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Blessing God

Series: Jude

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jun 6, 2004

Jude 1:24-25

I'd invite you to turn with me to Jude, right at the end of the New Testament, right before the book of Revelation, as we look one last time at this short letter. We've been in the book of Jude for the last four weeks, and now we're in the final two verses. And in those two verses, we come face-to-face with a doxology. Now we sing a doxology that goes something like this, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That, you can see immediately, is a doxology. That is, it is a word of blessing or praise or adoration directed towards God. And that's what we meet here, a word of blessing or adoration or praise directed to God.

There's a difference between a doxology and a benediction. All of our services at First Presbyterian Church end with a benediction where God's blessing is pronounced on you. A benediction goes this direction, from God to you. God blesses you in a benediction; you bless God in a doxology. But one of the interesting things about this doxology is that even though it is directed to God, yet even as we praise God in this doxology, we are reminded of His benediction on us. We’re reminded of the many spiritual blessings that He has given to us in Jesus Christ. So let's give some attention to this doxology with which Jude concludes this wonderful, little letter. Before we read the passage together, let's pray for God's Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts as we hear the word.

Our God, in the gospel of Your Son You have made Your eternal counsels known. You make Your love in all its glory to shine there. You draw out Your truth for us in the fairest of lines there in Your gospel. And so we pray that You would grant us the grace to read and to mark Your holy word, to meekly receive its truths, and to live by its holy precepts. These things we ask through the grace of the Spirit in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is the word of God. Jude 24:

24Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

Jude does something surprising at the end of this letter. Many letters in the New Testament end with benedictions. You’re used to Paul saying something like this at the end of his letters, “Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It's a benediction from God to you at the end of the letter. And at the end of Paul's letters, you feel like you need that blessing from God, because usually in the second half of those letters he gives you some fairly stiff challenges, some strong exhortations, some words calling you to action in the Christian life. And you by the end of those words of exhortation are needing to rest on the power and grace of God, and so you are delighted to hear those words of blessing come: “Grace, mercy, peace.” Your heart is saying, “Amen, Lord. Yes, I need Your grace and Your mercy and Your peace.”

And so maybe…maybe Jude is catching you a little off-guard. You’re waiting for a blessing at the end of this letter, because just like Paul, Jude has given you some fairly stiff challenges. He's told you to be on guard against false teaching. He's told you not to fall prey to the seductive spirit of this age. He's warned you about how dangerous it is to live the Christian life in this crazy, fallen world and how even the church can become confused from time to time. And you’re waiting for a blessing because you feel the need for a blessing…and here he is with a doxology.

In fact, Jude's doxology is often mistaken by preachers as a benediction. There are several reasons for that, because Jude's doxology begins with the word now, and about four or five benedictions in the New Testament begin with the word now. Secondly, Jude's doxology comes at the end of the book, and preachers are used to looking to the end of a letter in the New testament and finding a benediction to pronounce on God's people. But there's a third reason why preachers sometimes confuse this doxology with a benediction; and that is, if you look at the content of this doxology, so much of the praise to God entails His blessing to us. In fact, God is being praised in this doxology for His benediction to us, for His blessings on us. This doxology–yes, it focuses on God; it exalts God's power and glory. But as it exalts God's power and glory, it anchors the believer's assurance in God's power and the believer's hope in God's glory. So even in glorifying and exalting God, it reminds us of the blessing that God has given us in assurance and hope.

We learn in this little doxology that Christians are to praise God at all times. Even in times of discouragement and challenge in the church, Jude can call us to praise God. But we also discover the Christian doxology always rebounds to us in blessing and benediction.

There are five parts to this doxology that I want to look at today. The first part is praise to God for preservation from sin. The second part is praise to God for His perfecting grace. The third part is praise to God for His exclusive deity. The fourth part is praise to God for His sole mediation: Jesus is the only way of salvation. And the fifth part is praise to God for His inherent worthiness. Let's look at each of these five parts.

I. We bless our God because He has the power to enable us to persevere (24a) [He is able to keep you from stumbling]
The first part you’ll see in the very first few verses, or very first few words of verse 24. Here we see praise to God for His preservation of us from sin: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling.” Jude is reminding us there that God is able to keep us from stumbling. And in reminding us that, he's showing us that we are to bless our God because our God has the power to enable us to persevere in the faith. Jude has been talking to us about being on-guard against false teachers that would lead you astray, false teachers that would lead you into immorality, and these people have listened and so they’re concerned. ‘Lord, I could be led astray. Lord, I could fall away into immorality.’ And so Jude finishes with a doxology that reminds us that God is able to keep us from stumbling.

I want you to pause and relish this title of God for just a few minutes. Jude calls God, “Him who is able.” It's a reminder of the sheer power of God, and it is, by the way, a title for God that Paul uses on a couple of occasions. You remember Paul's words in Romans 16:25 where he says, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ”? That's who our God is: He is the One who is able. Paul again in Ephesians 3:20 will say, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” And I want to tell you, my friends, that this emphasis on who God is and on His ability and on His power is so important; because Jude has spent much of this book giving you urgent warnings. He's been calling you to responsibility, to watchfulness, to carefulness, to diligence; but now even in this doxology at the end of the book, he pauses to remind you that ultimately what will keep you is the power of God. Yes, we are to be watchful. Yes, we are to be actively fighting this good fight. But in the end, what is it that keeps us from stumbling?“Him who is able.” That's who. God, God alone is our hope and our refuge. It is ultimately God who keeps and guards us.

What does He keep and guard us from? Well, he tells us in the second part of those first few words. “[He] is able to keep you from stumbling.” That phrase ascribes to God's power our perseverance in the faith. It grounds our assurance objectively in God's might, in God's ability. We live in a dangerous world filled with false teaching and seductive morals, and that teaching is designed to cause stumbling. To stumble is to fall into moral failure. And Jude is saying here that it is God alone who can keep us from stumbling.

I had the privilege of participating in a marriage yesterday, and our dear friend, Tim Horn, who ministered in this church for about half a decade in student ministries was back to perform that wedding. And in the course of the marriage he gave some wonderful exhortations to the bride and to the groom. And one of the things that he did, after giving a powerful exhortation, is to say to them, ‘Now, by the way, all these things that I've just said–you can't do ‘em. You’ll need God to be able to do them.’ And that's exactly what Jude is saying. He's given us a list of things that we are to do; we are called to do; we're responsible to do–but we're not able to do them in our own strength. And isn't it beautiful that Jude at the very end himself will come back and remind us that it's God who is able to keep us from stumbling?

I occasionally will wander into theChoctaw Bookstore just down the street. A wonderful room filled with old, musty books–I love that smell. Lots of Mississippi history, lots of Southern history, lots of literature–not a very big theology section, and usually there’re not many good holdings there. And occasionally I’ll snoop back to see what's in the religion section. And on this one occasion I went in there and there was a treasure trove of good, solid, Reformed, evangelical books. And I said, “This is great!” and I found a box. Started filling it up, and then I spotted on the shelf a complete set of the Commentary on the New Testament by the conservative, Lutheran commentator, Lenski. I said, “This is great. I'm gonna get this at a great price. I've never been able to afford it,” and I started pulling it off the shelf and putting it in my box. And then I noticed on the bottom of the book the stamp of the minister who had sold the books to Choctaw Books. He was a fellow PCA Minister with whom I did my first RUF conference here in Mississippi at the Lake Forest Ranch. And he had fallen grossly and been deposed from the ministry and excommunicated from the church. And I picked those commentaries back up and I put them on the shelf. I just couldn't have borne to look at them day-after-day in my office, being reminded of a friend who had fallen into gross immorality. Only God can keep us. And that was a reminder to me that day, and Jude is reminding us today, in the temptations of life and even in the church our hope is in God.

So, you see how even this doxology to God turns out to be a blessing to us because we're praising God because He is the source of our security. Samuel Rutherford used to say, “I never run an errand to the throne of grace when I do not fetch back a blessing for myself.” So we're running an errand to the throne of grace to do what?–to praise God. But what do we find out? We fetch back a blessing for ourselves. Praise God that He is the One who is able to keep us from stumbling. That's the first thing that Jude reminds us in this wonderful doxology.

II. We bless our God because He has the power to make us stand before Him (24b) [He is able to make you stand, blameless with great joy]
The second thing is this: We’re to praise God for His perfecting grace. “To make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy”–Jude is reminding us that He is able to make us stand. God is able to make us stand, blameless with great joy. And so, in reminding us of that, Jude is teaching us that we bless our God because He has the power to make us stand before Him on the last day.

The glory, the glory of the Lord's work in our lives is that it does not end here. There is a future glory that is greater than anything that He has displayed to us yet. Jude is talking about our glorification here. Jude is talking about the great Day of Judgment. And he's saying that at the last, when all stands before the living God, it will be God's power that stands us before Him. Not our own efforts, not our own merits, not our own innate loveableness or our own love, but it will be God's power. He is able to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy. You know, if you think that you’re going to stand on the last day because of your own faithfulness, you've got a severe shock coming. But Jude says, ‘We are able to stand on the last day not because of anything in us, not even because of anything that God has done in us; because of what God has done for us and because of His power we will stand at the last day.’

And notice that God will not stand us before Him on the last day in the judgment of condemnation. No! We’re going to stand before Him in vindication, in joy, in glory. He is able to stand us in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy. This is the vision of what the author of Hebrews sees in Hebrews 12:22-23, “You have come to Mount Zion to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

When Jude uses this language of blamelessness or faultlessness, he's recalling to you sacrificial language that you find in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. What kind of a sacrifice was to be offered to the Lord in the Temple?–a blameless one, a flawless one, a faultless one. That was what was to be offered to God in the Temple. And Jude is saying, ‘Let me tell you, there is going to be a day when God stands you before Him and there's going to be no flaw in you. He will have transformed you.’

Many of you knew Clariece Fairly in this congregation, one of the godliest women I've ever had the privilege of knowing. She loved her Savior, and she trusted in Him alone for salvation, and she loved His word. And she wrote out her instructions to her family for what was to be preached upon at her funeral, and this is what she said to Ken and Dan and to the family: “At my funeral, I'd like the one presiding to remind my family that Jesus my Savior is able to present me before God's glorious presence without fault, sinless, and He has now at the moment of death done just that. The real me will be at that moment in God's presence, not just there but there with great joy. That means not only my joy but the joy of the One who receives me. Praise God, the only God and Savior! To Him be glory and majesty and power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore. Amen.” And then she says out in the margin, “See Jude 24 and 25.” She got it exactly right. That's what Jude is saying. God's perfecting grace is going to stand us before Him blamelessly with great joy.

And that phrase, “in the presence of His glory”–I'm sorry, I just can't help you there. It's beyond telling. You’ll just have to go to the book of Revelation and meditate upon some of the scenes of this glory that John draws for you because I can't tell you in words what it is going to be in the presence of His glory…but you’re going to be there. See, again this doxology, it rises up to God. But before we can get it up to Him, He's already pouring His blessings back out on us.

III. We bless our God because He is the only God and is the only Savior (25a) [He is the only God our Savior]
Thirdly, notice that this doxology is a praise to God for His exclusive deity. Look at the first few words of verse 25, “Now to the only God our Savior.” Jude is reminding us that He is the only God. We bless God because He's the only God. This doxology is ascribed to the only God. And Jude is making this point: There is only one God. There is one God only. The Triune God of the Bible, Jude says, is the only God. Now that's not politically correct. It's not even theologically correct in our day and time. But it's good, Christian theology, and it's right out of the Bible.

And I want to say that if you’re here today at First Presbyterian Church, chances are you already believe that. Chances are you walked into these doors believing that there was one true God, and you came to worship Him. But the challenge for us is to live that way. Do we worship the one true God only? Or do we worship our job, or our family, or popularity, or power, or prominence, or sex, or money? Or do we worship the one true God?

But that's not all Jude draws our attention to here. He's not only the only God; He is God our Savior. Jude is reminding us that God the Father is our Savior. Now it's true that the New Testament refers to Jesus as our Savior fifteen or sixteen times, but the New Testament also refers to God the Father as our Savior on at least eight occasions. And that's the focus of Jude here. He is reminding us that the Father is the source of our salvation. Do you remember what John says in John 3:16? He says it's the Father who sent His Son into the world. “God so loved the world that He gave His own Son.” And so the focus is on the love and the salvation of the Heavenly Father. And Jude is just reminding us that we must look to God the Father alone for our salvation, that we must trust completely that He is able to deliver. It's God and God alone who saves. It's our perversity to look somewhere else for salvation than the one, true God. And our God loves to save and He delights in salvation, and so we must trust in Him if we are to experience eternal life. And so Jude praises God for His exclusive deity and because He is God our Savior.

IV. We bless our God because He saves us by the life and work of Jesus Christ (25b) [All salvation is through Jesus Christ]
But he's not done. If you look at verse 25 again, in the second set of words he says, “To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Now the focus is on Jesus Christ. Now the focus is on the mediation of Jesus Christ, the interceding work of Jesus Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension and His session in glory. The focus is on Jesus as the only mediator between God and His people.

And Jude is just reminding us that all salvation is through Jesus Christ. And so we should not only praise God for His preserving us from sin, we should not only praise God for His perfecting grace, we should not only praise God because He's the only God and Savior–we should praise God because all salvation is through Jesus Christ. We are to bless God because He saves us by the life and death and work of Jesus Christ. It's through Jesus Christ that God saves man, and thus through Christ alone that glory can be given back to the Father. God made us to worship Him. He made us to glorify and enjoy Him in all of life, as well as in the assembly of the saints.

But in this fallen world, because of our sin, we can't do it. He made us to worship Him but we can't do it. The only way we can do that now in this fallen world is through Jesus Christ. We cannot acknowledge God to be the one, true God and Savior apart from the work of Jesus Christ. And so Jude is reminding us that we bless God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He's the only way that we can do what God made us to do. Notice that the very phrase “through Jesus Christ” Christianizes this doxology. It makes it a praise to the Triune God. It makes it thoroughly Trinitarian. It indicates the importance of the work of Jesus Christ, because in this fallen world we're only able to glorify God as He intended to be glorified, through us, in Jesus Christ. If we want to participate in the glory which Christ is giving back to the Father, then we must believe on Him.

Now we need to pause right here and ask ourselves a question, and that question is simply this: Are we trusting in Jesus Christ? And are we coming to God in Jesus' name? In other words, are we resting the whole hope of our salvation here and hereafter on Jesus Christ? It would be a shame to come and hear a nice message on praising God and not be praising God for eternity. So how do you know that you’re going to praise God for eternity? Well, you know that you’re going to praise God for eternity if you acknowledge God to be your Creator and you acknowledge your total accountability to Him. And you know that you’re going to be praising God forever if you acknowledge that you are a sinner who deserves His wrath and His punishment for your sin. And you know that you’re going to enjoy praising God for eternity if you not only know that He's your Creator and that you’re a sinner, but that you have a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God and Savior of sinners. And you will know that you’re going to be praising Him forever if you not only know that He's your Creator and that you’re a sinner and that there is a Savior, but if you are trusting alone for salvation in Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel. We must trust in Jesus alone to secure our acceptance with God. And that means believing who He claims to be in the Bible and trusting in Him for the forgiveness of sins, and confessing Him and identifying ourselves with His people.

I've told you several times that one of my favorite stories is the story of Douglas McMillan who taught Church History at the Free Church College for so many years. One of the best evangelistic preachers in Britain. But Douglas McMillan came under the influence of Communist teachers when he was in junior…what we would call “junior high school,” and he abandoned the faith. He had grown up in a godly, Christian home. His father was an elder; his mother was a godly Christian in the church. But he fell away from the faith, and he lived a very wild life. And in his early twenties, his mother was dying of cancer. And in the last few weeks of her life, it was so painful that she couldn't sleep, and so she would stay up all night long and read her Bible and sing. And Douglas tells that there were many times when he would come home late in the wee hours of the morning from carousing and whatever else he was doing, and he would walk in the back door of their house and hear his mother in another room singing by herself. One night just a few days before she died, she asked Douglas to read the Bible to her. Now she had two purposes in mind in doing this: 1) she wanted to hear the comforting words of Scripture, 2) she wanted Douglas to hear those words of Scripture because she had a question she wanted to press home to him. So she said, “Douglas, would you read the Bible?” And he was anxious to do something for his mother. He loved his mother even though he did not share her faith at that time. And so she said, “Douglas, would you read from John 14 to me?” And so he began reading some of those precious words from Jesus to His disciples on the night that He was betrayed. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Do not let your heart be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me”–from that wonderful section of John 14. She said, “That's enough, Douglas.” He said, “I can read more, Mother.” She said, “That's enough, Douglas. I just have one question I want to ask you.” In just a few hours I'm going to be with Jesus. Will you meet me there?”

And it would be a shame to come to hear a message and talk about praising God and not meet her and not meet Jesus there to praise God forever. And the only way you can be certain is to trust on Jesus alone for your salvation as He is offered in the gospel.

One last thing. In the very end of verse 25, you see the substance of this doxology. “To Him be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude is praising God there for His inherent worthiness to be praised. When we praise God, we're not giving Him something that He doesn't already have; we are acknowledging something about Him that He already is. We are ascribing to Him the glory which is due to His name. We are not giving to Him glory, which does not already inhere in His name. And so Jude is praising God for His inherent and timeless worthiness here. He's giving eternal praise to God, and He's reminding us that we bless God not only because He has the power to cause us to persevere, not only because of His power to make us stand before Him, not only because He's the only God and Savior, not only because of the life and death and resurrection and saving work of Jesus Christ–but we praise God simply because He's worthy of all praises.

This is the very heart of the doxology, and it's a statement about who God is constitutionally. It's an ascription to Him, and Jude gives three or four qualities here, ascribes them to God, virtues that are often identified with God in the Scriptures. You can see them here: glory, majesty, dominion, and authority. Glory is referring to God's weightiness, His splendor, His majestic presence. He's like the radiance of light and He's heavier than the weight of the world. And man's chief end is to declare that glory. He mentions God's majesty, His kingly status. He mentions God's dominion, God's rule and exercise of power and control over the world. He mentions God's authority, His power and capacity for government, His intrinsic right of command. And notice all along the direction is towards God: God's glory, not ours; God's status, not ours; God's control, not ours; God's power, not ours.

And this doxology also indicates God's everlastingness, His eternality: “Before all time and now and forevermore.” See, Jude is just reminding us that God's goodness makes Him intrinsically deserving of worship. Some of you love the anthem by Jane Marshall “My Eternal King,” which uses a text written by Christina Rossetti. And she goes through a list of reasons why we could praise God. We could praise God because His Son died for us; we could praise God for the blessings that God has given to us; we could praise God because of His sparing of our sins. But the theme of Christina Rossetti in this text is that she wants to worship God simply because He is her God and her eternal King. That's what Jude is doing here. He's saying, ‘We praise God just because He's God.’

And that truth reminds us of two more truths that I want to close with today, and that is simply this: First, the Bible is, first and foremost, a book about God. We should read it thirsting to know more about Him, not just wanting practical advice about how to make our lives better or in order to get the things that we want. We should read the Bible with a thirst for God Himself because the Bible, first and foremost, is a book about God.

And, secondly, Jude reminds us that life itself is about God's glory, and everything else is subservient to that. And that means these two things: It means, first, that everything in our lives must be subsumed to the agenda of glorifying Him…and that says something about our personal priorities. And, secondly, it says that every situation of our lives must be read in light of His ultimate glory. Hard things and evil things happening to us is not the big problem in this world; God not getting glory is the big problem in this world. And that ought to burn very close to the core of our being, the desire to see God get the glory that is due His name.

But I want to tell you something: When you begin to burn for a desire for His glory and your own circumstances and situations become displaced and decentralized, what you find is in your concern for His glory not that your needs are not met, but you find that in living for His glory that He is the One from whom all blessings flow. So praise God with Jude and you will find that the God to whom you give doxology is the same God who gives you benediction. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, grant us to praise God, the One from whom all blessings flow. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope, by grace comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. Amen.

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A Guide to the Morning Service

The New Sunday Morning Sermon Series
Starting next Sunday morning, we will begin a series called Church like it's supposed to be: A Study of Paul's Pastoral Letters — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, The Priorities of a Healthy Church. What is the church supposed to be like? We all have our opinions. We may wish our church did more of this or that, or less of it! We may wish for a church that is more friendly or more evangelistic or more “with it.” But what does God want the church to be like–does He say anywhere in the Bible? The answer is yes! In the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus), God tells us much about what a local Christian church is to be and do.

In these three little letters, we find a descriptive and prescriptive pattern for church and ministry. That is, we find not only an example of life in an early Christian congregation, but also a divinely appointed set of directives for how we are to live and minister as and among God's people. These letters teach us about the required elements of corporate worship; the qualifications for ministers, elders, and deacons; how women are to be involved in the work of the church; who ought to provide for the needy; and how to give spiritual counsel to aged men and women, as well as to young men and women. They stress sound doctrine, demand consecrated living and show us the value of creeds and confessions. They also reveal the closing activities in the life of the Apostle Paul and disclose to us church life at the end of the first century. More importantly, they are written for our instruction, not just for our information. In other words, they were written to show us what the Christian church and ministry are supposed to be like.

What makes a good local church? Great facility, active church program, outstanding youth ministry, warm and friendly people, small groups, relevant preaching, exciting worship, contemporary music, cutting-edge men's ministry, world-class women's ministry, convenient location, accessible and plenteous parking? Well, let's measure our thinking against the Word of God, and determine to conform our thinking to His revealed will. If what you think is most important in the church isn't even mentioned in the Pastorals, you may want to rethink your view of the church. These are divine priorities. This is what we want to be like.

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