Pay Attention

For the rest of this year, our bible class will be deep into the Book of Hebrews. Most scholars believe the Book of Hebrews was written by Paul to the early Christians who had converted from Judaism, and we’ll find excellent instruction these next few months on what Christian living is all about. So, let’s dive right into it, shall we?

Who was, and is, Jesus? I kept studying this first paragraph of the book of Hebrews, trying to find a way to explain it, reword it, but this was written so beautifully 2000 years ago that I can only read it out loud, just the way it is. Paul is explaining to the Jews how superior faith in Christ is over anything previously offered in the Old Testament. Let’s read Hebrews 1:1-4.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Wow. In these few verses, we are reminded that
— Jesus is God’s all-powerful son and the exact representation of God’s nature.
— Jesus sits at God’s right hand, a position of power, and is the heir of all things, seen and unseen.
— Jesus speaks for God.
— While God spoke to people through prophets in the past, Jesus is better than any prophet who has ever lived.
— God made the world through Jesus and Jesus is the Creator.
— Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may be made pure in front of God.
— Jesus is the only thing that never changes and will last forever.
— Jesus is better that any man who has ever lived.
— Jesus is a better sacrifice than man has ever known.
— Jesus is better than angels.

Is there anything better than Jesus? Chocolate maybe? No, Jesus is better than everything, including chocolate, including angels.

What are angels, anyway? Have you ever looked into what the bible says about angels? I always think of angels as these beautiful creatures, dressed in white, big old wings way out to here. If Jesus is better than angels, I wanted to know what he’s better than, so I hunted around to find out. I’m going to hop around the bible, no need to hop around with me, but let me know after class if you want these references.

— Angels guide us. In Genesis 24:40, Abraham’s servant was sent to Laban’s family. An angel was sent with him to make his journey a success. And in Acts 8:26, an angel appears to Philip and tells him to go down from Jerusalem to Gaza.
— Angels announce God’s message. In Luke 2:9-10, an angel announces the birth of our savior, and then in verse 13 a whole company of angels appears, praising God.
— Angels celebrate. In Luke 15:10, Jesus says there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
— Angels pray for us. In Zechariah 1:12, an angel prays to God for mercy for Jerusalem.
— When God passes judgment, he uses angels to deliver His wrath. In 2 Kings 19:35, a single angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. We think of angels as using flaming swords to deliver God’s wrath, but in Acts 12:23, and angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness who was then consumed with worms and died. Yuck.
— Angels protect Christians, like guardian angels. Psalm 34:7, “the angel of the Lord guards all those who fear Him, and He rescues them.” And at the moment of our death, our angels carry us to God’s presence as in Luke 16:22.
— Children have their own angels. Matthew 18:10, Jesus is telling us to treat children well, for in Heaven, their angels are always in the presence of God.
— Churches have their own angels. So some angels protect individuals, other angels protect groups. The book of Revelation tells us that there is an angel for each of the Asia Minor churches. It’s comforting to know we have a Second Baptist angel. I thought about calling the switchboard and asking to speak to him, but he’s probably really busy and I thought it better not to interrupt him.
— Some angels look like people. In Acts 12:5-17, an angel of the Lord leads Peter out of prison, his guardian angel perhaps. When he arrives at Mary’s house, they mistake Peter for an angel. In Hebrew 13:2, we are told to entertain strangers because sometimes we are entertaining angels and we don’t even know it.
— Sometimes they don’t look like people. In Daniel 10:5-6, the angel had arms and legs that resembled polished metal and precious stones and a face like lightning. In Ezekiel 10, the cherubim, a type of angel, had eyes all over their bodies, including their hands, back, and wings, and each had four faces: an ox, a human face, a lion, and an eagle.
— Angels can be terrifying. In Luke 2:9 when the angel appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Christ, they were terrified. In fact, when an angel appears, his first words are usually, “Fear not.” In Matthew 28:2-4, the angel that rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb resembled lightning with clothes as white as snow., and the guards that saw him were so afraid they shook and became like dead men.
— There are different types of angels. The most powerful is the archangel. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the rapture begins when the Lord Himself comes down out of heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. I don’t know how many archangels there are; the bible only mentions Michael the archangel by name. The only other angel mentioned by name is Gabriel, so he may be an archangel. The book of Revelation describes 7 angels with 7 trumpets who stand before God, and these are probably archangels. And although the bible doesn’t specifically say so, most scholars believe that Lucifer was an archangel that turned to the dark side.
— There are seraphim angels, guardians of God’s court, according to the vision Isaiah had in Isaiah 6:1-2. These angels each had 6 wings, 2 to cover their faces, 2 to cover their feet, and with 2 they were flying.
— A cherubim angel in Genesis 3:24 stands at the east side of the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword guarding the way to the Tree of Life. Those cute little pictures of children with wings and cute chubby faces are probably not accurate pictures of cherubim, unless the children get flaming swords to play with.
— Angels sometimes have wings, like the vision Isaiah had. In Daniel 9:21, the angel Gabriel came to Daniel in swift flight. Other angels most definitely did not have wings, like in Genesis 28:12 where Jacob sees angels climbing a stairway from the earth to heaven.

So let’s look back at Hebrews – you forgot we were studying Hebrews, didn’t you? – and pick up where we left off. In Hebrews 1:5 –

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Why compare Jesus to angels? How important are angels and why is it important to understand that Jesus is not an angel? The Old Testament tells us that angels are the most powerful and wondrous creatures in heaven except for God. These angels are continually in God’s presence. But angels are God’s servants, called to specific duties by God for specific purposes, and they see and hear God’s commands directly. We don’t hear God’s commands the same way; we are called to walk by faith. And we do not become angels after death; angels are a completely separate creation by God for His purpose. We will have access to God’s presence like the archangels do, but we don’t become angels.

We are not to worship angels; in fact, in Colossians 2:18, we are warned not to be tricked into worshipping angels. The angels themselves specifically tell us not to worship them; in Revelations 22:8-9, John falls down at the feet of the angel that was showing John the revelation, and the angel goes, Woah! Not one of the three woes in Revelation, but a woah! The angel said, “Do not worship me! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” As awesome as angels are, angels are God’s servants, and angels serve Christians. Christians in turn serve Jesus.

Hebrews 1:14 reminds us that angels are ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. A lot of people believe that they have a guardian angel just sitting around waiting to jump in and help, but this verse makes it clear that angels help those who will inherit salvation. Jesus is superior to any other heavenly spirit, the angels minister to Him. Jesus is greater than angels.

Why is it important to know who Jesus is, what Jesus’ role in the heavens is, and why Jesus is so great? Because if we don’t realize how great Jesus is, greater than anything we could possibly know, something else might look better. Something like –

— Money – our love of our job and the stuff we can buy with it.
— Power – the thrill we get if we can push somebody around.
— Popularity – self-idolation, exalting ourselves to be somebody.
— Fun – partying, playing, vegging out in front of the tube.
— Even love of our spouse or our family. We are in danger of letting something else replace Jesus as most important if we don’t remind ourselves our important Jesus really is.

So why is this important? What does it mean to me?

Throughout the Old Testament, God was constantly telling Israel to wake up and pay attention. God leads them out of Egypt, away from Pharaoh, parts the Red Sea, provides manna in the desert, and Israel is like, yeah, but what have you done for me lately? The Old Testament is a history lesson of God’s patience with Israel while God was telling Israel over and over again to listen and obey. God is telling us the same thing today. Wake up. Listen. Obey. Pay attention to what? Let’s look at Hebrews 2:1-4:

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

We are warned that as Christians we should be careful not to drift away from God. The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We don’t actually drift away; it drifts away from us. It’s like we’re sitting on a river bank, and floating in the water is a message in a bottle containing God’s salvation. We watch the bottle bobbing up and down, we’re focused on it. We’re not going to let salvation pass us by. We’re going to… ooh, look, a bird. Birds are pretty. It’s getting late in the season, shouldn’t that bird be heading south for the winter? Perhaps this type of bird… hey, where did the bottle go?

What’s in this bottle? What is it’s message? Salvation, the Word of God. Instructions on how to have a personal relationship with the almighty Jesus Christ – and he’s almighty, we just studied that, pay attention. Instructions on how we are to love one another and how that love glorifies our Lord.

If we drift away, we’re told exactly what we’re missing.

Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook, it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.

Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Can you see how our puny efforts at living a righteous life cannot obtain salvation? God cannot allow anything but perfection into Heaven, and we are not perfect. We’re not even close. When I taught the 3rd graders, I used the example of a chocolate milkshake. A perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, the soda hop tosses in a cockroach. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven. But the blood of Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.

Verse 3, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? The salvation is offered to us, but not forced upon us. We’re free to choose or ignore this gift. It is an inescapable truth to the saved.

Also verse 3, This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord. God didn’t make this word subtle. He became flesh and come and told us of this plan of salvation with his own human lips. Spoken by the Lord Himself.

Verse 4, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. The Lord’s message was confirmed by the apostles who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles. Authenticated at the time with miracles to make sure we knew it was the Lord speaking. And gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. This gift of salvation is continually given to us by the Holy Spirit.

What could possibly go wrong?

We can drift away. A few weeks ago I passed along some advice not to be a Polish hotel. Perhaps we can’t remember why we’re not supposed to be a Polish hotel, but being told not to be a Polish hotel sure sounds familiar. This week I want to talk about not being a French airport. I was finishing my business trip to Europe and Diane was accompanying me. I’d spend the day in a conference room, Diane would spend the day touring Paris, and at night she’d show me the pictures so I’d know what a great time I had. Every day or two, though, we’d pack everything up and move again. After 19 days of living out of a suitcase, we were sort of tired of all the moving around, especially when we’d return to a hotel that we’d already been to before but now we had a different room. This looks familiar, maybe we’re on the 5th floor. Was it the hallway to the left or right? We were ready to come home.

We get to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, wait in line for an hour among all the pushy shoving people, check in our luggage, wait in line through passport control, then another line for security where we took off our shoes and our belts and soon we’ll be taking off our pants, no doubt. With 20 minutes to go before boarding, we make it to the business class lounge. Ahhh.

The flight information board tells us the status of all the flights. Some are “now boarding,” some are “expected on time,” some are “delayed.” We plop down in some comfortable chairs where we can watch the monitors, and after 20 minutes we hear an announcement that our flight to Houston has been delayed for at least 20 minutes. We grab a newspaper – I don’t know what it said, it was in French – and a cappuccino, and chill. And wait.

After 20 minutes, I ask a flight attendant, are they boarding? No sir, not yet, we’ll make an announcement.

After another 20 minutes, I ask again. Are they boarding? No sir, it shouldn’t be too much longer.

After another 20 minutes, I hear an announcement. “Last call for Mr. and Mrs. Meyer.” Yup, they’d been boarding our flight for 40 minutes, and we were the last ones. The flight information board never changed, and it still says “expected on time.” Not only that, we were in the lounge at the far end of the terminal, and our gate was at the other end, so we had a hike to get there. We almost missed our flight, just sitting there, casually enjoying a cappuccino. Our flight almost left without us. It almost drifted away from us.

How could we possibly let salvation drift away from us? It’s such a great gift, how could we let it get away?

We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin, we can simply neglect our spiritual faith.

Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant – by the way, lunch today is at Café Express. You can destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance. I know a set of parents from my office who don’t want to teach their children to be Christian. Sure, they’ll teach them about Jesus, but they’ll teach them other stuff, too, and let their children decide on their own. Listen, if parents don’t teach their children, the world will teach them worldly values. They’ll get their morals from Desperate Housewives reruns. If you don’t want your children to grow up to be adulterers, swindlers, thieves, embezzlers, crooks, then you’d better teach them right from wrong. Don’t neglect them.

Who here thinks their marriage will thrive or even survive if you neglect your spouse? Forget your spouse’s birthday or your anniversary, forget to call if you’re coming home late, forget you’re married when you meet somebody handsome. Your marriage will not survive on neglect, it requires a living, active presence, paying attention to your spouse’s needs.

You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.

And why does it matter? Let me tell you a story about a man, let’s call him Henry. Henry never intended to die in a sinful state. He just never got around to taking care of spiritual things like he did physical things. He was always busy with work or busy with family or busy fixing up that car. It’s not that Henry didn’t believe in God, of course he did. He learned in Sunday school growing up all about God. He believed in Jesus, and when Easter and Christmas came around, he was moved by the stories of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection just like everybody else. Henry just never made the effort to accept Jesus personally and to accept the sacrifice that Jesus provided.

Henry went to church now and then, attended almost every midnight Christmas Eve service. And when things got rough in his life, Henry spent extra weekends at church. And Henry even went to a Christian concert and was so moved he almost accepted the invitation to give his life to Jesus, but he was with some buddies and he thought it looked awkward. Now is just not a good time. Larry heard God calling, he just never quite accepted the call. Larry was a very moral person, but somehow he felt that giving everything to Jesus was just too steep, Larry had his pleasures and he was afraid Jesus would take them away.

And then one day, Larry was dead. And he stood alone before the throne of God, and God said, “Away from me, I never knew you.”

And Larry protested. “But Lord, I always believed you existed. I tried to be as good as I could, and I helped people often, and I tried not to hurt people. I’m faithful to my wife, and I never cheat on my taxes. I know a lot of bible verses. Lord, I want to be with you.”

And the Lord said, “I . . . never . . . knew . . . you.”

God wants us to come home with Him. God wants us closer to him. God wants us to choose Him. How do we do that? Seek. Seem Him actively. Seek and ye shall find Him. We can’t just sit and wait, we have to seek, or salvation will just drift away from us.

As a final though this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the great prophet Simon and Garfunkle.

God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.

May God bless each and every one of you this week.