If you neglect what Jesus says, and you neglect what God proves, then we’re back to the theme. There is no escape. Beloved, if you come to church every Sunday, every single Sunday of your life, and go to Sunday school every week of your life, you may still be neglecting this great salvation. Is your heart in it? That’s what I’m asking you. I can’t answer that question for you. You know if you’re neglecting your salvation. I don’t have to tell it to you. I just have to tell you what the consequences are if you continue in that neglect. So I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.
Doctrine and Practice
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 or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will —Hebrews 2:1–4
Did you notice the “Therefore” that begins this text? What the author of Hebrews is getting at is the perfect marriage between doctrine and practice. If we believe the things that he has declared in the first chapter, that has radical implications for how we live our lives. He’s beginning to show that now when he says, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention.” There’s a little grammatical problem in the words of that particular translation. The tension of these words is because it’s not certain grammatically whether the author is using a comparative or a superlative. And so I would prefer that he would simply say that we therefore must pay the most possible attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
Think of that image of drifting. Some people go fishing in boats, and they don’t set the anchor down. They allow the boat to move with the current, and they just drift. Where they end up can be somewhat problematic. The Scripture uses this kind of figurative language elsewhere when it talks about an anchor for our soul, which is the hope we have in Christ. Here he is saying, “Don’t allow yourselves to drift aimlessly away from what you’ve heard.” Again, he’s speaking about this marvelous comparison that he’s given in chapter 1 about the superiority of Jesus over the angels and over all created things. You’ve heard that. Don’t drift away from it; instead pay the closest possible attention to it. Verse 2 says, “For since the message declared by angels . . .” The author is referring back again to the Old Testament and the idea hinted at in Deuteronomy 33 of the law being mediated by the angels. When Moses received the law from God, there were myriads and myriads of angels present on that occasion.
So he says, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution . . .” Again, the comparison continues. If the law that came from the angels was ignored by the people in the Old Testament and received a just retribution, a punishment, how much more responsible are we to that which has come to us directly from Christ? Now, beloved, the central theme of this chapter, or at least this portion of the chapter, is the theme of escape. When you think of escape, you think of some kind of deliverance from a dire and threatening life situation, like escaping from a kidnapper. Or you think of soldiers who are surrounded in battle and finding a way to retreat safely. That’s an escape. But the most common idea with which we associate escape is imprisonment, not just from any jail, but from those prisons that are the most notoriously inescapable, such as the former condition of Alcatraz in this country, or Devil’s Island, or perhaps the most dreadful of all French prisons, the Château d’If.
A Great Escape
You remember the story; it’s my second-favorite novel. Edmond Dantes is falsely accused and unjustly convicted of a crime. He is sent forth to the most dreaded prison, Château d’If. There he suffered for years in solitary confinement, until one day he met a co-prisoner, an aged priest who had been there for decades and had spent much time trying to dig a tunnel to escape. But he didn’t do his math correctly and ended up burrowing into Dantes’s chamber. So the two met and had fellowship together. The old priest became Dantes’s mentor and counselor, teacher of science and philosophy and theology. The priest also told Dantes about a map that led to a vast treasure, hidden under the waters in the sea. The old priest died in prison. Through an extraordinary series of circumstances, the death of the priest led to the possible escape of Edmond Dantes from Château d’If. Dantes found the vast treasure that financed the rest of his life and his nom de plume became the Count of Monte Cristo.
What an escape story that one is. But as dire and as dreadful as the circumstances were in the Château d’If, there’s even a greater and more dreadful kind of captivity. The author of Hebrews speaks of an escape from this captivity when he asks the question, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Beloved, this is a rhetorical question. The answer to the question is simple. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? The answer is, we can’t. Alcatraz could possibly be escaped from, or Devil’s Island, or even the Château d’If. But the one prison from which no one ever escapes is hell. There’s no escape route. You can’t dig under it. You can’t climb over it. No guard can be bribed. The sentence cannot be ameliorated. So the author of Hebrews is saying, “Do you realize what we have heard from the Word of God Himself about a great salvation?” We use that word salvation all the time in the church. What does it mean?
When somebody says to me, “Are you saved?” the first question I want to say is, “Saved from what?” The idea of salvation suggests the idea of some kind of escape or deliverance from a dire circumstance. The Greek verb sodzo in the New Testament is used in a variety of ways. If you are saved from a threatening illness, as people were in the New Testament by the touch of Jesus, Jesus might comment, “Your faith has saved you.” He’s not talking about eternal salvation. He’s speaking about their rescue from a dreadful disease.