As You Wait (Jude 20-25)
Last Sunday of the Church Year (November 21, 2021)
Today is a sort of an Ecclesiastical New Year’s Eve. It is the Last Sunday in the church Year. Some call it “The Sunday of Fulfillment” or “Christ the King Sunday.” The primary focus of this worship day, of course, is on the fulfillment of all things, when Jesus, our King, will return with all the glory of Heaven to judge the wicked and usher all His saints into His kingdom of glory. It is beautifully portrayed on the front of our bulletins this morning.
All three of our appointed texts direct our attention to our waiting for this great and grand arrival of our King. In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah, in essence, exhorts us to wait in hope, for our final salvation is certain to draw near. Our Gospel reading, however, has a different point of emphasis. In this portion of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus commands His followers to wait for His final return with all vigilance. “Be on guard, keep awake,” Jesus exhorts us. “For you do not know when the time will come,” Finally, our Epistle Lesson, taken from the Book of Jude, instructs us as to what we ought to be occupying ourselves while we wait.
Even as we wait, it is still fairly apparent that for now we are simply stuck in the present. To be sure sometimes we try to live in the past, constantly pining away for the good ol’ days. At other times our minds and hearts are captivated by pipe dreams of the future. “Surely,” we try comforting ourselves, “things will be better tomorrow!” We might even sing with little Orphan Annie, “Oh, the sun will come out tomorrow!” However, no matter how optimistic we try to make ourselves, over and over again the clear challenges and difficulties of our present have a tendency to always shock us back to our present reality. Ernest Block is credited with saying, “Old does not want to pass away and the new does not wish to come into being. We’re trapped in the middle” (“Edit-O-Earl,” 11-18-03).
At the same time, one of the banes of our present existence is how much things are changing so rapidly. You and I have had many mornings when we awoke only to discover, “We ain’t here anymore.” Just about the time we think we understand our situation enough to have some control over it, it changes. There may be any number of things we remember about yesterday, but only one thing is always true about yesterday--its over. The reality is, we’re here now. What do we do in the now?
Unfortunately, most of us tend to spend much of our lives building up our own little kingdoms. We want to stem the change, control our lives, even guarantee our future. We work at establishing whatever power, prestige and circles of influence we can. If this means working hard at our vocations and relationships-- trying to be the best that we can be, well then that is certainly a good thing? But what is not so good is that many times we fall prey to the temptation of making everything around us be somehow under us-- our domain and kingdom, the realm of our happiness and security. And before long, the true God and His kingdom are inconsequential to us. We have made our own goals and aspirations our gods.
But such a drifting into idolatry does not have to occur. The holy writer, Jude, the brother of James, the very half-brother of Jesus, gives us basically two important activities to be occupying ourselves with as we wait. He wrote, first of all: “... Keep yourselves in the love of God, (while) waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Secondly, he says in essence, “Keep yourselves occupied in mercy toward others.”
Let’s begin with the first activity as we wait...to keep ourselves in the love of God. Here it must be made clear that from the context of the whole epistle that when Jude speaks about the love of God he is not speaking about our love for God. After all, God does not need our love, which, by the way, is bold and sincere one day but weak and insincere the next.
But rather, the love we are to keep ourselves in is God’s love for us. As the Apostle John wrote, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We are not made righteous to stand before our coming King and Judge by our love, which always falls short of the glory of God, but by God’s love, which declares us righteous and holy before God by the blood of Jesus. As we wait we are to remain in His love.
How then does one keep himself in God’s love for him? Jude supplies us with two essential means of remaining in God’s love to us. He says, literally, first, “be building yourselves up in the most holy faith of yours.” Secondly, “Be praying in the Holy Spirit.”
Once again, we must be careful that we do not put the emphasis on ourselves here. We don’t build ourselves up. As Jude says in his closing doxology, it is God who has the power to keep you and me from falling and to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy. God is our Savior! We are saved alone by His grace. The merciful use of His power in Jesus Christ is what saves us, as well as, what builds us up as the saved ones.
God does not just zap us with His saving love, however, like some kind of bolt of lightning from heaven. God uses earthly means to bring us His saving love. The means He has designated is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Rom. 1:16). And again, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Words of Christ” (Ro. 10:17).
This Gospel, or Good News, is what Jude refers to as “the most holy faith.” It is that body of doctrine or truth believed (quae creditor, Lenski, p. 645). We, then, do not build our belief in Jesus stronger. What we are to build ourselves up in is that body of truth believed concerning God’s love to us in Jesus Christ, which the Holy Spirit, Himself, empowered the Lord’s apostles to deliver to us in the Gospel message.
Early in his letter, Jude had exhorted his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Such an admonition was necessary because certain ungodly persons had infiltrated the church. Under the guise of speaking the truth of God’s grace, these perverters of the truth were actually giving the people a free license to live immoral and adulterous lives. Their message was in essence; “Since you are saved by God’s grace, you can do what ever you want. Go ahead and sin, it’s forgiven any way.” Such heresy, however, was denying Jesus and His atoning work and leading the unsuspecting into a life of impenitence and, correspondingly, into eternal death.
How often God’s grace is cheapened in the same way today. Many a preacher is espousing a message of permissiveness under the guise of God’s love. They insist that we are no longer to call such things as adultery, homosexuality, or other forms of sexual sins abominations in God’s sight anymore. Instead, they say, under God’s banner of love these are now “acceptable lifestyles.”
This is a lie, of course! In fact, it is actually pure blasphemy! God’s love does not displace His sense of righteousness. What was once sin in His eyes is still sin before Him. And all sin must still be atoned for or there is no forgiveness… there is only the prospect of the Eternal Judge’s everlasting condemnation and judgment.
Likewise, the false message that God’s love has freed us from any prescribed and transcendent laws of conduct, also totally makes null and void the cross of Jesus. If there is no sin, Jesus died without reason. Such love, however, is not the love of which the Holy Spirit speaks.
God’s true love for sinners demanded that His only begotten Son pay the price for sin and so free sinners from the punishment for their sins. He did not die to excuse their sins. Those who proclaim and preach a love devoid of the cross are not of the Holy Spirit.
How do you and I then remain in the true love of God as we await Christ’s coming? We do so by staying in the true word as delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. That means, we, too, contend for the holy faith, keeping all our teaching and practice in accordance with God’s Word. We don’t allow it to be distorted or proclaimed falsely in our midst. As Paul says in one of His Epistles, “We mark out those who preach contrary to the teaching we have received and separate ourselves from them” (Rom. 16:17). To remain in God’s love, then, also means we read, learn and inwardly digest the true Word of Faith, through regular participation in worship and Bible Study, as well as the reception of the Lord’s Supper, so that the true love of God can have opportunity to work, comfort, and keep us in the true faith until the day of Christ.
Jude adds that it ought not surprise us that it will be necessary to contend for the true faith that keeps us in God’s love. After all, the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ have warned us beforehand that “In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” Jude also notes that these are the very ones “Who cause divisions,” and are “worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit” (Ju.19).
What happens if we don’t keep ourselves in the true love of God? We place ourselves under God’s condemning wrath, as Jude tells his readers in his Epistle, just like Sodom and Gomorrah did... like the fallen angels did...like Cain did... like the false prophet Balaam did... like Korah did.
Obviously, to keep from being deceived and wandering away from the true love of God, we need help... God’s help. Given all of our weaknesses we can not possibly keep ourselves in the true faith. Accordingly, Jude exhorts us to “be praying.” “Ask and it shall be given to you,” Jesus promised. As we wait, therefore, “praying is to be the devout attitude and frame of mind and heart” (Lenski, p. 646). Continuously, we must ask God in faith that He would thwart all falsehood in our lives and in our congregation and put away from us all false teachers.
Likewise, we must pray daily that the Holy Spirit would create in us a hunger and thirst for His truth...a passion for sharing His truth... and a boldness to be contending for His truth. It is by prayer that we put on the armor of God and take up the Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6).
Now, as we wait for the Lord’s arrival, if you and I fill up our days by keeping ourselves in God’s love through building up ourselves in the true faith and praying, we will find ourselves, secondly, being drawn to having mercy and pity on those around us before today becomes the Day of Judgment. In other words, in the same way that you and I would not only be concerned about getting ourselves out of our home if it were engulfed in flames but would also be expending every effort to get the rest of our family out of danger, so we ought not be merely concerned about saving ourselves but also be concerned about saving those around us. Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy mixed with fear-- hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
Some today, both within and without our Synod, are highly critical of us Missouri Lutherans as caring only about pure doctrine and not about evangelizing the lost. If this is truly the case with us, then may God have mercy on our souls, for we are sinning against the very truth of God’s mercy toward us that compels us to extend that same mercy toward others.
But some, who are criticizing us for a lack of evangelistic fervor, are also the very same ones that are insisting that to be truly “missional;” that is, effectively reaching others for Christ, then you will not be so concerned about keeping your doctrine pure. After all, they insist, some people might be offended if you tell them the whole truth of God’s Word. In these critics’ minds, faithfulness to the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations is of greater importance than faithfulness in teaching and preaching the pure Word. According to their line of logic, one can not be faithful to both at the same time.
How misleading and false such a attitude is! It is also accomplishing the very opposite of what it portends to be doing; that is, mercifully saving souls. After all, you and I don’t save souls. God saves them in Jesus Christ. And He does so through the substantial bread of the pure Gospel, not some watered down, soggy, pablum, giving people what they want to hear. Jesus says, “The truth shall set you free.” Anything preached and proclaimed short of the whole truth or that is contrary to the truth, will only enslave souls to everlasting condemnation and not “pluck them out of the fires” of hell! Having real mercy for those being deceived... those doubting... those caught up in sin, means giving them the full, pure, truth as handed down to us from the apostles of the Lord.
Keeping the Gospel, the saving truth of Jesus Christ, pure also necessitates keeping the Law pure. God has given us the Law to show us our sin and our need for a Savior; or as St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “...The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (3:24). But if, as we discussed earlier, we white-wash the law, by calling “good” or “right,” what God has called “evil,” or “wrong,” or we are dumbing down of the Gospel, then souls are being lost. And this is not mercy; it is idolatry and self-righteous arrogance.
In order to counter this, Jude says that we ought to be merciful in fear to those caught up in sin; that is, in fear of God’s wrath… in fear of becoming ensnared in the same or similar sin ourselves. Accordingly, Jude adds the precaution, “be hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
The thought of even one’s clothing becoming contaminated by their sin, is analogous to God’s command during the Old Testament times that not only the person who has leprosy should be considered unclean and untouchable, but also their clothing, any chair on which they sat, or even the very walls of the home in which they lived ought to be considered equally unclean.
The message is clear; if we want to save ourselves and others, we can not do so by taking sin lightly. We must abhor it. Love the sinner, yes, but hate the sin, otherwise we will soon find ourselves condoning it.
I wonder, have we Christians become so secularized by our society and lost so much of the fear of God that we are no longer abhorred by sin and wickedness? Would we be so tolerant of false theology and of sinful lifestyles and so acquiescent to their presence among us if we still had a healthy fear of God’s wrath against sin and falsehood? When we tolerate impenitence and falseness in our midst we become tainted with the sin as well. To say, “I am personally opposed to that lewd or immoral behavior, but I defend the rights some one else to engage in it,” is to be a participant in that sin. Mercy for the one caught up in sin or falsehood, is to speak the truth of the Holy Faith in all forthrightness and fear.
Dear friends, we are here now but one day the future of Christ’s coming will be our now. As we wait, the Lord’s mercy toward us in Jesus compels us to be keeping ourselves in the truth of God’s love and also to be bringing that mercy to bear in the lives of others around us by sharing that truth with them. Doing these things will not only keep ourselves awake to His coming, but will be ensuring that our family, friends and neighbors, will also receive our King joyfully when He returns.