Over one million acres have burned in California in 2017, that is an area twice the size of Dallas County and Rockwall County combined. It was difficult to watch the intensity of the flames and the devastation they left behind on the news. At the same time, watching the intense flames rage over mountains and through towns, I was again amazed by the grass. As the flames raged and spread, you could see the grass standing tall, unaffected by the intense heat of the fire. Trees, homes and cars were all left as piles of ash or mere frames of what they were before the fires, but the grass was untouched. Grass is an amazing creation of God, it able to withstand great temperatures from even the fiercest of flames. Except that none of this is true about grass. Grass has no way to resist the flames of a raging wildfire or even a small spark.
In his letter to the early Christian church, Peter used the inherent weaknesses of grass to illustrate our need for the Word of God. Today we begin a four-week series on the four truths Martin Luther recognized in the Bible as the foundation of our salvation. These four truths are sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia and solus Christus, or Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone. We begin with Scripture Alone as it is the means, instrument or tool, God first uses to work his saving power in us. In our second lesson from 1 Peter 1, Peter reminds all believers that, The Scriptures are living and enduring!
Peter’s letter was written as an encouragement to the early Christian church throughout the world facing persecution for their faith. The joy of Jesus’ resurrection may have lived in the hearts of many believers in the decades just after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, but hatred for Jesus and his followers also clung on in the hearts of those who rejected the message that he was the promised Savior. Peter told the early Christians to endure persecution because after their persecution in this world ended, they would be met with the goal of their faith. Peter’s letter and the message of God’s word worked in them the confidence they needed to get them through this life and be delivered from this broken world and on to eternal life in heaven with Jesus.
Peter began his first letter writing that the prophets and even the angels longed to see the fulfillment of what God had told them about the Savior. Generations had lived and died hearing and hoping in their Savior, but never seeing him. For those first century believers, Jesus had come. God’s plan and his power to rescue mankind from sin and death had been fulfilled by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus’ to return to life was the final act that revealed him as the Savior. He was the giver of life to those facing death, just as Peter wrote, 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
All of us were born perishable, meaning we all have an expiration date, but through the living and enduring word of God, we have been “born again.” Notice who was responsible for this rebirth, God. It is true that all believers are ‘born again,’ but we have to understand what that phrase means. We cannot define what ‘born again,’ means by human reason, discovery or speculation, but by what the Scriptures plainly say it means.
In the Greek language, the word for “born again” appears as a perfect, passive participle. Thus, this Greek verb is literally translated “having been born again.” As a perfect, the action of the verb is a completed action with ongoing results. Also, it is a passive, meaning the main character of the sentence is being acted upon, in other words, something else performs the action. Therefore, the verb shows we play no active role in being ‘reborn,’ as believers. Instead, it is God’s work in us. We make no decision nor do we take any credit for our conversion to faith. It is the work of the living God who brings us to faith.
If the form of the verb were not enough to reveal how God works faith, Peter also gave this citation from Isaiah,
24 For, “All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Peter reminded the people that they are like grass, which withers, and like flowers, which fall. All of the first century believers withered as they got older and none of them escaped death. Yet, they had heard “the living and enduring word of the Lord.” By hearing God’s Word, those first believers were reborn and brought to life by the power of God. They received faith, forgiveness and the hope of eternal life in heaven by hearing the gospel message. Why then, if these believers had been reborn as imperishable seed, sure of salvation and eternal life in Jesus, did Peter need to write a letter of encouragement to them?
Peter wrote to them, for the same reason we need to hear these words over and over again, because we are not yet free of the perishable seed. Until we die and go to heaven, we are not free from our sinful, perishable flesh. As long as we live in this world, we face a constant battle between our sinful nature, which hates God and rejects him, and our new heart of faith God created in us, which loves God and wants to serve him.
Our sinful nature hates God and does everything it can to rebel against his life-giving Word. The temptation to give up hearing and reading God’s Word on a regular basis comes from our sinful nature. When we see our Bible lying on the night stand next to our phone, it’s much easier to pick up our phone and check in with our friends or check the stats of our fantasy football team, rather than pick up our Bible and read about our Savior Jesus. Our sinful nature makes us lazy, but it is smart too. It uses our own logic against us. When we think about reading a devotion or just opening up the Bible, our thoughts fill with reasons not to like, where would I begin to read the Bible, I can remember enough from Sunday to get me through the week or those devotional books never do anything for me. All of these may have a shred of truth to them, but following them to their conclusion, they do not reflect a heart of faith.
A faith filled heart recognizes the fact that it is still affected by the first birth, as a perishable and sinful creature. We cannot rely on our own memory of God’s Word to be saved and we cannot rely on devotions, sound bites or video clips that are only entertaining to keep us well fed by God’s Word. God’s Word was not popular or flashy at the time of Christ, nor will it ever be. We must be careful because the world will always work to change what God’s Word says to make it fit with their own thoughts or make it a more entertaining story that makes the world seem like a better place. Changing or avoiding time in the Word of God will never do you any good because faith in anything but the true Word of God leads the same way as grass and flowers, a dried-up pile of something that seemed alive and beautiful, but in the end, is a pile of death.
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
In the Scriptures, we have a Savior who did not end his life in death. Peter, the prophets and all who hear the Scriptures want to share them because they are the answer to our universal problem of death. When life seems pointless because we are working toward diplomas or deadlines that will serve us for a while, but ultimately won’t matter because we will die, God’s Word gives us purpose for living. The Word of God also reassures us that when we die, it is not the end of life, but the beginning of our eternal life.
As Peter said, we are like grass. If we are grass, then we can think of God’s Word like water. Grass needs water to survive. Without water, it withers and dies. With water, it grows and thrives. Green, well-watered grass can even resist fire or at least a spark better than dried up grass. When we are well-watered by the Word of God we are not only surviving for a time in this world, but we thrive. We are able to live with hope and purpose through God’s Word. Through it we are empowered and reminded to love and serve God and our neighbor. We can be confident that our humble service to God as husbands and wives, students and employees, men and women all give glory to God because we serve in our roles as believers.
Our bodies and whatever achievements we gain in this world will not survive, but we, “have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” Through the Scriptures, God reveals how we have been reborn of imperishable seed. Our Savior Jesus was born a human being. He had a mother and father, grew up and lived just like you and I do, and he died, just like you and I will someday. However, Jesus was also profoundly different from us because he was and is also God. He was born without sin and served God faithfully his entire life, making him the only sacrifice worthy and powerful enough to give his life up on the cross to pay for our sins. As God, Jesus also came back from the death, triumphant over sin and death. His resurrection is our guarantee that we will be brought back to life to live with him in eternity in heaven forever.
The truth is grass is flammable. When it withers and dries up, a single spark can ignite one blade and soon an entire mountain side becomes a raging wildfire. You were like grass, but you have been born again. God gave us the gift of his Word to create life giving faith in our hearts which holds onto our life-giving Savior Jesus. We must fight against our own sinful flesh to hear the Word and preach it. We must encourage one another as often as we can until we reach our goal of eternal life in the peace and joy of heaven. We must remain connected to the living and enduring Scriptures alone! Amen.