Hebrews 4:12-16 CEB
[B]ecause God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.
Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin.
Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.
Context matters, especially when it comes to scripture. It is easy enough to pluck a scripture reading out of the Bible and have it say almost anything you would like it to, so it is always important to establish context with your scripture. This is especially true of this week, where we only get a handful of verses, and our first verse starts midway through a sentence! Hebrews 4:12-16 speaks of the word of God and our great high priest as Jesus, and both of these are necessary for us to be prepared to enter God’s rest. We miss out on this when we only read these four verses and do not see the larger sweep of Hebrews. You see Jesus has done something, Jesus has set a destination for us, and this destination is finding rest in God. However, to find this rest, we must be willing to allow God to break into and enter our lives, as this will prepare us to put aside our old habits and take up new ones of making peace and seeking righteousness.
God’s rest has ancient origins, going all the way back to the days of Moses and the Hebrew people in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land. Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, past Sinai, and into the wilderness just outside Canaan. There they heard the voice of God promising rest if they would only enter the land. They refused to listen to God’s voice and were forced to wander in the wilderness until a whole generation perished and until they were able to try and enter again. Many of us have heard this foundational story of Israel before, but what does it have to do with Jesus and the book of Hebrews? Hebrews connects this rest with the divine Sabbath of God, this place that God enters after the six days of creation, God’s holy resting place. Hebrews believes that Jesus has opened the way for us to journey to this holy resting place, but only if we are willing to open ourselves up to God. Jesus has opened this way by being our great high priest as Hebrews 4:14 describes. Jesus has entered the holy of holies, the place where God dwells, but he does more than that by opening the way to us as well if we are willing to enter. Otherwise, we might find ourselves to be much like the Hebrew people in the desert who refused to listen and languished in the wilderness outside of God’s promised rest. Hebrews sees this place of rest as our destination, and all of us as travelers on the way there.
This destination, this rest of God, could be called another name, this is a place of shalom. Shalom could simply be translated as peace, but it is more than that. It is a place of wholeness, completeness, and a place where everything is right. It is a place where we stop working because everything is complete, a place of rest. Bishop Roy Sano, in his book about Hebrews, describes God’s rest as a “resolution of turmoil [or] (peace) and rectifying wrong [otherwise known as] (righteousness or justice).” Our salvation, God’s salvation, is to arrive at this place where we can finally have peace and live righteously in the presence of the Lord. Maybe we would call this heaven, but I would like to call it the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is ahead of us, but it is also something we participate in right here and now. Peace and justice are not just somewhere ahead but qualities we can strive for today. Christ points ahead toward our destination and carves out the road before us. Last week we heard Jesus called “our pioneer of salvation,” he is our trailblazer and he walked the same path he is leading us down. Much like the Hebrew people, we can find ourselves waylaid from this path toward rest, toward peace, and toward justice. We can get tired. We can get scared. We can let our own selves stand in the way of the journey toward God’s shalom. Luckily, Hebrews reminds us that we do not have “a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are.” We have a priest in Jesus, who pulls us back when we go off course, gives us rest when we are tired, and encourages us when we are scared because Christ has been there too but did not lose hope. When we stop and make space for God, God breaks into our lives to speak and encourage us on the way, and we can endure the journey between here and God’s rest. We have to be willing to make space to listen though. We have to be willing to let Jesus come alongside us to help us along life’s way until we all know peace with justice and we are filled with righteousness.
Now, we are brought back to those first lines of our reading this morning, and they are not exactly gentle words! Here we are told the word of God “is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” penetrating “to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow.” This is the power of the word of God, to pierce us to the core, for the word of God contains God’s judgement, weighing our thoughts and desires and our intentions. God’s word is enough to reveal where we have turned away from God to serve our own selfish desires. God cuts through our pride, our egos, and all the defenses we put up to justify ourselves. While God’s word exposes our weaknesses, this is not meant to leave us feeling like we need to be in anguish over our sin, rather we should turn to God, through our high priest, who knows our weaknesses, to receive the grace and mercy we need to overcome these cuts to our vulnerable egos. To recognize where we have missed the mark, where we have sinned, is to recognize where the road ahead lies. God gives us grace and mercy to pull us back and to sustain us on the journey into God’s presence and rest. For the writer of Hebrews, we are a people in the wilderness, much like the ancient Hebrew people, and we can take a hold of God’s offering to enter or we can turn from God and languish in the wilderness. Jesus points ahead to a promised land of rest, of shalom, of true peace and of true righteousness if only we would follow.
The crux of today’s scripture is how do we make space for this word of God to do its work. This work does not happen automatically, as it requires us to make an opening for God to break into our lives. Hebrews gives us a clue, you see the Greek word Logos gets translated here as God’s word. Logos can more accurately be understood as God’s wisdom. This is not just confined to scripture but all the ways that God speaks to us. There are many barriers to hearing God’s wisdom speak to us. Often we may harden our hearts, not willing to hear how we might have missed the mark or fallen short of God’s call. We hold onto pride, that we can do it ourselves and we don’t need God to show us the way! We may allow distractions of life to overcome us. Possessions may insulate us from God’s cry. The temptations of this life might prove too alluring, a siren song pulling us away from Christ’s way. My friends, the truth is that we may not even know that we have stopped following Christ to follow other desires and other paths that only lead further into the wilderness. We need something to wake us up! We need to carve out space for God to speak! Where do we make room for the living word of God to prick our vulnerable places to break into our lives and communicate God’s presence?
Thankfully, what we can do to make these spaces is not a mystery to us, but it does require us to be intentional in our time each day. God speaks through our worship, scripture, study, and the sacraments. God’s presence can be encountered in our fasting, prayer, giving, and service. Do we pause in our days to worship together, read scripture, study that same scripture, and share in the sacraments? Do we find time to fast, pray, give of ourselves, and serve others? Doing these things creates a pause in our lives. It makes an opening for God to break into our lives. We are given the strength to strive for peace, to seek justice, and live righteous lives until we find ourselves on the threshold about to enter God’s holy place of rest. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman