************ Sermon on Hebrews 2:1-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 27, 2015
"Pay Careful Attention"
A man visited his doctor to have his hearing checked. The doctor removed the man’s hearing aid, and the patient’s hearing immediately improved! He had been wearing the device in the wrong ear for over 20 years!
Sometimes I think the whole church has a hearing problem. Someone I respect greatly was quoting a sermon I just delivered. What a gap between what I said and what he heard!
There is a difference between listening and really hearing. Jesus often cried, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" This statement suggests that it takes more than physical ears to hear the voice of God. It also requires a receptive heart. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" says Hebrews 3 quoting from Psalm 95 (Heb 3:7–8).
Do you remember how Hebrews starts? It starts with the declaration, "God ... has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb 1:1). Near the close of the book, the writer states: "See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks" (Heb. 12:25). Put the two together and what do you get? "God has spoken; are you listening."
I Do Not Drift Away
A We find this same theme of listening at the start of our Scripture reading from Hebrews 2.
(Heb 2:1) We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.What is it that "we have heard"? Go back to the beginning of the sermon we know as the book of Hebrews: "In these last days He has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb 1:2). More specifically, we have heard that Jesus is the heir of all things -- which means He is the Son of God. We have heard that through Jesus God made the universe -- which means He is the Creator. We have heard He is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being -- which means He is God. We have heard He sustains all things by His powerful word -- which means it is the providence of Jesus which upholds and rules all things. We have heard He provided purification for sins -- which means He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins. We have heard He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven -- which means He is King with all power, all might, all rule, and all authority. We have heard He is better than the angels -- which means He is better than anything in the Jewish faith of the original audience.
"Therefore," says the preacher in Hebrews 2:1. "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard." God has spoken His last Word in Christ. No further revelation is coming. No further revelation can be expected. THEREFORE pay careful attention. Listen to what God is saying.
B What we have in front of us is the first of five warnings that we find in Hebrews:
Heb 2:1-4 - warns about drifting from the Word
Heb 3:7-8 - warns about a hard heart when it comes to the Word
Heb 5:11 - warns about being slow to learn the Word
Heb 10:26 - warns about despising the Word
Heb 12:25 - warns about refusing to hear the Word
Notice, the admonitions become stronger as we progress through the book, from drifting from God's Word to defying God's Word. Their purpose is to encourage all readers to pay attention to God's last Word.
This evening we are warned about drifting from this Word. If we do not listen to God's Word and really hear it, we will start to drift away. It happens so slowly, a little bit at a time, that we hardly notice it.
Alexander loves it when there is water in the canal by our house. He likes to drop stones and listen to the "kerplunk" as they hit the water.When we leave the Word we rarely are swept away by a raging torrent. Rather, it is more of a slow drifting, a little bit at a time. One morning you get up late and don't have time for devotions. Another time you rush off to soccer practice and skip Bible reading and prayer. And still another time you go to a family birthday party instead of church. After six or so months of this you realize you hardly ever read the Bible anymore. None of the steps are big. It is just a slow drifting away.
One day from the bridge we dropped in little pieces of bark; we crossed the road and I told him to watch for the pieces to appear. Sometimes it was a 2 or 3 minute wait because the water was running so slow.
Too many Christians today take the Word of God for granted and neglect it. In my ministry, I keep discovering that neglect of the Word of God and prayer is far too common among God's people. I don't need to give you any examples because every believer knows that this is true. You have either experienced this "drifting" firsthand yourself or have seen it in the lives of others.
C "We must pay more careful attention, therefore to what we have heard ..." (Heb 2:1). Who is this warning meant for? Notice, the author says "WE." The author includes himself. Telling us what? Telling us the warning is meant for believers. Hebrews is not talking to unbelievers -- because they are not paying any attention to the Word of God anyways. "We must pay more careful attention." The author includes himself because he knows how easy it is to drift away -- like a piece of bark slowly drifting away in the canal.
Remember the original audience? They are Christian Jews who, because of persecution, are tempted to go back to their Jewish roots. They are drifting away from the Christian faith and going downstream to the Jewish faith.
D What is the answer when we wake up one day and realize we are slipping and sliding and drifting away from the faith and the Word? "We must pay more careful attention" (Heb 2:1). We need to pay attention to what God is saying. We need to pay attention to His last Word in Jesus Christ. Later in the sermon, the author of Hebrews uses the illustration of an anchor to show how confident we can be in the promises of God (Heb 6:19). We need to anchor ourselves in the Word of God. We cannot afford to drift away from worship, devotions, Bible Study, Christian fellowship, prayer, and other opportunities for spiritual growth (cf Heb 10:25). The anchor does not move; we do.
II How Shall We Escape
A So what if we are drifting away? It seems so harmless. Verse 3 of our Bible reading indicates that to drift away involves salvation. When we drift away "we ignore such a great salvation" (Heb 2:3). Hebrews is talking about salvation in Jesus. Hebrews is talking about the purification for sins that Jesus provides once for all. Hebrews is encouraging Christians to pay attention to the great salvation they have received from the Lord.
Don't drift away! That is the author's cry. Don't ignore such a great salvation! Is it a deliberate decision on your part? Probably not. You are not rejecting salvation. You are not rebelling against the Bible and walking out of the kingdom in a huff. Instead, you are ignoring salvation. You are neglecting salvation. You are drifting away by becoming lax.
B Let me spell out what happens. As we drift from the Word, we lose our love for the Lord, our enthusiasm for the faith, our fellowship with the saints. As we drift from the Word, we start to doubt the Word; because faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17). We start to get hard hearts, and this leads to spiritual sluggishness which produces dullness toward the Word. We become lazy listeners -- what Jesus calls "dull of hearing" (Mt 13:15 in KJV)! As we drift away, the next step is a despiteful attitude toward the Word to the extent that we willfully disobey God; and this gradually develops into a defiant attitude!
C Now what does God do while this spiritual drifting is going on? God does not sit idly by and permit His children to rebel against Him. God continues to hold His last Word before our eyes and, when necessary, He disciplines His own. This discipline is the theme of Hebrews 12 where we are told, "The Lord disciplines those he loves" (Heb 12:6).
Our Bible reading talks about this discipline in terms of the Old Testament covenant. Listen to verse 2:
(Heb 2:2) ... the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment ...Hebrews says that in the old covenant there was punishment for violations and disobedience, for sins of commission and sins of omission. Page through the Old Testament and read the punishments. Three thousand of the Israelites were killed by the Levites when they built and worshiped the golden calf (Ex 32). Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, were consumed by fire from the Lord when they offered unauthorized fire (Lev 10). When the people complained about their hardships, fire from the Lord burned among them (Num 11). When the people rebelled after the report of the spies, the Israelites were condemned to wander around the wilderness for forty years (Num 14). And on and on it went: The people sinned and God punished.
D According to Hebrews the people were rebelling against "the message spoken by angels" (Heb 2:2). I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago and a couple of people wondered how this fit in with Exodus 19 where Moses met alone with God at the top of Mount Sinai; nothing is said there about angels. Yet, Deuteronomy 33:1-2 says myriads of angels were present at Mount Sinai. Paul says in Galatians 3:19 that the law was put into effect by angels. Stephen says the same thing in Acts 7:53 -- that the law was put into effect by angels. We must assume that after the Lord God Almighty thundered the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the rest of the law was delivered to Moses by God's mighty angels.
In Christ, we have been given a better revelation, a greater revelation, than was given to the saints of the Old Testament. Hebrews tells us that if sins against the old covenant revelation were punished, how much more severely will rebellion against the Son's revelation be punished.
E Notice the form of the question: "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Heb 2:3). This question assumes a negative answer: there is no escape if we ignore Jesus. There is no escape if we drift away from Jesus. There is no escape if the original audience listens to the Jews and Judaizers and leaves Jesus to return to the Jewish faith.
There is an idea out there that believers today "under grace" can escape the disciplining hand of God that was so evident "under Law." Absolutely not because to whom much is given, much shall be required.
What Hebrews says can be translated as "despising salvation." That is what is at stake. We are despising salvation when we drift away from Christ. But, this is important to realize, to ignore what was preached through angels at Mount Sinai was also to despise salvation. The laws God gave them were gracious laws. They were rules for citizenship in His kingdom. There were God's laws for people who had been saved from the bondage of Egypt. So, if they despised God's laws, they were despising His salvation.
The same is true today. If we ignore or neglect God's last Word in Christ, we are despising salvation. We are rejecting citizenship in the kingdom and, says Hebrews, we will pay for it.
III Heard and Attested
A Over and over again, the author of Hebrews loves to emphasize the speaking and hearing of the Word:
(Heb 1:1-2) In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, (2) but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.Quoting from the Old Testament, Hebrews 1:5-14 emphasizes the speaking of God; notice, for instance, the many times Hebrews uses "he says". In our Scripture reading Hebrews says, "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away" (Heb 2:1). The message delivered by the angels was "spoken" (Heb 2:2). Salvation in Christ "was first announced by the Lord" and "was confirmed to us by those who heard him" (Heb 2:3). To mention this speaking and hearing of the Word is something new. In comparison, when Jesus fought against the Devil and his temptations, He kept saying, "It is written" (Mt 4). When Paul wrote to the churches, he said, "It is written" (Rom 3:10; 15:9). Their emphasis was on the written word. But the emphasis of Hebrews is on the speaking and hearing of the Word.
B Not only have we received God's last Word in Jesus Christ, but that Word has been confirmed by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will" (Heb 2:4). Why? So we will listen and listen carefully. Why? So we will not drift away. Why? So we will not ignore such a great salvation. Why? So we know it is true.
What does Hebrews means by "signs, wonders and various miracles"? A "sign" communicates information. Think of signs on the freeway: speed limits, intersections, food and gas services, and so on. Jesus didn't perform miracles simply to impress the crowd. Each miracle communicated information. Each wonderful work fit into the revelation of God's truth. When Jesus healed people, it was a sign that the curse was being removed. When Jesus raised the dead, it was a sign that He held the keys to death and Hades. When Jesus walked on water, it was a sign that He had power over the elements of nature. We are to look at the signs done by Jesus, and believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name (cf Jn 20:30-31).
A "wonder" is meant to attract attention. In a miracle, the God Who constantly runs the world does something dramatically different from what He usually does. This gets our attention. If miracles were commonplace, as some fringe groups claim, they would no longer be wonders. Consider Israel in the wilderness. They ate manna for forty years. Their shoes and clothes did not wear out. After a while it no longer seemed wonderful and miraculous. Those growing up while this happened most likely believed this was normal, something to be expected. Only when something is exceptional do we see it as a wonder.
The word for "miracle" is actually the Greek word for "power" and forms the basis for our English word "dynamite." Miracles reveal the mighty power of God over His creation. By faith we know that God upholds and rules everything in creation, but we are not always conscious of this fact. When God does something exceptional, it shows His power. It shows the kind of power that He and He alone has: the power to divide the waters of the sea, the power to turn water into blood or wine, the power to raise dead people back to life. The "miracles" done by pagans, like the magicians of Pharaoh, are nothing but tricks and involve no power.
Like Jesus, the apostles did signs, wonders, and various miracles. Go through the book of Acts sometimes. Peter and John healed a crippled beggar (Acts 3). The apostles healed many and cast out evil spirits (Acts 5). Paul brought back to life the young man who fell three stories out of the window (Acts 20). Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and suffered no ill-effects (Acts 28). These miracles, as with Christ, attest to the truth of what they said and proclaimed.
In these last days God has spoken to us by His Son. So pay attention lest you drift away. So pay attention lest you be punished. So pay attention lest you be guilty of ignoring/despising such a great salvation.
Does this message scare you? Does it make you tremble? Good! The author of Hebrews wants you to tremble. Because, above all else, he wants you to pay careful attention to such a great salvation.
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