This Sword Cuts Both Ways
A sermon based on Hebrews 4:12-13
Sunday, October 15, 2017 – Pentecost 19B
"Where is the justice in the world? If God is really a loving God, then why doesn't he end the evil, end the violence, end the injustice?!"
"That sword cuts both ways," the man answered his friend. "If you want God to bring justice to the world, do you want him to bring justice against you?! That sword cuts both ways, friend."
It reminds me of the scene in the Road to Emmaus movie where one of the disciples asks Jesus, "When they were about to execute him, why didn't [Jesus] put a stop to it?! If he was the Messiah couldn't he just destroy his enemies and all the wicked?"
"You mean… like the flood?" Jesus asks.
"Yes! The flood!" the disciple replies. "Why didn't he just wipe out all the evil people?! Another flood or… something?!"
And Jesus responds, "Wipe out the evil people? And who would be left, my friend? …Are you without sin?"
In a sense, Jesus told that Emmaus disciple, "That sword cuts both ways."
It's true that God's sword cuts both ways. His word is sharper than a double-edged sword. And when we want to throw out accusations against others, it cuts us with the law that hurts and stings …and kills. But God's Word cuts both ways in another sense: it doesn't just cut like a sword to kill, it also cuts like a scalpel to remove the malignant growth and to heal. Thank God for his powerful Word that cuts both ways. Our text for consideration this morning is from Hebrews 4:12-13…
12 For the word of God is living 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.
Now you can probably tell just by looking at me that I have been engaged in a tiring battle. It's the Battle of the Bulge. Nearing 40, my metabolism is slowing. I don't think it was ever super fast to begin with, but it seem like now more than ever, whatever I put in my mouth shows up on my sides. And if it's not obvious by the bathroom scale, the bathroom mirror tells what we call, "God's honest truth." Hi. My name is Rob. And I'm pudgy.
And I know that I'm not alone in a somewhat compromised body image—an image that would make most of us pretty uncomfortable to stand naked before others.
Now, I know this next illustration may be troublesome, even traumatic, for some. But I'm going to risk it anyway to give you a picture of what God is saying to us this morning.
I want you to imagine that you live in ancient times. And while you're relaxing at home, you hear a knock at the door. When you go to answer and open the door, you see a Roman soldier standing outside. Before you get a chance to respond, he grabs you by the arm and yanks you into the street in front of your house. He grabs the front of your shirt and pulls down so hard that he rips it away. He pulls out his gladius, that sharp, double-edged short sword and presses it against your skin, between you and your clothes. And with a sudden draw, he cuts off the clothes that you're wearing. There you stand, in front of your house, with all of your neighbors watching, now completely naked. Then the soldier grabs you by the hair, pulls your head back, and pressed his gladius against your throat.
That, as uncomfortable as it is, is the picture the author to the Hebrews paints for us of what God's law does to us. We stand before, not just a Roman soldier, but before God totally naked. Where the NIV says, "Everything is uncovered," the Greek says, "Everything is gymnos," that is, naked. In fact, I don't know if you knew this, but our English word, gymnasium means "a place where athletes are trained… naked." Thankfully "gym class" and "gymnastics" today aren't done the way they were in ancient Greece.
Then the word that is translated, "laid bare," comes from a Greek idiom which "refers to bending back the neck of a sacrificial victim to make ready for the final stroke." 
That's what God's Word does to us. "It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." And the Greek word for "judges" is kritikos, the word from which we get our English, critical or critique. It critiques our thoughts and attitudes and it leaves us naked and vulnerable as God reads our every fleeting thought, every moment of hatred or lust or greed. And as the score cards go up, we see a zero… another zero… another zero.
And there's nothing we can do to cover up. No excuse, no penance, no amends can cover our naked vulnerability before God, the Judge of all. And we know what judgment we deserve: "This sinner stands condemned before God and is sentenced to an eternity of shame away from him, an eternity of torment in hell." That's what we deserve. And there's no arguing it. There's covering it up on our own.
If you watch the news, read the headlines, skim the Facebook posts and then want to cry "Foul!" and declare God unjust in failing to punish the wicked… then remember, friends, that sword cuts both ways. You're really asking God, who sees you naked, to punish you, who have been wicked in, "the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." "Wipe out the evil people? And who would be left, my friend? …Are you without sin?"
You see how God's word cuts us down in our stubborn and foolish pride and leads us to repent of our sin just as it did with Peter's Pentecost audience: "They were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'"
And thank God for it! It leads us to ask that same question. "What shall we do?" And thank God that he answers that question in his Word too. He tells us that we don't need to do anything, that Christ did it all, that we don't get the justice that we so foolishly ask for! Because, instead of sending the sword against us, he sent the sword against his own Son in our place.
"The word of God is living and active." And, in that Word, God reveals how he sent his own Son to come to earth in our place. And Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life that could totally withstand the scrutiny and critique of God the Father himself, who deemed it perfect and worthy of life with him. Yet, nevertheless, he was stripped naked, totally exposed, as Roman soldiers gambled over his inner garment after they nailed him to a cross. And there he was critiqued; judged by God the Father as guilty—guilty for all of our shameful words and deeds and our, "thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
And there on that cross, Jesus' throat was exposed, so to speak, as the Lamb of God who became the sacrificial victim to whom the final stroke was delivered. He endured the shame, the vulnerability, and the hell that we deserved on that cross to rescue us from it. That's what that living and active Word of God reveals to us.
And by Jesus' perfect sacrifice for us, our sin has been removed. You see, the Word of God doesn't just cut us down with the sword of the law, shaming us into repentance. It cuts another way too. It cuts out our sin with the scalpel of the gospel, removing that which ails and kills, making us healthy and whole. In that sense, this sword cuts both ways.
And by Jesus' perfect sacrifice for us, we have been covered. Just as Adam's nakedness was covered by the skin of an animal killed for him (see Genesis 3:21), so our spiritual nakedness before God is covered by Christ, killed for us. Paul wrote in Galatians 3(:26-27), "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." This fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 61:10: "I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
So now when God looks at us, he doesn't see us naked and exposed with all of our sin hanging out for him to see. But he see's Christ and his perfect righteousness that covers our guilt and shame with his holy righteousness. We look sinless to God the Father and, as such, fit for heaven. This is what the living and active Word of God reveals to us.
And now, in thanks to God for what he's done for us in Christ—in cutting away our sin and covering our nakedness with his righteousness—we are eager to share the message of his grace with others to clothe them too. And what a powerful tool we have to carry out the mission entrusted to us: We have the most powerful thing in the world at our disposal: God's living and active Word. And though its results are not always loud, immediate, and as dramatic as lesser powers like dynamite, and though it can be resisted, nevertheless, the Word of God is powerful. It does work. And while we may not see the results in spectacular ways as it worked at Pentecost, there will be results for faithful teaching and preaching of God's Word because God has invested his Word with power.
And as we share it and invite others to come and hear it here, they too will be cut by the sword of the law. Their pride will be cut down as God's law exposes them and their sin. But they too will have their sin cut away by the scalpel of the gospel. And they too will be clothed with Jesus' righteousness. The sword will cut both ways for them too. So use that powerful tool at home, at work, and with your friends. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…" In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.
 Clean L. Rogers, Jr., The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.