First Warning - Don't Drift - Part 1 - (series: Lessons on Hebrews)
by John Lowe
The revelation delivered through the Son must be regarded with utmost seriousness.
Lesson #4: First Warning: Don't Drift (Hebrews 2:1-4) Part 1 - (Series: Lessons on Hebrews)
Scripture: Hebrews 2:1-4 (NIV)
1We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
At this time Christians met in house-churches, where they would pray and listen to scripture that was read to them, and then they would fellowship. In lesson #3 we were called on to recognize that Christ is superior to angels and that the angels were sent forth on a mission to assist God's servants who find themselves oppressed and confused in a hostile world. One other insight is brought to the attention of the audience by Lesson #3: The function of the Son is to rule; the function of the angels is to serve. The superiority of the Son to the angels becomes clear in 2:1-4; Lesson # 4. This lesson consists of a solemn warning to respect the word of salvation proclaimed by the Lord. When we read Lesson #4 it is easy to remember that we are listening to a sermon.
The warning about "drifting away" better, drifting off course has in view the catastrophe envisioned by the question, "How shall we escape?" Note: These verses are speaking of neglecting not rejecting.
(2:1) We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
It appears from the Christian message that the interest shown by the men and women addressed has significantly slackened. The source of distraction is not specified at this point in the sermon, but the writer warns his friends that it is possible to "drift away" and end up off course. In setting forth the consequences of failing to give the closest attention to the message received, he selects a vivid metaphor with a nautical background. The image is of a ship whose anchor no longer grips the sea-floor, which drifts dangerously past the safe harbor. The metaphor of drifting off course was designed to seize the attention of the writer's audience on the seriousness of disregarding the Gospel they had received.
The preacher warns his audience to “pay the most careful attention to what we have heard.” He wants them to take heed of those things, have them constantly in mind, remembering them, thinking about them, seeking to understand them better, firmly believing and highly prizing them, and honestly practicing them. Chiefly, he is concerned with the gospel, for it is of paramount importance. It is not enough to just hear these things. We must set our minds upon them. Our entire natures must be aroused to focus our attention on them.
For most of us, the greatest threat we face is not so much that we will plunge into disaster, but that we may drift into sin. There are few people who deliberately and in a moment turn their backs on God; there are many who day by day drift farther and farther away from Him. There are not many who in a moment of time commit some disastrous sin; there are many who almost imperceptibly involve themselves in some situation and suddenly awake to find that they have ruined life for themselves and broken someone else’s heart. We must be continually on the alert against the perils of the drifting life.
(2:2) For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,
As a means of underscoring his point, the preacher draws a comparison between the old revelation, the word of the Law, and the new revelation, the word of the Gospel (2:2-4). The basis of the comparison is the fact that the message spoken through the angels demanded accountability: "What was once spoken by God through angels proved to be valid, and every infringement and disobedience received the appropriate punishment" (2.2). The appeal to the regulating character of the Mosaic Law suggests that the Christians who attended the house-church continued to maintain emotional and social ties with the larger Jewish community. It was proper to appreciate the awesome character of the Law. They needed, however, to sharpen their appreciation for the solid importance of the message of salvation which they had received and to solidify their response to it. The revelation delivered through the Son must be regarded with utmost seriousness.
The writer's attitude toward the role assigned to angels in verse 2 is positive. Although it is never said explicitly in the Old Testament that the Law was delivered through angels this was a common conviction in the Jewish community because of the presence of angels at Sinai. Speaking of that memorable event, Moses said that God came "with myriads of His holy ones" (Deut. 33:2). The Greek translation of the text, which was the Bible the pastor read, added these words: "angels were with Him at his right hand." And Paul reminds his listeners that "the law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator" Christ. The same perspective is found in the younger contemporary of Paul and Stephen, Josephus, and in the rabbinic literature. From Moses to Christ the law of Sinai in all its provisions was in force so that every transgression received a just recompense. The retribution for violating Moses’ law was just, right, fit, suited to the offense.
“For since the message spoken through angels was binding" (2:2) is simply an alternative expression for what the Lord spoke through the prophets (1:1). That message proved to be legally valid precisely because it was a word spoken by God. And, the preacher adds, a deliberate rejection of the divine will of God expressed in the Law received an appropriate redress: "and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment," (2:2b). The term disobedience implies an unwillingness to listen to the voice of God. This was the precise disposition that the men and women of the house-church were beginning to display toward the Gospel message they had received. It was this fact that stirred the writer's deep concern for his friends.
That is why he directs their attention away from the Law to the message of salvation they had received (2:3-4). The decision to ignore the message of salvation entails catastrophic consequences: "how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (2:3a).