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, interacting in dynamic ways, 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, if we're "tuned in" to the Holy Spirit, isn't something we can avoid easily. We can duck God's Word, dodge its meaning, and parry away its influence 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? Paul uses vivid, even violent language to describe how the Word works. 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 across from her, my wooden sparring sword at the ready. I was sure I had this one in the bag. Once the signal was given for our sparring match to begin, I quickly realized this would be no ordinary match. In a flash she began taking me apart like it was nothing. The more she hit me, the more she found every weakness in my defenses, 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. My sword (and hers) had revealed my weaknesses.

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. Again, Paul uses violent, combat oriented language here to demonstrate just how powerfully we are at the mercy of the Word. 

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.

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

And unlike the selfish and sinful use of swords in this fallen world, this “sword” cuts, divides and uncovers as an act of mercy.

This Word pierces our facade; rips away the mask, pulls back the curtain, revealing who we really are-warts and all.

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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