Hebrews 2:1-4 Warning: Neglecting Salvation WC McCarter
I know that some of you enjoy going to the lake, and almost all of us have spent some time on a boat at some point. We bought an old boat a few years ago because we lived only a few miles from a lake, and we thought it would be fun. Joseph and I worked on that boat a little at a time. We tore things out, put new things in, painted it, etc. It is fun to have a little project like that boat that can take your mind off of things from time to time. We had fun tinkering with it. Anyway, out on the lake we like to cruise around, bask in the sun, park and swim, and just enjoy the water. Heading back to the dock to load up is what we dread. Many times it is busy, crowded, and, listen, we are not professionals. A boat tends to drift. It is hard to direct the boat to the dock, and it is even harder to get it back on our trailer. I guess you would call it a tri-hull, but you have to line it up on the rollers in the middle. It takes lots of practice, close attention, and teamwork. We have never spent enough time going to the lake to get good at it. If you do not pay careful attention, you can really embarrass yourself in front of a crowd of people.
In our scriptural text today we are warned against two things, drifting and neglecting. The author of Hebrews is concerned for the Christians to whom he is writing. He is troubled that they may drift from the message of Christ which they had heard and they may neglect a great salvation. In this warning, the believers are exhorted to pay careful attention to the things they have heard. They are also to be motivated by fear of the judgment of God.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Careful Attention [Drifting] (1)
“Therefore” is always important. Based on everything the author said in the first chapter, he now speaks to us (by the Holy Spirit) with a word of exhortation and warning.
The Gospel message of Jesus as Creator, Christ, King, Savior, and God is what you have heard. The message of Christ’s preeminence and superiority has been proclaimed in your presence, and you have believed. Now you must pay careful attention to that message. You must continue to grow in it. You must continue to trust and glory in it.
I love the word that the NKJV uses, “Lest.” We will drift away if we do not give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard. We must pay the most careful attention to the Gospel or it will simply slip away from us. This phrase, “Drift away” was used in ancient times to refer to several things. The phrase was used to refer to a ring slipping off of someone’s finger, water leaking out of a jar, something going the wrong direction such as a piece of food going down the windpipe, a boat drifting away from a pier to which it had been roped, or (I think) the best example is that of a boat that is heading to harbor, but misses its desired port because it drifted. Boats can drift for several reasons: strong currents/winds, or the crew could be neglecting their duties. If the captain’s eyes are not set on the desired port, they will not arrive there, but will drift away. What does he have to do? He must pay the most careful attention. He must give earnest heed. “Notice, however, that in Hebrews 2:1 it is the person who is drifting” (Guthrie, 84). This language points to something subtle, doesn’t it? We are told that a Christian can drift away from the faith before they even realize it. You can easily end up far removed from the Gospel.
Just Punishment [Neglecting] (2-3a)
We will see that Hebrews is showing throughout the book that Christ is superior to all. What we see in verse two is that not only is Christ superior to the angels, but the message that He proclaimed is greater than the message that the angels declared. We are once again looking at a contrast which will prove the author’s point about Christ. We can also begin to better understand why the author has spent so much time contrasting Christ and the angels. The Gospel proclaimed by Christ is far greater than the Law mediated by the angels. He argues from the lesser to the greater. If the first point is true, how much more meaningful is the second point?
In first century Judaism, it was a common tradition that angels were on Mt. Sinai with God to declare the covenant with Israel. Yet, there is some biblical background to this belief. In Deuteronomy 33:2 it says, “The Lord came from Sinai . . . and He came with ten thousands of saints [myriads of holy ones or angels].” The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:19, “The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.” Stephen says in Acts 7:38, “[Moses] was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.” So, you see, many in the first century believed that the angels were on Mt. Sinai to declare the word of God in the Mosaic Covenant. They were the messengers of the Old Testament Law. The Law was the Word of God. It was binding on the people. Every transgression and disobedience received a “just reward,” which is used ironically to denote punishment (O’Brien, 85). The Law was meant to put the fear of God in people. It was strict, it was hard.
What a wonderful message it is that Christ has delivered to us! The Gospel greatly exceeds the Law. Christ is vastly superior to the angels. If the message of the angels brought condemnation onto the heads of all those who were disobedient, then how could one escape if they heard the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ and chose to ignore it? I cannot say it any simpler than the author of Hebrews has, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The author of Hebrews has already demonstrated the superiority of Christ over the angels, now he bases a new argument on that fact. If it was bad to ignore the law, it is even worse to ignore the Gospel!
So Great a Salvation (3b-4)
At the end of verse three and going into verse four, we get some details about this great salvation. “The author rounds out his exhortation by emphasizing the reliability of the message of salvation spoken through the Son. . . (O’Brien, 88). This salvation was first announced by the Lord and then it was confirmed by the Apostles and those who heard Him. The author and recipients of Hebrews did not hear the Gospel directly from the lips of Jesus. They were in many ways like us. They did not witness these things for themselves, but believed what others declared to them. Of course, they heard it from those who were first-hand witnesses, a privilege we do not share. God Himself bore witness to this salvation in various ways: signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts. Salvation is a work of the Triune God! The Lord [Jesus] first announced it; God [the Father] has testified to it with signs, wonders, and miracles; and the Holy Spirit has also testified to it by distributing diverse gifts. We can expect no less than the wrath of God on those who neglect so great a salvation that has been purchased, offered, and confirmed by the Triune God.
What were these mighty acts? Well, just think of the ministry of Jesus. He was constantly performing great miracles which were meant to be compassionate and merciful, but most importantly were to validate His words. Jesus said, If you don’t believe my words as they stand, at least believe My words because of the works which I have done. He healed all kinds of diseases, He fed multitudes with only a picnic basket, He cast out demons, He raised the dead and so much more. Now think of the ministry of the Apostles. As they went out into the world preaching the Gospel, they were also accompanied by many signs and wonders.
Notice that the signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts are not the message. They are only witnesses to the message. They are supports and proofs of what was being proclaimed by all those who went out sharing the Good News of Christ crucified and risen. When we make the supernatural occurrences the chief component of our message we have distorted the true Gospel. The Good News is not that you will never get sick in this life, that every Christian will speak in different languages, or that we will all be rich if our faith is strong enough. No, the Gospel message is that God has done something for you in the person and accomplishments of Jesus Christ that you could never do for yourself. He has paid the penalty for your sin which allows you into a relationship with God that will last forever. I don’t care about being rich now if I can have an eternity with Christ in glory! All the wonders of this age mean nothing to me in comparison to the great salvation that Christ has given me! It is a powerful word. Great power surrounds it and is included in it. Those mighty acts of testimony are just that, testimony. The Gospel is the true power of God unto salvation for all who believe.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Remember what we learned from the first paragraph of Hebrews: all of human history was bringing us to these last days when Christ would speak to us. The exhortation is for you and me to listen to what He is saying to us!
(2) If we are to pay careful attention to what we have heard, then we are compelled to examine again our response to the Gospel. You never grow out of the Gospel. You never graduate from faith in Christ Jesus. You must continually trust Him and continually respond to His saving work until the day you die. A disciple is a learner. You must learn of Him until you breathe your last.