Pay More Careful Attention
Key Verse 2:1
“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”
In chapter 1, the author tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ is exalted above angels. He is the Creator God and the Heir of all things. He is the Sovereign King over heaven and on earth. He is the Son of God. He is Divine! Now in chapter two, the author wants to tell us more about the Lord Jesus. He wants to go back and tell us about his humanity. He wants us to remind us that Jesus became a man, and that when he did become a man, he became a little lower than the angels in heaven. He was made a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary and took upon himself our humanity. Why did he do that? Well, that’s what most of the book of Hebrews talks about— the reason Jesus did so. We already said that Christ became a man to purify us from sin. And later lessons we’ll talk in details how he did so. But in becoming a man, Christ does two other things as well. First, he reveals God to us. And second, Christ represents us before God.
We can never forget the glorious truth that we have a representative in heaven— that, as a Christian, I have someone there who represents me. In all honesty, most people in this world have no one to represent them. Even if they have money, representation goes as far as their money goes. Strangely enough, many people are under the illusion that they are safe and can take care of themselves. But the truth is that no one is safe, neither in this world, nor in the next. In this world, people suffer from the mischief of other people, and in the word to come, they must face God’s judgment. But not for the Christian. If you in Christ Jesus, you have a representative who represents you in heaven before the throne of God. It is really a joy to know that I have someone who represents me before the throne of God. You see, we know from Scripture that Satan is our accuser who accuses us before God day and night (Revelation 12:10). Satan never rests telling about all the sins that we have committed. Praise God that I have Jesus Christ who represents me in heaven and pleads my case. Why do we need a rep in heaven? Because “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31) I don’t want to. Neither do you.
If you would look at the first 4 verses of this chapter, we see the author is taking a break between talking about Jesus divinity and his humanity. In these verses, he gives his Hebrew readers the first of six warnings scattered throughout his letter as danger signals to avoid. He warns them to embrace the blessings they have in Christ Jesus and to make no mistake in abandoning the faith they were called to in him. We are not sure of the condition of those to whom he is talking to. Perhaps they were a mixture of believing Jewish Christians as well as Jewish-would-be-Christians who liked the gospel message but have not yet fully received it into their hearts. Some were steadfast in their faith, while others were still contemplating receiving the gospel by faith, while still others were contemplating returning to their Jewish roots. Whatever the case may be, some seem to have been in a very dangerous place in their spiritual lives, because neither the person of the Lord Jesus nor the gospel message was something to trifle with. To reject either was to reject life and salvation, and ultimately, to also reject the only Mediator a person has in heaven. So these first 4 verses are very important to all people, Christian and non-Christian alike. To the non-Christian, it is an invitation to receive Christ as Lord and to believe his gospel message. And for the Christian, it is a warning to the danger of ignoring what we already have in him.
Read verse 1. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Where to begin with this magnificent verse! First of all let me remind you of who the author is talking about when he tells us to pay more careful attention to what we have heard. He is talking about the one he described in chapter 1. He is talking about the Son of God. We must pay more careful attention because he is the Son of God— because he is appointed Heir of all things, and through him the universe was made— because by his powerful word all things are sustained. Therefore, Jesus Christ is much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs, we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard of and from him. These words are serious. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard.” The new NIV puts it better. It says: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard.” In other words, this is something more than a piece of good advice. It is a divine principle to live by— a command given to us by God to heed. And God doesn’t give us commands at random. He does so with a purpose for our own good (2 Peter 1:19). Let me illustrate the seriousness of paying the most careful attention to what we have heard, or what we hear in the word of God. Listen to what Jesus said to those who wouldn’t listen to his words: “A wicked and adulterous generation” he said to them, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:39, 41-42)
Therefore, we have a tremendous responsibility to pay the most careful attention towards what we have heard! We have a duty to consider it carefully, as opposed to what? Look at verse 3— as opposed to ignoring such a great salvation! We will get to that, but for now, let us simply consider the meaning of paying the most careful attention. The Bible is full of words that emphasize thoughtfulness and meditation and reflection and decision and faith and such. But you have to believe these words and practice them. And when you do, that’s when the word of God becomes effective in your life. But to believe them, you first have to understand them, and you cannot understand them unless you carefully meditate on them and pay most careful attention to them. Sometimes you need a coach to guide you through them if you’re humble enough. If you are not, you’ll remain a novice, and you’ll never progress beyond yourself, and there’s a danger of drifting. But with the proper training, you can go beyond yourself to become a great man or woman of God. But, that is how the truth of God’s word is kept shining in your heart and mind until it produces the fruit it is meant to produce in your life. Paying the most careful attention! Most of us need coaching so that we can learn the self discipline we need to continue paying careful attention to what we hear, otherwise it is easy to drift.
But before we consider the meaning of drifting, let’s think about what the author means by “what we have heard”. What exactly have we heard? There is no doubt that what he is talking about here is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the Hebrews have already heard. They had heard that Jesus is the Christ of God who had suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world, had been buried and risen on the third day, and had ascended to heaven to the right hand of God Almighty. However, more directly what the author meant was all that he had been telling them in chapter 1 regarding the person and works of God’s Son. In other words, he meant that they had heard that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the Second Person of the Trinity of the One God, The Heir of all things, and the God-Man, who now sits at the right hand of the Majesty of God, and who Rules heavens and earth. But as for us today, we can say that the author meant these words to mean all that God has said in his Word— the Bible. We have now heard the gospel preached to us in fullness from Genesis to Revelation. We have heard the complete message of God’s grace delivered to us in person by the Son of God himself who is the Image of God and his representative, who also represents us before God. We have heard that we are his people redeemed by grace through faith in his blood. We have heard that Jesus will come again to take us to be with him in heaven, where we will bear his likeness and share his glory forever. We have also heard that while we live in this body we live by faith and serve his mission to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. We heard that we can do so by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is what we heard, and this is what we believe. The question is, are we abiding by what we heard? Do we live out what we heard? Do we fulfill the purpose for which we have been called? Are we preaching what we heard so that others may also hear what we heard, that they too may hear and believe and live? We must each answer this question.
Now we come to the most interesting and most serious part of this warning, where the author warns us: “So that we do not drift away”. And the fault is always ours, when we fail to pay more careful attention to what we have heard. Unless we hold on firmly to them, (1 Corinthians 15:2) they leak out like water from a leaky vessel. According to the author, the danger seems to be very real. We cannot take this warning lightly. Even though we are saved from sin, sin is still working in the members of our body. And it affects us in such a way if we are not careful that if we are not careful, it makes it easy for us to hold on to the things of the world and to drift away from the things of God. That is why the author warns us. I believe the author was warning the Hebrew believers because some of them were on the verge of apostasy— that is— returning to their Jewish faith. He warns them against drifting from the gospel message and against denying Jesus as the Christ. He was warning them against drifting away from the truth about Jesus and his teachings, because drifting away from Jesus Christ is drifting away from the living God. They were in a very dangerous situation. Because of their severe suffering and persecution, they were about to renounce Jesus as the Christ and return to their Jewish faith in order to gain some recognition among the Jewish community and some benefits to ease their sufferings. They were about to give up the glories and blessings of Christ because they could not see the light of the gospel and the hope of the kingdom. How often must we remind each other that this world is passing and that our hope lies only in the heavenly kingdom— that we are only pilgrims in this world— that our treasure is in heaven— that our glory is in the cross— that our joy is in suffering— that our Christ is our model and in him we live and more and have our being! We must never ever drift from Christ and his word of truth.
There are many drifters in the world. Cain was the first to drift from God and his word. The first word of truth was to live by faith as his brother Abel had done. And so Cain became the father of all drifters. He Bible labels him as a “restless wanderer”. In other words, he wandered aimlessly, without meaning or purpose to his life. He lived his life always looking over his shoulder fearing for his life. He was always anxious about everything and didn’t have peace with men or with God. What do people need when they’re like that? They need an anchor but Cain had none. So he kept on drifting further away from God until he perished. Most of the people of the world are like Cain, restless wanderers, drifters who have no anchor to their soul or to their lives. They just drift on the wind and are swept away. Who causes people to drift? The Bible tells us it’s that “Great dragon… that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” (Revelation 12:9) He leads people astray from God and his word, causes them to take pleasure in their sins and accuses them before God.
Drifting away is everyone’s problem. Christians are also in danger of drifting. We often get distracted. We often get involved in worldly affairs. We get easily troubled. We get older and let many godly lessons we have learned in our youth drift away from our hearts. We get tired of fighting the good fight of faith and drift away into old habits. Some drift away to godless thoughts, others to immature behavior. The most important thing in our lives as Christians is to remain rooted and grounded in the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Paying the most careful attention to word of faith, meditating on it, reflecting, examining, challenging, repenting, devoting ourselves to the gospel of our Lord in total commitment so that we might not drift away. This is our sacred duty. We have a sacred duty, a responsibility as the people of God, called to serve Lord of glory and his church not to drift away, but to anchor in him and in his gospel.
Read verse 2. “For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment.” What is the author saying here? He is giving us another reason why the message of the gospel must be given the most careful consideration. Actually verses 2 and 3 must be read together. But let’s think about what he is saying here in verse 2. First of all, he is referring to the laws given to the people of God by Moses in the wilderness. They were delivered by the agency of angels. So, he is telling us that the message or laws spoken or delivered by angels in the Old Testament were binding, that is, that they were absolute and set in stone! They were so absolute and binding that when one violated the laws given by God, punishment was dealt accordingly. We remember Sodom and Gomorrah. We remember that the word given by the angels regarding the judgment spoken against these two cities was dealt with absolutely. Let me remind you of how powerful God’s word in the Old Testament and its fulfillment is. Our Lord Jesus himself said: “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Luke 16:17) That’s how powerful the laws of God delivered by angels had been in the Old Testament were. When God spoke the law, heaven and earth listened. If God delivered a punishment for a violation, the punishment was dealt. But not all punishments were meant to be dealt with in this life. Some punishments were meant to be dealt with on the Day of Judgment.
Because God is a righteous and just God, every violation and disobedience of his law will be dealt with according to its degree of violation. As I said, some violations were and are dealt with in this life, but surely many will be dealt with on that great Judgment Day. No one will escape even one infraction of the Laws of God. Every human being will get his or her just judgment from God. Evil men will receive what is due them not only in this life but surely in the next life. Each person will receive their punishment according to the nature of the sins which they have committed. And no one will escape. That is what the Bible teaches us. That is why Christ came to this world. This is why we preach the gospel of good news, so that all might hear the good news and know that God in his mercy so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish in their sins, but have eternal life through faith in Christ. Every human being will surely be judged and punished for every infraction of the law of God— all except those who are found in Christ Jesus— all whose sins have been washed away by his blood— all who have made the good confession of faith and have found anchor in him.
Now read verse 3. “How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” This, then, is what the author is saying. Now, if the message spoken by angels was so powerful and absolute and binding, and those who disregarded it invited God’s punishment, then how much more will it be for those who disregard the gospel of Christ, the Son of God, who is far greater than the angels, and who brought the message himself! If punishment was given to those who disobeyed the law given by angels, even greater punishment will be dealt to those who disregard the message brought by the Son of God himself!
There are things to consider here. How shall we escape “what”? Why does the author call this a “great salvation”? First of all, it is clear that he is talking about escaping God’s wrath and God’s judgment. And that is if, as he says, we ignore such a “great salvation”. So what is this great salvation, and why does he call it so? To start with we can clearly say that Jesus Christ himself is our salvation. Yet, salvation is also the gospel message itself. It is the message of grace that the gospel offers us through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the message that calls us to repentance and to faith in Christ, in what he has done for us in and through his death and resurrection. The “salvation” here is his deliverance of us through his mediation for us before the holy throne of God. It is his inclusion of us in his glorious kingdom. It is in his accomplishment of restoring us unto his very likeness on that day. So it is not only a message of grace but also the very Person of the Son of God and the son of Man as well. It is also all that the Son of God and Son of Man has accomplished in us and for us for all time. As the Bible says: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9) This message of salvation itself is repeated in this letter to the Hebrews many times. This then is not merely a great salvation, not even the great salvation, but such a great salvation! It expresses the depth and width and height and glory of what the Lord Jesus has rescued us from and brought us to. Only those who have known the redeeming grace of Jesus can comprehend the author’s exhilaration when he calls it “such a great salvation”. To ignore it, to look back, to regret, to consider past life, to wish for something else is a blatant insult to everything that the Lord Jesus had done to bring us out of the filth of sin to the glory of his holiness.
Indeed it is a great salvation because of its nature, because of what the Lord God had saved us from! This is not just salvation from a bad situation, or from a bad dream, or from a bad marriage, or from a poor childhood, or from an alcoholic mother. This is serious! It is salvation from God’s wrath; salvation from the power of sin in our lives; salvation from Satan’s influence; salvation from slavery to the fear of death and so on! There is nothing more important in our lives than the “great salvation” that God has given us through Jesus Christ our Lord. How can we possibly ignore it? Yet, indifference to the gospel is a big problem today. Especially in the world, yet mostly among God’s people as wel. How many people perish every day because they ignore this great salvation that God has offered them through his Son Jesus. They hear the gospel but they ignore the message. But what excuse do Christians have to ignore the message? The gospels are full of parables that warn of the dangers of ignoring the message of the gospel. And we are not talking about ignoring the fundamental call to believe the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Devout Christians believe that with all their hearts. But we are talking about what the author tells us here. Look at verses 3b and 4.
“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” He tells us that this salvation was first announced by the Lord of glory himself. Jesus our Lord was the first to preach the gospel, the full gospel. His gospel was not only a gospel of death and resurrection. It was the gospel of his kingdom. He called us to repent of our sins and build new hopes in his kingdom. It was a gospel of repentance and faith in him. How often do we ignore that! “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) He preached a gospel of rest to us, that in our troubled hearts we should go to him for peace. How often do we do that! Or do we ignore that? Jesus said that he is the way and the truth and the Life. He told us that if we would be his disciples we must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow him daily. Jesus told us that we cannot love both God and money, that we would end up loving one and hating the other. Do we listen carefully to him or do we ignore this teaching? Jesus taught us to love our enemies, how much more then to love one another! He taught us to forgive those who do us wrong, even seventy times seven. He taught us to be merciful, humble, gentle, generous and holy. How often do we carefully consider what he said! He taught us not to judge lest we ourselves be judged. Jesus’ salvation for us did not come cheaply. He paid with his life to give us such a great salvation. We owe him our lives; we owe him our hearts; we owe him our obedience. Even if the whole world ignores this great salvation, we can’t, we shouldn’t. It is our legacy.
Look at verse 4 again. In those days, God testified to all that we have in our Bible not only by words but also through signs and wonders and various miracles which are all now recorded for us in the Bible. But mostly we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit poured out on every believer ever since Pentecost. Let us continue to testify to this great salvation God has given us. Let us not drift away either, but pay more careful attention to the word of God.