So along with, I guess, many people, until yesterday I'd thought that Hebrews 4:12-13 were a couple of verses I could add to my systematic theology on the nature of Scripture.
The verses are these:
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. 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.Many of us will probably have sat in Christian meetings when these verses were quoted about Scripture; maybe positively, pointing to the incredible power of Scripture when sharpened by the Spirit. And that, of course, is true. But it is unfair to the context of Hebrews 1-4.
What the writer has been demonstrating is that Jesus is the supreme revelation of God (superseding the Old Testament, as I wrote about here). At the beginning of chapter 3, the writer began to apply this. Jesus is like Moses (in that through both clear revelations of God were made), but Jesus' revelation is qualitatively greater than that of Moses. He isn't just a servant of God - he is God himself. Therefore, to ignore Jesus is to ignore God himself.
Ignoring Jesus comes at great cost. If, as chapter 3 puts it, ignoring God's revelation coming through Moses brought with it death in the desert, ignoring God's even clearer revelation through his Son is a fearful thing. Ignoring God's word - supremely the living Word - is very dangerous. It is to ignore God himself. To do so is to reject the opportunity of entering what Hebrews calls God's 'rest' (very similar to 'life' in John's Gospel), life as it was created to be.
How we respond to God's word, then - in particular, how we respond to God's Word, Jesus, is crucial. All this reminds me of what God the Father says at the Transfiguration. Peter wants to ignore Jesus when he says he must suffer and die, but God the Father says, "No! This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" To listen to Jesus, supremely, is to listen to his diagnosis on our hearts and to trust that only his cross can bring us to God.
And that is what Hebrews 4:12-13 is about. Rejecting God's word has always carried death. And so Hebrews 4:12-13 is only about listening to the written word, Scripture, in as far as it is saying that we should listen to the living Word, Jesus. We ignore him at our peril. We cannot ignore Christ and simultaneously think that we are treating God rightly. In that respect, God's word carries life and death, as our response to Jesus carries life and death consequences.