Last Sunday in the Church Year - Sunday of the Fulfillment
November 29, 2006
"Us, Them, & Jesus"
Jude warns us to keep the faith, to be concerned with the faith of others, and to give all glory to God in Jesus Christ, who keeps us from falling!
It’s almost here. It’s coming soon. The signs are all around us, all we have to do is look out there and see. You know what I mean? Did you think I was talking about Christmas? Well that’s coming soon too. But here in the church we are focused on another day that is coming soon – and it goes by many names: the day of the Lord’s second coming – the judgment day – the last day – the day of fulfillment – the end.
We know it’s coming soon because the signs are all around us. We have been warned. We’ve been put on notice. Even though we don’t know and will never know the exact time or day or hour, as Jesus says, the signs are still there for us to see. We could almost keep a checklist:
Wars – check
Rumors of Wars – check
Famine – check
Disaster – check
Conflict even in families – check
Increasing wickedness - check
False teachings abound – check
Maybe put a “double-check” on that last one, especially if you asked someone like St. Jude. In Jude’s short letter, he warns Christians about false teachers, especially in light of God’s coming wrath. We consider today the last few verses of Jude’s epistle, on this last Sunday of the Church Year, and ask how we can build up ourselves and be merciful to others in the “most holy faith”.
First, Jude is concerned for his friends, his fellow Christians, who are beset by false teachers. He says of the false teachers, “They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” And so he encourages the faithful:
“build yourselves up in your most holy faith, and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life”
Note well, that when he says, “most holy faith” here, he isn’t talking about the faith that is in the heart, but the faith as it is taught and confessed. “The Christian faith” or “the teachings of the faith” are what Christians are to cling to. And the true faith, at that, in the face of many lies and much confusion.
What about us? These words of encouragement are well taken by us too. For we find ourselves in much the same predicament. We are beset by false teachers. It’s a sign of the times.
As we Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod types look out into the religious landscape of our world, what do we see? Here in the United States, we are a small minority. We see many other people with many different kinds of beliefs. False teaching abounds.
Non-Christian and Secular religions are increasing in number and popularity, and while they are perhaps easy to identify as “false”, we are not immune to their influence. How many of us, in fact, have been influenced by New Age philosophy and its occult and superstitious trappings? How many have bought into the false claims of many scientists, who teach a godless origin of the universe and of life? What about the a-moral ambivalence of a society which has stopped condemning the sins of divorce, homosexuality, fornication, and so many other sins? Much like the godless men of Jude’s day who gave license to immorality, many today teach that the only real sin is “judging” the behavior of others. When we hear such godless lies over and over again, it is tempting to think they are credible.
But well-meaning Lutherans can even be caught up in the false teaching of other well-meaning Christians. Christians who teach that our salvation depends on our decision, or that we must co-operate with God to earn more of his grace. Christians who deny the clear words of Jesus, “This IS my body; this IS my blood” that actually work forgiveness of our sins. Christians who make his gift of baptism into a work of man, a commitment or pledge. All those who would in some way or fashion try to join Jesus Christ on the cross – “make room for me up there!”, and try to earn part of their own salvation – we must reject such false teachings – which are not part of the “most holy faith” and which deny Jesus is our only Lord and Savior.
And yet, I know that some of us here at Grace make frequent use of Baptist, Evangelical, Non-Denominational Christian books, articles, devotions, television, radio, music and such. I’ve heard someone say, “I watch the Baptist preacher – and he preaches right from the Bible – without notes – what’s wrong with that?” I hear people say, “oh this preacher is so informative” or “this one can really keep your attention” or “that sermon was so uplifting”. But did it proclaim the truth of your sin, and of your only Savior from sin, Jesus Christ? Or did it leave you with the impression that it all depends, or even a little bit, on you and what you do?
Now don’t leave church today thinking that all Pastor Tom did was bash other Christians. I’m not saying that Lutherans should never read or listen to what other Christians have to say. Indeed, they can and do speak truth at times. But by their own confession, they do teach differently. And the differences do matter! To the uninformed, the differences may seem subtle – or even insignificant. But that’s also what makes them so dangerous, and why pastors are charged to watch over the sheep, lest they be led astray. And yes, even pastors can be and have been led astray by the influences of false teaching. So what shall we do about all this? Or do we simply shrug and say, “Oh, well. There’s just different interpretations?”
In these last days, Jude has a solution – “build yourselves up in your most holy faith, and pray in the Spirit.” In other words: Study! Learn! Listen! And pray. In these dangerous times, we simply must arm ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, rightly taught. We must be prayerful and careful – for not everyone who claims to hold to that Word does.
Why not make use of the resources that are right before you? I find it disappointing that more of our members do not make use of the Bible studies we offer. Perhaps you study privately, as I know many do. But what an opportunity it is to come together with other Christians – and your pastors – and encounter God’s Word together. To get your questions answered, and to help bring insights to others. Why do we see 300 in worship but only 30 in Sunday Bible class? Is it that we think we’ve learned it all? Is it that an hour of worship is “enough”? Why not be built up, even more, as the day approaches?
And as we pray, do we pray for only those needs we may feel? For our aches and pains, for our troubles in life? Or do we pray also that God keeps us from being led astray by false teaching? Do we pray to be built up by His Spirit, through His Word?
And the more we study and learn and listen and pray, the more we will see that Jesus alone is the Savior. The more we will appreciate what “grace alone” and “faith alone” really mean. The more we will understand how great our sin is, and how much greater our Savior is. And as we “build ourselves up”, we are actually being built up by God. We will be built up, higher, stronger, firmer in the most holy faith – and prepared for that day – whenever it may come. And so we will also be equipped to critically respond to what other Christians teach – sifting the wheat from the chaff.
What about Them? In as much as our clinging to and learning from God’s Word will strengthen us, it also equips us to help others: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh”
In our dealings with others, Jude sees that different approaches can be taken. Some doubt, and we should be merciful or patient with them, as Christ has been so with us. Implied here is that we can be witnesses to the truth, testifying faithfully so that in the Word and in Christ their doubts would be put away. Perhaps we have wavered at times, and have been shown mercy by others – we think of the Beatitude, “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. We could harshly condemn the doubters, or we could gently bring them along in the truth, as Jude suggests. Perhaps they doubt because they have been taught their salvation depends on them – and we can encourage them by showing how it all depends on Christ!
Some others might be caught in false teaching, and need to be snatched from the fire. There is an urgency about this. And other times, we must be on guard – mixing our mercy with fear – that we too are not led astray, or “corrupted”. Notice the sense here of danger – of watchfulness.
Jude concludes with a beautiful doxology, which does what any Christian should do, in that it gives all glory to God through Jesus Christ. It praises him not just for being great, but for the great things he does for us: “To him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…”
Yes, though our world is full of dangers and deceits, God is able to keep us from falling. And he does! Nothing can separate us from his love in Jesus Christ! God is always faithful to us. This is what we hear and learn from his word – the precious gospel of Jesus Christ.
And though we can easily find fault with others, and though we must never stop finding fault with ourselves – we see the only one who can present us without fault before God is Jesus Christ. He is the only God, and our only Savior. We are not our own saviors, as he alone died for us. He alone is merciful to us, and brings us to eternal life. To him be all the glory, majesty, power, and authority, yesterday, today, and forever! In Jesus Christ, Amen.