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Because the Penalties for Neglecting Jesus Are Too Severe (Hebrews 2:1–4)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Ignoring Jesus has horrible consequences.
Hebrews 2:1-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Pay Much Closer Attention
2 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to the things that have been heard, so that we do not drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved reliably certain, 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.
2:1. This verse introduces us to the plight of the readers. They had heard the gospel. They appeared ready to desert Jesus for some trifling replacement. The writer of Hebrews was horrified at this prospect!
Therefore reminded the people of the importance of the message about Jesus. The readers needed to listen because the truths of the gospel were too important to push aside. Issues of spiritual life and death were at stake. Whatever they did, the readers must hold fast to Jesus.
The idea of drifting away compared the audience to a boat sailing past warning signs to meet destruction and ruin on a rocky shore or in a raging rapid. The Hebrews needed to do something. They were listless while their situation demanded positive action. “Pay attention to your plight,” said our writer, “lest you carelessly fall into ruin.”
2:2. This verse moves from a truth of less importance to one of greater importance (v. 3). The fact of less importance is that violators of the Law received divine judgment for their disobedience. The message spoken by angels was the Old Testament Law. Jewish understanding associated the giving of the Law with the work of angels (Gal. 3:19). Our writer’s word is that the Old Testament Law, despite its less impressive origin through angels, was still binding. God punished every violation of the Law. Violation of a single commandment brought a prescribed penalty. Those who deliberately disregarded God’s Law faced death (Num. 15:30).
2:3. If even violators of the Law received punishment, how much more could those who ignored, rejected, and spurned the Lord from heaven expect judgment? Here is the more important issue. God’s Son himself brought the gospel into view. Anyone neglecting to respond to its serious appeals could expect to receive God’s severest displeasure.
The Lord himself had originally spoken the gospel to the first generation of believers. These are those who heard him. The writer of Hebrews received his understanding from that generation. Unlike Paul he had not received a direct revelation of the gospel from the Lord (see Gal. 1:12). Words like these lead many scholars to feel that Paul could not have written Hebrews.
This passage is the first of many warnings throughout Hebrews (3:7–19; 4:11–16; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39). In each passage the author showed his concern for the readers. Spiritual pressure was about to make them stumble. They might renounce the gospel. They would not escape divine judgment if they rejected such a great salvation.
2:4. The proclamation of the gospel was powerful of itself. Along with that proclamation God also sent signs, wonders, and various miracles to verify the Christian message. The early church saw many of these signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8). Signs which Jesus demonstrated in John’s Gospel led the disciples to believe in him (John 2:11). The signs pointed to the glory of Christ.
The awareness of the existence of the miracles must have been widespread. If that were not true, some critic could say, “I’ve never heard of these signs and wonders.” A consideration of them would deepen the readers’ faith that the gospel came as an authoritative message from God.
God not only sent miracles and signs with the gospel, but he also gave the Holy Spirit to believers. Peter’s Pentecost sermon pointed to the activity of the Spirit as a chief indicator of God’s work (Acts 2:14–18). The work of the Spirit showed that God’s new plan had dawned. The miracles and the presence of the Spirit demonstrated the superiority of the Christian gospel. Drifting away from that truth would be a foolhardy stunt.
In the early 1990s my wife and I had the privilege of spending a year of sabbatical learning and writing in England. During the year a church graciously loaned us a car to drive while we ministered to them. We were responsible for gasoline and all upkeep. We soon learned that the English fined drivers one thousand dollars if the tread depth of their tires was less than one-quarter of an inch. In America I probably would have driven the tires longer, but in England I readily replaced worn tires whose depth neared that limit. The penalty for disobedience was too severe.
Why should we listen to Jesus? The penalty for ignoring or neglecting him has eternal consequences. After we die, we face the judgment (Heb. 9:27). Unless we have Jesus, we fail the judgment and the consequences are eternal. We must listen to Jesus and his message.
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