So Great A Salvation
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
Our last study concluded with Hebrews 1:1-14. As one will recall, the author's main thrust is that Jesus Christ is superior to everything-prophets, creation, and even angels.
He began by proving Christ's superiority to prophets (verse 1 through 3) and then proved His superiority to angels beginning in verse 4. In order to do this, the author used a string of seven Old Testament quotations, proving that all of Scripture points to the fact of Christ's superiority.
The Old Testament quotations proved that the Messiah is vastly greater than any angel ever was. Angels are servants (verse 14), while Christ is waiting to be served (verse 13). The angels are ministering spirits doing the will of God, while Christ is identified as God Himself.
Verse 1 begins, 'For this reason... .' In other words, the author is saying, 'Because of what I just said about the superiority of Christ,' 'we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.' The author uses a familiar analogy from the Old Testament to communicate this warning and the importance of it. Remember, he is writing to Jews who profess to believe in Jesus Christ. They are under constant pressure to return to the more familiar path of Judaism. Of course, the author is also well aware that if someone returns to their old lifestyle, they may not be a believer at all. This is why the book of Hebrews is so important for us today. We are in the same position as were the Hebrews. We have the complete revelation of God, yet some will come to church week after week, and still fail to respond to the salvation that is offered through Christ.
The author places a large responsibility upon the reader. He says 'we must pay much closer attention.' This phrase literally means 'closest attention.' Notice that the author includes himself in this commandment. This is common among New Testament writers. For example, James says, concerning our tongues, 'with it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.'
The author doesn't ask us to just think about paying the closest attention to God's Word. He says 'we must.' This word indicates a necessity, based on the logic of the argument of Christ's superiority. If Christ is superior to the prophets and the angels, His revelation is also superior. If His revelation is superior, we 'must' pay 'much closer attention' to His instruction. He is the greatest vehicle of revelation that man has ever, or will ever experience. Remember chapter 1 verse 2? The author said 'God...in these last days has spoken to us in His Son... .' What is the message? The message is Christ. God came to earth as a man and willingly paid the penalty for our sins by His death on the cross.
This is the message that demands our closest attention. People have all degrees of attention. Some people pay very close attention, some people pay less attention, and some people pay no attention at all. We have all been in a situation where we were in a conversation, and suddenly our mind wanders off. Instead of listening to the person talking, we begin to think about what we did last night, or what we are going to have for dinner. Then, just as suddenly, we come back to the conversation and realize we haven't heard a word. We have no idea what that person has just said because we haven't been listening.
This is what the writer to the Hebrews is concerned about. He is disturbed that people will hear the material presented, but they won't pay attention. He is warning us to pay attention 'lest we drift away from it.' This phrase literally means to 'slide past,' or 'drift past' something. The picture is of a boat that drifts by the safety of the harbor because the crew is not paying attention to where they are sailing. Suddenly, the boat drifts by the harbor, and the boat, with nowhere to go but into the open sea, is doomed to destruction.
The same is true for us. If we are not paying the closest attention to the revelation of Jesus Christ, we are exactly like that boat. We will 'drift' by the eternal salvation of Jesus Christ, with nowhere left to go but to destruction in the eternal hell.
The author supports verse 1 with an analogy from the Old Testament, using an argument that was very familiar to the Jews. In English we would call it 'the light and heavy' argument. Basically, the point is this: when you prove something is of lesser importance, you have proved something else is of more importance. For instance, when we show our children the importance of handling money correctly, we start by giving them very little. The argument being that if they can handle a little money well, they will learn to handle more money correctly as well. We presuppose that this is true. Because the Jews used this form of argument constantly, the author uses this form of argument in verses 2 and 3 to prove his point.
He begins verse 2 with the word 'For,' building on what he has just said in the previous verse. And he continues, '...if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense... .' This phrase assumes that this is a fact. It can be translated 'since the word of angels... .' There is no doubt implied concerning the word of angels. Their message is 'unalterable.'
Now, in chapter 1 we examined the fact that God used angels as a medium to reveal His Word. And in this verse, 'the word' refers to the entire Old Testament (Galatians 3:19). The contrast is between the medium and the revelation. On one hand we have the angels, and on the other, we have Jesus Christ.
We have a far too limited conception of the splendor surrounding God's revelation in the Old Testament. We think, 'Well, God came down to earth, and talked to Moses on Mount Sinai.' We talk about it as if it were no big deal. But consider Deuteronomy 33:2; 'And he 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.' The picture is that when God came to talk to Moses, He was accompanied by thousands upon thousands of angels.
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the end of this verse reads 'At His right hand, the angels were with Him.' This is called parallelism, poetry in which the same thing is said twice with different words. The point is, the angels were with the Lord when He spoke with Moses. We are not told what their role was, but the fact that they were present (in the thousands) is clear.
The author of Hebrews writes this verse assuming that the Jews would be completely familiar with this concept. Again, he says that the word spoken by angels is 'unalterable,' literally meaning 'steadfast' and 'sure.' The revelation given by angels was true, and is true. It is unchanging, just like everything else concerning God's character.
The proof of this is found in the last part of verse 2. The author says, '...every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense.' How do we know that revelation given through angels is true? Because every time somebody rebelled against it, God brought judgment. And His judgments are always justified, even though they may not seem that way to us. Remember what happened to Uzzah, who reached out to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling on the ground? He was killed instantly (2 Samuel 6:67). That may not seem fair to us. After all, he was only trying to keep the Ark from getting dirty. But God's Law is 'steadfast'. The sin of Uzzah in touching the Ark arose from the fact that God's holiness had been violated. God had directed that the Ark be carried by Levites (Priests descended from the line of Levi), which had not been done. In Uzzah's death, God's Law was upheld.
The point the author is moving toward is dealing with the appropriateness of God's justice. Verse 3 begins with the question 'how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? The author has already proved that the revelation given through angels is 'unalterable.' If this is true, won't the greater revelation through the greater vehicle (Christ) prove to be even more sure? Again, this is the 'light/heavy argument.' The 'lighter' was proved true, so it naturally follows that the 'heavy' is true.
The emphasis in verse 3 is on 'so great a salvation.' This is in reference to the Gospel, the message about Christ through Christ to mankind. The result of trusting in His person and work guarantees that person eternal salvation. It is called a 'great salvation' because that's what it is. No one else has ever, or will ever, provide total and complete forgiveness for those who believe. It is only through the work and person of Jesus Christ that this salvation is provided.
The danger, as the author addresses in verse 3, is that some people will 'neglect' (literally 'be careless' about) this salvation. Matthew 22 illustrates the meaning of this phrase. In this chapter, Jesus is explaining the parable of the wedding feast as a picture of the kingdom of heaven. The feast has been prepared for all those who wish to come, but the invitation is continually rejected by those who are invited (verse 3). Again the king sends out slaves with the invitation to come to the feast. But note verse 5; 'But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business.' The phrase 'paid no attention' is the word 'neglect' that is used in Hebrews 2:3. Those in Matthew 22 were not interested in the wedding feast. They 'neglected' their invitation.
The same warning holds true for us today. How many times do we go to church and sit in the pew, not really paying attention to the teaching of the Word of God? What is going through our minds? Instead of worshipping our Lord and Savior, we think about work, how busy our schedule is next week, or what kind of deals we have to make. We 'neglect' the Word of salvation. Our attitude is 'That salvation is fine, but I'm much too busy to really think about it.'
The question the author of Hebrews asks is 'How shall we escape...? In the context of verse 3, the question is already answered. There is no escape. If one drifts by the salvation of Jesus Christ, there is nowhere else to go.
How does Jesus respond to those who reject His Word? Here is only a small example taken from Matthew 23. He says, 'woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites...' (verse 13), 'woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites...' (verse 14), 'Woe to you, blind guides' (verse 16), 'You fools and blind men...'(verse 17), '...you are full of hypocrisy...' (verse 28), 'You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell' (verse 33)? They have been exposed to the revelation of Christ, but they have neglected it. They are paying no attention, and because of their unbelief, they will not escape the condemnation of hell. There is no alternative. It is like drifting by a safe, calm harbor on the way down a deadly, crushing, drowning waterfall. You only have one chance to escape condemnation, and if you drift by it, your end is fixed and settled.
Do you see why it is so important for us to see Christ's revelation and recognize that it is superior to all other revelation? If we miss it, we miss the one chance God has given us for salvation, and we are on our way to an eternity in hell. How 'shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? There was no escape in the Old Testament, so we can be sure that there will be no escape from condemnation in the revelation of Christ.
The principle is that the greater amount of information we have concerning God, the more accountable we will be to know it. These Jews that the author is writing to were in a terrible position because they had a full exposure to all revelation God had put forth. If they neglect that revelation, they have put themselves in a terrible position of judgment. It would have been better for them if they had not known any revelation at all.
The same holds true for us today. If you attend a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is taught accurately, but you pay no attention to the revelation being taught, you are putting yourself into a position of higher accountability before God. You are making yourself more condemned by exposing yourself to the truth of the Word of God, yet refusing believe it.
You know, I often have an opportunity to speak in a setting where unbelievers are present. And the conversation never fails to turn to the subject of babies and those who never hear the gospel. The question is always, 'Will God send babies, and those people who have never heard the gospel to hell?' Now, I understand why people ask that question. It a is very interesting, philosophical subject think about. But do you know what? The answer has nothing to do with the situation. I was not speaking to a roomful of babies, and obviously if I were speaking to a roomful of people who had never heard the gospel, that would not be the case by the time I began to answer questions. The point is, the answers to those questions are not relevant to the people in that room. What is relevant is the question 'What is God going to do now that we have heard the Gospel?'
Jesus addresses this question in Matthew 11:21-24. He declares, 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.' The principle is clear: Those who have heard the revelation of Christ and reject it, will receive a stricter judgment than those who have never heard.
The most undesirable position to be in is as an unbeliever who is a pastor of a church or a teacher of theology. Mark 12:38-40 says, 'And in His teaching He was saying: 'Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, who devour widow's houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.''
Now the question remains, 'How do we know this salvation is true? How do we know that Christ died for our sins, and God will forgive us if we believe?' There are three kinds of evidence given to us, so the reason people don't believe is not for lack of evidence. The reason people do not believe is because people do not pay attention to the revelation. God has given the authority for the message of salvation. The author says, 'After it was at the first spoken through the Lord...' The unmistakable message of salvation through Christ was not spoken by men. It was spoken for the very first time, through our Lord Himself. Luke 19:10 declares this truth. Jesus says, 'For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.' In like manner, Matthew 20:28 declares '...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.' Jesus Christ Himself announced that He came to earth to pay the price for the sins of those who will believe in His work and person.
Verse 3 stands in direct contrast to verse 2. In verse 2 the Word was 'spoken through angels.' Now, in verse 3 the Word is 'spoken through the Lord.' In verse 2, the revelation given through angels was 'unalterable.' Now, in verse 3, the revelation given through Christ is 'confirmed.' This word is the same word as 'unalterable' that the author used in verse 2 to convey that the word is steadfast and immovable.
The author continues in verse 3, saying that the word of the Lord 'was confirmed to us by those who heard... .' So, the message of Christ, His birth, His death, and His resurrection was confirmed by eyewitnesses to His life. They confirmed the miracles He performed. They confirmed the things that He said, and they confirmed the events of His earthly life.
Have you ever been told by somebody, 'If there were more proof that Christ did what the Bible says, I would believe.' Well, 1 Corinthians chapter 15 tells us that hundreds of people saw Christ after His resurrection. In fact, more than 500 people saw Him at one time, in one place (1 Corinthians 15:58). The truth is, there is more than enough evidence concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. A person who says otherwise is simply not paying attention, and they drift past His safe harbor.
The third area that supports the message of salvation by Christ is given in verse 4. The author says, 'God also bearing witness with them by signs and wonders and by various miracles... .' This is an interesting statement. It is made up of 3 words that mean 'to unite with someone else in giving testimony.' Christ brought the message, eyewitnesses confirmed it, and God substantiated the testimony of those eyewitnesses through the signs and wonders that He performed through the apostles. By doing this, God was testifying that their message concerning Christ was true.
I believe that God still performs miracles today through prayer, but I do not believe that the miracle gifts such as healing, or tongues are present. We are told in verse 4 that these gifts were given to the apostles in order for the message of Christ to be sustained at the beginning of Christianity. Christ's message has been sustained and proven true. There is no more need to have it proven through miracles. Again, if someone does not believe the message of Christ, it is not because of a lack of evidence. It is because they simply refuse to accept the truth.
Verse 4 continues with a gift from God that does continue today. The author says, '...by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.' The Spirit continues to do work in the gifting of individuals who come to believe in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, 'But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.' God gifts every independent, diversified believer and He brings us together in one body (Christ), giving us each the unique ability to function as an essential part of a group of believers. The very fact that we are able to function in a unified body is a testimony to the validity of the Christian message. This is the reason that division among believers is treated with such seriousness by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians. Divisions destroy the clear testimony of Christ seen in our function.
Again, the points the author is making, in
verses 3 through 4, are
Where are you? Have you come to realize that the message of Christ is superior? Have you placed your faith in His person and work? If you have not done this, is there a reason? Or are you one who does not pay attention to the message of Christ? Remember, if you do not pay attention now, you are putting yourself in grave danger of drifting by His safe harbor. When that happens, there is no place left to go but to eternity in a very real and very horrible hell.
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