January 28, 2018
When I was in high school, a few years ago – yes, we had high school and it wasn’t a one-room school house – like everyone else, I bought a senior ring. As I recall, it was about a hundred bucks. Not that much today, I suppose, but then as a senior in high school – it was a lot of money. The very weekend after we got them, a bunch of us decided to go to Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta. On the log ride – nice and wet, my-less-than-week-old, hundred-dollar-ring slipped off my finger into the murky depths. It just drifted away – never to be recovered, at least by me.
The word for drift away in the Greek is exactly the word used in our text today in Hebrews 2 – it was used of a ring slipping off a finger, or a boat drifting from its moorings. Slipping out into a swift current and being swept away, never to be recovered. You see, it’s a dangerous thing to pay no attention to something of value – to protect it, preserve it, pursue it.
As we’ve seen, the author of Hebrews was writing to a group of Christians who were in danger of drifting from the faith. Returning to their old way of life – their old religion which for them, was Judaism. And so he writes both to warn and encourage them to not drift, to not fall away, to not quit, but to remain faithful, committed, to persevere.
We’ve talked about some of the things they faced causing them to drift – apathy, indifference, neglect. Some of the things they faced causing them to fall away, to quit – persecution, opposition, pending martyrdom. And so they were no doubt asking the question, does this Christianity thing even work? At least Judaism was a legal religion and within the bounds of acceptability. So some were considering quitting and returning – others already had.
So here are my questions for us today. Is Christianity working for you? And how do we define working? That is, what are the things that make Christianity successful? Is it when we get what we want, or when He does? And what is it that we want, that makes it work? Is it enough that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, to reconcile us to God, to rescue us from the eternal torments of hell, and to give us life everlasting in the glorious presence of God? Or do we need more? And what is the more we need? How does our culture – American Christianity – define a successful faith that works? How about these:
When God answers all my prayers – which translates to, when God gives me what I want.
When I am healthy? No sickness?
When I am wealthy? No financial stress?
When I am prosperous? No sorrow or pain?
When I face no opposition or ridicule or persecution?
When I am accepted and respected by the world around me?
Which of those things is promised through the gospel of Jesus Christ in this world? Well, I have lots of questions, because, there’s frankly a lot of flabby, unbiblical teaching out there. Because there are many who think Christianity is ultimately about making me happy – getting everything I need and even what I want. About removing all the struggles and trials and challenges of life.
The author of Hebrews addresses these issues head on. And his teaching is never, change your attitude, believe more, have more faith, and you’ll get what you want. Everything’s gonna be alright. Well, he does say that – but the promise is not for this life. We arrive this morning at the first of five severe warnings in the book. His warning? Don’t drift – don’t let something eternally valuable drift away, because, how will we escape judgment if we neglect so great a salvation? Read the text with me – Hebrews 2:1-4.
So, what are you facing this morning – what have you faced recently, or in your life – that has caused you to question the success of the Christian faith? You know, does Christianity really work? Is it worth it? That has caused you to question the faithfulness of God? That has prompted you to consider quitting? I want you to listen very carefully today. At the end of our service, we’ll have a time of prayer – specifically, to not drift, to not quit, to not fall away – to surrender, understanding God will give you what you need by His powerful grace to face the inevitable, difficult challenges of life. Our outline will go like this:
- The Encouragement (1)
- The Warning (2-3a)
- The Proof that it’s real, and that it’s worth it (3b-4)
Starting with the encouragement in verse 1. He starts with, “For this reason.” For what reason? Chapter 1. For this reason, because Jesus is infinitely superior to the angels – for these reasons. that He is the Son of God, worshipped by angels, sovereign, eternal, Creator and Ruler – seated at God’s right hand – for this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard. What had they, what have we heard? The gospel of Jesus and all it represents – the incarnation, the perfect life, teaching, the miracles, the death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ by which He made purification for our sins – we must pay closer attention. Pay attention so you don’t drift.
You see, this idea of drifting carries with it the idea of unnoticed slipping away because of inattention. Lethargy. Indifference. Apathy. Inactivity. Boredom. Don’t do it. Pay careful attention to that which is of supreme value. He just spent the entire first chapter talking about the value of Christ. In the past, God’s revelation came through the prophets. It was good – it was true – it was indeed glorious. But it was also incomplete, partial, unfulfilled. Now, God’s revelation has come through His very Son – complete, fulfilled, altogether glorious.
Now, the author will spend the rest of the book demonstrating that since the Old Covenant came by angels – was mediated by angels – while it was good, it was inferior to the New Covenant which was mediated by Jesus, the Son of God. Therefore, for this reason, we must pay closer attention to it and all it represents, lest, we drift away.
Again, this drifting speaks of slipping away – for example of a boat losing its mooring – unsuspecting, unnoticed by anyone on board. And before you know it, the boat drifts into a dangerous current and is swept away with disastrous effect. Pounded into a rocky surf, plunged over steep, deadly waterfall.
Please understand, this drifting was not intentional. It wasn’t like one day you woke up, the day before on fire for Christ, His gospel, His Word, His church and kingdom but then – you made a conscious decision to deny and desert the faith. I don’t believe what I believed yesterday. No, this was an unintentional drifting, an almost imperceptible, unnoticeable slipping. You occasionally stop reading, praying, worshipping, gathering with the church. Others things, things of this life, and other people, people of this world, grab your attention. And the days slip into weeks and months, and before you know it, you are cold, indifferent, dead to the things of faith. I said it a couple weeks ago, we all know people who used to be here, who are no longer.
Which brings us to the warning in verses 2 and 3. For if the word spoken through angels…stop right there. I’ve mentioned this idea that the Old Covenant was mediated or declared through angels. The idea is not clearly seen in the Old Testament – in fact, it seems the Law was given by God to Moses who spoke with him face to face, as a man does with man. But, Deuteronomy 33:2, which is the blessing of Moses when he was preparing the people for his departure and their entrance into the promised land, says, “He [that is Moses] said, ‘The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; at His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.”
Obviously, the holy ones is speaking of angels, and the idea developed that God was accompanied by angels in the giving of the Old Covenant – in fact, mediated by angels. So that later, by Jesus’ time, this was a commonly held belief. When Stephen gave his speech before he was stoned, he said in Acts 7:38, “This is the one [again, Moses] who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you.” Then later, Stephen says in verse 53, “you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
Paul even said in Galatians 3:19, “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator…” So again, the idea was the Old Covenant came or was mediated or ordained through angels. The author of Hebrews picks up this idea – the word spoken through angels proved unalterable or binding – it’s a legal term. You were legally bound by the provisions and laws of the Old Covenant. And as a result, every transgression and disobedience to that binding law resulted in a just penalty – or there was just punishment, retribution for breaking God’s law.
That’s still true, by the way. When we see in the New Testament that Jesus came and fulfilled the Old Covenant and brought the New Covenant – that doesn’t mean He abrogated the Old Covenant or set it aside. Oh no. The moral law is still the moral law and binding. It’s still wrong to have gods before the true and living God. It’s still wrong to make graven images before God. It’s still wrong to misuse His name. It’s still wrong to dishonor your parents, to murder, to commit adultery, to bear false witness or lie, to steal, to covet, etc. The moral law is still binding, and there will still be just retribution doled out. Jesus did not do away with the Law – He fulfilled it, meaning He kept it perfectly for us and died for us because we could not keep the Law. He died in our place and took our penalty. Such that, the penalty to be paid for our lawbreaking has been paid in full for those who believe.
My point is, there is still just penalty for breaking God’s law. And if that proved reliable and unalterable when spoken by angels, how much more – the author argues from the lesser to the greater – how much more will we escape if neglect so great a salvation? Jesus through the New Covenant has provided a way to escape the just punishment for breaking God’s law. If we neglect that way of salvation, how will we escape? The answer is, we won’t. There is no other way. This is his point. If there is no escaping certain judgment outside of Christ, why would you drift away from Him? You will be swept away into a dangerous, damnable, destructive current with no hope of return.
The word for neglect is found in Matthew 22:5. There, Jesus gives the parable of the marriage feast. The king gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent slaves to invite people, saying, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.” All are invited. But notice verse 5, “But they paid no attention [that’s the word – they neglected the invitation. Why?] and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business.” Because you see, the call of this world and its enticements were more important than the invitation of the king. His call was neglected, ignored, refused.
And so the warning comes. You, no doubt, have loved ones who have drifted. Who have deserted. It is most appropriate to love them, to care for them, to be gentle with them – accepting them not for their actions but for their relationship with you. I understand and support that – I’m doing the same thing. But perhaps, as in this text, there are times to warn them of pending judgment. Perhaps the most loving thing you can do is cry out to them, seeking to snatch them from a certain, inescapable sentence of eternal punishment.
Bringing us to our third point – the proof of our great salvation which must not, at all costs, be neglected, verses 3 and 4. There are three ways in which the Gospel was affirmed:
- Through the Lord Jesus
- Through those who heard, likely the apostles
- Through God Himself
Notice, the gospel of salvation was first spoken through the Lord. We remember Mark 1:
<sup>14</sup> Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,
<sup>15</sup> and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Of course, the gospel is the good news of who Jesus is and what He came to do. Now, when the author says this salvation was first spoken through the Lord, he’s probably referring to all Jesus did – again, from His incarnation, through His perfect life, His teaching and His miracles, through His death, burial and resurrection, to include His exaltation at the Father’s right hand. This salvation has been accomplished through Jesus and the New Covenant He came to bring and has been fully and perfectly revealed to us.
Second, that message of salvation was confirmed to us by those who heard. By the way, this is the verse in Hebrews that makes it clear Paul did not write the book. He would never have said the message of salvation was communicated to him by those who heard. In fact, he makes a big deal in Galatians to say he did not hear the gospel from others, but from Jesus Himself. He used that truth to substantiate his apostleship. Look at Galatians 1:11-12:
11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Clearly, Paul says the message wasn’t given to him by another – he wasn’t taught it – he received it directly from Jesus. But he, and others who received it directly from the Lord, that is, they were eyewitnesses of His teaching and miracles – to include His death and resurrection – have confirmed the message. We remember, for example, Paul said in I Corinthians 15:
1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;
7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Notice again how Paul says Jesus appeared to him, such that he, too, is an apostle. But the point is, there were plenty of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ – five hundred at one time! They confirmed the truth of the Gospel, which, by the way, is solid proof of its reliability. People today say, I’ll believe it if I see it. There were plenty who saw it, and they have confirmed the truth to us.
But not only the Lord Jesus, not only those who saw it with their own eyes and proclaimed it, but third, it was testified as true and faithful by God the Father Himself – in two ways:
First, by signs and wonders and various miracles. Certainly the greatest of these was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We remember Romans 1:4 from last week, “[Jesus] was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead…” But there was more.
Signs are supernatural events/happenings which point to something else. They are not the end – they point to the end, namely to authenticate the message. Wonders speaks of God’s amazing supernatural acts which again point to the wonders of God. Miracles could be translated acts of supernatural power, again pointing not the event itself, but to the God of supernatural power behind the event. All of these together authenticate the message of salvation as true and reliable – trustworthy. You can believe it.
But, not only did God testify and authenticate the message by the supernatural acts done primarily by Jesus and the apostles, but also through those who believe – how? By the gifts of the Spirit given according to His own will. Now, this could be speaking of the gift of the Spirit Himself, or the gifts given by the Spirit – most agree it is the latter.
Both Paul and Peter talk about spiritual gifts given to believers for the purpose of edifying or building up the church. They are listed in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, for example, include gifts of apostleship, prophecy, teaching, miracles, healing, service, helps, administration, tongues, interpretation of tongues, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, etc.
Now, I know spiritual gifts are a hot button in the church as there are differences of opinion as to their viability today – as well as the significant abuse the gifts in many churches today. But that’s not the point here, and I’ll avoid the controversy. The point is, spiritual gifts are supernatural enablements given by the Spirit to believers to build up the body of Christ. And here, the author of Hebrews says such supernatural abilities – certainly to include the so-called sign gifts – are proof of God Himself testifying to the veracity and faithfulness of the gospel.
A couple of other quick thoughts – Paul says in I Corinthians 12 that gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit as He wills – which agrees with the author of Hebrews. Second, notice the Trinity affirms the truth of the gospel of salvation. The Gospel was spoken and indeed brought by Jesus, testified as true by the God the Father through miraculous works, and proven further by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the point: Christianity is true – not necessarily because it works the way we want it to work by giving us a pain and sorrow free life – more, giving us all the answers to our prayers; giving us what we need and even want and making our lives healthy, wealthy and prosperous. No, that’s not it. The gospel has already gloriously saved us from our sin – purified our sins, redeemed us, reconciled us to the God of the universe through the finished work of the Son of God. All of this has been divinely testified to be true. And so, in the midst of the challenges and difficulties of life – we persevere. We don’t become apathetic or indifferent. We don’t drift, we don’t fall away, we don’t quit, we don’t walk away. We remain faithfully committed to the one who has remained faithfully committed to us.
But that is not to say we do not and will not have challenges. And that is not to say we cannot pray about those challenges. That’s one of the reasons we stay connected to the church – we don’t give up meeting together. We need each other on this journey to heaven. So as I said at the beginning, we’re going to end our time this morning, praying for each other….