Friday, August 10, 2012

Blogging Through The Bible: Hebrews 4:12-16

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:12-16)

This passage is all about the Word of God but what that term means might be different than how we use it.

I am not sure how often I have referred to the Bible as "the Word of God" but I am pretty sure that if I had a nickle for every time I did I would be able to feed a lot of orphans! I have been starting to really question that. This passage is one that I have seen used in reference to the Bible on many, many occasions but is the writer of Hebrews saying that the Bible is living and active or is he referring to something else?

There are times that "the Word of God" seems to be referring to Scripture but there are many places when it does not. For example, in Ephesians 6:17 the word of God is used to describe "the sword of the Spirit"...

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:17)

In other places the Word of God is seen as the efficacious declarative power of God...

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God (2 Peter 3:5)

Of course in other places we often see Jesus referred to as the Word and specifically the Word of God...

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
(Revelation 19:13)

So it seems pretty clear that the Bible doesn't refer to itself as the Word of God very often, if at all since the Bible as we understand it was still being formed at this time. Paul wasn't standing up in front of the crowds waving his calfskin single column ESV Bible around although I think we sometimes think that he was. Certainly the Bible is a manifestation or revelation of the Word of God but it is not the only way to think of the Word of God. Christians of the evangelical and especially "fundamentalist" variety are often accused of making an idol of the Bible and that is a charge that might stick more than we like to admit. In reality it is not so much the Bible we make an idol out of as much as it is our religious traditions and the Bible simply gives us cover by use of plucking verses out of context, twisting them or outright misrepresentation. If I declare my tradition with enough force and sufficient Bible waving it helps to keep people from asking too many questions!

I think it is clear from the context that the writer of Hebrews is speaking of Christ and these verses are far more powerful when viewed in that light. Jesus is not some dead figure from a dusty old book, He is alive and active! He is also not impressed at all with our words and our religion but sees the heart of man. You aren't pulling a fast one over on the Word. Fooling man is easy, all it takes is some fancy clothes and religious bleating. Jesus though sees right through us into the places that often times we are blind to ourselves.

While that seems quite scary, knowing my own heart and the dark recesses of my mind all too well, there is such a wonderful hope. We are not facing some grim, angry God but a God who is not only the Judge but also the Advocate for His people. Greater yet He has lived as we have lived, was tempted as we are tempted and because He responded without sin His perfect obedience and His perfect atoning sacrifice to make propitiation for the sins of His people makes eternal life our reward. His pain, our gain!

The end of this passage is a familiar verse but one that doesn't get enough attention. Because of all that we know of Christ, we can come before God as a subject before our King. Not in arrogance as those who deserve an audience with the Lord but in humble assurance as those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We don't require the intercession of a human priest nor the intervention of long dead "saints" nor via some religious ritual that serves as a "means of grace". When we seek mercy and grace we go directly to the source, Jesus Christ Himself, as the source and dispenser of all that is right and good.

The picture that we get from the letter to the Hebrews speaks to me of just how we underestimate Christ in the church. Jesus is so much greater, His mercy so much broader, His love so much deeper than we give Him credit for. His ministry is far more than a series of confusing teachings, some cool miracles and an inexplicable resurrection but is instead so efficacious, so magnificent and so deeply intertwined with the entirety of God's revelation. One of the things I love so much about Hebrews is that it presents such a rich vision of Jesus Christ especially pertaining to how the cross and the High Priesthood of Christ fits in with the rest of the Bible. I really think you cannot understand the Old Testament unless you understand this letter.

1 comment:

John Mureiko said...

Good thoughts, especially on "The Word of God." I have grown more uncomfortable with the standard, un-nuanced definition. By all means, Scripture, including the NT, needs to be included in this definition, but certainly it is not exclusively Scripture to which "the word" is referring. The word of God is not less than Scripture, but I think that it can (with scriptural guidance) include more.