Sermon Forest Fold Baptist Chapel
P. M. Rowell December 30,1990
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward;
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers
miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” Hebrews 2.1-4.
I have read the whole of that paragraph, but the words especially on my mind you will find in verse 3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
In everyday life, we talk about cause and effect, and you have exactly that in these words, cause and effect; we neglect – how shall we then escape? There is a consequence that follows upon our neglect. I think you will understand why I have come to this word this morning. I said in prayer that it is a time when we look back over a year that has almost finished. Probably very many of us would look back if we are concerned about these things, and we would say, “Yes, there has been evidence of neglect this past year.” Well, if there has been neglect, there has also been the consequence of neglect.
Let me illustrate this very simply for the children.** Before we had our present lawn mower for mowing the grass round here, we had a petrol mower, but we had to guide it by hand. I knew that I ought to keep the oil topped up in that machine. Well, the first year that we had it, I checked the oil very carefully every few weeks and I found that I only needed to fill it up about once during the year. Of course, in the second year, I assumed that, because I only needed to put oil in once during the first year, it would be much the same in the second; but after a few months, the engine seemed to be running very slowly, and foolishly I still did not realize what was the trouble. I thought the machine was getting old; it was being used a lot and so I carried on until one day it just stopped. Why did it stop? Well, you can guess the answer; it stopped because of my neglect. My neglect caused a complete disaster so far as the engine was concerned. That is really what the Apostle is saying in a spiritual way. If we neglect things that are very important, then there will be disastrous consequences. You cannot run that kind of lawn mower without oil!
Just imagine that you were driving your car; many of you have cars. You have been out driving this holiday time. Imagine that you were going to meet your friends or your family and there was a particular time that you had to get there. You were driving along the motorway and suddenly, the little red oil light comes flashing on, and you say to yourself, “That happened a few months ago, and it was all right in the end.” You drive on and ignore the red flashing light. Well, again, you know what happens! After a little while you find that the engine is not running very smoothly, and your car is going more slowly and you pull over to the hard shoulder. As soon as you stop, there is a great cloud of steam that comes up in front of you, and you know that the engine has seized up and it is ruined. All your plans and all your prospects for the future are ruined. You do not get where you wanted to go. It is no use feeling angry and frustrated and impatient because you are just not going to get there. Now, if we neglect machinery, the machinery obviously suffers from that neglect. If that is true in such an ordinary sort of experience as driving a car or mowing a lawn, surely it is true in regard to our lives. If we neglect the things that really are important, there will be inevitable consequences.
Imagine that you got a thorn in your finger when you were out working in the garden one day, and you pulled part of it out, and you left part of it in your finger. It would begin to get painful and red and swollen, and you said. Oh well, eventually it will come out. You just
neglected it and in spite of the pain you said you were too busy to go to the doctor with it, and you just let it go on; you might well find that the poison would travel up your arm and do tremendous damage. You cannot afford to neglect the beginning of trouble, can you? Even though it is like a tiny speck of a thorn in your finger, it is no good just ignoring it; it will not just go away, at least not normally. You have to do something about it; you have to pull the thorn out, or you have to go to the doctor and have it dealt with. You cannot just neglect something like that.
I am afraid that in our lives, very often we are like that. At least I am. I have to make that personal confession. I am like that. There is a tendency in me just to let things drift. If you look at this first verse in chapter 2, there is a very interesting expression at the end of it,
“Lest at any time we should let them slip.” Now the word in the original language there is a very interesting word. Things do just slip out of your fingers, do they not? You may be reading a book by the fireside and it is nice and warm, and you are comfortable, and you drift off to sleep and the book just slips out of your fingers. Similarly, if we treat things which are very important in a careless way, then we let them slip, and they do just slip, as it were, out of our fingers, or out of our minds, or out of our hearts, which is even more important. The word here used has another meaning as well; it is like having water in a vessel, and it just gradually leaks out. It is so slow that you can hardly perceive that it is happening, but gradually it leaks out.
I guess some of you children have had balloons this holiday. You have blown these balloons up and tied the end, and you have hung them up. Sometimes the balloon just bursts, and that is the end of it; everybody knows it is gone and you just pick up the little pieces. Other balloons do not behave like that; they get gradually smaller and smaller and smaller until they become limp and soft and useless. The air in the balloon has gradually leaked out. Now, it is that kind of word which is used here. There is something that is gradually just slipping away and leaking out.
Imagine you were out on the sea, and you had a rowing boat and you were very energetic because it was a lovely sunny day. Then you got tired, and you put the oars in the boat, and you became drowsy in the sunshine, and while you were drowsy and when you went to sleep the wind got up and began to blow, and it blew you right past the place where you were intending to go, and miles out to sea. Well, again this word used here in this first verse is like that. You drift by the harbour; you drift by the place that you intended to go to. You had every intention, you had right intentions, but you just drift right by it.
Now, I wonder how many of you are like me in that respect. Do you not tend to let things slide? Do you not tend to let things drift in your life? Do you not tend to find that things are not done when they should have been done? You are very forgetful about some things. Well, I can only say I am condemned by a verse like this because there is a tendency, I think, in most of us, just to let things slip,
When you come to spiritual life, it is not just like forgetting to reply to somebody’s letter; going to the bottom of the pile and finding a letter you had last Christmas, and thinking, I ought to have replied to that twelve months ago. It is far, far more serious than that, and Paul is dealing here with something that is far, far more serious than just forgetting some of the ordinary things of everyday life.
Why is it so important? Why is it so serious when the Apostle speaks like this? Well, I hope, when you were reading through that first chapter, you noticed the way in which it is really the background to the beginning of the second chapter. ” Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Now, the word “Therefore,” tells us to go back and look into chapter 1 and say, ”Why, What is the reason?” The Apostle is saying that there is a reason, there is a consequence. “Therefore.”
There are reasons in chapter 1 why we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, and there is another reason as we go on into chapter 2. “For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” Let me go back to my little illustration about the lawn mower. You see, when the lawn mower was new, and I read the instructions, the instructions were very clear in my mind, and I remembered that it was saying in the instructions, “You must check the oil level regularly; every few weeks.” I remembered that, so I did what the instructions said, but then, the second year, because it was so long since I read the instructions, and because the first year went quite well, I forgot. I neglected the maker’s instruction. Is that not true about so many people in this world? they never read the Maker’s instructions, do they? They never read what God has actually said about the way people live, and the way people are to live. They never read about what the Maker has said regarding their lives and their future. It is sadly true that they neglect the Maker’s instructions.
Now, I hope that will not be true of you, and I hope that what I am saying will stir up your thoughts, and you will be concerned again, and you will be saying, “Yes, I have been neglecting, I have been letting things slip, I have been drifting; I need to come back to the Maker’s instructions. I need to give the more earnest heed to the things which I have heard, lest at any time I should let them slip.” It becomes a very personal thing. I must give the more earnest heed. Do you understand the old fashioned language there? The “more earnest heed.” I must give the most careful attention; I must be much more concerned; I must give my whole attention to these things. The more earnest heed. I have not been giving sufficiently careful attention to these things. I have not been facing these things as frequently and as seriously as I should have been. We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard. It is vital to read the maker’s instructions because the maker knows how the machinery was put together, and the maker knows, because he is the maker, exactly what the needs of the machinery really are, and so it is absolute folly to ignore the instructions. It is worse than that when you come to these verses, it is far worse than that! Because it is God who has spoken, and because it is God who has spoken in a very special way. That is what chapter 1 is saying. We ought to give the more earnest heed, because, in chapter 1, God is speaking through the Apostle. He has spoken to us in a very direct way, and He has spoken to us in a very special way. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners (that is, at different times and in different ways) spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1.1). Now that is a reference to the Old Testament. God has spoken in a very special way through the Old Testament. That was very important. The Old Testament has within its pages, the Maker’s instructions regarding life and behaviour.
God has spoken in the Old Testament; but then, in verse 2, we read, He “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” Now, I have never had any piece of machinery given to me, however valuable that machinery was, however complicated that machinery was, that came to me, not with an instruction booklet, but with the son of the maker to tell me how to use it. You see what I mean? The makers of lawn mowers and motor cars do not send their own son to tell you how to use the machinery; they just send you a printed book. Friends, God has done more. It is a wonderful thing that He should send us a printed Book, but He has done more than that. He has spoken unto us by His Son. Now, what an amazing thing that is. God has actually spoken to us by His Son. He sent His only begotten Son into the world to speak in this way. That was one of the great purposes of Jesus coming into the world. John, particularly, calls Him “The Word,” because He has come into the world to speak, and He speaks on behalf of His Father.
He speaks to people who have their life and their whole being as a gift from God. He is speaking as the Maker. Verse 2 of chapter 1, God “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” Then again in verse 10, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.” There is the Maker, and the Maker’s Son Who has exactly the same knowledge as the Father. He comes as “God manifest in the flesh.” He comes as the great Maker, the great Creator of all things into this world which He made. He came to speak to people like you and me who owe their whole existence to Him.
As you go on in this chapter, you will find that this Son of God who has come into the world is the One who is upholding all things. Verse 3 (ch. 1) He is “upholding all things by the word of his power.” What does that mean? It means that you are here this morning, and you are breathing, and you are alive, and you have a mind, and you are thinking, you have intelligence, and you are what you are because, and only because, the Son of God is upholding that life. He is sustaining that life. He is, moment by moment, giving you the strength to live, and think, and act. It is His Word, it is His decree. His purpose. He has spoken. He has said, “This shall be,” and it is, and you are here because He says, “You shall be here, you shall live, and you shall have this life, and you shall continue to have this life until the moment comes when I say it will end.” He is upholding things by the word of His power. So, you see, it is far, far more important to give our attention to these things than it could ever be to give our attention to all the other things you have been thinking about this week.
You young ones, you have had presents, and you have gone to mummy or daddy, and you have said, “How does this work? What must I do?” If it has gone wrong, you usually go to daddy, and say, ‘Daddy, can you put this right? can you mend it?” You have been thinking about all sorts of things like that. But, if your life has gone wrong, who can mend that? If something deep down within you has gone wrong, who can mend it, who can put that right? This is a far more serious matter than playing about with toys. There is something wrong inside of ourselves and God has spoken through His Son.
We read on in chapter 1 and we notice the way in which the Son of God is set before us as being so important. In verse 5, for instance, having told us that the Son of God is so much better, higher, and so much more glorious than the angels, we then read, “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” God the Father has never said that to anyone else, not even to the glorious, holy angels of heaven, only to this One who He sent into the world to speak.
Again, in verse 6, “When he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” He is so important, He is so glorious a person, that all the angels have to worship Him. Now, we can hardly understand that because we can hardly understand what angels are, and what they do. We read a little more about them in this chapter. They are ministering spirits, they are God’s servants, they are spiritual beings, and they are sent forth to minister to them who shall be the heirs of salvation. God uses angels to work out His purpose among men and women and boys and girls in ways that we cannot see. We just do not know much about angels, but we do know that they are very powerful, they are spiritual beings; they are very close to God. They are not fallen angels. They are perfect, pure, sinless beings. They are very near to God, and they are doing exactly what God is telling them to do. But when the Son of God came into the world, the angels worshipped Him. You remember how the shepherds heard the angel’s song from heaven. The angels worshipped Him.
Then, there is something else in chapter 1 which makes it so important that we should give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, and that is the character of the One who has come into the world. Verses 8 and 9, “Unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” The character of the One who is come. He is the Son of God; He is God’s only begotten Son. He is the One who comes into the world with all the honour and dignity of the Son of God. He comes from a throne. He has a throne that belongs to Him. He is a great King. His throne is eternal; He is the eternal King, and, as in the old days, and indeed, today, our queen has a sceptre, so this great Son of God has a symbol of His authority. He has a sceptre, not one you can see, and you could not draw a picture of it. Paul says, it is “a sceptre of righteousness” (Ver. 8), it is a symbol of His righteousness, and the fact that His kingdom is a righteous kingdom. Everything within the kingdom is to be right. Where Jesus is ruling, then everything is to be right. That is His character. He is the righteous Son of God. Therefore, because of the character of the One who has spoken, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.
The last point about chapter 1, by way of introduction really, is this, that when God sent His Son into the world, He sent His eternal Son into the world. He was always going to be the same. Verse 11 says, “Thou remainest.” All other things grow old. Everything else in the world grows older and then dies. Every living thing is like that. Even the things that live the longest in the world eventually die. “They all wax old,” they become old “as doth a garment” (verse 11).
Many of you children have had new clothes as Christmas presents. Some of us older ones have as well. Why do we have new clothes? Well, sometimes, we have new clothes because we have got tired of old ones, but the real reason for having new clothes is because the old ones are old. They have worn out. That is what this verse is saying. Everything around us just gets old and it wears out, and then it is finished. “They all wax old, as does a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same.”
God speaks through His Son, and His Son is always the same. You can always rely on what He says because He never changes His mind. He will not say one thing today, and contradict it tomorrow. He is always the same, so we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, because they were spoken by the Son of God, and the Son of God never gets old, and His words never get old. There is always the same importance in His words. We must attach the same importance to His words today, as when they were first spoken.
I sometimes hear people saying things rather like this, “It would have been easier to believe if I had lived when Jesus was alive, and I had heard Him teaching and preaching, and I had seen His miracles.” Well, what does this chapter 2 say, God has been “bearing them witness” to His Son, and to those Apostles who followed Him, “with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will.” God has set His seal upon things that His Son has spoken. It is very wrong of us to say, “It would have been easier if we had lived all those years ago,” because Jesus, today, is the same as ever He was. His words are as reliable now as ever they were. There are people in the world today relying on the words and promises of Jesus just as there were a thousand years ago, and more. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” What does verse 2 mean in chapter 2? “The word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.” Well, the clue of course, is in the later part of the verse. “A just recompense of reward.” That is, the act of a judge. Who is the judge? God is the Judge. How does the judge act? He acts according to the law of the land. That is what a judge has to do. He has to interpret the law; he has to see that the law is applied properly. This verse 2 is a reference to God, and to God’s law; a reference to God as the Judge. Now, God is the One who has given the law, as well as being the Judge as to whether people have obeyed the law. He is both. He is the Lawgiver and the Judge, so this I believe, is a reference back to the giving of God’s law. When God has spoken, and said what He requires, then if people in the Old Testament, for instance did not take notice of what He was saying; if they did not give earnest heed to what He was saying, if they neglected what He was saying, then, the consequence followed. The Lawgiver and the Judge dealt with them, and they received a just recompense of reward. We say in our common language today, “They got what was coming to them.” They deserved exactly what they got, God gave them what they deserved. That is what the Divine Judge does; He gives people what they deserve. Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.
Now, I know it is difficult to understand the first part of verse 2, The word spoken by angels was stedfast. I believe it is a reference back to the giving of the Ten Commandments, the law which was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and in some ways, which it is difficult for us to understand, not only did God speak, but He used angels. Stephen, in Acts 7.38, speaks about the angels who spoke in the giving of the law. God has spoken all those years ago in the Old Testament, and we have a very clear picture of people to whom God spoke, who then neglected what God was saying, and suffered the inevitable consequences.
Think of the children of Israel; they had come out of Egypt, and they are led by Moses to the borders of the promised Land, and God had said that as they went into that promised land. He would give to them a land flowing with milk and honey. They had the promise, but what do we find? They did not mix faith with the words that they heard; they did not believe. They would rather believe the report of the spies, who said there were giants in the land, and the cities were walled up to heaven; a very depressing report! They would not listen to Joshua and Caleb, would they? Could they escape the consequences? No. Forty years they had to wander in the wilderness, and a whole generation died in the wilderness because they did not listen. They did not mix faith with the words that they heard when God spoke to them. Every word was stedfast. God meant exactly what He said, and they suffered the inevitable consequences of their neglect.
How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? I suppose you could preach a very short sermon on this verse. A one-sentence sermon. “If we neglect so great salvation, we shall not escape”.
Now, I have given you some of the reasons already why we shall not escape, and I have not time to go much further this morning, but one last point. We shall not escape, because it is ‘so great salvation.’ Just look at that expression again; it is a little unusual. ‘So great salvation.’ We normally say a thing is great, but here it is so great. How great is it? Friends, it is as great as salvation has got to be. How great has salvation got to be? It has got to be so great that it is great enough to save the chief of sinners. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Tim. 1.15). It has got to be as great as that, and it is as great as that because it is the great salvation that Jesus Himself has worked out. God from heaven says, “Thou art my Son” (Heb. 1.5). He is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power,” and “He …. purged our sins” (Heb. 1.3). That was what God was saying as His Son came into the world, and it has got to be a great enough salvation to purge our sins.
I would hope that by the end of this year, you would be honest enough to say, with real sincerity, I know I am a sinner. I hope you would say, I not only know I am a sinner, but I feel I am a sinner. It has got to be so great a salvation to deal with that sin.
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord?” What a tremendous thing it is to neglect so great salvation. Why, friends, it is neglecting God as He speaks from heaven. It is neglecting His Son who speaks on earth. It is neglecting the Apostles who the Lord Jesus sent into all the world to preach the gospel. It is neglecting the God who bears witness, both to His Son and to the Apostles in miraculous ways. It is neglecting the One who is higher than the angels. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” Amen.