************ Sermon on Hebrews 4:12-13 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on January 17, 2016

Hebrews 4:12-13
"The Living and Active Word of God"

When we expected the birth of our first child, we announced this at a family get-together. With the next two we called the family and let them know over the phone. Today, couples post a picture of the ultrasound on Facebook. I was visiting someone who had a stent installed; I was shown before and after photos of the blocked arteries. Someone else showed me an x-ray of a broken bone.

Isn't it amazing what we can all see today? Something doesn't feel right or seem right and the doctor can order an x-ray, ultrasound, pet scan, MRI, or CT Scan. We can see pictures of blocked arteries, gallstones, kidney stones, tumors, broken bones, and newly formed babies.

Now, imagine a day without these modern imaging devices. The only time the people of the Ancient World could look inside a body was when it was cut apart in battle, by accident, or on the autopsy table. Something sharp -- like a sword or a knife -- would pierce the skin and expose to view what otherwise was hidden.

That's the image our text presents to us this evening. Except the instrument doing the cutting is not a sword or knife but the Word of God. Like an x-ray, like a CT Scan, the Word of God exposes what lies under the surface.

The book of Hebrews, remember, is written to Christians thinking of going back to the Jewish faith because of persecution. They want to leave Jesus for Moses. Hebrews tells them Jesus is greater than Moses and God's mighty angels.
(Heb 2:1) Therefore, we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

(Heb 3:1) Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

(Heb 3:7-8) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, (8) do not harden your hearts ..."

As a real life example, Hebrews holds before us the people of Israel. The people tested God in the wilderness. They quarreled with God at Meribah and Massah about the lack of water. They even refused to enter the Promised Land. Learn from these wicked, evil people, says Hebrews. Don't be like Israel. Don't have a sinful, unbelieving, disobedient heart that turns away from the living God. We learned last time that on account of this God swore they would never enter his rest.
(Heb 4:11) Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

I Disobedience to the Word
A Today, I want to ask in what way Israel was disobedient. Though it may seem like a simplistic answer, their disobedience was against God. But what does disobedience to God look like? What does disobedience to God involve? Our text informs us that disobedience to God involves disobedience to His Word.

Consider the opening word of our Bible reading. The word "for" is a conjunction that connects the phrase "the Word of God" in verse 12 with the "disobedience" that is mentioned in verse 11. The little word "for" tells us the Israelites disobeyed God by disobeying the Word of God. Therefore God swore they would never enter His rest. Therefore they were punished.

This should not surprise us. Disobedience to God means disobedience to His Word, and disobedience to His Word means disobedience to God Himself.

Sometimes today you hear people claiming God has led them to do something even if it violates the Bible. I hear that kind of argument all of the time when there are marriage and other difficulties. This means God is a house divided because He leads one way and His Word leads in another way. Which is nonsense, of course! Don't ever forget, congregation, that if we disobey God's Word, we disobey God Himself even if we think we are following His leading. When you want to follow the leading of the Lord, make sure what you do does not violate Scripture.

B The phrase "living and active" highlights the connection between God and His Word. "Living and active" is a phrase that especially applies to God. God is not dead. And, God is not uninvolved with His creation and His people. He lives and moves and causes things to happen. We do not believe in the God of the deists. Thomas Jefferson was a deist. Deism says God made the universe and lets it run on its own. Deism says God is like a clockmaker. He makes the clock, He winds up the clock, and the clock now runs on its own. The God of the deists is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is living and active. The God of the Bible created all things and by His providence upholds and rules them.

The Word of God, we are told, is "living and active." So, God's Word is like God Himself. It is alive and active. For instance, Genesis 1 informs us that it is by His Word that God created the heavens and the earth. And, remember Israel before Mount Sinai? The people of Israel were scared of being destroyed if they heard God's Word directly so they asked Moses to speak on God's behalf. To sum up, the Word of God creates, destroys, and sustains. The power of God's Word cannot be separated from the power of God Himself.

Today, God Word is the Bible. Today, this is the Word that is living and active. Today, this is the Word we must obey. If we, by God's grace, want to persevere in the faith, we will pay careful attention to the Word. Otherwise we -- like Israel -- will fall away and not inherit the promised rest.

II The Power of the Word
A The last sentence of verse 12 demonstrates the power of God's Word. God's Word is so powerful that it can divide and examine even the most hidden aspects of human beings.
(Heb 4:12) For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Verse 13 tells us the results:
(Heb 4:13) Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Throughout Scripture we see the power of God's Word to divide and exam. For instance, do you remember what happened after Joshua's conquest of Jericho? A man named Achan stole and hid some of the "devoted things" of Jericho (Joshua 7:1). This angered God, so when the Israelites attacked the tiny town of Ai, "they were routed" (vs 4). Joshua cried out to God, and the Word of God told him what to do. The next day, all of the tribes gathered and lots were cast to determine the guilty party. Who can forget the scene of what happened. When Israel came forward by tribes, the tribe of Judah was taken. When the clans of Judah came forward, the clan of the Zerahites was taken. When the families of the Zerahites came forward, the family of Zimri was taken. When the men of Zimri came forward, Achan was taken. Achan was chosen by the Lord's lot. The Word of the Lord revealed the identity of the guilty one.

Do you remember King Jeroboam (1 Kings 14)? He badly wanted a hearing with Ahijah, the prophet of the Lord. Jeroboam's son was seriously ill and the king wondered whether the boy would be able to live and succeed him as king. He knew he could get the true answer only from the Lord's prophet. The problem was, Ahijah wouldn't gave Jeroboam the time of day because Jeroboam was the king who established the two golden calves in Israel's places of worship. The king came up with a brilliant plan. He gave his wife ten loaves of bread, some cakes, and honey. He had her dress down as an impoverished farmer's wife. She was to go to the prophet in this disguise, ask about the fate of the king's son, and, they hoped, get a good answer. Jeroboam's wife traveled down to a little town called Shiloh. She located the prophet's house, adjusted her tattered garments, and walked up to the door. Before she could knock an old, cracking voice from inside called out, "Come in, wife of Jeroboam." Imagine how the queen must have felt. Here she came all that way in her careful disguise and suddenly found herself exposed before the prophet even saw her. As it turned out Ahijah couldn't see her. The aging prophet had lost his sight. But Ahijah didn't have to see her to know the truth. Because the Word of God told him she was coming. God's Word pierced through all the layers -- the prophet's blindness, the closed door, the disguise -- and hit the bull's eye.

Do you remember King Nebuchadnezzar and his dream? The king was so angry when his "magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers" (Dan 2:2) could not tell him his dream and its meaning; so, he ordered the execution of all the wise men in the kingdom. This decree included Daniel and his three friends. Daniel asked the king for time that he might interpret the dream. He and his friends prayed for "mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery" (Dan 2:18). That night the Word of the Lord came to Daniel in a vision and revealed the mystery (Dan 2:19).

B Nothing is more inaccessible and unknown, humanly speaking, than the motives and thoughts concealed in the depths of a person's heart and mind. No scalpel can dissect them, no background check can reveal them, no private eye can discover them. But God's Word can pierce through the layers and the disguises and the coverings we use to cloak our inner self from each other. It is like a sword that penetrates to the depths of our being, body and soul.

What does the Word say? What does it reveal about us? Though we have been created good and holy and in the image of God, we are fallen. We are sinners who deserve eternal judgment. And, even when we believe and have been made new in Christ, our thoughts as well as our deeds continue to be full of wickedness and evil. There is no getting away from Scripture. It will expose the true intention of the heart, either by drawing people to believe and obey its message or in abandoning sinners to the hardness of their hearts so that they fall away. How people respond to the Word of God reveals their inner attitude. In the light of His Word all man's failings, imperfections, sins, transgressions, and shortcomings are exposed.

C Let's go back, for a moment, to the warnings or exhortations mentioned by Hebrews:
(Heb 2:1) We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

(Heb 3:1) Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

(Heb 3:7-8) So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, (8) do not harden your hearts ..."

When God's Word penetrates our hearts we see that in and of ourselves we are unable to persevere in the faith. We can't keep ourselves from drifting away. We can't keep our thoughts focused on Jesus. We can't keep our hearts soft and pliable. By ourselves we cannot love Jesus enough. By ourselves we cannot trust Christ alone. By ourselves we cannot be faithful to Christ's commands. "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love." That's how one of our hymn writers put it. God's Word reveals that ours is a wandering and wavering heart.

God knows you. He knows me. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows all about us. Because His living and active Word reveals our innermost thoughts, our most secret deeds, our sins, our wandering: "nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight."

Does this scare you? It doesn't have to. Notice what Hebrews tells us: we can "approach the throne of grace with confidence ..." (Heb 4:16). God's Word reveals who we are. Yet, we can approach God's throne of grace with confidence. God knows us and still invites us to come to Him in prayer and worship. He invites us to ask for grace, to seek forgiveness, to request the strength we need. He invites us to come to Him and find in Him everything that we need.

Why? Because in Christ God has already forgiven us. Even with all our imperfections, the obvious and not-so-obvious, God still loves us and accepts us. He accepts us as we are. The difference is Christ. If we know Christ as our Savior and Lord, then the God Who knows us forgives us, accepts us, and loves us. But if we don't know Christ as Savior and Lord, then we already stand judged.

God knows us. But, in Christ He also forgives us and accepts us and loves us. What could be more wonderful than that? "Therefore," says the very next verse, "let us hold firmly to the faith we profess" (Heb 4:14).
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