I was looking at an old version of my high school handbook the other day. It’s pretty interesting how things have changed.
CD players were not allowed during study hall.
If you needed to make a phone call, you’d head down to the office and dial home on the fancy new cordless phone. (The one about the size of a shoe).
The Computer Lab was to be used to type up papers. So, you needed to sign up ahead of time to take turns on the 5 available machines.
That’s a lot different from now:
CD players aren’t even mentioned – although you’ve gotta keep the music emanating from your iPhone down.
No need to go to the secretary’s office for a phone call, just text mom (or Snap or Facetime or Google Hangout or facebook message or…whatever).
The computer lab doesn’t have computers, because people bring their own!
Things change. Times change.
A lot of words and ideas change.
School handbooks need to be updated.
Is it the same with God’s Word?
Does this Bible need an update?
Today we’re continuing our 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Series. We’re examining a question that Martin Luther -- the monk at the heart of the Reformation, examined 500 years ago. If you remember, he was faced with a Catholic church that had changed God’s Word. Instead of salvation by grace alone, they taught that works were necessary to earn God’s love. Instead of describing works as good deeds done for your neighbor, they described them as special religious ceremonies prescribed by the priests. Instead of finding moral authority from the Bible, the Catholic church claimed moral authority came from the Pope.
Was the church right?
Did God’s Word need an update?
Before we answer that question and grasp what the answer means for our lives, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Enduring Authority
Our answer comes from 1 Peter 1:23. It says this, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people 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 endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. Notice the key adjectives: “living” as in “it hasn’t died yet.” “Enduring,” as in, “it’s still around.” “Imperishable,” as in, “It is unable to perish.”
How is that possible? Look at the simple phrase “word of God.” That’s what we call a subjective genitive. It’s a grammar term telling us that the word spoken were spoken from God himself. It labels him as the ultimate author of God’s Word.
That makes sense.
It would be a bit presumptive to say that I am the ultimate author of God’s Word. I’m the author of my own words.
It would be a bit presumptive to say that the prophet or the apostle are the authors of God’s Word. They are just men.
Ultimately, it’s called God’s Word because it comes from God himself.
This is a really important point. Because the authority of a piece of literature is determined by the authority of the author.
If you find a note that says, “Class is cancelled” and one of your high school buddies wrote it, class isn’t canceled.
If you find a note that says, “Class is cancelled” on official school letterhead with the signature of the school principal, it has authority. Stay home and turn on Netflix.
If a piece of literature comes from God, then it has ultimate authority because God has ultimate authority.
In fact, it has enduring authority, because God has enduring authority.
We notice this with U.S. Presidents all the time. After they are done with their tenure in office, they try not to comment too often on policy and implementation of the current administration. If they do and they say, “I would have done it differently,” that’s really all they can do. Because they no longer have authority. Their authority has expired.
But if God is God…
And God, in its terminology, indicates a divine eternal being…
Then he has eternal authority.
He has not been usurped.
He has not been overthrown.
He is still completely and absolutely in control.
And His words are still completely and absolutely in control.
He still tells the sun to shine.
He still tells the thunder when to thunder and where.
He still tells the wind to blow what direction and when.
He is in control as he has always been in control.
II. An Unenduring Submission
Yet – Is He?
A friend of mine gave me this. It’s a copy of the Catholic Study Bible. Most of it – is the Bible as we know it –NIV Version. But the study notes cause caution. Take a look at the note on the very first page:
The stories of the Bible are legends passed on for hundreds of years through oral tradition to teach important truths to each succeeding generation. ...One way to not read the Bible is as a “literalist”—someone who takes every word in Scripture as literal truth …families can discover and interpret the meaning of Scripture by asking not “is the Bible true?’ but “How is the Bible true?”
In other words --
Choose what you want.
Determine it for yourself.
I’m sure you’ll find at least something valuable.
And if you think the Bible is true and filled with authority? You’re reading the Bible wrong.
Which is interesting.
Because that means that there’s someone very important to the church that was doing it wrong.
Someone very important to the Bible.
Maybe you know him.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The problem with this perspective?
There’s no authority.
In fact, the authority resides with the individual.
Because when you define God and morality as you think they should be, you are no longer worshipping God.
You’re really worshipping your own preferences.
Your own preferences become God’s Word.
Are you God?
You been around from before eternity?
Do you control hurricanes with your words?
Can you make the blind see by telling them to be blind?
Will you be able to ensure your safe departure from this world into heaven?
Then, you aren’t God.
You can’t treat your own opinions, emotions, and human thoughts as the ultimate authority!
“All people are like grass…” Remarkable really. They are tiny, little singular blades held up by one little tiny root. Facing the world and still standing!
“And all their glory is like the flowers” Man, it looks pretty for a moment! Have you seen how smart and successful I am?
“But the grass withers.” It gets old. It loses strength. It loses its job. It becomes forgetful. It’s replaced with the newer and shinier. It gets placed in an assisted living home and people forget all about it.
“And the flowers fall.”
From their position at work.
From standing in the family.
From standing in an upright position.
To laying in a bed until – they go back to the ground from whence they came.
Grass is temporary.
Flowers are temporary.
Humans are temporary.
And their words are temporary.
But the Word of God endures forever!
III. Enduring Promises
This is great news.
Because God’s Word isn’t just filled with enduring commands.
It also is filled with enduring promises.
Just back up in 1 Peter a bit for one of those promises. It says this:
You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (vs. 18-19)
I love the connection to the imperishable here. Because we just talked about how God’s Word is imperishable because it comes from an imperishable God. Don’t be surprised then that the only thing that can saves us from the imperishable punishment prescribed for those who break God’s imperishable Word is nothing else than the imperishable blood of God himself.
He covers your sins.
He forgives you for trusting human thoughts more than his.
He forgives you for listening to your own emotions more than him.
He forgives you for loving society’s ideas more than His.
He forgives you and by faith in what Jesus did – God changes you.
He transforms you from a withering blade of grass to an enduring oak of righteousness.
He converts you from a falling flower into an ever-standing monument of His grace.
I don’t come up with this on my own.
Some fictional writers didn’t come up with this on their own.
It wasn’t even a bunch of smart well-meaning pastors…
It was God.
In fact, look at the next part of 1 Peter: He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (vs. 20-21)
God’s Word said that a Savior would come – and he did.
God’s Word said that the Savior would die – and he did.
God’s Word said that the Savior would rise – and he did.
And God’s Word says that you will rise – and you will.
God’s Word says that you will be declared innocent by God – and you will.
God’s Word says that by faith in Jesus you will be in heaven – and you will.
IV. WHAT NOW?
1. Look at God’s Word Differently
Because if the Bible is God’s Word, it changes how we look at it.
For instance, have you ever read Dr. Seuss? He has some great books. But we don’t treat them the same way we treat God’s Word.
We don’t teach kids that the First Commandment is that all should try Green Eggs and Ham.
Next week’s sermon text will be not be on the Cat and the Hat.
You’ll never hear me reading, “The word of the Lord says: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.”
Dr. Seuss doesn’t claim to write from God; the Bible does.
Jesus confirms it; he does miracles to prove it.
Look at God’s Word as exactly what it says it is: God’s Word.
That means you don’t read it like a kid’s book – “What a nice story.”
You don’t read it like homework – “Is this over yet?”
You don’t read it like the fine print on an internet contract – “Scroll to the bottom; click YES I have read the terms and conditions.”
You read it with passion.
You read it as the enduring Word of God himself.
You read it as the Word of the One in Ultimate authority.
You read it as the promises -- the very promises -- that sustain you and I each day and lead to eternal life.
Practically speaking it means you make time for it.
You turn off your email.
You remove your phone.
You go to a quiet place.
You write down questions.
You think about it some more.
You talk about it.
You treat it as really, really, really divinely, eternally important because it is really, really, really divinely, eternally important.
2. Grow in Imperishable Love
It is so interesting that this whole section on the imperishable nature of God’s Word is linked directly to verse 22. Verse 22 says this, “Now that you have purified yoiurselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Apparently there was some struggle going on with 1st century Christians to live by the truth.
They thought “Love one another” meant once a week during church.
They thought “Be kind to one another,” meant “as long as they are being kind to me.”
They thought, “Love your enemies,” was more of a suggestion than a command.
Peter says this, “Jesus’ love for your lasts and the words about Jesus’ love for your lasts so your love need to last too.”
That means we grow daily in imperishable love.
We love each other on Sunday – and Monday.
We love each other when people love us and when they won’t get off the couch to help with weekend housework.
We love each other even when – gasp – they are my political enemy!
God’s Word endures; not your emotions.
God’s Word has authority; not your sinful thoughts.
God’s Word has made you imperishable; live your life with imperishable love!
3. Cling to Its Truth
And in order to do so, we need to cling to the truth of God’s Word.
That’s what Luther did.
Even though the priests said differently.
Even though scholars said differently.
Even though the Pope himself said differently.
Luther clung to God’s Word.
And the result? God promises an enduring existence with him in heaven.
Which is a pretty appropriate reflection today. Because today is a day in the church year called Saints Triumphant Sunday. A day when we remember believers in Christ who like grass have withered and like flowers have fallen. But in the midst of all those physical failures, their faith endured in the One who endures.
Where are they now?
What do they experience?
Where will we be as believers in God’s enduring promise.
Listen to what the enduring God of revealed in Revelation:
There was the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
God’s saints dwelling in a holy city. In the city, there is not a temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
It was written by God.
It was written with Jesus’ blood.
It has your name written in it.
It will endure. Amen.