Having now established Jesus as God the Son, truly God and truly the Savior of all creation, the writer of Hebrews turned his attention to what he saw as a drifting away from faith in his audience.
Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.Hebrews 2:1 (NRSV)
This comes as the first of five warnings given in Hebrews: “Pay careful attention to the message of salvation through Christ”
- What they had just been taught in the first chapter is that Christ is the Son of God, and as God’s Son, Jesus is superior to prophets and to angels.
- They had heard the good news about Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Holy Spirit.
- They had heard all the apostles’ teachings.
- They had confessed that these things were true
But there still existed a danger that they would drift away from these truths.
A Message Better than that Given by Angels
For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?Hebrews 2:2-3 (NRSV)
There are two references in the Hebrew scriptures that mention the activity of angels with God when God gave Moses the law
The Lord came from Sinai,Deuteronomy 33:2 (NRSV)
and dawned from Seir upon us;
he shone forth from Mount Paran.
With him were myriads of holy ones; at his right, a host of his own.
With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,Psalm 68:17 (NRSV)
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
Later, in his letter to the Galatian believers, the Apostle Paul made a passing reference to the Law being handed to Moses via the agency of these very angels.
For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator.Apostle Paul, Galatians 3:18-19 (NRSV)
Jewish Christians had a deep commitment for, honor of, and awe of God’s holy commandments, those given to Moses on Mount Sinai in the presence of angels. Disregarding God’s law brought certain punishment, grave consequences, and held within it a repudiation of their entire heritage and sense of being. As Paul had said in in another of his letters,
They are Israelites, and to them belong
—the giving of the law,
—and the promises;
—to them belong the patriarchs,
—and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.Apostle Paul, Romans 9:4-5 (NRSV)
And yet, the writer was saying, we have a message far greater than even the Law, which was delivered in the presence of myriad angels!
It is the message of salvation, written not in words but The Word, not with a chisel but with the very blood of Christ, God’s Son, not writ on stone but carved by the nails of the cross. This message of salvation has been delivered to us by one far, far greater than even myriads upon myriads of angels. This gospel is given to us by the LORD of lords, Jesus.
A Message Vouchsafed
It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him.Hebrews 2:3 (NRSV)
Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension were all witnessed by the apostles, as well as the women disciples who had been Jesus’ students and supporters from the very beginning. There were one hundred and twenty of these close followers, this inner circle, who had been filled with the Holy Spirit and launched what had now become a burgeoning movement of faith.
Jesus had Himself appeared to as many as five hundred at one time, and the stories of His resurrection had now become the catechism of the first century church.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to:
—then to the twelve.
—Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.
—Then he appeared to James,
—then to all the apostles.
—Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 (NRSV)
Listen, the writer of Hebrews was saying, think clearly about this! Salvation through Christ is infinitely greater than the law, so disregarding the gospel is even graver than disregarding God’s law. This drift of faith has eternal consequences.
God’s Current Authentication of the Gospel
While God added [God’s] testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to [God’s] will.Hebrews 2:4 (NRSV)
It should be enough, in any other situation, that we have the eye witnesses of all these people. But actually, this is not an ordinary situation.
It is an extraordinarily unique situation!
And by its very nature, the gospel can only be authenticated by the mighty wonder-working power of God alone, for it is by that power Jesus was raised, and the promise of our own salvation rests.
Therefore, God has testified to the truth of the Gospel through supernatural acts—then, and now!
Subtlety of the Drift
Imagine what happens to a boat that has not been tied to a dock, or is out on the water without an anchor.
If the water is perfectly calm, there are no currents or tides, then the boat will stay relatively in the same spot.
There is no effort in that.
And imagine you are sitting in the boat. You see that you are staying by the dock, and you think Everything is fine, for though the boat is gently moving, I am still by the dock. There is no need for a line to the pier, there is no need to drop an anchor.
But what happens when there is a current?
What happens when the tide changes?
What happens when there is a breeze?
Without an anchor, or a line to the dock, the boat will go along with wherever the current or the wind takes it.
Sometimes the drift is so subtle you and I will not notice it. It is, after all, such a gentle breeze, such a quiet current, But after a while, you and I might look up and notice—it seems suddenly—that the scenery has definitely changed, the dock is nowhere in sight
What happens next involves hard work, and often unhappy experiences, for we will have to figure out how to find out way back before we are swept to sea.