In 1650 New Amsterdam, (now New York ) crime, disease, disfunction ruled the city.
The town had about 200 houses, 1,000 residents and 35 taverns…one bar for every 28 people.
To match that same ratio Wichita would have over 14,000 bars.
The streets were filled with trash, dead animals and human excrement…it was also a central hub for the slave economy in the colonies…it was a brutal, nasty, dangerous place to live.
Donald Barnhouse, a pioneer in using media to share the gospel in the mid-20th century once asked the question:
“What would a city look like that was completely ruled by the devil?”
The image that comes to mind would be something like I described in New Amsterdam…or maybe some city today where crime and disease and destruction are rampant.
But Barnhouse said that a city ruled by Satan might be something very different than that.
Perhaps it would be pristine, no crime, marriages intact, children obeying parents, churches on every corner…but the gospel would not be preached at any place in that city.
The devil’s ambition, he said, is to keep people from believing the gospel…he is happy to use moralism and the appearance of human perfection to accomplish that end.
The Bible says that Satan masquerades as an angel of light…his strategy is destruction…he doesn’t seem to have an opinion about his tactics.
Dark, terrible, human conditions…or clean, moral, human “near perfection”…it’s all the same to him as long as people don’t embrace the Gospel.
I don’t think he cares whether people embrace outright evil…or slowly drift from the truth of the gospel…either works the same for him.
Hebrews chapter 1 began like this:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
What we most need to know that only God can tell us…he has spoken to us in his Son, Jesus.
Let’s summarize the first chapter.
Jesus is the heir of all things (owner of the cosmos)
Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and exact representation of his nature (he is God)
Jesus is the maker and sustainer of all things (cosmos creator, overseer)
He made purification for our sins (redeemer)
He is greater than any angel (angels worship him, and they brought the message about him…so of course he is far above them)
All this sets up chapter 2 that begins with an action item, something we are to do.
Because God has spoken by his Son, who is creator, sustainer, owner, redeemer…then we must…pay very careful attention to what we have heard from him..
God has spoken by his Son, so listen very carefully to what you have heard in the gospel…to what Jesus has said.
So, you won’t drift away, like some dead thing.
Drift away from what?
Well, from God, from life eternal, from what is actually true and real.
This will come out more as we go through the book Hebrews, but there is a distinction in Scripture between the believer who drifts and the person who has never actually become a Christian…but for a time, looked like they were.
There are those who begin to move towards Christ and get involved in his church…but after a time, walk away…they were never born again.
There are others who are born again and drift…they will, experience discipline from God…Hebrews 12 says that he disciplines those he loves.
How do we know which is which…a drifting believer, or an unbeliever…we don’t…we are simply to pay attention to the gospel ourselves, and to continually encourage others to embrace the gospel.
The rest is above our pay grade.
Let’s go to chapter 2.
2 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
Drift away means to “float by”
Think about standing on a bridge and watching some dead thing floating on the water…a stick, a leaf, a fish…it moves with the current.
It has no life of its own to determine its direction…it cannot move through the current or against it.
It takes action, it takes life, to move through or against the current of culture and human desires.
Because Christ is all that we have seen that he is in chapter one, and he is the final word on human life, death, eternity, purpose…we must pay careful attention to the message of the gospel.
So that we do not drift like some dead thing.
The contrast is between proactive attention and drifting like a leaf on the current.
2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding (OLD Testament), and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
We know from biblical history what happened to people when they didn’t pay attention to what God had said…
How do we think we will get away with disregarding the final & finished word of God, the gospel of Jesus?
*You don’t have to be a prophet to predict the future…you only need be a historian.
If you combine theology (what God has said) with history (what people have done)…you can accurately predict what will happen…if people do or don’t certain things…not perfectly of course, but accurately.
So, look at what happened when people disregarded the truth of God in the past (OT)…now what do you think will happen if we disregard God’s final word, revealed in Jesus?
It did not go well for them…It won’t go well for us.
This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
This is not that blind leap of faith I spoke about last week…this is about God’s clear revelation of himself in human history.
It was announced by the Lord: he used words, ideas, to teach and explain the truth.
His words were confirmed by a variety of events in the real world: signs, wonders, miracles, gifts given to his people.
-Just like a sign doesn’t point to itself but to something greater than itself…so these things pointed to Jesus…they provided evidence of what was clear to those who saw and heard him…Jesus is God became man to save us.
-The most important sign/wonder was his resurrection.
*I read this week about an attorney, who when presented with some facts that were contrary to what he already believed replied:
“I know in my heart what is true, these facts don’t persuade me.”
Now he didn’t say, “I don’t believe these things are factually true”
That would be different.
He said, “My heart (what I feel is true) is more important that what is factually, evidentially true.”
That’s a bad way to live…”follow your heart” is a line that makes for good sappy songs.
But as a way of life…it will destroy you…because the heart is deceitful.
God is not asking us to “follow our hearts” at the exclusion of the evidence, our minds…he is asking us to “follow the facts”
Then, to believe those facts…and then to direct our hearts to wrap around them by faith.
Look at what he has done in history…look at what he has done in coming into our world and putting on human flesh…now, put your faith in Christ.
Not a leap into the dark, but a well-reasoned choice to follow the facts where they lead.
5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7 You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
8 and put everything under his feet.”
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Here the writer helps us understand why what we “see” with our eyes doesn’t always align with the truth that he is proclaiming.
He quotes from Psalm 8 where King David is musing over the place of man in the cosmos…and how appearances can be deceiving.
In that Psalm he wrote:
“When I consider the cosmos, all that you have done…who are we that you pay any attention to us?”
“I look up at the stars…I look down at me crawling in the dust…why do you care about me?”
But value isn’t tied to size is it?
A large boulder is not as valuable as a small diamond.
A huge oak is not as valuable as a baby.
And value is determined by the valuer…it’s why anything is sold anywhere.
If you put something in a garage sale and put a price tag on it…and I buy it for that price…you might think “Why did he buy that junk?”
The answer is, for me, I wanted it, it was not junk…it was valuable enough to pay the price…it was more to me than the price (the money)
God is creator of the cosmos…including our tiny blue planet…and the even tinier humans who live on it…yet he loves us, pays careful attention to us…values is.
“You have made us a little lower than the heavenly beings (for now, Scripture says we are less than angels, but will someday surpass them in glory).”
“You have made us higher than animals…we are rulers, stewards over them.”
All this is amazing to him…when he looks at himself, when he looks around at others…he marvels that THE God, is mindful of humans…and has given us such a role in the world.
Hebrews applies this to Jesus…he became a man…The cosmos creator, entered his creation.
Of course, this is mind-blowing stuff.
But if we pay attention, if we listen to God, if we look at Jesus…we will see that though now, it doesn’t look like Jesus is supreme…it looks like things are going their own way, that certain bad people are in charge…
The fact remains…Jesus is who he has said he is…he in fact crowned with glory and honor.
*This is true and real for everyone…or this is true and real for no one.
Reality is no smorgasbord…we don’t get to make things up.
You don’t have your truth and I have mine…there is only what is true.
*There was a restaurant in Alaska back in the 60’s where my dad once took some execs from New York…Alaska was like the wild west in those days.
One New Yorker asked the crusty owner/waiter “Can I order some chicken please”
“You can order chicken, but you are getting steak”
People can, try to make up reality…they can order what they want…but they will get what the truth of God delivers to them.
Not because God is like that crusty waiter…but because reality is what it is.
We demand things be the way we want them, go the way we demand they go…but reality, does not comply…it is, what it is.
10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
God’s plan of redemption was “fitting”…it the only right thing to do.
Right in terms of both his justice and his mercy.
“Made perfect” doesn’t mean that Jesus lacked perfection before his crucifixion.
It refers to his perfect obedience…that lead to his death on a cross…that made his sacrifice “perfect”
In other words, what he did…has accomplished God’s purposes…perfectly.
“it is finished” Jesus said on the cross.
“Perfect” said God the father.
*Some have said this is all rather barbaric…the idea of a substitutionary sacrifice…Jesus dying on our behalf.
-Some have cut out parts of the Bible they don’t like, or believe…which means, they have become their own final authority.
-Some say all of Christ and Christianity is false and even bad.
*Then they concoct their own faith…because everyone has a religion, a strongly held belief system.
But the question is again…is this is real and true?
Does it comport with reality as it is?
Does it work? Can you live it out? (Not just “do you” but “can you?”)
The answer is yes.
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.
John 1 says that, Christ the eternal Son, who made everything…became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The theological term for this is “incarnation”
The Christian faith stands or falls on the incarnation of Christ.
Again…you don’t just have to take a blind leap of faith…you can look at the life, death, resurrection…historical, and personal impact of Jesus.
What is up with this Satan holding the “power of death?”
In movies Satan is often is portrayed as God’s nemesis…his equal or near equal opposite.
In fact, he is a created spiritual being…who is our nemesis… though he is more powerful than us he is no more God’s equal than we are.
The power he holds is not death itself but the fear of death.
In 1 Cor. 15 Paul wrote that the “sting of death is sin”
What gives death it’s stinger…is that apart from the gospel, sin separates us from God and death leads to eternal separation from God.
Christ’s death for us…removes the enemy’s powers of accusation…yes, we are sinners, and sin separates us from God…but Christ has paid our sin debt for us.
My dad was at the side of a man who was dying (he has done that with a number of men) and this man, who had believed the gospel and had been a Christian for many years asked as he neared his final moments,
“Roger, what’s going to happen to me.”
My dad’s reply was “You will soon be with Jesus.”
“Yes” the man said, “That’s right”
Having a reason for confidence doesn’t mean we will always feel confident…he wanted my dad to remind him of what is true.
We feel what we feel…but we believe what is real…death has lost its sting.
A book written in the 17th century by John Owen has the very memorable title of “The death of death in the death of Christ.”
The enemy can say “Who do you think you are? You think God doesn’t see what you think, said, did? Do you think you have reason to expect anything other than eternal death and separation?”
The answer is, “I am an adopted child of God. I expect life forever with Christ because of what he has done for me. He is faithful, I know that I am not.”
17 For this reason HE HAD TO BE MADE like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Could Christ have secured our salvation in another way?
No…God is all-wise, God is all just, God is all merciful.
Jesus had to be made like us in every way…in order to make atonement (to pay) for our sins.
What God does is always the best thing that could be done…we would see this ourselves, if we see all that he sees.
If you start with God’s infinite power and perfection and goodness…there is no other conclusion.
Here again is the transcendence (otherness) of God and his immanence (nearness) of God.
This one who made and sustains the cosmos…suffered when he was tempted…so he is able to help us as we are tempted.
Jesus did not sin…we must not confuse temptation with sin.
In Hebrews 1,2 we have:
Jesus is creator, sustainer, redeemer, the final word of God on what is real, true.
Now, since this is true…we must pay careful attention to the gospel…the good news of Jesus so we will not drift.
Jesus, the creator and sustainer of the cosmos…is near, he is able to help you in your temptations (more on this in chapter 4)…to help you pay attention, to deal with the temptations that lead to the drift…so let’s conclude with “the drift”
The writer of Hebrews used the word “drift”…versus…fall, run, jump.
Drift implies something slow and virtually imperceptible…something not fully intentional.
If you are driving while looking at phone or being drowsy…you don’t notice the drift. This is extremely dangerous.
You may not have intended to drift…but the problem is you should have intended “not” to drift…you should have paid attention.
If you are paying attention while you drive…you don’t drift out of your lane…because you can make tiny, continual, micro corrections.
The point of this passage is that the “drift” is the result of failing to pay attention.
The drift is passive.
Paying attention is proactive.
Ps. 90:12…teach us to number our days so we will gain a heart of wisdom…pay attention…so we will not drift.
Al Mohler told the story of being a young man in his twenties, at a lecture given by a man in his seventies who was one of the world’s greatest scholars on the Reformation.
At one point the professor became frustrated, not by what the class was doing but by the simple fact that the class was made up of young people.
“Young people will never understand Luther,” he said, “because you go to bed every night confident you will wake up healthy in the morning. In Luther’s day, people thought that every day could be their last. They had no antibiotics. They didn’t have modern medicine. Sickness and death came swiftly.”
Mohler said “To fully understand Luther, we needed to know he faced the reality of eternity each day—and so do we! Closing his eyes at night terrified Luther because he was afraid he would wake up in hell. His angst grew out of his recognition of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.”
Only the freedom of the gospel delivered him from that fear.
Mohler, R. Albert. Exalting Jesus in Hebrews (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 48). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The drift doesn’t have to be the result terrible life choices, big overt sinful actions.
Remember the town ruled by Satan…may look quite nice, but there is no gospel there.
The drift may be, and most often is…a gradual loss of attention to the gospel…not paying attention to the truth of Jesus as the center of human history, and of our experience, and destiny.
Something else becomes center: jobs, recreation, bank accounts, pleasure, anger, disappointment, or just a void…nothing of substance is at the center of our lives…just the drift.
Maybe we drift because of our addiction to doom scrolling…our hearts and minds are captured by all the bad and sad news…and we lose hold of the promises of the gospel.
But the drift is not inevitable…time, trouble, transitions (new jobs, aging, children, cultural changes)…often do lead to the drift, but they do not have to lead to the drift.
*As I think of people I know who have drifted away…not just run away from the faith…they usually just stop showing up for God and for community.
Often there was some external thing…trouble, transition…but everyone has these…the difference for the drifter was in the heart…that is where the drift begins.
For the Hebrews all these things were in play, just like they are for us…they were experiencing trouble, trials, and probably the even more dangerous…the challenge of the mundane.
The grind…the grind can lead to the drift.
Maybe it was the flow of culture around them…it was not cool or popular to follow Christ for those 1st century believers…any more than it is for us.
Hebrews is a call away from the drift, for them and for us.
How: Pay attention…take action to pay attention.
I always, 100% of the time…tell Christy when she is traveling as she gets in the car…be careful, pay attention.
It’s because I love her dearly…I am not insulting her intelligence as if she would decide to not be careful or to not pay attention.
In love, I am reminding of her of the vital necessity of deciding to pay attention…and to keep doing so the entire trip.
Avoid the drift…pay attention.
We have to proactively pay attention to what is most important…it will not happen automatically.
We have to set the things in place to avoid the drift…it’s called, Training for godliness in Scripture, we call it spiritual disciplines…or maybe just call it proactive wise living…call it what you will, but do it.
For about three years I traveled to Virginia about once a month.
I took the late flight out of Wichita…because I was in no hurry to leave home.
I took the 5:15 am flight back…because I was in a hurry to get home.
*I would set my phone alarm, iPad alarm, and the nightstand alarm, sometimes the front desk call as well…I did not want to oversleep.
Last fall I was in Germany and had to get up at 2:30…I went to sleep at about 10:00 and woke up at 12:00…bummer.
I got up and watched a movie until 2:30…I wasn’t even going to risk it.
That’s a bit much, Terry…pretty extreme.
Well…I desperately wanted to get home to Christy…so I am willing to do whatever I need to do.
I know I could oversleep…and I hated the thought of the consequences of oversleeping…so I proactively made sure that I didn’t.
These choices didn’t seem extreme, or burdensome to see…they seemed like nothing at all compared to what my heart treasured…Home/Christy.
To think about the drift…and its opposite…paying careful attention we have to start with the heart…not just with external actions.
Why did I set all those alarms…because I love hearing alarms in the morning?
Not…because my heart loves my wife.
Jesus said to people whose external actions may have aligned with all the right things to do…that they were actually far from God in their hearts.
He knew the heart was crucial.
It is never either/or…heart or actions…they are both key to love for God and others…and key to avoiding the drift.
If you are in the drift…or in the ditch…or just want to avoid them.
You have to pay attention to both heart and habits…at the same time.
You don’t wait for your heart to love God, before you do what love for God does…form and maintain good habits.
You don’t do right things, but fail to pay attention to having a right heart.
That is our application…in both heart and habit…pay attention.
In my heart am I embracing the eternal and all-important value of the gospel?
In my habits…my choices…am I embracing the eternal and all-important value of the gospel?
*And if someone says…you are legalistic, you are extreme, you are whatever…they just don’t understand…the truth is, you are in love.
“I don’t love alarm clocks…I love home…so the alarm clock is a means to my greater end.”
Pay attention…do not drift.