Friday, May 11, 2012

Hebrews 4:11-13

11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

12 For the word of God is alive 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. 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.

Dig Deeper

I’ve never really taken much of a shine to all of the forensic crime shows that are so popular these days.  Most of the time, I would take a classic episode of the 70’s show “Quincy” any day over most of those modern shows.  Recently, however, I have found myself watching a few episodes of one which focuses on a forensic anthropologist, whose specialty is examining skeletal remains in order to solve crimes that would otherwise be impossible to find.  Allegedly, the science on the show is accurate, and it is based on a real person, so I’m always pretty amazed at the things that can be discovered about a person by examining nothing more than their bones after death and after all of the flesh is long gone.  In one episode they discovered that a person had been suffering with a genetic disease but had never been aware of it.  It only came to light during the post-mortem examination.  That turned out to be a bit of serendipity for the family who was mourning the loss of their loved one, because it was a genetic disease.  With the knowledge that their father had this disease, they were able to be examined to see if they had the same disease.  I couldn’t help but thinking at that point that it would be far more beneficial to be examined and discover that you were suffering from some disease during your lifetime, even though the examination might be intrusive and even painful, than it would be to be examined after death and have the truth discovered.  It’s obviously a little too late by that time.

What is true physically is just as true spiritually, if not more so.  Many of us seem content to go about life and ignore problems.  We have debt that we don’t want to deal with, so we ignore it.  We have broken relationships that are too painful to think about, so we ignore them.  We walk around spiritually dead, but it’s just too difficult and demanding to deal with, so we ignore it.  But that is as dangerous as it is crazy.  Just as it might be inconvenient but far better to discover a disease or illness while living than to have it discovered after death, so it is better to be judged and laid bare now while there is still time than to put it off, ignore it, and find that it is too late.

The thing not to be missed out on here in the mind of the author of Hebrews, is of course, God’s rest that he has promised for his people.  The irony is that incredible vigilance is required to enter into God’s rest.  It is not something that will be attained by relaxing and just coasting in.  The problem is that when human beings put ourselves into cruise control we go off course in an incredible hurry.  That is why Paul urges Christians, in Romans 12:1-2, to make an effort to not be conformed to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the process of renewing our minds according to the will of God.  If left to our normal state and natural devices we will tend towards chaos and atrophy.  That is true of entering into God’s rest.  Disobedience comes natural to humans.  Obedience to God’s will, in fact obedience to anything, takes effort, training, and diligence.  To follow the pattern of disobedience of the Exodus generation would lead to the same result.  They were disqualified from the promised land, and those who are disobedient now would disqualify themselves from God’s rest.  So what was the remedy?  What was the agent that would keep them faithful and obedient and holding tight to God’s rest?  None other than the word of God.

The writer of Hebrews probably thought of “the word of God” a little differently than we might today.  Whereas we tend to limit that concept to simply “the Bible,” they would have had a slightly expanded definition.  For them, the word of God certainly included the Scriptures, but would also have been extended to any venue or forum where the word of God was exhorted, preached, or even situations when someone offered wise counsel, for instance, based on the principles of the word of God.  Regardless of the pitcher used, it was all considered to be of the same water source, as Paul states confidently when referring to his preaching in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

We should also remember that the Scriptures for them were still primarily the Old Testament, as the New Testament writings were still in their formative stages.  When the writer refers to the word of God here, he is directly and specifically expounding upon his discussion of Psalm 95 in previous sections.  That passage emphasizes the “voice” of God that should be heard.  He was also almost surely building on the concept that the word of God did not go out and come back empty without producing a crop (Isa. 55:10-11).

Hebrews goes on to describe three important characteristics of the word of God.  The first is that it is alive or living.  The word should be heard, especially the warnings of Psalm 95 in this context, because it is not some dead and ancient oracles that hold nothing of value for contemporary readers.  It is living, in that it is constantly relevant to every aspect of our lives.  The word of God, and the principles that we find within it, are never dead.  They are without a doubt alive and able to speak life and direction into whatever situation we find ourselves in.  The Scriptures truly are sufficient for God’s people. 

The second characteristic of the word is that it is active.  The word is not some passive piece of literature that we curl up with and entertain ourselves with.  It has purpose and meaning.  It does not go out and come back void as Isaiah 55 declared.  The word has a power that nothing else does.  News articles can inform.  Great works of literature can inspire and intrigue.  Great poetry may connect with and transport us.  But only God’s word is living and active and able to truly transform hearts and lives.

The final characteristic is that it is sharp.  The writer doesn’t really compare it to a double-edged sword here, but says that it is sharper than any sword that could be made.  Double-edged swords were extremely dangerous as they were not only razor sharp but could cut in any direction.  The word of God is like that in that it is so sharp that it can penetrate past the surface of the human condition and get down to the real nitty-gritty, the soul and spirit, or in other words, the inner-most heart and recesses of a human being.

In addition to the three characteristics given, the word has two abilities which should not be overlooked.  The first we’ve already alluded to above.  It has the ability to penetrate.  The word of God can go to the deepest part of the human being and separate out actions, intent, and motivations. 

The second ability is that it judges.  The word of God is like an X-ray that exposes the things that cannot be easily seen or detected through normal means.  Nothing escapes the piercing vision of God as he examines all through the X-ray of his word.  Everything is uncovered, a word that literally means “naked” or “laid bare,” which was a wrestling term that referred to snatching someone’s neck back so that their throat was exposed for a kill shot.

The question is whether the penetrating judgment of the word is something that happens now or something that happens in the future, because a quick glance at our world around us would certainly seem to indicate that people disregard God’s word regularly without judgment.  But this is the vital point that the author makes subtly but wants us to see nonetheless.  The word will judge us unflinchingly.  The choice is ours whether that judgment takes place now or in the future.  We can open up our lives humbly to God’s word and allow it cut into us like a surgeon’s knife, skillfully going to the places that are painful and cutting out the cancerous tumors of sin in our hearts and minds.  Or we can rebuff it, and fall into the default position of being judged by it at the final judgment.  In effect, we can be examined while still alive physically which might hurt and cause discomfort, but brings us spiritual life or we can avoid that pain and be examined by it after physical death, a situation that will bring spiritual death as well.

This makes the task of the one who would stay loyal to the Messiah and the path that he has cut for us quite clear.  We must constantly take time to carefully, prayerfully, and thoughtfully engage with God’s word, allowing it to operate on the innermost portions of our heart, feelings, desires, and emotions.  It is only then that we will fully discover the penetrating and powerful effects of a word that is alive and has the ability to transform our lives, preparing us for that day when we are fully in the presence of our almighty God and Father.  We can either bow our knee to the Messiah now willingly, or wait for that day when every knee is forced to bow and every tongue forced to confess that Jesus is Lord.

Devotional Thought

When you read and study the word of God do you just read it or do you truly let it penetrate into your heart, thoughts, and mind and truly transform every area of your life?  What is the word of calling challenging you on this week and calling you to transform?

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