Christ is Superior to the Angels Part 2 “The Warning against Drifting from God’s Word” – Hebrews 2:1-4
Pastor Mark Hardy December 14, 2014
Robert Robinson was saved under the powerful preaching of George Whitefield. He was just 23 years old when he wrote the hymn “Come, Thou Fount” that in the third verse contains the statement, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” He would go on to become a pastor who was greatly used by God.
Unfortunately, because of the neglect of spiritual things, later in his life he drifted from the Lord, wandered and lapsed into sin. In an attempt to find peace, like Jonah on the run from God, he began to travel. But on one of his journeys, Robinson sat next to a young woman on a stagecoach they were both riding. She just “happened” to be reading a book of hymns and began humming his old hymn. After finishing she then asked him what he thought of the hymn. He simply tried to avoid her question, but the Spirit of God was sovereignly using this to convict him of his sin and rebellion. Finally, overcome with emotion, he said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the fellowship with God I had then.”
The young woman then repeated a statement from the first verse, “Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise,” and assured him saying, “Robert, these ‘streams of mercy’ are still flowing.” God then used the encouragement of this young woman to lead him to restored fellowship with the Lord.
Because of the reality of indwelling sin in our lives as believers, we are all “prone to wander” and “to leave the God (we) love.” It is because of this that we need to encourage one another and heed such passages as we will be looking at this morning. Now the long section of Hebrews 1:4-2:18 is on the subject of “Christ’s superiority to angels” and can be divided into four sections. Thus far, we have seen the first section in 1:4-14 which was Christ’s superiority to angels affirmed by the Old Testament. The second section we will look at this morning in 2:1-4 is: The Warning against Drifting from God’s Word. Turn in your Bible to Hebrews 2.
In Hebrews 2:1-4 we see three reasons why the author exhorts and warns those who call themselves Christians to persevere in faithfulness to Christ, regardless of the difficult circumstances of life.
The first reason is:
I. To Avoid spiritual Drifting from Christ
A. Look at v. 1: For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
1. As we come to 2:1-4, the author now pauses in his proclamation about Christ’s superiority to make application. It is as if he could only go so far without stopping to say, “Now what are you going to do about this?” And warning his readers, “Here is what happens if you don’t!”
2. This is why Hebrews 13:22 tells us that the entire letter is referred to as a “word of exhortation.”
3. Now here in vv. 1-4 we see the first of five warnings against apostasy, which is forsaking and denouncing Christ, interspersed throughout the book (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:12-29). It is the briefest and most restrained of all of them as it warns against careless failure to hear Christ speak.
4. There is a crescendo effect to these five warnings as the author intensifies each one making it more urgent and severe to avert increasingly more defiant responses to God’s final revelation in His Son (1:2).
5. Here in 2:1 the one Greek word translated “For this reason” or “Therefore” in the KJV refers back to everything the author has just said about Christ’s superiority to the prophets and the angels in 1:1-14. Because Christ is superior to everything and everyone, the author exhorts all professing believers, including himself with the word “we” used 5 times in the first three verses, saying “…we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard.”
6. Although the author does not explain what he means by “what we have heard,” there is no doubt that he is referring to the marvelous truths about the supreme greatness of Jesus Christ and His gospel of salvation. These are so important that they must be carefully remembered and responded to obediently, so that they don’t just slide through our minds.
B. Now the author says “we must pay much closer attention” to these biblical truths about Christ we have heard, “…so that we do not drift away from it.”
1. The Greek word translated “drift away” (pararheo) has several meanings referring to things that slip away. Here it is used as a nautical or sailing term that refers to a ship whose anchor has broken loose from the ocean floor and is drifting along and carried by the wind and current.
2. This is a vivid picture of a person’s failure to keep a firm grip on the truth of God, which anchors their soul, but through carelessness and lack of concern has drifted away from Christ. It is so easy to just drift along with the natural current of sin.
3. All we have to do to spiritually drift in our Christian lives is nothing! No one sets out to deliberately and intentionally drift, it comes from inattention, carelessness and unconcern.
4. But a slow drift on the open sea of life, given enough time, will carry us a long way in the wrong direction. And there are many ways that we can drift away from Christ.
5. It happens almost imperceptibly as the storms of affliction, persecution, worldly cares and worries come and our “second-thing” desires become more important to us than the “first-thing” of Christ Himself.
6. It happens when our hearts become more consumed and preoccupied with the selfish, temporal things of life than the spiritual, eternal things, such as: spending time with the Lord in reading His Word, prayer, worship with fellow believers, exercising our spiritual gifts, and other spiritual things.
7. This spiritual drifting is clearly seen in the church at Ephesus when the glorified Christ confronted them in Revelation 2:4-5, saying, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lamp stand out of its place—unless you repent.”
8. The knowledge of Christ’s superiority over everything and everyone is meant to anchor our souls from drifting spiritually and to hold us firm and secure to Christ and our Christian faith amidst whatever stormy seas of life we encounter.
9. The second reason why professing Christians are to persevere in faithfulness to Christ is:
II. To Prevent God’s Judgment for Apostasy
A. Look at vv. 2-3a: For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Stop There)
1. The author is pressing on his readers the extreme seriousness of carelessness and unconcern. And he employs an Old Testament illustration to prove his point.
2. Here he uses an argument style that goes from the lesser to the greater. In other words, if a lesser thing is true, then how much more is the greater thing!
3. The lesser thing he is referring to is “the word spoken through angels,” which is a reference to the Mosaic Law. In some way not fully elaborated in Scripture, the Law was given by angels (Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17; Acts 7:38, 53; Gal. 3:19).
4. Now this angel mediated Law “proved unalterable,” in that, as the very Word of God it is absolute truth and unchangeable. And because of that the history of Israel showed, “…every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty.”
5. The word “transgression” (parabasis) refers to willful stepping over the line as a willful act. It is an overt sin of commission—of intentionally doing something we know to be wrong.
6. And the word “disobedience” (parakoe) refers to deliberately shutting one’s ears to what God’s commands in His Word. It is a sin of omission—of not doing something we should have done.
7. Whereas the first is an active sin, the second is a passive sin, but both are willful and serious. The author’s point is that the Mosaic Law, though given through angels, was so binding that every violation “received a just penalty.”
8. Punishment was certain and just for every violation of God’s Law. Although God is often accused of being “unjust” when His punishment seems to us to be out of proportion to the wrong committed (Lev. 10:1-7; Num. 16; Josh. 7), by His very nature God can never be unjust.
B. We now come to the greater thing in the first part of v. 3: how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
1. The obvious answer is “We won’t!” The word “neglect” is the opposite of “pay much closer attention to” in v. 1, for it means to not pay attention to; to disregard, slight or omit through carelessness and unconcern.
2. Now to whom is this first warning directed? Remember that the author told his readers in v. 1 to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard.”
3. Therefore, this is not directed to unbelievers outside the church because they cannot neglect what they have not heard. It is directed to those in the church who call themselves Christians.
4. The New Testament books containing warning passages always have multiple applications to the professing believers receiving them. The Holy Spirit knows professing believers can be a “mixed audience” of both true believers in Christ and false believers.
5. The Spirit of God applies the Word of God to everyone’s heart not like a single shot rifle but rather a sawed-off shotgun whereby He hits them dead-on exactly where they are in their relationship with Christ.
6. Now God promises salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore, genuine believers can never lose their salvation, for they are enabled to persevere by the grace of God.
7. But He also gives warnings against apostasy that function as a means for true believers to persevere in order to secure their future salvation not to doubt it. God’s warnings appeal to our minds to conceive or imagine the consequences of eternal condemnation for apostasy from Christ.
8. God warns us by calling on us to use our imaginations to conceive or envision the dreadful consequences of failing to persevere in faithfulness to Christ. He does not frighten us by threatening that we may fall away or that it is likely that we will fail to persevere.
9. Warnings simply caution us against conceivable consequences, not probable consequences that are likely to happen. The very fact that God tells us what the eternal consequences would be for apostasy is part of the means of keeping us from it.
10. God’s warnings do this in at least three ways:
• First, by causing us to examine our motives and behaviors as to how they match with what God’s Word requires of all who believe (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
• Second, by causing us to strive for holiness of life.
• Third, by driving us to dependence on the grace of God, which alone can enable us to persevere.
11. Obviously, because of indwelling sin true believers, like Robert Robinson, can spiritually drift away, wander and leave the God they love. But the central issue here is that they will not do this indefinitely.
12. God will not sit idly by and permit His children to indefinitely rebel against Him. He has made it very clear in His Word that those whom He loves He will discipline when necessary (Heb. 12:5-11).
13. So this warning first is directed to true believers. But the Holy Spirit also uses it to confront false believers in the church who profess Christ but don’t possess Him.
14. They believe intellectually the facts about Jesus but have never committed themselves to Christ and received Him as their personal Savior and Lord by faith. Although this verse says “neglect (not reject) so great a salvation,” for them to continue to neglect Christ is to inevitably reject Him and to suffer the consequences of eternal condemnation.
15. In this case, God’s warnings are intended to reveal their spurious faith. Those who fail to remain faithful to Christ and apostatize reveal that they were never genuine believers (Lk. 8:1-15; 1 Jn. 2:18-19) and their “so-called faith” was not true saving faith.
16. Now the author’s lesser to the greater argument goes like this: If the punishment was always certain and just for every violation of the Mosaic Law which was given by angels, how much more severe will be the punishment of neglecting the gospel message of salvation that came through the Son of God!
17. John MacArthur said it like this, “If disobedience to the older covenant of Law brought swift judgment, how much more severe will be the judgment of disobedience to the New Covenant gospel of salvation, which was mediated by the Son who is superior to the angels (Matt. 10:14-15; 11:20-24)? The messenger and message of the New Covenant are greater than the messengers and message of the older covenant. The greater the privilege, the greater the punishment for disobedience and neglect (Heb. 10:29; Lk. 12:47). (Mac Study Bible pg. 1867)
18. The third reason why professing Christians are to persevere in faithfulness to Christ is because of:
III. The Greatness of Salvation in Christ
A. The gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ is God’s final word to mankind. We get a glimpse of its incomparable greatness in vv. 3b-4: After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Notice three truths about this great salvation in Christ:
1. First, it was proclaimed by Christ—“After it was at the first spoken through the Lord…”
• Although God’s message of salvation had been previously announced by the prophets (1:1), it was Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, who first proclaimed a “finished” salvation through His sacrificial death on the cross that paid in full the penalty of sin.
• Mark 1:14-15 says, “Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Matt. 16:21; Mk. 10:45; Lk. 1:69, 71, 77; 2:11; 4:18-21; 19:9-10).
2. Second, it was confirmed by eyewitnesses—“… it was confirmed to us by those who heard…”
• The word “confirmed” (bebaioo) means to guarantee. And the phrase “by those who heard” refers to the apostles who were eyewitnesses of everything Jesus said and did.
• They were the ones who confirmed or guaranteed the truthfulness of the gospel of this great salvation in Christ to the author of Hebrews and his contemporaries.
• John MacArthur accurately states that this “…reveals the succession of evangelism. That generation of Hebrews would not have heard if the previous generation of witnesses had not passed the message along (1 Tim. 2:5-7).” (Mac. Study Bible p. 1867)
• Where would you be if someone had not told you about the life-saving, life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you being faithful to pass it along to others?
3. Third, it was authenticated by God—“…God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
4. God gave His apostles, the first preachers of the gospel after Christ, signs, wonders, miracles and special spiritual gifts to authenticate that the message of God’s great salvation in Christ they were proclaiming was truly from Him. They had the same “miracles and wonders and signs” that marked the ministry of Jesus (Acts 2:22).
5. Acts 2:43 states, “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” This is because 2 Corinthians 12:12 tells us, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”
• “Signs” were supernatural occurrences that acted as proof that the messenger was from God. It pointed beyond itself to the reality of the mighty hand of God in operation.
• “Wonders” were supernatural acts that indicated God’s presence and working produced awe and amazement among those who saw them.
• And “various miracles” were a variety of displays of the power of God beyond human ability. Such things as: raising the dead and healing many afflictions and diseases.
6. We also see here God testifying with the apostles “…by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” These were special spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles according to the sovereign will of God.
7. These were such gifts as the gift of healings, miracles, tongues and interpretation of tongues that belonged exclusively to the apostolic age. The great Bible scholar, Benjamin Warfield, accurately stated, “These miraculous gifts were part of the credentials of the apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confirmed them distinctively in the apostolic church, and they necessarily passed away with it.” (Mac. p. 50)
8. When the New Testament canon of Scripture was completed and became self-authenticating, all of the revelatory and confirmatory gifts of the Spirit ceased. These gifts do not exist today.
9. It is also because of the incomparable greatness of the gospel of salvation in Christ that those who claim to be Christians must persevere in faithfulness to Christ, regardless of the difficult circumstances of life. For it alone is man’s only hope of salvation.
10. There is no other way! Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
11. And Peter proclaimed in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Now practically what does this mean to us? Since all of us as believers are “Prone to wander” and “to leave the God (we) love,” we too “must pay much closer attention to what we have heard about Christ’s superiority to everything and everyone. This biblical knowledge is meant to anchor our souls from drifting spiritually and to hold us firm and secure to Christ and our Christian faith amidst whatever stormy seas of life we encounter. The question here is this: Is Jesus truly supreme in our lives above everything and everyone?
For if He is not then we are already in the process of spiritually drifting away from Him and His Word in our Christian lives. And this warning is directed at us! May we all of us who call ourselves Christians live in constant dependence on Christ and His grace to persevere in faithfulness to Him, no matter what difficult circumstances come into our lives.