Lent 1b

Preached: March 1, 2009

Keep Yourselves in God's Love
Jude 17-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens us in Jesus is Jude:

Now as for you, beloved, remember the words foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they kept telling you: “In the last time there will be mockers walking according to their own desires for ungodliness. These are the ones who cause division, natural-minded, without the Spirit.

But as for you, beloved, keep yourselves in God's love by building yourselves up on your most holy faith as you pray in the Holy Spirit, awaiting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. And show mercy to those who are doubting. Save others by snatching them from fire. In fear show mercy to others, hating even the undergarment that's stained by the flesh. (Jude 17-23)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

Imagine a castle, strong and secure. The kitchen and pantry overflow with foods of all flavors and aromas. Your bed is soft and warm. And despite the noises of the night from beyond the castle walls, you know you are safe.

This Lenten season as you look on the cross and see your suffering Savior sacrificed for you, know that you are safe in the castle of God's love. What wondrous love! He did not spare his own Son. What amazing love! He gave him up for us all. What powerful love has snatched you and me from the wilds of unbelief and brought us safely within these castle walls. You are safe under the care of God's love, safe through faith in Christ crucified.

But that roaring lion who prowls the wilds longs to lure you out and devour your soul. Jude saw that danger among the Christians of his day. So he urges them: Contend for the faith. Stand firm on God's Word. Hold to God's truth with the steal-grip of faith. Or in the words of our theme: Keep yourselves in God's love. Yes, keep yourselves in God's love not outside in false belief. Don't wander outside the castle walls. Keep yourselves in God's love. Why? Because like in Jude's day earthly-minded mockers have come to lure us out. Keep yourselves in God's love. How? By building yourselves up on his Word. Keep yourselves in God's love. But don't only look to your own individual faith. Carefully help those whom the mockers have tempted. Keep yourselves in that castle of God's love.

A. Earthly-minded mockers have come

1) Where do we find these mockers?

Jude writes, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, 'In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.' These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 17-19).

“In the last times” refers to the time between Jesus coming to die for us and Jesus coming again in glory on the Last Day. We are in the last times. And when Jude talks about the scoffers or mockers, maybe we think of those non-Christians who make fun of us: “You Christians are so backwards for believing that God created the world. You Christians are so intolerant for saying that homosexuality is a sin.” And so on.

But Jude is not so much concerned about those outside who say such things, but those who claim to be Christians. For you see, that's how such scoffers and mockers cause division. Attacks from the outside generally draw people together to rally against a common enemy, but attacks from within cause divisions as people choose sides. Earlier in this letter Jude referred to these scoffers saying that “certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you” (Jude 4).

Sad to say, we see it so much today. Leaders of Christian church bodies, professors in Christian schools, and who know how many others create doubts about God's truth. “Did God really mean he created the world in six regular days or can't we interpret differently? Since God is love and Jesus accepted the outcast of his day, can we really label homosexuality as sinful?” For example, the largest Lutheran church body in the United States refuses to say that homosexuality is a sin.

2) How do they want us to view God's Word?

Now maybe we don't feel like those questions really mock us. They're stated quite gently. But they mock God. For they do not take his Word seriously. Picture a bratty child mocking his elders by repeating their words, but in such a way to show that they don't accept them. “Go clean your room -- yah dah dah dah dah.” But who are we, or who are they, to impose our own interpretation on God's Word trying to make it fit earthly-mindedness? Let God speak for himself. His Word is clear. He makes the way of salvation and his holy will plain, unless you want to accuse God of being a poor communicator. Rather it's our own sinful biases that blur what he clearly says.

And some who twist God's word causing division may not question Biblical morality. They may be right on the mark in moral issues like pre-marital sex, abortion, homosexuality. But they twist God's way of salvation. That certainly mocks him. Some may say, “Only the church and its leaders, like the Pope, can really interpret God's Word. We're saved by faith but not faith alone, since God also requires that we submit to the church's rules.” Others may say, “What good can Baptism do for babies that can't understand? God wants to save us but we need to invite him in and take that first step.” Still others may promise that following God's Word will bring earthly health and wealth and so take the focus off the cross and our heavenly home. They may look very pious, very moral, very spiritual. But, as James says, they “follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 19). Look at all the divisions caused by such false teachings!

Be on your guard. Keep yourself safe in God's love. For such dangers lurk all around us. They are the ones that get the air time under the Christian label. They are the ones that get the publicity and bestselling books. For their earthly-mindedness is in tune with the world. Although they say some things that are good, this just camouflages the errors that mock God and work doubt in our hearts. This doubt lures us out of the castle of God's love. How can we guard against such doubts? How can we keep ourselves in God's love, safely inside his fortress?

B. By building yourselves up on God's Word

1) What is the only foundation saving faith is built on?

Jude answers that “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” How do we keep ourselves in God's love? By building ourselves up on the only foundation on which faith can stand: God's true Word. Only God's Word, his Word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments, calls forth faith from our hearts, hearts that were once dead in unbelief. The most holy faith Jude talks about isn't my personal act of believing, but the doctrine, God's truth, his Word that creates faith in my heart. And by believing God's truth, his truth becomes my very own. The Apostles Paul calls God's Word the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Build yourselves up on God's Word.

For God's Word in Scripture and the Sacraments is the only foundation that stands forever. For that Word is what brings you the message of God's love. That Word drives out doubt. That Word keeps you safe and secure. Even when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, do you remember how he defeated him? He did not use his divine power, but he spoke God's Word, saying “It stands written.” So also God's Word, as recorded in the Scriptures and made visible in the Sacraments, God's Word is the foundation on which the castle of his love stands.

2) Describe our attitude as we build on his Word.

Approach his Word with the humbleness of prayer. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to understand and believe his promises. Approach his Word not as a scoffer but as a humble supplicant, falling before your great Lord and King in prayer. And approach that word eagerly looking ahead to the return of your Lord Jesus Christ on the Last Day when in his mercy he welcomes you into the eternal life of the heavenly kingdom. Jude writes, “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” (Jude 20, 21).

With this humble, expecting attitude, build yourselves up on his Word. For the castle of God's love is built from his Word. His Word holds before you Christ crucified. See the love of God that sacrificed his Son for you. If such love did that while we were still his enemies, will not that love be a mighty fortress around us? See the love of God that brings you Jesus' body and blood to eat and drink. His sacrifice on the cross is for you. His forgiveness is yours. For he invites you who believe to his Supper. This is for you, because of his great love. Build yourselves up on the foundation of God's Word, revealed in the Scriptures and brought to you in the Sacraments.

C. Carefully help those whom the mockers have tempted

1) How can we help those who have been tempted to doubt?

And finally even as we build up our own faith on the foundation of God's Word, we look to see how we can carefully help those whom the mockers have tempted. Jude writes, “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” (Jude 22, 23).

We don't smugly look out the castle windows and laugh at those out there. How contrary to God's love that would be! We want to help. For you see, you can pictures those caught in doubt to be like someone in the moat who can't swim. They have followed the mockers with their doubts and stepped outside. But now they have nothing to hold onto. They're arms flail wildly like a drowning swimmer, grasping at air and foam. Doubt has nothing to hold on to.

But God's truth, his Word, is a life preserver tied to a strong lifeline. Throw that life preserver to them. Speak God's Word. Share his truth. Confront their sin and doubt. Point them to the cross of Christ and his forgiveness. Pray that the Holy Spirit creates faith in their hearts, for faith alone holds on to God's word of promise. See how God can use you to snatch them from the fire and save them from drowning in doubt.

But do so carefully, so that you are not tempted and led astray. Do it with mercy mixed with fear, hating all that is sinful, hating all that twists God's Word. Do it with your faith firmly built on the foundation of God's Word.

What a castle of love! What a fortress we live in through faith in Jesus Christ! You are under the care of God's love. What wondrous, amazing love! Keep yourself and each other in that love.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313