Sunday, November 25, 2018
And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear.
How many of you are Twitter followers? I have a Twitter account but I'm not very understanding of it, so forgive me if I don’t have this quite right. The way I understand Twitter is that it’s the ability to email the world without having anyone’s email address. The catch is that your message, or tweet as it’s called, can’t be more than 140 characters long. I’d have to send out three tweets just to get to this point in the sermon. Despite that limitation, or perhaps because of it, there are currently 284 million Twitter users sending out 500 million tweets a day. That’s sixteen tweets for every American! People obviously like messages that are short and sweet.
It shouldn’t surprise us then that there are several books in the Bible that are short and sweet, like tweets from heaven. Today I want to look at a one of those “tweets” to see how they prepare us for Jesus’ second coming.
This tweet comes from heaven to us through the New Testament book of Jude. Jude identified himself as the brother of James, and they had another brother, a half-brother that we all know: Jesus. But did you also know that neither Jude nor James were early follower of Jesus? In fact, they were among those who mocked Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God. They eventually became convinced of the truth and James even served as a leader in Jerusalem and was recognized by Paul as one of the pillars of the early church. James went on to write a New Testament book that is five chapters long. Jude, on the other hand, isn’t listed as one of the early church leaders. And although he did write a New Testament book, it’s only 25 verses long. It’s probably a book of the Bible that you can’t remember anything about even if you’ve read it before.
But it’s worth reviewing so listen to how this “tweet from heaven” starts out. “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. 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” (Jude 1-4).
If I were to give these verses a hashtag (#) so that Twitter users would know what the main point was, it would be: #Contend4theFaith. That’s a fitting theme for this last Sunday of the Church Year since it’s exactly what Martin Luther did 501 years ago. He fought to bring to light the biblical truth that we’re saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus and not because of anything we’ve done. The false teachers that Jude had to deal with, however, weren’t denying that salvation is God’s free gift to us through Jesus. No, they keep in mind the fact of the free and full forgiveness but decided that it no longer mattered how we lived. Jude condensed the false teaching like this: they changed the grace of our God into a license for immorality and denied Jesus Christ (Jude 4b).
I have yet to stumble across another church’s website that encourages its members to party it up and give in to their body’s cravings, no matter how sinful, because according to the Bible we’re forgiven so we might as well enjoy life! There are some false teachers outside of these walls who are bold in promoting those lies, and apparently, it’s also seen in others who call themselves Christians.
Listen to what one Christian blogger wrote when he wondered aloud whether or not there’s a hole in our holiness. “We live in a culture of cool, and to be cool means you differentiate yourself from others. That has often meant pushing the boundaries with language, with entertainment, with alcohol, and with fashion. We’ve willingly embraced Christian freedom but have not earnestly pursued Christian virtue. When is the last time we took a passage like Ephesians 5:3-4 and even began to try to apply it [to our fashion choices], to our joking, our movie picks, and to our YouTube clips? Ephesians 5:3-4 says: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be…foolish talk or crude joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. God wants us to be much more careful with our eyes, our ears, and our mouth. It’s not pietism or legalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way we’ve been called to a holy calling by a holy God.
Could that writer be describing you? Are you happy knowing that you’re clothed in Christ’s righteousness through baptism, but don’t care how your wardrobe choices make it difficult for others to stay pure in thought when they see you walk by? Do you treasure Jesus’ gentle words of encouragement and forgiveness, but then use excuses for nitpicking and criticizing others?
If you’re invited to stay at someone’s house for the weekend, that doesn’t give you permission to leave your dirty socks on the living floor for your host to pick up is it. Nor is it the green light for you to invite ten of your friends over to their house to party like it’s 1999 and leave the mess for your host to clean up and to pay for damage done to the furniture or walls.
We would never think of treating a gracious host like that, but we do it all the time to Jesus. He’s invited us to taste His forgiveness and experience the freedom that comes from knowing our guilt has been taken off of us and placed on His shoulders. And it’s not an invitation to shrug those burden-free shoulders at our sin! Oh, we know we should stay away from the “big” sins. We know that abusing the elderly and stealing from our neighbor is wrong. And we can’t figure out how anyone in their right mind can walk up to an unarmed person and shoot them dead. But we don’t notice that that’s what our cruel comments do every day to the very people we claim we would give our lives, to save from a crazed gunman! You can’t embrace Jesus’ forgiveness and cozy up to sin any more than a married man would be allowed to hug his wife while holding his ex-girlfriend’s hand.
Temptation is all around us. We can’t avoid falling into sin! And that’s why Jude is urging us to contend for the faith. Contending means fighting. You know what it feels like to contend for the faith. Contending for the faith is also what you do when you deny the urge to respond with a snappy comeback at someone who has just humiliated you. This contending for the faith is going to go on for the rest of your life. Every minute of every day you’ll need to make conscious adjustments to your attitude the same way you make constant adjustments to your car’s steering wheel even when you’re driving down a straightaway. If you don’t, you’ll end up in the ditch. The same will happen to your faith if you don’t keep contending for it.
Jude doesn’t want you just to be concerned about yourself. He wants you to help others contend for the faith as well. This is how he put it at the end of his letter. Which is also the basis for this message. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear.
False teaching and false attitudes are harmful. And so, warn others away from them, but do it with mercy and humility, understanding that we often fall into the same kind of sins.
Thankfully contending for the faith isn’t something we have to do by ourselves, as if we’re a batter facing down an ace pitcher in the bottom of the ninth inning with two out and two strikes against us.
Jude said in the beginning of his letter: To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. Jude wants us to know that God’s love for us is more than a feeling. His love leads to action, and not just to an action in the past because He sent Jesus to die for us. God continues to love us, and He demonstrates that love by keeping us in the faith for Jesus.
And that’s exactly what God is doing with you right now with this tweet from heaven, these words from Jude. He’s keeping you in the faith and safe for Jesus until He comes to claim you at the end of time. The Father is doing that by reminding you of your savior and assuring you of forgiveness. He’s also empowered you through His Word to keep contending for the faith as you turn away from sin instead of shrugging it off. As Jude said, God’s mercy, peace and love are yours in abundance. So, keep contending for the faith until Jesus comes to claim you. Amen.