For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. -Hebrews 4: 12-13 (NLT)
The lead-in to Hebrews 4: 12-13 contains the author’s argument that Jesus is greater than the Sabbath as described in the Jewish Law. The Sabbath, Saturday, was the Jewish day of worship and rest and commemorated the Genesis account that God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. If you are wondering why the day of worship and rest changed to Sunday, it is because of the resurrection. When I was a kid, the Midwest essentially shut down on Sundays to honor rest and worship. There were Blue Laws that kept businesses from opening on Sunday and the larger culture respected the day as well. Sundays were off limits for almost anything other than essential public services, worship and rest. Chic-Fil-A is one of the few vestiges of those days still remaining. In Israel today, part of Jerusalem shuts down on Saturdays to observe Shabbat; an extension of what we see in Hebrews.
The direct command in Exodus 20: 28 is to, “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” “Remember” in this context is not just to recall but to “restore” On the Sabbath, all in us that has been dismembered is remembered or put back together. “Holy” means “set apart.” It’s antonym is “ordinary.” Setting apart a day for worship is an active, not a passive enterprise that makes the events of that day “completely different” than the other six days.
For the author of Hebrews, the Sabbath is described as a place, a structure that is pre-existing but you have to voluntarily enter. Imagine that you are weary, exposed and nearly freezing one winter night and you see a shelter ahead that offers heat, a break from the wind and something warm to eat. The shelter is there; warm and ready but you have to enter it. In Hebrews, that shelter is the Word of God. It is there we find solace, peace, warmth, nourishment and rest. Since this concept of holy rest is rooted in Scripture, the author now delves into Scripture; not what Scripture says, but what Scripture is! And in doing so answers a critical question, “What is the role of the Bible in the life of a Christian?”
V. 12 For the Word of God I believe the Bible to be the Word of God. The Bible is what God said, what God is saying and what God has yet to say. No revelation from God comes in ways that contradict the clear and consistent teachings of Scripture and when people claim such revelation, I deem it false teaching. That is why it is so important that we know the Bible in its whole and not just in pieces and parts that can be taken out of context and skewed. In the Jewish world a word was much more than something you say to express an idea; a word had independent existence. If you think about it, there is much truth here. You might get mad at someone and say very harsh and hurtful things in anger to them. After a while, you may well calm down and those words are not how you presently feel at all. The problem is that those words remain, even after the emotions that produced them have subsided, and now have a life of their own. The damage to someone inflicted by your words does not end when you no longer feel that way; it continues for the words now have an independent existence that may well continue to do harm for decades. If it works that way in the negative, how much more true is a word in the positive? I have had people tell me that someone I said to them years ago changed their lives and I don’t remember saying it. But those wonderful words of life, sown like seed in the wind have taken root in a soul. Words have a life of their own.
What is the Word of God?
V. 2 It is full of living power Words were the tool kit God used to create the heavens and the earth. The Bible teaches words are powerful things that can be used for good or evil; to build up or to tear down. But the Word of God is unique in that it expressed the character and intentions of God that for me are best wrapped up in John 3: 17. “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved.” God’s sole intention for humanity is salvation; even God’s judgement is delivered for the redemptive purpose of bringing salvation. The idea is that the Bible is fully powered to deliver on its word. Isaiah 55:11 states, “The word of God always accomplishes it’s purposes” or in Old Testament speak, “Does not return void.” The same powerful Word that created the cosmos is speaking on behalf of humanity. It is able to deliver; it gets the job done! For example, if the Bible says you can be saved, you can be saved. If the Bible says you can be forgiven, you can be forgiven. If the Bible says you can be restored, you can be restored. The Bible doesn’t make promises it can’t keep.
It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires… Sometimes God loves on us and sometimes God shoves on us. The Word of God also convicts for the purpose of bringing about repentance. Let’s take a look at a prayer from David recorded in Psalms 51. David had sinned with Bathsheba, impregnated her and when he couldn’t cover it up, he had her husband killed. He is then confronted by the Word of God that so deeply wrecks his soul, that he offers these words:
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. -Psalm 51:10-17 (KJV)
V. 3 It exposes us for what we truly are I think it would be great if we started church like they start AA meetings. “Hi, my name is Shane and I am a sinner.” Then you call could say, “Hi, Shane.” And then it would be your turn. We live in a day when the sins of others seem to offend many Christians more than their own sin and that is problematic. We sometimes think because others sin differently than us or because they commit sins we are not pre-dispositioned to commit, that their sins are somehow worse than our own. I call that the failure of the right. In response, some Christians have over corrected to the point they have effectively negated the concept of sin all together. I call that the failure of the left. Romans 3:23 states, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Then the news gets even worse in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” And then when it seems we don’t have a chance, the Word of God emerges with, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ out Lord.”
Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about itself:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. -II Timothy 2:16 (NLT)
What is the Bible?
- Inspired by God
- Useful for teaching truth
- Useful for identifying sin
- Corrects error
- Instructs in righteousness
V. 13 Nothing can hide from God. Everything is naked and exposed. The meaning of the word exposed is somewhat linked to being what hunters call being field dressed. Field dressing occurs when a hunter kills a deer, hangs it up, skins it, guts it and carries the meat out of woods. If you have ever watched this gruesome process; you know that deer, above all other things, is naked and exposed. The Bible teaches us that we are similarly made naked and exposed by the Word of God. We are fully known by God and hiding nothing from God. God knows everything that has happened to you on your journey; the inexcusable mistakes you have made, the destructive things you have said and done and every sordid thought that has ever passed through your mind. God knows you and God completely loves you. Not in a general, distant and abstract way but loves you in a personal close and intimate way. God doesn’t just love us all collectively, God loves us individually and invites us to exit your fears, failures and disappointments and enter into a holy space that the author of Hebrews calls rest.
Presbyterian pastor and theologian Cleland Boyd McAfee was born just after the Civil War in Missouri. Upon hearing that his two infant nieces had died at the same time in 1903 of diphtheria, he was understandably distraught. As poet theologians do, he looked to his art to help him through his grief. He penned these simple words, set them to a simple tune and taught them to his choir the very next Sunday.
Near to the Heart of God
There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God, a place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.
O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us, who wait before thee, near to the heart of God.
There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God, a place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God.
The Old Testament Sabbath brought rest to the people by the word of God but Jesus is greater than even that! In God’s word we can find true peace, true passion, true purpose, true nourishment and true rest.
Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist in the United Methodist Church, has been Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.