Lest We Drift Away: A Sermon for Good Friday

Almost everyone has flown on a plane before. So you’ve all sat through those opening instructions from the flight attendants about what to do in the event of an emergency. They say the same thing on every flight, every day, on every airline. And every day, on every flight, on every airline, almost no one pays attention to the message. I’ve flown several times in the past couple months and I can’t recall seeing anyone looking at the flight attendants or giving one second of thought to what they were talking about. No one pays attention to these instructions.

Why? For a few reasons I think. For starters, the flight attendants look bored out of their skulls. There is nothing in their demeanor to suggest they are very interested in what is coming over the loud speakers. The way they drop the little seat belt down and pull on the strings for the oxygen mask don’t exactly scream passion and interest.

Second, almost everyone on the plane has been on a place before. They’ve heard about the seat cushion as a floatation device and putting on your mask before assisting others. They know they should follow posted placards and that the nearest exit may behind you. Nothing new is ever said. The flight attendants never say, “Your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device, an oxygen mask will drop in front of you, and on this flight only your headrest turns into a parachute and the back of your seat becomes a rocket!” There’s nothing new, nothing exciting, so we don’t pay attention.

Mostly, we don’t pay attention because we don’t think it matters. We don’t really anticipate the plane crashing. And in the unlikely event that the plane does go down, we figure someone will tell us what to do. If not, we reckon we’ll be able to figure it out on our own.

It seems to me this whole experience of listening to flight attendants is eerily similar to church for many of us.

1. We have someone preaching to us who is pretty bored with the whole thing.

2. We’ve been to church and figure we’ve heard all the same stuff before. So why listen?

3. We don’t think we’ll really need to use anything we hear in church. And if we do, we’ll figure it out before the end comes.

So we don’t pay attention. We hear the gospel a hundred times and we don’t think anything of it. We celebrate dozens of Good Fridays and it never makes a difference. Jesus, cross, death, resurrection–it’s all just noise in the background of our lives as we try to get our seats to recline and open the tiny bag of peanuts. No one is listening.

But listen to Hebrews 2:1-4.

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 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.

This is one of five warning passages in Hebrews. These five passages are not teaching that genuine Christians can lose their salvation. What they are teaching is that some people with an external connection to Christianity will not in the end by saved. And further, these passages suggest that those who are saved at the end, will be saved by means of these warning. These passages are danger signs that keep the elect persevering to the end.

“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard”–that’s the warning. Sit up straight. Put your feet on the floor. Shut your yap. And listen up. “Pay attention church people! You are in danger of drifting away.” Hebrews 6:19 says the promise of God is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” So we’ve got warnings to the drifters and promises to those who are anchored.

Floating Away

There are a lot of ways to lose your spot on the river of faith. One way is to let yourself move away to another location. The waters get choppy and rough, so you take your boat somewhere else. That happens with the gospel. We ditch Christianity because life gets hard. We drift away because of suffering. Hebrews 10 says “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometime being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes partners with those so treated.” And then verse 35 says, “Do not throw away your confidence.” In other words, “You used to be so firm in your faith. But then you got cancer, or someone didn’t like you because you believed the Bible, or you started having troubles with your kids. Something hard came into your life and it made you question your faith. You started to wonder if there was any point in being a Christian. Was it worth the cost?” you thought to yourself. So you compromised. You gave in. You pulled up anchor and let your boat float away.”

Or sometimes we look for another spot on the river because it seems it more enjoyable. When you first got interested in Christianity it was new and exciting. It gave purpose and order to your life. You liked the fellowship and the people. But then you found out how you were supposed to change. You learned that God, because he loves you, didn’t want you to have be a sexaholic, a workaholic, an alcoholic. You realized that following Jesus meant you couldn’t live any which you pleased. You belonged to God, and the God of the Bible is not an anything goes kind of God. So, unlike Moses, you decided to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25). You decided to drop your anchor in a sexier port. As a result, even though you call yourself a Christian and you may go to a church once in awhile, you are not in the place you once were. Not by a long shot. You’ve drifted away.

But there’s an even easier way to leave the faith. You don’t have to pick up and move somewhere else because of suffering or the allure of sin. You can just drift. If you row your little boat out in the Mississippi River and take a nap for two hours, when you wake up you will not be in the same place. Without an anchor, you will have floated away with the current. That’s what happens in life. Hebrews 6:11 says “We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish…”

Most church people drift away from God not because they meant to, but because they got busy, they got lazy, they got distracted, they had kids, they got a mortgage, a few illnesses came, then some bills, then the in-laws visited for a week, then the mini-van broke down, and before you knew what was happening the seed of the word of God had been choked out by the worries of life.

That’s the way it happens for many people. They never dropped anchor, and so they simply floated away when the currents got strong. They used to pray. They used to be interested in the Bible. They used to talk to God. They used go to church. They never woke up and decided “Today I’m going to stop being a Christian. They just drifted. That’s why Hebrews 10:24 says “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Some of the Hebrews had checked out, stopped going to church, just floated away from the whole thing.

Listen Up

So what can we do to stop from drifting? Verse one tells us. “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard.” We must keep a close eye on the gospel.

First, we must notice that it is a reliable message. Both of those words are important, reliable and message. The gospel is not the same as asking Jesus into your heart. The gospel is not a program for becoming a better you. The gospel is not a series of ethical commands. The gospel is not an experience of generic spirituality. The gospel is the good news that God so loved the world that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to fulfill the law, to suffer as a man, and to die on the cross, bearing the penalty for sin the we deserved, and being raised on the third day that we might be declared innocent and righteous before God. The gospel is a message.

And it is reliable. Eyewitnesses saw it and passed it on to others who in turn told others. The story of the gospel took place out in the open for all to see. This was no secret, mystery religion. These things did not happen in a cave somewhere. The miracles of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit testified publicly that Jesus was not just another Rabbi or another prophet or another teacher, but he was, in fact, the Christ, the Son of the living God.

We must pay attention to this reliable message, lest we mistake false gospels for the real gospel, and end up believing in the Jesus of good causes, or the Jesus of good coffee, or the Jesus of good examples, or life coach Jesus, or greeting card Jesus, or prosperity Jesus, or positive thinking Jesus, instead of Jesus Christ crucified, dead, and buried for the sin of the world.

The other think we should notice is that this reliable message is the message about a great salvation. I think many church people drift from God because he seems so ordinary. They float away from the gospel because it strikes them as dreadfully boring. They give up on the Christian faith because, like the flight attendant instructions, it seems lifeless, passionless, inconsequential. But Hebrews tells us we have a great salvation.

It’s a great salvation because it saves us from a great wrath. The argument in verse 2 is from the lesser to the greater. If the message declared by angels, if the law of Moses given by angelic intermediaries proved to be reliable and disobedience to that law meant punishment, how much more will we face God’s wrath if we reject a greater message about someone greater than Moses declared to us by one greater than angels? Parents don’t let their kids get away with disobedience, your employer doesn’t turn a blind eye when you break company policy, the government will not let you go free when you break their laws, so why should we expect God to let us escape untouched if we neglect such a great salvation.

Jesus is Greater

We must pay closer attention to this message. The Devil doesn’t want you to see the details. He wants you to believe that God is the one Being in the universe who doesn’t care about justice. But it is not so. We will not escape if we neglect this message. But praise God there is deliverance from great wrath in this gospel message. And just as importantly, there is in this message of great salvation a great Savior.

The whole book of Hebrews is an extended argument for the superiority of Jesus Christ.

The prophets revealed God to the people, but Jesus Christ was the revelation of God himself.

The angels were sent from God to be his ministering servants, but Jesus Christ was loved by God as his only begotten Son.

The old covenant taught Israel the way to God, the truth of the law, and the life of holiness, but Jesus Christ instituted a new covenant in his blood that he himself might be the way, the truth, and the life for us.

The tabernacle made with human hands symbolized God’s presence among his people, but Jesus Christ, uncreated, made without human hands, was God among his people.

The kingdom in ages past shook the mountain at Sinai, but Jesus Christ promises a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

The High Priest from Aaron’s line offered sacrifices for himself year and year, day after day, but Jesus Christ, our sinless High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, has made a sacrifice once for all, never to be repeated.

The blood of bulls and goats was shed morning and evening, century after century, for the remission of sins, but Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, shed his own blood for the sins of the world, thus securing an eternal redemption.

Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, but Jesus Christ has been faithful over God’s house as a son.

Joshua led the people into the promised land, but Jesus Christ alone can give you Sabbath rest.

Abraham was a great man of faith, but Jesus Christ is the guarantor of all that Abraham had faith in.

All these saints and all these things were pointing the way to Jesus Christ, our great Prophet, Priest, and King, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).

We must pay much closer attention to the gospel, to Jesus, and to the cross, lest by an imperceptible current we drift away. Heaven never tires of the cross, and neither should we. The saints in glory never grow weary of the singing the old, old story: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Do not let Good Friday pass you by like a set of airline instructions. Fix your eyes on the cross. Not as the place to show us our worth, but to show us the weight of our sin. Not as the pace where Jesus simply felt our pain, but where he bore our penalty. Not as the place where God overturned divine justice, but where God in mercy fulfilled his justice. Not as the place where love died, but where love reigned supreme. Pay careful attention to the cross. Here we see a great salvation, delivering us from a great wrath, revealing to us a great Savior who was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, that by his stripes we might be healed.