It is all too common. We have good information but we don’t do anything with that information. Let me illustrate.
- We know we need to save our money so we are prepared for emergencies, but we buy what we don’t need and at times way more than we need.
- We know our health is impacted by eating well but we still eat piles of junk food.
- We know a round of golf is going to frustrate us but we keep buying more golf balls and hitting the links.
- We know we are to seek first God’s Kingdom but we consistently push God to the side because “we have more important things to do.”
- We are told over and over that those who text and drive are the source of many accidents and highway fatalities yet how often do you see people looking at their cell phone (texting) as they drive?
The point us, that simply having the right information doesn’t necessarily do us any good.
In the opening chapter of Hebrews the author told us that Jesus is God. He also told us that angels are subservient to Jesus and sent by God to serve those who are believers. We should respect the work that angels do but we should not worship them or want to become them. That is good information and necessary information but, what are we supposed to do with that information? That’s where our text from Hebrews 2:1-4 comes in.
So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. 2 For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.
The application is that we need to listen very carefully to the truth we have learned or we will drift from it.
The picture is that of someone who would take their boat out on the Mississippi River and then go enjoy one of the islands while leaving the boat unanchored. It would be a foolish thing to do. The boat would drift with the current. The same image would apply for the person who was in a canoe who laid back in the canoe to take a nap without first securing the canoe. You might wake up from the noise of the Keokuk Dam!
If we do not listen carefully to what God is telling us in His Word, we will be caught up into the current of the worldly mentality around us. The phrase “very carefully” literally means obsession. Tim Keller says the verse could be translated we must be furiously obsessed with the truth or we will drift from it.
Let me make a distinction here. There are people who are furiously obsessed with arguing about truth. They will furiously argue about politics, they will furiously argue points of theology, they will argue ethics. In other words they are ready to debate any issue. However the person who is furiously obsessed with the TRUTH,
- Is regularly examining their beliefs by what the Bible teaches. They want to know if they are drifting from what is true.
- Is working hard to conform their behavior to what God commands. They want to apply truth fully in their lives. They want to be “doers” and not just “hearers”.
- Is constantly looking at their life for consistency. They are not content to have spurts of spiritual vitality; they want to live and serve consistently. They want others to see the reality of their faith every day and in every circumstance.
Compare this to the way we often live our lives. We hear the truth, talk about how powerful it is, and then continue to do our own thing. This is the difference between hearing and listening.
You might see this illustrated with your pet. (I have especially seen this is Michael and Rachel’s dog, Pete) He escapes to the outside. You call his name. He looks back at you so you know he heard what you said. Then he turns around and dares you to try to make him do what you are telling him to do! We see it in marriage, with children, in school, on the athletic field and so on. People HEAR but they don’t LISTEN.
When I lived in Chicago our home was in the landing path of the jets going into O’hare airport. When you live there for a while you have ignored the sound of the jets so often that you don’t even hear them anymore. When I return on vacation I am surprised how loud it actually is.
There are actually two lessons in that illustration. First, you can get so accustomed to not listening that you reach a point where you no longer hear. However, we also see that it is possible to begin listening again.
This is what can happen to us spiritually. We ignore God’s truth or we push it to the side and before long you don’t even hear the whispers of God’s Spirit. We are religious but we don’t follow Jesus. We learn Bible verses but we don’t do what God says. We worship on Sunday but ignore Him on Monday. These are all indicators that we are hearing but not listening. Action needs to be taken.
To drive home his point even further the author reminds us that every choice has a consequence. He warns us to think about these consequences before we act (or don’t act).
2 For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose
To understand the argument we have to ask what was the message delivered through the angels? Even though there is no mention of angels in the story of the giving of the law (The Ten Commandments and more) on Mt. Sinai, in Acts 7:38 Stephen said an angel talked to Moses. In Galatians 3:19 Paul says the Law was given to Moses by angels. What does this tell us? It tells us that the oral tradition (or the story behind the account) was that angels delivered the law to Moses as agents of God.
So here is the point: We know God punishes people who ignore His Law. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they lacked faith. They spent 70 years exiled in Babylon because they had forgotten God and engaged in idolatry. Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 AD (and the Jews are still trying to get that land back) because they rejected and killed the Messiah. All the empires of the past are gone. God will only endure rebellious people for so long and then He will send His discipline.
I know it seems sometimes like those who spurn the things of God bear no consequence but they do. What we see from the Bible is sometimes that punishment comes in a future generation as God allows the godlessness to continue to grow until it destroys the people.
Now, follow the argument: If God punishes people when they ignore the Law of God which was delivered by angels . . . how much MORE will he punish those who ignore the message of salvation that was delivered by the Son of God Himself? If there are consequences to lying or adultery, or dishonoring your parents (and there are consequences to these transgressions of God’s moral law) then how much more do you think we will be punished if we ignore God’s command to turn from our wicked ways and receive the grace that the Father offers us through Christ?
N.T. Wright observes,
“If the king, the president, the emperor, the prime minister, or whoever is important in your country, sent you a message by a special messenger, you would pay attention, wouldn’t you? But, if he turned up in person to see you, you wouldn’t just pay attention; you would feel your world was turning upside down. Well, the law was a message from the one true God, sent through the special messengers (the angels). But in the message of the gospel the King himself has come to speak to us directly. What will happen if we say we’re too busy, we can’t be bothered to come and speak to him, we’re reading a nice book and can’t tear ourselves away just now?”
Get the picture?
Here’s the problem that we have: we have misunderstood the message of the gospel. Even many Christians believe the gospel message says: God feels really bad about your rebellion and He would like it a whole lot if you would be so kind as to join His faith community and be as involved as your busy schedule will allow.
I hope that sounds absurd to you but . . . it is the way many or even most of us tend to view the message of the gospel. In truth, God is not inviting us to turn to Christ for forgiveness and new life: He is commanding it. The Lord God Almighty says: I have provided a way of salvation for you. I am extending grace to you. The only way you will be spared is if you receive what I have given. If you do not you are turning your back on the only way of salvation. You are turning up your nose at what I have given to you out of mercy and grace.
When we ignore God; when we put off responding to His gracious offer of salvation and new life; we are spurning HIM. We have turned away from our salvation. We are like a drowning person who refuses to be rescued, a person in a burning home that refuses to go with the fireman, or a sick person who refuses life-saving treatment.
People in the world around us go even further. They get mad at God for being so exclusive. Instead of running to the salvation he provides, they complain because there are not more options to choose from!
Let’s say someone has come to the church for help. They have a financial need and we help them with that need. A short time later that same person has yet another need. Again, we do our best to help. Over the course of time we pay fines, buy food, provide gas, set up job interviews, and try hard to be people who see the potential in the person. As long as we are giving them what they want/need they profess gratitude. They say they see Jesus in us.
However, they continuously call for money. There is always a crisis. They call you all the time at all hours of the day or night. You realize that you are not helping this person with your hand-outs so you tell them you are not going to help them anymore. They are indignant. They ask, “What am I supposed to do?” They say, “What kind of friend are you?” Now they charge that Christianity is shallow. They tell you this kind of indifference is why they don’t believe in God.
How do you feel? Are you frustrated? Are you angry? Do you wish you had never helped them in the first place? Perhaps.
So how do you think the Almighty God feels when people come to Him in prayer asking for all kinds of things yet spurn the One He sent to save us? How do you think He feels when those who make professions of faith (saying, Jesus is my best Friend) turn and walk away the first time they don’t get what they want? God has blessed us over and over again. He has shown enduring patience. If we turn away from this gift of salvation we will have no right to complain about the Judgment that will follow. He has been clear about what is necessary. We are the ones who continue to try to negotiate His grace.
Let’s wrap this up with some concluding principles.
First, we see the urgency of evangelism. Our friends, our neighbors, and even our family will face eternal judgment if they do not come to the Lord for forgiveness and a new heart which will lead to a new life. They cannot ignore the command of God to repent and be saved without consequence.
None of us want confrontations. And I am not advocating that you provoke arguments or be obnoxious in presenting the gospel. However, we must be diligent and persistent in sharing with people the truly good news that broken people (which is all of us) can be made new by God’s grace extended through Christ.
May I suggest a few things?
- Pray for those who resist submitting to Christ. Pray with a passion that comes from understanding the reality of the consequences.
- If we pray in that way, we will be looking for opportunities to share our faith. When those opportunities come, share the love of Jesus in your words and in your actions. Correct mistaken notions (like “I try to live a good life” (but it is not good by God’s standards) or “there are a lot of people worse than me in the world”) (Unfortunately, God does not compare us to people who are worse than we are. He compares us to Jesus).
- Strive to live in such a way that your life, your priorities, your spending, your conversations do not contradict the message of grace.
This isn’t church stuff . . . this is eternal. This is forever. If these people are your friends how can you not do everything you can to warn them of the consequences of ignoring the salvation provided by the Lord?
If someone was engaging in reckless behavior would you warn them? You would. As I have said many times, If you are not pointing people to Jesus at every opportunity, then one of two things is true: 1) you don’t believe the gospel message yourself or 2) you don’t really care for those people you call family and friends.
Second, we must constantly evaluate how well we are listening to the Lord. We must regularly remind ourselves that it is easy to drift; to fall asleep in our faith.
We’ve all had the experience of sitting down to read our Bible (or any book for that matter) and we begin to read with good intentions. In a few minutes we realize that though we have been turning pages, nothing has registered in our minds. We were, if you will, hearing but not listening.
How can we become better listeners in our walk with God?
- Keep working at prayer. Ask God to help you be a better listener.
- Write down what you are learning. (i.e. Journal)
- Have people in your life who will hold you accountable. We all need people who know they have permission (and a responsibility) to tell us when they see us start to drift.
- Share what you are learning with others. Share with your mate what you are learning about the Lord. Do the same with your children and your friends. This is different than lecturing these people about what they should be learning. (We all hate that . . . a lot). As you share together you will help each other to hear and to listen more effectively.
Our spiritual health needs to be a greater priority than it generally is today. The things we allow to control and dominate our lives are often things that don’t matter for very long. Our relationship with our Lord and King is the most significant and enduring thing in our lives. We need to remind ourselves to live that truth out in the daily decisions we make.
No one likes to talk about Judgment and punishment. However, not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. It is a reality we must face. Fortunately, we don’t have to face it alone. God has provided a way for us to know security and joy. He has given us the rescue plan. Now, it is up to us to use it.