So far, we’ve seen the author of Hebrews encouraging his hearers to pay careful attention to God’s Word. He reminds them, as he does us, how easy it is to ‘drift away’. We pay closer attention so that we don’t drift away, but also so that we are not punished.
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For . . . how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:1 ESV)
How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
Verses 2–3 tell us that angels delivered the Law in the Old Testament, and it was trustworthy. In fact, he says, everybody who broke it was punished. Every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. The people were commanded to obey and live, for if they disobeyed they died.
Now, in the Old Testament there was a difference between unintentional sin and downright lawbreaking! We see from Numbers 15 that defiant, wilful sin was punishable by death. So when a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath, he was put to death (Num. 15:32–36).
Was this excessive? Over the top?
“every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution.” (Heb. 2:2)
If the law was deliberately, wilfully broken then the person was to be cut off and put to death. Now, says the author of Hebrews, if that is what God did in the Old Testament, how will we escape if we neglect our great salvation in Jesus? The answer? We won’t!
“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.” (Heb. 12:25)
This should make us tremble.
Maybe we’d say, Surely a little sin is ok, we’re under grace after all? Such thinking is dangerous and foolish. We should be scared by these verses. They should make us run straight back to the cross of Jesus Christ.
If we find ourselves drifting or far from him then we need to turn back right now! We cannot go on coldly ignoring the demands of God in our lives without it having some effect. Without some result. God does not overlook our sin just because we claim to follow Jesus.
Imagine two boats in a race on a river. You jump in and you find that as you are pushed out to the middle of the river, you have no oars in the boat. The other side power off toward the finish line. They have power and direction. You just float helplessly on at the mercy of unseen forces and currents, completely out of control and with no sense of direction. Life is never standing still, and the world’s current flows one-way: toward destruction. It takes effort and vigilance to guard ourselves and to fight against the remorseless flow.
Drifting is a deadly place to be, just going with the flow. We must be on our guard. If we drift unchecked, then we will bring down spiritual judgement upon ourselves. If we ignore Jesus, then we can expect a judgement in relation to the seriousness of the offence.
Look what happened to a man who picked some wood; what do you think the degree of judgement will be for those who wilfully dismiss the gospel of God’s beloved Son? Who spit on the gospel? Who laugh at it? Who mock it? Who treat it cheaply?
There are some people in our churches who are in great danger. For some people, it would have been better not to hear the gospel than to meet God on the day of judgement having dismissed it out of hand.
How shall we escape? There will be no excuse for those who reject the gospel, because the author points out that it was validated by the highest authority.
So, what do we do today if we feel we are beginning to drift? How do we help a brother or sister who we feel is drifting away from the Lord?
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end." (Heb. 3:12–14 NIV)
I don’t know what your Christian life is like just now: very hard, stressful, tiring, annoying, disappointing, frustrating, amazing, joyful, fun, brilliant, sad. . . .
At some point, all of us will grow weary. At some point, we will face temptation. We will face hard decisions. We will come face to face with the blackness of our own hearts. We must not neglect what we have been taught about Jesus. We must listen to the voice of God through his Word and his people. We must encourage one another to persevere.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1–3 NIV)