Sermon for Sunday October 14th, 2018, the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

 

The Lessons: Psalm 90:12-17; Amos 5:6-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

The Text: Hebrews 4:12-16

The Topic: The searching power of God’s word

INTRODUCTION

NBC added VeggieTales — a popular and thoroughly Christian cartoon — to its Saturday morning lineup in 2006. But before showing any episodes, the network first eliminated Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and many of the references to God and Scripture.

Initially NBC said the cuts were necessary to fit each episode into a tight, twenty-three-minute slot. But upon further investigation, it became clear there was more to the story. After pressure from several Christian organizations, NBC released the following statement: “NBC is committed to the positive messages and universal values of VeggieTales. Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view.”

Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales, expressed deep disappointment in the edits. “It’s a mistake to pitch VeggieTales as just values,” he said, “because fundamentally it’s about God.” Bob Bozell, president of Parents Television Council and the Media Research Center, was also disappointed. He said, “Today no one in network TV fears what the children are watching — unless it makes them think about God.”

— David Slagle, “NBC Removes Biblical
Content from ‘VeggieTales,’ ”
PreachingToday.com [1]

Instead of worrying whether children might think about God when watching VeggieTales, is anyone concerned that God is thinking about him? The writer of Psalm 139 was well aware that God knew his thoughts:

O LORD, thou hast searched me out, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting, and mine uprising; thou understandest my thoughts long before.

 

(Ps. 139:1, Book of Common Prayer, 1928)

In Ephesians 6:17, the word of God is called the sword of the Spirit, and here in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the fourth chapter, we find this vivid description of the power of God’s word:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

 

(Hebrews 4:12, KJV)

The New King James Version (NKJV) substituted the word “living” for “quick,” since in modern English usage, “quick” no longer means “living.” The first characteristic of God’s word as listed here is its life. It is not dead, but more than alive! It lives and gives life, since it is the sword of the Holy Spirit.

THE LIFE OF GOD’S WORD

In verse 11 of this chapter, the writer urges his readers to make every effort to enter God’s rest, so that they may not fall by the same example of unbelief which the Israelites showed when they refused to enter the Promised Land, after hearing the discouraging report of most of those sent to spy out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13 & 14). Why, then, is it significant that this description of the word of God immediately follows that exhortation? The Holy Spirit is telling the reader that he must pay attention to God’s word because it is alive, and relevant to his life. The Bible is not an irrelevant book confined to descriptions of past events and having no bearing on human life now. On the contrary, God’s word, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, is living, relevant, powerful and necessary for knowing and doing God’s will. In fact, St. Peter wrote that it is “through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23, NKJV) that Christians have been born again. The word of God bestows life to everyone who believes and obeys it.

THE ACTIVITY OF GOD’S WORD

The word of God is not only living, but also active, continually at work in the life of the believer, particularly in the life of the believer who reads, studies and obeys it. The Greek word used for “active” is one from which we derive our English words “energy” and “energetic.” As we read and learn God’s word, applying it to our lives, the Holy Spirit uses it powerfully to transform our way of thinking and living and to conform us more and more, day by day, to the image of Christ. This active word of God is one great instrument the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify the faithful and bring them to God’s everlasting kingdom, according to the beautiful prayer the Bishop prays over every confirmand:

DEFEND, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom.

 

(p. 297, Book of Common Prayer, 1928)

To increase in the Holy Spirit daily more and more, one must increase in God’s word more and more, and to do that, one must read it daily and interpret and apply it to one’s life with the help of the Holy Spirit.

THE SHARPNESS OF GOD’S WORD

The word of God is not only living and active, but also it is also sharper than any two-edged sword. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the rider of the white horse is called Faithful and True, and also the Word of God (Revelation 19:13), being the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. From his mouth proceeds “a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations” (Revelation 19:15a). Symbolically, the sharp sword is the word of God by which the Lord Jesus Christ will judge the nations. Yet, because “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17a, KJV), we must allow the sword of God’s word to pierce our mind, our heart, and our thoughts, and let the Holy Spirit use his word to discern the thoughts and intentions of our minds. The word of God exposes the thoughts and feelings. Why is this necessary? People are by nature sinful. In Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NKJV), we read:

The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.

 

The purpose of God’s testing of the mind and the searching of the heart in Jeremiah is to give each person his deserts – the consequences that each deserves. But in our Lesson from the Epistle to the Hebrews, the purpose is to warn each Christian to turn from even his hidden sins, that he may be cleansed and come to God’s eternal kingdom, instead of falling away from his faith and from eternal life. In case any believer supposes that he or the things he does are hidden from God and will never be found out, he adds this verse for the sake of clarity:

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

(Hebrews 4:13, NKJV)

In other words, nothing in us or about us, nothing that we have done or failed to do, can escape God’s notice. There is nothing that was once swept under the carpet that will not later at some time be revealed when the carpet is rolled back. There is no skeleton that we thought was safely locked up in a cupboard that will not one day suddenly appear. This is true, unless from the heart we have repented, asked forgiveness, and done all we can to make restitution.

GRACE GIVEN BY OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST

The comfort given by the writer to those he has warned so clearly not to try and hide sin from God or continue in it, is that we have the Lord Jesus Christ as our great High priest, who can sympathize with our weaknesses, as he was tempted in all points as we are, yet without yielding to temptation. He is the one to whom we must come boldly to obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). Instead of falling away from our faith because of sins which catch up with us, we must use the opportunity we now have in this present life to come to the Lord Jesus Christ to seek forgiveness and grace to amend our lives.

CONCLUSION

Will you let the Holy Spirit use his word to expose and sift the thoughts and intentions of your heart? Will you come to the Lord Jesus Christ to find mercy and help in your time of need, so that you may “run the way of God’s commandments, obtain his gracious promises, and be made partakers of his heavenly treasure” [2] ?



[1] Quoted on p. 524, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

[2] Collect for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity p. 204, Book of Common Prayer, 1928.

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