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The Penetrating Word


“Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:11-13). 

We may face difficult and trying problems this side of heaven. We may have to bid a temporary goodbye to loved ones who—trusting in Christ—pass through death into life. We may have anxious hearts when family problems arise and hard feelings divide. During such times we long for better days. The Spirit of God comforts us in the Letter to the Hebrews by revealing that there remains a rest for the people of God. We struggle now. One day we will “tread the verge of Jordan” (TLH 54) and enter the Promised Land of heaven. We will then rest from our labors and enjoy peace in the presence of the Lord Christ.

While we await our upward call, we are urged as children of God to “. . . be diligent to enter that rest,” to do what we can to keep strong our link (faith) to Christ our Savior. We do this by regularly hearing the Word of God proclaimed in truth, by studying and meditating upon its precepts, and by making use of the Sacrament of the Altar to strengthen our faith in Christ’s sacrifice—which has secured our redemption. We are also to make every effort to avoid temptation and sin, lest we fall from faith and find ourselves disqualified.

Fear not! Our gracious God has given us in His Word a tool that penetrates the innermost part of a human being to lay bare guilt and to change the heart. The Word of God is no dry and dusty book, unable to speak to today’s world and today’s sinner. It is not like the breath of a man which is sent into the air and dissipates and may or may not produce results.

God’s Word is living and active, filled with the life-giving power of God. It is always effective (see
Isaiah 55:10-11) in accomplishing what God desires.

God’s Word is here compared to the short sword of a Roman soldier. Even as the sword of the soldier was effective to pierce and divide, so God’s Word is able to penetrate the innermost part of a human being either to lay bare his guilt or to change his heart.

God’s Word is able to divide what seems impossible to divide, even soul and spirit. In the English language, the words soul and spirit are largely synonymous. In Greek, however, both words have a range of meanings that can vary widely depending on context. This section of Hebrews is clearly emphasizing the penetrating and discerning power of God’s Word. Even the sharpest of swords could hardly cleave a joint with a single stroke, or pierce cleanly through a bone to its marrow; yet God’s Word is a power that swiftly and easily penetrates to the very core of a person.

God’s Word is even able to judge the thoughts and considerations of the heart. It passes infallible, unimpeachable, and impartial judgments on the very thoughts and motives of human beings. While some people attempt to escape the judgments of the Word of God (as Herod with John the Baptist, and Felix with the Apostle Paul), and others declare that the Bible is merely a book of fables, they cannot escape its judgment (see John 12:48). Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God will not (see Matthew 24:35)!

God’s Word uncovers all things. It reminds us that all things are known to Him to Whom we must give an account.

This truth might well frighten us, except the Word of God also uncovers to us God’s loving heart and kindly disposition toward us in Christ. The Law of God, like a brutal weapon, does indeed lay bare the heart and uncover sin. But the Gospel of Christ binds up wounds and is a healing salve that comforts and delivers wounded sinners.

Andrew Schaller is pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in Marquette, Michigan.