Friday, April 1, 2016

Paleo-Orthodoxy: The Sword: A Sermon on Hebrews 4:12-13

A Sermon

J. Davila-Ashcraft

As a martial artist of 31 years, I've had a bit of experience with swords. The particular martial art I teach is a traditional Japanese art and includes, at the higher ranks, plenty of opportunity for sword training. The one principle that is foundational to Japanese thought with regard to “kenjutsu”, sword fighting, is that if your heart isn't right, the sword will reveal it.

The samurai are perhaps the most well known swordsman of all time. They spent each and every day training with their sword, caring for their sword, and even sleeping with their sword. For the samurai, the sword was not simply a weapon to be used to hack limbs from torso's, but was seen as a spiritual item. Indeed, they believed the sword to possess the ability to feel your intention, to know your heart. And in samurai lore, if your sword wasn't pleased with the condition of your heart, it could arrange your defeat at the hands of an enemy. Now, I'm certainly not suggesting that this animistic idea is correct in any way ( it isn't), but it does provide for us a word picture for something scripture teaches us.

If your heart isn't right, the sword will reveal it.

12 For the word of God is alive 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. 13 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.- Hebrews 4:12-13

Paul tells us in this verse that the Word of God is “living and active”! It is alive, active, and even “sharper than any double edged sword”. I don't know how much you know about double edged swords, but they are deadly weapons. You can almost never avoid their cutting ability in a fight. Likewise, the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit isn't something we can avoid. We can duck, dodge, and parry all we like, but it will cut through our facade of righteousness, our feigned religiosity, to expose the sin we seek to hide. It will indeed penetrate “even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow”. That's quite a disturbing image, isn't it? It reveals the incredible ability of the Word of God has to destroy all that would come between us and the Lord.

If your heart isn't right, the sword will reveal it.

One time during my training I was paired up against a young lady for a full contact sword practice. She was a tiny Japanese girl, and I honestly thought she'd be a pushover. I squared up, ready across from her, my wooden sparring sword at the ready. And in a flash she began taking me apart like it was nothing. The more she did so the more angry I became, the less humble, and the more ego driven. After all, how could I let a mere girl best me? When all was said and done she quite honestly tore me apart. You see, my attitude, my heart wasn't right, and it came out in full view in my actions. The angrier I became, the more my ego was bruised, the less skilled I appeared. I blew it. 

Bryan J. Whitfield, associate professor of Christianity at Mercer University puts it this way, “...as the word penetrates, it judges our hearts. The role of the heart is a central feature in the sermon against unbelief. Since our hearts represent who we are as a whole, the condition of our hearts marks our openness to or rejection of God's voice. Thus the divine word unmasks and makes clear our faithfulness or unbelief.” 

Paul in no uncertain terms tells us that the double edged sword of the Word of God “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 an account.” 

The phrase “uncovered and laid bare” here, in the original Greek, actually denotes being taken by the throat, or having your neck twisted back. In other words, you're at the mercy of the swordsman. 

If your heart isn't right, the sword will reveal it.

Unlike the crude tools of human combat, the Word of God in the context of this scripture isn't simply a weapon used to defeat enemies. This “Word of God” is a Person. A merciful person- the MOST merciful person to have ever lived-Jesus Christ. And unlike the selfish and sinful use of swords in this fallen world, this “sword” cuts, divides and uncovers as an act of mercy.

The Church Father, Tertullian, wrote, "In His good work, God employs a most excellent minister, even His own Word."

Cyprian likewise tell us, "This same Christ is the Word of God."

And most importantly, Sacred Scripture tells us, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."     - John 1:14

This Word pierces our facade; rips away the mask, pulls back the curtain.

You see, unless we are made aware of our heart condition, we can never hope to see salvation. I'm personally thankful that the Word continues to cut me asunder and show me the stark reality of my need for his love and mercy. 

Indeed, if your heart isn't right, the sword-in his wonderful, loving mercy- will reveal it. 

And not for your undoing, but to your eternal benefit.

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