Return to Sermons | Home

“God’s Two-Edged Sword”
Hebrews 4:12-13


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Reformation Sunday—October 25, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This morning we commemorate the Reformation, launched by Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517.  Luther lived in a transitional era, between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Luther himself was very much what is called a “Renaissance man.”  He was not only a theologian, but like his contemporaries Michelangelo and da Vinci, Luther had exceptional abilities and accomplishments in a wide range of areas.

One talent he excelled in was music, and all the hymns in today’s service were written by Luther.  The hymn we just sang is unusual because it is autobiographical.  In this hymn, Luther is telling us his personal story, his own spiritual journey.

“Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay, death brooded darkly over me; sin was my torment night and day . . . daily deeper still I fell, my life became a living hell . . .  my fears increased till sheer despair left only death to my share.”

As you can see very vividly in this autobiographical hymn, before he launched the Reformation, Martin Luther was a tormented man.  He had lived in fear and despair his whole life. Fear of hell; despair that he could never appease God’s wrath, so that he could enter heaven.  That’s really why Luther became a monk.  He was desperately trying to do whatever it takes to save himself from damnation.

Today’s Epistle Reading from Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”  We call the two edges of the sword of God’s word the Law and the Gospel, the bad news of our sin, and the Good News of our Savior.

The Law of God is like a deadly dagger, tearing through the veneer of self-righteousness, and exposing our sin: “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.”

The medieval church were absolute experts at wielding the deadly dagger of the Law.  Martin Luther was a tormented man, living in fear and despair his whole life, because the deadly dagger of the Law had plunged into him, with devastating effect.

“Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay, death brooded darkly over me; sin was my torment night and day . . . daily deeper still I fell, my life became a living hell . . .  my fears increased till sheer despair left only death to my share.”

That is also the purpose of the Law for you.  To penetrate your soul, to judge the thoughts and attitudes of your heart, to uncover and lay bear your sin, to tear through the veneer of your self-righteousness. 

When my father had cancer and was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, I remember the doctor saying to him, “In order to cure you, we almost have to kill you.”  That’s what the Law of God does for you, spiritually.  It kills off your self-righteous delusions that you’re really not so bad, that you deserve heaven, that you can somehow earn it yourself.  The Law brings you to that point of despair which Luther experienced, when you finally admit you can’t save yourself, you need a Savior.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”  The medieval church excelled at wielding the deadly dagger of the Law.  But, during the “dark ages,” the church had largely forgotten the other side of the double-edged sword of God’s word, the Gospel, the Good News of our Savior.

The deadly dagger of the Law kills and destroys, but, the Gospel, the other side of the double-edged sword of God’s word, is like a surgeon’s scalpel, an instrument that brings healing and life.

“For the word of God is living and active.”  That could also be translated, “For the word of God is life-giving and powerful.”  God’s word has power to bring life, peace, forgiveness, faith.  As Paul says in Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” 

The Lord expresses the life-giving power of his word this way in today’s Old Testament Reading: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 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.”

“For the word of God is living and active,” life-giving and powerful.  It was the life-giving and powerful word of God that lifted Luther from his fear and despair.  He recalled:

“I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience . . .  I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners . . . I was angry with God . . . I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience . . .  until I came to the text in Romans, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ . . . at last, by the mercy of God  . . . I began to understand . . . God justifies us by faith . . . for it’s by the righteousness of God that we’re justified and saved through Christ . . . my spirit was thereby cheered . . .  I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself . . .”

In his Small Catechism, Luther would later express the Gospel with these beautiful words: “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness . . . he daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will . . . give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

That’s what it’s all about: the Reformation, Reformation Day, Lutheranism, Christianity, the Church, the Gospel itself—that’s what it’s all about.  The Good News that you are redeemed by Christ from all sins, from death, and the power of the devil, with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death, so that you are his own, and he daily and richly forgives you all sins, and will give unto you eternal life.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.”  Like a double-edged sword, there are two edges God’s word.  One edge cuts you with the Law.  The other heals you with the Gospel.  One edge kills and brings fear and despair.  The other cures and brings life and peace.  One edge pushes you down to the very depths of hell, for the Law tells you that is where you deserve to go.  But the other edge of the Gospel lifts you up to heaven.

The same life-giving Gospel, the Good News which finally gave hope to Martin Luther, is also here for you today, in the word of God, in the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion.  As today’s Epistle Reading concludes, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Amen.

  Return to Top | Return to Sermons | Home | Email Pastor Vogts