Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 2:2 “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward;…”This verse refers to the Law given by God to Israel at Mt. Sinai. Angels were present and helped mediate the giving of the Law (AC 7:53; GL 3:19). That old covenant was authoritative. There was accountability, it gave commands and responsibilities.
God does nothing in vain, and says nothing in vain. Each jot and tittle of the Law was important. God’s words are never trivial, each is of supreme importance. Giving the Law was serious business to God, and every violation of it received a punishment appropriate to the sin.
Heb. 2:3a “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation;…”This verse is written to believers, not to the lost. Its original readers were converted Jews agonizing over the split with Judaism that was inevitable. They were in danger of detaching themselves from obedience to the Gospel in order to save themselves embarrassment and persecution.
Our author was concerned with what we often call nominal Christianity. Unbelievers “reject” the Gospel, nominal believers “neglect” it. Our text deals with the latter problem. Its concern is not unbelievers who fight against our message, but rather believers who take it for granted.
Our writer presents three striking concepts:
I. THE UNANSWERABLE QUESTION
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? This is a question I cannot answer, nor can you. No angel can answer it, nor can any devil from Hell. There is no means of escape.
The Old Law could not be transgressed without punishment. The same is true of the New. Disobedience will be punished. If obedience to the Old Covenant was important, how much more serious is it for us to heed the New.
That mediated through Jesus is more important than that delivered with the aid of angels. Jesus is higher than angels and deserves more respect. God purchased our salvation at great cost. Men trifle with it at their own risk. You may trifle with the Law of God, but the Law of God will not trifle with you.
We are as much bound to duty now as were those who lived under the Old Testament. The justice of God is as real now as then. The Christian message is more than good news that sets men free. It is a God-given mandate, a command disregarded at one’s own peril. Emphasize mercy, but remember God’s Justice. It helps us check our lusts and corruptions.
“The hearts of believers are like gardens, wherein there are not only flowers, but weeds also; and as the former must be watered and cherished, so the latter must be curbed and nipped. If nothing but dews and showers of promises should fall upon the heart, thought they seem to tend to the cherishing of their graces, yet the weeds of corruption will be apt to grow up with them, and in the end to choke them, unless they are nipped and blasted by severity of threatening” (Owen).
People err grievously when they think of the New Covenant as being more lenient than the Old. Ours is an age of tender mercy, but that makes sins against our King even more deadly. It is a much greater crime to sin against love than to sin against law.
How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? It is an unanswerable question. There is no escape.
II. AN UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE
Neglecting our salvation, a cardinal sin among believers, is paramount to neglecting the Lord Himself. It involves a loss of God-consciousness, less time in the Word, and less time in the assembly of believers (10:25). Neglecting salvation means we give less attention and earnestness to the things of this world.
It is nearly as great an insult to neglect the Gospel, as it is to reject it. In fact, rejection in some ways is easier to understand than neglect.
I can understand someone who says, “I have examined the evidence, I think the Bible is a fable, Christianity is a hoax, judgment is an illusion, I reject the Gospel.” At least one is consistent
Consider, though, the lackadaisical Christian. He believes in God, knows that Jesus died for Him, understands what is expected of him, but neglects the Gospel, and lives as if there were no Bible, no Church, and no accountability.
This neglect leads to multitudes of other sins. It is the floodgate that allows heartache and trouble of every kind to pour into one’s life.
There is a world of danger in the word “neglect.” A businessman needs only to neglect his job to be ruined. A sick man who neglects his medicine will die. A man on Niagra who neglects to use his oar at the right moment will plunge to a terrible death.
The neglect of an officer to throw up a flare on a certain night caused the fall of Antwerp, and postponed the deliverance of Holland twenty years. The neglect of a sentinel to sound the alarm resulted in the loss of many thousand lives at Sebastopol.
During the terrible fire in the Ring Theatre at Vienna, a large crowd fled down a hallway marked “Emergency Door, in case of Fire.” They rushed to the door, but its bolts could not be drawn nor its locks turned. The hinges were frozen with rust. The door had never been used, and through neglect it had become useless when urgently needed. In moments, a heap of dead bodies filled that hallway, the corpses a monument to someone’s neglect.
Neglect of salvation produces similarly disastrous results. The believer who neglects salvation is headed for disaster. In the day of trouble, he runs to prayer, but has forgotten how to pray effectively. In calamity, he runs to church, but the congregation does not know him. The one in need is a stranger. The church knows nothing about him, and is not acquainted with his situation. Yet he wonders why the church failed him when he most needed help.
Sorrow comes, and he runs to the Bible, but has no idea which passage to read. His world collapses, and he seeks out the preacher. The man of God lovingly listens, but in his heart knows that nothing can be done. An avalanche of painful consequences is crashing upon the backslider. The day of death approaches, and the neglecter of salvation says, “I am not so much afraid to die as I am ashamed to die.”
Many believers idle away their lives in a sort of passive indifference to the Gospel. They fail to make pleasing God their first and greatest concern. They do not appreciate the Gospel, but take it for granted. These anemic Christians go to their graves broken and ruined, utter strangers to the power that could have been theirs through the Holy Spirit.
III. AN UNPARALELLED GIFT
You have received a salvation worthy of your best effort. It is only appropriate that failure to “give the more earnest heed” (2:1) to it brings retribution.
It would be impossible to conceive a greater salvation. It comes from the great heart of a great God, and was wrought out in great sufferings. It provides great deliverance for sinners great with sin, rescues from great enemies and great dangers, and promises great glory.
There can be no greater love than for God Himself to come and take our sins upon Himself. Ours is truly a great salvation, and should be received with great thankfulness and holiness.