God’s Word in You

silhouette photo of a person standing on rock

We have just come through the Season of Creation. The theme for 2021 was God’s Word in Creation. Our lectionary readings today allow for a natural progression back into ordinary time. Specifically, Hebrews 4:12-16.

The Book of Hebrews is one of intrigue for students of scripture. Who wrote it? The traditional author was Paul the Apostle. But no where in the text does it state that. Also, the first 12 chapters are written in a style totally different from his known epistles. Only the final chapter reads like Paul could have written it. It is almost as if it is an appendage.

Personally, I have no problem with the New Testament being dated in the first century. As a student of ancient history during my university days at University of Auckland, the secular teachers defended the New Testament as a first century document. The irony was that my religious studies in the local Bible schools at that time were promoting the New Testament as a third or fourth century writing. That contradiction still exists today.

My history background gives me confidence in the validity of the New Testament. I guess that means when I approach the Book of Hebrews, it doesn’t really matter to me who wrote it. But it also means I don’t look for ways to destroy our faith in tradition. In this instance, we forget that Paul was a Hebrew first before becoming a Christian. We also seem to ignore that whenever he went into a new city, he entered the local synagogue. We don’t seem to calculate that he created arguments that were able to persuade Jews to become Christians.

What were those arguments? A standing theory is that the Book of Hebrews is a preservation of Paul’s arguments for Jesus being Christ.

The Book of Hebrews elevates the Word of God – both the written word (scripture) and the living Word (Jesus). That word; that Word is IN you that believe Jesus is the Son of God. Our readings reveal that living Word in Job and in David. Mark’s Gospel challenges us with impossible faith forcing us to realise that the Bible is about God, not us.

We have talked about evidence of God’s handiwork in the heavens. We have visited passages of scripture that encourage sky, mountains and animals to praise God. It should be no surprise, therefore, that today’s topic encourages humans to praise God for God’s Word is in You.

Suffering Evil

When I preached for the call at St Johns Papatoetoe, I shared a personal experience that was painful. It took many years to process those circumstances to the point where I could share them publicly. I refer to that as a reference.

You see, nearly 10 years ago, I suffered an evil whose pain was greater than my deathbed. So painful was that experience that I still cannot speak of its details. But I now can speak of its pain.

The pain was caused by betrayal. Family, colleagues, friends all participated in the treachery. Some knowingly but most unknowingly.

The pain was caused also by sudden loss. Nearly overnight, my source of income was gone, my purpose for being was taken, and all beliefs and teachings I held dear to my heart were rendered useless.

The evil was not wanted but forced upon me. It rocked my worldview. I took time out from ministry. I scrambled for substance to grasp as my life was spinning out of control.

Interestingly enough, during that time which I can only describe as being inside of a gyroscope, two things could never be shaken:

  1. That there is a Creator God; and
  2. That the Bible is God’s Word.

Suffering evil is a part of life. You have your stories, I am sure. Mine is not unique. The shared suffering of humanity is one of the greatest arguments for God’s non-existence. If God is love, surely a God of love would prevent evil from entering the world? If there is evil, then there is no loving God. That is how the finite mind reasons through sensual wisdom. Evaluating only what is “under the sun”; that is, only by what you can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch; evaluating with sensual wisdom alone, many reason God out of existence.

The Hebrews text reveals something about God’s character that has gone out of fashion: God’s judgement. The misunderstanding of God as only love ignores God’s holiness. The holiness of God means God is Sovereign. As Sovereign God, God is the Final Judge. His throne is the highest court of appeal. And it was to that throne both Job and David appealed.


Mercy and Judgement are two sides to the same coin; you cannot have one without the other.

Sword of Judgment

The Book of Hebrews is so written to target a Hebrew audience. Its language and metaphors were given to a Jewish people rich in history and heritage. The concept of God’s word being a sword of judgement is one such metaphor.

In the Book of Proverbs, a Hebrew book of poetry, Wisdom is personified as a woman. Wisdom is an aspect of God’s character. The poetry used comparison to help our finite minds comprehend an aspect of Infinite God. So too in the Book of Hebrews, the sword is used to illustrate a characteristic of God. The sword is a personification of God’s word. That same word which created the universe is personified by a sword of judgment.

The sufferings of Job and David were opportunities for God to demonstrate God’s judgment. The suffering was not the judgement – that was the mistake made by Job’s friends and David’s enemies. It was the deliverance from suffering that demonstrated God’s judgement.

I know these concepts are heavy. Thinking about God’s holiness is not exactly what we want to focus on during a pandemic that has had us under house arrest. However, it is during these times of evil that God’s character is discovered.

It is not that God allows these things to show off His power. It is that God allows our actions to carry out their consequences. Oh! The patience of God! Oh! the love of God! To allow us to have our own way even when He knows the end – no wonder Paul wrote in Romans 2:4, the goodness of God leads us to repentance.

This is the life principle:

Mercy and Judgement are two sides to the same coin; you cannot have one without the other.

Word of Mercy

This vivid portrait of the word of God and the inevitability of judgment concludes with the reminder that all are vulnerable to God “to whom we must render an account.” That last word, “account,” translates the Greek logos, as does “word” earlier in the passage. To the divine “word,” then, a human “word” must be given in answer.[i]

But how can we dare to appeal to God? How can we give our word in answer to God’s judgement? The answer is in the text: God’s word. I am here to tell you that that word is in you! There is mercy from God, and you know it deep down in the recesses of your heart. That is why we ache so severely when it feels as if God is not listening to our call.

Hebrews 10:16 cites Jeremiah 33:33. “I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds.”

God’s word is imprinted to your inner being.

That is how Job could call out in the midst of despair. That is how David could cry while suffering from treachery. As God’s people of covenant, God’s word is imprinted on you and on me.

Although the imagery in Hebrews personifies the word of God – the breath of God – the creative force of God; yet it is given in a New Testament context. Bible scholars tell us we cannot apply Hebrew’s word of God to Jesus Christ – the logos – the living word of God. Yet how can we not? For Jesus is in the context as the great high priest.

Mercy and Judgement are two sides to the same coin; you cannot have one without the other.

God’s mercy is empowered by God’s judgement.

The sobering thought of our complete exposure before God draws us to the merciful High Priest who, having been tempted, can help us in our weakness.[ii]

My message today is simple: when you are going through a hellish experience, be confident God will hear your cry. God may not answer when you want. God may not answer in the way you want. But God will hear, and God will judge. God is merciful.

Do not be afraid.

Time will not allow us to tease out a major theme in the Book of Hebrews: rest. Believe it or not, in the midst of judgment, swords, challenges, and suffering, Hebrews is about finding rest for your troubled soul.

What is causing you to trip and fall into unbelief? Whatever it is, it is robbing you of your rest. All of us face the challenge to trust God rather than in our feelings.

When you experience pain, it is so hard to concentrate on anything else! How can you keep the promise of God’s rest before your eyes when facing adversity? Keep them focused on Jesus. Jesus is the mediator of your salvation. Jesus is the deliverer of your rest.

What obstacles keep you from spending time prayerfully and thoughtfully with Scripture and with Jesus, the written and living Word of God? You are under lockdown. Most are not commuting to work. You have had more time than before. What is stopping you from your time with God’s word?

If we open ourselves, day by day and week by week, to the message of Scripture, its grand sweep and its small details, and allow the faithful preaching of Jesus and his achievement to enter our consciousness and soak down into our imagination and heart, then the admittedly uncomfortable work of God’s word will be happening on a regular basis, showing us where we really are, what’s going on deep inside.[iii]

Prayer of Application

Eternal One, whose thoughts and ways are not ours,
you alone are God, awesome, holy, and most high.
School us in the ways of faith and wisdom,
that we, like Job,
may learn to truly see and hear,
and in humility find blessing. Amen.[iv]

[i] Walter Brueggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, James D. Newsome, “Texts for Preaching: a lectionary commentary based on the NRSV Year B” (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 546.

[ii] The Reformation Study Bible (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2202-2203.

[iii] NRSV Bible for Everyone (SPCK: Cambridge University Library), Study Guide on Hebrews 4:1-13

[iv] https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//prayers.php?id=223, thematic prayer

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