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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Cut and Comforted by the Word of God
Text:Hebrews 4:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

With Grateful Heart My Thanks I Bring
God, Be Merciful to Me
Blessed Jesus, at Your Word
O Word of God Incarnate

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“Cut and Comforted by the Word of God”
Hebrews 4:1-13; text: v. 12, 13
It was Martin Luther who said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me.” Our text, in verse 12 speaks of the same truth as it declares: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
That God's word is living and active is evident already in the first page of Holy Scripture. Genesis 1:3 describes how “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God created the universe in all its splendor by the power of his spoken word. Hebrews 11:3 looks back at the power of God’s spoken word in creation as it describes how “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
The word that is translated “active” means to energize. And that powerful energy of God’s spoken word is evident not only in creation, but also in providence. We read of that in Hebrews 1:3 which says, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Although our world is turbulent and seemingly uncertain, God in gracious providence yet sustains and rules according to his will, fulfilling his purposes. As the Lord declares in Psalm 75:3: “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.”
Not only do we witness the power of the word of God in the creation of the world, and in God's providential care for the world, but we especially see the power of the word of God in our salvation. What are we saved through? It is faith in Christ as he is revealed in the word of God. Christ is revealed throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New. As Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (John 5:46) And he is the central figure of the New Testament as it focuses on his birth, his life, sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension into glory, and the certainty of his return to judge the living and the dead and to usher in eternity.
The word of God is necessary for our salvation. Apart from God’s word, as it is applied by the Holy Spirit, no one can be saved, for as Romans 10:17 teaches, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” And 1 Peter 1:2 adds, “You have been born again… through the living and enduring word of God.” As Jesus Himself said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
No matter which realm of God's wondrous work you look at, you will see the power of God’s word: You see it in creation, in providence, and in redemption.
Verse 12 goes on to describe God's word as being “sharper than a double-edged sword.” It is a reminder that God’s word will both cut and comfort the true believer. It cuts our conscience and sears our heart as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin as it revealed in his word, the Holy Bible.
At times every believer has felt the razor edge of God's word. It is true that God's word is a word of great comfort. But the word of God, as the Holy Spirit works within it, can also bring sharp and painful conviction. It truly does “penetrate even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
It has been pointed out that the human heart is like a labyrinth. A labyrinth is defined as “an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one's way or to reach the exit.”
Perhaps some of you have tried to find your way through a maze in the corn fields. If you have ever had that experience, you know how confusing it can be to be caught in that maze of tall corn, and you know how hard it can be to find the exit out of that labyrinth or maze.
But isn't it also true that the center of our being – represented by our heart – can be so hard for us to understand? That is often the case when we look at someone else's heart. But it's also true when we look at ourselves. We can be so conflicted over our own thoughts, attitudes and motives that we seem to be in the labyrinth; we seem to be in the great maze, and we cannot find the exit.
But God knows us through and through. Verse 13 makes that abundantly clear as it points out, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  
And how does God know us through and through? It is by the work of his Spirit through the word which “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” As it does so, it can cut us with sharp conviction in the deepest depth of our heart. But it can also comfort us with a solace and peace which surpasses all understanding.
The Word Accomplishes Its Purpose
Since God’s word is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it is always able to accomplish God's purpose. In Isaiah 55:10-11 the Lord declares:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
 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.”
Yet the purpose of God's word is not always the same. Some are saved by God's word; others are condemned because of God's word.
As an example, consider how the living and active word of God penetrated and convicted those who heard Peter's message at Pentecost. Peter described how Jesus had been crucified. In Acts 2:22-24 he said: “…Listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
He quoted from the Old Testament showing that Jesus is the Messiah. And then he concluded, in Acts 2:36 by saying, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Those words cut the people to the heart. Verse 37 says, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Peter told them to repent of their sins, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be baptized.
As the second chapter of Acts closes, Luke writes: “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
The word of God is essential for our salvation. Without the knowledge of the word of God, no one can be saved from their sin. The Apostle Paul points that out clearly in Romans 10. In verse 14 and 15 he asks a series of questions: How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” And then, in Romans 10:17 he points out, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
That is part of the urgency of missions. Without the Bible – without the word of God – no one can be saved from their sin. Consequently, you and I, along with all Christians, are to make every effort to spread the gospel around the globe, as well as in our neighborhoods.
However, the word of God is not intended to always have the same effect. Just as many are saved by believing the word of God, many others are condemned because of their disbelief and disobedience to God’s word. As an example, the Jewish leaders who stoned Stephen to death certainly knew the word of God. In Acts 7:53 Stephen told them, “You received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
How did they react?  Verse 54: “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.”  And from there, they went on to stone him to death.
Knowing the word of God is not enough to be saved. The devil knows the Bible through and through. And so do his followers. But they study the Bible in an effort to destroy the meaning and authority of God’s word. And Scripture tells us that we should not be surprised by that, “for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Cor. 11:14, 15)
Perhaps you have known people who deny the certainty of the final judgement. They sometimes quote John 12:47. There Jesus says, “As for the person who hears my word but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” But in their haste to believe what they want to believe, they don't go on to the next verse. In John 12:48, Jesus warns, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”
God's word always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent. It will harden the hearts of unbelievers. And it will convict – and also comfort – the hearts of God's elect. The Apostle Paul likened the different effects of the word of God this way in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.  He writes, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”
In a similar way Peter points out, in 1 Peter 2 that those who have saving faith in Christ find him to be precious, knowing that “the one who trust in him will never be put to shame,” And then he adds:
          “But to those who do not believe,
  The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,” and,
A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
 “They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.”
Likewise, Simeon, when he saw Jesus as a little baby, blessed Joseph and Mary, and said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed...” (Luke 2:34, 35)
That the word of God either saves or condemns is also evident from our context. Earlier in chapter 2 (as we saw last week), the gospel was preached to those in the Old Testament, just as the gospel has been proclaimed to us. However, we read in verse 2 that “the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith.”
­By contrast, verse 11 tells us to “make every effort to enter God's rest, so that none will fall by following their example of disobedience.”  God's rest represents salvation, as we rest in Christ and not our works. In its ultimate sense, God's rest represents heaven. The new heavens and the new earth are the promised land for us, just as Canaan was the promised land for the Israelites in the Old Testament. But Israel was unable to enter the promised land of Canaan; they refused to believe both the promises and the warnings in the word of God.
In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin points out that God's Spirit causes his word to be living and active in the heart of the elect, bringing salvation to those who by God's grace believe in Jesus as he is revealed in the word. But Calvin likens the reprobate to those who have a heart like an anvil, and the hammer of the word of God bounces back off the hardness of their heart.
It is an apt illustration and a serious call for each one of us to examine our heart. Is our heart open to the promises and the warnings of God's word? Do we turn in repentance to the Lord when his word cuts us like a knife revealing our sin? And in the words of James 1:22, are we doers of the word of God and not only hearers of his word?
This passage in Hebrews 4 is teaching us that Israel of the Old Testament heard the word of God, but it was of no value to them because they did not combine it with faith. They did not take it to heart; they did not live it out in their lives. Unfortunately, they have had a lot of company throughout history and still today. There are untold numbers of people who have heard God’s word but never been cut – convicted – and have, because of that, never seen their great need for saving faith in Christ alone.
Many others profess to believe the word of God and to love the Bible, but they don’t seem to share the desire of the Psalmist who repeatedly declared his love for God’s word and declared, “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.” (Psa. 119:24) Although many profess to believe in Jesus, they have little desire to follow Peter’s admonition to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) 
By contrast may you and I relate to what Martin Luther said: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me.”  It is only the one who has been chased by the word of God, made uncomfortable – grabbed and cut by that living and active double-edged sword – who will repent from the heart. And then, by God’s grace, focus in saving faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who became flesh and redeemed his people from their sin.
It is Christ whom the word reveals. He is the word become flesh (John 1:14). Everything that is written in the Bible is about him. After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus explained that to his to disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) In the pages of Scripture, the Lord has revealed himself with this purpose: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
May you and I be among those who, by God’s grace and regenerating Spirit, are both cut and comforted by the precious word of God, having true saving faith in Christ alone! Amen.
sermon outline:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged
sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow;
it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12
                       “Cut and Comforted by the Word of God”
                                              Hebrews 4:12, 13
I.  God’s Word both cuts and comforts the true believer because it is:
      1) Living and active (12a) in every realm, including creation (Genesis
           1:3); providence (Hebrews 1:3) and redemption (John 6:63)
      2) Sharper than a double-edged sword, it convicts us and judges the
           thoughts and attitudes of our heart (12b; Acts 2:37)
II. God’s Word always accomplishes God’s purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11):
       1) Some are saved by it when they believe in Christ (Romans 10:17;
           1 Peter 1:23)
       2) Others are condemned because of their disobedience to God’s
            Word (John 12:48; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 1 Peter 2:7-8)
III. Application: We must know and believe God’s Word to enter His rest –
       heaven (2, 11) – for God’s Word reveals Christ (John 1:14; 5:46, 6:68, 20:31)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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