Hebrews 2:1-4 says,
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.
“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”
The message Jesus has brought is non-ignorable. We must pay close attention. At every moment, we are vacillating between two realities. We are either tightening our grip to the anchor in heaven, or we are loosening our grip on the anchor. We are never neutral. If we aren’t tightening, we’re drifting.
How do we drift? Let’s think that through. We don’t drift because we set out to drift. We drift because we set out not to not drift. We drift because we become sluggish (Heb. 6:12). We drift because, though we know the gospel and we have Bibles and we belong to a church, we sit on the sidelines, satisfied to get our weekly fix of a sermon and some songs as we segment our spiritual lives from our “regular” lives. We who should be teachers by now are like babies (Heb. 5:11-12) still asking for a simple Christianity, as if there ever was such a thing.
We can drift for a long time and never know it. And then suffering comes and we’re shaken awake and we wonder how we got where we are. We wonder why God doesn’t seem real to us. Instead of growing stronger in faith through suffering, we begin to waver in the face of suffering (Heb. 12:3-4). Jesus seems distant and mythical, if not distant and mean.
Drifting happens as we begin to take our eyes off Jesus and onto something else. The Greek word is pararuomen. It describes a boat which is allowed to drift away aimlessly, missing the landing point. If we allow ourselves to drift, we are allowing ourselves to walk in danger.
I love “lost at sea” stories. In each of these stories, it is vitally important that you know which direction you’re heading and that you stay pointed in that direction. You don’t want to drift off course. Why? Because to do so could cost you your life. You have only so much food and water in reserves. The sun beats down relentlessly. You have no help coming. Sharks are circling, just waiting for you to fall overboard. It’s a perilous situation. To stray could mean to die.
When you’re lost at sea, or lost in life, and you begin to drift, you aren’t staying neutral. There is no such thing as neutral in life. You are moving further, not closer, to your destination. To drift is to lose your way. And even if you were to realize you’re drifting and make course corrections, you can’t simply pick up from where you left off. You must get back to where it all went wrong and then make headway. You’ve lost ground, and the path is all the harder now.
That’s what the author is trying to communicate. We need a moment by moment awareness of our standing with God. We need moment by moment reality with him. We can’t simply sit on the sidelines of the Christian life. Jesus didn’t call us into that. He called us into a life that must be lost to be found, a life that requires bearing a cross daily. To follow Jesus is serious business. Therefore, to drift from him is serious business.
So how did these people drift? Two ways. One way is to neglect the truth. The author exhorts us not to neglect such a great salvation. That word “neglect” is the same Greek word Jesus uses in Matthew 22:5 in his parable about those who failed to attend the wedding banquet because they had other things to do. The second way we drift is to allow a substitute message to enter in. When truth vanishes, something will fill the void.
Here’s what the author is saying in bold, clear terms: Pay attention! Don’t drift! Don’t ignore the message that has come to us in the Son of God! What God said through the angels was reliable! How much more so is the message from his Son. We can’t neglect this. It’s too important. Keep listening. Consider Jesus.
These Hebrews run the risk of staking their future on something unstable and untrue. They need to reorient their hearts to see Christ for who he is and what he has done. Raymond Brown says, “The gospel is not only genuine and reliable, but also distinctive. In almost every period of Christian history there have been those who have offered a substitute message.” They, like we, need to flee the substitute message and cling to the gospel of Jesus Christ.