I‘d like to start by asking a question this morning. The question is, have you ever given someone bad advice? I suspect that you have. I know I have. In fact, I would suspect that all of us have at some point. We acted like we were experts in an area in which we really weren’t experts.
There is a true story about a once famous actress by the name of Billie Burke. She died in 1970. The story goes something like this. While enjoying a transatlantic cruise, Billie Burke noticed that a gentleman was suffering from a bad cold. She asked him sympathetically, “Are you uncomfortable?” and the man nodded ‘Yes.’ She said, “Well, I’ll tell you what you are to do. Go back to your state room. Drink lots of orange juice. Take two aspirin. Find all of the blankets that you can. Wrap yourself up in them and sweat the cold to death.” “I know what I’m talking about,” she said, “because I’m Billie Burke of Hollywood.” The man responded warmly. He introduced himself saying, “Well, thanks. I’m Dr. Mayo of Mayo Clinic.” Obviously, Dr. Mayo knew a lot more about what he needed to do to take care of his cold than Billie Burke. Billie Burke thought she was an expert. Dr. Mayo, in fact, was the expert.
Recently I encountered an individual who had found a website with a basic message. The message was,
Everybody goes to heaven. Everybody does. They said that there was no hell. They said that there was no eternal punishment. You die and you go to heaven and that’s it. We all go to heaven, and nobody has to suffer eternally.
Unfortunately, the site misrepresented and misquoted the early Church fathers. The site avoided Old Testament and New Testament passages that talked about eternal condemnation. The site misrepresented Greek and Hebrew words in order to push their point. In short, it’s a dangerous website because they acted as though they were the experts and they either willingly or unknowingly distorted the facts. Their work lacked scholarship, or either they were just plain ignorant, we were not sure which. But either way, they have it wrong.
Just like Billie Burke, they acted like they were authorities. In Jesus’ day, there were some people who thought they were authorities as well. The Sadducees at one point in Matthew 22 confronted Jesus and talked about a woman who had been married to many different men. They wanted to know which husband she would be married to in heaven. Jesus responded,
. . . You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. Matthew 22:29 (NASB)
Jesus basically made the point that they weren’t experts. They weren’t authorities. They did not know what they were talking about. Interestingly enough, just a few verses later the Pharisees decided that they would try to stump Jesus. They came to Jesus with a question as well. Jesus responded with his own question after answering their question (Matthew 22:41-46). He asked them a question that they couldn’t answer. As a result of that, they planned to never ever ask Jesus another question. The Pharisees thought they were authorities too! They thought they were experts. Jesus demonstrated that He was the expert. He was the authority and they were not.
We discovered in our last couple of studies that the writers of Hebrews, the human author and the Holy Spirit, demonstrated to the readers and to us that Jesus is the authority. We have discovered that Jesus was the Great Creator. Jesus holds everything together. He upholds the creation. We have seen that Jesus is the Savior. We have seen that Jesus is the proper object of worship by the angels. We have seen that Jesus is greater than the angels. That is the whole theme of Hebrews 1. Jesus is better than the angels. He is greater than the angels. He is superior to the angels.
We also discovered that Jesus is God. That was the best part for me. Jesus is God. That is why He is greater than the angels. That is why He is superior to the angels. When Jesus speaks, He is the authority in spiritual matters. There is no one who is a greater expert. There is no one who is more authoritative than Jesus. When Jesus speaks, we had all better listen. That has been the message so far.
The book of Hebrews was written to Jews. It was written to people who believed and it was written to people who didn’t believe in Jesus. There were people who were wondering about Jesus, who were trying to figure out who Jesus really was.
This morning we are going to discover that all of the groundwork that’s been laid in Hebrews 1 was laid so that we can understand Jesus. Our passage is the first four verses of chapter 2. It is a warning! Watch this, the Holy Spirit is teaching doctrine. He is teaching truth. He is teaching us who Jesus is and why He is important and why we need to listen to Him.
Pay Closer Attention
In chapter 2 we are going to be given a warning. The warning is strong and clear. It is the first of five warnings in the book of Hebrews. I invite you to take your Bibles and open it to Hebrews 2. We’re going to start with verse 1. Verse 1 says,
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1 (NASB)
The first phrase is interesting because it says, “For this reason.” It is like a therefore. It refers us back to chapter 1 of Hebrews. Because of what we learned about Jesus in the first chapter, therefore, because Jesus is the creator, He is the one who upholds. He is the savior. He is our God, and He is the authoritative One. Therefore, we must pay closer attention to what we have heard. That is the idea. He laid the groundwork of who Christ is and now the Holy Spirit says, “Therefore, you better listen.” That is the idea of what He is trying to communicate when he says, “You must pay closer attention.”
Next, we are told that we must listen beyond the ordinary. The Greek word for the phrase “much closer attention” is perissoteros. It means that we must listen more than you have been listening. I don’t know about you; but most of us when we listen, listen casually. When we hear something and time goes by, an hour goes by, a couple of hours go by, a day goes by, then we have a hard time remembering what we heard. I would suspect that if I asked you what message I preached the first Sunday in June, most of you would say, “I have no idea.” Well, what message did we preach last year? You answer, “I don’t know” because we do not remember. The message here is pay closer attention to what was said, to what you have heard. Pay closer attention! The Holy Spirit is saying pay really close attention. This is serious business! Therefore, for this reason, you must seriously listen because of who is speaking. Jesus has spoken!
Then we are given another reason: so that you don’t drift away from it. The Greek word for drift away is pararyomen. It has the idea of gradually slipping away, or sliding away, or drifting away. It’s the idea of a ring slipping off someone’s finger little-by-little. It was used to refer to a ship that slipped from its moor, slipped from its dock or slipped from the harbor. It would be like a ship drifting down through the currents.
On June 9, 2009, there was an emergency call that was received by the Royal Navy Lifeboat Institute of Great Britain. Someone had noticed that there were two fishermen out on the sea. They were concerned that the fishermen were in trouble because they were on the Blue Anchor Beach, which is in the southwest part of Great Britain. They were concerned because it was 9:15 p.m. at night. So it was dark. They were on a small craft and little by little they were drifting farther and farther out to sea. Someone sent out a call to rescue these men. So the rescue crew got on their boats. They sped out to the men in the small craft. When they got there, they discovered that there were two men and they only had one oar to row the boat. They were trying hard to get themselves back to the coast. But in spite of all their efforts, the more they rowed, the more they were slipping farther and farther out to sea. So the rescue team asked the two men if they wanted some help and they said, “No! We are doing fine. We’ll get there.” What they didn’t realize was that they weren’t getting there. They were going farther and farther away and because it was night, they couldn’t see what was happening to their boat.
The rescue team went ahead and dragged the boat to shore. Once they got back, the rescue team manager made the following statement, “The two men were unaware of their danger. If the boat had not been intercepted, they would have drifted out to sea, and potentially they would have been lost.” The men were in danger and did not know it. They were unaware of their danger, totally unaware. So the writer of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit says, “For this reason, we must pay closer attention to what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift away.” So that we don’t drift away from the truth. Some people have heard the gospel. They have heard about Jesus Christ and are totally unaware that are little by little drifting away. They do not realize that they are headed for trouble.
Every Transgression Receives A Just Penalty
Verse 2 says,
For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Hebrews 2:2-3a (NASB)
In verse 1 we were told that we needed to pay closer attention so that we do not drift away. Now we are told that if the word that is spoken through angels proved to be unalterable and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, then do you think you are really going to escape, if you ignore the warning? That’s the idea. The Holy Spirit makes an illusion to Mount Sinai where God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. That is where some angels were involved also.
If we visited Deuteronomy 33:2 and in Psalm 68:17, we would discover that not only was God at Mount Sinai, but some angels were there as well. We are also told in Acts 7:38 and verse 53 that some angels actually helped to give Moses the Law. You might ask, “How did they do that?” The answer is that Scripture doesn’t tell us. You ask, “What was their role? I mean, what happened?” The answer is we really do not know. We are only told that in some way the angels were involved in the giving of the Law.
Now notice what Hebrews 2:2 says. It states, “For if the Word spoken through angels proved unalterable.” The Greek word bebaios is translated as “unalterable.” It has the idea of secure or stable, like an anchor. In other words, what the angels spoke would not change. They spoke authoritatively. So if the word that the angels spoke proved to be unalterable, skipping to verse 3, “How shall we escape?” If the angels made a statement that proved to be unalterable, if the angels made a statement that proved to be absolutely true, if the angels made a statement and there was a penalty that resulted from any violation of that statement and if you ignore Jesus, do you think that you’re going to escape too? The answer is no!
The Greek words for “transgression” and “disobedience” in verse 2 are interesting words in Greek. The word for “transgression” has the idea of stepping across the line or of disobeying God’s standard, of violating God’s Law or of violating what God wants us to do. But of the two Greek words, the Greek word for “disobedience” is the most interesting because it has the idea of a violation that is due to – watch this, neglect. That is, you heard, but you decided to ignore what you heard. You just didn’t really pay a lot of attention to what you heard.
It reminds me of the men in the lifeboat. They had one oar and they thought they were doing great. The rescue team came and said, “Hey, here we are. We’re going to rescue you. We’re going to help you out.” And they said, “Oh no, we’re doing fine. We’re doing fine.” They didn’t really listen. They were headed for trouble and they really didn’t understand. They were headed for trouble and they just blew off the warning. Verse 2 says, “For if the Word spoken through angels proved to be the solid, truthful, immutable, and unchangeable truth, and every transgression and every disobedience—even disobedience that was due to neglect—received a just penalty, then . . .. You say, “Whoa, wait a minute. If I willfully ignore what I have heard will I be in trouble?” The answer is yes. The Greek word for penalty is an interesting word. It is translated from a Greek word that means “reward.” Now that helps us understand that God considers the penalty we receive due to either willful action or neglect as a reward. It is reward that we deserve.
You say, “Wait a minute, that sounds funny. You mean I get a reward for being disobedient or for violating God’s standard?” Yes, that is right. Yes you do. You get a reward. God gives everyone rewards. The only question is what kind of reward(s) do you get? Rewards can be negative. Rewards can be positive. The disobedient are going to receive rewards, but not rewards that they want to receive. That’s why it’s translated as “penalty.” It’s translated as penalty because this is not a positive reward. It will be a negative reward. This is a reward that neither you nor I will want to receive.
How Can We Escape?
In verse 3 we are asked a question.
. . . how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? Hebrews 2:3 (NASB)
What a powerful question. How shall we escape if we neglect or ignore so great a salvation? The question asks how are we to escape? On occasions, we talk to people about salvation and some think it’s some kind of a spiritual term. The root word for “salvation” in the Greek is just sozo. It means “to save or to rescue.” We could use the term that the Royal Navy Lifeboat Institute saved the men. They were offering salvation to the two men on the boat. When we talk about salvation, from what are we being saved? The answer is given next.
At the end of verse 3 and the first part of verse 4, we are told how to escape. The Holy Spirit says,
After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 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. Hebrews 2:3b-4 (NASB)
This is the answer to the question: how shall we escape? The answer is that we escape through Jesus Christ. He is the One who spoke first. Jesus is the One who told us how to escape, and those who heard Him communicated it to us. Now the question is who heard him? Who heard Jesus, and who did the Holy Spirit attest, or confirm, or verify, or validate by signs and miracles and wonders?
Turn if you would, to 2 Corinthians 12:12. Paul is speaking here. Starting in verse 11 we read,
I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. 2 Corinthians 12:11-12 (NASB)
Paul tells us that God affirmed, validated or testified to the integrity of his ministry, to the integrity of what he said by signs and wonders and miracles. It was the badge of a true apostle. It was the authentication of a true apostle. These were the signs of a true apostle.
So what we are told in Hebrews 2:3 is that the message of salvation was first spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who talked about how to escape and how to have salvation. Then God the Holy Spirit testified the message of the apostles. God confirmed their testimony by signs and wonders and miracles. It was the Holy Spirit who verified their testimony to us. What was communicated? What is it that we need to do to escape?
Turn with me to Matthew 25:41. Verse 41 occurs near the end of the Olivet Discourse. Jesus says,
Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Matthew 25:41-42 (NASB)
This passage is describing the proof that you are a real Christian. The proof that you are a real Christian is revealed by what you do. In James 2:26 we are told that faith without works is dead. Notice what verse 41 talks about. It describes those who deserve to go to the Lake of Fire. It describes eternal punishment. It says eternal what – fire! That’s what we need to escape – the eternal fire. There’s a choice!
Let’s keep reading. Look at verse 44,
Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” 45 Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:4-46 (NASB)
Notice that the word eternal shows up twice in that verse. Punishment is eternal, and life is eternal. The issue is not, “Do you want to go to heaven so that you can live forever?” The message is that you are going to live forever, for eternity. You are an eternal being. The only question is, “Where are you going to live eternally?”
More importantly, how do we escape eternal punishment? Look now at Matthew 22:13. We will see another statement that Jesus makes about eternal condemnation or eternal punishment. Let’s start with verse 11. It says,
But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 22:11-13 (NASB)
Here we discover that eternal punishment is not just a place of fire, but it is a place of eternal darkness. There are no lights. There are no electric lights or light from the sun or stars.
I always find it interesting that people talk about going to hell and being able to see their friends and do this activity or various other things. Well, the Lake of Fire is going to be a place of fire and darkness. It is important to notice that everyone who is in hell will some day end up in the Lake of Fire. Therefore, I’m not sure how much you’re going to see when there is total darkness. I’m not sure how much you’re going to enjoy. It’s not a place I want to go. Now, I hope it’s not a place that you want to go.
In Luke 12:47, Jesus provides another interesting description about the eternal punishment. This is at the end of a parable that Jesus is giving. Verse 47 says,
And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. Luke 12:47-48 (NASB)
This is talking about judgment. This is talking about eternal judgment. When Jesus says that some people are going to get many lashes and other people are going to get a few lashes, He is talking about degrees of suffering in eternity for those who reject Jesus Christ. This is something that we should want to escape. It is called eternal judgment, eternal condemnation or eternal punishment. ,Jesus has told us how to escape.
How To Escape the Lake of Fire
In John 3:16, Jesus tells us how to escape., This is a great verse. Most of us probably know it by memory. John 3:16 says,
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NASB)
It says that if we believe in Jesus Christ, we will not perish but have eternal life. Jesus says that God loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him – that is, in Christ Jesus – will not perish. We can escape eternal condemnation. There will not be eternal judgment for these men and women. There will not be eternal punishment but eternal life. That’s what Jesus offered. Now somebody will say, “You know, I’m not against Him. When I get to Heaven, I’ll just talk it through with God.”
Okay, look at verse 18. Verse 18 says that,
He who believes in Him is not judged . . . John 3:18 (NASB)
It says those of us who believe in Jesus Christ are not judged. There is no judgment. There is no condemnation. There is no eternal punishment. But let’s keep reading. It says then,
. . . he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. .John 3:18 (NASB)
Watch this, there is no middle ground. Either you believe in Jesus Christ or you don’t. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are not judged. If you choose not to believe, then you are judged already. You can be certain that judgment is coming your way. That is the message of these two verses.
Hebrews 2:2 says,
For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty . . . Hebrews 2:2 (NASB)
How do you think you are going to escape if you ignore what you just heard? Will you neglect what you just heard? Will you drift away from the truth? How do you think you’re going to escape if you ignore Jesus? Jesus has told us how to escape, and do you think you’re going to escape if you ignore His message? Jesus, our God, is the authority.
Recently, I heard about a man who was checking out Jesus. He was searching the Old Testament prophets about the Messiah. He was investigating historical statements about Christ that prove He existed. He really walked this earth. He was reading the New Testament claims about Christ and increasingly he was convinced that Jesus in fact was God. Then he hit a snag. He read a passage that caused him to start asking questions. All of a sudden he panicked inside because he discovered that the Bible said he was a sinner. The Bible said that he needed forgiveness of his sins. The Bible said that he wasn’t like our holy God, that he didn’t measure up at all and needed to have his sins forgiven. So he started asking people, “Can I really go to heaven if I do not receive Jesus Christ?” He talked to one religious authority who told him that God was a fair God. The implication was that God would let him into heaven. God was “fair.” All I could think about was the end of Hebrews 2:2 where we are warned, “And you will receive a just reward.” The emphasis is on the word “just.” God is fair. God is righteously fair. God is absolutely fair. Yes, God is fair. That is a true statement. He does not have a distorted concept of being fair as we do. Our concept of being fair is a permissiveness fair.
Another religious person once said, “Well, all good people ultimately will go to Heaven.” Well, that is not true either! Jesus has already said that that is not true. Jesus is the authority. He is our God. He has already said that that is not true. With that he started to drift. He started to ignore what the Bible had to say. He started trusting some men but not what God had to say. He believed that God was fair and so when he stands before God, if his works aren’t good enough to get him into heaven, he will ask God to just annihilate his soul so that he will not have to live in eternal punishment. The man had another option. If that was unacceptable to God, then he would pick salvation. Then he would choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Well, I’m glad that he has his plans all figured out, but he has ignored something really important.
Judgment Comes After Death
Turn to Hebrews 9:27. The Holy Spirit makes an interesting statement here that reveals the man had a bad plan. The Holy Spirit says,
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment . . . Hebrews 9:27 (NASB)
The message is very simple. We die once, and after that it is judgment. There is no opportunity to bargain with God. There are no deals.
In Matthew 7:21-23 we are told that people are going to say, “Well, Lord, I did this for you. Lord, I did that for you.” They will try to convince God to let them into heaven. But God will say, “I do not know you!” In Hebrews, God tells us now is the time to escape. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to believe in Jesus Christ and not later. Decide today and not at some time in the future. Once you die, it’s judgment time. The decision time is now and not later. The poor man had it wrong. He wasn’t listening. He had been neglecting what he has heard. He was drifting.
It reminds me of a statement of Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards wrote a famous sermon called, “Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God.” I thought I would take a few minutes to read a couple of paragraphs.
All wicked men’s pains and contrivances which they use to escape hell while they continue to reject Christ and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man who hears of hell flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do; everyone lays out matters in his own mind, how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail.
They surely hear that only a few are saved, and that the greater part of men that have died have gone into hell; but each one imagines that he has a better plan for his own escape than others have come up with. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take sufficient care, and to arrange the concerns of his life so that he will not fail. But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in the confidence of their own strength and wisdom; they trust in nothing but a shadow.
There is no lack of “power” in God to throw wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up: the strongest have no power to resist Him, nor can anyone save them from His hands. He is not only able to throw wicked men into hell, but He can do it most easily. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty trying to subdue a rebel, who has found ways to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the mere numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defense from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken into pieces. They are like great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry hay before devouring flames. We find it easy to step on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; likewise it is easy for us to cut a slender thread that anything hangs by: therefore it is easy for God, when He pleases, to throw His enemies down into hell. What are we, that we should think that we can stand before Him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the mountains collapse?
Wow! It was written a long time ago. Some of us may not like the words. Some of us might think the words are a little strong, but the message is right. There is no scheme that we have that will frustrate God’s will. There is nothing we can do if we neglect so great a salvation.
Can I ask you this morning, how will you escape? How shall we escape if we neglect what Jesus has told us about how to be saved from the penalty of our sins? There is no way we can escape on your own. There is no way we can escape other than doing what Jesus has told us we need to do.
In John 8:24, Jesus told us,
Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. John 8:24 (NASB)
The way to escape is, first of all, to believe who Jesus is. You have to believe that Jesus is God.
In Luke 5:32, Jesus told us He came to save sinners and not the righteous. Today, if you think that you are a righteous person, if you think you are good enough for God, then you haven’t understood the truth yet. And God didn’t come to save you if you think you’ve got it all together. Jesus said, “He came to save sinners.” He came to save those of us who recognize that they are sinners and want to be forgiven. Jesus described it as “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” We have to start by being poor in spirit. You must realize that you are a sinner and that you need to be forgiven. Well, that’s where it starts. It starts at realizing and admitting that you are a sinner. Jesus has already told us how we can be forgiven and how we can escape punishment and that’s by accepting Jesus Christ, by believing in Him.
Acts 4:12 tells us that there salvation can be found in only one Name. It cannot be found in some other religious leader. No one else! It can be found only in Jesus and Jesus alone. How do we escape? The answer is by recognizing we are sinners and that we need our sins forgiven through Jesus Christ. Only He can do that. Then ask Him to save you and take control of your life.
Today is the day of salvation, not some time in the future. The message of this passage is don’t neglect so great a salvation. Don’t neglect our God. He has communicated to us what we need to do in order to escape. I trust that you are a believer. I trust this morning that you are certain. I trust that you confidently know that you are in fact a child of God, and I trust that you haven’t deceived yourself. I trust that you are not like the men out on the boat with the one oar, slipping farther and farther out to sea.
Let’s pray. Thank you, Father, for the truth of your Word. Lord, we ask that you minister to us by Your Spirit today. Father, touch those of us who are uncertain about our relationship with You. Father, if there’s anyone here who is not sure that they are Christians, Lord, we ask that You, by Your Spirit would prompt them to ask, to seek help, to seek counsel. Father, we ask that by Your Spirit, you will draw them to yourself. We thank You now in Jesus name. Amen.