15th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Hebrews 4:9-16 Sermon
August 28, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
426 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
514 "Jesus And Shall It Ever Be"
390 "Thou Art The Way, To Thee Alone"
209 "God Of Our Life, All Glorious Lord"
ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE WORD OF GOD?
TEXT: (Vs. 12-13) “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
This morning, I’d like to share an experience I had at a pastor and lay delegate conference in Atlanta about 8 years ago. Among the things that were presented and studied, we had a text study which was presented by a pastor friend of mine. The paper was what is called an exegetical study, which means that the presenter had translated the whole section from the original Greek. Various Greek words were explored in depth, noting various cases and genders and parts of speech. Then the text was expounded upon, and studied in context. And I must say that he did an excellent job.
When he was finished, the floor was opened up for questions and comments. One of the lay delegates was the first to speak. He said, “I never realized that you pastors put this much work into sermon preparation. This is absolutely amazing.” And after the session as I was speaking to this same gentleman, he continued on by saying, “I’ve always thought that you guys just knew everything, and got up and talked and did your thing; I had no idea that there was this amount of study that went into it.”
I did tell him that most of the time it wasn’t quite that detailed or extensive, but on the other hand, sometimes it was even more involved. It just depended on the text.
In Seminary, a lot of our classes have to do with providing the Biblical background for our preaching and teaching ministry. We have to know how to use the original languages, and study the Bible from that perspective. We learned not to completely rely upon any particular translation of the Bible, but rather we had to have the ability to translate it and see for ourselves.
And then we also had homiletics classes, where we were assigned sermon texts, and we learned how to craft a sermon. Believe me; it is not as easy as it might appear. I can’t shake my sleeve and pop out a sermon. It does take work.
This morning, let’s look at some instructions that God gives to us in the Bible regarding the work of the ministry, and some of the instructions for training a pastor.
Paul, when writing his two letters to Timothy, is giving instruction to this new pastor, who would be in charge of a portion of God’s flock. In II Timothy 2, 15, he writes some very important words: “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.”
Studying is the first matter at hand. In order for me to be a pastor, I had to “study to show myself approved.” The method we have for this, is first of all a baccalaureate degree, with special emphasis on pre-theological courses. This is then followed up by a seminary education, and a period of internship, or vicarage.
When a man graduates from the seminary, this is the proof we use, to show that he has indeed studied to show himself approved. We can be certain that the seminary graduate has passed the criteria necessary to be such a workman. A congregation can then have some assurance when they call a pastor, because they know that they have met this standard.
The second thing Paul emphasizes is that a pastor is to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” This is an emphasis upon teaching the two basic divisions of Scripture, namely the law and the gospel. Dr. C.F.W. Walther has a good statement about this when he says: “The gospel without the law is useless; the law without the gospel is disastrous.” It is therefore important that the law be preached to show the sinner his or her sinfulness, and that the gospel be preached to show the sinner their Saviour and God’s forgiveness and love. Both need to be present in a sermon. This is the importance of rightly dividing the word of truth.
Now just a few short verses later, Paul writes this instruction to Timothy, 4,2: “Preach the Word; be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.”
First this reminds us that the pastor is to preach the whole counsel of God, and not neglect or ignore difficult doctrines. But most importantly, he is to faithfully preach that Word, both “in season and out of season.” Now what in the world does that mean?
Well sometimes that Word will be received very well by the hearers. However, at other times it might touch a nerve or two. But that is to be of no consequence, for the one who preaches God’s Word must be ready to preach that same word, whether it is appreciated or not; or as Paul puts it, “in season and out of season.”
To get a good example of this, all we need to do is look at the ministry of Jesus. His Word was accepted by many, and his popularity grew. However we also know that there were those who didn’t appreciate what he had to say. The Pharisees didn’t like being called a “brood of vipers” or “sons of the devil.” Many people in Nazareth also felt this way when Jesus preached in his home synagogue, and showed himself to be the Messiah. But nevertheless, Jesus never failed to preach the word, regardless of how it was received.
This morning I selected as my text these few verses from Hebrews, and entitled my message, “Are you prepared for the Word of God?” That’s what we come to church each Sunday telling ourselves. “Yes, I’m ready for the Word of God. I’m ready to sing the hymns, hear the Scripture readings and listen to the sermon.” But based upon the text I just read, I wonder if we’re really ready? Think about that phrase again, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword...” Are we really ready for God’s Word to do that to us?
Some people aren’t ready for that to happen, and I’ve seen it. I’ll give you an example out of the past that happened to me.
It was I think September of 1990. I had preached a sermon on the subject of forgiveness and bearing grudges. I hadn’t really thought about it too much, but there was one gentleman in the congregation that had a particular problem with this; and of course like any of our pet sins, we try to find reasons or excuses to hang on to them. But anyway, this sermon must have really laid his soul bare. He was so angry with me that he didn’t speak to me for awhile. His wife told me about the problem, and that I should let him cool down for a little while.
Anyway, it was shortly thereafter that I had a new vicar (or intern) arrive. Since he had arrived later in the week and he was supposed to preach that Sunday, I told him that he didn’t need to write a sermon, that he could preach one of his seminary sermons of his own choosing. The next day, he came to me and handed me the sermon he had chosen to preach. The title of the sermon was, “Be prepared to be cut by the Word of God,” and the text was the same one that I have for this morning.
Now he had no way of knowing what had happened with this gentleman. He didn’t know about his reaction to my prior sermon. He just selected this sermon. I debated about whether or not to have him preach it, but I thought that maybe all of this was more than sheer coincidence. So with no word of explanation from me, he went ahead and preached it the following Sunday.
The results were impressive indeed. The same gentleman was in church, and he heard what was said (I wasn’t there, because I was at our other church that Sunday). When I returned however, there was a message from this gentleman on my answering machine, wanting to speak to me. As it turns out, the vicar’s sermon explained to him exactly what had happened when he heard my sermon. He knew exactly what it meant by God’s word being living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. Most certainly, I witnessed the power of God’s word in an individual’s life. God’s law and gospel had become more real for him than any other lesson he had ever learned.
And so this morning, I ask again, “Are we prepared for the Word of God?” I would hope that the very cutting edge has hit us all deeply at times. I would hope that God’s Word has, as our text says, “laid us bare.” I would hope that God’s Word has shown that disease of sin that permeates all through us. I hope this, not because I want to humiliate and intimidate anybody, but because this is necessary in order for the gospel to be of any effect. And believe me; it cuts just as deep for me as it does for anybody else.
This cutting effect is necessary for healing to take place. I remember the last surgery I had. The surgeon had to cut me to fix my hernia. The surgeon had to cut me to remove my cyst. Those things weren’t going to fix themselves or go away by themselves. So I had to be cut open. The cuts had to be sharp, precise, and accurate in order to get to the problem. After those cuts healed, I no longer had the problems that made those cuts necessary. But if the surgeon hadn’t cut me, then all the words of healing would have had no effect on me, because the problems would still exist.
In our reading from Hebrews this morning, we find a very graphic description of God’s law. But right after that, we find an equally graphic description of the gospel. Listen to verses 15 and 16: “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
After we have been cut, then healing can commence. The same God who speaks words that cut deeply, also speaks words that comfort and heal.
Regardless of the depth and severity of our sin, we are reminded that Jesus endured every temptation that we endure, and even stronger temptations than what we’ll ever experience. So even though Jesus is without sin, he fully understands what is happening to us. He can sympathize with our weaknesses and failures. He knows what temptation is like. And he knows what we experience.
Knowing this, Jesus is very quick to come with healing. He is ever ready to restore us. And so, as our text instructs us, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
This morning, it is readily apparent by our text that the Word of God needs to be preached completely and accurately. Doctrine is so important, because without correct doctrine, the law couldn’t do its job, nor could the gospel do its job either. False doctrine has no place in Christ’s church, because to introduce something which is against Scripture, will weaken the very foundation of our faith.
So now you know why it is so very important for pastors to “study to show themselves approved,” and to learn to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” and to always be prepared to preach the Word both “in season and out of season.”
Certainly there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that nobody but God ever sees. Preparation, study, devotion, and prayer are important ingredients.
To this end however, the Word of God has a profound effect on both pastor and congregation. We have felt the deep cutting of the law and the healing of the gospel. And now we can go forth equipped, ready to live the life that befits a Christian, as we keep strong in the faith through that living and active Word of God.