Intro: You know, when you’ve been driving too long, but you’re almost home and so you convince yourself you can stay awake long enough to get there? And you probably also know that feeling when suddenly you open your eyes and you aren’t sure how long they’ve been closed? Years ago, we had gone to Six Flags in Dallas and we were driving home to Vernon, about a four hour trip. It had been a long day of standing in line and riding rides and then standing in line again. We were only about thirty minutes out from Vernon and I was nodding badly, when suddenly I heard the sound of gravel underneath the tires and my eyes popped open to see I had drifted over on to the shoulder of the road, and luckily I was able to stop safely, but the adrenaline was pumping and my heart was racing and I realized what a close call I’d had.
Which brings me to our scripture for this morning:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb 2:1-4)
The original word translated here “drift away,” or in some other translations “slip” is one that describes that casual, almost unintentional slide that some people experience as they fall asleep at the wheel in their Christian lives and suddenly jar awake, realizing how far off course they have gotten.
I don’t care if this letter is 2000 years old, the author reads some of us like an open book. There is no more relevant message we could hear this morning than the warning the Hebrews writer sounds: “Wake up! Pay attention! You’re drifting!”
George Barna, in his book, The Frog in the Kettle, tells the old story about the frog who hopped into the pan of water as it sat on a small breakfast fire. The water was nice and cool, just like his pond. As the frog sat and enjoyed, the fire grew and the water heated. But being cold-blooded, the frog just warmed right along with it, enjoying the nice warm sensation of the heating water. Unfortunately for the frog, he realized too late that the water had become much too hot and he was unable to jump from the pan of water and he died.
The point for the church, and for each of us as Christians, is that culture is slowly, but inevitably changing around us – and unmistakably and (unless we wake up) irreversibly pulling us with it.
We become so comfortable with what is happening, desensitized to things that would have horrified us ten years ago that we blindly and willingly follow the path of least resistance until, like the frog, we realize it is too late and are dead in the water.
We are drifting, like those Hebrews of old, on two fronts:
First, Doctrinal. We adopt and adapt – we have lost the ability to discern truth and so we accept anything that anybody says about God and the Bible, thinking, it doesn’t really matter what you believe.
Second, Worldly influence. And it is not the world around us that is the danger, but the world in us – the world is too much in us. It has led us along, and slowly and almost imperceptibly caused us to accept ungodliness and sinfulness as just the way it is.
Let’s go back to the introductory matters I mentioned last week and ask a few questions about who these Hebrews were, and what they are drifting from.
The letter was written to a specific community of believers – not a general letter to all Christians at large. There are a couple of reasons I say that: In chapter 13, the author writes that he expects to be reunited with them soon. And in chapter 10, they have a “former days” he wants them to remember, and a “hard struggle” they had endured. They had been exposed to public shame, goods had been plundered. They had opposed sin, but not to the point of shedding blood.
The whole character of the letter indicates that the original recipients were Christians who had been converted from Judaism. Every argument, allusion, illustration, metaphor is drawn from the OT, and draws upon their experience with sacrifice and law and Jewish history.
Why is he writing to them? Imagine what it would be like to suddenly hear, be convicted by, and decide to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ – within a Jewish community. You are abandoning your roots, turning your back on your traditions, you are saying, “my parents were wrong.”
I don’t think we see how radical that is. In the Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye’s youngest daughter runs off to marry a Gentile. Tevye turns his back on her and says, “You are dead to me.” Imagine being cut off from your family, ostracized from society.
Think how difficult that would be, and what a tremendous pull there would be to say, “It’s not worth it” and return to Judaism, the old way.
And it seems that that is exactly the challenge the author is addressing. They have lived as Christians for some time, but, in chapter 5 he writes: instead of being “teachers” by now, they are still “babes” needing milk. Some are habitually “forsaking the assembly” of Christians (ch.10). They are drifting away from the truth of Christ, and the author fears that many of them will fail to reach the heavenly rest.
Let’s come back to our text in Hebrews 2
The paragraph starts with a very, very important word, “therefore.” It means “because of this,” “for this reason” – it says “because what I have just said is true, this is the implication.” It ties all of the thoughts together. The Hebrews writer uses “therefore” time after time in this letter, connecting and interweaving his thoughts from beginning to end like a beautifully woven tapestry.
What “therefore” refers to is what we read in chapter 1, that what we are listening to are not the words of a prophet, simply another man, nor the message of an angel, but the very Son of God – with authority and power. The writer began the letter say, “God spoke to us by his son,” and this son is not just another prophet, not even an angel, but God himself, the creator and sustainer of the universe.
In fact, the author draws us back to this authority once again, and the import of this paragraph hinges on an old Jewish rabbinical style of argument called “qal wahomer” – an argument from lesser to greater.
“If the message spoken by angels …
…such a great salvation” This salvation first announced by the Lord, confirmed by eyewitnesses, and testified to by God himself through signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
He is not belittling the old covenant, he is exalting the new. He was calling upon them to remember just how seriously they looked upon the law of Moses, and the terrible consequences for disobedience. (And if you want a reminder of those consequences, reread the books of Exodus and Leviticus – the consequence for disobedience was, over and over – death.)
What he is saying is, that covenant, given and lived with absolute seriousness and obedience was delivered by angels, servants of God and men. This covenant, written in the blood of the Lamb, delivered by the Son of God – imagine how seriously God will take our disobedience of it!
Talk about credentials – “Announced by the Lord…”
What does it take to get your attention? (Junk mail, hand written address, registered letters?) Suppose that the President of the United States wanted to communicate personally with you. How would he do it? Express mail? Hand delivered by personal envoy? Delivered himself? That is what the author is trying to convey. This is no ordinary covenant, God came in person to deliver it.
Notice the contrast of the two covenants: the first he merely calls a “message,” the second he calls “salvation” itself. But it is not a salvation that can be taken casually, a kind of cheap grace.
A costly salvation demands careful attention, not a casual, passing glance once a week. It is too easy to become lulled into a routine of coming to church without dedicating your life. And many is the person who once came to church regularly, but now never darkens the doorway, whose life was centered in God, now in worldly pursuits. What happened? Neglect – that slow drift.
And so we see the critical dilemma these Christians are in. They have neglected the importance of the call to follow Jesus. They have taken lightly the covenant and drifted slowly but surely away from what they once held as the center of their lives. Have they drifted too far? That’s the thing about drifting. You don’t ever mean to, but once you realize how far you’ve travelled off course, are you able to retrace those steps back?
The writer says, “drifted away.” That’s not active rebellion. I won’t get out of bed one day and say, “Forget it God, we’re through.” But I might simply let other things crowd in and around, and push me a little harder and farther than I intended. Things I once held with absolute importance will fade with time and one day I will wake up not recognizing myself, and wondering why I feel so distant from God.
It’s the age old battle between the important and the urgent. And unless we know where we stand and continually reaffirm our center and our priorities that keep us there, the urgent will always take over. The urgent will demand my time and my attention – my very life will come under its rule.
And then, one day, I will look up and realize just how far from God I have drifted.
Let me share three specific ways that you can “drift away.”
1. When under pressure, rely on your own instincts and insight, rather than seek God’s wisdom in his Word.
2. When faced with a decision, choose what is comfortable (though wrong) instead of what is painful (though right).
3. When your conscience begins to wake you up and call you back to spiritual consciousness, tell it “There’s no hurry, I’m not that far away, I’ll get back to God when I’m not so busy.”
Now let me share three ways you can stay on course and centered on God:
1. Spend some time every day in God’s word and in prayer. As with every relationship, closeness requires time spent in communicating. Let God have a voice in your life daily.
2. Spend time with God’s people. When we get to chapter 10, the writer will tell his readers, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” He’s not imposing a legalistic requirement simply for the sake of getting people to church, he’s saying that’s where you get the encouragement you need to stay strong and stay focused.
3. In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, the writer will give us the most important admonition we will ever hear: “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” The problem with drifting is that we take our eyes off of the goal and find ourselves where we never meant to be. If you intend to follow Jesus, you need to keep your eyes on him.
Illustration – On the Niagara River, several hundred yards short of the Falls there is a sign – “Point of No Return,” beyond which you cannot turn back. The strength of the current and the flow of the river will take you over the falls if you do not turn back. There is a spiritual line somewhere out there beyond which you cannot return. It is not that God will not allow you, but that your heart will become too calloused to want to return to God. That’s why it’s important to stay close to God every day, because that’s where you belong.