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 declared at first by the Lord, and 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.
The signs are always there. Usually there are even red flags sticking out of the top. When the drowning victim is found, it's clear that he must have walked right past. Surely he must have seen the signs with the red flags and the big letters. "DANGER! RIPTIDES! SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK."
Riptides are those nearly invisible, sinister currents that flow away from the seashore. They are too forceful to swim against, to outrun, or to dive under. The victims become exhausted, trapped in the current, and silently sink below the waves. They drift into open water, only to wash ashore later somewhere along the beach. Tens of thousands of vacationers are rescued every year, but more than one hundred aren't. And then come the questions, muttered through the anguish of tears and turmoil. "Why did he go in there? Why did he try it?"
The sermon that we know as The Book of Hebrews warns us about the dangers of drifting away to our spiritual death. The preacher makes clear that there are signs and witnesses and warnings that we must heed. And we must pay even closer attention if we find ourselves pulled away by things we barely see.
The riptide of culture sometimes drowns even those who have known the fellowship of the church. Paul tells Timothy , "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica." (2 Timothy 4:10a) For us, the cultural undertow pulling against the things of Christ often endangers us before we realize how far we have drifted.
The riptide of acceptance can exhaust our efforts to be on guard. We long to swim with everyone else, to be known as part of the crowd, or to be the leader of the crowd. We reason, "These people are so nice, so well respected, I'll paddle about with them for a bit." And then you find yourself adrift, far from your spiritual moorings.
The riptide of wealth is perhaps the most dangerous of all. Jesus explicitly warned of it. "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) And Paul had stern warnings as well, like signs with red flags, "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
So in the whelming flood, what can be done? What must we do? We must cry out to the Lord. It is the promise of Scripture that he can hear our cries above the crash of the waves. He can reach us in the surf, and in his embrace we rest and are carried to safety. He can rescue us. He can save. And it's always true that those who really understand how they were rescued, how they were pulled from certain doom, are always more careful, always more alert near the dangers of the sea.