Hebrews 4:12-13

Sermon preached on April 27, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

One of my favorite genie jokes is about a guy walking along a beach in California who comes across a genie lamp. He rubs it and a genie pops out and tells him that he will grant him one wish—anything he desires. Right away the guy says,

"I've always wanted to go to Hawaii but I'm afraid of flying and I don't like boats because of all the accidents I'm hearing about lately, so I'd like you to build me a bridge to Hawaii."

The genie looks at him in astonishment and says,

"Do you realize how far it is to Hawaii? Do you realize how deep the Pacific Ocean is between here and there? That's too hard. Ask for something else."

So the guy thinks for a minute and replies,

"Well, I'd like to understand women. They've always been a mystery to me and I'd like to understand them. I'd like to know why they do the things that they do and how they think and what makes them tick."

The genie replied,

"That bridge to Hawaii, do you want that two lanes or four lanes?"

Women can be difficult to understand. It's a mysterious subject.

The Word of God his mysterious things about it—but there are some things that are revealed to us that are so clear that we ought not to be confused about them. Yet in spite of that, there's a great deal of confusion in Christian circles today about how we should view the Word of God.

What is the Word of God like? There's a popular conception today that the Word of God, the Bible, is completely separate from God and that it's something that is essentially negative, that it's basically 'law'. Certain people who claim to be Christians will tell you that the Spirit is what is important—that we really need to be in touch with the Spirit and His leading. They see the Spirit and the Bible as being, to a certain extent, opposed to each other. If you as a Christian have great respect for the Word of God, the Bible, they will accuse you of Bible idolatry. They will tell you that you have the Bible as an idol. They will tell you that you're worshipping the Bible and that you're wrong in that. They will tell you that you need to be open to the Spirit and that you do that by focusing on other things than the Bible. People will tell you to pay attention to your 'feelings', to your 'intuition', to 'God's voice', or to God speaking to you through other Christians.

A few years ago there was an anonymous article in Christianity Today entitled, "My Conversation with God". It began, (Quoted from, Taking God At His Word, by Kevin DeYoung, p. 25-26)

"Does God still speak? I grew up hearing testimonies about it, but until October 2005, I couldn't say it had ever happened to me. I'm a middle-aged professor of theology at a well-known Christian University. I've written award–winning books. My name is on Christianity Today's masthead. For years I've taught that God still speaks, but I couldn't testify to it personally. I can only do so now anonymously, for reasons I hope will be clear. A year after hearing God's voice, I still can't talk or even think about my conversation with God without being overcome by emotion."

The professor went on to talk about an experience where God supernaturally gave him a book outline and the book title and told him to use the money from the book to help him a young man go to school to prepare for ministry. He finished the article by saying how strengthened his faith has been to finally have God speak to him personally. Kevin DeYoung says,

"the article leaves us feeling as though God speaking to us through the Scriptures is an inferior, less exciting, less edifying means of communication. We can't help but conclude, 'Yes, the Bible is important, but oh, what a treasure it would be if I could experience God really speaking to me! If only I could hear from the sure and infallible voice of God.'"

DeYoung is right. The attitude that he opposes totally misunderstands the Word of God. God does speak to us personally in the Bible. The Bible is not something dead, something impersonal, something irrelevant to our daily living. Consider what our text says, (Hebrews 4:12–13)

"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.
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. "

There are two things in this text that I want to draw your attention to this morning. It is alive and active. But before we get to that we need to determine

what is meant by the Word of God mentioned here.

When he says that the Word of God is living and active—what is he referring to? Is He talking about what we normally call the Bible or is He referring to voices, visions, dreams from God etc.? It obviously includes times when God spoke to the people in voices. When God spoke to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus—it was a life changing event. Paul left for Damascus breathing out murderous threats against Christians. (Acts 9:1) After God spoke to him he was totally different. As soon as his blindness was healed he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. (Acts 9:20) When the Lord speaks from heaven His Word is living and active.

It was the same way with dreams. When God came to Abimelech in a dream after he had taken Sarah, Abraham's wife. God said to him, (Genesis 20:3)

"You are as good as dead because of the woman
you have taken; she is a married woman."

That word was living and effective. Abimelech was stopped in his tracks. He restored Sarah to Abraham.

When Belshazzar, king of Babylon, the most powerful man in the world—saw the hand writing on the wall in the book Daniel, (Daniel 5:6)

"His face turned pale and he was so frightened that
his knees knocked together and his legs gave way."

King Belshazzar was terrified. God's word, the writing on the wall, was powerful and effective.

It was the same with the prophets. When Elijah the prophet said it wouldn't rain except at his word—the heavens closed up. When he asked for God to send down fire from heaven on Mount Carmel—fire came down.

Hebrews 1:1–2 says,

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers
through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
but in these last days he has spoken
to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things,
and through whom he made the universe."

God spoke to His ancient people in many ways. However He spoke to them, whether directly or through visions or dreams—that was God's Word. When Jesus spoke, it was God's Word. His Word was living and active.

So it would be wrong to exclude any of the ways that God spoke to His people. And what we should note from the context of our text is that there seems to be a specific reference to the written Word—Scripture, the Bible. Our text is the conclusion of the section of Scripture that began at 3:7. It's a warning against unbelief that uses the ancient people of God as a warning. We read, (Hebrews 3:7–11)

"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion, during
the time of testing in the desert,
where your fathers tested and tried me
and for forty years saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said,
'Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.'
So I declared on oath in my anger,
'They shall never enter my rest.'"

What I just read is a quote from Psalm 95. That along with the reference to the folly of the Israelites an Kadesh and the other places where Scripture is referenced in Hebrews 3:7 to 4:11 shows that the "Word of God" in our text also refers to the written Word—Scripture, the Bible. (William L. Lane writes, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47A; p. 102-103) When men wrote the New Testament, it was the Word of God. As the apostle Paul told us in 2 Timothy 3:16,

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,
rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,"

So when the Holy Spirit tells us here that the Word of God is living and active—part of what He is referring to is the written Word, the Bible.

Now the main thing we are told about the Word of God is that

it is living and active.

There are a few places in the New Testament where the Word of God is referred to as 'living'. In Acts 7:38 Stephen spoke about how Moses received 'living words' on Mt. Sinai. That confirms what we just said, because the Words that Moses received were the 10 commandments, which were written, in tablets of stone. Stephen said,

"He was in the assembly in the desert,
with the angel who spoke to him
on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers;
and he received living words to pass on to us."

And in 1 Peter 1:23 Peter told Christians that,

"you have been born again,
not of perishable seed, but of imperishable,
through the living and enduring word of God."

Now what does it mean that the Word of God is living? Let me illustrate.

Imagine that you're out in your yard working and you feel something on your arm. When you first feel it you think it might be a drop of sweat that fell off your face, or a little piece of dirt or debris that fell on your arm. But you look at your arm and what you see there looks like a bug. And then you see it move. What does that do to you? That freaks you out. The bug might be going to bite you. There's a possibility that he will fly up into your face and get in your nose or your eye. The thing is alive and that means that you're going to take action right away. You're going to brush it away or swat it and get away from it. The bug is living. He can move. He can take action. It can move—for good or bad.

That's what the Word of God is like. It's alive. It's not dead. Indeed, in the Greek the word 'living' is placed at the very beginning of the sentence, putting great emphasis on it. When we think of the Word of God we are to think of it as living. This means that it can act. It has power. It accomplishes it's purpose. We read about this in Isaiah 55:10-11. God said,

"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed
for the sower and bread for the eater, so is
my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish
what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Why is the Word of God living and active? Precisely because

it is the Word of God.

There's an intimate connection between God and His word. Scripture shows us in many places that there is an indissolvable connection between God and His Word.

God's Word is not like the breath that goes out of our mouths. Lefèvre d'Etaples says that God's word, (Quoted from Hughes, p. 164)

"is not a transient and evanescent word which when uttered is immediately diffused through the air and perishes, but it is a permanent word, not carried off, not dispersed, not diffused, but sustaining and binding together all things."

The Word is part and parcel of God. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 the apostle Paul wrote,

"because our gospel came to you not simply with words,
but also with power, with the Holy Spirit
and with deep conviction."

So close is the connection between God and His Word that in Psalm 56:4 David said,

"In God, whose word I praise…"

David praised God's word. He's basically saying that He worshiped it. John Frame writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 522)

"God's word is an object of worship (Pss. 56:4, 10; 119:120, 161–62; Isa. 66:5). Many times Scripture calls us to praise the 'name' of the Lord (e.g., Pss. 9:2; 34:3; 68:4; 138:2). There is a close relation in Scripture between God's name, his word, and his being."

R.C.H. Lenski writes, (Hebrews)

"God does not separate himself from his Word."

John Frame adds, (Systematic Theology, p. 521)

"God and his word are always present together. Where God is, the word is, and vice versa."

Where the Word is, God is. In John 6:63 Jesus said,

"The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."

The words spoken to them were the words of the life-giving Spirit.

Peter T. O'Brien adds, (Hebrews, PNTC; p. 175)

"The division between 'word' and 'Spirit', so prevalent in much of contemporary Christianity, finds no support in this passage (or indeed elsewhere) in Hebrews. The God who speaks by his word (in this case Ps. 95) does so in and through his Holy Spirit."

What this means is that we are not to think of the Word as being totally external to God. There's a connection between God and his Word that doesn't exist between other authors and their work. With other authors their work is essentially external to them. Although it's their work, once they put it down on paper in a very real way it's external to them. When Shakespeare put his play, Hamlet, down on paper it's like a cord was cut between him and the play. Shakespeare can die, but people can still read the play. We speak of the play living on, but it's not really alive. It's other people who are alive and who read the play. The play is external to Shakespeare.

It's not like that with God and His Word. There's a connection between God and His Word that is continuous, vital, dynamic, real. The Word of God is living.

Thirdly, one of the reasons that Word is living and active is because

it's from Jesus.

Romans 10:17 says,

"faith comes from hearing the message,
and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

The Word is the Word of Christ. We're lost on our own. What a wonder that the Word comes to us—to open our hearts to Jesus. As Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68 when Jesus asked His disciples if they were going to leave Him,

"Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life."

What does all this mean in practical terms?

First, of all,

make sure you view the Bible as being the Word of God and as being living.

I think that very often we come to the Word as if it were dead, lifeless. We're often like the doctor in Boston on the night of November 28, 1942. There was a terrible fire at the Coconut Grove nightclub. 491 people died in the fire and many others were injured. They took some of the injured to a Boston hospital and a doctor was going around assessing the wounded. He stooped over one man examined him and said,

"He's dead. Cover him up."

It was at that point that the supposed dead man, a guy named Dreyfus responded,

"I'm not dead."

That surprised the medical team. They were totally wrong about his condition. He was alive.

So often we're wrong about the Word of God. We view it as a book, as words on a printed page. But it's much more than that. John Frame writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 528, 529)

"As you read God's Word, always remember that it is something active, that it is doing something to you, for better or worse. When we hear or read the Word, we are not above it, using it for our own purposes. Rather, in the Word, God is doing something to us… God's Word never leaves us the same. We hear it for better or worse."

Read the Word carefully, knowing that God is present, and He is present either to bless or curse. Read it humbly, knowing that God has condescended to reveal these things to you. Read it thankfully, knowing that God is speaking to you. Read it prayerfully—asking that God bless you. Be like Jacob wrestling with the angel, saying, (Genesis 32:26)

"I will not let you go unless you bless me."

Hold the Scriptures in awe. Revere them. Kevin DeYoung writes, (Taking God at His Word, p. 108)

"it is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did. Jesus submitted his will to the Scriptures, committed His brain to studying the Scriptures, and humbled his heart to obey the Scriptures."

For those of you who are not Christians,

this means that you need to repent and believe and obey the Word.

You ignore the Word of God to your peril. John Brown says that in the context here, (Hebrews, p. 214)

"it is plain that the meaning is—'the word of God in reference to the punishment of unbelievers is not dead but living… 'a sharp two-edged sword; it is not inoperative, but powerfully efficient."

The word penetrates to the dividing of soul and spirit. John Brown again,

"The phrase is expressive of the destructive energy of the divine threatening… [soul and spirit] death is the necessary consequence of their being divided. To 'divide the soul from the spirit' is just another expression for, 'to produce death.'"

The warnings in Scripture are not idle threats. They are real. Take the seriously.

But there's also a positive side to this. The Word can pierce your heart of unbelief. Ask God to use His Word and Spirit to bring you to Jesus, to show you His glory, to give you faith in Him. The Word of God is living and active. It can give you life. Ask God to give you faith, to show you the horror of your sin, to show you the glory of Jesus and the greatness of His work.