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Sermon - January 4, 2015

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                           Sermon # 1195

January 4, 2015                                                                                              Hebrews 4:11-16

Dr. Ed Pettus


“The Living and Active Word of God”

[This is a transcript of notes and preparation for preaching as I am now preaching via outline without a manuscript.  In other words, some parts are incomplete in this manuscript!]


Why do we read the Bible?  Why do we hold this text sacred?  Of course, it has been handed on to us from generation to generation.  It came into being at a certain time but was first an oral tradition for many years.  The stories of the Bible were told and retold to children and to the Jewish worshippers.  You might remember the Deuteronomy passage, chapter 6, where the stories are to be taught to children but also to the whole family.  It became so deeply a part of the Jewish life to know and live this word that they would write it on the doorposts of their homes and wear the word in phylacteries on their forehead and/or wrist to have this constant reminder of scripture. 

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


As time went on and as Jesus came and we read about Jesus being the Word made flesh in John 1.  The word takes on an even fuller meaning, especially for the Gentiles, for us, as we see Jesus revealed and revealing God to us as himself came to fulfill the law, not to abolish the law (Matt. 5:17).  He came to show us even more about God and his word and so we hold this book as holy and sacred.  In Hebrews, our scripture for this morning, the Word of God is said to be living and active.  Think about other books, famous and important books.  None of those books are said to have the same dynamic or characteristic of inspiration.  Other books do inspire people and teach people and give us something of value.  But there is a particular life to this word, to God’s word that is unlike any other word.  It is living and active in that it dwells in us actively and has the capacity to transform our lives.  Now, of course, the word has had its critics and people who misuse and misinterpret the word and people like the author in Newsweek recently who want to bring down the scripture in such a way that says that it is less than God’s word.  But that article in Newsweek, I commented on it briefly in the church newsletter, the article simply attempts to cause doubt about our sacred word.  What is missing in such things is that our understanding of inspiration covers more than just the writing of the Bible but also the process that brought us the Holy Bible as we have it today.  God’s inspiration covers the writing, the preservation, the “traditioning” process that makes up what we read.  This word, we believe, is God-breathed.  We have become even more confident through many of the modern discoveries and things we have learned about scripture that show us again and again that this scripture is infallible.  It is reliable in every way for everything we need for life.  We sometimes talk about inerrant, which means without error.  There is a need to nuance that term a bit and I won’t get into that right now, but suffice it to say that this scripture, our Bible, is our final authority on all things for life and faith.   



One of the main concerns today is the use of the word authority.  This word is our authority for life and for decisions and character, for all matters in faith and life.  We do not look to any other book for that.  We may look to what a commentator says or what the church has said in the past or something like that, but we do that to help us understand what we are reading.  They help us grow in the word.  That is part of the reason why I do not stand here today and give you an interpretation that is solely my interpretation.  It does not work that way because I and you are a part of a community that has a history of interpretation.  I balance what I might say today with what has been said before.  My interpretation has been informed by reformed thinkers and what others have said about these passages of scripture and about the topic of God’s word.  My interpretation is tempered by my education and experience and other factors.  I have been fed by scholars and reformers and, I dare say, the Holy Spirit.  

But what we find today in some denomination and faith groups are people who do not listen very intently to the tradition and do not even consider the Bible for that matter.  They take a vague notion that has roots in scripture but becomes so polluted by worldly thinking that it no longer reflects the heart of scripture.  This is the main reason we are now in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, it is on this issue of the authority of scripture and its interpretation.  We affirm the authority and reliability and inspiration and importance for life.  It is partly what defines us as a community of Christian faith. 



The Bible testifies to its own importance.  We say it like this: the Bible is self-attesting.  It gives testimony to its own importance.  What that means for us is that we do not need any outside confirmation for its authority.  We don’t need science to prove the Bible.  We don’t need history to verify its authenticity.  We don’t need any outside entity to determine whether or not we should submit ourselves to the scriptures.  The church affirms the Bible.  Self-attesting is a weak argument when presented to an atheist or others who oppose the scriptures.  They believe everything must have outside verification.  The Bible tells us that those things that are spiritual will not make any sense to those who are unspiritual (1 Cor. 2:12-16).  Paul says the natural person does not accept spiritual things.  The Bible as self-attesting is a spiritual thing. 


What does the Bible say about itself?  There are many places where the scripture speaks of itself. 


One of our texts we quote often about the word is 2 Timothy 3:16.  It speaks about the inspiration of scripture.  The literal meaning is God-breathed.  God has breathed life into this word.  And I take that to also mean that God can breathe life into us through his word. 


Psalm 19 speaks of the law of God being perfect, reviving the soul.  It says the word is sweeter than the honeycomb.  It gives the image of eating the word and savoring it like honey. 


Psalm 1 gives us another image of meditation.  We take the scripture and we think about it, we mull over it, and let it dwell in our thoughts.  We repeat it, we memorize, we carry it on our phones, or in book form.  That text in Psalm 1 says that those who meditate on the word are like trees planted by the waters to bear fruit.  Every time I think about Psalm one and the fruit, I remember Jesus talking about testing the false teachers and false prophets telling us that we will know them by their fruit.  This is partly why it is so important for us to know the scripture because as we take it in and as we are nourished by it we will be like trees planted by the water and bearing fruit.  By fruit I think the word means anything that gives life and nourishes faith and love and hope.  Paul writes about the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 6) and John the Baptist refers to the fruit of repentance (Matt. 3).   All of this is to drive home the importance of being in the word in order that we might be fruitful in all things.


Jesus talks about the word saying that he came to fulfill the law not to abolish it.  He speaks the word just as God spoke the word at creation.  Remember the time when Jesus was asleep in the boat and the storm came and the disciples thought that they would perish.  When Jesus awoke he spoke the word, “Be still”, and the storm dissipated (Mark 4).   Of course Jesus could speak in this manner; he was and is the Word that became flesh, according to John 1.  One of my favorite verses in scripture is Romans 4:17 speaking of God, “the God…who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  Jesus spoke that powerful word and that word is the word we have in Holy Scripture. 


Psalm 119 is the longest and greatest Psalm about God’s Word.  Every verse, 176 verses, say something about the word of God.  Psalm 119 is a poetic masterpiece.



Eating the Word Jer. 15:16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.  This is not a literal eating of papyrus or some other form of document.  It is a spiritual eating.  It is a devouring of the words in such a way that we ingest it in our heart and mind.  Eugene Peterson has written about the image of a dog gnawing on a bone.   A dog will savor and protect that bone.  Have you ever tried to get a bone from a dog?  They don’t easily give it up.  Just imagine getting into the word in that way, gnawing on it. 


Jesus said we do not by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  We do eat bread!  But, that is not all.  We must also “eat” the word of God.  That is partly why when we eat bread at the table we affirm that we are eating physical bread, but more importantly we are spiritually nurtured by the Holy Spirit and in the word of God (Matthew 4). 


We tend to resist the word, reading it, being obedient to it, and so forth.  Some read it because they just believe we are supposed to.  We have a vague understanding that because it is called the word of God and because we believe in God, we ought to read his book.  Some might say it is a place to learn good morals.  Others might say it contains truth and help in getting through our problems.  Some talk about using the Bible as a road map for life. 


But we often find even more ways to avoid reading the Bible.  It is too hard to understand.  It takes too much time to read.  I don’t know where to start or how to proceed after we start.  Just simply too busy with other things. 


False reasons to read:

Not just for more information.

Not to say “yes I have read the Bible” – no real need for reading in a year.  Would rather you read one passage a week – 52 passages – and live with those passages for one week. 

Not to just be better people – certainly living the Bible will make us better people, but that is not the primary reason we read it. 


Good reasons to read:

We read because we love God and that means we also love his word (reference Psalm 119).  Jesus said it this way, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10). 


We read because we seek the renewal and transformation which makes us able to discern God’s will, Romans 12:1-2.  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”


Our prayer is that God’s word may dwell in us richly.  The Scripture reference is Colossians 3:16.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.”  Let it dwell in you, meditate on it, live in it.  Talk about it with one another and ask me about it!  Read what others have said about it.  Soak it in, gnaw on it.  Abide in Jesus’ love by abiding in his word.  Let’s get to it!  And let’s get to it together. Amen.