The Rev. Jonathan Pryke: “The Word of God” (Hebrews 4)
From the good people of Jesmond Parish Church in the United Kingdom, here is a sermon titled The Word of God by the Rev. Jonathan Pryke – which is based on Hebrews 4. Rev. Pryke in this message talks about the message of Hebrews 4:12-13: God’s powerful and penetrating Word uncovers the truth, brings everyone to account, and judges. So we must listen to it now and live in obedience to it. He has three headings:
- God has spoken and speaks today;
- God’s word is living, active and sharp; and thirdly,
- God’s word penetrates and judges.
The entire sermon is outstanding, but I though I’d call attention to the last of these sections:
Thirdly, GODS’ WORD PENETRATES AND JUDGES
What, then, does this living, active and sharp word of God do? Let’s take it on from the second half of verse 12:
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. (Heb.4 v12)
What’s being said here, as you can see on the outline, is that the word of God engages in two kinds of activity, in two different spheres of activity. And it provokes two possible responses.
The two kinds of activity of the word of God are exposing and assessing. The world of God lays bare the truth, and then it judges – it brings to account.
It penetrates right into the very marrow of our being. “Everything is uncovered and laid bare” by God’s word before God’s eyes. Nothing is hidden from God’s sight.
You see this in practice over and over in the Gospels as Jesus encounters people. So, I quote:
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts… Jesus knew their hypocrisy… Jesus knew what they were thinking… Jesus knew their thoughts… Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.
Those are examples of Jesus seeing right into the hearts of his enemies. But the same is true of his friends, as when Jesus says to Peter:
“I tell you the truth, this very night before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.”
And, of course, the same is true of us. There is no hiding place for us.
And what is exposed is not a pretty sight. There was a piece in the papers the other week about a man known as ‘the naked rambler’. He has been in prison again and again – continuously for years now – because he refuses to wear clothes in public. He says (I quote the article):
“One day I was walking and something happened.” He had an epiphany: “I realised I was good… I realised that at a fundamental level I’m good, we’re all good, and you can trust that one part of yourself.” This self-realisation led to [him] often choosing to be naked in public: if he was good, then his body was good.
Of course he’s partly right, in that God created a good world, and we’re part of it. But he fails to take into account – in fact he fails to see at all – the disobedience of the Fall that means that exposing our bodies would be bad enough, but exposing our thoughts and minds and hearts would be too shameful for words. We’re right to cover up.
But we can’t hide from God. A court case works by bringing all the facts of the case out in to the open, so that they can be used to form a judgement about what happened. God’s word uncovers the truth as the necessary prelude to God’s judgement. There is no avoiding the fact that we must give account to him.
And those two activities of exposing and assessing are carried out by the word of God in two spheres: the inner world and the outer world. God sees into the inner world of our inmost thoughts and feelings – “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”. But God’s word doesn’t just dig deep into the individual soul. It also goes to the ends of the earth – indeed to the ends of the universe, the outer world. “All creation is laid bare” before his eyes. God’s word exposes and assesses everyone and everything.
So how are we to respond? There are two possible responses, and only one of them makes any sense. We can shrink away, or we can submit.
Think of the word of God in the hands of the Spirit of God as like that knife in the hands of a surgeon.
When he comes towards us with the painful truth about our deadly sin and the painful remedy which is to let him cut it out so that we can live, the danger is that we tell him to go away. We can’t face it. We shrink from exposure before Jesus. How? By hardening our hearts. That’s exactly what Hebrews is warning us against doing. Don’t harden your hearts. Don’t shrink away from the surgeon’s knife. He’s not our enemy, even though what he’s going to do will hurt for a while. He’s our saviour.
We need to be ready to submit to the surgeon’s knife. We need to know that this is the knife, not of a vicious enemy, but of a skilful friend. This surgery of the word of God – penetrating our hearts and judging our lives – is what guarantees us eternal life in the age to come, gets us back to the front line in the fight for the kingdom of God now, and gives us a clean soul and a clear conscience because Jesus has dealt with our sin once for all at the cross.
That’s why Hebrews goes on, in 4v15-16:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4 v15-16)
But that’s for next time.
I thought this analogy of the Word of God being the surgeon’s scalpel was very fitting. We see Jesus as the Great Physician, and here the Holy Spirit is seen as a surgeon. Will we let Him wield His scalpel – His Word – to bring us healing from sin?