Read Hebrews 11 v 1-7 and then pray; Almighty God, your Word is living, active, mighty, and pure. May your Word graciously work in my heart and life as I surrender to you and walk the life of faith. In Jesus name, Amen!

Last week we began to slowly walk through this wonderful chapter about faith in Hebrews 11. We particularly focused on the nature of faith (v1), and the starting point of faith (v3, 6), which is belief in the existence of the invisible almighty Creator God and His revealed Word, through which all things were created and continue to be sustained and held together. (1: 2-3) The great saints of the OT lived by faith. Hebrews 11 will now demonstrate and showcase that fact, and teach us about some of the priorities and qualities of faith. We now embark on a whole series of character studies – all of which point to the priority and importance of faith.

In verse 6, having only mentioned two such notable characters (Abel and Enoch), the author pauses to state something that the whole bible emphasises multiple times;

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Faith is that quality by which an individual such as Noah (v7) or Abraham (v8) is prepared to live their life trusting in God and His Word. God and His Word, including His promises, become the ROCK on which life is based and lived out. Faith needs to hear and receive the Word of God; it then springs to life and acts obediently in response to the Word. (Romans 10:17) Faith concerns our trusting and believing response to what God has revealed to us through His Word (the Bible). For example, the New Testament consistently reveals that we must put our entire trust in Jesus and his death on the cross for our salvation and for eternal life. As Augustus Toplady reminds us in the great hymn entitled Rock of Ages – “Nothing in my hand I bring – simply to thy cross I cling.” This is biblical and saving faith. Leaning on God and His unbreakable Word and promises with regards to Jesus, God’s Son. (Hebrews 6: 13-20) This is our ROCK of refuge and hope!

All the characters highlighted in Hebrews 11 are role models of faith. The author introduces each of them with the words – By faith. If we want our faith to be inspired and strengthened – it is most important for us to look at those lives which shone brightly as they walked by faith. For example, the faith of Moses can be a real inspiration to us as we study it – an inspiration for us to press on and endure in our life of faith (11:23-29). This is precisely why Christians should read biographies of great Christians of the past and present. After reading the bible, there is nothing more profitable than reading the biographies of outstanding Christian women and men. I urge you to do so. There are several of them in our Church library waiting to be studied and enjoyed. The Hebrew audience receiving this letter were to be encouraged to endure with their faith in Jesus through the way the author presents these great examples of faith. Be inspired by this exhibition gallery of faith!  (12:1-3)

Over the next two Sunday’s we will consider three of these outstanding OT saints. The three are Abel, Enoch, and Noah. The author is deliberately taking us back to remote antiquity. Faith is not something new; it has always been the way to approach God and walk with God. We are taken back to the beginning – to Abel. I think that through these three individuals we can look at faith in the three key ways;

  • Faith worshipping (approaching God) – Abel
  • Faith walking (closely with God) – Enoch
  • Faith working (in obedience to God) – Noah

We will see that faith is an act of commitment which affects every area of life and living, the whole sum of what we do with our lives; how we live them from the point we come to know God to the point we die in God’s arms. Faith is a journey, a pilgrimage, a guiding principle of life embraced in the company of God. (Genesis 47: 9-10) We live by faith not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

The first person to demonstrate and to live by faith was Abel. His story is to be found in Genesis 4. But here we have the brief snapshot and summary;

By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice that 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. (11:4)

Abel offered a better sacrifice than his brother. This is the language of worship because we have two words often associated with the worship of God – offering and sacrifice. We can also see that Abel was spoken of as “righteous” – or right before God. He experienced God’s favour and blessing. His faith will always be remembered and it will always have a voice encouraging those who wish to walk by faith. His violent death did not silence the eternal voice of his faith.

The question raised here is obvious. Why was Abel’s offering of worship better? There seem to be two factors which are highlighted by biblical commentators;

  • The sacrifice Abel brought (a sacrifice that involved blood)
  • The spirit in which the sacrifice was offered.

As Raymond Brown writes; “It’s acceptability was not simply that he made a blood offering and a valuable offering (the firstlings of his flock), but also that he gave a sincere offering.” Another commentator notes that “it can hardly be without significance that the very first recorded instance of acceptable worship in the family of Adam brings before us bleeding sacrifices and seals them with the divine approbation. They appear in the first act of worship. They are emphatically approved by God as soon as they appear.”  (G.B. Wilson also quoting A.A. Hodge)

Put simply, the blood (the life) mattered. I will come back to this in a minute, but it is clear as you read through the OT, and consider the sacrificial system (which ended with Jesus’s sacrifice), and as Hebrews itself teaches, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.”  (Hebrews 9:22, 18) But what is also stressed again and again in the OT is that worship offerings must be offered with a sincere and a contrite heart. The condition of the heart is important because God looks at the heart first and foremost. As Psalm 51 declares, God “desires truth in the inner parts.” (51:6) “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (51:17). The spirit in which the sacrifice of praise is offered is just as important as the sacrifice itself. Both must be right for God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

 Cain did not come with the right sacrifice or spirit. Sin was crouching in is heart. Abel offered what God required and offered it with a humble, contrite, sincere heart.

It should not be surprising for any Christian in any era of history to hear that the life of faith is primarily and fundamentally a life of worship – acceptable worship. Worship of Almighty God, the Creator of all things, dominates the life of faith. Anyone in this world who wishes to pursue the life of faith will be a person that desires to be a true worshipper of God. (Hebrews 12: 28-29) Worship will be a lifelong desire and occupation. It features more prominently than anything else in the life of faith! Read any Christian biography for confirmation of this point.

From the moment we offer our hearts and lives to God – worship comes into view. If we see life as a journey or pilgrimage with God, we will be regularly pausing and stopping to worship the God we seek to honour with our lives. (Genesis 12: 8-9 Abraham’s example) But you and I as Christians must always remember two things about faithful and sincere worship – worship that God finds acceptable and blesses and commends.

Firstly, it will be worship that is offered through and in the name of Jesus – and through the merits of his blood shed on the cross. We can only come to God in worship through Jesus and by his blood – the blood which has completely cleansed and delivered us from sin and enables us to know the most Holy God. This is what is taught all over Hebrews and the NT.  Note what is said in Hebrews 13:15 concerning worship;

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually (throughout our earthly pilgrimage) offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Jesus said that He was the way, the truth, and the life; no-one can come to the Father except through Him. (John 14:16). We can come with confidence to worship God only through Jesus and by his blood.  (Hebrews 10: 19-22) Without Jesus, and without his atoning death and blood, there can be no way for anyone to approach and worship God in spirit and in truth. We come through Jesus, who is the door or the gateway into God’s presence. (John 10:7).

But we must also come with the right spirit – not just through the right door. We come to worship with sincere and humble spirits. Jesus said that true worshippers “worship God in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). The Psalmist puts this in the form of a prayer request at the end of Psalm 19. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing (acceptable) in your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer. In Romans, when Paul comes to his chapter on practically living the life of faith in Jesus by which we are saved and clothed in divine righteousness, he starts by writing;

Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing (acceptable) to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-3)

Those verses beautifully sum up what worship is and what the life of faith consists of – continually offering our bodies, minds, and souls to God as an offering of worship and service. The first point therefore to hammer home about the life of faith is that it is a life dominated and directed by worship – worship offered through Jesus – and with the right spirit which is clothed in humility. As Christians walk the path of life – such worship becomes a natural daily activity; they also worship with others regularly in a Church like ours which centres its worship on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Prayers and service are offered in the name of Jesus! Deeds of compassion and mercy are done in the name of Jesus to the glory of God the Father. (Colossians 3:17) Holy Communion, which points us to a broken body and shed blood must be taken with the right attitude and approach to God (1 Corinthians 11:27) This is what we ceaselessly aim to do from day one of our walk of faith. Abel points us in this direction – his example of faith – faith to offer the right sacrifice with the right spirit.

Do you and I constantly seek to offer worship that is acceptable and blessed by God? Do you consciously seek to draw near to God through Jesus (9:22, 4:16)? Do we understand the central importance of the Saviour’s blood? (9:7, 12, 14, 10:11-14, 19 12: 24). Do we come to worship with the right spirit – “a poor and humble spirit?” (Matthew 5:3) As one hymn writer expresses it;

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness – bow down before him, his glory proclaim; with gold of obedience and incense of lowliness, kneel and adore him the Lord is his name.

True worship gives us a genuine glimpse and foretaste of heaven. A challenge is raised here about each offering of worship that we make and bring before our God. As Christians where have we come to on this journey of faith and worship?  Hebrews addresses this very point;

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect (chapter 11), to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  (Hebrews 12: 23-24)

Abel’s blood sacrifice, offered in the right spirit, speaks to us about the need to be passionate about true worship and holy service, but it also speaks to us about the blood of the One who was to come, whose sacrifice would be the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for all the sins of God’s people. Abel was the first martyr in the Holy Scriptures – murdered by his envious brother Cain. He lost his life as a result of his worship and his desire to do the will of God. The blood of the martyrs of every age cries out to us and to the world. There will be other martyrs mentioned later in chapter 11, (35-38) but Abel was the first worshipper to be murdered because of his offering to God. Tertullian, one of the great early Church Fathers, once wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. You cannot kill the Church. It will bounce back and grow and grow and grow. Faith cannot be extinguished. It lives on and on and on! It overcomes and builds God’s everlasting kingdom which cannot be shaken. (Hebrews 12:28-29) Of His government there shall be no end! (Isaiah 9:7)

Jesus’s blood speaks an even better word. Abel’s blood fires up the faith of every generation of believers – but Jesus’s blood saves the entire Church. Christ’s is the one eternal, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sins. This is the timeless message of Hebrews and the gospel. The blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. (1 John 1:7) Jesus was able to declare “It is finished!” His blood is the blood of the eternal covenant (13:20) – the blood that opens the door of heaven and the fountain of the righteousness of God in which believers are bathed, washed and then re-clothed.

Like Abel who our Lord referred to as “righteous” (Matthew 23:35), Jesus himself, God’s own Son, was murdered by wicked men. There are many parallels between the acceptable offering made by Abel and the offering of Jesus’s life. Abel was envied – so was Jesus. Abel was murdered – so was Jesus. Abel’s blood cries out – so does the blood of Jesus. As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost;

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep hold of him. (Acts 2:23-24)

Death could not hold him – impossible! Jesus’s life proved indestructible. (Hebrews 7:16) His sacrifice was perfect. His life had been spotless! It spoke to heaven. The Father spoke back and was “well pleased.” The blood of the Son speaks and cries out to a guilty world. His blood offers hope and reconciliation to God. His blood can make the foulest clean! (Charles Wesley) Abel’s blood inspires faith – Jesus’s blood saves completely to the uttermost.

Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God THROUGH HIM, because he always lives to intercede for them.  (Hebrews 7:25) 

In conclusion, this life of faith to which we are called and strongly encouraged to live by these fine examples in Hebrews 11, and by Jesus himself, is a life of perpetual worship and consistent daily offering and service. Worship is a part of our spiritual DNA. Why should worship be such an all-consuming part of our pilgrimage of faith? Because God is so worthy of it, and heaven is an eternal home of pure worship, praise, adoration, service, and fellowship with our Creator God. Heaven is the home of those who eternally desire to worship God in spirit and in truth and to enjoy His presence and love forever. The life of faith is drawing us heavenward. For now, we enjoy foretastes – occasionally glorious foretastes of heaven, but a day is coming when we will see face to face the Lamb who was slain sat upon the throne (Revelation 5:12) – and we ourselves shall join in the eternal song and worship of the angelic host and the great cloud of witnesses and martyrs. (Hebrews 12:1a)

Our journey of faith starts, continues, and ultimately ends with worship. Abel’s faith has spoken. Our faith compels us to live a life of worship. Let us do so to God’s great glory!

And now unto God be all the glory, honour, worship, service, and praise. Amen

Revd Peter J Clarkson (14.8.22)