Captured And Captivated By Christ – Hebrews 4:12-The Book That Reads Us

Grace For The Journey

Keeping our eyes

Fixed on Jesus.

I really like verses 12 and 13 in chapter 4, and I want to look at them again today.  Verse 12 is especially familiar to many of us, this a verse we use to talk about the nature of God’s Word.  God’s Word as taught in the Bible is, “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”  We noted yesterday how this verse relates to the context of chapter 4.  In Chapters 3 and 4 the writer is essentially saying, “Do not be like the hard-hearted Israelites we read about in the first five books of the Old Testament.  They hardened their hearts in unbelief and failed to obey God’s Word to enter into the land of Canaan, the promised land.  They died in the wilderness as a people who failed to trust God, failed to heed the word of God.”  

The writer uses the failure

Of the Old Testament Hebrews

As a warning to these

New Testament Hebrews,

These new believers in Christ.

The warning is that . . .

Just as the believers in the Old Testament

Failed to go on believing God and trusting God,

So may these believers in the New Testament

Fail to go on believing Christ, trusting Jesus Christ.

And the writer is saying, “Do not let that happen to you!”  The writer warns them, saying to the Hebrews – and also saying to us – “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”

As you open your heart to God . . .

God’s Word will show you what needs to change in you.

God’s Word will get down deep into your hearts,

Revealing to you what you need to change

In your thinking, your motives, and your intentions.

God’s Word will pierce your heart, reveal what is wrong inside,

And point out for you what needs to change.

Allow God’s Word to do that work

And then respond rightly –

Respond rightly not by hardening your heart,

But by allowing it to remain soft and

By obeying what God’s Word says.

I want us to look at these two verses again and study them in greater detail this today.

Verses 12 And 13 say, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  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.”

As we study these verses, may these words from an old hymn about the Bible be our prayer this morning:

“Make the book live to me O Lord.

Show me Yourself within Your Word.

Show me myself and show me my Savior,

And make the book live to me.”

When we read the Bible, we read the very word of God.  We note an interesting comparison in chapter 3 verse 7 and chapter 4 verse 7.  In verse 7 of chapter 4 the writer of Hebrews introduces a reference to Psalm 95 by saying, “Again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today . . .,’” quoting Psalm 95, a Psalm he references by mentioning David wrote Psalm 95.  Compare that reference to Psalm 95 with the writer’s previous reference to the same Psalm in verse 7 of chapter 3, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice . . .’”  In one place the writer says, in essence, David wrote Psalm 95 and in another place, the Holy Spirit – God – wrote Psalm 95.  And that leads us to ask, “Who is it then?  Is it God who writes Scripture or is it man who writes Scripture?”  The answer is that both God and man are involved in the writing of Scripture.  The Bible tells us in 2 Peter 1:21, “for prophecy never came by the will of man (as though man alone decides), but holy men of God spoke as they were moved (or borne along) by the Holy Spirit.”

God, by way of the Holy Spirit, moved, “picked up and carried along” holy men as they wrote, superintending their writings such that He used their varying personalities, thoughts, backgrounds, and experiences, working in and through them, while they freely did their writing, yet overseeing it in such a way that ultimately what was written down was exactly what God wanted written down.

It is God’s Word.  

We read it and

We hear what God

Is saying to us.  

God wants us

To obey His Word.

This is what connects verse 12 to what immediately precede it in verse 11.  Verse 11 says, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest (follow Jesus Christ into the eternal Promised Land of salvation), lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”  If you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts; if you hear God’s voice, God’s Word, then obey.  Verse 12 begins by declaring, “The word of God is living and powerful …”  Any parent knows what it is like to speak a word of authority to his or her children.  We command through our word.  We say, “Do as I say,” and, “Pick up your room,” and “Quit teasing your younger sister or brother.”  These are commands that are to be obeyed.  If children do not obey the command of their parents’ there will be consequences, punishment.  This is what God does in His word, the Bible.  We read the Bible and God speaks to us.  And the writer of Hebrews acknowledges that authority, so he is saying, “Do what God says, obey His Word.”

These verses show us two characteristics of God’s Word . . .

I. God’s Word Examines Us: Verse 12.

God’s Word searches us, discloses our condition, and reveals our inner thoughts and motives, our actions and attitudes.  The writer of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and powerful …”  You may wish to underline the word “living” in your Bible.  The Word of God is alive!  Grammatically, the word “living” is a present active participle, conveying present ongoing activity.  Living . . . Continuously living.  It is the same word used adjectivally to describe God in verse 12 of the previous chapter.  Hebrews 3:12 says, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”  God’s living Word reflects the character of the living God.  God’s Word is alive!  The Bible, the inscriptured record of God’s Word, is not a dead book, it is living.  Charles Spurgeon said, “the gospel is such a living gospel that, if it were cut into a thousand shreds, every particle of it would live and grow.”  It is alive!  Because it is God’s Word and God is living, so is His Word lives.  Jesus said in John 6:63, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”

The writer adds in verse 12, “… and powerful…”  The Word of God is also powerful, or active.  It has power to change us.  It really works on us because it is alive.  It continually speaks.  It is continually relevant and applicable to our situation.

Then, says the writer in verse 12: God’s Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword …” This sword metaphor is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe God’s Word.  

  • The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 49:2, “And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword…”
  • Revelation 1:16 says, “…out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword…”

And the Apostle Paul uses this same sword imagery to encourage Christians to use the Word of God to engage in the daily battle of Christian living.  In Ephesians 6:17 he writes, “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  The word of God is sharp, like a two-edged sword, sharper than any two-edges sword.  The writer goes on to says in verse 12, “… piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow…”  God’s Word pierces, penetrating the whole person, examining the reader deep down in the innermost parts of his being.  You might say God’s Word is like a surgeon’s scalpel and that the Good Doctor is performing exploratory surgery on our hearts, getting down into the depths of our thinking and motives.  This is described in verse 12 as “the division of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow…”

These words are not meant to be picked apart as though the soul described one part of man and the spirit described another, nor that the joint describes one thing and the marrow another.  The point the author is making is that God’s Word cuts deeply down inside us to examine our condition and God does that examination with His Word, going all the way down inside the heart, the seat of our emotions, will, and intellect.

As I was studying this passage, I recalled a line from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  If you have seen it, maybe you will remember the exchange between John Turturro’s character, Pete, and George Clooney’s talkative character, the ever voluble Ulysses Everett McGill.  Pete discovers that Everett stole a pocket watch from his brother and he is angry with Everett.  Everett downplays his own thievery, defending himself with the offhanded comment: “Pete, it’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”  Clooney’s character actually thinks a bit like the early church fathers, many of whom likened the human heart to a labyrinth, an intricate maze of perplexity.  But . . .

What man

Cannot search out,

God’s Word can.

God’s Word pierces the tightly-woven, sinuous ways of the human heart, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow.

The writer goes on to state, “… and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  The word “discern” in the original is the Greek word from which we get our English “critic” or “critique.”  

A critic may critique the Bible,

But because it is God’s Word,

It is the Bible that actually critiques us.

God’s Word examines us.  It is sharp; sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner (critiques; judges) of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  There is no thought hidden from Him. His Word searches us, examines us, and exposes us.  

This takes us, then, to the second characteristic . . .

II. God’s Word Exposes Us – Verse 13.

God’s word reveals our condition.  

Nothing is hidden

From God’s searching gaze.

Verse 13 says, “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.”  This truth is described well by a great text written years ago by John Newton: “O Lord from whom there’s naught concealed.  The One who sees my inward frame, to Thee I always stand revealed exactly as I am.  Since I at times can hardly bear what in myself I see, how vile and foul must I appear most Holy God to Thee.”

God searches us, examines us, and exposes us.  Verse 13 follows verse 12 as an extension of the living power of God’s Word.  God’s Word gets down deep into our inner hearts, examining us, and then exposing what is there.  Verse 13 states, “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.”  This is why we say of the Bible that . . .

We may read other books,

But the Bible reads us.

We read other books,

But the Bible is

The book that reads us.”

The Greek word that is translated here as “open” is a picturesque word, used only here in the entire New Testament.  It is an alarming word that means to seize and “bend back the neck” as in wrestling when a person seizes his opponent, turns him round and bends back his neck so all the other person can do is lay helpless and look up into the face of the one who has mastered him.  The idea seems to be that the all-penetrating Word of God spoken by the all-seeing God seizes us, “flips us over” if you like, and exposes us such that no person can hide His face, from the penetrating gaze of the all-searching powerful and living God.  He grabs us, makes us look at Him, and sees right into us.

This verse prepares us and helps us see our need for someone who can intercede for us, help us, rescue us, and be there for us when we are sprawled out on the mat and we need to call upon a great high priest to represent us.  

Where is the application of these two verses in our lives?  I suggest three areas where we may use God’s Word this week . . .

In Your Walk

The New Testament word Walk is a reference to the Christian’s daily life.  We need the Word every day of our walk of our Christian life. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Jesus quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3).  Just as we need physical food, so we need spiritual food.  We do not live by bread alone.  We need bread, yes, but physical nutrition alone is not life.  Many think so.  Many think that this world is all there is. They live by the motto, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you will die.”  This world is not all there is.  There is an eternity to live.  Every one of us will spend eternity in one of two locations – either heaven because we are saved, or hell because we remain lost.

Spiritual food, the daily bread of God’s Word, feeds our souls.  The Gospel feeds us, saves us, and gives us life.  We must continue to feast upon God’s Word in our daily walk.  You must read the Bible daily if you hope to grow.

The writer of Hebrews is very much concerned with the ongoing growth of God’s people.  We will see this especially when we get to Chapter 5, verses 12 through 14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”  The most effective way for Christians to grow in spiritual maturity is by feasting upon God’s Word, reading it daily.

The more you get to know God the more you trust God.  Just like with other relationships.  The more you get to know someone the more likely you are to trust that person.  You are not going to leave your wallet with just anyone, right?  You trust people you know.  So it is with God.  The more you get to know Him – by reading & studying His Word – the more you will trust Him: the more you will truly believe that He will take care of you, provide for you, and know that He always does what is right.

If you are not presently in the habit of reading God’s Word, begin today.  Read a chapter today.  Then read a chapter tomorrow, and so on.  You may wish to start in the New Testament with the Gospel of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and the Book of Romans.  If you find a chapter a day is too much, then slow down to a pace that is better – the goal is not how much you read but how much you retain and live by.  The exciting thing is that you will then be able to watch God grow you as you hear and live by His living Word. Read it daily.  Use God’s Word in your walk. Secondly, use God’s Word . . .

In Your Witness.

Use God’s Word as you share Christ with others what you are learning about your new life in Christ and why you are living the way you are.  Why?  Because it is “living and powerful! Sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit!”  

It is these things


It is God’s Word. 

This is why we preach it,

Teach it, and share it.

Adrian Rogers used to say that when God’s Word is preached, one of three things happens, one of three things necessarily follows the preaching of the word.  People get mad, sad, or glad.  Think about that!  It is true.  God’s Word cuts us one way or other.

  • There are times we hear it and we get mad.  We do not like what that preacher said. Well, was it the preacher, or the Word He preached?  
  • Or we hear God’s Word and it makes us sad, we recognize our sin, that we have hurt God.  And it leads us to change the way we live not just to please Him but to bring the honor to Him that He deserves. 
  • Or we hear the preaching of God’s Word and it makes us glad.  We hear the Gospel as a believer and we say, “Thank you God for accepting me and forgiving me!”

Mad, sad, or glad – because the word is sharp! It cuts like a double-edged sword.  Peter learned this.  Remember when Peter was in the Garden with Jesus.  They came to arrest Jesus and what did Peter do?  He drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant.  The servant’s name was Malchus.  Peter cut Malchus’ ear right off with his sword.  Jesus healed him.  Good thing, too!  It would have ruined Peter’s testimony. “Hey Malchus what happened to your ear?  Oh, some Christian cut it off!”  Later after Christ’s resurrection, Peter learns how to use a different sword with greater effect. Remember on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2?  Peter preached the Word!  And what happened?  What happened when Peter used the Word in his witness?

You can read it later in Acts 2, but the Bible says that 3,000 souls were saved.  How did that happen?  When Peter took up the sword of the Word and wielded that sword, preaching with that sword, witnessing with that sword, it powerfully brought change to the hearers.  Acts 2:37 says, “Now when they heard this (Peter’s preaching), they were cut to the heart …”  You can find a similar response where Stephen uses the Word in Acts 7:54, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart …”

When you are witnessing this week in school, or at work, or in your neighborhood, or Wal-Mart, or wherever you are, use the Word.  The Word is living and powerful.  

You cannot argue someone into the Kingdom,

But you can use the Word of God.  

Trust God to do His work through His word.

Watch what happens when you open your Bible and say, “The Bible says in John 3:16 whoever believes in Him, in Christ, will not die, but have everlasting life.”  Use the word.

That does not mean everyone will always respond the way we hope – remember, some will get only mad or sad.  But the Word will accomplish whatever God intends it to accomplish.  God says in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that I please, and it shall prosers in the thing for which I sent it.”  

Stand on the Word.  Share the Word.  Use it in your witness.  

Finally, use God’s Word in . . .

In Your Warfare.

When we battle the enemy, Satan, who desires that we sin, stumble, and lose the joy of God’s salvation, we must battle him and fight off temptation with what Paul described in Ephesians 6:17 as the “sword of the Spirit,” the Word of God.  Follow the example of Jesus.  When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, three different temptations, Jesus responded to each one, three times, Jesus responded by quoting the Word of God. Check it out later in Matthew 4::4; Matthew 4:7; and Matthew 4:10.  Each time Jesus says, “It is written …” 

God’s Word demands a response.  And if the writer of Hebrews has taught us anything in chapters 3 and 4 it is that . . .

God’s Word demands

The right response –

Namely that we

Obey His Word.

We must not respond in the wrong way with disobedience.  That is the point the writer is making in contrasting our hearing the Word with the way the hard-hearted Israelites of the wilderness generation.  He wrote in chapter 4, verse 2, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them (those who died in the wilderness); but the word which they heard did not profit them (why not?), not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.”  They did not believe the Word they heard.  They did not believe the good news of the Gospel.  They died in the wilderness as God’s judgment upon their unbelief. Do you want to die in a worse wilderness?  A wilderness of eternal separation?  If not, believe the Word of God.  Believe the Word of the One to whom we must give account.

If you are not a Christian – and if you are a Christian – hear again those final words in verse 13.  God is the One “to whom we must give account.”  Whether you believe in Him or not, He is the one to whom you must give account.  You will.  There will be a day of reckoning.  You will stand before Him and give an accounting of your behavior on that day, the Day of Judgment.  Jesus says in John 12:48, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”

You may feel self-satisfied, smug, or safe at the present.  Death seems a long way away.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But make no mistake: you will give an account to Him.  And at that Judgment your words frankly will not matter much.  You may think that you will open your mouth and begin a defense and talk about how you were not as bad as your neighbor and try to justify your behavior – but He will speak.  And as Luther wrote in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” God is the One from whom “one little word” causes the devil to fall down.  Better take care of business with God now while there is time.  Better to surrender to Him this morning, than be forced to surrender when it is too late. Today if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart.

Turn away from your sin.  Let go of it.  Admit your sin and look to Christ.  See Jesus. See His great love for you. Be captured and captivated by Christ!  When God’s Word strips away all the exterior coverings of our own fabrications, we feel as open and exposed as our Father Adam when he sinned in the Garden.  We know our own coverings will not make us right in His sight.  Only the covering that Christ has provided for us properly clothes us.  We are justified in God’s sight, made right in His sight, only by being clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  All to him, Jesus, we must surrender.  All to Him we freely give. 

As we surrender to God’s Word, some of you will want to repent right where you are; others may wish to respond by talking to someone about how to follow Christ.  May we respond rightly now to His very Word.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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