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Remembering God's Justice - Jude 5

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 10th September 2000.

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I want to begin this evening with a quote from a Christian writer called David Wells.

He writes: "It is one of the defining marks of our time that God is weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable…Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgements no more awe inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies. That is weightlessness."

If you were here last Sunday evening you’ll remember that Jude is writing to a church under attack. They hadn’t spotted it, and that is why Jude had to write to urge them to contend for the faith. They were being infiltrated by false teachers, and he tells us in verse 4 that "certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men who change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." And now in our passage for tonight, verses 5-16, Jude unmasks these false teachers. He explains to the church just what they are like and the effect that they have. And it is grim reading.

But before we are tempted to think that this is all of academic interest, a story about something which happened 2000 years ago, I want us to think again. Because as we’ll see, the heart of the problem was that these false teachers didn’t take God seriously. Oh, they would never have said that, but the fact of the matter is that they thought his judgement was a joke, they believed godliness to be old hat, and they said God’s laws were hopelessly outdated. And it all sprang from a view of God that was pocket sized. They brought God down to their own level, and made him in their own image. In short, they made God weightless.

And that is the heart of all false teaching. A view of God which does not do him justice, which brings him down to our own size, which ignores his own self-disclosure in scripture. And each of us can be tempted to do just that. And that is David Wells’ point. We can forget that God is a God of burning holiness who hates sin. We can ignore the fact that God’s moral standards are very high, and we can brush aside the fact that God’s truth has massive claims on our lives. And that is why this passage is very important. It is a warning shot across our bows to take God very seriously indeed, so that we too don’t fall into the same trap as the false teachers, that we don’t reduce God to a pocket sized deity who makes no serious claims on our lives. Jude won’t have it. So this next 20 minutes or so is no academic exercise. It is call to contend for the truth and watch ourselves so that we will stand firm.

Now it is not an easy passage. It won’t be the sort of passage where we all go out the door leaping with joy. But it is a passage we need to hear every so often, to make sure we know what false teaching is and to make sure we don’t fall into the same trap. Next week we’ll see Jude’s positive teaching on contending for the faith. So if you want the good news, then come back next week. But for now, J has two things to teach us:

 

1) The Nature of False Teaching

2) The Effects of False Teaching.

And to make his points, Jude uses three OT passages each time, then rams home the application to his own day and then gives an illustration from contemporary literature.

 

1) The Nature of False Teaching (vv 5-10)

Well Jude begins his attack on the false teachers by reminding the readers of what God did in the past. He teaches them from the Bible what God thinks about people who distort or ignore his word. His first story is from the books of Exodus and Numbers. Verse 5: "I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe." Jude is here referring to the story of the Exodus out of Egypt. God’s power was seen in a most extraordinary way. It is therefore very strange that the people should so quickly desert God. By Numbers 14, the whole nation except two individuals are condemned to die in the desert. The reason says Jude: They didn’t trust God’s word. God said that he would bring them into the Promised Land. But when the people saw the giants and strong peoples that lived in the land, they would not enter and refused to trust God. And perhaps the most chilling things about this story is that it involves those who would call themselves the people of God. They have tasted the good things of God’s promises, but they didn’t trust his word. The second story is rather different. It comes from Genesis 6 where angels are said to intermarry with human women. But they were forbidden to do so. These angels says Jude in verse 6 "did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their home." And the result? God keeps them locked up for ever waiting for the judgement. They will have to face God’s justice for ignoring his word. And then the third text in Jude’s sermon comes from Genesis 19. It concerns the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Genesis story we read that two angels came to warn Lot of the impending doom that was facing the towns. The men of the town see these angels and want to gang rape them. Jude says that these people gave themselves to sexual immorality and perversion. It is a similar sin he says to the previous, that is sexual sin. The angels transgressed God’s order in the realms of sexuality, and so did the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. And their punishment? Verse 7: "They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire."

You see the point is essentially the same in each of the stories, that ignoring and disobeying God’s word always meets with judgement. Sometimes it is seen dramatically as with Sodom and Gomorrah, sometimes it is over a long period as wit the angles and the people of Israel. But one thing is clear. God will judge. His justice will be seen. And the whole of the OT is littered with descriptions of God’s justice on those who rebel against him.

So having explained his texts, Jude applies his sermon to his present day situation. Verse 8: "In the very same way these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings." These false teachers are doing exactly what the rebels did all those years ago in the OT. They pollute their bodies, that is they are sexually immoral. They reject authority, that is they set up their own boundaries and morals, they place themselves as the arbiters of what is right and wrong. God doesn’t get a look in. He’s made to seem weightless. And they slander celestial beings. It’s not immediately clear what this means, but it is probable that it refers to an OT tradition that the law was given to Moses through angels. So if they slander the messengers, they slander the law. They want nothing to do with God’s revealed words.

And having applied the text, Jude gives an illustration from a book called the Assumption of Moses. Now many in the history of the church have been worried by this. Surely it is not right for Jude to be using material not in the OT. But all he is doing is giving an illustration from what the readers knew. It would be like me quoting from CS Lewis or John Bunyan. It helps to illustrate the point. The point here is that Michael trusts God on the issue of judgement. He refuses to pass judgement himself. He was happy to trust God’s word on an issue.

It’s grim reading isn’t it, but that is the nature of false teaching. It sets itself up against God. It places itself in God’s position. The false teachers were reducing God to a pocket sized deity, something they could control. They certainly weren’t bothered about judgement, they didn’t think his word was much cop and they felt able to express themselves freely in the sexual arena because they made the rules, not God. And what does Jude say? They are heading for judgement! That’s God’s verdict.

So how does this apply to us in the 21st century? Well we first need to know what the nature of false teaching is, because such teaching is still around today. There are church leaders who fall into this category of false teachers, leaders who have effectively hardened themselves against God’s word and convinced themselves that what they are doing is right. It may be in the area of sex, saying the practice of homosexuality is fine for confessed Christians. We saw the need last week to contend for the faith in this area. It may be in the area of Christian doctrine that leaders fall or slip. We hear of Cathedrals housing multi faith services when the Bible clearly teaches the exclusivity of Jesus’ claims. Yes these things happen, and certainly one application of Jude’s teaching is to watch out for those who would lead us astray, to be on our guard against false shepherds.

But Jude is writing to the church so that they might know and guard themselves. They too potentially are in danger of falling into the same traps. And we need to ask ourselves are we? The chilling fact of the Bible is that false teaching always arises from within the church. So in what areas are we in danger of ignoring God’s word, of in David Well’s words, making God weightless. Well one area is in the area of morality. It is frightening how easy we find it to explain away a sin. Lust becomes self expressed love, drunkenness a desire to get in with non Christian friends, greed the need to keep up with the latest fads and show Christians are in the world. Or how about in the area of Christian truth. Surely we cannot believe in a God who sends people to hell can we, God will forgive all. I can’t believe God wouldn’t let devout Moslems into heaven. After all they are religious aren’t they? Do you see what is happening in all these areas? Who is really the boss? It’s us isn’t it? We’re setting ourselves up as the arbiters of what is right and wrong. We are determining what we will do. It’s exactly the trap of the false teachers. Making God pocket size, ignoring his word and passing judgement on his truth. Now we may not be anywhere near as wild as they are in the practise of it. But it’s seeds are there in each one of us. And we’d do well to heed Jude’s warning.

The winter of 1912 had been unusually mild, and unprecedented amounts of ice had broken loose from the arctic regions and were drifting across the North Atlantic. On Sunday April 14th, the White Star Liner Titanic received six warnings of ice in her region from other vessels, the last received at 9:40pm, and a few short hours later she was at the bottom of the ocean. She ignored the warnings. It is vital that we take Jude’s warnings seriously both of the reality of false teaching and the danger to ourselves. I want to remind you he says. Don’t ignore God’s word. Don’t make God weightless. Because that’s the nature of false teaching.

 

 

 

 

2) The Effects of False Teaching (vv 11-16)

So if Jude has taught us the nature, then what are the effects? You see we might be tempted to think that false teaching is just bad doctrine, that it doesn’t really matter. Ok, it’s not great, but surely no-one will get hurt. Well Jude is very clear. People do get hurt. In fact far worse. False teaching destroys lives, and eventually leads people to hell. Is this an exaggeration? Let’s see what Jude says. Again he begins with three OT passages. He would assume that his readers knew them. And in passing it is an important lesson to remember that all of scripture is useful and to be read and learned from. So his first text is Genesis 4. Jude says in verse 11: "They have taken the way of Cain." Cain, you may remember, was the brother of Abel. And whilst Abel gave an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord, Cain didn’t. He was then jealous of his brother and killed him. He lied to God and refused to master his sin as God told him to. So he stands as an example of someone who refuses to obey God and there are terrible consequences as a result of his sin. Balaam is the next example and his story is found in the book of Numbers. To cut a long story short, he ended up leading the people of God into mass sexual immorality with the result that 24,000 were put to death. His reason was greed, and he himself was eventually killed. And then his final text is again from Numbers, this time the story of Korah. Korah was a priest, one of the special people in Israel, but he and some friends became fed up with Moses’ leadership and rebelled against him. So Moses asked the Lord to decide between him and Korah, and Korah and his men were killed. The earth opened up and swallowed Korah and all the people who followed him, over 250 people.

So here are three passages from the OT which show how disastrous false teaching is. All three are incidents of doubting or distorting God’s word. And all three lead to disaster. And again the chilling thing is that they all concern the people of God. They should have known better. But they failed to trust the Lord and ignored him. They thought they knew best.

You see false teaching never happens in a vacuum; there are always side affects of the most terrible sort. And says Jude, the same story is happening in my day. Verses 12-13 are a devastating critique of the false teachers, as Jude rams home the application to his contemporaries: "These men, he says, are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm- shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees without fruit and uprooted, twice dead. Thy are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever." Jude uses a series of pictures to make his point. The word for blemishes could also be rendered reefs, the sorts of shallow seas on which ships could easily be wrecked. They are shepherds who care nothing for the flock. The only thing they care about is feeding themselves. They are clouds without rain, completely useless in a hot climate where rain is needed. They are like trees which produce no fruit and then are uprooted, so they are twice dead. They are like the sea which foams up rubbish on the shore in a storm. I’m sure you’ll have seen the debris on the coast after a storm. There are all sorts of things strewn along the beach. Oil drums, seaweed, logs, nets, and above all things foam which the raging sea has left behind. That’s the sort of effect false teaching has. And they are like wandering stars. And in an age when navigation by the stars was all important then a wandering star was useless. It would be like a compass with no needle. And what is the result? They are heading for blackest darkness forever. They are heading for hell. And the tragic thing is they will take people with them, just like Korah did. And if we haven’t quite got the point, Jude rams it home with a quote from a popular book of the time, Enoch. And the message is clear. Judgement is coming. Make no mistake.

It’s devastating reading isn’t it? But Jude wants us to be clear. The effects of false teaching are devastating. False doctrine leads to false practise which leads to hell. There are no two ways about it. So again let’s think how these things apply to us as we close. Well sadly there is no shortage of examples to show in modern times just how devastating false teaching can be. The 9 O’ Clock service in Sheffield a few years back showed how traumatic he effects can be. It started off no doubt as a genuine desire to reach young people with the gospel. Chris Brain was the man who was at the forefront. But as time went on it was clear that the doctrinal substance of the services was suspect. There were elements of New Age, and mysticism and other things contrary to God’s Word. And soon as God’s word is left behind, then God’s moral standards are left behind too. And that was what happened. It was no surprise, although very tragic, to find sexual immorality at the heart of the 9 O’ Clock service with Chris Brain behind it. He is now in America, and the effects are still being felt. As Jude says in verse 4, he "exchanged the grace of God for a licence for immorality."

So what do we do with such things? Well like fruitless tress and scummy beaches and useless compasses, they are to be avoided. That’s the negative. Is there a positive? Well I think there is a clue for us in verse 16 as to how to avoid the same trap. You see these false teachers, says Jude, were "grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage." The heart of false teaching is to ignore God’s word and to be self centred, to think we are the boss, to make God weightless. So the antidote must be to humble ourselves before God’s word, to obey it, to submit to it. The opposite of grumbling is thankfulness; the opposite of arrogance is humility and the opposite of selfishness is selflessness. If we develop those qualities as a church and as individuals then we are halfway to guarding ourselves against false teaching.

What was the real reason for the sinking of the Titanic on that cold April night in 1921? It wasn’t an iceberg. It was human pride. The pride of being the most luxurious ship to cross the Atlantic, the pride of showing the world that man was the boss. In the building yard in Ireland, a notice was put up saying: "I defy God to build this ship." And the common saying on everyone’s lips was "God himself couldn’t sink this ship." But we all know what happened. Such is the folly human pride. And that pride can easily seep into the church. The pride of making God weightless, of reducing his laws to optional extras, his judgement to scare-mongering and his Word to an outdated moral textbook. But Jude is clear. Such false teaching is dangerous and it leads people to hell. Its nature is to ignore and to distort God’s word, and its effects are devastating. Let’s heed the warning and keep fighting against it.



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