Do you remember hearing from your parents or a teacher that you need to “pay attention”? Did your parents ever ask you, “are you listening to me?” In my house right now, we are regularly working on our listening ears with my four- and five-year-old boys. We have a little saying and accompanying hand motion and sound effects whenever Kellie or I feel like we are talking to a wall. We say, “turn on your listening ears.” Then my boys pretend to turn on the imaginary switch to their ears and magically what I’ve repeated over and over is finally heard and sinks into their minds.
The unknown author of Hebrews starts chapter 2 by warning the Jewish Christians to turn on their listening ears. He starts in verse 1, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” This is the first of five warnings given in Hebrews not to abandon their faith in Jesus despite persecution.
The context of this first warning comes as a continuation of what we read in chapter 1: that Jesus is superior to angels. Angels were servants of God that delivered messages to “those who will inherit salvation.” It’s this salvation found in Jesus that the Jewish Christians are being challenged to hold as the truth. In verse 3, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.” We get a clue here that the author of Hebrews had a direct relationship with the disciples who have passed on their first-hand eyewitness accounts of Jesus. He continues in verse 4, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
This warning, paired with the theological argument that Jesus is superior to angels, may not make a lot of sense in our western American context today. I always have to reset my mind to read this letter through the lense of a first century Jewish Christian, who is wrestling with their religious teachings they’ve heard since birth and the life of the resurrected Jesus the Messiah. They see everything through the law and the covenant they made with God.
Jewish Christians knew well the stories of the Old Testament. Angels were put on a pedestal, and why wouldn’t they be? The Old Testament stories that are woven in the Jewish tradition are filled with God speaking to their forefathers through heavenly messengers. We see angels appear and speak to Hagar, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Balaam, Gideon, Samson’s parents, Elijah, Daniel and his friends. And when they speak, mighty things happen. In Judges 2 we even see an angel speak to the entire nation of Israel and brings the whole nation to tears. Angels led the Israelites through the desert and protected them in battles. And most importantly, in Jewish culture, the Torah and the words of God were delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai by an angel. These stories are part of the DNA of Jewish Christians.
By claiming that Jesus is superior to angels, the author is claiming that His message of Good News is superior to all other messengers of God’s word. This warning to pay attention and not drift away is a call for the Jewish Christians to open their eyes and ears to the life and resurrection of Jesus. The facts are being laid out once again for them that Jesus is God. The author provides further proof by regularly using the Old Testament scriptures that were prophesying the divinity of Christ. The author is trying to connect the dots for them. It is a warning to tear down their religious traditions they were so beholden to and follow Jesus, the leader of a better and newer covenant. His words supersede all other messages that have come from angels and deserve full attention. Jesus is superior to all things in the Jewish faith.
We see over and over again in the four gospels and in Acts the resistance the Jews had to Christ. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians that the “Jews demand[ed] miraculous signs” and that was a “stumbling block to Jews.” They were always looking for more proof to the claims of Christ. They weren’t paying careful attention to both the testimony they heard, nor the signs already given.
The author is really challenging the Jews to answer the question, “who is Jesus?”
In Matthew 16:13-16, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
We are left with that same question today. Who do you say Jesus is? Is He the Lord of your life? Are you listening to Him? Are you paying careful attention to what you’ve heard about King Jesus? Is Jesus superior to all things in your life?
Hebrews 2 is a reminder that we have been saved by King Jesus. The irony is that despite His superiority to all things, He gave up his high status to become human, to suffer, and to die. He is “crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” He has made us part of his family. He is worthy of our trust and devotion. Our response is to fix our eyes on Jesus, follow Him, and turn our listening ears on.