Date: July 1, 2009
Bible Text: Hebrews 2:1-3 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
If you have your Bibles, please turn in them to Hebrews chapter 2. We’re going to quote quite a few passages this morning, and sometimes people wonder why we quote the Bible so much. Because we believe it is God’s Word for us, it is our only authority. Now the book of Hebrews is written primarily to Christians, but it certainly can be applied to those who have not accepted the Lord as their Savior. In fact, this passage has been applied that way down through the centuries by preachers. Hebrews 2:1-3, “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 recompence 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.”
Years ago an ocean liner was silently plowing through the Atlantic when all of a sudden, there was a scream, “Man overboard!” There was a yell by someone else, a well-dressed man who said, “That’s my brother. I’ll give you $5,000 if you can save him.” Quickly a lifeboat was lowered down to the man, and they put a strong rope under his arms. They started hoisting him up, and he went up to the high side of that ship until he got to the railing. Right when they were lifting him up over the railing, the rope slipped, and he fell down. He hit the lifeboat, slipped into the sea, and was never seen again.
This is a true incident, a modern parable, a story of untold millions who have been brought to the very threshold of salvation. Yes, they acknowledged that there was a God, and they acknowledged that they were sinners, and they admitted the finished work of Christ. Maybe they didn’t understand it, but they were convicted of the Holy Spirit. But they didn’t take the final step, and they slipped into hell. It wasn’t that they hated Christ; they merely neglected salvation. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe the Bible; maybe they didn’t even read it. But they just put off settling things. It wasn’t that they preferred hell to heaven. They just never got around to saying, “Yes.” “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard…” We’d better be careful and listen. “…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 recompence of reward…” If the Bible is true, and you do reap what you sow, “…How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation.”
There are “amens” to this passage throughout God’s Word. Proverbs 29:1 says, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” In other words, you hear the gospel, and you put it off. You harden yourself to the gospel. Mark 8:36-37 says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” This passage is saying that our soul is worth more than the entire world. If you had every cent in the world, if you had every drop of oil, everything of wealth, if you controlled the whole world, your soul would be worth more. Now, if you think about that, you have to agree with it because your soul will live for an eternity. You’ll only have wealth for these 60, 70, or 80 years. No matter how you want to argue it, salvation (knowing that you are on your way to heaven when you die) is the most important thing you could ever settle in time and eternity. Yet the Bible teaches that more people end up going to hell than to heaven.
Different polls are taken, and it shocks me how high are the percentages of people who say they believe in God. Now, they may believe in a different god than the Bible. But in America, 88% say they believe in God, and they are talking about the God of the Bible. Yet, the problem I am preaching on is that they don’t act on that belief. They let things get in their way. Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Again, you can disagree with me, but don’t disagree with the Bible. This is God’s Word. And God is saying that many, the majority, end up in hell. Only the minority, the word “few” is used, end up in heaven.
Now if you are like me, you are asking, “Why is that true? Why would that happen?” I’m convinced that for the majority it is because they neglect so great a salvation. They put it off. It’s not that they say, “I want to go to hell,” but they neglect it. They put it off until it is too late, and hell is their portion forever. And so this morning, I beg you, as our text does, to give the more earnest heed. Right now as I’m preaching, really think about it. You say, “I’m not sure if you are right.” Well, pray as I preach and ask God to show you if it is right. Listen to the sermon realizing that at the end, you are going to have to make a decision. Are you going to accept what’s been preached or reject Christ?
Now notice first in verse 2, “…every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward.” Every sin must be punished. You say, “Why?” Because God says it must be punished. God would no longer be God if He didn’t do what He said He was going to do. You see, that would be a triumph of Satan, and God would be defeated. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Jesus spelled it out even more clearly in Matthew 12 where He says, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” The Bible says “every” sin, whether it is huge or whether it is small. That secret sin that you thought you got by with for 10 or 20 years is going to be put under the spotlight at the judgment seat of Christ and receive “…a just recompence of reward.”
Now all men will be judged, the Bible says, according to their works; and the greatest sin will demand the greatest punishment. What do you think is the greatest sin? In a group of this size, if I were to ask this question and we took some real time to see what you thought, I would guess we’d have about 25 things. Surely one of them would be murder. Somebody would say, “Murder is the greatest sin.” And it’s a terrible one. Murder breaks one of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not kill.” It’s so vile that it demands the supreme penalty of death. Now some people today will say we should not have the death penalty because that is murder. But when people say that, they are showing their ignorance of the Bible because the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill,” and goes on to say in Genesis 9:6, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” I believe that America would have fewer murders if they would follow God’s Word and take anybody who is positively convicted of murder and execute him. But you know, the horrible sin of murder is not the greatest.
Somebody else might say adultery is the worst sin, and yes, adultery is a much worse sin than people try to make it today. It’s such a great sin, and God hates it so much that it is the only sin for which God allows divorce. Again, God puts adultery in the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Listen to Proverbs 6:32, and you’ll hear what God thinks about it. “But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.” I don’t know of another sin in the Bible where God says, “his reproach shall not be wiped away.” But adultery is not the greatest sin.
Another might suggest cursing. Many of you say, “Cursing? That’s not that important.” Well, again I say, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Leviticus 24:16 says, “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 stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.”
Now, taking the Lord’s name in vain is common today. You say, “What do you mean, ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain?’” If you know your Bible, you know that it means using the Lord’s name, or “God,” in a way not addressing Him. At one time, that was confined to saloons or houses of prostitution; but now you can hear the Lord’s name used in vain from the White House on down. It is very common. A man once saw the heavyweight champion of the world, and it really scared him. He said, “I would hate to be hit by him.” But a moment later he was heard using the Lord’s name in vain. No fear of God. Exodus 20:17 meant nothing to him, but it will when he stands before the judgment seat of God Who said, “I will not hold him guiltless that taketh my name in vain.” But that’s not the greatest sin.
You say, “What is the great sin?” Is it sodomy? Is it abusing little children? Is it witchcraft? No. Turn to Mark 12. The greatest sin according to God’s Book, the Bible, is the sin of unbelief. It’s the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. In answer to the scribe’s question, “Which is the first commandment of all?”—or in other words, “What is the most important?”—the Lord declared in Mark 12:29, “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” This is the greatest commandment, Jesus says. To break the greatest commandment is to be the greatest sinner—the Christ-rejecter.
We’re told to love Him, to obey Him; but we say, “No.” This is so bad, the Bible says, that God will pour His wrath upon the sinner forever and ever. It’s the only sin that will damn anyone to fire and brimstone for eternity. But how needless! If somebody were to accidentally take some poison, wouldn’t it be foolish of him to reject the antidote? Let’s say a pilot’s plane lost power and he was crashing. He knew he was going to crash, and he had the eject button right there at his finger. Wouldn’t it be foolish for him not to press that button to be thrown out into safety? And in the same way, it’s extremely foolish to die in your sins and pay for your own transgressions when there is a full, free salvation given from the Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t leave us without a remedy.
Now, the third verse of our text says, “How shall be escape, if we neglect so great salvation…” Nobody could imagine, let alone describe, this “so great” salvation. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” How could you describe the love of God who sent His Son? How could you describe so great salvation? It is so great, first of all, because of its Creator. It wasn’t created in Congress, it wasn’t created in Parliament, it wasn’t created at some convention. It was created in the throne room of heaven. It was conceived by a loving God for all of us. God created salvation that we might be saved.
Secondly, it’s so great because of the cost. I Peter 1:18-19, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” You see, no earthly treasure could redeem us. No silver, no gold. We could take the national debt, and, wow, is it huge! But you could take all the national debts in all the history of our country and every other country and add them all up, and you couldn’t pay for your salvation, and I couldn’t pay for mine. How silly to think that we could work for our salvation. How silly for us to think that we can work our way to heaven. What a terrible price Christ gave as He died on the cross! It was so terrible that the Bible says the sun turned black, and the earth trembled at the tremendous cost.
But that’s not all. It’s a complete salvation. When you accept Christ, not only do you miss hell and go to heaven, but God gives you a new heart. God gives you a new life. God gives you joy and peace. God teaches that the Holy Spirit actually lives within us, and we have the privilege of prayer and the power of victory over sin. Listen, when you accept Christ as your Savior, if you take advantage of it, you get everything you need and so much more, plus you go to heaven. Romans 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” If God would send His Son from the throne room of heaven down to earth to die on the cross, He’d give us anything, anything that’s good. Salvation is complete because it’s finished. Jesus paid it all. All that’s left for us to do is to call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bible says we’ll be saved. Christ said in John 6:37, “…him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” You see, the Bible over and over again teaches us that all we have to do is realize that we are sinners, realize we deserve hell but Jesus died for us. All we have to do is call upon the name of the Lord, and we’ll be saved. Now this is tremendous news. Anyone sitting in this room or anybody in the world can have that full salvation by only asking.
But what amazement the angels in heaven and even the demons in hell must register as they see the world, people even in this room, sinking into hell by procrastinating and putting off and neglecting so great salvation that is freely offered by Jesus Christ. Verse 3 asks, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation…” When Billy Sunday was preaching on this text, he said it could not be answered. He said we could go to the most successful businessman in town who knows the stock market, and he could give us tips. He could show us successful ways to get rich. But if we were to ask him, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” he couldn’t answer. I praise God for physicians. For decades now they have transplanted hearts and sewn limbs back on. It amazes me. But you could go to the greatest physician in the land and ask him that question. “How can we escape if we neglect this salvation?” He wouldn’t be able to answer it.
We could go down to hell and ask the people who are there, and they would just look blankly. We could go to heaven and ask the angels, and they would have to look out into eternity and they couldn’t answer. The point I am making is that you cannot escape. There is no way to escape if you neglect this salvation. Now, you may be sitting here saying, “Well, you’re one of those Bible believers, and I’m not.” You won’t escape. It doesn’t matter what you believe. It’s what God teaches. Whatever you want to say doesn’t matter; it’s what God says. Neglect means an opportunity lost that cannot be returned. Every opportunity that we turn down is an opportunity gone forever. Now others may come, but they may not. Opportunity, the Bible says, is like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up. The Bible declares, “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” God’s opportunity is always now.
If you know the Bible, you know the story of that Roman ruler of Paul’s day, Felix. He was faced with a “now” opportunity. The Apostle Paul preached to him, and the Holy Spirit stirred his soul, as He’s stirring some of your souls right now. He was made conscious of his sins and realized what the message was. The Bible says he trembled with fear and conviction. Here was a man of power. The Apostle Paul gave him the plan of salvation, and he trembled with conviction; but he foolishly trampled on that opportunity and said, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” It’s not funny, but people will laugh about it. People will make light of it. Historians tell us that just a couple years later he killed himself. Convicted, but not converted. Almost persuaded, but altogether lost because he neglected so great a salvation. King Agrippa was another tragic example. He heard that same message from the greatest of apostles. He was stirred with conviction, but he said, “No.” Listen to what he said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” I believe King Agrippa is in hell right now screaming, “Almost, almost, almost I was persuaded.” Almost, but he is in hell. What I’m trying to get across to you is don’t make the same mistake. Every lost opportunity draws you closer to the last one and a permanent home in hell.
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” It also means a neglected and wasted life. The Bible says we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we will carry nothing out. Think about that. Nobody has carried anything into this world as they were born. I’ve heard of people being buried in their Cadillac or with their trophies. It’s all foolish. You take nothing out with you. You could become a billionaire, and if you die unconverted, you’ve wasted your life. You know it is true. Again, Matthew 16:26 says, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
But also from the standpoint of influence, you’ve wasted your life. People will live for the world and say, “I’m going to get saved.” And sometimes they do. It’s rare, but sometimes they do. But if they put it off too long, they’ve already influenced their parents for the devil. Maybe they are dead. Maybe they are senile. They’ve influenced their children for the devil, and they will never be what they should be and probably won’t accept Christ. Again, don’t put it off. “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” Many, many times I’ve seen people get saved after putting it off, but they can’t win their loved ones because they influenced them so long for Satan. They are hard, and often it’s too late.
But neglect also means no escape from a hardened heart. Delay becomes a disease. Listen to Hebrews 3:13, taken from our same text, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” No one can know the gospel, no one can hear the gospel and stay unconverted and, at the same time, stay tenderhearted. When you hear the gospel, you will go one way or the other. You hear it, you reject it, and the devil will take the putty and turn it into rock, or the water into ice. The Bible says that the gospel is a two-edged sword. As it is preached and it pricks your heart, it will never be the same.
When Sharon and I were in the early part of our marriage, we lived in Pennsylvania in an old, old house. It had no insulation, and it was just a few feet from a major state highway. I’ll never forget when we first moved there, I thought I would never go to sleep because the trucks would just roar by. It seemed they were going right through our bedroom. But after a while, we couldn’t sleep without it. We got used to it. I was born in Chicago and raised all my life under the landing path of the major runway of Midway Airport, just a couple blocks from the airport. When those old prop planes took off, they would just shake and roar. But it meant nothing to me. I wouldn’t even hear it. Someone would move in or someone would visit us, and I’ve seen people run outside with food in their hand when they heard the planes. “What’s happening? Is the plane going to crash?”
I’ll never forget the first time one did. Planes crashed there quite often as I was growing up. A plane crashed into a 3- or 4-story apartment building. Some friends of mine that I went to grade school with lived there. As I was preparing this message, I thought they probably went through the same cycle. It probably scared them to death and they thought of moving away at the beginning, but they got used to it. But then destruction struck, and there was no way of escape.
I’ve seen people in the pew go through the exact cycle. I’ve seen people under conviction. They couldn’t ignore conviction in their heart and conviction in their head. They felt they could never neglect it. They thought they could never get away from it. People will hang on to the pew in front of them to steady themselves under the conviction of God. I’ve seen people like that hear the gospel and get hardened to it to the place where they could smile and joke about it. Can’t you see that each time you reject the gospel you are hardening your heart and sealing your doom? “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”
How can we escape hell? Galatians 6:7-8 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall be also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” You will reap what you sow. Listen to this longer passage from Hebrews 10:26, “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
He’s saying, “How do you think you are going to get by with treading on the blood of Christ?” He died for you. The thorny crown was pressed upon His head and the blood flowed down. They nailed His hands and feet to the cross, and they stuck that spear in His side. And before that, they took a whip to His back and peeled His back off like ribbons. The author here is saying, “How do you think you are going to get by with saying, ‘I don’t care’?” The Bible uses a term, treading on the blood, and treating it as an unholy thing. “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.” No one will dispute that last line, but most unsaved people feel that they are going to get saved at the eleventh hour. The problem is, most die at 10:30.
Years ago, the Corps of Engineers warned a Pennsylvania village that the dam holding back a lake above them was unsafe. They laughed and said, “You can’t scare me.” But only 15 days after the last warning, the dam broke; and within 30 minutes, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was destroyed, and 3,700 inhabitants were dead. Listen, unsaved person, you’ve been warned. You say, “You can’t scare me.” I’m not particularly trying to scare you; I’m trying to warn you. You know the Bible is true. You are a sinner. You know that. You know Christ is your only hope. And what I’m saying to you is trust Him today. Get right with Him now. II Corinthians 6:2 says, “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Our text again in verse one, “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.” Don’t let the warning go. I’m not talking about church membership, although it’s a good thing. I’m not talking about anything but salvation.
Again, many years ago a man was working up in the mast of a clipper ship and he fell. Again, that cry, “Man overboard!” was heard. Quickly they adjusted the ship and threw him a line. He grabbed a hold of it and they pulled him up the side. As he was safely lying on the deck, he wouldn’t let go of the line. And the captain said, “You’re safe, son. You’re okay. You can let go.” He mumbled and finally said, “Captain, I can’t. I thought I was going to die. I saw the line and grabbed a hold of it with all my strength. I can’t let go.” It took about four hours for the muscles of his hands and arms to release the line. You see, he was no fool. He saw he was going to die. He saw one way of escape, and he grabbed a hold of it.
And so today it would be very wise if you would be very serious about this important matter. If you’ll be honest with yourself, you know you are drowning in a sea of sin. It’s a terrible world we live in. And you are sinking into hell if you don’t get right. God says, “Here’s the line.” “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” It’s as simple as that. Yes, we are sinners. We deserve death and hell, but Jesus Christ came and died for us on the cross. All we have to do is reach out and take it. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” Will you receive Him?