Posted by: stpowen | August 28, 2009

The Prophet Abel

[Adapted from a sermon preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth.]

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 to his gifts; and through it he, being dead, still speaks.’

In this article, I want to expound a riddle: how can a man who never spoke whilst he was alive, speak to us now that he’s dead ? Such a man is Abel. In the Genesis account, he never says a word; all he does is to offer a sacrifice and take an ill-advised walk with his brother. Yet the writer of Hebrews calls him a man of faith and tells us that he is speaking today. More than that, the Lord Jesus Christ calls him a prophet. In Luke 11:50, our Lord is addressing the Pharisees and teachers of the law and He says, “…..That the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah……” So Abel was a prophet, and we should note that our Lord likens the Scribes and Pharisees to Cain who killed him. But what I want to ask here is this; in what did Abel’s faith consist and how did it differ from Cain’s? How is Abel a prophet, and what does he have to say to us today?

I believe that Abel is saying this; ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved- trust in His blood shed for you on the cross. Make that your only hope; plead nothing but His death before God.’

Now where do we get all that from? Well, to find it we shall have to look at the Bible as Abel knew it, because Abel believed the Bible. Now since Abel dies in Genesis 4, all he would have known is Gen 1-3, which he would have learned from his parents. They would have told him of their early life in a perfect world, their terrible fall through sin and the hope that God gave them.

We know that when God made the world, He looked at it and saw that, ‘Indeed, it was very good’ (Gen 1:31 ). That means that there was no sin, no decay and no death. Mankind was placed in this wonderful environment a steward of it, ‘to tend and keep it’ (Gen 2:15 ). We are told in Gen 2:25, ‘They were both naked, the man and his wife and were not ashamed.’ To put this theologically, they had no covering for sin- there was no arrangement to deal with sin; no apparent way for Adam and Eve to be restored if they disobeyed God, but that did not seem to matter because there was no sin. All the couple needed to do was to obey the voice of their Creator and all would be well.

We need not detain ourselves with the details of Adam and Eve’s sad fall into sin, but immediately they were aware that something had changed forever. ‘Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings’ (Gen 3:7 ). Fig leaves! If you ever visit Italy and visit the museums there to look at the Renaissance art , you will see a lot of nude statues, and for modesty’s sake a fig leaf is often placed in the appropriate position. It doesn’t work- it doesn’t really hide anything; you know exactly what’s there! That’s how it was for Adam and Eve. God saw right through their covering to the sin beneath. And that’s how it is when we try to cover our own sin, with good deeds or with religious rituals- God can see right through it! Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags- totally unacceptable to God as a covering for sin. Habakkuk 1:13 tells us that God is, ‘of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon wickedness.’ but as for Man, ‘There is none who does good; no, not one’ (Psalm 14:1 ). The covering for our sin must come from God Himself if it is going to be acceptable to Him.

Now look at Gen 3:15. God is pronouncing judgement upon the serpent. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your Seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.’ Who is this who is the Seed or Offspring of the woman but not of the man? Who else but the Lord Jesus Christ, born by the power of the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary? He is the One who will suffer (the bruising of the heel), but will crush the head of Satan. This is God’s way of redemption; to release His people from the power of sin and death through a second Adam (1Cor 15:22 ); through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this salvation was announced to Adam and Eve in Eden and signified by God Himself when He clothed the guilty couple. ‘Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them’ (Gen 3:21 ), and in order for that to happen, an innocent creature had to die, signifying that, ‘without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin’ (Heb 9:22 ). The justice of God does not permit it.

Now all this Abel knew. He would have heard the whole story from his parents. This was his Bible, and God the Holy Spirit opened his heart to receive it all as truth. He saw himself in his true colours, as a sinner in desperate need of redemption. And he saw that his only hope lay in a covering or atonement for his sin. He needed a Saviour- one who would take away his sin by being a perfect, holy, spotless sacrifice of propitiation, acceptable to God. In short, he looked down the centuries and saw by the eye of faith the Lord Jesus Christ bleeding and dying on the cross for him. ‘For so God loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ And Abel, moved with love for the God who loved him so much, took the finest lamb of his flock and sacrificed it to the Lord as a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God, who should take away the sin of the world (John 1:29 ). ‘By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice’ (Heb 11:4 ). It was not the sacrifice that made him righteous before God. Heb 10:4 tells us that the sacrifice of animals cannot take away sin. It was his faith that made the sacrifice acceptable to God inasmuch as it looked forward to Christ, the one true acceptable offering to God. Abel knew nothing of circumcision, and nothing of baptism. The one was an ordinance for the Jewish people, the other is an ordinance for Christians, but neither brings salvation. Only the blood of Christ does that, whether looking forward to the cross as did Abel and Abraham (John 8:56 ) or back towards it as Christians do today. No religious rite can bring us to God, only trust in the work of Christ.

Let me ask you, the reader; have you stood where Abel stood? Have you seen yourself as a guilty sinner, justly condemned by God? Have you looked back down the years by faith, as Abel looked forward, to the cross? There is no sacrifice now; Christ has made one perfect offering forever (Heb 10:12 ), but when you take the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, do you remember the Saviour who stood between you and hell and took your punishment upon Himself?

Now what shall we say about Cain? Well, he believed in God, you know. Oh yes! A regular church-goer Cain was. Gen 4:3. ‘And in the process of time……Cain brought an offering of the Fruit of the ground to the LORD.’ If he’d been a member of your church, he’d have had a standing order, or Gift-aid. So many bushels of wheat a month, tax deductable. In fact, I suggest that Cain is alive and well and living in churches up and down the country. But, ‘the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering’ (Gen 4:4-5 ).

In the light of this, how can anyone say that doctrine doesn’t matter? Here is a straightforward doctrinal difference between Cain and Abel and one is acceptable to God and one isn’t. Cain’s doctrine acknowledges God as Creator, but not as Saviour. Cain feels a little queasy with all this blood theology. Cain says, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.” Cain’s into the Inter-faith movement, the Ecumenical movement and the Emerging Church movement, but the prophet Abel says, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1Cor 2:2 ). The prophet Abel says, “Jews request a sign, and Greeks demand wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1Cor 1:22-23 ). The prophet Abel says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ).

At the heart of Cain’s religion is self-will. The belief that God will be satisfied with what I choose to give Him. Thus whilst Abel brings the best he has, ‘The first-born of his flock’, Cain finds a few potatoes and a turnip and brings that (cf. Mal 1:7-8 ). When Cain looks at the cross, he doesn’t see his Saviour bleeding and dying in his place, he sees a sort of example of goodness and kindness that he thinks he can follow. Cain imagines that if he turns up in church once a week, puts a few coins in the offertory box and keeps himself from some of the grosser sins, God will be quite happy with that. Some people do a whole lot more than that, but it’s still Cain religion, because it’s what a man does for himself, it’s Adam’s fig leaf again! The prophet Abel depends on none of that; his whole desire is, ‘That I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Jesus Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith’ (Phil 3:8-9 ).

Cain has been active in the Church right from the beginning until today. Look at Jude 4; ‘For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Are not these people about today?- Church leaders who condone adultery, homosexuality and by doing so deny that there is any sin for Christ to deliver us from. Now look at verse 11; ‘Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain!’

One final point: Cain hated Abel and killed him and the prophet Abel tells us that, ‘All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’ (2Tim 3:12 ). You say, ‘well, I’m a Christian and no one persecutes me!’ Perhaps your life, your language, your habits are so similar to that of your unbelieving neighbours that they don’t even know that you’re a Christian. Does God know? Or will the only words that you will hear from Him on the last day be, “I never knew you! Depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness!” (Matt 7:23 ). Our lives, like Abel’s, are to be different from those around us. ‘For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you’ (1Peter 4:3-4 ). If your life has truly been changed by your trusting in Christ, then there will be some who will be positively influenced by your witness (Matt 5:16 ), but others will be offended, just as Cain was offended by Abel. The Apostle John wrote, ‘…..not as Cain, who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.’ People do not like to be shown up. It is becoming increasingly difficult to preach against fornication, homosexuality, drunkenness and covetousness, because people don’t want to be confronted with their sins. The prophet Abel tells us that ‘The time will come when [men] will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires……….will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables’ (2Tim 4:3-4 ). The world does not like to be confronted with its sin.

But what is your hope today that you may avoid the pains of hell and attain at last to heaven? That God may declare you righteous on the Great Day of Judgement? Is it your exemplary lifestyle, so different from your neighbours? Your generous giving to the church? Your politically correct views? Oh no! None of these things can make you right with God apart from Christ. Let it be the blood! Nothing but the blood of Christ, shed once for all for sinners upon the cross! He calls to you, saying, “Look to Me, all you ends of the earth and be saved!” (Isaiah 45:22 ). Look to Him, see Him bleeding and dying there and believe that it was for you, that it was your sin that He carried there, your sin for which He made atonement with His own blood; your soul that He ransomed from eternal condemnation and separation from God. And in this way, and in no other, you will know the joy of sins forgiven and the peace of eternal security with God. For you will have, ‘Come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God… Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than the blood of Abel’ (Heb 12:22, 24 ). The blood of Abel cried out from the ground for justice (Gen 4:10 ), the blood of Jesus speaks forgiveness to all who will trust in Him.



  1. […] The Prophet Abel @ Martin Marprelate […]

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