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Sermon for Sunday 21 October 2018

FIRST READING Ecclesiastes 5:10-20

10He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. 13There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger. 18Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil — this is the gift of God. 20For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.


PSALM Psalm 119:9-16

9How shall a young man cleanse his way? By keeping to your words. 10With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. 11I treasure your promise in my heart, that I may not sin against you. 12Blessed are you, O Lord; instruct me in your statutes. 13With my lips will I recite all the judgments of your mouth. 14I have taken greater delight in the way of your decrees than in all manner of riches. 15I will meditate on your commandments and give attention to your ways. 16My delight is in your statutes; I will not forget your word.


SECOND READING Hebrews 4:1-16

1While the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let 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.


GOSPEL Mark 10:23-31

23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”



This morning I’d like to describe a well-known book, one that by its description alone will enable you to guess the manuscript I’m referring to. This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy.
The book I’m talking about contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It’s the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. The eternal Word, Jesus is its grand object, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. We would do well to read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a source of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It’s given to us in life, will be opened in judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.
At this point, I’m sure you know that there’s only book in all of the world that fits that description. It’s the book that we read four different passages from and is known all over the world as the Bible. I’ve heard a couple of acronyms people have come up with for the initials of the word Bible. The most common is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. This is cute, but I think that is way to elementary and way too simple to describe the Bible. Another lesser known is Better Investigate Before Life Ends. I like this one better, but it has a threatening tone to it and the Bible is full of comfort as well as warning. The one I like the best is, Behold I Bring Life Eternal. This one gives us hope and also piques our curiosity. While this is still a bit simple it does get to the basics and points directly to the One who is the center of God’s message for us. That said, the Bible also uses various metaphors to describe itself within its pages.
Jesus said the Bible is like a seed that grows. The prophet Isaiah said the Bible is like a hammer that breaks, and a fire that burns. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:17, “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And here, in our epistle reading for today, we’re told the Bible is like a sword that cuts (Heb. 4:12.) The Bible is a sword, the sword of the Lord. The text before us tells us about the wonder, the wisdom, and the work of this the greatest of all books. We’re told in no uncertain terms what the Bible is, what the Bible does, and why the Bible is unlike any other book that’s ever been written. The Bible is, first of all, unique, because it’s of its Divine origin.
We call this Holy book the Bible because in v.12 the writer of Hebrews say that it is “the word of God.” Even though the Bible is believed to have been penned by some 40 different writers, who wrote 66 different books over a period of 1600 or so years, in reality it only has one author – GOD. Nowhere does the Bible ever claim to be the words of man, it claims to be the word of God.
Someone once made this astute observation about the Bible: I know man didn’t write this Book. A good man would not have written it because it claims to be from God, and a good man wouldn’t make a false claim. A bad man wouldn’t have written it because it condemns his own evil, so it must be written by God! Over 310 times you’ll find in the Bible these phrases: “the word of God”, or, “the word of the Lord.” In the Old Testament alone, phrases like “God said”, “God spoke”, and “the word of the Lord came” occur nearly 4000 times, 700 times in the first five books, 40 times in one chapter. This phrase “the word of God” is God’s favorite term for his book. So when the Bible speaks, God speaks.
For those who prefer to see themselves as progressively minded, God’s favorite term is their most hated term. The progressive despises that phrase “the word of God.” The progressive will say, “the Bible contains the word of God”, or, “it functions as the word of God”, or, “it becomes the word of God in our existential experience.” Well, there’s only one thing incorrect with all those statements. They’re completely wrong. The Bible doesn’t just contain the word of God, or function as the word of God, or become the word of God, it is the word of God. What all this means is, since the Bible is the word of God, it is therefore inspired.
II Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Now if the Bible is inspired, then it must be inerrant, for God would never inspire error. If the Bible is inerrant, then it must be infallible, for God never lies or makes a mistake. Because God never changes, His word never changes, therefore it must be immutable. Now before we continue, we must be very careful with three of these terms because they are very misunderstood today. The fact that the Bible is inerrant, infallible and immutable is absolutely true. We are the ones who make errors in our interpretation and therefore we are the ones who are imperfect.
Over the centuries far too many people have proof-texted the Bible to forward their own agenda. The Bible has been used to condone slavery, oppress women and wage war. In more recent times it’s being used to excuse sinful sexual behavior and to justify same-sex marriage. It’s been abusively misused to promote racism and justify being judgmental. It has been misquoted by followers of Islam, Judaism and Christians alike. While some of this is done out of ignorance, most of the time the abuse of God’s word is done because we interpret the Bible through the lens of society. Trust me, the Bible is quite capable of interpreting itself. It doesn’t need our moral filter. Anytime we find problems with the Bible, we are the problem, not God’s word. If we truly want to understand the Bible, we need to study and pray.
So yes, the Bible is inspired, inerrant, infallible and immutable; it’s the only book that could meet all four of these criteria, because it is the word of God. It was authored by God the Father, approved by God the Son, and activated by God the Holy Spirit. And furthermore, it is dynamic in its operation. Because it is the word of God, the Bible possesses two characteristics you would expect from God’s word: it is alive and active.
First, “The word of God is living” according to verse 12. The Greek word for living is the word that gives us our word “zoology.” This book pulsates with life. If you cut it, it will bleed with the blood of Jesus. If you listen to it, it will tell you supernatural truths beyond all the sages of all of the ages. If you believe it, it will fill your soul with joy, your spirit with life, your mind with truth, and your heart with wisdom. No other book ever written has life, and no other book ever written gives life.
Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” The Bible is a living book because it is about a living Lord. Open the Bible and Jesus will step right off the pages into your heart, and He will “walk with you and talk with you, and tell you that you are his own” (Lev. 26:12.)
God breathed into man and man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7.) God breathed into this book and this book became a living book. The Greek word for inspired literally means “breathed out.” The same breath that gave life to humankind is the same breath that gives life to this book. God is not the God of the dead, He is the God of the living (Luke 20:38.) He is the living God and a living God gives living words.
The participle, living, is in the present tense which denotes continuous action. In other words, II Tim. 3:16 literally translated says, “the word of God is continuously and always living. That means we cannot kill it. Through the centuries the enemies of God have tried to eliminate the Bible, and at times they thought they had “buried” it. But this corpse has a habit of coming back to life and outliving the pallbearers. As poet James M. Grey put it: Despised and torn in pieces by infidels decried; The thunderbolts of hatred, the haughty cynics pride; All these have railed against it in this and other lands; Yet dynasties have fallen and still the Bible stands.
What other book is more than 2000 years old and is still the world’s all-time best selling and most widely distributed book. Between 1815 and 1975, it was estimated that there could have been 5 billion Bibles printed. In 1995, one version of the bible, the Good News version sold nearly 18 million copies. The highest price ever paid for a printed book is $5.39 million and that was for an Old Testament; a Gutenburg Bible that was printed in 1455. One could say that the Bible is like a Timex, it takes a licking, but it keeps on ticking. The second characteristic of the Bible is that it’s active.
The Bible is active and powerful. The Greek word energes gives us our English word “energy.” It’s a word that literally means “activity that produces results.” It actually comes from two Greek words: the word en, which means “at”, and the word ergo, which means “work.” Together it literally means “at work.” The power of this book is almost indescribable, yet it is also undeniable.
Think for just a moment of how powerful, energizing, and activating God’s word really is. There was a time when there was no universe, just chaos. Then God spoke; instantaneously stars began to twinkle, suns began to shine, dry land appeared, and the waves of the oceans began to roll. At the sound of God’s voice, planets began to rotate on their axis and move in their orbits. When God spoke, there were signs and seasons, plants and creatures in the ocean. When God spoke, animals were created, and we were formed. And each time God spoke, He saw that everything He created was good. Next, consider the miracles of Jesus.
All Jesus had to do was speak and diseases were cured, storms quieted, demons cast out and the dead came back to life. The power of this book is nothing short of powerful! It also has the power to convict. When Stephen preached the word of God, the Bible says, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart” (Acts 7:54.) What’s more the Bible cleanses.
We all know that we’re saved by grace through faith. Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Therefore, God’s word has cleansing power. Jesus said in John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” The Bible also has the power to conquer.
Did you know that when Jesus comes back and faces the devil, all of his demons, and the armies of this world, He’ll only need one weapon? “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations” (Rev. 19:15.) That sword is the sword of the Lord, the word of God. The next thing that make the Bible unique and authoritative is that it is fixed in its objective.
The writer of Hebrews compares the Bible to a sword. This sword is used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish four objectives: First it explores the soul. The word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow.” The Great Physician is like a skilled surgeon with a sharp scalpel. He can take the sword and cut you deeper than any human knife ever could. The smallest cutting devices ever made are glass micropipette tubes used in intercellular work on living cells. These glass knives are sixty-five times thinner than the human hair. Yet, there’s something that can cut much finer and deeper, the word of God.
The finest cut of anything ever made by any knife was reported in June 1983 at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California. A special optical turning machine sliced a human hair 3,000 times lengthwise. That’s what I call cutting it thin! But the word of God can cut distinctions far finer than that. This sword can divide soul and spirit.
Now the spirit is the deepest part of us, this is what separates us from plants and animals. Plants have a body, animals have a body and a soul, but only man has a body, a soul, and a spirit; and the word of God can penetrate to the deepest level and divide that soul from that spirit. It can instantaneously show you that you may be emotionally alive in your soul, intellectually alive in your mind, but totally dead in your spirit. The next objective of the Holy Spirit is to examine our soul.
The word of God “examines the thoughts and intents of our heart” (Jer. 17:10.) In other words, this book can not only tell us what we do, it can also tell us why we do it. You could say that the Bible not only gets under our skin, it can get into our heart. The word discern is the Greek word kritikos, which gives us our English word “critic.” The Bible is a critic. Back in Seminary, I always found it interesting that some of the professors and other self-acclaimed theologians consider themselves to be Bible “critics”. I appreciate someone who studies the Bible to improve their understanding. I fail however, to understand how anyone can study the Bible to find fault. The Bible was given to show us our short comings, it’s nothing short of pure arrogance for us to think we can find fault with God’s word.
During the time I was in Seminary, there was a group of 50 professors and 100 lay persons who participated in an event called “The Jesus Seminar”. Over a 10-year period, this group of “critical scholars” went through the gospels and decided what Jesus said, and what Jesus didn’t say. They determined that 82% of what Jesus reportedly said in the gospels, He didn’t say, and much of the remaining 18% is in doubt. For example, they said of all of the words in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus probably only said, “Father.” They determined that Jesus definitely did not predict His death on the cross, nor His return to earth in a second coming. To this day I can’t understand how they came to these conclusions.
As part of their process, every scholar was given beads of four different colors. If a scholar thought Jesus said something, he cast a red bead. If he wasn’t quite sure, he cast a pink bead. If Jesus didn’t say it, but it represented something He may have thought, the scholar cast a gray bead. If the scholar decided Jesus definitely didn’t say it, or would even have thought it, he cast a black bead. They have now published their own version of the gospels entitled The Five Gospels color-coding every saying attributed to Jesus. Needless to say, I place no credence in their work or methodology. The bottom line is, we don’t criticize the Bible, the Bible criticizes us. The third objective of God’s word is to expose the sinner.
In verse 13 we read, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” God’s word penetrates our hearts and lays us open before God. The word “open” literally means “put a knife to the throat.” This word was used of criminals who were being led to trial or execution, and often a soldier would hold the point of a dagger under the criminal’s chin to force him to hold his head high, so he would have to look into the gaze of the judge, instead of dropping his head. Likewise, the Bible is a sword that causes us to look God square in the eyes and face the reality of what we really are. The final objective of the God’s word is to expel sin.
There’s a big difference between a spiritual sword and a physical sword. A physical sword cuts living people to make them dead; but this spiritual sword cuts dead people to make them alive. God’s word is not only able to divide and discern, it’s also able to deliver. There isn’t a heart so hard that the sword of the Spirit cannot pierce the heart and bring that heart to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. George Whitfield, the great Eighteenth-Century evangelist, was hounded by a group of detractors who called themselves the “Hellfire Club.” They mocked him, they laughed at him, they derided his work, they made fun of his preaching.
On one occasion, one of their ring leaders, a young man named Thorpe, was mocking Whitfield. He was actually delivering one of his sermons with brilliant accuracy, perfectly imitating his tone and his facial expressions. They were laughing, having a great time when all of a sudden, a strange thing happened. As Thorpe was preaching Whitfield’s sermon, his lips began to quiver, his eyes began to water, the color drained right out of his face; his friends didn’t know what was going on. They thought he was getting ill.
In reality he was getting well. All of a sudden he sat down on the ground and cried out to God and asked Jesus to forgive him. Thorpe went on to become a prominent Christian leader in the city of Bristol. This sword of the Lord is indeed sharp, living, and powerful. It can cut the cancer of sin out of our heart. It can cut for us the bread of life. But it is a two-edged sword. It can cut us and kill us, or it can cut us and save us. The choice is ours.

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