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Pay Attention

Hebrews  2

If you will open your eyes to it, you will not be long in seeing it. Any pastor or Bible teacher knows it well. It is the saddest of fates for those who know Christ: to slip away, quietly, gradually, under the weight of the cares of this world. So often people assume that a good beginning is sufficient. It is necessary, but not sufficient. Evidently the difference is no longer taught in high school geometry, but the distinction still is with us.

The author of Hebrews cautions us against just such a thing in today’s passage:

Hebrews 2:1-18 NASB For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (2) For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, (3) how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, (4) 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. (5) For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. (6) But one has testified somewhere, saying, "WHAT IS MAN, THAT YOU REMEMBER HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? (7) "YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; (8) YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET." For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. (9) But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (10) For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (11) For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (12) saying, "I WILL PROCLAIM YOUR NAME TO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING YOUR PRAISE." (13) And again, "I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM." And again, "BEHOLD, I AND THE CHILDREN WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN ME." (14) Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, (15) and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (16) For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. (17) Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (18) For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

The duty of knowledge

Our writer here speaks to one who is a Christian. The entire passage is written to one who is not only a Christian, but one who has grown up in a devout Jewish family. As such, he is reminding his reader much more than teaching him.

The responsibility of knowledge

Perhaps the argument can best be seen step by step:

  • The greater your knowledge, the greater your responsibility to handle that knowledge correctly. I expect my attorney to think of all the “whereas” clauses.
  • The greater your responsibility, the greater care that is required in performing your duties. I do not expect of the babysitter that which is expected of the father.
  • The greater the care that is required, the greater the punishment for failure. But likewise, the greater reward for success.
Example: Law and Gospel

With that bit of logic in mind, let us compare the Law and the Gospel. We will do this (as our writer does) by examining three points:

  • What evidence exists for each
  • The stature of the messenger(s)
  • The penalty for ignoring each.

Proceeding to specifics, we see that the Law:

  • Was introduced to the people of Israel by powerful signs and miracles. It is interesting to note that the author of the first five books of the Bible (Moses) never thought a whit about proving the existence of God. Having met him personally and experienced his power, it would seem foolish to do so.
  • Was carried by messengers of great importance. Some were prophets; others kings (David); and indeed some were angels.
  • Prescribed penalties for disobedience, up to and including death.

By comparison, the Gospel:

  • Was introduced to us with even greater signs and miracles. For if parting the Red Sea was miraculous, surely walking on water is more so. Nothing in the Law matches the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
  • Was carried to us by none other than the Son of God Himself, who now sites at the right hand of God the Father.
  • Clearly teaches us that the penalty for disobedience is a form of eternal death – hell itself.

We must therefore conclude that we, as Christians, have the greater knowledge – and thus the greater responsibility. With the greater responsibility comes, as argued, greater care or greater penalties. So what should we do?

Pay attention

The writer tells us that we must not “drift away.” The word in the Greek is used of a pot with a small leak – one which gradually drains the contents. See the subtlety of the threat! Satan’s attack is in the things of this world – he knows better than to attack directly. It is much easier to have you drift away from God than to tear you away by attack. It is also much more likely to succeed.

So what should we do? The answer is found in our Lord. Accept the Lord’s discipline, make it your own, and discipline your heart, mind, soul and strength to follow him. In doing this, you imitate your Lord – who was made perfect through suffering.

Jesus, Made Perfect Through Suffering

There is a bit of difficulty in the translation here. Some have argued, falsely, that the phrase “made perfect” implies that Jesus was not sinless, but was somehow transformed. It is a difficulty until you realize that the concept of “made perfect” means “made perfect for a task.” There may be nothing wrong with the piece of steel, but you still forge it into a particular shape to use it as a hammer.

The Supreme Miracle

C. S. Lewis referred to the Incarnation as “the supreme miracle.” The reason is simple: all else about Christ flows from this. See how great a miracle this is:

  • First, it implies the humbling of Christ. He, equal with God, now becomes lower than the angels who served him.
  • He is born as we are born – which implies he will die, just as we do.
  • But in that death, we shall find life. How?
The principle of identification

Throughout the Scripture there is the principle of identification. We do something “like God does” to become more like God – even if the something is purely symbolic. This same principle works in reverse – Christ became like us, so that we (by identification) might become like him. For example:

  • In baptism it is said we are buried with him and raised with him – so that on the last day we will rise at his command.
  • As His spirit is that of God, so we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
  • And we are promised that if we suffer with him, we shall reign with him.

But identification only works if the one with whom you identify has the power to make it so. So we are taught the supremacy of Christ.

The supremacy of Christ
  • He is the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father. By his divine nature, he is supreme.
  • He is the Son of Man – he can say of our lives, “been there, done that – and did it perfectly.” He is therefore supreme among us as man.
  • Because of that, God has crowned him with glory. His death becomes his crown – which will be shown to all some day.

All of this is said to be from the grace of God. It is God’s justice satisfied, God’s love perfectly expressed – to those who did not deserve it. We are the great beneficiaries of his love.

The results for us

All this would be abstract reasoning if there were no results for us. But results we have, and in plenty.

Our High Priest

A priest serves as the bridge between God and man. As bridge, he must be one with us, and one with God – and only Christ fits that.

  • He suffered, as we suffer. Therefore he understands our pain and suffering. Thus he can be our comfort, guide and strength in suffering.
  • He was tempted, just as we are tempted – and so he understands our temptation. Thus he can be our rock of resistance.
  • He is holy – and therefore can make us holy.

There is much more to say about our High Priest – but that’s another lesson.

Destruction of Death

You would not know it from Christians today – but the defeat of death and its overlord, Satan, is an accomplished fact. Consider the implications of that:

  • Satan, the father of lies and the evil one who is our accuser, is defeated. He cannot triumph. I’ve read the back of the book; I know how things turn out. God wins.
  • More than that, I know the resurrection of the dead. Why, then, should I fear death?
  • And if I do not fear death, then death no longer holds my mind in slavery; rather, I am liberated beyond all others.
Brothers with Christ

Those two would be sufficient cause for joy – but consider now that I am a brother of Christ. Indeed, this brotherhood is so close that Jesus, the perfect one, is not ashamed to call me “brother.” He was made like us to be our atonement – so our sins are covered. He also rose from the dead – and is the first born of the resurrection to come. We are called to be his brothers; justified by his atonement, and will be glorified at his return.[1]

Indeed, if we are his brothers, then is it not the case that we are brothers to each other as well? What does that say about our relationship with each other?

But – one may ask – how can I be sure that I really am his brother? Jesus, in the Gospels, gives us three tests:

  1. Do you do the will of his Father?[2]
  2. Do you care for the least of his brothers?[3]
  3. Are you unashamed to call him Lord?[4]

It seems to me that these three form a short checklist on your brotherhood with Christ. You have been given greater knowledge; thus greater responsibility. If you do his will, you will receive the greater reward. Take care, then, that you do not drift away in the cares of this world; rather, pay close attention to the things you know. Don’t just hear the Word – do it.

[1] Romans 8:29

[2] Matthew 12:48-50

[3] Matthew 25:40

[4] Luke 9:26

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