Pay careful attention to Jesus, lest you drift.
This week we embark on our journey through the Book of Hebrews with the
BIG IDEA: Pay careful attention to Jesus, lest you drift.
1. Jesus is superior
2. Drifting is deadly.
ESV Study Bible
On January 13, 2012 the cruise ship known as the Costa Concordia set sail from mainland Italy at 7:18pm, with over 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew on board. Just two and a half hours later the Concordia approached the Italian island of Giglio, and when it did the captain ordered the ship to drift from its standard course in order to get close enough to the island for a customary salute of the island – blowing its horn. The drift proved deadly. The area was known for outcroppings of rocks and at 9:45pm the stern of the Concordia collided with the reef, suffering a 174-foot tear in the ship. Tragically, the slow, intentional drift off course cost the lives of 32 individuals. The drift was deadly. I tell you the story about the Costa Concordia and its deadly drift because at the heart of our passage this morning we read this encouragement about paying attention and warning about the danger of drifting. Hebrews 2:1 – Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. At the heart of our passage is an encouragement to pay attention, lest we too drift off course, because the drift is deadly. Let’s set the context for this encouragement and warning.
Today we begin a several month journey through the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. The letter was probably written in the 60’s AD; not the 1960’s, the actual 60’s. No one is sure exactly who wrote the letter or even the exact identity of the original recipients of the letter, but here is what we do know: The letter’s original readers were tempted by the pressures of life and relationships to drift from paying careful attention to the good news of Jesus that they heard and first believed. Like the Costa Concordia they were tempted to drift away from what our passage calls “such a great salvation,” and the drift is deadly.
Citylight Church – you know that same pressure. I know it. We know the pressure to drift away from paying careful attention to Jesus. Some of us barely notice the drift. The days get busy, the weekends get full, and we begin to drift away from paying careful attention to Jesus’ word and worshiping with Jesus’ people. Like a boat at sea, we barely notice that we are drifting away from paying attention to what we heard at first. For others of us, the drift is more obvious and overtly intentional, like the Costa Concordia. The ways and ideologies of this world, the lies and accusations of the Devil, or the alluring temptations of our flesh have put pressure on us and we’ve chosen to drift away from paying careful attention to what we heard and we are drifting toward giving our deepest heart, our first love, and our greatest concern to other things, maybe good things, but lesser things than Jesus. We know that pressure and Hebrews is God’s gift to us in the midst of the pressure. Hebrews is a gracious, merciful, encouraging, and intricate warning to save us from the deadly drift. And as I said a moment ago, the heart of our opening passage, and in many ways the heart of the letter to come is Hebrews 2:1: Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. That brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: Pay careful attention to Jesus, lest you drift. Pay careful attention to Jesus, lest you drift. Ok – why? Our passage will help us explore two reasons: 1. Jesus is superior 2. Drifting is deadly.
JESUS IS SUPERIOR
I LOVE to hike. One of my favorite places to hike is back home in California. I love walking through the forest in the Nicasio Valley, gazing at the Redwoods. In this first point I simply want to talk you on a walk through the first chapter of Hebrews so that you can gaze at the Redwoods; these glorious truths about the Lord Jesus Christ that reveal that He is superior and worthy of paying careful attention to. Let’s embark together.
Hebrews 1:1-2a – “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”God does not change. He is the speaking God. But notice the contrast. In the Old Testament, God spoke to his people (our fathers) through the authors of Scripture (prophets) in a wide array of literary genres from poems and proverbs to prophecies and narratives. God spoke through the prophets, but in these last days until Jesus comes again, God’s final, ultimate message and the fulfillment of everything He said previously is His Son, Jesus Christ. The prophets said, “thus saith the Lord.” Jesus said, “I am the Lord and I say…” Jesus is superior to the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. Pay careful attention to Jesus. Let’s continue down the path because there are more Redwoods to see.
Hebrews 1:2-4 – “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” These are some of the tallest Redwoods, the tallest doctrines of Christ that help us savor and revel in his superiority. We are going to leave these verses on the screen for the next several minutes so that we can gaze at them. One of the best ways to look at these Redwoods is to see that each phrase in the first part corresponds to and is unpacked by a phrase in the second part. So, we first read “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Why is that relevant? Well, it corresponds to the phrase at the end that reads, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” We’ll come back to this, but Jesus is superior to angels because he has a better name than them. He’s the Son through whom God speaks, but they’re just created messengers. Jesus is superior to every other message or messenger. Pay careful attention to Jesus. Let’s move to the second phrase. “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things…” What does it mean that he is the heir of all things? Let’s look at the corresponding phrase from the second part for help. “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” God has not only spoken to us by His Son, but His Son actually took on flesh and dwelt among us; truly human and also truly God. And He did it all so that he could live the completely pure life that we have all failed to live and then die on the cross to purify us from our sins. But He did not stay dead. God raised His faithful Son from the grave and seated His Son at His right hand, on the eternal throne of David’s family line, as the heir not of a promised land, but heir of the whole universe. Jesus is superior. And I love the phrase “sat down.” It reminds me of my wife. My wife works incredibly hard from morning until night. When she sits down late in the evening it doesn’t mean that she’s tired, it means that the work is finished. That’s the idea in these phrases. The Son sat down at the right hand of the Father, on the eternal throne, as the heir of all things because the work the Father gave Him is done. He has purified all who trust in Him from all of their sins. If you trust in Jesus, you never have to worry that God will cast you out or bring his judgment down on you. The Son has purified you from your sins. It is finished. Jesus is superior to the prophets of old, superior to the angels above, and superior to your sins. Pay careful attention to Jesus. Let’s move to the next pairing of Redwoods. “Through whom he also created the world.” Let’s look to the corresponding phrase that unpacks what that means. “…and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus is the word that was with God and was God and all things were made through Him. That’s why Jesus and only Jesus can uphold the universe by the word of his power. Jesus is superior to prophets, angels, sins, and everything you’re worried will make your world utterly and finally fall apart. Jesus is superior to all powers. He upholds the universe because it was made through Him. Jesus is superior. Pay careful attention to Him. Let’s move to the final group of Redwoods. Verse 3 says that the Son is “the radiance of the glory of God.” What does that mean? The next phrase in verse 3 helps us: “…and the exact imprint of his nature.” The Son is the bright shining radiance and reflection of God’s glorious majesty. How is that possible? The Son is the exact imprint of the Father’s nature. My kids love to collect coins because Malcolm, one of the awesome members here at Citylight, loves to give them rare coins. Coins often have the impression or imprint of a president or important ruler’s face. The impression on the coin represents the president, and in a similar way, the Son of God represents the very nature divine nature and character of God the Father. Jesus is superior to every religious leader and life influencer. Every other religious figure points the way to God. The Son, on the other hand, is God come to be the way for us. Pay careful attention to Jesus, lest you drift because Jesus is superior.
Now, before we leave the Redwood forest where we are gazing together at the superiority of Christ. It’s important to notice that it’s Jesus’ superiority specifically to angels that’s being emphasized in Hebrews 1. Why were the Hebrews fixated on angels? Well, the text doesn’t exactly say. It could be because they were Jewish Christians and in the Old Testament, when God gave his law to Moses, the law was mediated by angels. So, maybe they’re not so much tempted to drift to worshiping angels, as they are tempted to drift back to being Jewish, which was far more socially acceptable and less personally costly than following Jesus. Perhaps they thought of angels as mediators that could help them be closer to God, so they’re tempted to drift from Jesus as the only mediator between God and man and drift to being fixated on angels. Either way, the point in Hebrews 1 is that Jesus is superior to angels. Jesus is superior to anything in your past that you’re tempted to drift back to. Jesus is superior to anyone who claims to have a better truth or path to God. Jesus is superior to angels. Pay careful attention to Him, lest you drift to giving your heart to good, but inferior things. Why is Jesus superior to angels? To tell us why Jesus is superior to angels, the author of Hebrews takes us back to the Old Testament because it is the Word of God and because it’s all about Jesus and He uses the Old Testament to prove that Jesus is superior to angels. Why is Jesus superior to angels? 1. Jesus has a superior name than angels (verse 5 on screen). 2. Jesus is superior to angels because he was worshiped by angels when he rose from the grave (verse 6-7 on screen). 3. Jesus is superior to angels because only Jesus rules (verses 8-9 on screen). 4. Jesus is superior to angels because only Jesus rules forever (verse 10-14 on screen). Jesus is superior to angels or anything else that you could give you first love and greatest attention to. Pay careful attention to Jesus, lest you drift. Now, that we’ve walked through the Redwood forest and reveled in the superiority of Christ, it’s time to look at the second reason why we pay careful attention to Jesus, lest we drift.
DRIFTING IS DEADLY
When we first began, I said that our passage is both an encouragement and a warning; encouragement and warning. Hebrews 1 is the encouragement. Pay careful attention to Jesus because He is superior in his surpassing worth. Hebrews 2:1-4 is the warning. Pay careful attention lest you drift because drifting from Jesus is infinitely more deadly than the Costa Concordia’s drift. Hebrews 2:1 – Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
What is drifting? The word is quite unique. This is the only place that it’s used in the New Testament and it’s never used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. Some scholars think it’s a nautical term. Picture a boat that isn’t anchored drifting away on the ocean. The word is also used to describe a ring slipping off a finger. A couple summers ago I was surfing in New Jersey, the water was cold, and my wedding band just drifted off my finger and it was gone. As the word suggests, drifting away from Jesus usually begins slow and subtle. It often begins with not being around church (Sundays and Citygroups) because that’s where we hear the message of Jesus and pay careful attention to Him. We aren’t running. We’re still around some, but we are drifting. And the drift from church usually coincides with a slow drift from talking to Jesus, reading his word, confessing sins, and celebrating his grace. Drifting really picks up when our heart becomes captured by something other than Jesus. Our first love or highest priority becomes travel, career, financial stability, a new house, a family, or a pet sin. It’s rarely all at once and spectacular, but it is deadly because “drifting” in Hebrews doesn’t describe a temporary drift from the truth. Rather, drifting away is another way of describing leaving Christ and denying his gospel. That’s where drifting leads, but it starts slow, subtle, almost imperceptibly.
We are living in a cultural moment that some call the Great Dechurching. Two authors and sociologists at the Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics write, “Some 40 million adult Americans who used to go to church at least once per month now attend less than once per year. This shift is larger than the number of conversions during the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and the totality of the Billy Graham Crusades combined.” Why? You might think it’s because people have experienced so much church hurt that they’re done with Jesus or because people have deconstructed their faith intellectually. Nope! Are you ready to hear the number one reason why people stopped going to church and worshiping Jesus? They moved. The authors from the Keller center write, “Roughly three-quarters of the people who left the church did so casually, for pedestrian reasons including moving, the inconvenience of attending, kids’ sports activities, or family changes like marriage, divorce, of having a new child.” They drifted. We feel the same pressure and so do our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And drifting from Jesus, if not arrested, is deadly. Hebrews 2:1 – Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression of disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? In other words, if God’s people in the Old Testament didn’t enter the earthly promised land because they disobeyed the law of Moses, given through angels, then we will not enter the eternal, heavenly promised land if we neglect the great salvation of Jesus. Drifting is deadly because if we drift from Jesus then we have drifted from the superior and only Savior, and without Him we will go to Hell.
What should we do with this warning? Some take this warning and conclude that a genuine follower of Jesus can lose their salvation. I don’t think we should do that. Jesus said all that the Father gives to him will come to Him and those who come to Him he’ll never cast out but will certainly raise them up on the last day. Don’t take this warning and conclude that a genuine Christian can lose their salvation. Others take this warning and conclude that it isn’t a warning about going to Hell, but losing rewards in heaven. I don’t think we should do that either. We are being warned so that we won’t neglect the very message of salvation, not the message about rewards. This is a warning as serious as heaven and hell. So, what should we do with this warning? Receive it as God’s grace to keep you from permanently drifting away from Jesus and help you to pay careful attention to Jesus. Warnings are God’s grace. If God wasn’t gracious, he’d send drifters straight to Hell. He warns because he is gracious and his warning is his means to keep us believing in Jesus. Theologians Tom Schreiner and Ardel Caneday put it this way, “We also believe that God’s warnings and admonitions have their distinctive function. They serve to elicit belief that perseveres in faithfulness to God’s heavenly call on us. Thus, God’s promises and God’s warnings do not conflict. Rather, the warnings serve the promises, for the warnings urge belief and confidence in God’s promises. Biblical warnings and admonitions are the means God uses to save and persevere his people to the end.”
What should we do with the warning? Simply, receive it and God’s grace to help you pay careful attention to Jesus who is superior to anything you could drift to. Take the warning and pay careful attention to Jesus who is superior to all and all-surpassing in His worth. So, let me ask you, where do you see the drift in yourself? You’ve been encouraged and warned. Turn your heart back to Jesus.