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Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 2:1-4

Warning Against Neglecting Salvation

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, 3 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, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

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Last week’s entry discussed Hebrews 1, in which the author set out scriptural reasons why Jesus Christ is superior to the angels and how He is the only begotten Son of God.

It is also useful to know that the Book of Hebrews was addressed to three different audiences.

Hebrews 2 begins where Hebrews 1 ended. Note ‘Therefore’ in verse 1.

In verse 1, the author exhorts the audience to pay close attention to the content of the previous chapter, ‘lest we drift away from it’. In older translations it is ‘let them slip’.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains that humans are weak and our brains do not retain everything they should (emphases mine):

Learn, (1.) When we have received gospel truths into our minds, we are in danger of letting them slip. Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel, they do not without much care retain what is poured into them; this proceeds from the corruption of our natures, the enmity and subtlety of Satan (he steals away the word), from the entanglements and snares of the world, the thorns that choke the good seed. (2.) Those meet with an inconceivable loss who let gospel truths, which they had received, slip out of their minds; they have lost a treasure far better than thousands of gold and silver; the seed is lost, their time and pains in hearing lost, and their hopes of a good harvest lost; all is lost, if the gospel be lost. (3.) This consideration should be a strong motive both to our attention to the gospel and our retention of it; and indeed, if we do not well attend, we shall not long retain the word of God; inattentive hearers will soon be forgetful hearers.

The author returns to angels in verse 2. Angels were the next closest beings to God for the Jews. They delivered divine messages, God’s laws and also judgements.

Therefore, the author asks (verse 3), if angels serve God in all those ways, who are we to escape judgement if we do not accept the great salvation that Jesus Christ has for the faithful? After all, the author says, it was the Lord Himself who declared His Son and the audience of Hebrews knew about Jesus from the Apostles and others.

Let us look at the importance of angels in the Old Testament, via John MacArthur:

If a man couldn’t neglect the revelation that came through angels, how much can he neglect the revelation which came through the Lord himself? Now I want you to notice the word if. “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast,” and this is what we call in Greek, a fulfilled condition. In view of the fact that the word spoken by angels was steadfast, it’s not an if maybe. It’s an if absolutely. It’s a since, or in view of the fact that.

Now let me look at specifics with you for a minute. You’ll notice that it says, “the words spoken by angels. Now why is it that the Old Testament commandments, particularly the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue in Moses’ tablets, why is that so connected with the angels? Why does it say that the angels mediated the old covenant? Well, because the angels were instrumental in bringing the Ten Commandments, and I’ll show you that from several passages, Psalm 68:17.

Now Psalm 68:17 just kind of barely scratches the surface of this. 68:17, “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.” Now where did Moses get the law? What mount? Sinai. This verse says the Lord is in Sinai with twenty thousand, even thousands of angels. So the angels evidently were there at Sinai, which was the mount upon which Moses received the law, the Ten Commandments.

Now in Deuteronomy 33:2, I read you this. This is Moses, and he said, “He said:

“The Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir under them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of holy ones, angels. From his right hand went a fiery law for them.” Now we believe that this is an indication that angels were involved in the bringing of the law.

The New Testament also has references to this effect:

Now in the New Testament, Acts, for example, chapter 7 gives us the same indication, verse 38. “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him in the Mount Sinai.” Now here is a specific designation that when Moses was in Sinai an angel spoke to him.

In verse 53 of the same chapter, it says, “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels.” So angels were at Sinai. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament we are told that. They were very instrumental in the bringing of the law. That’s what is indicated here in what the writer of Hebrews is saying. Angels had a place in bringing the law. The law which they brought, the word spoken by angels, and we believe this refers primarily the Ten Commandments, was steadfast.

And breaking religious law brought about swift retribution and judgement:

Now what it means there is if you broke that law, that law broke you. Right? I mean there wasn’t any out. That was it. I mean if a person committed adultery, what happened to him? They stoned him. And so forth and so on. If a person worshiped false gods, and blasphemed God, they stoned him. That was it. The law was inviolable, it was sure, it was certain.

And it says in verse 2, “Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompensive reward.” That means the law punished every sin.

Now there are only two kinds of sin, and they’re indicated by those two words, transgression, parabasis, it means to step across the line. That’s a willful act of sin. That’s an overt sin of commission. You know, that’s just going right out there and sinning. God says, “Here’s the line, and over there is a no no.” And you say, “No. Over there is a yes yes.” See, and you go. That is a sin that is active, overt, a sin of commission.

The word disobedience is a different word. This word means imperfect hearing, like a deaf man. This is the deliberate shutting of the ears to the commands, warnings, and invitations of God. This is the sin of neglect or omission. This is standing there doing nothing when you should do something.

There’s only two kinds of sin, what you do and what you don’t do. They’re covered by those two words. And so every sin, whether it was a do it sin or a don’t do it sin, was covered by the law. And both types and categories of sin were breaches of the Old Testament law, and they received a just punishment. And I mean the punishments were severe.

In Leviticus, for example, chapter 24, I’ll illustrate some fantastic things here to you, and you’ll see how severe punishment was. Leviticus 24:14, “Bring forth him who hath cursed outside the camp; and let all who heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, ‘Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him. As well the sojourner as he who is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.’”

Now that’s pretty severe law, but God wanted to make sure that Israel’s purity was maintained and all false prophets and blasphemers were dealt with immediately to maintain the purity of His people.

Now in Numbers 15:30, “But the soul that doeth anything presumptuously, whether he is born in the land or a sojourner, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord and hath broken His commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off. His iniquity shall be upon him.’ And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.” You say big deal.

“And they found him with gathered sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron and unto all the congregation they put him in prison, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, “The man shall be surely put to death. All the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, stoned him with stones, and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

You say, “Died for picking up sticks on the ____.” As the principle of the issue, he was defying the law of God. God set the law, and the punishment was inviolable.

Numbers 25, at the beginning of the verse, “Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” Here they are getting involved with Moabites sexually. “And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods,” – they begin to worship false gods – “and the people did eat and bow down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.’ And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, ‘Slay ye every one his men who were joined unto Baal of Peor.’ And behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman through her abdomen.’ Just stuck them both. ‘So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.’”

See, God didn’t like it when they broke His law.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 17, and you see, God had to do to this to maintain purity in Israel. He defended them and he kept them from these false people. The ones who were being slain here were those who were not of God, but of Satan. And God dealt strictly with them.

Deuteronomy, chapter 17, verse 2, “If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman who hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God in transgressing His covenant, and hath gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it and inquired diligently, and behold, it is true and the thing certain that such abomination is wrought in Israel, then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman who hath committed that wicked thing unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones till they die. At the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses shall he that is worthy of death be put to death, but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” This was protecting them.

“The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people. So shalt thou put the evil away from among you.” But why did God do all this?

Verse 13 said, “And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.” If you make the consequence strict enough, maybe the people will obey.

In Deuteronomy 27, and this is the last one we’re going to read in the Old Testament, 27:26, sum up is this, “‘Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Now that’s inviolable law that God set, and it was strong.

In Jude in the New Testament, verse 5, “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.” That’s strong judgment on unbelievers. Even under the old economy there was tremendous judgment on unbelievers.

Now you don’t think for a minute that such unbelief was punished in such a way under the old covenant that it will not be punished in such a way under the new covenant, for indeed it will. And that’s the whole point of verses 2 and 3 here in Hebrews. “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, inviolable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.”

Now you’ll notice in verse 2, and I must point it out the word just. People like to accuse God of not being just. God is just. God’s never done anything unjust in His existence. In every punishment and everything that He ever did was a deterrent to the sin that He wanted to stop. And He only punished those that were already determined to abide without Him, and to defy Him, and He removed them for the sake of those who were pure and holy and wanted to live for Him.

Concerning God’s announcement of His Son Jesus Christ, the author addressed this question in Hebrews 1. God delivered His message through the many Old Testament prophets. Then, Jesus came to Earth. Now we have His words and deeds to heed via those who were His disciples and later those who knew them:

The Supremacy of God’s Son

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

All that Jesus did on Earth came via God according to His holy will as well as via the gifts of the Holy Spirit (verse 4). However, during the Apostolic Era those men also performed miracles to increase the growth of the Church and to bring new souls to Christ.

MacArthur explains:

So you see, Jesus confirmed his own ministry by his own miracles. And of course, that was the message of Peter on the day of Pentecost. I think it’s Acts 2:22, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by miracles, wonders, and signs,” do you see? Jesus was approved, or his word confirmed by signs, wonders, and miracles. Do you know that the very same things that Peter talks about there or talked about here as the same confirming signs for the second generation preachers? Did you know that? …

And so God bore them witness by giving them the ability to do the same things that Jesus had done, right, signs, wonders, miracles. And Jesus himself even made the statement to his own disciples that greater works than these shall what? “Ye do. ‘Cause I go to my Father.”

And they performed astounding miracles. They performed the raising of the dead, the healing of people, all kinds of miracles. And so it was that God confirmed them. Now when you’re arguing with the gospel of Jesus Christ, coming from the mouths of these apostles, then you’re arguing with the confirmation of God. This is not human philosophy right here in the New Testament. This is not some little guy’s little brainstorm rolling out of his little pea brain. That isn’t what it is.

This is divine truth substantiated by signs, and wonders, and miracles. And if you don’t think so, just start in chapter 5 of Acts and just read right straight through chapter 19, and you’ll just read about one after the other of miracles that attended the ministry of these men.

You say, why the miracles? God was saying believe them, they’re from me, and it’s proven by the ability they have to do miracles. Now the words, signs, wonders, and miracles are really synonyms. They’re referring to all these marvelous supernatural things that these apostles did. But then one other thing, not only did they confirm the Word with signs, and wonders, and miracles, and we’ll make mention of that again in moment, but also by gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do you see it there in verse 4? Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Now watch this gentle, but powerful conclusion, “according to his own will?” Now the question mark doesn’t belong in that statement. The question mark belongs with the How shall we escape? What is it saying? It’s saying, gifts [from] the Holy Spirit come according to who’s will? His will. Now that’s almost shoved in there just to keep some people from getting messed up about how to get certain gifts. Subtle, isn’t it?

The Apostolic Era has passed. We have recorded Old and New Testaments which provide the revelation we need.

MacArthur says:

They have no need to exist today, because there is no need to confirm the Word. If a guy comes along and says, “Thus said the Lord. Thus said the Lord. Thus said the Lord,” and you say, “Hey, how do we know he’s for real?” You don’t need a miracle, what do you need? You match him up with the Word, right?

When that which is perfect has come, then that which is partial is passed away. We don’t need any more confirming signs. [BB] Warfield, a great scholar of the Bible said, “These miraculous gifts were part of the credentials of the apostles, as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the apostolic church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”

The main message is this:

Three classic reasons that a man is a fool to neglect salvation – the character of Christ, the certainty of judgment, and the confirmation of God. This gospel is a gospel that God has attested to with signs, wonders, miracles, gifts, and now He attests to it in the miracle of His written word.

My friend, let it not be said of you that you neglected Jesus Christ. History tells us that three hours’ neglect cost Napoleon Waterloo. And the neglect of Christ’s salvation will cost you eternal blessing, eternal joy, and bring you damning judgment. Don’t be so foolish as to drift past God’s grace.

The rest of Hebrews 2 says that, for a time during His earthly ministry, Jesus was lower than the angels, however, He now sits at the right hand of the Father forevermore.

The closing verses are particularly moving. Jesus is our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father. The fact that He, of divine nature, humbled Himself to also take on human form shows He understands our weaknesses and helps us to overcome them:

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

That’s something to think about and remind ourselves of as we go about our daily lives this week.

Next time — Hebrews 3:1-6

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