As we read Hebrews 11, we find a single common denominator to the lives of the people mentioned. Each had a particular characteristic that denotes the kind of faith God loves. What was this element? Their faith was born of deep intimacy with the Lord.
The fact is, it’s impossible to have a faith that pleases God without sharing intimacy with him. What do I mean by intimacy? I’m speaking of a closeness to the Lord that comes from yearning after him. This kind of intimacy is a close personal bond, a communion. It comes when we desire the Lord more than anything else in this life.
“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4). I want to note several significant things about this verse. First, God himself testifieth of Abel’s gifts, or offerings. Second, Abel had to build an altar to the Lord, where he brought his sacrifices. And he offered not only unspotted lambs for the sacrifice, but the fat of those lambs as well. “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” (Genesis 4:4).
What does the fat signify here? The book of Leviticus say of the fat, “It is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the Lord’s” (Leviticus 3:16). The fat was the part of the sacrifice that caused a sweet aroma to rise. This part of the animal caught flame quickly and was consumed, bringing about the sweet smell. The fat here serves as a type of prayer or fellowship that’s acceptable to God. It represents our ministry to the Lord in the secret closet of prayer. And the Lord himself states that such intimate worship rises to him like a sweet-smelling savor.
The Bible’s first mention of this kind of worship is by Abel. That is why Abel is listed in Hebrews 11’s Hall of Faith. He’s a type of servant who was in fellowship with the Lord, offering him the best of all he had. As Hebrews declares, Abel’s example lives on today as a testimony of true, living faith: “He being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).