Handles from Heroes
Did you know that the Bible says that it is impossible for you to please God without faith?
“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.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Most of us here today would say that we want to please God. We’d like to know Him and we’d like to please him. But, the Bible says that requires faith. But, many of us want to know about having faith in God through the lives of other people. People who exhibit that kind of faith are often thought of as heroes by the way they behave in the challenges of life. We want to know that there are real live heroes; heroes in life and heroes in faith.
Webster’s defines a hero as a person “of distinguished courage, moral or physical; chief character in a play, novel, poem, etc.
Where have all the heroes gone? Before September 11, many of would have been tempted to say that there aren’t any heroes any more. But, on September 11, our national spirit and faith in heroes was reborn. We’re seeing more and more that people who are really heroes are those who live, in the moment of their time, with real faith tied to real values, tied to real behavior.
Here are a couple of faith stories from the Bible that will help us. I think we can draw some specific handles from these heroes. Hebrews 11 is sometimes called, “The Heroes Hall of Faith” in that it lists a group of people who get applauded for their faith. Many of those people would be recognized by those of you familiar with the Bible stories of your childhood. People like Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, and Samuel. But, leading off that list is a man whose story is little known but apparently was significant enough to lead off the list of giants.
Handles from Heroes
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than 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. “Hebrews 11:1, 4)
Here are 4 handles on faith from Abel’s story:
1) Faith is hard work
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26)
Many of us think that faith is simply about some sort of “will to believe”. But, the story of Abel demonstrates that the life of faith requires action. Many people try to look like they have a life of faith, without really doing any “work”. But real, Biblical faith, always works itself out in behavior and changed lives. That’s why we’re so big here about the concept of a changed life…we think that is what the world needs to know…God can change your life!
A brand new lawyer in his brand new office on his first day in practice sees a prospective client walk in the door. He decides he should look busy, so he picks up the phone and starts talking: "Look, Harry, about that amalgamation deal. I think I better run down to the factory and handle it personally. Yes. No. I don’t think 3 million will swing it. We better have Rogers from Seattle meet us there. OK. Call you back later." He looks up at the visitor and says, "Good morning, how may I help you?" And the prospective client says, "You can’t help me at all. I’m just here to hook up your phone." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 436.
2) Faith offers sacrifices. (Genesis 4)
What you offer to God matters. The problem is that we often think we are offering to God one thing when what we are really offering is not our heart; it is our misguided priorities where we assume the role of God. The Bible is very specific about what it takes for sin to be forgiven and how God has established His system of law and justice.
“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (I Peter 1:18-19)
It may sound gross, but that’s what the Bible says. Sin is such a serious deal, that God requires the shedding of blood. When Christ came, He gave the “once and for all sacrifice”. Prior to that, you read throughout the OT about the sacrifice of animals. That’s where the story of Abel comes in.
Abel shows his worth by tending to sheep for his living. Cain becomes a vegetable farmer. In time, and for unknown reasons, both brothers bring offerings to the Lord. This first recorded worship shows that the earliest family knew a place for and the reasons for worship, for both sons brought offerings to the Lord.
Cain was asserting his independence by choosing to worship God in his own way.. The attitude of the worshiper is always important when making a sacrifice to God. Our text states that Abel’s offering was accepted because it was brought “by faith.” Cain was only willing to offer to God what he wanted to offer; not what God had asked for. When he chose to offer the efforts of his own labor and not what God had asked for by faith, then sin was crouching right at Cain’s door. Instead of Cain being sorry, in which case God could have and would have forgiven him, instead Cain was angry and envious with his brother. Abel was killed because Cain was jealous. Cain tried to assert his right to bring whatever sacrifice he desired and his anger burned hot against Abel.
“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:15-17)
3) God rewards our faith (John 4)
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
A true story: a woman entered a Haagen-Dazs store on the Kansas City Plaza for an ice-cream cone. After making her selection, she turned and found herself face to face with Paul Newman. He was in town filming the movie Mr. and Mrs. Bridge. Newman’s blue eyes caused her knees to buckle. She managed to pay for her cone, then left the shop, heart pounding. When she gained her composure, she realized she didn’t have her cone. She started back to the store to get it and met Newman at the door. "Are you looking for your ice-cream cone?" he asked. She nodded, unable to speak. "You put it in your purse with your change."
When was the last time the presence of God quickened your pulse? God wants to speak to us in worship, but we need to be expectant of His presence here. He will reward us with His touch, and His goodness when we come to Him with expectant hearts.
4) Our faith influences others (Isaiah 58)
Isaiah 58…if you get a chance to read this, you will read that the nation of Israel was honoring God with worship and sacrifice and living for Him while at the temple…but then living like the devil the rest of the time. The Bible says that is just plain wrong; it doesn’t cut it. When the people of God don’t honor God with more than their lips, then not much happens other than judgement. But, when the people of God honor him with both their lips and their lives, then God’s hand of blessing and direction start following after. Here is a promise God made to the nation of Israel that I believe can be ours today here in America:
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness£ will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:8-12)
How Can I Give My Heart to God in Worship?
1) Confess my sin before God
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Romans 6:12)
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9)
2) Conform my life to God’s will
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing 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 12:1-2)
3) Connect my heart to the Body
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)