He is Able

Sermon by David Strain on Nov 3, 2013

Jude 1:17-25

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Now let me invite you please to turn with me in your copies of God’s Word to the letter of Jude, the letter of Jude which you will find on page 1027 in the church Bibles, just right before the book of Revelation.  In the book of Jude we’re going to read from verse 17 to the end of the chapter.  Before we do that let’s bow our heads and ask for God’s help as we read and hear His Word preached.  Let us pray.

Our Father, we believe that Your Word is Your means to bring the dead to life, Your means to grow us once You have brought us to life and keep us and preserve us and nourish us and sustain us, and to do that by Your Word for Your glory.  We also believe that the evil one is at work to distract, to undermine, to dilute, to pervert, to sow the seeds of misunderstanding and misapplication and misuse of Your Word among us.  So we pray now for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to take Your Word and to plant it in rich and prepared soil and grant that by His work it might produce a great harvest the opposition of the evil one notwithstanding, that Jesus may be magnified in this assembly, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Jude at verse 17.  This is the Word of Almighty God.  Hear Him:

“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.  Amen.”

We praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.  

Have you ever been driving along when you have noticed your car is pulling to the right or perhaps to the left?  It’s an alarming experience, especially if you are traveling at speed.  A bad tire, among other things, can make your car pull dangerously one way or another.  I am not a mechanic - legal disclaimer.  There is no, “Thus says the Lord,” about the diagnosis of what is wrong with your car from me.  Seek a mechanic!  This is an illustration!  Sometimes people have car problems and they get pulled to one side, and I think that’s a helpful metaphor for our experience of living the Christian life sometimes.  We’re going along as best we can, trying to make a straight course, trying to be obedient, but we keep drifting to one side or the other.  We easily veer off course, don’t we?  We have defects, inclinations of the heart, deep structural sins of the psyche that push us off course.  

In the passage before us tonight, Jude has a string of exhortations and they are all concerned to help us stay on course, to go straight ahead in the path of the Christian life.  Would you look at the text with me please?  It divides fairly naturally into three sections.  Verses 17 to 19, Jude highlights one of the problems facing us as we seek to live the Christian life.  Then in 20 to 23 the prescriptions he gives us for living the Christian life.  And then in 24 to 25, the provision lavished upon us as we live out the Christian life.  The problems, prescriptions, and provisions of the Christian life.

THE PROBLEMS FACING US AS WE SEEK 

TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

He wants us to stay on course and he begins this section with a diagnosis of one of the problems that can make us veer to one side or another.  Look at verses 17 to 19 with me please first.  “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.”  The burden of Jude’s letter is to call the church to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” verse 3, because false teachers have been plaguing the assemblies of God’s people and wreaking havoc among them.  And the bulk of the letter is occupied with describing and warning the church about those false teachers. And in these two verses, Jude brings his analysis of the problem confronting the church to a close, to a conclusion, by calling believers to remember apostolic prophecy.  The apostle’s had predicted that these false teachers would be a feature of life, Jude says, in the last time.  And notice that according to our text, the false teachers are distinguished by three features.  Verse 19, they are out to divide the church, they are worldly, that is, their priorities and ambitions do not reflect the Godward passion of a true child of God, and thirdly they are in fact completely devoid of the Spirit, no matter what they claim to the contrary.  In other words, the church to which Jude is writing is facing real challenge.  There are real problems, real difficulty.  There are folks out to derail you, Jude is saying.  Never mind the inner biases of your heart that tempt you to veer off course; there are external pressures as well - false teachers.  This is a warning.  

But it is a warning that contains some real encouragement.  Look at it closely.  For example, Jude calls the believers to remember that all of this has been predicted by the apostles.  False teachers and their attempt to mislead and divide are all part of how the apostles said things were always going to look at the church is matured.  Here, by the way, is Jude recognizing apostolic testimony as inspired.  He treats the words of the apostles here like the words of Scripture, quoting them as authoritative for the church.  In this case, in verse 19, it looks like he’s quoting the apostle Peter - 2 Peter 3 and verse 3 - “Scoffers will come in the last day, scoffing, following their own sinful desires.”  Remember the apostles predicted all of this, Jude says.  And the point seems to be there is real comfort in knowing this is normal.  This is normal.  Issues and conflicts and false teaching and division - it’s a mess; it’s confusing.  It’s hard to sort it out.  But that, the apostles say, is how it will be in the church.  This is the church - warped and all.  Remember the words of the apostles.  Don’t be surprised.  Don’t be derailed.  Keep going.

Notice too that Jude applies the predictions of the apostles about the last time, “in the last time there will be scoffers,” to the days in which he lived.  We tend to think of the last days as some small slight of the future, immediately preceding the return of Jesus.  That is not at all how the New Testament uses that phrase, “the last days,” and “the last times.”  As Hebrews 1:1-2 teaches us, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”  The last days began when Jesus came, when He obeyed and bled and died and rose and ascended and they will continue until He comes, until He returns to judge the living and the dead.  But I do think that the use of that language here helps us nevertheless to remember the world we live in is rapidly speeding towards its end.  These are the last days, Jude is saying.  The church we love, broken and fallen and weak and adulterous though she sometimes is, will soon find herself adorned as a bride for her husband, gathered to her wedding feast, presented to the bridegroom in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish - Ephesians 5:27.  “Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.  Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”  Do not give up.  Do not back off.  Do not be shocked.  Don’t be surprised.  The enemy is real.  Sin is pervasive.  False teachers are coming.  Division happens.  But the end is near and the Word of God, the apostolic message, you can trust it completely.  Didn’t they tell you this is how it was going to be?  Keep going.  Keep going.  The problems facing us as we seek to live the Christian life.

THE PRESCRIPTIONS GIVEN TO US AS WE SEEK

TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

Then secondly, look at verses 20 to 23.  There are prescriptions given to us as we seek to live the Christian life.  And this section also falls into two parts.  The first part in 20 and 21 speaks to us about how we should deal with ourselves, with our sinfully inclined hearts, with the mechanical fault that seems to keep making us veer off course.  Would you look at them with me please?  20 and 21 - “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”  If you look closely at that sentence you will see that dramatically there is only one imperative surrounded by three participial clauses if you really want to know.   The imperative, the command is, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.”  So here’s the key to staying on track.  Fight the inclination of your heart to veer to one side or the other.  Keep yourselves in the love of God.  The great highway of Christian happiness and holiness is the love of God.  Stay there.  You are, as Jude says in verse 17 and again in verse 20, you are beloved.  You are beloved.  We now learn in verse 21, you are beloved not just to Jude, you are beloved of God.  He loves you.  Keep yourselves in the love of God.  

Some of us really do go astray from that highway sometimes, don’t we?  Our hearts veer off into the ditch of self recrimination and performance driven religion.  We find ourselves unlovely.  Let’s be frank. And so we find it hard to accept that we are loved by God the Father, adopted as His children, freely accepted in the Beloved One, Jesus Christ.  And so we’re constantly trying to win the approval of God, never quite realizing that He delights in us in Christ.  He loves us.  He loves you.  You are beloved. Fight to stay on the highway, the safe path of the love of God.  Keep the love of God for you always before you, filling your view.  

Well how do I do that?  How do I keep myself in the love of God?  Here’s where we need to attend to those three participles that surround that imperative.  They explain how you keep yourself in God’s love.  Three ways.  Number one - Keep yourself in the love of God, first half of verse 20, “by building yourselves up in your most holy faith.”  Keep yourselves in the love of God by building yourselves up in your most holy faith.  The word translated there, “building yourselves up,” is a construction metaphor and carries the sense of being built upon a specific foundation.  In this case, that foundation is our most holy faith.  The faith that Jude has in mind there is not our subjective trust in Christ.  It’s not faith in but faith that.  It’s not simply faith in Jesus, but faith that certain truths are true about Jesus and other assertions regarding Him are false.  It is the faith, verse 3, once for all delivered to the saints that Jude is talking about.  Faith with content.  A body of truth.  The first way we are to keep ourselves in the love of God is to care deeply about doctrine, to be attentive to the content of the faith.  Build your life on the truth.  Love the truth.  Cling to the truth.  Sink deep roots down into it.  Soak in it.  Keep yourself in the love of God by being Bible people, doctrine people, truth people.  The better you grasp the riches of sound doctrine in Biblical proportion, the better you will see the dimension, the contours of the love of God for you.  That is really what good theology does.  It helps you explore the contours of the love and grace and glory and majesty and mercy of our God.  It helps us keep always in view the love of God our Father for us.  “Keep yourselves in the love of God by building yourselves up in your most holy faith.”

Then secondly, keep yourselves in the love of God, in the second half of verse 20, by “praying in the Holy Spirit.”  Jude is not talking here about speaking in tongues.  He isn’t talking about some extra dimension of prayer that is beyond the normal pattern of praying for the average Christian.  He’s simply articulating what we all know to be true about our prayer lives from time to time.  There are times when we pray when we do not really pray.  Right?  There are times when we’re somewhere else, when we’re mouthing the words, we’re going through the motions.  “No, no,” Jude says, “pray in the Holy Spirit.”  There really is no other way to pray.  What he’s saying is, pray for real.  Pray dependently upon the ministry and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ who takes your feeble, often unclear you don’t know what to pray for as you ought, but He helps you with groans that cannot be uttered.  He takes your prayers and He brings them to Jesus who, by His perfection and His intercession makes them acceptable to the Father.  Pray in the Holy Spirit.  He’s saying to you, “Your prayer life doesn’t need to be a performance, nor does it need to be an empty duty performed in a fog of sleepiness or distraction.  It can be the real thing.  Pray in the Spirit.  Pray for real.”  Pray honestly, vulnerably, with your own voice, from your heart, looking not to yourself, not to your eloquence, not to your goodness that you might be heard, but looking only to God the Holy Spirit to help you and resting completely on the righteousness of Christ reckoned to you.  That is what it means to pray in the Spirit.  It is to pray resting on His enabling power.  It is to pray for real.

And just as an aside, isn’t it wonderful the balance Jude sets before us here in this exhortation?  Build on the foundation of the faith.  That is, get into the truth.  Be in the Word.  Love doctrine and, not or, and pray depending on the ministry and provision of the Holy Spirit, looking to the Spirit for help and power and guidance and grace - Word and Spirit.  Truth and experience.  Doctrine and dynamism. That is how we keep ourselves in the love of God, Jude is saying.  When the Word of God is ignited by the flames of the Spirit’s power, when the power of the Holy Spirit drives the engine of our Christian lives along the tracks of Biblical truth, when doctrine is activated by the dynamic of the Spirit it overflows in devotion and keeps us in the love of God.  Keep yourselves in the love of God.

Then thirdly, verse 21, “by waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”  Almost certainly Jude has in mind the future hope of Christ’s return at the end of the age.  Now these are people who are converted already.  They’ve tasted the mercy of Christ already.  They enjoy eternal life already and yet he’s saying there’s more to come.  The Christ they know now they will one day see and know more fully.  The mercy they taste now will one day engulf them.  Eternal life begun will one day become eternal life consummated.  Keep yourself in God’s love by waiting for the coming of Jesus.  Lord Shaftesbury, the 19th century English social reformer once confessed near the end of his life that, “I do not think that in the last forty years I have lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.”  We lose sight of the love of our Father when our horizons rise no higher than the world we currently inhabit.  When the pool of possessions, the stress of unraveling the knot of our relationships, the burden of making ends meet, when the cares of the world fill our horizons we lose sight of the love of God our Father.  And so Jude invites us to look up.  Here he reaches out like a gentle pastor and lifts our chins and he says to us, “Look up.  Jesus is coming soon.  Wait for His appearing.  Do not let the world you currently inhabit prescribe the limit of your horizons.  You were made for the world to come.  Jesus is coming to get you to take your there one day.  Live in the light of His appearing.  Set your priorities in the light of the truth.  This world and these things do not last.”  I recently heard one pastor say he has never seen a U-HAUL towed behind a hearse.  You can’t take it with you.  Live in light of eternity and you will keep yourselves in the love of God.

And one further aside.  I wonder if you notice the beautiful Trinitarianism of this passage.  We pray in the Spirit, we keep ourselves in God’s love, we wait for Christ’s return.  The Trinity is not an arcane theological shibboleth.  It is not an abstraction with no value.  Jude is showing us that our whole Christian lives are about knowing and clinging to and delighting in Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Christian life is Trinitarian life.  It is communion with God and as John Owen wonderfully puts it, “it is communion with each person of the Godhead separately.”  You know God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Isn’t that lovely?  What do you get in the Christian life?  Not health and wealth and prosperity.  Not more of this blessing or less of that trouble particularly.  So much better than that.  So much better. What you get in the Christian life is God.  He gives you Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to know and be known by, to delight in for the satisfaction of your soul and the glory of His name.  “Keep yourselves in the love of God by building yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Spirit, and waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that brings eternal life.”

And having given us these three means by which to deal with ourselves, Jude then offers us three ways to deal with others in verses 22 and 23.  Maybe another way of putting that is to say - having shown us how to minister to ourselves, here are three categories of those to whom we are now called to minister.  The first group Jude wants us to minister to are those who have had their faith shaken by the false teachers.  Verse 22 - “Have mercy on those who doubt.”  Have mercy on them.  Don’t be shocked by their questions.  Don’t shun them because they’re struggling.  How quick we can be to judge and dismiss and disdain the genuine doubts of others.  Some of you are struggling with doubts and Jude says the people of God are to enfold you with mercy.  After all, verse 21, aren’t you looking for the same thing from the hand of Jesus Christ - waiting for the mercy of Jesus Christ that brings eternal life?  Those who look for mercy tend to show it.  Those who know how much they need it tend to be ready to give it.  If we are impatient with people who have struggles, who faith has shaken and been shaken from time to time, Jude inquires it might not hurt to take a look in the mirror for a while and remember how much we too still need mercy.  So show mercy to those who doubt.

Then the second group we are to minister to are those who have wandered off or who are perhaps simply outside the church.  Verse 23 - “Save others by snatching them out of the fire.”  Here is an exhortation to evangelism.  You may be waiting for Jesus to come in mercy and to take you to heaven.  Oh for that day!  But do not forget while you wait that many others are facing the fire of hell forever.  “So save them, rescue them, go and get them, and bring them to Jesus,” Jude is saying.  One evangelist I know tells the story of a friend of his with whom he played college sports.  He had never told his friend the Gospel, never told him that he was a Christian.  And one day his friend came to visit him in his dorm room red-faced, angry with him.  “You don’t really care about me at all!  I thought you were my friend!”  “What are you talking about?  Of course I care about you!  Of course I’m your friend!”  “I’ve just learned today that you are a Christian and you believe that unless I repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ I’m going to go to hell forever.  Why wouldn’t you warn me about that?  If you really believe that, why wouldn’t you tell me?  If you really love me, and you think that’s where I’m going, why wouldn’t you warn me?  You don’t care about me at all!”  Do you love your neighbor enough to save them from the fire?  

And then the third group are those who break our hearts because they seem utterly impervious to our best efforts to win them.  Verse 22 - “To others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” - verse 23 rather.  They are completely in the grip of sinful pleasure, they have no time for the Gospel, they will not listen even to your best attempts to share the good news, and even here, confronted with such hardness of heart, Jude gives us no scope for self-congratulatory self-righteousness.  Show them mercy, he says.  Hate everything to do with the life they live, but have mercy.  Do it trembling.  Fear the sin.  Hate the paraphernalia of sin, but be merciful to the sinner.  Jude is confronting two errors, almost opposite errors.  On the one hand he challenges us not to withdraw compassion even from those who seem most impervious to the Gospel.  Show them mercy, he says.  And on the other hand, he challenges us not to use compassion for the lost as an excuse to indulge our own participation with them in worldliness.  “Hate even the clothes stained by the flesh,” he says.  Show mercy with fear.  Be very careful.  The closer you get to the fire the easier it is to get burned.

Some of us need the first rebuke.  We are disdainful people in the vice grip of - we are disdainful of people who are in the vice grip of obvious sin.  We have no time for them.  We’ve judged them and written them off.  There is no mercy in our hearts.  And Jude is calling us to repent, having reminded us that we need mercy too.  And some of us need the second rebuke.  We say our agenda is to build relationships.  We want to be relevant and culturally sensitive, but all fear of sin has gone from our hearts and we’ve engulfed ourselves in the very lifestyle from which we ought to be seeking to rescue others.  Show mercy with fear.  You are playing with fire.  Hate even the garments stained with sin.  This is a call to do that most difficult of things.  It’s a call not to withdraw but to engage with the world while remaining distinct from the world - to be in it but not of it.  And that is hard to do.  All of this is hard to do in fact.  There are problems facing us - false teachers.  There are the prescriptions laid upon us - keep yourselves in God’s love, get into the Word, pray, wait for Jesus, do evangelism.  Easier said than done, right?  Right?  Easier said than done.

THE PROVISION GIVEN TO US AS WE SEEK 

TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

But don’t forget, finally, the provision we have been given for the Christian life.  Look with me lastly at verses 24 and 25.  “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.  Amen.”  Jude concludes in praise.  It is a marvelous benediction, doxology, exalting in God our Savior through Jesus giving Him all the glory.  And the reason for His praise and His doxology?  “He is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with joy.”  He will keep you.  What a relief that promise is!  You will be kept.  The One who loves you will keep you for glory and fill you with joy.

To use our image, you will not be allowed, soul, to veer off course, straying from the highway of God’s love as to ever stray beyond recovery.  He will keep you.  He is able.  We must keep ourselves in the love of God but He will keep us.  Both are true.  Both must be held together.  Work, press on, fight on, keep on going, but as you do, He is at work in you to will and do for His good pleasure.  He fights for you and with you.  He will keep you.  And so to follow the example of Jude himself, we can labor on in the hard work of the Christian life and we can sing praises for sovereign grace while we do.  

Will you pray with me?

Our Father, we praise You that though Your prescriptions for our lives seem to us overwhelming, daunting, You are able to keep us from stumbling and present us before the presence of glory with joy.  So we would join Jude in giving all praise and honor and glory to You through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Would you stand and receive God’s benediction?

And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forevermore.  Amen.

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