WARNING AGAINST DRIFTING AWAY
For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the rock of your refuge. (Isaiah 17:10a).
The epistle to the Hebrews is written to Jews who lived in a strategic time in history. They lived in the Roman province of Judea around 66 A.D.
The Emperor of Rome at this time was Nero. He had just recently signed an edict that made it illegal to be a Christian. For the first time since the birth of the church, persecution against Christians became widespread. There had been persecution before this time, but it had never been sanctioned by the Emperor of Rome.
This new persecution had a wide range of effects. In far off Jerusalem the persecutions were particularly severe. The orthodox Jews had already been antagonistic to those who were followers of Jesus and now this antagonism was given the fuel of Roman law.
There was already a great mixture of beliefs among the Jews at Jerusalem. There were Herodians and Pharisees and Sadducees and Essenes. Within all of these groups were those who believed in Jesus. They had heard the mess age of the gospel and they had perhaps seen some of the miracles which were performed by the apostles. As a result, they had come to Christ and had joined. the church at Jerusalem.
This church at Jerusalem was composed almost entirely of Jews ó descendants of Abraham and Hebrews by birth. In fact, in the early days of the church there had been some question whether it was even possible for Gentiles to be saved without first undergoing the Jewish rite of circumcision. The first church council had been held 20 years earlier to settle this question.
That was then; this was now. It was now recognized that salvation was through faith and apart from racial or ethnic origin. In spite of this, the church at Jerusalem was still not integrated. It was still composed almost entirely of Jewish people.
These Jewish Christians met together, but they also went to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship. They were still participating in the ceremonies and in the sacrifices and in the rituals of Judaism.
But now, as this intense persecution begins to hit the church, these Jewish Christians are thrown out of the Temple. This is traumatic.
You see, you might become unhappy with the church that you attend for any number of reasons. You might not like the pastor s sermons or you don t like the songs they sing or you don t think they are friendly enough. And so, you might leave that church and go to another church down the street.
Perhaps you have even been asked to leave a church. This is a little more upsetting. I know this because I have been asked to leave a church that disagreed with some of the doctrinal issues which I believe the Bible to teach. But there were still other churches to which I could go and so, it was not as though I was now excluded from all Christian fellowship.
But it was different with the Jew living in the first century. For him there was only one Temple. The Temple was everything. He had been coming to the Temple every year since the time he was born. His parents and their parents and all of their ancestors for hundreds of years had come here to worship.
And so, there is a strong temptation for these Jews to stop meeting with the Christians (Hebrews 10:25) and to turn back to the old sacrificial system.
They will not actually deny Christ. They will merely compromise their beliefs and ignore Christ as they return to the Jewish ritualistic system. After all, God was in the sacrifices and the Temple before Christ was even born. Would He care if He was worshiped in the Temple as opposed to in the church?
This is the reason for the epistle to the Hebrews. The writer wants to warn these Jewish Christians against deserting the faith and hiding in the Jewish ritualistic system. Therefore, he sets out to show that Jesus is better.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, "How does all of this apply to me? Iím not a Jew who is living in the first century. I canít identify with those problems."
There is a message here for you.
In an age when you are being lured by all of the things that the world has to offer, there is a message that you need to hear.
Jesus is better.
THE DANGER OF DRIFTING
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1).
The reason that it is important to know that Jesus is better is because there is a danger. It is the danger of drifting. You need to be aware of this danger. There will be five warnings given in the book of Hebrews. This is the first. It is a warning against drifting away.
You see, this is not being written to people who have not come to Christ. It is not written to pagans. It is written to those who have heard the gospel message and who have come and who have entered into the church. It is written to good church members. It is written to Christians. But now there is a danger. The danger is that they might drift away.
This brings to mind the image of a drifting boat. If a boat is not anchored to something solid, then it will drift away. In Hebrews 6:19 we shall see that we have an anchor of the soul. His name is Jesus.
When I was a boy, my father built me a small one-man sailboat. My family lived in northern Florida to the east of Pensacola and there were many tiny islands that dotted the bay. On the hot summer days I used to sail out and explore these islands.
One day I landed on a small island and tied up my boat to a piece of driftwood. I came back to find both the boat and the driftwood floating out into the bay. I had made the mistake of tying up to an insecure object. In the same way, these Jewish Christians had anchored their hopes to the Temple and its rituals and sacrifices.
Now they are in for some hard times. There is rebellion in the air. Within a few months, Roman legions will be landing on the shores of Palestine. Within four years, they will surround the city of Jerusalem and will burn the Temple to the ground. The sacrifices will cease. And those who have their hopes anchored to the Temple and its ceremonial system will find themselves shipwrecked.
Now I want to ask you a question. Where have you anchored your soul? Where is your hope set? Is it on your career? Is it on your mate? Is it on your children? Is it on your church? If it is set on anything besides Jesus Christ, then you are in danger of drifting.
Drifting is dangerous. It is dangerous because it does not happen all at once. It happens very slowly. It is gradual. And, because it is gradual, it often goes unnoticed until it is too late.
THE CERTAINTY OF JUDGMENT
For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:2-3a).
We have seen in Hebrews 1 that Jesus is better than the angels. There is a reason that the writer has made this point. It is because the Mosaic Law was given through angels.
Therefore, if the Law which was brought through the angels was unalterable, and if each transgression of that law received a righteous judgment, then how much more will we be judged if we neglect the salvation that was brought, not through angels but through the Son?
We could chart it like this:
Brought through angels
Brought through the Son of God
Angels are great
The Son is greater
Neglect of the Law brought certain judgment
Neglect of salvation is certain to bring greater judgment
The commands of the Mosaic Law were very rigid. The breaking of those commands called for strict punishment. One who neglected the commandments of God would suffer the wrath of God.
If such wrath was certain then how much more shall that wrath be certain today as men neglect Godís Son?
THE CONFIRMATION OF SALVATION
...After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us who heard, God also bearing witness with them both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will." (Hebrews 2:3b-4).
These verses form the second half of a parallel that was begun in verse 1. This type of parallelism is called a chiasm. It looks like this:
What we have heard (2:1).
The word (2:2)
Spoken through angels (2:2)
So great a salvation (2:3)
Spoken through the Lord (2:3)
Confirmed by those who heard (2:3)
To us (2:3)
The pivotal point in this parallel is the salvation which has been declared by both God and angels. The danger is that this salvation might be ignored. The reason that it is so dangerous to ignore the salvation of God is because it has been confirmed with signs and wonders.
You see, most of the Jews who made up the church in Jerusalem had not heard Jesus preach. It has been over 30 years since the crucifixion of Jesus. Most of those who made up the church at Jerusalem had entered through the preaching of others. This was a "second-generation church."
How were they to know that they had heard a true message? It was because of the signs and wonders of confirmation.
When Jesus taught, He often performed miracles. There was a reason for this. It was not merely to get the attention of His audience. It was not to entertain them. The reason He performed miracles was so that they would know that the teachings He gave were of God. Those miracles were signs of confirmation.
Jesus offered His miracles to the Jews as evidence that He was from God.
...though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38b).
Peter offered the same evidence of the authenticity of Jesus when he preached Christ to the Jews.
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know." (Acts 2:22).
But the signs and wonders and miracles did not end with Jesus Christ. He promised that His apostles would also manifest such signs and wonders.
"And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18).
All of these signs were performed by the apostles in the years that followed the birth of the church. The book of Acts attests to the fulfillment of these miracles.
The writer to the Hebrews is very specific as to the reason for these miracles. It was Godís way of bearing witness to the confirmation of the message that was preached by these apostles.
God wanted people to know that the message which the apostles proclaimed was the same as that which Jesus had brought. Therefore, He gave them the same miracles which He gave to Jesus. The things that the apostles said were not their own opinions. This message was from God.
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12).
How could you tell if a man who claimed to be an apostle was really an apostle? It was because he would back up his message with "signs and wonders and miracles.
Now I want to ask you a question. Are those miraculous gifts still operating today? I do not think so. Notice that they are described as something which took place in the historical past. The writer of Hebrews does not say that these miraculous gifts are still taking place. He does not say that the message of the apostles is still being confirmed in this way. He says that this confirmation took place in the past when they first heard the message.
That time of "signs and wonders and by various miracles" has ended. We no longer need such confirmation. Today we have a different means of confirmation. It is the confirmation of the completed Scriptures.
Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31).
The books which make up the New Testament have been given to us as confirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Have you accepted that message? Or have you been guilty of neglecting that great gift of salvation? We have seen the warning. Now you must decide if you will pay heed to it.