The Unanswerable Question

The Unanswerable Question

September 12th, 1982 @ 7:30 PM

Hebrews 2:3

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
Related Topics: Apathy, Neglect, Salvation, Sin, 1982, Hebrews
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Apathy, Neglect, Salvation, Sin, 1982, Hebrews

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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Hebrews 2:3

9-12-82    7:30 p.m.


And God bless the great throngs of you who are sharing this hour with us on the two radio stations that bear it; on KCBI, the Sonshine station of our Center of Biblical Studies, and on the great voice of the Southwest, KRLD.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Unanswerable Question.

And we are going to read it together in Hebrews chapter 2, the first four verses, and in that third verse, you will read The Unanswerable Question.  Hebrews—toward the end of your New Testament—Hebrews chapter 2, verses 1 through 4.  Do we all have it?  And on radio we invite you to open your Bible and read it out loud with us: Hebrews 2:1-4.

Now together:

Therefore we ought to give the most earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward;

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by the them that heard Him;

God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?

[Hebrews 2:1-4]

Now the unanswerable question: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].

About three weeks ago or so, I saw a headline in The London Times, and it intrigued me.  It was “Questions I Cannot Answer.”  It was the reply of a government official to some of the things that concerned England and the British people, but that headline intrigued me: “Questions I Cannot Answer.”

The Bible is largely a book of questions.  It sort of starts off like that: Adam heard the voice of Jehovah God as He walked in the garden in the cool of the day, after Adam and Eve had hid themselves in the garden;  and they heard the voice of the Lord asking: “Adam, where art thou?  Adam, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:8-9].  Sort of a question God has been asking the Adamic race ever since.

The question of Cain, when God asked him about the blood of his brother that cried unto heaven from the ground, and Cain replied: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9-10].  The question of Moses, as he stood in the midst of the camp: “Who is on the Lord’s side?  Let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26].  The question of Job: “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14].

The New Testament is largely a book of questions.  Our Lord asked, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” [Mark 8:36].  The traumatic question of Pontius Pilate: “What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?” [Matthew 27:22].  The question of the Philippian jailer: “What must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30].  And the question of Revelation 6:17 that closes that dramatic judgment of God upon the earth, Revelation 6:17: “For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”

But out of all the questions in the Bible, the one unanswerable is this question asked in the third verse of the second chapter of the letter to the Hebrews: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].  We could ask the angels in heaven: “Do you know the answer?”  We could ask the cherubim and the seraphim: “Do you know the answer?”  We could ask the sages of all time; we could ask the apostles and the prophets: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].

We shall speak first of that question as it is addressed in the context of the letter.  The letter concerns a church.  It was a church about to apostatize; it was a group of people about to forsake the Lord.  So if I speak of the question in its true context, it is directed to us and to the fellow members of our church.  “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation” [Hebrews 2:3], if we let it decay, useless in our hands?

That word, neglect—”How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3]—the word that the author of Hebrews uses there is ameleō.  In Greek, “a,” and you remember this: “a” is a privative; it’s a negative; it’s a denial, such as you have the word for God, “theos,” then you put an “a,” an alpha privative, in front of it: “atheos.”  That would be somebody who doesn’t believe in God; he’s an atheist.

The word for “know” is gno, g-n-o, gno.  Put an “a” in front of it, “agnostic”: that’s a man who doesn’t know.  The word for “to care,” “to be concerned about,” is meli, and when you put an alpha privative in front of it, it becomes ameleō: “don’t care, am not concerned.”  And that is the word so poignantly that the author of Hebrews uses here: How shall we escape, if we do not care, if we are not concerned, if it matters nothing to us? [Hebrews 2:3].

I don’t think I ever had a sadder moment in my life than one time going to the hospital to pray and to thank God for the birth of a little baby.  And in the room, in the maternity room, in the hospital room, there were two young mothers: this one—with whom I was praying, who belonged to our dear church—thanking God for the beautiful birth and arrival of a precious baby.  As I visited with her for just a moment and then knelt down to pray, the young mother who was on the other side, she began to cry and finally just to sob.  Well, when I went out, I went to the nurses’ station, and I said to the sweet nurse, “Do you know that mother on this side of the room?”  And I said, “When I prayed with the mother on the other side, she began to cry, and that tediously.”  I said, “Is there some reason why?”

And she replied, “Yes, I am sorry to tell you.  The husband, the young husband of that mother has not been to see her.  He hasn’t seen the baby, nor has he come to visit her, and it has broken her heart, and that’s why she sobs.”

I went back into the room and knelt down by the side of that brokenhearted young mother and prayed the best that I could.  But what do you say and how do you pray before such infinite unconcern?  Ameleō, “it is no care of mine,” no concern of mine.  How shall we escape, if we ameleō; if this great salvation is of no concern of mine? [Hebrews 2:3].  We let it decay, atrophy, in our hands and in the life of our dear church.

As I began to think of this text and turn it over in my heart, it is not quite like this, but it is almost: maybe our severest and most judgmental sins are those of omission rather than commission; not that we are out here terrorizing a community, murdering people, robbing banks, doing violence to the social life of the people, but maybe our greatest sin before God is what we don’t do: prayers we don’t pray, tears we don’t shed, burdens we don’t have, visits that we don’t make, testimonies that we don’t offer; ameleo, “just don’t care; it’s no concern of ours.”

As I began to think about that in the Bible, I remembered the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, which is a part of that apocalyptic discourse of our Lord that begins in chapter 24 [Matthew 24:1-51].  And in that part of His great address concerning the day of the consummation, the end of the world, our Lord speaks of the parable of the talents [Matthew 25:14-30]—and He commended those that did well.  They took what God gave them and they brought an increase before the Lord, and the Lord commended them [Matthew 25:14-23].  But the man who had one talent, standing before the great Judge of all the earth, he said to the Lord, “I took the talent You gave me and I buried it” [Matthew 25:24-25].  And the Lord severely judged him, and reprimanded him, and cast him out of the kingdom [Matthew 25:26-30].  Why?  Because he had done an evil thing by commission?  No.  Because he had done a worse thing by omission—not do anything!

In that same twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, in that same apocalyptic discourse, our Lord tells of the great judgment of the nations, when all the Gentiles are gathered before Him [Matthew 25:32-33].  And He says to these on the left side, He says to them, “I was hungered and you did not feed Me, and I was sick and you did not visit Me, and I was lost and you never sought Me.”  And they shall say unto Him, “Lord, when did  we ever see Thee hungry, or sick, or lost, and did not minister to You?”  And remember what the Lord said? “Inasmuch as you did it not unto one of the least of these My brethren, you did not do it unto Me” [Matthew 25:41-46].

Isn’t that a remarkable thing?  In that one discourse, in that one chapter, how the judgment of God falls upon those who have done nothing, an omission, an ameleō, “just don’t care” [Matthew 25:41-46].

When I read the Book of the Revelation, it is the seventh church of Asia, it is Laodicea that comes under the severest judgment of our Lord.  Why?  Because Laodicea was at ease in Zion—they never did anything.  They were neither hot; they were neither cold; they were neither concerned; they were neither burdened; they were neither anything.  They didn’t do anything—Laodicea! [Revelation 3:14-17].

It’s a strange thing how that judgment of God falls upon a people anywhere; not just in the pages of the Bible and not just spiritual matters, but the judgment of God upon nations and upon people who ameleō—who don’t care.

Are you old enough to remember when Chicago was the crime capital of the whole earth?  More murders there—gang warfare.  It was a common household recognition: “Chicago, the crime center of the whole earth.”  Well, when I was in school, I read in my study in sociology of some men, sociologists, who had gone to Chicago to study why the city, year after year, was paying more money out for crime than the whole city government costs—billions of dollars every year in crime.

And the sociologists studied it, and in my textbook in sociology, this is what I read: the sociologists studying those people in Chicago found that there was a great influx of Eastern Europeans into the city, especially Polish people.  And out of those communities—ghettos they were called—out of those communities came those endless streams of criminals.  They studied the families of those criminals and went back to Eastern Europe where they came from.  There, the sociologists said, they found that those families were godly people, church people, upstanding people, righteous people, good people.  But when they came to Chicago with their strange garb and strange language and strange habits, they congregated by themselves in those ghettos.  And the sociologists said they became criminals because nobody cared about them, and nobody helped them, and nobody was concerned with them.

That isn’t something that I read out of the Bible.  I read that in a sociology book.  Maybe—I’m saying maybe—our greatest sins are not these that we commit.  Maybe our greatest sins are in that category of ameleō: “I just don’t care.  It is no concern to me.”  “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].  Addressed to the church, to the people of God, to us who know the Lord!

Now I do not do violence to the text if I read it and address it to the lost.  “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”  When God has done all that even God can do to save us from the penalty and judgment of our sins, and we pass it by—”no concern of us”; we spurn it and disregard it—how shall we escape the judgment of Almighty God, if we ameleo God’s gracious love and mercy extended to us in our Lord Jesus?  To the lost: “How shall I escape, if I neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].

Were you aware of some of the headlines in the paper last week, some of the articles that were in our daily newspapers?  It concerned Galveston.  Do you remember that?  Eighty-two years ago, in 1900, the greatest, most devastating hurricane known on record in history hit the city of Galveston, and most of the people were drowned.  It was a disaster at the turn of the century that, to this very day, after eighty-two years, brings back memories of infinite sadness to Texas, to America, to the world!

Did you read also—as I have read many times—did you read also that the United States Weather Bureau, the government, sent warning after warning after warning to Galveston, telling them that great killer hurricane was on the way and for them to escape for their lives?  “Get out!  Move to higher ground!  Go to the mainland!  Save yourself!”  Warning after warning after warning came to Galveston, and they were aware of it.  The people went out and looked up in the sky, and it was clear; went to bed that night, no concern.  And as that great, terrible, devastating hurricane came in, and those tidal waves rose and rose and finally went over the whole island, thousands of people drowned!  “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”  When God has done all that God Himself can do to save us and we pass it by—it falls on hardened hearts and deaf ears—how can we hope for the intervention of God when I spurn and reject even His own mercies toward me? [Hebrews 10:26-31].

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].  Isn’t that a magnificent description of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus: “So great salvation.”  In my reading of ancient history, I used to come across these names: it would be Seleucus Soter, Seleucus Soter.  It would be Ptolemy Soter.  It would be Philadelphus Soter. It would be Demetrius Soter.  Reading back there in those ancient days, following Alexander the Great, so many of those rulers were called soter, s-o-t-e-r.  Well, as I’d see it in English, I just wondered why it is that each one of those rulers had “Soter” after his name: Ptolemy Soter, the ruler of Egypt; Seleucus Soter, the ruler of Syria; Demetrius Soter, the ruler of Jordan.  Then I saw it in Greek: “S,” omega, long “O,” “T,” eta, “R,”sōtēr (savior).  This is Ptolemy, the savior of his people; or this is Demetrius, the savior of his people; this is Seleucus, the savior of his people; sōtēr.  Then as I read in the history books, each one has a record of leading his people into disaster—all of them!  All of them!

I pick up the New Testament and I read there, “Jesus Soter,” Jesus Soter—Jesus Savior.  And oh, what a marvelous, abounding life does He bring to any home, to any heart, to any family, to any child, to any couple, to any church, to any town, to any city, to any culture, to any civilization, to any nation, to any people in the world.  Where Jesus is preached, dear me!  What a difference Jesus makes!

Do you remember, I told you about a preaching mission that I went on through the heart of Africa?  And this poignant day, standing, waiting for my time to preach, standing in a church, a rather large one, but made out of mud with a thatched roof, and those people—I don’t know where in the very heart of Africa—half naked, that church house was jammed full.  They were in the yard looking through the window, looking through the door.  And as I stood there in front of the pulpit, such as right there, waiting for the missionary to introduce me, to present me to bring my message, as I stood there jammed in the midst of those half-naked people, every kind and sort of a need that you could imagine there—diseased—just everything that could overwhelm a human race was there: ignorance, superstition, lack, poverty, disease, everything!  Just look around, see it all!

And as I stood there before the pulpit waiting for the missionary to introduce me to bring the message, I noticed, right back of him on the wall, a picture of our Lord Jesus, and around it these words: “Jesus is the answer to every human need.”  Jesus is the answer to every human need.  And I began looking at that placard and at those half-naked, superstitious, untrained, unlettered, diseased people all around me—”Jesus is the answer to every human need”—it started a train of thought in my heart and in my mind.  In all of the Roman Empire, all of it, there was not one hospital, not one.  In all of the Greco-Roman Empire there was not one orphan’s home.  In all of the empire there was not one place for the elderly.  And I could go on and on.  But wherever I have been in the world—and I’ve been around it three times on preaching missions; I have been I don’t know how many places preaching the gospel of Jesus—I have never been to a place yet where Jesus was preached but that there was a hospital for the sick; there was a home for the care of the elderly; there was an orphanage for the children; there was a church pointing with its spire toward God.

That is Jesus Soter, Jesus the Savior of the world [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2, 4:14]; there’s no message in human speech like the message of Jesus Soter.  He is the true Savior of the world.

And may I close with a remarkable thing to me: how available and reachable, touchable, actually, really is this marvelous salvation that Jesus has brought to us from heaven? [Romans 10:8-10; Hebrews 10:4-14].  When I think of our Lord against the background of ten thousand confusing labyrinths of preachments, and movements, and political-economic programs in the world—when I think of that and look at a remarkable thing in the life of our Lord, namely, “the simplicity that is in Christ” [2 Corinthians 11:3], as Paul calls it; the reachable-ness of it as he says in Romans 10, it is nearer than our hands and our feet.  It is nearer than our breath that we breathe [Romans 10:8].

Well, anyway, in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, John closes his Gospel—the twenty-first chapter is an addendum—and John’s Gospel closes with a dramatic avowal of the deity of our Lord: “Thomas answered and said, My Lord and my God” [John 20:28].  And Jesus said a benedictory remembrance for us, a beatitude for us: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you believe: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” [John 20:29].

Now the climatic closing word: “Many other sēmeia, many other signs,” he never used the word miracle, “many other signs, that we might believe in Him” [John 20:30-31]. Confirmations:

Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book:

But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life in His name.

[John 20:30-31]

All right, I go back through this Gospel of John and look at these signs, look at these things that our Lord has said and done.  He said that these are written here in this book that I might have life, that, believing in Jesus, I might have everlasting life in His name [John 20:30-31].  So, I look through this blessed book of John for those things, those affirmations from heaven about eternal life.  And you know, every one of them is simple beyond any way that I could present it.

When He talks to the learned Nicodemus [John 3:1-21], the rabbi and ruler of the Jews—when He talks to the learned Nicodemus, He says to him: this is the way that a man is saved; just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that if a man was dying, he could look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9].  Look and live.  Could anything be simpler than that?  Look and live!

And I turn the page and come to chapter 5; and here is an impotent man, thirty-eight years, thirty-eight years [John 5:5], and Jesus says to him, “Arise and walk” [John 5:9], and the man arose and walked [John 5:8].  Anything simpler than that, for a man to stand up and come down to Jesus, anything simpler than that?

I turn the page and I come to the sixth chapter of the Book of John, and this is the story of the feeding of the five thousand [John 6:1-13].  And the Lord said: “Verily I say unto you, I am the bread of life.  That if a man may eat, he shall live for ever” [John 6:48-51]; anything simpler than that, to eat and to live?

I turn the page of the book and come to the ninth chapter, and this is the man blind from his birth [John 9:1-38].  And Jesus says to him: “Wash—go wash at the pool of Siloam” [John 9:7].  Wash and you will see; anything simpler than that, to wash and see?

I come to the eleventh chapter of that Book of John.  This is Lazarus, laid in a tomb, and Jesus says:

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.  Believest thou this?

[John 11:25-26]

Open my heart to accept the Lord, that’s what he said: “These affirmations did Jesus, that you might believe and have eternal life through Him” [John 20:30-31].

Lord, Lord, if I had to buy it, maybe I am too poor.  If I had to be educated to attain it, maybe I am not learned.  If I had to do some great work, some great feat, maybe I am too weak.  But when Jesus says, “Just to look and live” [John 3:14-15], wash and see [John 9:7], eat and possess eternal life!  [John 6:48-51]. Stand up and walk, man! [John 5:8]. That includes all of us, doesn’t it?  It includes a little child such as I was when I came to Jesus.  It includes any one of us, however we are.  That’s why the author wrote “. . . so great salvation” [Hebrews 2:3].  Lord, Lord, how marvelous have You done this gracious, merciful, loving thing for us.

Now may we stand together?  Our Lord, when we read this Holy Book, and see Thy face more clearly than if You stood in the flesh before us, how our hearts are moved in gratitude for what Jesus has done for us: “So great salvation” [Hebrews 2:3]; coming into this world to live our lives [Hebrews 4:14-16]; dying on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3]; resurrected by the Holy Spirit [Romans 1:4], and in heaven to wait for us, to intercede for us [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25], to see to it that we make it, that we don’t fall by the way.  O Lord, the riches and the glory poured into our lives by Jesus Soter, Jesus Savior [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2, 4:14].

And in this moment when our people pray and wait for you, a family: “We’ve decided for God and we’re on the way.”  A couple you: “God has spoken to us and we’re coming.”  A one somebody you: “Pastor, this is God’s day and God’s moment for me, and I’m coming” [Matthew 11:28].  In the balcony round, down one of those stairways; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, I am answering with my life.”  Make that decision in your heart [Romans 10:9-10, 13], and in a moment when we sing, God bless you as you come.  And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us, and in the blessed example of those who come now, may others be encouraged to respond.  In Thy saving name, O blessed, blessed Jesus, amen.  Welcome, while we sing.