Sexagesima – Sixty Days to Easter
“Surgeon and Scalpel”
24 February 2019
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience… (Hebrews 4.9-11; ESV)
The letter to the Hebrews brings up the Sabbath rest for the people of God. Hebrews says earlier that this rest is to listen to and believe the Word of God, specifically, the Gospel. Many in Israel, especially those who rebelled in the wilderness wondering after the Passover and escape from slavery in Egypt, did not enter the Promised Land, of which God says, “they shall not enter my rest.” They did not believe me or my Word, says the Lord. They did not believe I would provide for them in the Promised Land, so they fell in the wilderness.
So, strive to enter God’s resting place – to rest from your work as God did from His at creation – to have a Sabbath rest is to stop and listen to God’s Word. If you do not listen, you will not believe God or His saving promises.
Luther’s hymn on the Ten Commandments says it this way about honoring the Sabbath Day:
You shall observe the worship day
That peace may fill your home, and pray,
And put aside the work you do,
So that God may work in you.
Have mercy, Lord! (LSB #581; stanza 4)
So that God may work in you. As your pastor, I have to say that the third commandment may be the one we have the most trouble with here at Immanuel. Too many do not regularly and consistently put aside the work they do so that God may do His holy work in them. Our attendance at the Divine Services here at God’s house is much too inconsistent. We all know our own culpability in this, and we all know neighbors and friends and family in and out of this congregation who need to hear the Word of God regularly or more regularly than is done. God help us and forgive us where we have gone astray and fallen short.
After urging you to the Sabbath rest of God, Hebrews says something new about God’s Word. The inspired writer suddenly compares God’s Word to a surgeon’s scalpel, and God is the surgeon. Maybe we should say this is what Luther’s hymn stanza calls “the work that God does in you” with His Word. Here it is again:
For 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. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4.12-13; ESV)
Sharper than any surgeon’s scalpel is the word Hebrews uses here. It’s not a “sword” like we think of a soldier wielding a long-bladed weapon. No. This is the precision instrument used in the medical arts for cutting open, cutting out disease, healing and curing the patient.
The Word of God is a living, active thing! Of course it is! It is God’s breath, God’s mouth, life comes of it, with the Holy Spirit. The Son of God is called by the Bible the “Word” in the beginning, He who creates by speaking. Then He is called the “Word made flesh” who pitched His human flesh tabernacle among us.
This living Word not just cuts open the human body, but cuts open all the way to things we cannot see or feel – to soul and spirit, to the innermost parts of who you are that you’d never see on your own, like to the marrow in your bones that pumps life into your bones and blood system even, this Word cuts open down even to the thoughts and intentions of the heart! He created you, He can therefore access everything about you.
That’s a deep surgery!
Further, Hebrews tells you that the Lord has you on the surgery table when He comes to you with His mighty scalpel. You are naked and exposed. You are depicted as a passive patient on the operating table, unable to do anything when God’s Word does its work in you. Now we’ve come full circle to Hebrews talking about entering the “Sabbath Rest” – surgery is required, and the patient is normally put to sleep and does not participate in the surgery. Surgery is always a work done on the patient by someone else.
What is the disease, you ask? You know. It’s all that hinders saving faith in the Lord.
The surgeon cuts away the work of the devil in our lives that seeks to hinder us ever hearing the Word of God and any opportunity of being saved eternally. This happens whenever the devil entices hearers to discard the Word of God. It could be opposing the preaching of the Word, preventing yourself or others from hearing the preaching, or even coming and sitting in the pew yet with mind elsewhere, letting the Words of Scripture pass in one ear and out the other. It could even be active persecution of the preaching of God’s Word – as was seen in the days of the apostles, as is seen in many places around the world and even sometimes here at home in these gray and latter days.
The surgeon cuts away the work of the world and our sinful flesh. This is to hear the Word for a time but not deeply engage in God’s Word on an ongoing basis, and to not allow yourself to be ruled by that Word at all costs. This means that when the world frowns upon or disapproves of our Christian faith, we might just give it up very easily. Or when the cares and the riches and pleasures of this world sound their thorny, seductive call to our lustful heart, we too easily become immersed in them and make them our new, false god, falling into sin and unbelief, into great shame and vice.
God’s Word seeks to do its wonderful saving work in you, that you would be healed of the sin that plagues you. The Word cuts you open and cuts out the disease, the Word chastens, and heals. Described here is the work of the Law and the Gospel. God’s Word of Law calls you to be ridden of your sin and repent of it, and His Word of Gospel comfort in Jesus Christ bids you to turn in faith to the Savior who bore your diseases and infirmities, your every sin and transgression against Him and His Word, the cruel surgery of Good Friday’s nailing and piercing which He allowed to be done on His holy body for your sake.
The risen, living surgeon heals you as His Word bids you to turn in faith to the Savior who sprinkles your bodies with clean water in Holy Baptism, making you His children. Bids you to turn in faith to the Savior who sprinkles your hearts and consciences with His blood in His Supper, so that you stand holy and righteous with Him before your Father in heaven.
That’s the work the surgeon does, that’s the work of the sewer of the seed in Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel: He does His work in you when you are brought here into the Sabbath Rest of God. Here the Savior sews in you the seed of His saving Word, that a miraculous, hundred-fold harvest of faith and love might blossom and grow in each of you. Here, the Savior cuts away the old man and gives you a clean heart and mind and body and conscience with His amazing scalpel, His Word.
All of this, so that when you stand before the eyes of Him to whom we must all give account – and you stand before Him even now, and you will stand before Him in full glory at the Last Day – you are and will be accounted holy. For the sake of Christ your Savior, you are accounted to be cleansed from every stain of sin, healed of every disease of our corrupted nature and world. You are righteous in His sight, a beloved child of God, and worthy of eternal life.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +