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DNA: Word, Hebrews 4:12-13


Hebrews 4:12-13


There are certain spots on roads around the country where the contour of the hills gives the illusion that the law of gravity isn’t working properly. They’re called gravity hills or sometimes mystery spots. One such spot isn’t all that far from here. You may be familiar with it. Out in Benzie County, near Blaine Christian Church on Putney Rd. you’ll find one. You can stop your car and put it in neutral and your car will appear to roll backward uphill. Here’s a video clip taken from that spot.


But it’s all an illusion. Your car is in fact rolling backward, but it’s rolling downhill. The spot occurs on a really hilly section of road and you can’t see the horizon clearly, and there are several trees along the road that cast shadows on the pavement and aren’t growing vertically. So you don’t have a good reference point, making it difficult to judge the slope, and the trees and shadows add to the confusion of your senses. So you FEEL like you’re rolling backwards uphill, when actually you are rolling backwards downhill like any car would. If you were to take a good, long carpenter’s level and lay it on the road you’d see that you’re actually rolling downhill, regardless of what your senses are telling you. Your eyes can be tricked. The level cannot. God has given us something similar. He’s given us his WORD, the Bible. When my life, whatever I am thinking or feeling or experiencing, is placed next to the truth of the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is able to reveal what is true and what is uneven or distorted, untrue.[i]


This is the second in a three-part series of sermons on the three words we use to describe our ministry here at Christ Church: WORSHIP, WORD, and WITNESS. They’re our spiritual DNA as a church. Last week we talked about worship and what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. This week we’re talking about the second component of our DNA as a church – WORD –  the word of God, the Bible, and how God uses it in our lives. If you have a Bible with you or want to open the app on your smartphone or tablet, turn to Hebrews 4:12-13. If you don’t have either you can follow along on the screen behind me. Now, in some churches the people are invited to stand as the word of God is read. So here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like us all to stand and read these to verses together. Standing during the reading of the Word shows respect for, reverence for the Word of God. We won’t always do this, but today, I’d like us all to stand and read these words together.


These two verses are the heart of a paragraph that actually begins up in V. 11, where we read “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Rest. Considering the pace at which most of us live our lives, that sounds really nice, doesn’t it? I mean, who in today’s world complains about getting too much rest? No one! But the rest we’re talking about here is more than just a good night’s sleep or a few weeks’ vacation, or even a three-month sabbatical. It’s actually a way of talking about the peace of God present in our lives. It’s a way of talking about God’s salvation.

God is painting a picture of his desire for his people, that we enter his rest, so that ultimately and finally we are able to enjoy eternity in the presence of God. And V. 11 is a warning. It is a warning to pay careful attention to the Word of God, for those who haven’t done that have not entered into God’s rest.


But we do not worship the Bible. We worship Christ. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us. It points us to Christ. It reveals Christ to us. Steve Bartkowski, at one time quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, said, “For years the Bible was a dead book to me … like grits without salt. But after I gave my life to Jesus Christ, it became alive. I saw that the Bible was God’s way of talking to me.[ii]


Sadly, we have a tendency to view the Word of God, the Bible, as just another book. God’s recommendation for a happy, healthy life perhaps, but nothing more than that. We tune out when the pastor teaches the Word of God. We’re glad that other people attend classes and groups that study the Bible, but we have no plans to join in. Our own Bibles sit at home on the shelf collecting dust. They’re decoration, home décor. Or today, it’s an app on our phone that almost never get opened. To be honest, not all pastors teach the Word of God. Some teach the words and thoughts of human beings. But when the Word of God is taught, studied, read, ingested, and meditated upon, the Holy Spirit uses it to transform us. It has power and authority in our lives. Why?


Because it is “living and active.” It is the living Word of God. It does something! Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, tells us that all Scripture is “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Some translations use the phrase “inspired by God” there. But the thought isn’t of just “inspiring words.” It’s of the act of inspiration, which is another word for breathing. The words of Scripture find their source not in the minds of human beings, but in the mind and heart of God. The Word of God is the breath of God breathing on us.


One of Jesus’ closest friends on this earth, Peter, said it this way: “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The word “active” can also be translated “effective.” The Word of God always accomplishes God’s purpose. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says “… 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 (Is. 55:11).


One college student, who was a follower of Christ, shared a room with a Muslim. As they became friends, their conversations turned to their beliefs. The Christian asked the Muslim if he’d ever read the Bible. He answered no, but then asked if the Christian had ever read the Koran. The Christian responded, “No, I haven’t, but I’m sure it would be interesting. Why don’t we read both together, once a week, alternating books?” Do you see how he didn’t respond to the Koran with fear and loathing. He offered to read it with his Muslim roommate. He was choosing to allow the truth of the Bible and the life that is found in its words to speak for itself.


The young man accepted the challenge, their friendship deepened, and during the second term he became a believer in Jesus. One evening, late in the term, he burst into the room and shouted at the long-time believer, “You tricked me!” “What are you talking about?” the believer asked. The new believer opened his Bible and said, “I’ve been reading it through, like you told me, and just read that the Word is living and active!” He grinned. “You knew all along that the Bible contained God’s power and that the Koran is a book like any other. I never had a chance!” “And now you’ll hate me for life?” asked the Christian. “No,” he answered, “but it was an unfair contest.”[iii]


Martin Luther said it this way: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” The Word of God is living and active, and will effectively accomplishing God’s purpose for it. It is the living Word.


It is also the penetrating Word. Look at V. 12. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of our sense of self. It is the core of who we are. One commentator calls it the “radical center of human self-hood.” In the Bible, your heart is the place where your mind, your body, your emotions, and your will – that’s the decisions you actually make – all intersect. And through the Word God probes and transforms us there, in our heart, the innermost recesses of our being. And like a seed planted it fertile soil, it sprouts and from there impacts every part of us.


The Word of God isn’t meant to sit on the shelf. It isn’t meant to play around at the edges of our lives. It penetrates to the core of who we are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and cuts out the stuff God wants to remove so that the stuff he wants to grow has room to grow. God doesn’t play around. Oswald Chambers said, “If you are religious, it is easier to read some pious book than the Bible. The Bible treats you like human life does–roughly.” I often hear people talking about wanting sermons, devotionals, and Bible studies that make them feel good. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. God often uses his Word to bring comfort and hope into our lives. He also uses it to make us uncomfortable. To push us. To make us grow. And most importantly, to cut out of our hearts, out of the core of our deepest personality, the sin that must be removed. Sometimes healing hurts.


Sometimes, when we put down the Word of God, when we leave church, we are bleeding and in deep pain, like a patient who has just undergone surgery. And that pain has come about not because the pastor is aiming at us, but because God, in his love, knows that to bring his hope and healing, he has to cut deep, right to the core of my sense of self. The Word of God does bring comfort and hope. It is filled with hope. But eventually God will use it to cut, and cut deep.


The Word of God is the living Word. It is the penetrating Word. And it is the revealing Word. Look at V. 13. In the blink of an eye the focus shifts from the Word of God to God himself. In Genesis God breathes on the human form and it receives life. Because the Word of God is God-breathed, is enlivened by God’s live-giving breath, we cannot separate God from his Word, and the Word of God, penetrating to the very core of our being, leaves us open and bare before God. Nothing at all, no creature, is hidden from his sight. Jesus tells us that God sees even a single sparrow that falls and dies. The thought is both comforting and terrifying –  to know that I will never slip from the sight of God, that I will never find myself in a place where he does not see me, is not acting in my eternal best interest. That means I will never be able to slip away from the sight of God, no matter how hard I try. Before God with his razor sharp Word in his hand, I am naked and exposed.


Naked and exposed. Have you seen that new reality show, “Naked and Afraid?” First of all, they don’t show anything, but it IS obvious that the people are naked. So they take these people, and strip them completely bare, and drop them in the wilderness somewhere and they have to survive for 21 days with nothing, not even the clothes on their backs. Literally. Could you imagine being out in the wilderness like that? No shirt, no shoes, no nothing? But that’s exactly how the Word of God leaves us, naked and exposed. The word translated as “exposed” here has several images associated with it. The first is of a wrestler grasping his opponent by the throat so that he cannot move. The second is of skinning an animal, removing the hide and exposing everything beneath it. The third is of a criminal being led to his execution, with knife held just below his chin so that he must meet the gaze of the crowd, including the family and friends of his victims; he cannot look down. We may be able to avoid or ignore the Word of God for a time, but eventually we must all give an account before God.


New Testament scholar and pastor N.T. Wright said it this way: “If this is going to happen sooner or later, you had much better get on with it. If you have a choice between letting the doctor examine you right away, uncomfortable though it may be, and waiting until he or she can do a post-mortem on you after it’s too late, it’s wise to go for the first. If you open yourself, day by day and week by week, to the message of scripture, its grand sweep and its fine details, and allow the faithful preaching of Jesus and his achievement to enter your consciousness and soak down into your imagination and heart, then the admittedly uncomfortable work of God’s word will be happening on a regular basis, showing you (as we say) where you really are, what’s going on deep inside.”


In the hands of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God has the power to change us. You see, the authority of the Word of God comes from its source: the person of Jesus. In the Jesus, we find the truth, and we also meet Truth, for Jesus said of himself “I Am the Truth” We live in a world that says, “So long as you’re sincere in your beliefs, it doesn’t really matter what you believe. Just be sincere about it. But you know, for centuries, people sincerely believed that the world was flat. That didn’t change the world’s roundness one little bit. The world didn’t suddenly become round when ancient astronomers and physicists discovered the world’s roundness. The world didn’t change at all, nor did the universe when the same scientists pointed out that the earth is not even the center of our solar system, the sun is. The only thing that changed was our perspective. Faced with a reality we could not deny, we changed our belief, our point of view. There is universal, objective Truth out there.  Jesus Christ claimed to be the source of that Truth. In Christ, lives are being changed every day as the Holy Spirit works in people’s lives. The writer of Hebrews says “Look!  Look around you.  You have seen the impact of Jesus on the hearts and lives of people.  You can see it working.”


If that’s the case, why does it seem like God’s Word doesn’t accomplish much sometimes? It is supposed to be living and active. Why does it sometimes seem lifeless and powerless? The Bible is not a magic book. It is possible for people to ignore the Word of God, to hear but not pay attention to what God is saying. Jesus told a story about a farmer planting seed by hand in a field. The seed was symbolic of the Word of God, and as the seed was scattered, some fell along the path, symbolic of the heard closed to the Word of God. Some fell on stony soil, symbolic of the shallow heart, not really allowing the Word of God in. And some fell among thorns, symbolic of the divided heart, a heart being pulled in many directions rather than centered in Christ. Finally, some seed fell on fertile soil, hearts open and receptive to the Word of God. And in those hearts, the seed brought forth a great harvest. Jesus invites us to ask some penetrating questions of ourselves. Am I avoiding the Word of God? Am I closed, not wanting to even think about what God might want to do in my life? Am I ignoring the Word of God? Is my faith shallow? Am I keeping the Word of God at arm’s length, not really allowing it to penetrate? Am I divided, distracted by something else, something I think is more important? Or am I open and receptive, ready to receive all that God wants to say to me?


But God doesn’t just use his Word to show us our sin, show us what’s wrong with us. Through the Holy Spirit, he uses it to shape us, transform us into the people he created us to be. His goal isn’t to twist us into some strange, unnatural shape, but to set us free to become the human beings he has created us to be, reflecting the depth, the richness of God’s love and grace and mercy. In fact, Paul tells his young protégé Timothy that the purpose of the living, penetrating, revealing Word of God is to bring us to maturity in Christ, “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).


As we close, I want to show you two pictures. The first is of a nest full of baby eaglets being fed by their parent. They’re helpless. They can do nothing for themselves. The second is of a mature eagle soaring. When we first come to Christ, we’re like those baby eaglets. We need to be fed. We need to be cared for. We need to be taught how to fly. Just as it’s perfectly appropriate for a young eaglet to depend on its parents for the protection and sustenance it needs to grow and mature, so it’s appropriate for young believers to depend on those more mature in Christ to be cared for. But the eaglet wasn’t created to stay in the nest and be fed by its parent. It was created to soar, and so were you. We were created to soar. Jesus didn’t save us so that we can sit in the pews critiquing sermons and asking to be fed. God wants us to grow, to learn to feed ourselves from his Word, to mature in Christ. God has given us this beautiful, two-part promise: That he began a good work in you … and that he will be faithful to complete that good work in you. We can’t be eaglets forever. We were created to soar.



[i] Adapted from an illustration by Donald Grey Barnhouse

[ii] Steve Bartkowski, quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, quoted by Jamie Buckingham in Power for Living. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 11.

[iii] Floyd Schneider, Evangelism for the Fainthearted (Kregel, 2000); quoted in Men of Integrity (March/April 2001)