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Oct 21, 2012(신현철 목사)

2012.10.22 22:52

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【본문】히브리서 4:1~13

【제목】하나님의 말씀은... (The word of God is….)

1.

For the word of God is living and active. ‘Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and llayaid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.’  – Hebrews 4:12-13 

 What do you think of when you read this verse? Often the focus is on the first sentence: For the word of God is living and active. One example that is often used to illustrate this is the story of Rev. Thomas. As he was on board General Sherman that was crossing the Tae-Dong River, he threw a Bible into the crowd during his martyrdom. The person who caught the Bible later became a leader of the first church in Korea. This example is commonly used to illustrate that the word of God is living and active.

However, I want to focus on a different part of the verse: Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. This seems like it is saying God is examining the state of our spiritual health.

So we can think that today is like a check-up day for examining the state of our spiritual health.

2.

 I want to tell you an interesting story first of all. Apparently if you go to heaven, you will be surprised by three things. One is when you see someone that you thought didn’t deserve to come to heaven. Second is when you cannot see someone whom you thought would definitely come to heaven. The third is when you realize you are in heaven.

 Why am I telling you this story? This story tells us how humans have two faces. It’s not that a person’s qualifications and standards to go to heaven change every year. People cannot be judged or evaluated fully on their faith by how they appear to be on the outside. That is why you are bound to be surprised when you see people who come to heaven and people who could not come to heaven.

Similar saying is in the verse 1 of today’s passage: Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

Why do we have to ‘be careful’ here? Please remember that, in Chapter 3 of Hebrew, Israelites who made ‘Exodus’ couldn’t enter into the Promised Land and died at wilderness even though they had experienced the ability and miracles of God. Hebrew 3:19 answers for the question: ‘So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.’ 

Verse 2 says, ‘For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.’ Today, we have heard the gospel. However, we cannot really participate in the rest and have on value if the Word of God is not related to our beliefs.  

Verse 3 says, ‘Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.' " And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world.”’

Psalm 95 says, ‘For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways." So I declared on oath in my anger, "They shall never enter my rest."’

Verse 5 says, ‘And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest."’ Verse 6 says, ‘and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.’

The same topic has repeated five times from Verse 1 to 11. In other words, we who attend church are not all guaranteed to be saved or to be joined in God’s rest, as none were not able to enter His rest in spite of His promise.

 3.

For us to truly understand what is being said in the scripture, we must first think about the meaning of ‘rest.’

The ‘rest’ promised to the Israelites who had just escaped Egypt is Canaan. Not only in terms of living there peacefully but also in terms of being free from pressure. Their escaping from slavery would entail both rest and freedom for them in Canaan.

And it is this type of rest that became the basis for Christianity. The first commandment tells us ‘thou shalt have no other gods.’ At the time the Pharaoh was seen as a god and thus, ruled over his people. The first commandment was freeing Christians from the reign of the Pharaoh by telling them that they should only serve God himself.

Another definition of ‘rest’ is shown in verse 4, “For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.’” This rest doesn’t only mean that God had rested from making the world, but connotes completion – the end.

During the Old Testament bible study, I had stated that the interpretation of humans being the end of creation is a very selfish and man-centered thinking. Although it is true that the creation of humans was an important aspect, it had occurred in midst of creation and does not represent completion. In fact, chapter 2 verse 2 of Genesis says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” In some ways, the verse suggests that the ultimate goal of creation was rest, “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” The seventh day was separated from its counterparts and it is the day where the glory and the power of God are shown. It is the day where all who were created remember and give thanks.

Thus, even though the week exhausts us and tires us, we keep on treading because we know what awaits us. Because we have hope in our rest with God, because that is the light at the end of our tunnels, we keep on walking and endure.

The most common definition of ‘rest’ is freedom from work. It is an interpretation of the word ‘Shabbat’ in Hebrew, which means to stop working. Thus, the seventh day is not simply a day where we rest, but the day where we stop our labours. Why? Because this was the day that was set apart so that people wouldn’t become slaves of work. Deuteronomy 5:14 says, “but the seventh day is Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.” Sabbath is not only rest for all Israelites but also their servants, the Gentiles and even to the animals.

 

4.

In this light, ‘rest’ is the completion of creation; it is the time to be with God and enjoy the things he allows us. It is the reason and motivation of our lives. The question here is, ‘why are we refrained from entering into this state of rest? What is stopping us?’

As I have mentioned previously, the reason we are unable to enter into this ‘rest’ is in the following verses -verse 2, “those who heard did not combine it with faith,” verse 6 says, “because of their disobedience,” verse 7, “do not harden your hearts,” and verse 11, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”

In other words, God had promised us rest, and thus, this is open to every one of his people. However, even when we heard it, we do not combine it with our faith, we do not obey and we harden our hearts.

  The lectionary calendar for this week is Ecclesiastes. Chapter 5 verse 10 to 13 in the scripture describes those who are unable to enjoy this rest that’s given to them – “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner.” The wealthier people are, the more anxious they become and in the end they lead futile and meaningless lives. Their hearts are unable to feel true rest.

Professor Lee, writer of From the Mind to the Spirit, wrote what he went through before truly becoming a Christian in a diary-like format in his book. In it, was an anecdote that caught my eye. It was a story of him while he was living alone in Kyoto working in a research lab there. He had seen rice being on sale at a supermarket and bought the whole bag. He thought that he must’ve looked funny to others, kind of like a robber, walking at night with this huge bag over his shoulder. He wrote, “While I was walking, in that moment, I began to hear steps. Steps from my past, Steps that were weighed down by all the things I had to carry in my life. I wondered, how heavy is this rice? How heavy would it be if I combined all the books I ever read, all the paper I had ever used? If I could make all the text and the information I ever wrote into concrete objects, how heavy would they be? But what was even more unbearable than the weight on my shoulders was what was in front of me. The dark window of the research lab – where I was headed. An empty room, a room filled with darkness, and yet this was my goal, my dream, the place I was dragging myself to. Then out of nowhere I remember a verse, ‘Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Right then and there, I kneeled and prayed… I prayed the prayer of a non-believer.”

We too, may be walking with heavy sacks of rice over our shoulders, toward an empty room where no one awaits us. We too, may be someone who is unable to enjoy true rest.

5.

In summary, even though God promised us rest, not everyone enjoys the rest. Some people are still wandering in the desert without rest. So, this connects to verses 12 and 13, where it says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”. Thus, we need God’s words.

Just like a doctor uses CT scans to look at the patient’s organs and cells carefully for diagnosis, in order to diagnose our spiritual health, it is important to use God’s words. Thus, we need to put myself under God’s word, which is ‘living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, and penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow’.

Bonhoeffer who is a theologian said in the beginning of his work, ‘one is still at human’s level if he reads the word of God without any intellectual sacrifice before God’. This indicates that Bonheoffer tried to read the word of God intellectually. Then, one day, he realized that he needs to be read by God’s intelligence. Then, he confessed as follows: ‘Recently, I would like to let you know how amazing my life has become after reading the word of God this way.’

It is not my intelligence used to examine God, but God’s intelligence started to examine me. It is not me who analyzes and examines God’s word, but God’s word helps me analyze and examine myself.

Yet, the word of God examines my soul and spirit, penetrates my joints and marrow, and judges my thoughts and attitudes of the heart. This is not to kill me but to save me. So that I can be changed. So that my disobedient, stubborn, and week mind that does not strengthen with faith even after hearing the word of God can be changed. He is a surgeon operating on us with the word of God.

My lovely congregation, it is said in verse 11, ‘make every effort to enter that rest’. Here, ‘make every effort’ means hurry up, speed up, and wait with desire. It is telling us not to lose the chance for the rest in our lives as we remember the past where Israelites did not enter that rest because of disobedience.

 How can we do it?  With the shining word of God…  I truly wish that our lives can be read by the word of God.