Defending God's Message - Jude 0:1-4
When the smoke of musket fire cleared at half past seven on the evening of June 18th, 1815 to reveal the red flags of the British infantry still intact after the final charge of the French Imperial Guard, the Duke of Wellington knew he had won the battle of Waterloo. It had been won by infantrymen standing their ground and fighting for their position. Napoleon had had the initiative in the assault but the battle had been won by the British infantry holding that slight ridge south of Brussels. It was vital that they fought and held their ground.
And fighting is at the heart of this little letter at the back end of the New Testament, the letter of Jude. I used sometimes to go into a pub in Oxford called Jude the Obscure, and that is exactly what many Christians think about Jude, obscure. It is most likely that he was the half brother of Jesus, one of Jesusí natural born brothers who are mentioned in the gospels as being antagonistic to Jesus, but then came to faith in him after his resurrection. He went on to be a church leader like his more famous brother James, who ran the Jerusalem church and wrote the letter in the New Testament which is called James. So what could this obscure half brother of Jesus possibly have to say to us today? Surely his letter is completely irrelevant for todayís church with all itís talk of heretics and angels and the body of Moses and that strange man Enoch? But Jude has much to say to us 2000 years later, not because the situation was exactly the same, but because Judeís message and principles are timelessly relevant for every church in every generation, and no less ours. The fight for truth in the world and even in the church is just as fierce today as it was then, and one might argue even more so, and over this next four Sunday evenings weíll see just how important Judeís little letter is to us.
You see we live in dark days, a time in which capital T truth is no longer taken as read. Instead, truth is what you make it. It doesnít matter what you believe so long as you are sincere in that belief. And the moral and spiritual moorings of our society are therefore being eroded away. When John Major and his Conservative government announced back in the early 1990ís that they were going to take the country Back to Basics, it all ended in tears, because no-one was quite sure just what those basics were supposed to be. The moral fabric of our country is slowly but surely being torn apart. It is clear from the statistics of rising crime, higher divorce rates, and higher teenage pregnancy rates to name but three which are particularly relevant to us here in Hull. But perhaps more disturbing is that this moral and truth decay is seen to be in the church as well. Every week there are tragic stories in the newspaper of church leaders having affairs or a high profile bishop denying some key Christian doctrine. I came across one example from this week where one church backed conference is suggesting that clergy hold sťances so that people can contact dead relatives. It is all very depressing reading. Slowly but surely our gospel moorings are being left behind. General Douglas MacArthur once wrote these words: "History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subjects to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has either been a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration to ultimate national disaster." Well a momentís thought shows that this is no exaggeration. The fight for the truth of the gospel is upon us. And fight we must.
Yet the situation was not that dissimilar 2000 years ago. Jude was writing to people who were facing problems both in the world around them and in their churches. Yet they were not doing anything about it. Jude says that godless men have slipped in among them and have begun to peddle a false gospel, a gospel that by their actions clearly denies Jesus Christ as Lord. And Jude writes to them to contend for the faith, to fight for the truth, to make a stand where at present they are not. So this is a letter about fighting, fighting for the truth of the gospel in a world which prizes tolerance against Truth. And each of us here are called to take up the challenge. It is a challenge which is particularly relevant to us at the beginning of the new millennium. And in these first four verses Jude has two lessons to teach us.
1) Remember your Status (vv 1-2)
2) Remember your Task (vv 3-4)
1) Remember your Status (vv 1-2)
Verses 1 and 2: "Jude a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James. To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ. Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance." Jude knows his own status before God is as a servant of Jesus Christ. He couldnít claim close family ties. He too had to make his own decision about following Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. The fact that he was his half brother had no bearing on his salvation. But then he goes on to show the Christians to whom he is writing their own status with God. You see it is vital that we are confident of our own status before God before we can do what he asks us to do. When we know Godís verdict on us, then we can take up the battle with renewed confidence. And that is why Jude reminds them first who these Christians are in Godís eyes. And he describes them in verse 1 in three ways:
a) Called- Jude says that these Christians and we are included, are called. In other words God has taken the initiative to call us back to himself. Now here the calling Jude is talking about is salvation. It is Godís effective call to a person so that he becomes a Christian. To put it another way, God opens up their heart to believe in him and put their trust in Jesus Christ and his rescue. And that call is a free gift from God to us. There is nothing we can do to earn it. The Bible tells us that we were dead in our sins and rebellion against God, but he took the initiative to rescue us. That is Godís call in this sense. His call on our lives to rescue us. Salvation is all from God and here is a great reminder. It is simply a mark of his grace, an undeserved free gift.
b) Loved- But secondly we are loved, says Jude. Literally Jude writes that we are loved in God the Father. It is as if Godís loving arms encompass us and surround us like a father giving his small child and huge bear hug. To be told that we are loved in God is a wonderful and joyful gift, when all the world is hostile to Christians. Because at the end of the day, it is Godís verdict that matters and he, says Jude, loves us. I remember when I was a child what a relief it was when during the night I would wake up from a nightmare and run into my parentsí bedroom to be received with a massive bear hug. There was no way that nasty Darth Vader was going to get me now that my Dadís arms were around me. And to an infinitely greater extent, our heavenly Fatherís love is all encompassing, a love that will not let us go, and a love from which says Paul in Romans 8 nothing can separate us. Godís love for the Christian is unbounded and completely trustworthy.
c) Kept-But thirdly Jude tells us that we are kept. What are we kept for? Well literally we are kept for Jesus Christ. Jude is teaching us here that we are kept for Jesus when he returns. Heaven has a high place in Judeís thinking as we will see in a few weeks time. And we are kept for the return of the King when we will join him in his kingdom. Imagine that that a rich man goes off a for a journey and he wants to place his unique South African diamond collection in the vault of Barclays bank on Cottingham Road. Well someone else hears about this and a few days later tries to ask the bank manager for the diamonds. Well says the manager, Iím afraid those diamonds are taken and the owner is coming back for them. There is no way you are getting your hands on them. And in the same way, we are Godís treasured possession, and we are kept for our owner Jesus Christ who one day will return to take us for himself. Now of course there is a flip side which Jude will teach us in a few weeks time, that we need to keep ourselves as God keeps us (verse 21). We donít simply lie back and let God do all the work. In Jude and elsewhere the Bible teaches us that we have a responsibility to keep ourselves as God keeps us. But more on that in two weeks time. For now we rejoice in the wonderful truth that God keeps us.
So there here we have three wonderful truths about our status before God. We are called, loved and kept for Jesus. And the interesting thing is that Jude picks three adjectives that God uses to describe the people of Israel in the Old Testament, for instance in Isaiah 43 and throughout Isaiah. And the reason is simple: Christians are the people of God. We have taken on those great descriptions of the people of God in the Old Testament. What was said of them can be said of us. We are Godís chosen people, we are Godís treasured possession, we are Godís loved ones. All those OT phrases are used in the NT about Christians.
Now what better encouragement for these Christians in Judeís day struggling with false teaching and a world which refuses to believe in Jesus Christ. And what a great encouragement for us? Arenít you tempted to think sometimes, "What is God doing in the world, surely heís more powerful than this?" Well of course he is powerful, of course heís active. Heís building for himself a people who are called and loved and kept. And arenít you tempted to think sometimes what on earth am I doing here in this antagonistic world, I just cannot keep going, I feel crushed by the weight of pressure and temptation all around me. Well be assured this evening that as a Christian you are called by God, loved by him and kept for Jesus. And letís rejoice in those wonderful truths. And each of us here who would claim to be Christians needs to hear that encouragement. Because itís only as we remember our status before him as a called, loved and kept people that weíll be able to do what he asks. And that brings us onto our second point.
2) Remember your task (vv 3-4)
It would be great wouldnít it if we could just spend the whole evening giving God praise for his wonderful gift of salvation, for all that he has done for us, for what a wonderful God he is. But the problem is, Jude doesnít stop there. He continues. He says in verse 3 that he would have loved to have written a letter to them about the salvation they share. He would have loved to have gone on no doubt at great length about Godís mercy and peace and love that he says he is praying for them in verse 2. No doubt he would have loved to remind them about the cross and the work of the Spirit, much as Paul does in Romans. But he says he has changed his mind. Why? Because a serious problem has arisen in the church. Have a look at verse 3: "Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write to urge you to contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints." Their task is to contend for the faith, to fight. He says that this was something he felt he had to do- He had to write. Clearly it was very pressing indeed that they contend. They were not and they needed to.
So what are we to contend for? Well, we are to contend for the faith. That is the gospel, not the faith that you or I have in Jesus ourselves, rather the body of truths that make up the exclusive Christian gospel. And that faith, says Jude, has been entrusted to the saints once for all. Now notice that little word once. Itís easy to miss but it is extremely important. Itís a word that crops up a few times in the NT and often relates to the work of Jesus. So Peter says that Christ died once for all. It was a one off act. And it is a finished work. And here the passing of the gospel to the saints is of the gospel truth is a once for all act. It is a finished work. The defending isnít finished, but the entrusting is. In other words there is nothing more to be added. That gospel truth that was passed on by the apostles is set. We cannot change it or take anything away or add anything. Anyone who tries to alter that gospel truth is a false teacher. And it is that body of truth that we now have in the NT that these Christians and us as their forebears are to contend for and guard. Imagine for a moment that the Angel Gabriel came to earth for a special news conference. Wembley stadium was hired and the place was absolutely packed. Every journalist that could make it was there. And everyone is asking the same question. What new message from God has Gabriel got. Surely it must be something very important. And there is a hush as Gabriel gets to the microphone. And he speaks, and everyone is astonished by his words, because he says: "I have nothing to say from God. Because everything that you need to hear has been said. Itís in Godís word the Bible. Read it and defend it." God has said everything he needs to say for our salvation. It has been entrusted once for all. Nothing more to add. And just note before we move on to whom it has been entrusted- itís been entrusted to the saints. Saints are not the special Christians. Rather whenever you read saints in the Bible, simply substitute "Christian". So the faith has been entrusted not to the clergy or the really super Christians but to all of us who claim to be Christians. It is each of our jobs to be defenders and contenders for the faith, the truth of the gospel. Thatís what weíre fighting for. The very truth of the gospel.
So why should we contend? Well the problem in Judeís day is spelt out in verse 4: "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men who change the grace of God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." Some people it seems had distorted the gospel. They thought it was wonderful to have forgiveness in Christ. At last freedom and new life. But what they didnít do was live the life of the Christian. They thought, "Oh well it doesnít matter what you do or how you behave because God will forgive us anyway. Thatís his job, thatís what heís like." It was in the area of sexuality that they were particularly bad as we will see next week. And Judeís verdict on them is that they change the grace of God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus as their Lord. By their actions they were denying their Lord. In fact they were showing themselves not to be Christians in the first place, such is their distortion of the gospel message. They were making the classic mistake of accepting Jesus as their Saviour and rejecting him as their Lord. And the fact of the matter is that he is both. You canít have him as just one without the other. As the Saviour who rescues he is also the Lord who demands we follow him and live his ways. And if you deny one, then you forfeit the other. And yet it was very attractive- they were leading many astray. Just imagine they turn up to a meeting and a young Christian is saying, "Well Iím finding sexual temptation real tough at the moment. "And these teachers would nod sympathetically and then they would say, "Well it doesnít matter. Just follow your instincts like we do. Itís the true way of the Spirit. God will forgive you anyway. Weíre free in Christ." But Jude wastes no time in condemning such a cruel distortion of the message of Jesus Christ. They are godless men, he says, and their condemnation was written about long ago, in other words, scripture foretells that deceivers will always come and will eventually be condemned. And Jude says you must contend for the faith against such men. Wake up and contend.
Well certainly that same false teaching goes round today, but I guess we would be wise enough to spot it. The question is of course will we contend against it. Itís all right just to ignore it, its another thing to say something is wrong. And yet that is where fighting for the truth begins. It may be very politically incorrect to say so, but some things need to be seen for the falsehood they are.
So how should we be contending today? Well as we close let me suggest three areas. The first is the world. That is contending for the faith with our friends and others who do not know Christ and stand opposed to him. Contending here is often the hardest because it will mean saying things which others will think ridiculous. For example, it is becoming increasingly hard to stand up and be heard to say that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Because when you spell it out, it means ultimately other religions are wrong, and people get very upset. Now we need to speak with all the graciousness in the world, but we will still have to conclude that Jesus claims exclusive things to the exclusion of other religions. And yet if we shirk that truth, how will our friends come to faith. If they never hear that Jesus is the only way to God and they never have the chance to battle with us, then how will they become Christians. No we need to be contending for the faith in the world, with friends, colleagues and relatives. Yes, it will be hard, but contend we must if the gospel is to be spread though our land.
The second area is in the church, among those who would call themselves Christians. This is often the most painful, because we are dealing with those who at first sight seem very close to us. And yet the NT is clear that some of our biggest battles will be with those who claim to be Christians, wolves in sheepís clothing. One particular battle ground in the Church of England is in the area of homosexuality. Church leaders will sometimes say things which are contrary to what we believe scripture says clearly. And they must be corrected and battled against. The truth of the gospel is at stake and we must contend and stand with those who fight for Biblical truth. It will mean standing as a church behind those who fight in the public area and giving them our whole-hearted support. Yes it will be costly, but the faith once entrusted to the saints is of vital importance.
And then finally there is a third area which may take you a little by surprise. And that is our own congregation. We must contend for the truth even within our own congregation. And that is the force of the letter of Jude. I guess it would have taken them completely by surprise to hear Jude say that false teachers have slipped in among them. They would have been devastated. Yet Jude wrote to warn them and get them contending. But you might say, surely that would never happen at St. Johnís. We would never be the subject of false teaching. Letís pray not, but in order for it not to happen we need to be contending for the truth and supporting one another in the fight. Please pray for those of us who teach the Bible up front regularly, pray for those who lead Bible studies and are involved in the young peopleís and students work. False teaching begins from the gospel and distorts it, so we must encourage one another to teach properly. Pick us up when you think weíve got it wrong and check everything we say against the scriptures. For we must be contending for the truth of the gospel in every area of life, in the world, in the church at large and even among ourselves, so that we can pass on the message to others. Remember your task.
Yes, we live in dark times, times when gospel truth is no longer revered, even by some who would claim the title Christian. And Jude has reminded us of two timeless lessons which are just as pertinent for our generation as they were for his- Heís reminded us just what a fantastic privilege it is to be a Christian, to be called, loved and kept. And yet privilege brings responsibility, a responsibility to contend for the truth of the gospel, to remember that task weíve been given. Letís pray that God would assure us of our precious status before him and so keep us contending for his glorious gospel.
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