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HOW SHALL WE ESCAPE?
"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"
-- Hebrews 2:1-3a, New American Standard --
The salvation that is "in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (II Tim. 2:10) far exceeds the nature of man's response to it. Contemporary religion has reproached the Lord Jesus with its casual approach to redemption. A staggering investment was made by both God and Christ so men might be ransomed. God delivered up His Son to the caprice of men, the malice of Satan, and the tasting of Divine abandonment. Jesus Christ laid aside the prerogatives of Deity, and humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, "even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8).
It was a death brought on by divine curse, for "cursed is everyone that hangeth upon a tree" (Gal. 3:13). For slightly over three decades, He Who made the world, thrones, and everything with a beginning, submitted to restriction. He became dependent, although He was "in the beginning," and "was God" (John 1:1). He volunteered to come to the realm of the curse, to face the archenemy of God on his turf. This He did as a man, with unspeakable handicaps. He had to pray for strength, depend upon the ministry of angels, and endure the abuse of those He would ultimately judge. The salvation that He wrought is "so great salvation" (Heb. 2:3a).
The book of Hebrews was addressed to people that had become complacent. They had believed and obeyed the Gospel, but had not gone on "to perfection." The length of their sojourn of faith demanded that they function as "teachers." However, instead of expounding the marvelous implications of the Gospel, they required tutelage in its rudiments. They needed to hear again the "first principles, " and stood in need of "milk" (Heb. 5:12). They bore a remarkable similarity to professed followers of Christ in our time.
Speaking through the author of the book of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit did not take the condition of these people lightly. They stood in serious jeopardy, and were in imminent danger of passing into a state from which they could not recover (Heb. 6:4-6). That situation is disruptive of much of the theology of our day--but that theology needs to disruption. Legion is the name of false preachers that only heal "slightly" the people of God (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). They offer peace when there "is no peace" (Jer. 6:14), and speak lies to the people in the name of the Lord. The result of their doctrine declares of what sort it is.
THE SUPERIORITY OF JESUS
God has spoken to us in this time by His Son-- Heb. 1:2. In time past," God spoke particularly to the Jewish "fathers." The prophets were raised from among the people, and sent to them at "sundry times," and in "divers manners" (Heb. 1:1). Their appearances were many, but not marked by pattern or regularity. Because of the condition of the hearers, their messages were fragmentary, introductory, and often ambiguous.
However, "these last days" are not so. God has now spoken to us through His Son, the appointed "Heir of all things." Having come "from the bosom of the Father, " He brings a precise and a thorough message. In fact, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). He gathers the manifold utterances of the prophets together, and compresses them into a single message.
Jesus is the Express Image of God's Person--1:3. The superiority of Christ is seen in His nature. He is an exact representation of the Father in His words, responses, and attitudes. The Father is in Him, and He is in the Father (John 10:38). To see Him, is to see the Father (John 14:9). The "fullness of the Godhead" dwells in Him "bodily," and according to divine good pleasure (Col. 2:9,19).
Observe that Christ is the "Express Image" of God's "PERSON," or nature. Although God had revealed Himself in various ways throughout history, men remained abysmally ignorant of His Person. Misconceptions of Him were common among men. These fallacies resulted in unacceptable behavior, lawlessness, and final condemnation. Through Jesus came clarity of the "divine nature" (Heb. 1:3). In Him God's magnanimous attitude toward mankind is perceived, and His great love displayed. All of this was very specific, designed to deliver men from sins guilt and power.
By Himself the Lord Jesus "purged our sins"--1:3. Four millennia passed before Jesus appeared to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26). The mass of sin that had accumulated was staggering, and it remained in spite of myriads of bloody sacrifices. Jesus took that mass of sin and made an "end" of it (Dan. 9:24). He effectually removed it from the face of the Father. For the first time since the creation, God was "satisfied" concerning man's condition (Isa. 53:11). This is the reason those that believe in Jesus are "justified from all things" (Acts 13:39). "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
Christ now sits on right hand of Majesty--1:3. Because of His accomplishment, Christ is highly exalted above "every name that is named" (Phil. 2:9). He is now at the Father's right hand, "angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him" (I Pet. 3:22). The "government" of the redemptive kingdom has been placed upon His shoulder, and He is reigning with a righteous "scepter" in His hand (Heb. 1:8). There is no authority or power, seen or unseen, that is not under Him (Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:16). He is the unquestionable "Governor among the nations" (Psa. 22:28). Eventually "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord" (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:11).
The Lord Christ has inherited more excellent name--1:4. At Jesus' name angels bow in worship and submission. They do His bidding, and camp "round about" His brethren (Psa. 34:7). Anywhere and everywhere that name is known in truth, the knee bows and the tongue confesses. Wherever a discerning eye is found, despite the circumstances, joy and hope flourish at the sound of that matchless name. He has "saved His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21), and that reality is forever associated with His matchless name.
The throne belongs to the Son of God--1:8. God the Father has given the kingdom to Jesus. He is now reigning in order to the salvation of men. "But unto the Son He saith, Thy Throne, O God, is forever and ever" (Heb. 1:8). Although the Father has not abdicated, the Throne belongs to Jesus. The Father is the only exception to the uncontested rule of Christ (I Cor. 15:25-29).
The scepter of His Kingdom is righteousness--1:8. Christ's reign is not heartless or ruthless. It is a beneficent rule. By means of His dominion He is bringing "many sons to glory" (Heb. 2:10). His power is devoted to His commission to "bring us to God" (I Pet. 3:18). All of this is in strict accord with righteousness, for God is now "both just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26).
Nature shall perish, but the Son endures forever--1:10-12. We live in a collapsing universe. Yet, in Christ we have received a "kingdom that cannot be moved" (Heb. 12:28). This is due to the nature of the King of the kingdom. Because He endures forever, so does His kingdom. Everything else is temporal, and shall finally be destroyed. The "whole creation" groans and travails in the throes of incipient death. O, that men were more acutely aware of this condition.
Everything will be brought under the Lord Jesus Christ--1:13. Ultimately, everyone must confront the Son of God. He is the One that is "appointed to judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31). None shall escape this judgment, "for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (II Cor. 5:10). The "kingdoms of this world" will become "the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ"--openly and in finality (Rev. 11:15). His enemies shall become His "footstool" (Heb. 10:13), and His foes shall be "ground into powder" (Matt. 21:44).
"FOR THIS REASON"
We must pay "much closer attention." The message and position of Jesus demand our undivided attention. We cannot obtain the benefits of His rule while distracted from His words! His message is of singular importance. Failure to give heed to it will result in the loss of its benefits. There is no word of advantage from heaven that may be appropriated apart from diligence. God has placed the kingdom in the hands of the Son, to give eternal life to whomever He wants (John 17:2). It is inconceivable that anyone can reject the Son without eternal consequences. His words require more diligent heed, stronger concentration, and undivided attention.
Lest we drift away from it. There are great bodies of theology that offer men security in the faith without giving attention to the Son. These are the "doctrines of demons," and are to be rejected vigorously by all that hear them (I Tim. 4:1ff). The truth of the matter is that failure to give diligent attention to the word of Christ will result in drifting away from Him. This is tantamount to declining into a state of condemnation, for there is no salvation apart from Christ Jesus.
If we neglect this great salvation, "how shall we escape?" To ask the question is to answer it. A neglected salvation is a rejected one! This is a condition of disregard and ignorement. It is the result of "other things" entering in and assuming the priority (Mark 4:19). For God to ignore this situation would require His repudiation of the Son. He would be required, in such a case, to protect those that had wandered aimlessly from His Son, to Whom all authority and power are given (Matt. 28:18). There is no escape from the wrath of God without giving "more earnest heed" to the word of Christ. He came to "preach peace" to those that were afar off (Eph. 2:17). Still, if that glorious announcement of amnesty is unheeded, it will become a word of condemnation (John 12:47-48).
Think of the posture of heaven regarding these things. God has not been neglectful of this great salvation. He sent His Son into the world (I John 4:14), delivered Him up for us all (Rom. 4:24), raised Him from the dead (Rom. 1:2), and established Him at His right hand in the heavens (Heb. 1:3). Jesus Himself has not neglected this great salvation. Though on equality with God, He emptied Himself, and took upon Himself the form of a servant (Phil. 2:5ff). He learned obedience by the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8), obeying to the point of the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8). He endured the abuse of men and the abandonment of His Father.
The Holy Spirit has not neglected this great salvation. He faithfully convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come, wherever the Gospel is preached (John 16:7-9). From the beginning, He empowered men to preach the glorious Gospel, announcing to men that reconciliation is accomplished (II Cor. 5:18-20).
Angels do not neglect this great salvation. They faithfully discharge their commission to minister for those that are "the heirs of salvation" (Heb. 6:17). With remarkable consistency, they camp "round about" them that fear the Lord, protecting the people God has chosen for His own possession (Tit. 2:14).
How is it that man--any man--could think himself safe while disregarding Him that is speaking from heaven? There is no escape available to those that are "wicked and slothful."
THE ACTIVITY OF THE BELIEVER
The neglect of salvation occurs when the appointed means of maintaining it are ignored. As simplistic as that may appear, there are myriads of professing believers that regularly disregard the designated methods of sustaining their relation to God. There is nothing automatic about salvation. It is neither initiated nor maintained by divine arbitrariness.
Throughout the book of Hebrews, the Spirit admonishes believers to be involved in the life-walk of faith. He speaks of things that are intended to sustain faith and maintain involvement with the Living God through Jesus Christ. To ignore these things is to ignore, or neglect, the "great salvation." The phrase "let us" is more than a casual suggestion. It is a strong expression, denoting the unreasonableness of acting otherwise. The summons to involvement is issued in view of the overwhelming evidence that has been submitted. To conduct ourselves in any other manner is to deny the faith and place ourselves in eternal jeopardy.
"Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (4:1). The Word of God is clear at this point. It is possible for those beginning the race to fail to finish it; for those coming out of the world to come short of entering into glory. An example is provided in the nation of Israel. They all left Egypt, but they did not all enter Canaan. God was pleased to bring them out of the land of the enemy, but was not pleased to let them into the land of promise (I Cor. 10:1ff). Believers are to learn from these things. They are to fear "coming short" of the inheritance. This is not a carnal fear, or one that promotes lack of confidence. It is a wholesome one that promotes intense spiritual activity.
Do not be misled by the words "seem to come short of it." These do not suggest that failure is merely apparent. The idea here is that one is found failing to obtain the promise. There is nothing in Scripture to warrant the supposition that one can "seem to come short" of the inheritance, and yet obtain it.
"Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief (4:11). Unusual effort is required to enter our appointed rest. This condition is the result of the environment in which we are found. We are in a perishing world, with a fierce adversary stalking about, "seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8). We are not in a vacuum! Israel confronted inimical forces between Egypt and Canaan--forces that they had to oppose in fierce conflict. It is no different for us. There are foes "within and without" that are being used of Satan to stop our entrance into the glory. We must "arm ourselves": with the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16; I Pet. 4:1), and "put on the whole armor of God" (Eph. 6:12-18). A "good fight of faith" (I Tim. 6:12) is required to resist the encroachments of our opponent.
Let us hold fast our profession (4:14). If our profession, or confession, of faith slips from us, our faith will also disappear; and we "stand by faith" (Rom. 11:20). It requires extensive effort to maintain the good confession. This is to live consistently with it, keeping it foremost in our mind and affection. All about us are Satanic pressures and distractions, calculated to draw us to perdition. Mark well that our profession is not to be held lightly; holy tenacity and determination are necessary; "Let us hold fast . . . " We are not to allow the freshness and the glory of our confession to slip from us.
Let us therefore come boldly (4:16). The throne of grace is available to everyone that is in Christ. But we must avail ourselves of its presence and benefits. Knowing that "our God is a consuming fire" (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29) is not to strike terror into our hearts. It consumes what is contrary to Him, and in Christ we have been "made accepted" (Eph. 1:6). Boldness is "confidence," and is so translated in later versions. It is the confidence of faith, not fleshly brashness. Because of our acceptance we are assured God is "ready to forgive" (Psa. 86:5), and to give "grace to help in time of need." Because of His nature, as revealed through His Son, we are emboldened to come near to Him. The fact that we have "sinned and come short of the glory of God" must not stop us (Rom. 3:23).
Let us go on unto perfection (6:1). This is not moral perfection, but the perfection of the conscience. This is the purged, or cleansed, conscience spoken of in Hebrews 10:1-3. It could not be obtained by the works of the law. The sacrifices offered under the first covenant only served to remind men of their sins, thus defiling their conscience and driving them from the divine presence. In Christ this situation has been addressed and resolved. Jesus has "put away" our sins "by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26). As we grasp that reality by faith, our conscience will no longer condemn us, or keep us from God.
The Spirit urges us to appropriate this reality; to permit the blood of Christ to "purge our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14). There are myriads of b believers that linger in the vestibule of fear and doubt, and are thus unable to serve God "acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28). Go on, reader, Go on to perfection! Obtain the benefit of conscious remission that is yours in Christ! You can have the "knowledge of salvation through the remission of sin" (Luke 1:77). It will require a hearty effort, and that effort will not be in vain!
Let us draw near with a true heart (10:22). There must be no pretension when we stand before the Almighty. This is an obvious requirement, but with which compliance is exceedingly difficult. One reason for the difficulty is the nature of religion all about us. Men are encouraged to be pretenders; to act as though they possess what they obviously do not have. It is a miserable religion indeed, which leaves its adherent in a state of emptiness while claiming that he is full. But this is common in our time. Let men everywhere abandon such pretense, coming to God with a true and straightforward heart!
Let us hold fast the profession . . . without wavering (10:23). To hold our profession fast is one thing; to hold it "without wavering" is something else. Wavering is fashionable these days, but it is out of order in the heavenly kingdom. Inconsistency is of the essence of ungodliness. Those that vacillate admit their failure to appropriate grace, for grace stabilizes both heart and conduct.
This also requires the exertion of the believer. There are contrary forces designed to make one veer from the course. The devil seeks to make us unstable and erratic. If he can do this, we will inevitably fall into sin. There are too many examples of this in Scripture for anyone to entertain the notion that it is not true.
Let us consider one another (10:24). The truth of the matter is that we all need one another. We have been set "in the body" of Christ, and are complementary of one another (I Cor. 12:12). No one can stand in isolation unless there are no other believers about him. Here is the new covenant equivalent of "love thy neighbor as thyself." Considering one another is proactive instead of reactive. We are seeking to "do good unto all men, especially they that are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). This requires effort.
Let us lay aside every weight/sin and let us run (12:1). Here is a requirement that is rarely taken seriously by a professional religious world. Doctrines are zealously taught that lead people to live with their sin, thinking that it will not ultimately beset them. Sins, or infractions of the law, and weights, or things that encumber us, are to be energetically laid aside--cast from us. Whatever impedes progress to glory is to be abandoned; and there are no exceptions to the rule.
Let us have grace, by which we may serve God (12:28). If we are going to please God, we must have grace--teaching grace. Grace instructs men to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Tit. 2:10-12). But grace does not come automatically; it must be appropriated by faith. This exhortation assumes that unappropriated, grace brings no benefit.
Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp (13:13). Here is an unpopular word, but a most needful one. Jesus is not in the religious systems about us. He was neither a religious professional nor an entertainment idol. He stood without the liturgical systems of His day, summoning men to an unpopular way. Our Lord demanded that people take up their cross every day, following Him wherever He led (Luke 9:23). Make the move to Jesus outside of established religion, and seek personal identity with Him. You will soon find that this requires an unusual endeavor.
Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually (13:15). Reason tells us that praise should come with little effort. Experience confirms, however, that this is not so. Most believers are very deficient in the area of praise. They are not content with this condition, yet find the blight of inexpressiveness very active. This circumstance substantiates the need for a relentless struggle against the tendency to come short in the area of praise. Note that praise is to be offered "continually." That is the same regularity with which we confront hindrances to praise.
The God that requires extensive effort offers abundant grace to sustain our efforts. It is true that our "labor is not vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58). If you are honest, you know that every inch of progress you have made Godward involved energy and effort. You did not stumble into the heavenly places. You did not grow inadvertently, or conquer sin by accident. Now, be of good courage, and continue on your way to the heavenly country.
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