Monday, April 16, 2012

Why the Gospel Must Be Taken More Seriously than Anything Else

Mark's family has been sick this past week, and so Mark contacted me to be ready with a sermon on Hebrews 2:1-4 in case he went down. He was fine and delivered the sermon anyway, but because I spent some time in the passage, it allowed me to reflect again upon it. I think this is one of the most important passages in Hebrews, and probably the entire Scripture for understanding just how serious it is that we hold fast to it with everything we've got (and more appropriately, everything God gives us). So here are just a few notes on the passage of Hebrews 2:1-4. The passage reads as follows:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention all the more to what we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall 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, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

First, it is important to understand that the author of Hebrews is writing to people who are walking away, in one way or another, from Christianity. These are Jewish people, who, for whatever reasons (peer pressure/social persecution, an unwillingness to pursue the deeper things of Christ, willful sin that continues in their lives, or simply the worries of the world that drown out their focus on Christ to where they slowly and subtly slip further away from Christ as their Lord and Savior in all that they think and do. This passage is going to address everyone, but specifically the last group. So, in essence, Hebrews is addressing people from Jesus' parable of the sower, where the seeds fall on rocky ground and have no secure root in the ground of what they have heard concerning Christ and those who receive Christ but their love and commitment to Him and His gospel work in their lives is soon drowned out by the cares and concerns of the world taking precedence.

In light of all of this, the author of Hebrews tells us that the message we have received is not like the message received in the law through the mediation of angels. That message itself was taken so seriously by God that if one did not obey it, he received the exact punishment for it without fail. So even that message was "unalterable" as he notes in our passage here. But the message we have received is one that has been directly given to us by God Himself. Hence, the author in Chapter 1 goes to great lengths to show us that Christ is God incarnate. He is the Lord of all things, both by His inherent right as God and by His perfect work and triumph over death in His resurrection. He is both Lord by way of who He is and by way of earning it by securing salvation for us. Hence, God the Son Himself has not only delivered the message to men Personally, but His very Person and work make up that message.

The logical conclusion to all of this is clear: If the message received through angels was serious enough to be obeyed above all other things, how much more is the message about and delivered to us by God Himself serious enough to hold over all other concerns in life? In other words, if disregarding the message of God's ambassadors brought about the wrath of God and terrifying destruction to those who ignored it, how much more will the lack of attention to the message about and delivered by God Himself wreak terrifying destruction upon those who ignore it? Hence, the writer says, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (v. 3).

So the very character of the message, but more importantly, the very Person who has brought us that message, has made the message of salvation as so much greater in importance. We need to subsume all things in light of it.

In fact, the author is emphatic with his use of far more words than he needs to employ in order to emphasize the importance of what was just said: dei~ "it is a necessity" perissote/rwj "all the more" prose/cein "to pay close attention to" what we have heard.

Remember why what the author of Hebrews just said in Chapter 1 concerning the nature of salvation is so important and to be greatly considered as something extremely serious. He warns us of its seriousness that we might not “drift away” from what is said. Why do you think he says “drift away” as opposed to “abruptly rejecting”?

If the message is not taken seriously, we exalt other priorities in life and thought over it, and by doing so, even if we are committed to its truthfulness, we slowly drift from exalting Christ in our thoughts and lives, and from our faith in the seriousness of the message spoken.

Think of a day at the beach, when you go out to wade in the ocean, and without even knowing it, you drift far away from where you set your towels down. The idea is also like a ship that is carried away by the current to wherever it flows rather than where the ship needs to go in order to make it to its destination. If we drift away from our exalting Christ as Lord in the little moments, our faith and allegiance in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, we will soon find our entire lives in a practical rejection of Christ and the gospel, and not be saved, as faith in the Son and His work is the only means through which we can be saved, as the author has just pointed out in Chapter 1. He alone is the one who delivered us through His death and resurrection, and apart from Him, there is no salvation. That is why the author so explicitly says in Chapter 1 that, although God has spoken in many way in the past, He has spoken to us in these last days through His Son. The contrast allows us to supply the word "alone" to that, as it infers that although God spoke through many mediums in the past, He no longer does that. He only now speaks through His Son, drawing all people to Christ (cf. Acts 17:30-31).

The Greek word tilhkoutoj means awesome, awe-inspiring, intimidating, greatly perilous. Why is the message of such joy so awesome in every way? Because it not only saves all who would receive it, it absolutely damns all who would treat it as small. The Greek word amelew means "to pay no attention to," "to disregard," "to ignore," "to consider less important than other priorities." It holds the idea here that one may consider the gospel great, but not great enough to set us the directing influence over one's thoughts and activity. So the salvation that is secured by God the Son Himself is "so awesome" is now being treated as lesser than other concerns in life: social acceptance (the Jewish Christians are now outcasts for following Christ), jobs (with that social rejection comes a lack of business and employment), or even just the elementary things of life (housework, family, etc.), things that are good if placed under the Lordship of Christ, now become things with which we occupy our minds and let control our responses to temptation to worship the self in the world.

Consider, in light of this, the parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22.

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son. "And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. "Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are [all] butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast. "' "But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.  "But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. "Then he ^said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find [there,] invite to the wedding feast.'  "And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

The author of Hebrews then goes on to tell us that we not only have God the Son directly delivering this message to us, but that the message was confirmed by human witnesses, the apostles, and their authority was confirmed by God the Father working miracles through them, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the giving of miraculous gifts to His people. In other words, the entire Trinity bears witness to the message delivered directly and through the apostles, who were men who were taught by Christ Himself.
The point? The gospel is not a nice little message that you hang on your wall at home and forget about during the day. It’s not something you just commit yourself to on Sundays. Jesus is our life, waking and sleeping, eating and drinking, walking and sitting, talking and thinking. Who He is and what He has done for us needs to consume us as the top priority in what we think about, what we hope for, and what we do in the world.

We need to write it on our palms and above our doorposts, but more importantly have it continually before us in our hearts and minds, so that our faith will last the barrage of temptation that both the hard and easy situations of life will pour out upon us, seeking to distance us from the superiority of Christ to our circumstances. We will be hit from every direction, so that we take our eyes off of Christ as our immovable anchor in the storm.

Wherever your treasure is, your heart will be there also. Whatever you think is most important, that’s what you’re going to focus on, think about, gear your day toward. If you are more worried about losing your job, your job, not Christ, is Lord of you, because it, not Christ, dictates what you will worry about and what you will do in that hour. If you are more afraid of being left out of the group or being made fun of by others, that group, not Christ, is your Lord, as it directs how you will think and what you will do in that hour. If you are more concerned with dying, then death, not Christ, is your Lord, as it will consume your thoughts and determine what you will do in life.

The same goes for our families and churches. Family concerns start to take over the group's focus on Christ. Church concerns, whether people leaving or complaining or other issues, soon take over the minds of the leadership to where they begin a ministry that is solely reactionary to circumstance rather than to getting their lead from Christ and His Word. We may feel pressure to not be as bold, not preach that message, not discipline a matter, etc. because we are more afraid of losing the congregation, our dignity, our paycheck, than we are about losing Christ's exaltation in that moment of decision.

We must hold onto the faith. We must realize that Christ is Lord, and concern ourselves with the gospel that would claim our allegiance to Him as Lord more than other concerns that will make us drift away from exalting Him as Lord over us. We must take this message seriously, because we must take Him seriously. Hence, we cannot take other things as serious as we take Him and the message He delivered.

We’re all familiar with the story of Jesus walking on the water. Taking our focus off of Christ will lead to our ruin. It will lead to our judgment. It will lead to hell. And that’s why it is so serious. All of our other concerns in life should be used to worship Him, not take our worship from Him. If we allow them to do so, we slowly drift away from the salvation that calls us, our thoughts, our concerns, our daily activity, to Him.

The author of Hebrews is going to begin to warn these Christians throughout the book that God isn’t going to just let such things go. We have been offered the most awesome gift in the history of the world, and treating it as trash in comparison to other things we consider more worthy of our time and energy is not going to go unpunished. In fact, those who walk among us, and hear the gospel, have a potential of finding themselves under a greater condemnation than those who have never heard, simply because when those who have heard the gospel and understood it reject it, they trample the cross of Christ beneath their feet as though it was worthless enough to be ignored in light of other more pressing matters.

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