Today’s readings: Philemon; Hebrews, chapters 1-4
Scripture: Hebrews 2:1-4 (NRSV) – Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 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? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.
Observations: As we unpack these verses, we need to start with the core idea, which is right in the middle of the passage: How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? This is a rhetorical question; we cannot escape if we ignore the great salvation that God has offered to us. The author of Hebrews has begun his epistle by demonstrating that Jesus is the best and highest demonstration and explanation of God’s love for us, and the salvation which is available to us through Jesus is the absolute peak of relationship with God. The one and only Son of God came to us, took on flesh, lived a life of complete obedience and surrender to God, and then died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. There is nothing that we can do on our own that could ever approach what God has done for us in Jesus. That leads to the question: How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
This message of salvation was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him. Jesus came to be the sacrifice for our sins, but he also came to be “a great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14). The high priest served to represent God before the people, and to represent the people before God. In representing God to us, Jesus declared God’s love for us. He invited us to know the Father through him; in fact, he told us that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus declared that message to us by his life: by his teaching; by the miracles which he performed; and by demonstrating God’s love to everyone he met. He was the embodiment of God; that’s what we celebrate at Christmas. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14); “he shall be called ‘Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14).
The message that Jesus declared was then communicated by those he had called to be his disciples. Jesus told them to make disciples, teaching them everything Jesus had commanded and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). He told them that they would be witnesses, and he promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable them to share the Kingdom message (Acts 1:8). The author of Hebrews recognizes that he and his readers received the message through those who heard him – and so have we. We have heard that message through the writings of those first believers, preserved in the New Testament; more than that, if we had all of the records, we could trace our faith back through the people who shared the Gospel with us all the way to Jesus and his disciples. In John 17, Jesus prayed for all of those who would come to faith through the word of the disciples – and everyone who is a follower of Christ today has come to faith through the word of the disciples, multiplied and transmitted throughout the ages.
God himself continues to confirm that message: God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will. We may not always see signs and wonders and miracles, but we should always recognize the gifts of the Holy Spirit which God has given to the Church – to us, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Every time we hear someone declare God’s message with power, we know that God is confirming the message of the Kingdom. Every time we see someone serving God in ministry, in compassion, in generosity, in evangelism, in hospitality, or in any of the other ways that Scripture describes, we are seeing God adding his testimony to the Gospel message. God continues to confirm the truth of the Gospel today, and we are called to embody Christ’s presence and demonstrate the truth of that message through our lives.
Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. If we are called to participate in the proclamation of that message (and we certainly are!), we must be careful first to listen, to continue to grow, to allow God to deepen our faith and strengthen our witness. But all of that requires that we pay greater attention to what we have heard. It is very easy for us to get lax in our faith. We read the Word, but we don’t really ready it; we just skim through it, because “we’ve read this story before.” We serve God, and we obey him, but when God asks for more than we’re comfortable with doing or giving, we make excuses – or we convince ourselves “that’s not really God asking me to do that.” We substitute our judgment for what “makes sense” for obedience to God’s call. But when we fail to pay close attention to God and walk in obedience to him, we are in danger of drifting away from him. “Pay attention” reminds us that it is our responsibility to actively listen to God, to make time for him in our daily lives, and to actually follow through in obedience.
Application: God is reminding me how important it is for all of us to not neglect the salvation he has offered to us. This is not a “works salvation,” but a recognition that the life that God offers to us necessarily involves change. God is also reminding me that this process of change continues throughout our lives. While the heart-change that he performs is complete when we are cleansed by the Spirit, we must continue to submit to him each day – and understand that he continues to identify areas where we need to confirm that heart-change by willingly surrendering those areas to him. God’s work of making us more like Jesus each day continues throughout our lives, and we are called to not neglect our part in that work, but to willingly submit to it in obedience and trust.
Prayer: Father, we are prone to think that we’ve “arrived” – that we’ve grown enough, done enough, given enough. Thank you for reminding me today that it’s not a matter of “how much” we’ve done; it’s a matter of today’s submission to your will. That’s why Jesus called us to pray each day that you would lead us. The moment that we start to think that we can figure out where we’re going or what we are to do, we start to “drift away” from you. Thank you for calling to us each day, keeping us connected to you. Thank you for the gifts you have given to your Church to confirm the message that you are declaring through us. Help us to walk in faith and obedience today. Amen.