Reflection for June 2, 2024



For a couple of years or more I have often used verse two of the book of Jude as a blessing or benediction. We do not usually find the verse used that way. Perhaps that is because Jude uses it as an opening to his brief letter to the early church. And he ends the note with the benediction that is one of the most used benedictions in the church in general. In fact, if it were not for verses 24 and 25, most people would not hear anything from this brief appeal from Jude to contend for the faith that has been entrusted to God’s holy people. That faith does not change even though it is often challenged. But in our day and age, we especially need to give heed to this critical issue.

Jude introduces himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.” It is agreed that he is Jude the half brother of Jesus. But he identifies himself first as a servant. Then he adds that he is a brother of James, who is recognized as another half-brother of Jesus. Now Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during his life on earth. It was only after his death and resurrection that they came to faith in him, and followed him, serving in the church as any other believers. This is understood from Acts 1:14 and Paul’s note in 1 Corinthians 9:5.

After this brief introduction of himself, Jude, addresses the note to “those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father, and kept for (or ‘by’) Jesus Christ.” (v. 1) So, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ and own him as your Lord and Saviour, this is a note to you.

It is at this point that Jude blesses those of us who read this letter. “Mercy, peace, and love, be yours in abundance.” Or, as the NEB says, “Mercy, peace, and love, be yours in fullest measure.” Which is the one I usually us in a blessing or benediction, I just introduce it with the word “may”.

Interestingly, Jude is the only New Testament writer who begins a letter with a blessing of mercy. Paul begins each of his letters with “grace and peace” and some others do not really begin with a greeting. Personally, I would attribute Jude’s use of Mercy rather than grace to the fact that the letter is written as a challenge to those who have misinterpreted grace to mean license and to allow for a gross denial of the truth of Grace.

As sinners, we all need grace, and we all need mercy. In a very simple way, we usually identify grace as God giving us what we do not deserve, and mercy as God not giving us what we do deserve. In a way they are like two sides of one coin. Grace provides us with many blessings, day by day, here and now, and will usher us into all the glories of living in an eternity in heaven with our God. Mercy shields us many times from the penalties of our unwise choices, here and now, and will enable us to avoid all the agonies of an eternity in the pain and terror of hell.

So, Jude begins with praying us mercy, and peace, and love. And all in abundant measure. So, even today, as we read this in a small church on the shores of Georgian Bay, almost two centuries after it was written, accept his blessing of mercy, and peace, and love, and revel in their abundance.

And we have not even got into the meat of the letter. Let us continue reading at verse 3.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Jude had in mind that he was going to write a letter to the Jewish saints about the wonderful salvation that they shared. This is, of course, the same salvation that we share. But he is not doing that. He rather feels compelled to write on a different topic that he sees as critically important at the moment of writing. The letter is thought to have been written during the A.D. 50’s or 60’s. That means it is just a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection at about A.D. 33. And already, according to Jude, it is necessary to write and urge the believers to “contend for the faith that once for all was entrusted to the believers.”

What was so urgent? Certain people, whom he calls, ungodly, have slipped in unnoticed among the believers. They are ungodly, and they pervert the grace of God into a license for immorality. And not only that, but they also then deny Jesus Christ. Now you might ask yourself, how could this happen? How could people who deny Jesus, who live in immorality, just sneak into a Christian fellowship unnoticed? One might think that people in a church who act in this way would stand out like a sore thumb and everyone would notice what they are doing.

And we really do not know, but it was likely because of their initial embracing of grace. They believed the truth and walked in light of the truth. Then over time their understanding, or misunderstanding, about the nature of grace began to change. And that is clearly one of the problems that has faced the church over the centuries. People start out believing the truth and then adopt error over time.

So, Jude, having made the situation in the church clear, goes on to remind them of three stories or events that would be familiar to them in verses 5-7. Stories of folks who had been people of truth who then failed to continue in that path.

Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

What is the point of these reminders? The Jewish believers would know that often people, or even angels, who have been unfaithful to the laws of God pay a price for their unfaithfulness. Jude puts the ungodly people that had infiltrated the early church in the same category and reminds the readers that these are examples of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude goes on to further describe these ungodly people in very stark terms and in full condemnation for their actions.

In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them.

11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

Commenting on this verse, G. Campbell Morgan writes, “The influence of such men is like that of Cain, hatred and murder; of Balaam, seduction and lying; of Korah, envy and rebellion.”

12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

What a description of these ungodly people who had gone from bad to worse. The downhill experience of these men and women, even leaders in the ministry, is rather a terrible downfall. He mentions even people who would be referred to as “Shepherds” who Jude says, “feed only themselves,” That sort of reminds me of Jesus’ mentioning about shepherds that care nothing for the sheep.

I mentioned earlier that we in our generation need to be aware of the reasons why we need to be ready to defend our faith. There is almost no dearly held doctrine of the church that is not under attack.

I was talking to a friend, a pastor in the United Church. He was so upset with his denominational leaders because not one of them spoke out against the United Church pastor who was quoted as saying, “We are never going to grow and accomplish anything as a church until we stop talking about Jesus.”  It seems you can say anything but the truth today.

If we talk of the sanctity of life and oppose Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), we are accused of not caring for the people who are suffering. We are bigoted and hard-hearted. And if we defend the sanctity of life and oppose abortion that is made available for any and all reasons at any point during a pregnancy, we are unthinkably unkind. Of course, a mother has the right to their own safety but that is seldom the reason for an unwanted pregnancy.

More insidious are the attacks on the truth made from within the church. Leaders who live lives of unconscionable wealth and compete with Hollywood stars for mansions and toys and feel no shame and no concern for the ordinary church goers who give generously to support their ego busting pursuit of fame by their leaders.

But Jude focuses his attention on those who have redefined grace to mean license for immorality. And he mentions shepherds. Leaders, who redefine the meaning of holiness and spirituality and living godly lives, so that they are meaningless, and promote everything that God has condemned. And if you ask them about it, they will say you are jealous and a loser.

People who use grace to promote immorality do not pay any attention to Paul’s take on that argument. “What then, shall we continue to sin so that grace may abound?” “God forbid.”

In Romans chapter six Paul writes, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or do not you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

So, what should our response be to all these urgent matters to which Jude calls our attention? It is clear from all that has been said that Jude is not attacking the theology of these ungodly people. That could certainly be done for their theology is deficient. Jude is attacking their actions, their lifestyle, which denies the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by misapplying the fact that in His grace, God is always ready to forgive our sins. Listen to Jude’s instructions.

17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

According to Jude we should remember what the apostles told us. Then we are to build ourselves up in the most holy faith. We are to be praying in the Holy Spirit. We are told to keep our selves in his love as we wait for the completion of our salvation. Keep on hanging on to God’s love for you. Wait for the eternal life that is your promised future by the mercy of the Lord. So, we are challenged to first take care of ourselves by doing the works of righteousness that profit all.

Then we are to be merciful to the doubters. We are to deliver others by saving them, that they might escape the eternal fire of hell. We are to show mercy, just as Christ has shown us mercy. And hate all the sinfulness that surround those to whom we show mercy. We are challenged not just to take care of ourselves but to rescue others from their sinful ways. Only Christ can do that through us.

Jude has taken us for quite a journey. Through a lot of dire warnings, he has encouraged us to remain true in the most difficult times and not only be victorious ourselves, but to be used of God to help others. And he unswervingly makes clear that it is God, who, is able to keep us, and deliver his promises, even in the most ungodly times. He encourages us with these words of praise and victory in verse 24 and 25.

24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

And if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ and have not received him as your Lord and Saviour, you need to be aware that you have no defence against all the evils of ungodly men. You need to come to Jesus in faith and trust him to work his grace in your life. Then you can overcome the evil that is in the world and be one of those who are kept by the work of Jesus Christ.

If you are not a believer, I urge you to get right with God today.

For those of us who are part of the church, one of God’s holy people, take heed to Jude’s instruction on how to keep ourselves growing and strong in our walk with God and to be instrumental in snatching people from the fire.

And be grateful for the assurance of the closing benediction of this book. Rejoice in God’s grace and mercy and for his keeping power.

Ron MacKinnon

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