The writer of Hebrews spent the second chapter saying “Because we see the superiority and preeminence of Christ, let us believe right doctrine,” and warned his readers to guard against their faith drifting.
In chapter 3, the writer had a second “therefore” followed by five directives for our response to right doctrine. The first three are in chapter three, a fourth and soon a fifth come in chapter four:
- Follow Jesus as Preeminent Apostle and High Priest
- Resist the Pull of the Past
- Help Each Other Remain Faithful
- Enter Into God’s Rest
God’s Rest is the Reward Not the Rescue
I have talked at length about the earthly sense of reward stemming from obedience to God. That reward is the peace God gives that goes beyond understanding. It is also the quality of the calling God places on each believer, something we experience as a good yoke, and a bearable burden. It is the experience of intimacy with our gentle and humble Savior, communion with God and also with each other as we each lean forward in willing surrender to God.
Jesus, however, spoke of this in both an earthly and a heavenly sense.
And, the apostles also described heavenly rewards.
[The] foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.
If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NRSV)
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.Colossians 3:23-25 (NRSV)
Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.1 John 1:8-9 (NRSV)
the time for judging the dead,
for rewarding your servants, the prophets
and saints and all who fear your name,
both small and great
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.”Revelation 11:18, 22:12 (NRSV)
That last quote came from John’s account of the revelation he had been given towards the end of his life. As he watched in awe and elation, Jesus came to the center of John’s gaze and spoke these words. Perhaps, in that moment, Jesus’ words spoken many years before in a parable, came to John’s mind.
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’Matthew 25:21 (NRSV)
All three servants in Jesus’ parable were each given an amount of money to tend while the master was away. The amounts were not the same. The first servant was given twice as much as the second, and the third servant was given a very small amount. Yet, there were only two responses from the master—complete approbation, as quoted above, or complete rejection, as in the case of the third servant.
How could the master do that?
How could the master evaluate the first two in exactly the same way, though they each had brought differently sized results? And how could the master be so harsh (and not gracious) with the third servant, who was given so little in the first place and who at least seemed terrified of erring in some way (hence, he buried the small treasure for safekeeping)?
And how can you and I possibly know if what we are doing will bring the master’s pleasure or misapprobation?
The writer of Hebrews has already given us three important principles as people of faith:
- God rested only when God’s creative work was complete.
- In the same we, we also enter into God’s rest when we live by faith in God to the end.
- In living by faith—as God had invited the Israelites to do, but in rebellion they refused—we enter into the maturing process of being made complete.
But how do we know that we are responding rightly to God in this maturing process?
We find the answer in God’s word
Living and Active
Indeed, the word [logos] of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.Hebrews 4:12-13 (NRSV)
A pretty famous passage, probably the most quoted one from this book!
So how does this complete the discourse the writer has been giving? How is this the capstone thought?
You and I, living in the western world, tend to think the word refers to the sacred words in scripture. We come by that thought easily, as the Bible itself will signal when God is speaking, in the Hebrew scriptures, by announcing, “here is the word of the Lord.”
But, as I look at the pages of my Bible, reading the English words there, inert, typed on paper, I wonder, “How is this living and active?” And I think part of the answer comes in knowing the God Who inspired them is living and active. God the Holy Spirit is within me, speaking those words, and explaining them to me.
There is nothing magical about a Bible.
But there is something supernatural about the living and active word contained within it, by the power of the One and True Almighty Living God.
By the same token, the Word is the Lord Jesus Christ, living and active within every believer, and with the Body which is the church.
So the measure by which you and I can know whether we are rightly responding to God’s invitation to being made complete and entering into God’s rest, is found in obedience to God’s word.
Sharp and Two-Edged
In Greek, after reading about how the logos (both scripture and the Lord Jesus Messiah) is living and active, the writer turned to the metaphor of a very sharp sword or knife. The word μάχαιρα | machaira, according to the Greek lexicon, refers to a
- large knife or dirk
- sacrificial knife
- knife adapted to various purposes
A machaira can also refer to a short sword or dagger, or even shears or scissors. It would actually be exactly the kind of razor-sharp blade a fisherman might keep on hand to behead, skin, filet, and debone fish. And, funnily enough, it was just such a knife—a machaira—that Peter had hidden in his cloak and drew out the night Jesus was betrayed.
It is this kind of versatile, two-edged, finely sharpened blade, in the deft hand of one well-accustomed to its use, that can expose those hidden parts, otherwise so closely associated they seem indistinguishable. In this way, God’s word. (both scripture and the Lord Jesus Messiah) can separate otherwise murky emotional and spiritual issues. The writer said, “soul and spirit,” perhaps as hyperbole. We might say “motive and aim” or “desire and intent,” things so seemingly intricately intertwined, who can tell where the one stops and the other begins?
Directive Five: Study the Word of God
And so can we, by the faithful reading of, listening to, and heeding the words of God, and the Word of God.
(Go back up and look at that medieval image again. Do you see how Jesus has a sharp sword emanating from His mouth? Look how that sword is pointing right to the master who has judged the three servants. This ancient depiction brought two Biblical images together into one—the writer of Hebrews’ machaira and the romfaia or broadsword featured in Revelation.)