Nowhere to Hide

Hebrews 4:11-13
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, January 14, 2007
Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12

There is nowhere to hide from God and his word. When Adam and Eve sinned against the Lord, they thought that they could hide from God and escape judgment. They made for themselves fig-leaf garments and hid themselves among the trees of the garden. But the Lord found them. Achan thought that he could hide from God, but he and his family were found out and destroyed (Josh. 7). Ananias and Sapphira thought that they could hide from God, but they were discovered and destroyed (Acts 5). The psalmist said, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me . . .' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you" (Ps. 139:7, 11-12).

In our previous study we noted that the eternal judgment of God is coming, when some shall enter into the saints' everlasting rest, while others go to the sinners' everlasting torment. There is nowhere we can hide from this judgment of God, whom Abraham called "the Judge of all the earth" (Gen. 18:25). But there is an everlasting rest remaining for the people of God, and the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to strive to enter that rest (Heb. 4:11).

God's supreme desire is for all of us to enter that eternal happiness which the gospel clearly proclaims. If anyone goes to hell, it is because he hates God and desires to go there. Such a person does not believe he really will go to hell; he thinks he can hide from God and his judgment. But there is no place to hide. God is called Lahai Roi, "the Living One who sees me" (Gen. 16:14).

God sees us all at all times and knows our thoughts before we think them: "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" (Heb. 4:13). Naked we came into this world, naked we shall go out, and naked we shall stand in the great judgment, utterly defenseless and totally vulnerable.

After exhorting us to strive to enter heaven's rest by believing the gospel, the Hebrews writer warns those who refuse to believe. We cannot reject the gospel without dire consequences. The Bible is God's very word, and so possesses the nature and qualities of God himself. Therefore, it is utter folly not to believe it. The Bible is not a dead book dealing with mere history, nor is it the word of man. In it, God himself is speaking, Christ is speaking, the Holy Spirit is speaking, the apostles are speaking, and the ministers of the gospel are speaking (cf. Heb. 1:1, 2; 13:7). Hebrews 2:2-3 warns, "For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" The word of God is the gospel, which proclaims great salvation from God's own just wrath against our sins.

Friends, there is no escape. No one can hide, whether in the mountains of the world or in the mountains of books written to refute the word of God. Every knee shall bow before the Lord, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, in Hebrews 4:12-13 the writer gives five qualities of the word of God as a warning to those who refuse to believe.

I. The Word of God Is Living

"Living is the word of God," says the Greek text (Heb. 4:12). Note the emphasis on "living." The word of God is not myth or legend. It is not primitive notions of primitive people about the universe and God. Deuteronomy 32:45-47 says, "When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, 'Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you-they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." God's words are not dead commands, void of meaning. By them we live and by them we die.

The whole Bible pulsates with life. The apostle Peter writes, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Pet. 1:23, italics added). The word of God has power to save and destroy, bless and curse.

The word of God is living because its source is living: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God . . . . How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! . . . It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 3:12; 9:14; 10:31, italics added).

The living nature of God's word is described throughout the Scripture. In Isaiah 40:8 we read, "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever." In John 6:63 Jesus declared, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." Then Simon Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Second Timothy 3:16-17 proclaims, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

II. The Word of God Is Active

Not only is the word of God living, but it is also active (Heb. 4:12). The Greek word is energêa, from which we get "energy." Work is a function of energy. When the writer says God's word is active, he means it works, fulfilling its promises as well as its threatenings.

The word of God powerfully performs the works of God. Look at the language of Psalm 29:4-9: "The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, 'Glory!'" And in Isaiah 55:11 God says, "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

God's powerful word accomplishes salvation or judgment. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul writes, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." In Romans 1:16 he declares that he is not ashamed of the gospel "because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."

God's word is also the creating word. God spoke, and the universe came into existence. We read this even in the book of Hebrews: "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Heb. 11:3). It is also the sustaining word. The word of God sustains the universe: "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3). It is the regenerating word. It raises up those who are dead in trespasses and sins, makes new creations out of them, and seats them with Christ in the heavenly places (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23; Eph. 2:1-10). It is also the healing word: "God sent out his word and healed them" (Ps. 107:20).

Finally, it is the word that saves and condemns at the same time. Never think that the word of God is ineffectual, even if people walk away as though nothing happened. PGM Every time the word of God is proclaimed, it operates powerfully by saving or condemning. In 2 Corinthians 2:15, Paul says, "For we are to God [in our function as preachers] the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." Two activities, therefore, are taking place by the same word. Paul continues, "To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (v. 16). To some, the gospel proclamation becomes the sentence of death, while others are saved and made alive. Then Paul asks, "Who is equal to such a task?" Preaching the gospel is life or death business. Who is competent to do this? Only God, who makes his ministers competent.

The British theologian F. F. Bruce says that the word of God is self-fulfilling in that it "speeds to fulfil the purpose for which it has been uttered" by God. (F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Hebrews [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964], 80). Do you understand, children, that when your parents speak the word of God to you, it is a self-fulfilling word? Blessing results from obedience and curse from disobedience. The word of God is not idle. Do you trust and obey God's energetic, performative word?

Do you want to reject the word of God? Go ahead, but remember that you must give account to God. Hebrews 10:30-31 warns, "For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Hebrews 12:25 and 29 says, "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? . . . Our 'God is a consuming fire.'"

Brothers and sisters, do you understand the extreme gravity of what it means to hear the word of God? When your parents or others speak God's word to you, it is a living word that will either save you or condemn you.

III. The Word of God Is Cutting

Next, we are told that God's word is cutting, like the sharpest double-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). The word of God has no blunt side to it. In spite of the preacher's lack of eloquence, the word of God cuts.

In the ancient world, a double-edged sword was the sharpest instrument one could have. Judges 3 speaks about a judge named Ehud who made an eighteen-inch-long double-edged sword. He hid it and then plunged it into the belly of Eglon, the Moabite king, until Eglon died. Isaiah 49:2 says that God made the mouth of Jesus Christ "like a sharpened sword." Revelation 1:16 also refers to this aspect of the resurrected Christ: "Out of his mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword."

The word of God cuts the heart, the center of human personality that includes the will, affections, and intellect. It cuts in two ways, either to save or to destroy. In Acts 2:37-38 we see one reaction to the gospel message: "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.'" These people were saved. In Acts 5:33, however, the apostles spoke the same gospel to the Sanhedrin. What was their reaction? "When they heard this, they were furious." The word of God also cut them to their very core, but instead of saving them, it condemned them. We find the same reaction in Acts 7:54, in response to the gospel preached by Stephen: "When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him." It cut to destroy them.

God has ultimate power over all his creatures. No one, therefore, should ignore his word that saves and destroys. It will do one or the other, for the word of God is always effectual. We may think nothing happened when we heard the word of God, but if we are not saved by God's word, we are condemned.

IV. The Word of God Is Piercing

Next, we read that the word of God is piercing. In the Greek it implies continuous action. The word of God penetrates, pierces, and probes the innermost recesses of the otherwise inaccessible citadels of our hearts. We can hide secrets from our neighbors or spouses, but not from God. God's word pierces the very core of our being and detects any unbelief toward God and his word.

We see this idea of piercing throughout the Scriptures:

  1. "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Gen. 6:5);

  2. "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts" (1 Chron. 28:9);

  3. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 'I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind. . . .'" (Jer. 17:9-10);

  4. "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord . . . . Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:1-4, 23-24).

In 1 Samuel 16:7 we are told, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." John 2:25 it says that Jesus did not trust any person because he knew what was in man. We can fool other people, but we can never fool God. So in 1 Corinthians 4:5 we read, "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts."

God's word can enter into the dark recesses of our hearts, disclosing every intention, motivation, and thought. It investigates thoroughly and discovers every bit of unbelief in the depths of our hearts. Such knowledge renders us speechless and defenseless before him. There is nowhere we can hide from the living God. Thus, Proverbs 28:13 counsels us, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy."

V. The Word of God Judges

Finally, the word of God judges. Kritikos is the Greek word, from which we have the words "critic" and "criticize." Not only does the word of God probe our hearts, discerning our feelings, thoughts, and motivations, but it also criticizes and judges us with a judgment that is always true and final.

As creatures, we are to hear and do God's perfect will. But because we are fallen, we sit in judgment of God and his everlasting word. Man has long been in the business of judging the word of God and rejecting it as foolishness. But man's judgment of God and his word shall not stand. God's judgment of man shall prevail: "For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor. 1:19-20).

God's word is our judge. Jesus says, "There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day" (John 12:48). Every word God has spoken to us, whether from the pulpit or from the written word will judge us on the last day.

Nothing is more inaccessible than the emotions, notions, intentions, and motives concealed in the depths of man's depraved heart. We all have an innate tendency to circumvent truth when confronted with our sin. But God's word probes, exposes, and judges our hearts, just as the prophet Samuel exposed the wicked heart of Saul and the prophet Nathan exposed the wickedness of David. A sinner hates this truth, choosing instead to believe that he will not face God in judgment. He does so because the idea of facing God as judge damages his self-esteem. He wants to sit in his Jericho, protected by high walls and locked gates. But in a flash, by the power of God, his protection shall disappear.

Understand, therefore, that the word of God judges us for our benefit, so we must pay attention to it. May we be instructed, rebuked, corrected and trained by it. May we stand under God's word and be saved, for all who stand over it shall be destroyed.

Nowhere to Hide

"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" (Heb. 4:13). There is nowhere we can hide from God. Adam and Eve found that out, as did Achan, Ananias and Sapphira, Saul, and David. Jesus said in Luke 12, "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known" (v. 2). Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (italics added).

We cannot hide from God. "'Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?' declares the Lord" (Jer. 23:24). In Revelation 6:15-17 we read, "Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" The mountains cannot obey these people; they must obey their Creator.

In Revelation 20 John writes, "Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled form his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (vv. 11-15).

No creature can hide from God; all must stand before him naked. The fig-leaf garment of human philosophy shall fail. Every creature must give an account to God on the last day when he asks, "Did you worship and serve me only, or did you worship and serve yourself?"

Therefore, strive to enter the saints' everlasting rest by believing the word preached to us. When you sin, do not try to conceal your sins, but confess them and find mercy. Let the living word of God cut you, probe you, expose you, and judge you. Agree with the judgment of God's word and submit to it. Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart, but repent, believe, and call upon the name of the Lord. The Bible says, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." Do not try to hide or run away from God; run to him, hide in him and be safe.

There is a place to hide-it is in Christ and his shed blood for our sins. Let us, therefore, pray this prayer of an ancient saint: "O thou elect blade and sharpest sword, pierce, I beseech thee, this most obdurate mind." Let us consider the words of John Wesley:

I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till a few moments hence I am no more seen-I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven-how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book]. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. (John Wesley, "Preface to Sermons on Several Occasions," 1746, from The Works of John Wesley, 1, 104-6).

Praise God for his Book of life! The word of God is living, performing, cutting, piercing and judging. May God help us to find through this Book that place to hide in Jesus Christ and be saved.

Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew

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