Hebrews Chapter 12, verse 1 gives us the following encouragement and warning: Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
The writer of Hebrews, a letter originally written to first century Jewish Christians, pictures the Christian life as a race and calls believers (including us) to get rid of anything that would weigh us down or hold us back from running that race with endurance. Our inspiration as we run, is to be the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. And who are those witnesses? They are the men and women of faith whom the writer has just held up as examples in Chapter 11.
The purpose of Hebrews 11 is to inspire believers in our faith. We are not alone in our struggle of living for Christ in a secular world where the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2) seems to reign. There are countless heroes of faith who have gone before us, blazing the trail of faith and righteousness, and showing us how God would have us live and run our race. Hebrews 11 names many, and the first example given is Abel. It was by faith that Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain’s. Because Abel’s sacrifice was offered by faith, it was pleasing to God, resulting in God declaring him righteous. And although Abel has died, the testimony of his faith shines forth as a lesson for us (Hebrews 11:4).
It is back in Genesis Chapter 4:3-5 that the story of Abel is first told; it was after Adam and Eve’s first two sons were born. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.
The two brothers both presented sacrifices to God but only Abel’s was accepted. We are not told why in Genesis, but Hebrews 11:4 has revealed the reason. Abel’s sacrifice was offered by faith.
The Scriptures do not tell us if Cain and Abel had been instructed in what sacrifices were acceptable to God. God’s command of an animal sacrifice for atonement for sin is not given until Leviticus 4. However, Genesis 3:21 records that God had sacrificed an animal to make clothing for Adam and Eve. Their sons may have been aware of this and understood the shedding of blood to be needed as an atonement sin. But it is not until Leviticus 4 that God’s command of a blood sacrifice for the atonement for sin is revealed to us. And in Leviticus 17:11 God revealed through Moses, The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement (Leviticus 17:11).
But whether or not Cain and Abel had been instructed in what to sacrifice, it was not the sacrifice alone that God regarded - from Hebrews 11:4, we know it was the faith of the offerer. The offering merely reflected what was in the heart of each of the brothers. Clearly Hebrews 11 testifies to Abel’s faith. And Genesis 4:7 gives us a further look into Cain’s heart. When God confronted him and encouraged him to do the right thing, Cain showed no repentance. In addition, he became angry, killed his brother, Abel, and spoke defiantly to God, “Am I my brothers keeper” (Genesis 4:9)?
Do your actions reflect the faithful heart of Abel or the prideful, stubborn heart of Cain? Abel’s faith determined his actions, but Cain’s actions were void of faith. God spoke, and both of them knew what pleased God, but only one chose to humbly submit in faith. And God has given him to us as an example of faith.
In Roman’s 12:2, the apostle Paul calls us to, present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. How is your life a living, holy and acceptable sacrifice to God? Does a heart of faith shine through your actions? How are you an example of faith like Abel - to your family, your friends, and to the world around you?
I was just wondering if you have a favorite book of the Bible, one that you keep going back to and reading over and over so often that you come to know parts of it by memory. I have a book like that, and it’s the Book of Hebrews. The first time I studied Hebrews it was like a light bulb went on in my head illuminating God’s purpose and plan and reason for giving us His precious Word. The Book of Hebrews revealed to me the connection between the Old and New Testaments. As my teacher, Pearl Hamilton, explained, quoting Augustine, “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.” Seeing how God’s Word is so interconnected and how all the different parts explain each other, opened a whole new world to me and filled me with a passion for reading, studying, and memorizing it. I saw how everything in the Old Testament looked forward to Jesus Christ and that much of it is a picture of Him, although a dim and imperfect picture. And I saw how Jesus Christ came as a perfect fulfillment of the Old, which although it was good, was flawed and incomplete until He came. Everything in the Old, under the law, was only a shadow of the good things to come (Hebrews 10:1).
The writer of Hebrews (and no one is sure who that was) goes to great lengths to explain the superiority of Jesus Christ and why, as the fulfillment of the law, He is superior. He is better than the prophets and the angels (Hebrews 1-2), better than Moses (Hebrews 3), and a better priest (Hebrews 5, 7). He brought a better rest (Hebrews 4), a better hope (Hebrews 7), a better ministry, a better covenant, and better promises (Hebrews 8). He offered a better sacrifice (Hebrews 10) and is our minister in a better sanctuary, the perfect mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 9). Does all this boggle your mind and overwhelm your imagination?
What is your response? The writer calls us to respond with faith and gives us, in Hebrews 11, inspirational examples of faith from the Old Testament. Hebrews 11 has been called The Faith Hall of Fame, and I love that chapter. I read it when I am tired or down or discouraged and it always lifts my spirits and encourages me. Although I know I will probably never attain to the faith of those listed in that chapter, they encourage me to aspire, to set my sights high - to set my eyes on Jesus!
What I would like to do in the coming weeks is go through Hebrews 11 and get to know a bit about the faith of each of the heroes of faith listed there: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak and Deborah, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Each one of these has a story to encourage us in our faith. How important is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the very substance (the foundation) of everything we hope for. Our faith is evidence that everything we do not now see as tangible and touchable is real. By faith we understand that the worlds (or “the ages”) were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible (Hebrews 11:3). We need to look at the world, at our lives and our present situation, through eyes of faith. That is how the heroes of Hebrews 11 lived. It was by faith these men and women gained approval (Hebrews 11:2). They knew that in living by faith, they pleased God, and they believed that faith was worth everything. They were looking to the reward - to what they desired more than anything else - God Himself. They knew, as the writer of Hebrews revealed, Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
I hope I’ve piqued your interest in Hebrews 11, the wonderful Chapter of Faith, and that you will want to come back every other week as we take a peek at the faith of the men and women who are named there. We will begin next time with Abel, whose actions showed what was in his heart. We will see how he put faith into action. Lets be encouraged to grow in our faith!
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.