Today’s message is the 3rd sermon of our new series titled “Hebrews: Jesus Is Better”. The main idea of this book is that Jesus and His teachings are far superior to the ancient prophets and their teachings. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and accomplished the salvation of mankind once and for all. He is the final and ultimate revelation of God.
Scattered throughout the book of Hebrews, the writer issues several warnings to his readers. Collectively, these admonitions are referred to as “the warning passages”. They provide intermittent breaks from the writer’s main emphasis which concerns the superiority of Christ. While these warnings were originally addressed to the Hebrew recipients of this letter, they still apply to us today.
Before we begin this morning, I want to lay a bit of groundwork. Baptists have historically accepted the doctrinal belief known formally as “The Perseverance of the Saints”. This stance is also commonly called “The Eternal Security of the Believer” and is often summarized as “Once Saved, Always Saved”. There is ample Biblical evidence to support the idea that once a person has truly been born-again, nothing can cause them to lose their salvation.
This truth must be kept in mind when interpreting the “warning passages” of Hebrews. The writer was addressing a mixed group of people - some who had sincerely repented and received the salvation that only Christ offers, and others who were present and perhaps even involved in the work of the church who had never truly been saved. This distinction has always existed among church-goers.
The “warning passages” take on different meanings depending upon whether or not a person has actually been regenerated. As we encounter them throughout the book, we will consider their admonishments from both perspectives. We will deal with the first of these cautions today in a message titled “Don’t Drift”.
I. PAY ATTENTION TO IT (verse 1)
This warning opens with the phrase “For this reason”. It refers back to that which the author has just finished discussing. In the previous chapter Jesus was compared to and convincingly shown to be much greater than the angels. His supremacy over the angels forms the basis of the writer’s warning in these verses.
The instruction is to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard”. In other words, to give more careful and thoughtful consideration to the gospel. Apparently some had heard it, generally agreed with it, but followed rather casually and without any real commitment to Jesus. While their service to the brethren was certainly desirable and appreciated, they lacked a genuine personal relationship with Christ.
Jesus is the anchor that secures a Christian even in the most difficult times. When doubts and fears assail them, a true believer finds their strength and stay in the Lord. Some people, however, accept Jesus in their heads but not in their hearts. They know Him intellectually but not personally. Such folks are not Biblically saved, lack the Anchor, and are therefore in grave danger of slowly being carried away from the ways of Christ by the currents of this fallen world.
Lost people are subject to drift away into destruction because they don’t truly know Jesus. Christians are in danger of drifting off course in their walk with the Lord. While they won’t lose their salvation, such drifting can render them unfruitful and useless to the kingdom of God. In either case, the warning is noteworthy and pertinent to the reader.
II. DON’T NEGLECT IT (verses 2-3a)
The writer describes the Old Testament revelation as “the word” which was “spoken through angels”. People during this time period generally thought of the ancient laws and prophecies as either having come directly from or having been ordained and confirmed by the angels. This belief is also cited in the writings of Paul and Luke (Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53).
The Old Testament law, which was given at Mt. Sinai, contained numerous commandments and statutes to be followed by the people of Israel. Over the centuries the governing authorities interpreted and applied these laws meticulously. Most carried a specific punishment which was strictly enforced. These punishments were the just consequence of disobedience.
Many critics today say that the Law was too harsh and argue that God must therefore be cruel and hateful. But history suggests that the punishments prescribed by the Law were rarely carried out and apparently served as an effective deterrent to crime. That said, which is worse? Having severe consequences that basically eradicate crime, or having light punishments that encourage rampant lawlessness? Perhaps God’s reasoning was merciful after all...
The Law, which was given to men by angels, was to be taken seriously. Those who violated it faced certain repercussions. Seeing that Jesus Christ is so much greater than angels, it stands to reason that His commands carry an even great weight than the Law. Jesus warned people that their sin separated them from God and urged them to repent. There is no way to escape the condemnation that awaits those who neglect salvation through Jesus Christ.
III. THEY CONFIRMED IT (verses 3b-4)
In contrast to the old revelation that came through the angels, the gospel was “first spoken by the Lord”. While the ancients prophesied of it and pointed to it, Jesus plainly declared it. He taught this good news to His apostles, to the women and other disciples who followed Him, and to the masses who heard Him preach in various places. Jesus boldly stated that salvation could only be granted by the grace of God through faith in Him. Whatsmore, this amazing gift of salvation was available to everyone - not just the Jews.
Jesus commissioned the disciples to be His witnesses. After He’d ascended into Heaven, they carried His message throughout the known world. These brave men and women had physically walked with Christ and had personally heard Him speak. As they shared their experiences with others, many joyfully embraced their testimony. This first generation of believers repeated and “confirmed” the teachings of Christ leading to the subsequent salvation of many others… and so the process continues.
God empowered many of these New Testament saints with the ability to perform “signs”, “wonders”, and “miracles”. These Spirit-given gifts gave credibility to the disciples’ teachings and thereby helped them to establish the early church. There are many Christians today who believe that these particular spiritual gifts have ceased or been eliminated because they are no longer necessary. This argument is similar to rocket that needs boosters to take off but soon jettisons them after breaking free from the earth’s gravity.
Let’s close by pulling all of this discussion together. Apparently, the writer of Hebrews (and his companions) came to faith through the teaching of those who had heard directly from the Lord and thereby confirmed the gospel message that He’d proclaimed. This provides rather convincing evidence that Paul did not pen this book, as He was converted during a personal encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road.
Once born-again, the writer came to appreciate the greatness of Christ and His message. Furthermore, he or she understood the dire consequences that await unrepentant sinners. He or she shuddered at the prospect of eternal separation from God in a place called Hell. In light of this, the writer issued the first of several warnings. He cautioned his audience against drifting away from Jesus. He urged them to remain faithful to and close by the Lord’s side every day.
As our invitation, I want to extend this warning to us. What is your personal, relational proximity to Jesus today? Are you near to Him or have you began to drift away? How far have you gone? Is the distance between you and the Lord hindering your Christian witness and fruitfulness? If you’ve never been saved, would you respond to His calling and receive Jesus this morning? Beloved, cling to Christ and “don’t drift” because Jesus is better!