Living and Active

Hebrews 4:12-16

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

            I think it would be good to begin today with a short quiz.  There is documentation of three people walking on water in the history of humanity.  Two of them are documented in the Bible.  The first is Jesus.  The second was Peter.  Now can anyone tell me who the third person to ever walk on water was?  It was this guy.

 

            I hope that it is obvious to us all that he was not really walking on water.  Very shortly he will be getting wet and possibly getting hurt.  But simply by looking at this picture, you might assume that he was walking on water. 

            Pictures don’t tell the entire story, do they?  We don’t know why the bull is chasing the man, but we do know why the man is running!  We don’t know where this picture was taken.  We don’t know the time of day or even the year.  Pictures capture a fraction of a second and put it down on paper.  Some people say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I believe pictures do not replace words.  Pictures need explaining.

            Pictures help us to capture a memory of a certain place at a certain time.  We have the opportunity to look through pictures later and say, “Ah, I remember being at Niagara Falls in the spring of 08.  That was magnificent.”  Or, “High school graduation, man, look at my hair back then!  What was I thinking!”

            Pictures are also a way for other people to gain from our experiences.  I was back in Ohio this past weekend for my grandfather’s 90th birthday party.  We drove to Ohio Thursday evening after work and then we had all day Friday to work at setting up and preparing for the party.  We got the church decorated, food prepared, and we went through album after album of old pictures.  There were pictures that were almost a century old, obviously most of them in black and white.

            I went through most of these pictures by myself or with Sonya.  And this was a lot of fun for us, but yet it also left a lot to be desired.  I didn’t recognize most of the people in the 90 year old pictures.  Even though many of the people were my relatives, I didn’t recognize them in the old pictures.  A lot has changed since then.  And it was difficult for me to figure out where the pictures were taken.  I needed my grandfather there to tell me who those people were and where they were taken.  Pictures are great, but they don’t tell the entire story by themselves.

            Our scripture for this morning begins by saying, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

            That phrase, “the word of God” is a little bit confusing to me.  Is the author of Hebrews talking about something that God has spoken like you are hearing the word of Kevin now?  We know that God spoke to certain persons directly in the Old Testament.  Genesis even says that God spoke creation into existence.  Or if we look at John’s gospel, the “Word” is a reference to something else all together.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  In John’s gospel, the word of God is a reference to Jesus.

            But the way that the author of Hebrews is using the phrase “word of God” here is as a reference to the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures and the first five books of our Old Testament.  We could probably substitute Torah for word of God and have the same meaning that the author of Hebrews was intending (though I know some people will object to this).  Indeed, the Torah is living and active… 

            We can gather that he is talking about the Torah by looking at the text above our scripture for today where the author of Hebrews talks about keeping the Sabbath.  He goes through the reasons why we keep the Sabbath: God created the world and then rested on the seventh day, God punished the Israelites for not keeping the Sabbath.  The Torah actually tells us multiple times, most clearly in the Ten Commandments, to observe the Sabbath.  Keep that day separate, keep it holy and set aside.  Don’t work, don’t make your employees work, don’t even make your mule work on the Sabbath. 

            Then the author of Hebrews continues in our scripture for this morning by saying that the word of God, the Torah, is living and active.  He tells his readers, the Jewish converts to Christianity, that this is still applicable.  Sure, we are no longer under the law, we are now under grace.  But observing the Sabbath is still something that we are to continue under the new covenant.  See, Jewish tradition says that Moses wrote the Torah and Moses lived somewhere between 1500 and 1200 years before Christ.  So by the time that the author of Hebrews came along, this was an old, old text.  Ancient, by all means.

            But even though the Torah was so old, it was still applicable to the lives of God’s people.  The Torah was not dead, it is living and active.  That isn’t to say that it changes, but that it remains current, even today, 3,500 years after it might have been written down for the first time!  (This is a conservative estimate of when the Torah was written.  More likely the Torah existed as oral tradition and was later written down during the 6th century before Christ.)

            As Christians, we believe that God not only inspired Moses to write the Torah, but that God also inspired the prophets of the Old Testament and the evangelists and the writers of the epistles of the New Testament.  I believe that God inspired all of these people to write down their accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as well as the history of the early church and what God expects of his followers.  So even though the author of Hebrews was only referring to the Torah when he spoke of the word of God, today we should think of the entire canon as the word of God.

            There was an early Christian theologian that lived from about 85-160 AD by the name of Marcion.  Marcion believed that Jesus Christ was sent from God to be the savior of the world and that his chief apostle was Paul.  However, Marcion found many discontinuities between the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus proclaimed by Paul.  So what did Marcion do?  He threw out the Old Testament.  Not only did he throw out the OT, he also did a pretty good job of chopping up the New Testament.

            Marcion only included in his Bible the writings of Paul and 10 of the 24 chapters of the Gospel of Luke.  He heavily edited Luke so that it only said what he wanted it to say.  What he did was he went into the Bible with a pre-conceived understanding of who God was and who Jesus was and anything that did not fit into his notion of the divine was excluded from the Bible.

            Marcion was later excommunicated and denounced as a heretic.  Today if someone calls you a Marcionite they are not giving you a complement.  The term is used to describe people that choose to overlook certain passages of scripture, only looking at the ones that support their theology or their particular point of view.

            You see, the way that Marcion approached the Bible was like it was a picture album.  When you look through an album you don’t get the stories behind the pictures.  All you do is look at the ones that are appealing to you.  Marcion would see something that he liked in the Bible, lift it out of its intended context, and take it to mean something other than what it was intended to mean.  Just like pictures need to be explained, so do passages of scripture.

            In our scripture the author talks about the word of God being able to pierce our bodies like a double edged sword.  It is able to separate ligaments and tendons, bones and marrow.  What a great image!  The word of God is even able to separate spirit and soul.  I don’t even know what the difference is between spirit and soul, but yet the word of God is able to separate the two.  I don’t even know what that means.

            What the author is trying to say is that we are accountable to the scriptures because the scriptures are from God.  No matter how old they are, we need to wrestle with all of the scriptures and decide how they are applicable to our lives today.  In verse 13 we read, “And before him (God) no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”  Now if we just took that passage of scripture and tried to understand it, well first of all I would be pretty scared of God and even scared of scripture.  I don’t want my joints and tendons separated!  That sounds painful.  And if we stopped reading right there God would sound like a vicious, blood-thirsty, angry, vindictive god just waiting for us to slip up so that he can punish us eternally.

            But we don’t just read that section of scripture as if we were looking at a picture.  We keep reading and look at that scripture in context.  We ask, “What is the story behind the picture?”  As we read on beginning in verse 14 we find out that yes, God does have high expectations of us.  But we do not have a God that is unable to sympathize with us.  No, we serve a God that came to this earth in the flesh, was tested, and was able to overcome sin.  And because we serve a God that knows how difficult this life can be we read, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

            Now rather than looking at just a snapshot, rather than just looking at a small segment of what God wishes to communicate with us, we are seeing the larger picture.  God is holy.  God is righteous.  God desires for us to follow him perfectly and God knows when we fail.  Yet we serve a loving God that can sympathize with our failures who offers us mercy and grace in times of need.

            I believe that many people have a poor understanding of humanity because they form their theology on a few snapshots of scripture rather than the larger context of the entire Bible.  For instance, where does your Bible begin?  Page 1 of my Bible puts me at Genesis chapter 1, verse 1.  This is important.  We need these first few chapters of the Bible.  But it seems like many people’s Bible’s don’t begin until Genesis chapter 3.  If we begin in chapter 3 we begin with the fall of humanity.  Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit.  They sin.  That sin brings punishment upon them as they are forced to leave the Garden of Eden.  Adam is made to till the soil; Eve is made to give birth to children. 

            But if we begin in chapter 1 we see that God created humanity as good, in God’s own image.  Man and woman had full fellowship with God.  They ate of the food that was grown in the garden.  They lived side by side with the animals in peace.

            If we neglect the first two chapters of the Bible and just jump right in to chapter three, we might look at humanity as fundamentally bad.  You might walk down the street and look at someone and immediately see them as a sinner.  Maybe you see a homeless person and you assume that they are an alcoholic or a drug addict.  You see a young girl pushing a baby carriage and all you can focus on is that she had that child while she was still a child herself.  Shame on her, she probably didn’t have good parenting.

            But if you begin by reading in Genesis one, you see these people in the way God sees them.  Fundamentally good, created in the image of God, yet marred by sin.  I’m not trying to downplay the role of sin, but to call our attention to how God sees us.  Rather than condemning people, you have compassion for them.  Rather than looking the other way when you see someone in need, you look at them with love.

            You see, we need the entire Bible to make sense out of any of it.  It is not a group of individual stories that are unrelated and packaged between two leather covers.  It is one grand narrative that begins with God creating the world and calling it good and ends with God re-establishing things as good, redeeming the world.

            The Bible is not a text book that is meant to tell us how old the world is.  The Bible is not a rule book.  The Bible is not some collection of proof texts that we are to use as ammunition to defend our particular political position.  The Bible is the living and active word of God that tells us the story of God’s redemption of creation and how we are to take part in that.  When we just take a section of the Bible here and a section of the Bible there, we are looking at individual snapshots, and not at the entire story.  It is like we are going through my grandfather’s picture album.  If we do not have the story behind the pictures, we are left to guess at who those people are, what they are doing, and where they are.  We might enjoy looking at the pictures, we might be able to get a few things out of them, but with out the entire story the Bible becomes like a few random pictures of people we don’t know doing things we are unfamiliar with, in places that we do not recognize.

            Today we have an opportunity to participate in the biblical narrative through an act of remembrance.  Today we partake of the cup and of the bread which represents the blood and body of Christ.  We don’t do this in church just because Jesus told us to do it.  In fact, we are never told to take communion in the Bible.  Jesus tells his disciples to do this in remembrance of him, but never are we told to do it.

            But today we do partake in these elements because we are a part of this grand narrative.  We are living out God’s word today because God’s word is living and active within us and through us.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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