For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)
As they were going up to Jerusalem for Jesus' triumphal entry into the city, Jesus began explaining to His disciples (though they did not initially comprehend) things pertaining to His death and resurrection (see Matthew 20:17-19). Afterward, the mother of the two disciples James and John came to Jesus and requested that her sons be granted high positions in Jesus' kingdom, one on His right hand and the other at His left (20:20-21). Because of this request, and the discussion which followed (20:22-23), the "other ten [disciples] became indignant with the two brothers" (20:24). With tenderness and wisdom, Jesus gathered His disciples to Himself and made clear some of the fundamental principles of His kingdom:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to become first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (20:25-28)
Not too long after this event, in the same night and in the same room that Jesus would gird Himself as a servant and wash His disciple's feet (see John 13), and during the meal we commonly refer to as the Last Supper, "there arose [another!] dispute among [the disciples] as to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest" (Luke 22:24). Again, Jesus gently instructed them in the ways of His kingdom: "the one who is greatest must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant" (22:26).
Though eventually the disciples did (by God's grace) understand Jesus' teaching, I would, with these events in mind, like to propose a relevant question that relates to the exhortation we find in the first verse of chapter 2 in Hebrews: Why were the disciples so hard to hear the words that Jesus spoke the first time? And, turning the attention to ourselves, why are we so obstinant, failing to give heed to what we have heard from and through Jesus?
The tendency that was initially in the disciples then and is often found in us now is one which the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews warns us to guard against. After expounding upon the glorious nature of Jesus Christ, we read, "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it" (Hebrews 2:1). The motive we have (or should have) to "pay much closer attention" derives from the very Person and work of Jesus, who is the divine Son, Creator, Sustainer, Savior, High Priest, and King. In light of the Christ, who He is and what He did (which we have seen from His attributes and work), it is not surprising that God would speak through Him. Christ's nature is at the root of why He is the final authoritative means by which God has spoken to humanity (see Hebrews 1:1-2).
In accordance with this, we find that twice in the Gospels (at Jesus' baptism and at His transfiguration) God definitively testified to the authority of Christ, saying unambiguously and emphatically, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased," and, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (Matthew 3:17; Luke 9:35). Moreover, Jesus spoke to His disciples before His death regarding the great import of both listening to His words as well as the nature of the words themselves, saying, "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word that you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:24; see also John 8:38). So, the question still stands for us: If God has spoken, why don't we listen and obey?
The answers to this are manifold, but the ultimate consequence of this action for Christians is the same: we begin to drift (Hebrews 2:1). This drifting is so dangerous to our spirituality and vitality because it takes us away from the sole Source of life and salvation. Furthermore, this all too common phenomenon is much more subtle than, for example, outright denial or idolatry, and, therefore, can be difficult to recognize, especially as we stray farther and farther from what we have heard. Yet the remedy is simple, by God's grace and strength, and because of His indwelling Spirit, we must "pay much closer attention to what we have heard." Instead of drifting, God will hold us in His bosom, gently instructing us as Jesus did His disciples.
One basic way in which we are able to begin to listen to God is by exposure to what He has said in the Holy Scriptures, speaking through the prophets, who point to Christ, as well as ultimately through Christ Himself (who is the perfect revelation of the Father; see John 1:18; 14:9). What we "have heard," then essentially comes directly from the mouth of Christ, the eternal Word, who during the "days of His flesh" (Hebrews 5:7) declared:
For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. (John 18:37)
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
Considering these quotations in conjunction, we see that there are (at least) two significant aspects to the intentional act of "giv[ing]...earnest heed" (Hebrews 2:1, KJV) to what Jesus says: 1) hearing, and 2) obeying. In a sense, it is not enough to "hear" God's words (though indeed "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" [Romans 10:17, NASB]); even when Jesus lived on this earth, many "heard" the divine words that He spoke without ever obeying what He taught. That which the words convey necessarily dictates a response on our part (and, in this case, to not respond is a response in itself). By "paying much closer attention to what we have heard," God transforms and renews our minds as we, by His ability, obey Him and submit our lives to Him (see Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 2:13).
As we seek to obey God by "paying much closer attention" to what He has spoken, perhaps we need to admit to God our need of Him in this aspect of our lives. I encourage you to read the following prayer and, if you agree with what it states, sincerely offer it to God, who is always ready and willing to lend an ear to His children:
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
I confess to You that I am at times unfaithful
in giving earnest heed to what You have spoken,
though I have truly heard from You;
Affect my being by transforming me from within
by Your Holy Spirit whom You have sent,
so that I can by obedience to Your Word worship You,
giving heed to what you have spoken through Your Son;
As Your Holy Scripture says, may You work in me
both to will and to do Your good pleasure,
so that I may glorify You
in the life that You have given and bought
by the precious blood of our Eternal High Priest. Amen.
We may be, like Martha, doing many things in our lives, but what are we really accomplishing if we are not obeying Christ? May God give us the heart of her sister Mary, who sat "at the Lord's feet, listening to His word" (Luke 10:39). This is the "one thing [that] is necessary;" this is the "good part" that, if we choose it, will "not be taken away" from us (10:42).
Photo by Michael "Mike" L. Baird, flickr.bairdphotos.com.