by: Denise Robinson
Small But Mighty: Jude
This morning we’re beginning a new sermon series where for the next few weeks, our focus is on books of the Bible that are difficult to find without using the index. This morning’s focus is on Jude, a small book near the end of the Bible, right before the last book of Revelation. Jude is so small that it’s not even really a book, it’s a letter. Some might say it’s not even a letter, but a postcard or maybe even an email. Twenty-five verses and that’s it. But of the twenty-five verses, many seem confusing and difficult to understand. If this is a letter, who is writing it, who is it written to, and why was it written? And, then, what meaning, if any, does this letter have for us today?
As far as the identity of the author, when you hear the name “Jude” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? You can be honest: I even thought about titling this sermon, “Hey, Jude” and the tune to the song has been running through my head for a week now. Then I did a scientific survey (AKA Google search) of famous people named Jude and discovered the actor Jude Law along with several other supposedly famous “Jude’s” I’ve never heard of. If you think about a Jude in the Bible (Jude being short for Judas), you’re probably drawn to Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Christ, but this is definitely not him. The first verse in our short letter gives us the answer: this Jude identifies himself first as a servant of Jesus and second as a brother of James. Jude makes the assumption, when he mentions James, that his readers will immediately know who he means. James might have been a common name even in the first century, but there was only one James known immediately to everyone by first name alone: the James who was head of the church in Jerusalem after Peter, leader of the first Christian council, and brother of Jesus. Jude wants his readers to know first and foremost that he is a follower of Christ, but he is also letting them know that, like James, he is a brother of Jesus.
Our next question is, to whom is Jude writing? V. 1 answers that question as well. He is writing to “those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father, and kept safe for Jesus.” Jude’s letter is directed to an unknown group of people, but these are people who have been called by God, love God, and have made a commitment to follow Christ. That’s why Jude sees no need to explain who Jesus is or to comment much on what Jesus has done. His words assume they know about the Holy Spirit, the role of the church, the need to live in faith, and Jesus’ promise to come again. We know from church tradition that Jude the Apostle served the church in Jerusalem, so it’s likely he’s writing to one or more churches in that city. This assumption is supported by the fact that so many verses in this short letter make reference to Jewish Scripture and tradition. So, Jude’s letter is written by a Jewish Christian to Jewish Christians; but what is Jude’s purpose for writing?
Jude again gives the answer. It seems he initially intended on writing a different kind of letter, one focused on the salvation they share. But, instead, something is going on in the church that makes it necessary for Jude to write and to appeal to them “to contend for the faith.” There is something wrong within the church – certain “intruders” have entered the church pretending to be Christians, but who are not true Christians. They are spreading lies and creating discord. As a result of their false teachings and negative influence, genuine followers of Christ are wavering in their faith, no longer sure of the truth. Jude’s purpose in writing is not only to warn of the dangers of false teaching, but to remind them that there have always been those who tried to mislead God’s people and turn them away from God. He then reminds them of God’s love, Jesus’ promises, and the power of the Holy Spirit – and encourages them to remain true in their faith. What are the false teachers doing and saying in the early church that is proving so detrimental to the faith of the believers?
First, these infiltrators are ungodly; secondly, they pervert the grace of God; and, thirdly, they deny Christ. They are ungodly because they don’t really believe in God; they live in darkness and are wicked on a par with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities who were condemned when not even ten righteous people could be found who would welcome and offer hospitality to strangers. Jude is seeing, within the church, people who have joined for personal gain or the novelty of something new – but they reject the authority of God, slander the saints of the past, and care only for themselves. Secondly, they pervert the grace of God by feasting and excluding the poor, praising only themselves, flattering people to gain an advantage, looking out for their own interests, blatantly sinning and relying on God’s grace to forgive them, and by grumbling and causing disunity in the church. Finally, he notes that these unbelievers who have snuck into the church don’t believe in Christ as Lord and Savior. They are devoid of the Spirit, meaning that they don’t honestly proclaim Christ as Lord. They deny him by their lives and conduct. They deny him for the sake of their own convenience. They cause division by scoffing at the teaching of the church, even openly doubting Jesus’ promise to come again. Is it any wonder that Jude was alarmed: he was faced with a situation where, for some reason, people had wormed their way into the church, twisting the grace of God into justification for sinning, denying the divinity of Jesus Christ, and drawing others into their beliefs and their behavior?
With all that as a backdrop, Jude, in just a few verses, gets to the point. In vv. 20-23, he says: “But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire….”
From our perspective, over 2,000 years after Jude was written, we can only make assumptions when it comes to the threat being faced by the church by these intruders. Jude doesn’t tell us specifics of who they were or the exact nature of their false teachings, other than that the peril to the church comes from within the church. But there is a clear message in this short letter. Jude believes, strongly and passionately, that Jesus’ words about coming again are true and to be taken seriously. He believes, without knowing the exact day of Jesus’ return, that the days of the church are the last days, the time period between Christ’s ascension and the second coming, and that the Christian faith comes with ethical implications for all believers. Jude believes that with the second coming there will be a judgment day – a day when those opposed to Christ will be, in his words, rebuked by God and for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever. In a world divided by good and evil, Jude looks to what the call of Jesus Christ demands. These intruders are endangering the church by causing disunity, by misleading people into accepting false beliefs, by prioritizing their own desires over the grace of God, and by denying the divinity of Christ. These false teachings and influences are bad enough, from an eternal standpoint, for those engaging in them, but they threaten the faith of believers and those who are wavering in their faith – and Jude cannot tolerate that kind of interference with the faith of others.
So, what is Jude’s message for us today? We don’t have to look far to know that there are false teachers in our churches today: people who believe that following Christ guarantees health and prosperity, people who believe Jesus was a great moral teacher but nothing more, people for whom sin does not exist or believe Jesus is some sort of glorified “get out of jail” free card, people who don’t believe that Christ is coming again or that there will ever be a judgment day. In our world today, you can go online and get differing opinions on just about everything – including what it means to be a Christian. How do we know what’s true and what isn’t? How can we live faithfully without being led astray by false teachers? How do we know who, and what, to believe?
Jude again gives us the answer. He begins with advising believers in the church to build themselves up on their faith. Faith needs to be built on a solid foundation, one that we do not manufacture ourselves. There is a chain, commentator William Barkley writes, in the transmission of our faith; it comes from Jesus to the apostles; from the apostles to the early church; and from the early church to us. Our faith is not a matter of our personal opinion or what seems right to us. Jude describes the faith they, and we, are to have as a “most holy faith.” Our faith is holy because its source is from God and it is laid out for us in Scripture which is inspired or God-breathed. Our faith is sustained by the Holy Spirit and it has the power to transform our lives and the lives of others. How can you know what is true to God? We build up our faith by knowing God’s word. If you don’t read the Bible, study the Bible, struggle with the words of the Bible, you can more easily be led astray by those who manipulate or alter God’s truth. Secondly, Jude says, we are to pray in the Holy Spirit; for guidance, for understanding, for discernment to know what is true. Through prayer we can put everything we hear to the test. Third, Jude says we are to keep ourselves in the love of God. Micah 6:8 gives us some insight into what this means: we are to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Fourth, we are advised to look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Remember, Jude says, who Christ is and what his death and resurrection mean. Wait for the second coming of Christ that leads to eternal life. Finally, as you keep your faith, Jude says watch over others. Some may be wavering; have mercy on them and help them. Some may be attracted by the lies of the intruders; go so far as to snatch them out of the fire. For those who have gone down the wrong path to the point where they are far gone, have mercy on them, but fear them at the same time. Jude says to hate even the clothing that they wear; in other words, he is saying to be careful not to get too close, because their diseased words and thoughts are infectious.
With only 461 words, Jude is the fifth shortest book in the Bible. But the message contained in this little letter is as meaningful for us today as it was for those first century Christians. Beware false teaching. Stay rooted in your faith and help others do the same. Believe in Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life. To God be the glory. Amen.