The story of Jose Salvador Alvarenga is one that has the power to surprise and baffle even the most trusting. Alvarenga, a Mexican fisherman, was out fishing with his friend one day when a storm washed his boat out to sea. Searches by the authorities proved fruitless and in November 2012, after a two week search, they were registered as missing persons.
Eventually Alvarenga was found washed up on the Marshall Islands six thousand miles away having drifted at sea for over a year.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews warns against spiritual drifting. In verse one of chapter two he highlights the need to pay attention to message of Jesus that these Christians had heard and to hold on to it.
Drifting can happen very easily. Sometimes it happens as the result of a storm. The people receiving the Hebrews letter were facing a storm. A storm of persecution and pressure from the authorities to cut loose from their Christian faith and go back to their Jewish roots. According to 10.34-35 this storm of persecution had previously manifested in confiscation of property and imprisonment, a storm that these believers had withstood with commendable commitment to Christ.
Never doubt the power of any kind of pressure to push you into drift mode. Pressure is a threat because Satan will use it as an argument to de-prioritise, not so much your faith per se as your expression of faith: “You’re just too busy for church.”” You have enough on your plate.” “Give your self a bit of breathing space.” You know the kind of line he takes. And you know his intention is to push you into spiritual drift mode.
Sometimes drifting is brought about not so much by bad things as by things which are not necessarily bad in themselves. They might even be good things. New opportunities. New interests. Even a passion for doctrine or theology! Our energy and focus is taken up by something new, something exciting. Or we get into the latest theory about the end times. Or the antichrist. Or some other theological controversy.
For the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews one of the issues was angels. Angels without doubt have a very important place in God’s purpose. In terms of status however, they are a long way behind Jesus. You might wonder how people who had the gospel brought to them in such a powerful manner – signs, wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit (2.4) – could make such an elementary mistake. We can only guess at an answer. And it is probably an answer along the lines of a complex mix of background, the external pressures they were facing and a misunderstanding of scripture. Suffice it to say, they were in danger of losing their way.
Any of us can lose our way. And what begins as a localised storm close to home can end up in weeks, months or even years drifting off to the spiritual equivalent of the Marshall Islands.
Thankfully, there is a way back from the isolation of drifting or even the threat of drifting. Right at the end of chapter 2, Jesus is presented to us as a high priest, not as king or Lord or even saviour. The high priest’s role in Israel was, so to speak, to keep the nation connected to God. Once a year, on the day of atonement he went into the most holy place and sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial animals on the mercy seat and burnt incense.
Jesus keeps our connection with God. And He does that, on the one hand, with complete faithfulness to God and on the other hand, with complete sympathy with us in our weakness. Here’s how The Message puts it:
That’s why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people’s sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed (Hebrews 2.17-18).
However you have got to where you are, Jesus knows and He understands. And thank God, He is willing and able to help.