and needed to be saved in the sense that we understand that today. Romans 5:12, says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world", that was Adam, "and death through sin, thus death spread to all men, because all sinned". Well, here's the first generation after Adam, and we know from the standpoint of the Bible, that Cain and Abel we're sinners. They weren't sinners necessarily by choice. They were sinners by birth. They inherited the sin nature of their parents.
I know it's hard for people to believe that little babies are born in sin. They're born with a sin nature. And some of you think, "Well, that isn't possible". If you feel that way, you're probably grandparents, but I promise you, you're not parents. You're not parents because we all know that little children exhibit their sinful nature quite readily, don't they? Selfishness: They want what they want when they want it. Whether it's in the middle of night and you haven't slept in a long time, they don't care. They scream when they get mad. And some of you ladies are just laughin' 'cause you know exactly what I'm talking about. You love those little babies, but you understand immediately they're not perfect. They have something in them that's not quite right, and that's called the sin nature.
Both Cain and Abel were sinners by birth. So these two boys now approach God, and let me read to you what Genesis said happened, Genesis 4, verse 3: "And in the process of time", that means after they were older, "it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord, and Abel also brought of the firstfruit of his flock and their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but he did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell".
Abel had sacrificed a blood sacrifice to his God in obedience to God's instructions. He believed God in faith, and he acted. But Cain drew the tattered shreds of his own self-righteousness around him and turned away from a salvation based on blood. Perhaps, to him, such a notion was barbarous and offensive and disgusting, and even though God had said it, Cain had a better way. He scorned salvation like that, and he came his own way, a way that seemed right to him, but a way that God rejected.
Now, I wanna say something to you, and I don't want you to forget this. There are only two ways to approach God. There's Cain way, and there's Abel's way. If you decide to go to God Cain's way, you'll never get there. Your journey will be aborted. It will not take you to God, but if you go Abel's way, you can find God through Jesus Christ. The way of the cross is the way of Abel, and it leads you straight to heaven, and the way of Cain is the way of human works, and it will lead you straight to hell. There's only two ways, and all of the faith and religion talk that has ever happened since Genesis 4, is wrapped around those two thoughts: the way of Cain, and the way of Abel.
Say it with me: "The way of Cain, and the way of Abel". It's interesting, is it not, that here in these first few verses of the Bible, such an incredible truth is presented to us so that we cannot forget it? 1 John 3:11 and 12, says, "This is the message that you've heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain, who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother". The New Testament commentary on Cain is not kind to his reputation. Now, because God rejected Cain, Cain hated his brother, and he killed him.
Notice, "Now Cain talked with Abel his brother, and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. And the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' And he said, 'I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?' And God said, 'What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.'" Cain became the first murderer, and Abel became the first martyr.
So Abel gets into the Hall of Faith, first of all, because he had gotten a revelation from God about what he should do, and he had responded obediently in faith. Cain was rejected because he decided to do it his own way. Number two, Abel's faith was reverent. This is something that you don't see unless you read this two or three times and realize that, after Abel believed God and decided to obey God, he worshiped God. He brought his sacrifice to God, and the expression here is the expression of worship. An altar was set up, an altar of worship, and Abel brings his sacrifice to God, and he did so in worship.
Now, we worship God when we come together in church, but hopefully that's not the only time you worship God. You worship God when you awake in the morning, and you say, "Good morning, Lord, and thank you for a good night's rest. Let me let me live for you today and honor you with my life". You worship God throughout the day whenever you have a chance. In fact, a case could be made for the fact that your entire life, as a follower of Christ, is an instrument of worship for the Lord God. By the way, did you know that worship is a New Testament sacrifice to God? Hebrews 13:15, says, "Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name". When you worship God, you are offering a sacrifice to the Lord.
Now, it's quite evident that what Cain brought to the Lord was not an authentic act of worship. You say, "How do you know that"? Because you read what happened right after he left. When God didn't accept what he brought, his true nature was displayed. His character came into view. It says that, "Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? Cain, if you've done the right thing, would I not have accepted you? And if you do not well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should have rule over it.'"
God warned Cain about what he was about to do. God saw the hatred and anger in Cain's heart, and he said to Cain, "Sin is like a wild animal crouched at the door of your heart. You're about to do something that you will never, ever forgive yourself for. Don't do it. You can rule over it". But Cain's anger was so intense, and his jealousy of Abel was so green that he couldn't help himself, and in his fury, he took the life of his own brother and became the first murderer in history. If his offering had been made in the right spirit, we wouldn't read the paragraph we just read. It is an indication that Cain's problem wasn't just that he brought his works to God instead of a sacrifice. What he brought to God was brought in the wrong spirit, in the wrong attitude.
Abel had a revealed faith and a reverent faith, and here's one that's really interesting. He had a reverberating faith. Did you know that the faith of Abel, in 11:4 of Hebrews, is alive and well today? Let me show you what I mean. Here's what it says: "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts, and through it he being dead still speaks".
Now watch this. I told ya earlier that there's not one word of Abel in the Bible that he spoke, not one recorded word that Abel ever spoke. But the Bible says, though the Bible doesn't record any words that he spoke, his faith is still speaking today, all these years later, here, right in this culture, right in this service. The testimony of Abel is speaking to us today. The first man in history to express faith in God was Abel, and we revel in the story. It reverberates all the way down through history to us. His statement by his life tells us that we can only be accepted by God when we come to God, God's way. We don't get to make the rules. God has set the standards, and he's made it plain to us how we are to approach him.
Now, it says here in the text that the blood of murdered Abel was screaming out to God from the ground, but the life of Abel is screaming out to us, bringing to us this measure of truth that God accepts only the sacrifice of blood, and in this culture, only the sacrifice of his own Son. The only way we can come to God is God's way. And then, finally, Abel is in the Hall of Faith because he had a righteous faith. And if you'll allow me, let's explore that on the basis that we understand Abel only when we see Cain. Cain's religion was based on human reasoning. What Cain did that day, when he brought his offering to God, was to express the fact that he believed that, in order for him to be accepted by Almighty God, he had to earn it. He brought to God the fruit of his labor.
In doing this, he violated the clear revelation that God had given them, and we know that because Abel understood it, and they were brothers. They lived in the same family. There wasn't any noise from any other families in that day. God dealt directly with that first family, and what Abel knew, surely Cain knew, but Cain set the foundation for every false religion that has ever come into being since his life because here's the difference between religion and Christianity. Some people say, you know, "You go and you have to fill out a form". I guess you don't do that much because it's not politically correct anymore.
"What is your religion"? Well, I used to put down, "Christianity". Well, Christianity, if it's really Christianity, is not a religion. Religion is an attempt to reach up to God with your good works or some merit that will bring God's blessing to your life. Christianity is the exact opposite. Christianity recognizes that we have nothing we can offer to God and that we don't reach up to God but that God has reached down to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a religion. It's a relationship with Almighty God through Jesus Christ. But since Cain and Abel, there's only been two ways: There's the relationship way, and there's the religion way.
"Woe to them. For they have gone the way of Cain," Jude 11. What is "the way of Cain"? "The way of Cain" is coming to God in your own pride, in your own arrogance, not listening to what God says, but believing you can do it your way. Isn't that what happens most of the time? We're like little children in many respects. We're looking up to our Father and say, "I can do it myself. I can do it myself". Cain was saying to God that day, "God, I can do it myself". And the Bible says God did not accept Cain in his attempt to measure up. Cain's religion was also based on human sacrifice. He offered a sacrifice, all right. It was a costly one, but it was a sacrifice without blood.
That is where most people are today. Most people today bring their offerings to God. They indulge in ritualistic practices, championing the cause of social actions. They hope these things will give them a standing before Almighty God, and we mistakenly think that's the way God receives us and responds to us, and nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this is a bitter pill for all of us. The Bible says, "All of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags before God," because they're born out of our misguided motivation to do it ourself instead of respond to God in faith and allow him to be our Savior.
And Cain's religion was based on human satisfaction. The Bible says, "The Lord respected Abel and his offering, but he did not respect Cain and his offering". And in the aftermath of this unacceptable sacrifice, he revealed the true nature of his heart. Let me tell you how the story ends. Listen carefully. If you go back to the book of Genesis, chapter 4, and verse 16, you read these words: "And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord".
Did you know, in the New Testament, it says that there's gonna be a day in the future when people will stand before the Lord, and they will tout all of their works, and the Lord will say to them, "Depart from me, for I never knew you". When Cain stands before the Lord one day, that's what he will hear. Cain will say, "Did I not do this? Didn't I bring this? What, wasn't all"? And the Bible says God's Son will say to him, "Depart from me. I never knew you". You don't get to God by what you do. You want to try to get to God Cain's way? Let me tell you, it will be a trip that is aborted. It will be a trip that ends short of the goal. It will leave you in a place where you have no way to get to God. And the Bible says, "And Cain went out from before the presence of the Lord".
Periodically, as you read the Scripture, you read about death and that there are two kinds of death. There's the first death, and there's the second death. First death, we're all gonna participate in that if the Lord doesn't come back before our time. The first death is the separation of your soul from your body. The Bible says it this way: "Absent from the body, present with the Lord". That's what it means to die as a Christian. Your soul leaves your body and goes to be with God.
But there's a second death, and the second death is the separation of your soul from God, forever and ever and ever. The first death, you can recover from as a Christian, but nobody recovers from the second death. The second death is going out from the presence of the Lord, never, ever to be in his presence again. It's to spend eternity in hell, apart from God. That's the way you will go if you follow Cain. I wanna recommend a better way. The better way is to come by faith and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that he paid for on the cross for you.