Hebrews 4 v 12 – 13
1Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
3For we who have believed enter that rest, as He has said, “As I swore in My Wrath, ‘They shall not enter My Rest,'” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
4For He has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works.” 5And again in this passage He said, “They shall not enter My Rest.”
6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again He appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.
9So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. 11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
12For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Because most of us are so familiar with the Word of God and the Gospel, we often take it for granted and we forget what it really is. We forget who the ultimate Author is. It’s not so much Moses or the Prophets or the Apostles, but ultimately it is God Himself – the Author of Scripture. And I want you to turn back to Hebrews chapter 4 and I want us to focus specifically on verse 12 and 13 to remind us of God’s Word and God Himself as He uses His Word. That is what that text says as I read it just now: “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
Now as we look at this passage of Scripture this evening, I want us to notice a number of things; 4 things in fact. First, we’re going to look at the Identity of the Word of God, then the Power and function of the Word of God. Then we’re going to look at the Omniscient eye of God and finally some Practical implications of that.
- The Identity of the Word of God
What is he talking about in verse 12? Now some commentators have thought that the writer here is talking about the Incarnate Word; the Lord Jesus Christ just as John would use that that phrase in John chapter 1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” There he is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ; the Incarnate Word and furthermore they would say if you look at verse 13, you will notice that it talks about: “no creature is hidden from His sight.” It’s talking about God. It’s talking about the Word of God, they would say: the second Person of the Trinity. Other commentators would say no, it’s really talking about the Word of God because in the broader context here, the writer to Hebrews has just quoted from Psalm 95 where he’s encouraging the Hebrews who are growing weary in their Christian walk. They are starting to wonder: ‘Is it worthwhile? It’s hard following the narrow road’ and maybe they’re thinking of turning back – to go back to the Jewish religion. He’s encouraging them to go forward and he says well, remember Psalm 95: “Do not be like your ancestors in the desert who put God to the test and who hardened their hearts.” Look at verse 7: “…as they would not enter His rest and they rebelled against God’s Word.” So some commentators would say he is talking more about God’s Word. I think there’s merit in both arguments. And the reason is that you cannot really separate God and His Word, can you? And I think these two verses put these two concepts together. There is God and His Word and the two are like two sides of the same coin. God moves powerfully through His Word and His Word is given to us and is intimately connected with the power of the Holy Spirit. So as we read these two verses and as we expound them, I want you to think both of God and His Word acting in unison; God working through His Word powerfully – gloriously! As Spurgeon has put it: ‘It moves, this Word. It stirs itself, it lives, it communes with living men as a Living Word.’ So that’s what we’re talking about in these two verses: God and His Word as two sides of the same coin. But now I want to spend a lot more time looking at:
- The Power and Function of the Word of God
I want you to notice how he describes it in this passage:
a. The Word of God is Living and Active
That’s the first thing – living and active. God’s Word is not dead. It is not written by someone who died long ago and there’s no power in it and we read it as a storybook and maybe we’re moved to tears if it’s a good story and it challenges us here and there, but we soon forget it and we move on. That’s not what God’s Word is like. It’s alive; it’s powerful; it works. And Isaiah 55 is a good commentary on this particular verse. Remember what the Lord revealed to Isaiah in Isaiah 55 verse 11: “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth. It shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We must always remember that God has got a purpose in sending His Word. God has got a purpose in speaking His Word to you, in you hearing His Word and you hearing it preached and taught. There is a purpose behind it and God will achieve His purpose and we will see more of that as we go through. But what purposes in broad terms, where do we see this power of God’s Word so active? If we look at it in broad categories you can see it firstly in Creation in this very same book. Hebrews 11 verse 3 puts it this way: “By faith we understand that the Universe was created by the Word of God.” Remember God revealed; He spoke. How can we speak anything into existence? We’ve got voice recognition in computers now, haven’t we? We can speak and it will type for us, but that’s a far cry from God speaking and things appearing and God’s Word being so powerful and active in Creation. There is also God’s sustaining power over the world that He’s created. Hebrews 1:3 (he is talking about the Lord Jesus here) “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power.” Why is it that the world continues? Why doesn’t the earth go out of its orbit? Well, the physicists will tell you about the laws of gravity and all that and that it stays in its orbit and there are 365 and a quarter days for the earth to revolve around the sun. But why does it stay there – what sustains this world and everything in it? It is the Word of Christ’s power. Then what about something much more personal. If you’re a Christian tonight it’s happened to you – regeneration – the new birth. 1 Peter 1:23 puts it this way: “…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” I want you to think back on your own life history – of a turning point in your life, in your spiritual life. Maybe you’ve even been brought up in a Christian home and you’ve been exposed to the Bible and taught it and you’ve been taken to Sunday school and so on, but did there come a watershed point or watershed period not necessarily an instant, but period or time when suddenly you viewed the Scriptures with different eyes. It’s almost as if you got new spectacles and it came alive and started talking to you and you started to see Christ with new eyes and you started to see yourself as you really were or are in the eyes of God – in desperate need of cleansing and forgiveness as the Spirit of God through His Word working – active, powerful, changing, turning you. That’s the power of the Word of God, and if you’re a Christian that has happened to you. And you would have experienced that and I hope you have experienced that and if not, you need to humble yourself before the Lord and seek him as you search your own heart. And it is so powerful that God and His Word can bring something to remembrance 85 years later. Let me give you an example. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but in the time of the Puritans there was a Puritan by the name of John Flavel and he preached in England. And he lived in a Coastal town called Dartmouth in England. And he would go down to the docks, and that was the time when many an Englishmen were saying: ‘Well England’s a bad place to live. Let’s emigrate. Let’s go to New England – the United States of America! That is the promised land!’ And so, many families boarded these boats that you could hardly call them ships and embarked on that perilous journey to cross the Atlantic to find their new life in the United States of America. And John Flavel used to go down to the docks and he preached. And once he preached to a 15 year old boy who was on that ship or that boat and he sailed across the ocean – and this young man, his name was Luke Short, eventually acquired a farm and he did very well in the United States in his farm in New England and he lived to over a hundred years old. Now that’s a couple hundred years ago. Can you imagine that? And on his 100th birthday, he went down to the fields and he looked at these fields and he started to congratulate himself about how well he had done. He started to think back over his long life and he remembered the sermon of John Flavel 85 years earlier. And as he remembered that word and the Spirit started bringing it to mind, he realized that he was going to die in his current state under the curse of God and he was going to be in hell. And there on his farm he was converted and he turned to the LORD. How can it be possible? The Word of God and the Spirit of God is active and powerful and it can do things that are miraculous and glorious. And so we see that’s what it does and we can see it in many other examples as well. So it is living and active.
b. It is Sharper than any two-edged sword
It pierces and penetrates. That’s the second way in which it is powerful and it functions. Now, Christ is associated with swords. Isn’t it interesting in Revelation we are told that out of His mouth went also a two-edged sword. What are swords used for? They’re not used to just display on mantelpieces. That’s not their main function. Their main function is to do battle; it is to pierce and when it comes to this and the Apostle, whoever wrote this, is using this as an example or an analogy of what God’s Word is really like; it’s like a sword that pierces. But it has two edges – a two-edged sword can cut with both edges. The one edge brings salvation. The other edge – and this is very sobering – it brings judgment and condemnation. And I want to show you that as we look at this two-edged sword of God and His Word. But the first edge is the one that we are perhaps most familiar with:
(i) The edge that brings salvation – it penetrates to the hard hearts. You see God is not interested in just the outward change. When He deals with a person; when He regenerates a person; when He turns them around He gets to the very heart of the person and that’s what He does – He changes the heart. And this is the glory of the New Covenant isn’t it? In this very book – Hebrews chapter 8 verse 10 we read: “For this is the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days declares the Lord. I will put My Laws into their minds and write them on their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be My people.” God has to penetrate those hard hearts. He has to take out the heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh. He has to write His Law on our hearts. That means make us willing to obey and to trust. That’s what His work is all about.
Now notice how our text puts it: “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Your core – what you really are – can be described as your spirit or your soul and then he uses the word heart as well. Heart at the latter part of verse 12 is really another way of describing your spirit. It is your inmost being; it’s who you really are. It’s your will, it’s your thinking, it’s your thoughts, your emotions and your intellect. That’s what you are, and that’s what the Spirit of God does. And he uses the analogy saying that it can get into the – as it were – to the very joints and the marrow of a person. We look at our bodies; we look at our bones and we can’t see our joints. You can’t see your marrow. Maybe if you’re a surgeon you can! If you have to operate on people you get to the joints; you get to the marrow, but those are hidden things and in the time of the Scriptures you didn’t ever see that and the doctors never got that far, but here they were and here God is saying that this Word He is able to penetrate. This sword is able to cut right to the heart – to the revealing even of the intentions and thoughts of our hearts – the deep things – the secret things in your heart. That’s what the Spirit of God can penetrate. And of course, that’s exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost didn’t it? When Peter preached to that great multitude and the Word went out; the Word of God with great power and it’s penetrating and it cuts. We are told in Acts 2:37: “now when they heard this…” (Remember, these were the people that rebelled against Christ – these were the people that put Him on the cross – that jeered and shouted ‘release Barabbas! We don’t want Christ!’ They were hard – they were opposed to Him. These are the people when Peter preached, that sword cut them to the heart. And this is what he says: “now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter in the rest of the Apostles Brothers. What shall we do?” He said repent and be baptized and 5,000 men were saved on that day. You see the very thoughts and intentions of the heart were made bare by the piercing sword of God’s Word. It happened, and it happens throughout history. It happened in the time of George Whitefield. He recounts an interesting story – or one of his biographers does – of how he used to go and preach and we know that Whitfield and Wesley and others preached in the open air to thousands and God enabled them to preach with such loudness of volume that people heard them. Incredible! It was dangerous work, because there were those who were opposed to the Gospel and they used to pitch up with their cudgels (that means large sticks) to fight and try and stop the Evangelical preachers from preaching. They used to get rocks thrown at them at times – if you read some of church history. But Whitfield one day went out to preach and there was a man by the name of Thorp – his surname. And he went there with the intention of ridiculing the Gospel. He belonged to a club called the Hellfire club – sounds like a motor bike club, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t it was in the days of Whitfield – called the Hellfire club. And he went there with the purpose of jeering and mocking at the Gospel and he didn’t become violent, but he listened carefully enough to get the main points of Whitfield’s sermon and he went back to his Hellfire club members. He called them around and he said ‘I’m going to show you what this preacher preached.’ And he did it in a mocking way. He re-preached Whitfield’s sermon, but with the intention of pouring scorn on the Word of God and on the Word that was preached and as he was doing so, he became so convicted of his own lost and rebellious state, that he broke down and was converted among his Hellfire club members – incredible! There is the cutting power of the edge of God’s Sword. Some of you may remember from Lynnwood Baptist Church, Jack Ratan. I’m sure Oom Wilhelm will remember him well – a great prayer warrior – the Martins will remember him. And when he was a young man, he was very enthusiastic and he went along to a well-known denomination. And because he was so enthusiastic, they said well, we’ll make you a lay preacher you go and to preach on the street corners or wherever you can find a soapbox to stand on and preach and he did and he told me the story once. And he was unconverted. He was not a converted man. He had not reached that turning point in his life and there he was preaching away and suddenly he said, in his preaching he realized what a hypocrite he was and he was converted by his own preaching. Incredible, isn’t it? How does it happen? Well here, this is the explanation! We’ve read it! It’s a sharp two-edged sword, which does great things.
Now you may say to me: well Richard we don’t live in times of Revival. The last time South Africa had a Revival was a hundred and sixty years ago, but God is still active. It doesn’t mean He’s not working and He’s not saving. But I want us to move on to the second point. But before I leave that – maybe we should be praying more for a Revival, shouldn’t we? We should be getting together and praying that God would send us another great Revival like He did a hundred and sixty years ago. But let’s look at the second edge of God’s Word. This is one that is very somber and it is:
(ii) The edge that brings judgement and condemnation – In Hebrews 3:8 we read these words: Do not Harden your hearts as in the Rebellion. That’s what happened to that rebellious generation in the desert. They had come out of Egypt. They had seen God’s great works; wonderful works; powerful works. How could you ever forget seeing darkness come over the land, seeing those hailstorms, seeing the frogs and the gnats and the water of the Nile turned into blood? How could you ever forget that and turn away from God? How could you ever forget having walked through the Red Sea on dry land and then soon after that sea coming back and drowning the Egyptian army? How could you forget that? And yet they did and they tested God and they rebelled against Him. And God’s Word came in judgment: the edge of the sword that we’re talking about. They had hard hearts and they rejected His Word. The same happened when Stephen preached his great sermon in Acts chapter 7. Do you remember that? And Paul was there, and at the end of his sermon they listen to him up to a point and then he became so bold as that sword of judgment came and he said: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears. You always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” And then we read in verse 54: “Now when they heard these things they were enraged and they ground their teeth at him and they took him outside and they stoned him to death.” The Judgment of God! You cannot; you cannot treat the Word of God with indifference – that’s the point. It cuts either one way or the other. And isn’t it interesting that in Isaiah’s Ministry – and I read you earlier from Isaiah that: “My Word will achieve the purpose for which I send it.” And we always think that that purpose is cutting for salvation, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s for judgment, because remember Isaiah’s Ministry when He had that great revelation of the Holy One enthroned in His glory and he was aware of his sin, the seraphim took a coal and cleansed his lips from sin. And the Lord said: “Who shall I send to this rebellious and stubborn people?” He said: “Send me I will go.” And he went, but what was the nature of his ministry? Listen to it: “Go and say to this people said the Lord, keep on hearing but do not understand, keep on seeing but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull and their ears heavy and blind their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.” If you do not accept God’s Word, if it doesn’t soften your heart it will come in judgment and it will harden you and it will destroy you and it will take you to Hell forever. That is sobering; that is the two edged sword of God and His Word. Jesus Himself said the same things. Jesus at one stage was very popular, but at the end many turned away from Him. He said this in John 6 verse 63 after feeding the 5000, showing them that He is the bread of life – that He can give life too – eternal life! He said this to them: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” – much like what we’re reading here in Hebrews 4. And then later on in John 12:48, He says: “The Word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” It will judge him! There is no neutrality when you are confronted with the two edged sword of the Word of God. And maybe some of you are discouraged because you’ve been reaching out and you’ve been trying to bring that Word maybe to relatives or friends, and it’s not getting through. And you’re somehow doubting whether this Word is truly empowered by God. Can it really save? Yes it can! It may take 85 years or – perhaps, soberly – it may come in judgment and hardening. And so we need to look at our own hearts this evening and say to ourselves: ‘How do we respond to this Word?’ You can’t just walk away apathetically. That is not an option. It either leads to salvation, or to judgment. And that is the seriousness of dealing with God’s Word. So, how are you responding tonight? Are you responding in faith and obedience and in submission, or is there that heart of rebellion kicking against the goads of God’s Word? It will destroy you unless you humble yourself.
- The Omniscient Eye of God
We’ve dealt with the power and function of God’s Word. We’ve dealt with the identity of God’s Word. But I want you to notice – the Omniscient Eye of God – God and His Word – two sides of the same coin. Look at verse 13: “And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” The word omniscient comes from two Latin words ‘omni’, which means all and ‘scientia’ which means knowledge. God has all knowledge. God has all insight. God sees all things; God knows all things; God is ever present in time and history – as He is present with us here tonight – and God sees the thoughts and intentions of our hearts – as we saw there the heart is the spirit or the soul. We’re using these terms interchangeably here in this passage. God knows all things. You cannot hide from Him. You can try run from Him as Jonah did, but you cannot escape Him. He will find you out. Every corrupt official, every cheating student, every dishonest businessman, every evil deed will be exposed to the all-seeing eye of God and your hearts and your motives too will be exposed. It’s almost as if God had a scanner and He would take it and He would scan your heart as you sit here tonight. And suddenly on the screen you would see your deepest thoughts. Imagine that? Imagine how horrifying that could be? Maybe that’s what it’s like when God reveals and all things are open before Him and naked before Him – the omniscient eye of God. How will we stand before the God and His Word? – Only through the blood and life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Practical Applications
(i) This calls us to prayerful self-examination doesn’t it? God’s powerful and penetrating Word calls us to prayerful self-examination. Take the words of Psalm 139: “Search me o God and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts and see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” Do you ever do this? Do you ever stop; do you ever take stock on your life and do what Luke Short did and go and think about your life? Do you search your heart? Do you penetrate into those deep thoughts and see how do you stand before the Lord, the all-seeing eye of God? Perhaps you’ve never done that and perhaps if you do, you’ll be shocked at what you find and I urge you to do that and find the Lord while there is time. Perhaps you have secrets sins lurking in your heart that you are largely ignorant of. We need to pray that God would work in our hearts, that He would take His Word and He would deal with us and put the spotlight on those – perhaps secret sins – those darling sins that we hold on so dearly to our hearts, and yet they need to be dealt with. And maybe sometimes we are not even fully conscious of them ourselves, but we need God’s piercing sword to go there and we need to stop and ponder before the Lord and let Him deal with us and humble ourselves before Him. Do you experience that as God’s Word? Maybe as you’re reading the Scriptures and studying and thinking and praying maybe as you hear the Word preached or you’re sitting in a Bible study. Does it deeply convict you at times and cut you to the heart? That’s what it ought to do. Let’s not harden our hearts.
(ii) Remember God sees on the positive side. Remember God sees the good works of His people when they are done away from the public eye. We were talking a bit about this at Bible study the other night. God sees. Maybe you are involved in a Ministry in the church, which very few people know about and they’re not aware of. Some people’s Ministries are very public and everybody can see and they can see what’s going on, but your Ministry is not. It’s like as Paul says the body of Christ is composed of different members like our own bodies and some are not revealed. They are private and maybe a lot of your Ministry is private and not seen by the rest of the body of Christ. But here’s the good news: God sees; He sees what you do. He recognizes the good works of His people – things like making love‑packs, getting the building ready for worship and maintenance. Perhaps lifting people to church who can’t get here, but who would like to be here; reaching out to somebody. You’re trying to get the Gospel across to them and maybe only you and that person knows. God sees and God will reward; perhaps visiting somebody who’s lonely; a work of encouragement or a word of encouragement or a phone call or WhatsApp or even maybe a gentle rebuke to somebody who’s straying. Or one of the prayer warriors who’s praying who can’t always get out to meet with God’s people, but who’s praying and praying – who is truly like an Annah in Luke’s Gospel who prayed and saw the Lord Jesus – or someone who gives generously and shows hospitality, who cares for those who are sick and there are many, many such good works that are hidden from the public eye. Be encouraged; God sees and God takes notice.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians in this way. He was saying to those who are doing behind-the-scenes work and all sorts of things serving God faithfully. He says: “Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord knowing that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” I think sometimes we think well, would it even matter if I don’t do this – am I wasting my time? No, you’re not wasting your time. It does matter: your labour in the Lord is not in vain. Be encouraged: the all-seeing eye of God sees and He would reward – even to the giving of a cup of cold water as He says in the Gospels.
(iii) Do not fret when the wicked prosper. The Bible talks about fretting. Read Psalm 37 and I’m afraid that we as Christians fret a great deal. We look at our politicians, we look at the things they say, we look at our corrupt officials – whether they be in public service or private service – and we get all worked up and we get all steamed up and we look at our politicians and we look and we get beside ourselves, sometimes. As if God is not doing his job. Why doesn’t the Lord act; what is wrong with Him? Do not fret because of evildoers, the Psalmist says. Of course, we should be concerned. Of course it is good to be righteously angry, but let it not disturb and derail our walk with the Lord, so that we get so side-tracked that we go off on a tangent and we stop focusing on the Lord and serving Him. God sees, God will act, God will deal. And He may even use you. I’m not suggesting that you be passive and do absolutely nothing, but let’s not be derailed by fretting, because God sees and He will act in His time.
Lastly, as we’ve looked at this passage tonight, we should praise God and we should humble ourselves before Him and worship Him because of His great wisdom, His great omniscience and the power of His Word that He uses. And it’s because of the power of that Word that we are here and we can bear testimony to it and we should thank Him and praise Him. Remember the words of the Lord: “The entrance of God’s Word gives light.” We walk in the light of it and what a blessing that is.