“One ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
Those are the words inscribed on a very powerful golden ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy story, The Lord of the Rings.
The crux of the tale centers around an ancient ring fashioned by the dark lord named Sauron the Great. When Sauron made the ring he infused it with a great part of his own power. In fact, from that point on his existence could only be maintained if the ring survived. Sauron made this ring of power in order to gain control over all the creatures of middle-earth.
But alas, the ring was lost and it rested for ages untouched at the bottom of the River Anduin. It was eventually discovered and through a series of great adventures it fell into the hands of humble creatures known as Hobbits. Much of the story from there is the heroic efforts of the Hobbits and their friends to destroy the ring. But this is not easily done. The ring has the power of the Dark Lord built into it and so the ring can not be possessed by anyone without consequence.
As it turns out the ring exploits the evil already present in anyone who carries it. It draws out and magnifies the pride and lust for power resident in the hearts of men. This makes the ring a thing greatly desired by men because men wish to ascend over other men, the very evil Sauron practices. Men want this ring. They want to possess it. Keep it. Use it. Yet the cost to possess it always remains. The ring always draws its bearer to Sauron, enlarging the evil and taking over the soul of whoever bears it, isolating him, manipulating him, destroying him.
In one way, the most important way really, Tolkien's ring of great power is a fine analogy to what the scriptures describes as the sword of great power - the Word of God. This true and living sword, like Tolkien's fictitious ring, brings a transformative "energy" to bear upon those who possess it. In the case of the sword this power is the penetrating ministry of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Like the ring, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, takes over the man who possesses it by faith not merely in his hands. When a man or woman takes up this sword - desiring it, hearing it, yielding to it, swallowing it, falling upon it - it brings about a fundamental change in the possessor.
But this is where the ring and the sword of the Lord's Word diverge.
Unlike Sauron's ring, this sword, which is the Word of God, does not exploit the evil it finds in men, it cuts the evil away. Unlike Sauron's ring, the sword of the Lord does not destroy a man it brings him into true life.
"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)
The sword of the Lord's Word cuts at that cancer of soul that no tool fashioned by man can reach. It cuts into soul and spirit, joints and marrow, two phrases that aptly illustrate the depths of the interior life, that deep place where a man does not know the truth about himself nor why he is the way he is. The sword of great power pierces there, cutting past surfaces barriers, cutting right through the outer layers of all our defenses and evasive techniques to avoid facing God. The Word comes not to knock as a hammer on the outer shell of a man, it comes to cut deep into places we would never go ourselves.
Yet this sword pierces for a purpose - to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. The word "discern" is the Greek wordkritikos. Our English word “critic” comes from it. The sword pierces to sit as a critic, to sit as a judge, adjudicating our thoughts and intentions. It does this because we do not.
As the sword of great power critiques us we come out hiding and we simultaneously discover our hiding was a ruse: we were the only ones who thought we could not be seen. Now, because of the sword, we know God sees us. We stand naked and exposed before Him. Who we really are, our true motives, our raw ambitions, our petty vanities, our darkest fears, our unmentionable regrets, our most selfish wishes, they are all exposed. The sword of the Word, when it pierces and discerns, makes us a people desperate to be covered. And there is cover! O what blessed coverings are held out to us sinners! Christ is our cover! Christ covers our shame. Christ covers all our deeply hidden machinations of sin that we refuse to look at - no, are incapable of looking at without the ministry of the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Brothers and sisters, here we are upon the threshold of a new year. If you would delight in Christ more in 2015, then you must delight in Him as your gracious cover. But know this: such delight does not come upon those trying to hide all that God wills to be exposed. Those who do not welcome Christ's sword will not delight in His cover. So use your feet to bring your ears then use your ears to bring your soul before the piercing sword of the Lord. Through the ministry of the Word, the Lord Jesus will expose those things in you that only He can heal and cover. Then you will delight in Christ for you will have more than heard about His gracious ministry among sinners, you will have experienced it for yourself.