Continued from part 1.
For by this faith our the elders received divine testimony.
The point of this verse is that our creator, who has given to the world good news, will be faithful and do what he has said. He promised to send a saviour, Christ the Lord, who would save his people from their sins. This testimony (or good report) was first given to the first two people who ever lived, Adam and Eve, just after their rebellion (Gen. 3:15). God had told them that if they ate the fruit that God had forbidden them, they would die. They disobeyed and brought the sentence of death upon themselves and all their children (us). But God gave them the great message of hope, and this message (Good News) was repeated to many others. We read of this in the OT and in this eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Here we are told that these elders received the message, that good testimony of what God would do to put right what Adam had made wrong.
Now, when the elders (Old Testament Christians) received this message about Christ by faith, they were justified–their trusting God’s promise of life in Christ was credited to them as righteousness. In this sense they were commended by God. They received a good report—God declared these sinful people to be Not Guilty simply on the basis of their trust in Christ. They received God’s testimony, God’s solemn promise that He will act to save them from the consequences of their sin. They received this good message of salvation by faith (eg. Gen 3:15, Gen 12:1-3 etc). Each of the examples given in this passage points to their being justified by faith [Abel’s sacrifice approved by faith, Enoch receive testimony that he pleased God, Noah found grace, Abraham justified by faith…]
While it is true that the justified (those sinners whom God declares not guilty) will live by faith, nevertheless, their faith was not a good work which they did in order to be saved. They did not merit God’s favour by working up faith in themselves. Their justification came from God’s free gift—the living, dying and rising of Jesus Christ in their place—and the faith by which they trusted this salvation was also a free gift.
by faith we know that the present worlds were framed by the spoken word of God, so that the things that are seen did not come about from things that appear.
First example of something UNSEEN that the writer gives us is the truth of creation.
We human beings did not witness God’s creative acts in the beginning, when God spoke the worlds into existence. But He was there, and the one who did the creating has told us in His word what He did. We have God’s testimony that once there was nothing but the eternal God himself, and then He out of nothing (or into nothing) created everything that is not God. People, and the things which we experience now, once had no existence–matter, time and space have not always existed, but are things that God has made. We understand all this by faith.
Hebrews 11:3 is making an obvious reference back to Genesis 1.
And God said … let there be … let us make … “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the spoken word of God”
- We are not products of chance; we have come from somewhere (some One) and we are certainly going somewhere—on one of two paths.
- We are not autonomous (our own boss). We are responsible and must give an account of our actions to our Creator. God is always faithful to His word, both in His promise of mercy in Christ, and in His judgment of those who reject Christ. The best account, the only account that matters, is that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead to rescue me from sin and death—He is my only hope.
Which brings us to the next verse:
by faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, by which it was testified of him that he is righteous, God bearing witness to his gifts, and by it (faith or the sacrifice?) even though he is dead, he yet speaks.
Immediately we are confronted with human sinfulness. Two sinners–Cain and Abel–are represented to us as making offerings to God, sacrifices. The whole idea and practice of sacrifice dates from Adam’s sin and God’s promise to deal with his sin mercifully. God told Adam and Eve that one born of a woman will come and suffer, and through that one’s suffering, the works of the devil will be destroyed (Gen 3:15, as read in light of rest of Bible). And it seems, as a token of this promise, God covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve with animal skins–death of an innocent to cover the sin of the guilty. (Before their sin, Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed–no sin, no guilt–but, after they disobeyed God, their ‘nakedness’ became a symbol of their spiritual bankruptcy. Their guilt was a dreadful reality.
Taught by Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel grew up with the dual message of human sinfulness and the promise of God’s mercy through the death of a sinless substitute– that one who would suffer in their place to take away the effect, power and presence of sin. They were taught to bring sacrifices to God as testimony of their trust in him and his promise.
Abel, we are told, believed the promise and his sacrifice was accepted– “by which it was testified of him that he was righteous”. Abel was justified by faith. He was declared not guilty in trusting God’s message of mercy. Cain went through the motions, he brought a sacrifice, but was rejected since he did not believe the promise. He did not believe God’s testimony regarding the reality of his sin nor of his need for a Saviour.
There might be significance in the fact that Cain brought grain offerings instead of animal offering, in that the Bible teaches us that, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. It might be that Cain ought to have br0ught and killed a lamb or a calf as his offering, but even if Cain had done that, if it were not mixed with faith, he would still have been rejected.
The story of Cain and Abel is the first example given to us of the division that the Good News of Jesus Christ has brought to humanity. Once all were equally lost and under God’s eternal judgement. But by God’s promise to save a people from out of a lost and spiritually dead humanity, God has made war between those who continue in their rebellion and those whom he has saved. Abel trusted God. He believed God’s account. Cain did not trust God or His promises and remained in his sinful hatred of God and his people—so he murdered his brother.
By faith Abel looked forward to things not yet seen–the life, death and resurrection of Christ–Cain did not. Cain knew the message as well as his brother, but he did not believe it, nor did he trust himself to God’s mercy. Cain relied upon his own performance, and he was offended when God did not accept him.
Even though he is dead, Abel, still speaks of real confession of sin and trust in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was promised to him. Abel, in a real sense, is the first Christian martyr. His faith in Christ condemned the sin of his brother’s unbelief.
The blood of Christ speaks of better things than that of Abel. The first condemns sin, the second removes it.
That Bible gives us the faith, the facts about Jesus Christ: who he is, what he has done, and what that means for people like us. May God give us faith to trust ourselves to this great God and saviour, Jesus Christ.