For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1.23-25.
A little over thirty years before Peter wrote these words, he was lying under the trees on the Mount of Olives, along with the other disciples, wrapped in his cloak, and no more asleep than John. They had seen the Rabbi Nicodemus arrive and sit with Jesus near the remains of the fire and they had listened as Jesus had told the rabbi of his need for a new birth, a birth from above. “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus had asked. “You cannot enter your mother’s womb a second time to be born.” And Jesus had replied that, no, there is natural birth — “of water” — but there is spiritual birth too; and to see and enter God’s kingdom, a spritual birth must take place. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3.3-6). It was a re-birth that either then or later Nicodemus experienced for himself (John 19.38-39), and Peter knew it had happened because of that night-time encounter with Jesus and the words that Jesus had spoken into his life.
Peter had been there too when Jesus had told a story about a farmer who went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow, but when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. And still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13.3-8). Later, in private, Jesus had explained to Peter and the rest that the seed was “the message about the kingdom” (Matthew 13.19); and now Peter puts all this into his own (inspired) words.
“What has happened to you,” he tells the young Asian christians to whom he is writing, “is that the word of God has fallen into your hearts and found good soil there. And from it has sprung new life. You are not the people you once were — they were people born of human sperm, “perishable seed”, but you are new-born children of God, sprung to life from the living word of God which doesn’t perish but endures for ever.”
Eugene Peterson paraphrases this morning’s verses like this: “Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God’s living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That’s why the prophet said, The old life is a grass life, its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers; Grass dries up, flowers droop, God’s Word goes on and on forever. This is the Word that conceived the new life in you” (The Message).
So what is “the Word”? Is it the Bible? Yes … but not just the Bible. The Word of God is all of God’s communication with me and all mankind. It is Jesus himself. He is supremely the Word of God (John 1.1-14); and everything else that is the Word of God speaks of Jesus and points me to him. In him is Life. By the Spirit, God imparts that life to me by speaking through the words of Scripture, but in in many other ways too — in dreams, in visions, through sermons, in books, through hymns, in pictures, and through the lives of other Christians; and whenever and however he speaks there is always, directly or indirectly, a revelation of Jesus and the potential for eternal life to spring up afresh in my heart.
Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
Lord of the word, receive Your people’s praise.