These are my notes from Sunday.
How good are you at listening? Everybody hears but how good are we at listening attentively. Good listening takes active involvement and concentration.
The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who came down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.”
It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
How well did you listen to that story? Who was it about? Where was he? What did he say to the visitors? Where was the person who listened from?
Some of us were hearing but not listening, it was just background noise which we never really tuned in to.
Hebrews 2 moves from the soaring truths about the nature and superiority of Jesus – God’s ruling reigning Son, the creator and sustainer, the ultimate revelation of God – to applying that to the lives of the readers. And the application is that given who Jesus we must pay attention to him and the revelation he brings.
1. Who to listen to (1)
We make choices all the time about who we listen to – radio 1, 2, 4, 5, talksport, trax fm. What newspaper we buy and look at the pictures or read? What websites we visit. We are constantly choosing who to pay attention to, and what weight to give their words.
The pastor tells his church who they should listen to. 1:2 “In these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son... We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard.” Listen to the glorious Son of God. Listen to the one who is superior to the angels, who ascended and rules , who the Old Testament points to, who saves, who is unique, who supremely reveals God because he is God. He is worth listening to.
What does Jesus reveal to them(3)? “so great a salvation”, later in the chapter he describes it like this; “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (9-11)
Jesus comes to reveal God and as he does so he reveals our need of forgiveness because our sin – our hard hearts, our refusal to acknowledge our creator – means we face judgement. But Jesus revelation, his message, is that he, God’s perfect Son, has come to take our deserved punishment, to stand in our place, so that our sin is paid for and we are credited with his perfect record and become God’s holy sons and daughters and his brothers and sisters.
That is worth listening to, worth paying careful attention to, it is a message beyond anything else we will ever hear in terms of importance. Listen to Jesus, pay close attention to his words and his living. He alone reveals God, every other word you hear pales into insignificance.
I wonder what you think the most significant words you have ever heard are – ‘Will you marry me?’ the first cry of your child, I love you, we’d like to offer you the job...they all pale into insignificance compared to the message of the gospel.
Jesus is worth listening to, listen to him his words bring life.
2. Why must we pay careful attention?
The pastor anticipates the question why should we listen and he answers with a warning about the consequences of not doing so and witnesses to verify the message.
(1)gives us an instruction and (2)“For” he is going to explain why, and he uses a lesser to a great argument.
He has established that Jesus is superior to angels and that the revelation he brings is superior to theirs. So if the angels message – the law – when ignored or broken brought punishment how much more is punishment deserved if the greater revelation and message is ignored or broken. If breaking the law led to punishment of the offender how on earth shall we escape if we ignore the Son of God the ultimate revelation of God and the message of salvation he brings! The answer is we won’t.
Who is this written to? Hebrew Christians, in fact the pastor applies it even to himself as he includes himself in this warning, “how shall we escape...”
It throws up a question doesn’t it; can you lose your salvation? Part of our problem is that we think of salvation wrongly, we think of salvation as a past event. But in the Bible salvation is past, present and future. We have been saved when we trusted in Jesus – all our sins are paid for and we are viewed as God’s perfect children, but we are also being saved as we offer ourselves daily to God and grow in our understanding and application of salvation, and we will be saved finally when we are delivered from God’s judgement on the last day.
Be warned pay attention because you want to lay hold of your salvation not drift from it.
(3-4)It’s as if he is in a court of law calling witnesses to verify the message. In line with the Old Testament he produce 3 witnesses. The Lord announces salvation, it is confirmed by who? the apostles and other eyewitnesses, God testifies to who Jesus is and his message, how? By signs and wonders – just as he showed himself in redeeming Israel from slavery – and the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus followers is the final witness.
You can rely on the gospel and on Jesus but you must be warned not pay it careful attention is dangerous.
3. How to pay careful attention
How does the pastor encourage his readers to listen? “We must pay the most careful attention...” That word carefully means frequently, especially, or to a greater degree. It is a call to attentiveness to active listening, to a listening that is keen, willing and active in application.
They must listen or they will drift. Life is not a pond which is still and in which you can stay still, it’s a river and if you are not making progress you are driven backwards, swept away. And notice that they aren’t in danger of outright rejection of the gospel, but of gradual, incremental, imperceptible drift.
We have to take this warning very seriously, so how can we spot if we are drifting?
There are two ways in the passage:
1. Not paying careful attention - Do we take time each day to dwell on our great salvation? Do we fix our thoughts on it, do we seek to apply it afresh to our lives every day? Do we delve into the bible longing to understand more of our great saviour and what he has saved us for or do we content ourselves with what we know? Do we take it for granted!
2. Ignoring our great salvation – That word ignore also carries with it the idea of neglecting something, not giving it the attention it deserves. There is the danger of distraction, we would never say we are ignoring the gospel, but we become taken up with other things they may be good things but they distract and draw us away effectively making us ignore the gospel; things like angels, or traditions, or ministry, or family, or money, or career.
Hebrews also contains some other signs of drifting:
1. Being hard hearted and not taking God’s warnings seriously
2. Not living looking for God’s promised rest
3. Not growing in our understanding and application of the gospel
4. Not spurring one another on
5. Giving up meeting together
6. Living by sight not by faith
7. Not fixing our eyes on Jesus and following his example
8. Forgetting the wonder of our salvation
9. Losing our joy
As you honestly evaluate your life and your heart do you see any of those symptoms? Are you in danger of drifting?
What is the antidote? How do we ensure we do not drift?
We pay careful attention to what we have heard. We turn back again to the gospel, the good news of Jesus. We don’t content ourselves with a cursory reading but we study it, we delve deeper into it, we do what the pastor does here; we seek to understand the wonder of who Jesus was and all he does, the full horror of our sin and the true wonder of our rescue and future. Because it is the gospel that is the fuel that fires our faith.
What happens if you put the wrong fuel in an engine? It may run ok for a short while but eventually as the mix of right fuel and wrong fuel works its way through the engine it coughs and splutters until it totally cuts out. You may be thinking I’ll redouble my effort, I’ll try harder, I’ll set aside longer for my readings, I’ll not get up until I have spent 20 minutes on my knees in prayer and so on... That will last for so long, but it is like the wrong fuel you will eventually cough and splutter and run out, because that is dependent on your own efforts.
By contrast Hebrews would call us to look at Jesus, refresh yourself in the gospel of grace and as you do that change will flow from your heart – don’t redouble your efforts but listen carefully, attentively to the gospel. That may mean we do some of those things we have just said – prioritise reading the bible, home group etc – but that will be because we are seeking to know Jesus rather than as an end in itself.
Be where you can hear the gospel, but don’t settle for just hearing it but work out what changes it is calling for in your life and put them into action, get others to help you do so. Take the time to build relationships where you can work the gospel into each others lives.
Don’t drift – are you drifting? Do you see some of the symptoms? Be amazed at who Jesus is and what he has done for us and pay it careful attention!