The Living and Abiding Word of God
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The text for today is our Epistle lesson, 1 Peter 1:17-25.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Once upon a time there was a beautiful little village nestled in a valley between two mountains. In the center of the village was a well. The well provided water to all the inhabitants of the village. People came from all over the world to drink the cool, clean, crisp water that was drawn daily from the well. Countless people remained in the village and made their homes there. They loved the water.
The one well was sufficient for the people of the village. No other wells graced the cobblestone streets of that mountain town. There was no need. No one ever suggested that they might like some other well more. The well was sufficient to satisfy all their needs, and it seemed that no matter how many people came to dwell in the village there was always enough water. Whenever anyone went to the well, from the smallest child to the mayor himself, water was always there. The well was predictable, trustworthy, and always dependable.
The people depended on only the one well, and that well never let them down. The well and the water went together. You could not have one without the other. If you went to the well, you always had water. There was no water without the well and no well without the water.
One day, a stranger came to the village. He tasted the water, as had every visitor before him. The visitor said, “This is good water. But I know another source that can give you water just like this well. Perhaps even better.”
The people were divided. Some said, “Impossible. Water comes only from this well.” Others were curious, maybe they were missing out on something.
The visitor took another drink and said, “This is a good well. But I don’t think that we can depend on the well.”
The people were divided. Some said, “No need to worry. Water always comes from the well.” Others were curious. So the townspeople discussed two questions. First, was it only the well? Was that well sufficient enough? Second, was it always the well? Was the well powerful enough?
The stranger proposed an experiment. “Why not cover the well? I’m sure that there will be water from some other place. The well is not sufficient. I don’t think we can afford to rely on it forever. The well is not powerful enough.”
But the people protested. “No, the well and the water belong together. If you cover the well, we will not have water.”
Scornfully, the stranger replied, “You faithless people. You are well lovers. You should love the water. Don’t you think that God can give us water from anywhere He wants? Are you trying to limit God?”
That talk of “God” seemed so pious and godly. Of course the people did not want to limit the power of God. So they covered up the well.
And, alas, in a very short while, all the people in the village died of thirst.
This has got to be the saddest fairy tale you have ever heard. I can’t take the credit for it. Reverend Klemet Preus tells this story in his book, The Fire and the Staff. But this really isn’t a fairy tale. It’s more of an allegory. Think of this story again, only change “village” to “church.” Change “the well” to “the Word.” And change “the water” to “the Spirit.” You’ll see that what happened to that village in the fairy tale is what has happened to countless churches throughout history. They separated the Word and the Spirit, and they ended up dead.
How do you know if the Spirit is active in a church? There is only one way. If the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed, then the Holy Spirit is active. And if the Holy Spirit is active, then there must be the proclamation of the Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins. There can be no wordless Spirit and there can be no Spiritless Word. The Holy Spirit works only through the Word of God.
Martin Luther writes in the Smalcald Articles: “Therefore we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of His external Word and Sacrament. Everything that boasts of being from the Spirit apart from such a Word and Sacrament is of the devil.”
But Luther did not come up with this on his own. He got his doctrine from the Holy Scriptures. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ,” St. Paul writes in Romans 10:17. St. Peter writes in verse 23 of our text, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” God works graciously only through the Word.
God the Holy Spirit works through the Word as it is spoken, read, preached, or received in the Sacraments. Without the Word, there is no faith. Without the Word, sinners do not know of God’s grace. No human mind could imagine what God has done out of undeserved love for sinners. No human could come to faith in the God of love without the Gospel, just as no human mind could know sin except through God’s Law. God has chosen to enter human hearts through His Word. Attempting to draw from any other source only leads to death. That’s why we must take the teaching and preaching of God’s Word so seriously. God’s Word is the means He has given to the Church to make disciples of our Lord.
The primary message of God’s Word is Christ crucified. Through Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection God has made you His own, to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. St. Peter, in our text, talks about what it cost God to make you His own. You were redeemed from sin, death, and the power of the devil not with silver or gold, but with Christ’s holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. The Father is that serious about claiming you! He has given His only begotten Son. The Son is that serious about rescuing you! He has willingly laid down His life as the perfect sacrifice for your sins.
The blood of Jesus Christ has done what no other religion or philosophy in human history could do—remove sinful guilt from human beings and put in its place God’s own righteousness; and all this as God’s gift, received by faith. The Father showed that He accepted the Son’s sacrificial gift by raising Him from the dead and glorifying Him at His right hand. This is our faith. This is our hope. This is the message of the living and abiding Word of God.
As you continue to study and grow in God’s Word, as the Spirit of God enables you to comprehend God’s Word, that Word will bring peace and joy to life. Through the living Word you “grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). No longer will sermons and Bible studies based upon the Word be boring or seem irrelevant. Instead, these will be like banquets and feasts for your hungry soul.
An important key to understanding God’s Word is a proper distinction of Law and Gospel. God’s living Word contains both the Word of the Law and the Word of the Gospel. We must not confuse the two. The Law kills, but the Gospel gives life. The Law shows us our sin; the Gospel shows us our Savior.
When these two Biblical teachings are mixed, the clear teaching of what God has graciously done for us in Jesus Christ becomes confused. Mixing Law and Gospel causes the precious, life-giving medicine of the Gospel to be diluted, losing the power to overcome the sickness of sin. On the other hand, the Law can be diluted to the point where we do not see ourselves as deathly sick, in need of the life-giving Gospel. Ultimately, confusing or mixing Law and Gospel robs us of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
We must continuously distinguish the Law and Gospel. The Gospel is living, active, and life-giving, because it creates faith connecting us to Jesus Christ, who Himself is life. The Law is also “living and active,” actively convicting and condemning us because of our sin. However, even though the Law is living, it is not life-giving. The Law kills! Only the Gospel gives life!
Then comes the greatest of all God’s blessings for you. Through His Spirit, God’s living Word enables you to see and also be connected to Jesus, who is the living and incarnate Word of God. Tragically, many people never experience the joy of meeting and being connected to Jesus. Too often those who only occasionally read the Bible seek little more than momentary religious guidance, a sentimental lift, or an inspirational feeling similar to that received from reading the latest “Chicken Soup of the Soul” book. Many people never come to a Bible study, where they can learn with other Christians how to read and interpret God’s living, powerful Word themselves. Many people prefer to hear an entertaining and motivating speech rather than hear the clear Word of God preached—the Law in all its sin-condemning sternness and the Gospel in all of its cleansing sweetness.
As you read, study, and meditate on God’s living Word, you will see Jesus, the living Incarnate Word. Jesus Himself stated clearly that the Scriptures “bear witness” of Him. Jesus makes that point clear in our Gospel lesson for today. As He walked with friends along the road to Emmaus following His resurrection, Jesus showed them how all of Scripture points to Him and His work for our salvation. It’s no coincidence Jesus’ disciples recognized Him when He gave thanks and broke bread. In God’s living Word and Sacrament you see Jesus.
God’s living Word is Good News for you. The Word of God is not merely a collection of burdensome religious rules nor a set of suggestions for successful living. The Word of God is alive because it is the Word of the living and life-creating God Himself. Just as God through His Word created life in the beginning, He now brings new life to those who are spiritually dead. In our text, Peter writes: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). God makes you alive through His living Word, and this same Word continues to work in you and cleanses and purifies you before God.
The cleansing power of God’s Word begins to change your selfishness into selfless, genuine love toward other people, especially your brothers and sisters in the faith. And as the Holy Spirit begins these changes in you through His living and abiding Word, you begin to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
Jesus said, “People will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.” Christians in the early church became famous for sharing with one another, taking care of the sick and needy among them, for their hospitality and generosity, for treating with dignity and respect people who did not rank high in their society: slaves, widows, the elderly, and children. This happened as a result of God’s living and abiding Word working in them. As the Word was preached and taught, as they sang hymns and spiritual songs, as they gathered together to receive the Lord’s Supper, they grew in their love for God and one another.
Nothing has changed in two millennia. Today congregations not only teach God’s Word, but also demonstrate Christian love. Peter’s point is that true love is more a matter of the head than of feelings. It is more of an act of the will than of emotion. Real love is a choice—choose to show it in your lives!
How? Congregations can make sure that everyone is welcome in our midst. We can bear one another’s burdens, helping those who are in need with our prayers and financial support. We can show love and forgiveness, patiently bearing each other’s failings, always putting the best construction on one another’s words and actions. We can encourage one another and build up one another in the faith.
Slander, gossip, and backbiting not only destroy Christian fellowship, they also discourage seekers from wanting to come back. But when people who are hungry for God and His love find people who love one another, that is a powerful attraction. The world that many unchurched people live in is cold, heartless, cruel, impersonal, and uncaring. As they find love and acceptance from Christians, they will also be led to discover love and acceptance from the heavenly Father.
God’s Word is alive! It works faith in your heart. The living Word works regeneration and gives you a new life. The living Word directs your thoughts toward heaven. God’s living Word works to strengthen you and enable you to face the challenges of everyday living. God’s living Word empowers you to share your faith. God’s living Word motivates you to love your neighbor.
None of these blessings are available from the world or found in worldly things. No amount of silver or gold can buy what only God can give you through His living and abiding Word. It is a power that accomplishes God’s will in you. Accept no substitutes!
When you, by the Spirit’s power, are connected to Jesus, God’s living Word, you are connected to the same power that God used to raise His Son Jesus from the dead! That living Word brings you life and flows to your family, friends, and neighbors. “And this Word is the Good News that was preached to you” this day: Through the precious blood of Jesus you are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.