Saturday, February 16, 2008

Saturday Sermon: Do or Die

Hebrews 4:11-13

Opening prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that today, through your Word, that you would give us revelation and repentance. That you will reveal to our hearts what it is that is keeping us from entering in to all you would have for us, and that you would grant us repentance unto life. For some it would mean salvation, and for others it would mean increased sanctification and fruitfulness. Father, let your Word go out, because we know that it will not come back void, it will do what you send it to do. Oh God, let it so be that it would create new hearts today, and mend broken hearts today, and deliver stolen hearts today, and not simply harden rebellious hearts today. Let people be saved today, and let everyone enter in, in Jesus name we pray, amen.

Did you ever have an important decision to make, one that you feared to make but one you knew that you had to make? It was do or die, in a sense. Avoiding the issue was no option, and you faced real opposition if you moved forward, but you really felt like staying back, and doing nothing, like hoping it would all just go away, just work itself out. Did you procrastinate so long that you lost the opportunity, and then regretted it later? In retrospect, did not making the decision while you had the chance cost you more than the pain of having to go through it at the time? Do you wish you could do it all over again? Sometimes we might get a second chance, but sometimes we never do, like when we get older and we cannot go back and fix things we wish we never did, or do things we should have done. Sometimes we just need to have faith in what God is doing in us, we need to count on Him for courage, because to retreat is to invite regret.

The Jews of biblical times had these do or die decisions to make. The background of this writing was that there was heavy persecution for the new Jewish Christians. However the Jews themselves were not being persecuted, and so these new converts were considering going back to Judaism so as to avoid the persecution, and avoid possible death. The writer of Hebrews is telling them that they may be looking at physical death, yes, but that if they draw back they are most assuredly inviting spiritual death. They either had to have faith in Christ, and move forward, or fall back and deny Christ, and thereby not obtain the salvation Christ was promising them if they entered in. They were at the moment of decision. It was do or die.

We will see how this passage exhorts us to obey the Word of God as it comes to us, immediately, or be in danger of letting it slip, and not entering in to all God has for us. When the Word of God reveals sin, we can either let Christ work on our hearts through the Word, or our hearts become hardened by that same Word. The living Word of God speaks to the human heart.

Vs.11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

Therefore – applying what he is now going to say to what he has already said. He had said therefore in verse 9, meaning that there was still a rest to be entered into. So he says that they must be diligent to enter it, unlike those who failed before.

He compares them with the situation at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13-14), where the Jews rebelled against God, Moses and Aaron, by not wanting to enter the Promised Land because of the giants they saw. The Exodus generation died in the wilderness.

The writer of Hebrews challenged them and us to "be diligent" so that we do not settle into a life of disobedience (4:11). But this means we rush in, we make haste when we have a choice, we either enter in or fall back in those moments. The examples the writer had shared from the Old Testament were applicable to those reading then and to the life of the reader today.

This would be a graphic and startling illustration to be compared with them. It would bring forth the seriousness of what was going on and the decision that needed to be made because they knew what happened to those people. They died in the wilderness, all of them except those under twenty and Joshua and Caleb. They knew of God’s displeasure in their disobedience, their lack of faith in God and His promises. The writer of Hebrews wants them to know they are about to make the same mistake. So can we, it applies to us today as well. Jude 1:5 – they saw deliverance but were not fully committed.

In this verse are two verbs, both in the aorist tense, meaning it is an event, a one-time thing; they are on the brink of decision. They give us one positive exhortation and one negative. In essence they are “hurry up and enter in”, and “don’t fall back”.

Now in verse 10 we see rest, and the end of works, and we are supposed to be entering rest, but many versions say, “strive”, or “be diligent”, or “make every effort”, etc., and this can be confusing. If God entered in and stopped from working and rested, why are we supposed to work to enter in? Well, it isn’t working to enter the rest, the truth is that what this means is not labor or working or having to do things, it is about speed, to hasten, make haste, hurry up. The obedience required isn’t works it is belief. Do it now, don’t wait. Don’t delay you may miss it.

Negatively – failure to act now may lose you the opportunity. People think they can keep one foot on the bus and one foot on the ground, but you cannot halfway enter into the ark. You either get in or you are left behind. We all know how it is when someone is waiting on you, and the door is open, and you are halfway in the car. They will say something like, “In or out?” or “Are you coming or not?” If you don’t act they may drive away.

Hurry up, enter in, or fall away because of unbelief (vs.6 – lack of faith – vs.2). This is the disobedience of unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19). This is the example the writer is warning them of. If they don’t act they will begin to fall away. It is the same as with us. You either get in or you are left behind like a boat pulling away from the shore.

Vs.12 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.

Specifically the word about the rest, about them entering in to salvation, but it is true of any word from the Word, enter in or fall back. There is an accountability that comes to all who hear the Word of God as they did and it is this powerful Word that the author now reminds his readers to heed. These readers had heard enough of God’s Word to know what He required of them, yet they remained on the edge of unbelief. If they failed to appropriate the spiritual rest found only in Christ they would be in danger of becoming immune to the truth and, therefore, hardened.

This was as real a danger then as it is today. Anytime a person is confronted by the truth of God’s Word, standing on the edge of belief, and fails to step over in faith, there is a risk of falling away from that place of sensitivity to the Spirit of God. The warning is very real. Thus Hebrews 4:12 presents the solution to this problem: submitting to the authority and transforming power of Scripture. The Spirit of God brings you to a moment of decision and you either walk in the Spirit or turn back and walk in the flesh.

The beginnings of verse 12 “for”, and verse 13 “and” are connected. In verse 12 we are looking for an explanation as to why we should hurry. The answer is that the written Word of God (Logos) is exposing you and the fact of your need. Verse 13 says we have to give an account to the Living Word (Logos). The reason we have to hurry up and enter in is because the written Word exposes us before the Living Word. It is like a blade in His hands.

You don’t really separate the two; they go together, the written and living Word, because the written Word is alive. Those words in the Bible come from the life giving Spirit of Christ. The words are separated in time and space from the person of Jesus walking the earth, but they are connected, because as they come to us they resonate with His life and the power of who He is, they are living words.

In this verse there are two action verbs, in the present tense, which means they are this continuously, as regarding the Word of God. What it is and what it does.

The first verb is living – the word discerns all things because of what it is, it is living. It has the life and power of God in it. When a man speaks the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, it has the same power as it had when the Holy Spirit brooded over the darkness and said, “Let there be light.” The Word of God is the convicting power of the Lord. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

Two other words give us a description of this living.

Activeenerges, full of energy, powerful. It is effective (Isaiah 55:9-11). Its effectiveness may not be immediately evident to us, but as we mature we will understand it is always so, we will see it being effective in changing lives and also in hardening hearts. It will be a surgeon or an executioner, as we will see in a moment. It will perform surgery and bring new life, or it will be the death sentence to the rebel. The Word of God either heals or it hardens, and it never fails to do its intended work.

Sharpertomoteros makes it comparative, not just sharp but sharper. In other words, it is not like a Roman short sword, it is more precise than that. It is not only effective it is precise. It not only gets the job done, it gets it done exactly right. It goes as deep as it needs to, it hits the root.

This is what the word of God is; it is living, and therefore effective and precise, and that is why it is able to discern all things.

The second verb is piercing – to penetrate – two applications are given to describe it.

The first is division – to separate – soul and spirit (spiritual matters), joints and marrow (physical matters). In other words, as written at the time these things would be impossibly hard to divide but that is how penetrating God’s Word is, it can and will find out the problem right at the root, no matter how deep it is buried, no matter how many layers it has to separate. Like soul and spirit, the immaterial parts of man, things we cannot get a hold of, God’s Word can. Back when this was written, joints and marrow meant an impossible physical division; bone marrow transplants weren’t available back then. But God’s Word penetrated as deep as that. The point is that the Word of God lays bare our problem; it exposes it for what it is. It gets to the bottom of it.

The second is discerning – judging – not condemning but ascertaining what is really going on. It is able to see what needs to be done. It gives a critique. The Word gets to the bottom of things and passes judgment on what it finds. A prosecutor presents the facts of the case, but the judge determines what is right and wrong; the Word of God does both.

Thoughts and intents, both the feelings of desire and the imaginations of the mind. Scripture searches out the truth, it gets inside of you, exposes the sin you are covering up and your need of Christ, and gives you a chance to repent. As we faithfully use the Scriptures we will be trained to discern the wrong ways of thinking that have become fortresses for sin in our lives so that our minds can be renewed and our lives transformed. This is the surgical power of God’s Word. This is what the Word of God does. We cannot take it for granted. We need to get worked on while we are on the operating table. We don’t schedule the appointments, it puts us on the table and says hurry up and let me go to work, or get off the table and stay sick and die. The Word of God identifies the sickness and because it is alive it can give new life. It can change the heart.

Vs.13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Nothing is hidden, thoughts, emotions, desires, feelings, imaginations, actions, any secret thing is known by God fully, even the motivations that may not be clear to us are fully known and understood by God. The word for naked here means you are laid bare, that you are stripped. You are stripped of excuses, stripped of rationalization, stripped of supposed reasons, stripped of your own righteousness, stripped of anything that you think justifies you from being judged.

Those things you try to hide, and even those things that are hidden from you, none of this is hidden from God, it is right out in the open, and we are naked before Him. You can’t hide from God, you are an open book, and when you open the book, the Word of God, it shows you this fact. God knows better than you do how bad you need to be operated on, to enter in. Do you believe it, and will you enter in, or will you think you can do it whenever or wherever you want to, and rebel against God, against His word, against Christ, and fall back into sin?

Not only have we been stripped, we are also exposed, and this means something more. The word for exposed is trachelizo – like tracheotomy – to bend back the neck, as a victim exposed for sacrifice, the perfect tense implies that this is our continuous state in relation to God. Not only are we out in the open, uncovered, but also the executioner has our neck held back and the knife at our throat. That is you before a holy God. His word will judge you perfectly, precisely, completely, revealing every flaw, every thought, every word, and every deed.

Of him to whom we must give account – we are exposed and we will have to deal with the Living Word, the Logos. It is Jesus Christ who is holding the knife.

You either push forward in the war, or you fall back in retreat and run AWOL, you become a deserter. But the Word will find you out and try you and convict you of treason and lay the executioner’s sword against you, ready to strike the deathblow. You need to forget your supposed dignity today, you are naked and exposed, what you need to see is your desperation today. As Hebrews says, “today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.”

The people this was being written to knew the truth, they had a decision to make, they couldn’t just know the truth of Jesus intellectually but then live like a Jew to avoid persecution, and we cannot know the truth about Jesus and live like the rest of the world to avoid confrontation, persecution and suffering. The knife is at your throat, what will it be?

The overall context of this passage is about salvation. If you are not a Christian, and this message is drawing you near, you must act now, you must enter in. The Word of God says you cannot wait; you may fall away for good. This passage is about repentance and faith, not going back but moving forward. You don’t enter in just by waiting around at the truth door, and deciding if and when you are going to enter. It doesn’t work that way. This passage is about entering into heaven, but it is also about entering into holiness. It applies to sanctification, growing in grace, and living the life God wants us to live here on earth. You must rush in while the door is open or you lose the opportunity. It may come again, but we aren’t assured of it.

Christian, you who think you have entered in, but you haven’t moved forward, you just sit there right past Kadesh-Barnea, and you haven’t taken any ground. This is where you are right now, before God, open, exposed. What secret sins are you harboring? What is God revealing to you? Do you ever pray for Him to reveal sin to you? You can’t move on, you can’t enter in any further with a self-willed rebellious spirit. You cannot go on and be greatly used by God unless you repent, and if you don’t hurry up and do it, you will only fall further back. Repentance is a lifestyle for the Christian, and you are either taking more ground, or giving up ground.

And you don’t get to decide what battlefield you are on when you become exposed before the Word of God. You can’t hide your heart away and never get worked on. You don’t have the right to let yourself be exposed only when you want to, or only in those areas you want to work on. You are already exposed, and you don’t hold the knife, you don’t know how to operate, Jesus Christ is the Great Physician. If you wait until you want to deal with some sin or something in your life, you will botch it up as bad as if I let a baby perform open-heart surgery on me.

We are rejecting the Word that we don’t act upon, that we don’t rush into. If we think we can store it away for a later time, then we lose it. We must at least begin to act upon it, we may not be able to take all the land at once, but we must cross the threshold, begin to take the land God has promised us, to defeat the giant sins in our lives, and not stay back at Kadesh-Barnea. As Christians we continually are up against giants, we cannot win on our own, we are always at Kadesh-Barnea, and every day we have a choice to make. To deny this, to stay back is to deny Christ who has already defeated them for us. It is disobedience; it is unbelief. We may get a chance to get it back, but our hearts will have become more hardened to it, unless and until we pray for it to come back and to penetrate deeply once again, and give us another chance at repentance and faith. Better to do it, to act while the blade is ready to do its work.

Now maturity is being able to understand things in their larger context, you know, the big picture. That is what the writer of Hebrews was pointing out; they thought it wasn’t as big a deal as it really was. That is often what we think, too. We think we have the big picture but what we have is hidden sin hiding in our hearts and thus hiding the full picture from us. We think we are handling the little details but we are missing out from entering into what God wants for us by not making the decision to enter in while the opportunity is there. We think we can still take care of that thing some other time, we can still keep that little sin, and that it won’t keep us from entering in, but we are deceived. Perhaps you don’t do some of the things you used to, or some of the things other people do, and so you act as if this gives you a free pass on the other stuff. That isn’t the truth.

The truth is that we haven’t listened to the Word of God. Oh, we may have heard it, understood it, and even believed it, in a sense, but we falsely believed we could act on it in our own timing. No, you either make the choice today or you begin to fall away. When we are our own final authority, instead of measuring ourselves by the Word of God in truth (Psalm 139:23-24 / Psalm 19:12-14), we are only wise in our own eyes (Isaiah 5:21). Now is the time, while and when the Word of God has convicted you! You either repent when that sin is exposed, or you retreat and become deeper entrenched in your sinful, rebellious, and deceived ways. You need to know this: Every sin you commit affects your mindset towards sin itself; every little bit ruins a little bit of your mind. When you don’t believe you can be deceived that’s when you already are.

We think we can sin, and still be in our right minds, but we don’t see sin as sinful as it is. Every little bit of obedience begins the change process. Every little bit of repentance brings the chance for more faith. The children of Israel had a choice to make at Kadesh-Barnea. And so did those the writer was currently addressing, and we do as well. We will either believe and therefore enter in right now, or we will fall back into sin, and wander around in the wilderness of worldliness. Yes by the power of the Word of God people can and do change, for better and for worse. Which is it for you? Today is the day. It is do or die.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

1 comment:

Even So... said...

Very long, I know, but well worth your can hear this preached by visiting our audio sermon page, from January 13, 2008...