Catch Me If I Fall (Jude)

When our children were young, Sueanne and I would occasionally take them to a playground and watch them play.  And our kids would always enjoy it, but there were times when they would be a little bit timid.  They might climb out onto the monkey bars, but they would say, “Daddy, stay close.  Catch me if I fall.” 

            That reminds me of a story that Max Lucado tells about a time when his daughters were little.  Sara was only 4 years old.  She was jumping on the bed and asked if she could jump into Max’s arms.  She did.  He backed up a step and she jumped again, he backed up another step and she jumped again.  Then her older sister Andrea walked in and Max said, “Jump to Andrea.”  She said, “No way!”  He tried his best to convince her but she wouldn’t do it.  He said, “Why not?”  Little Sara said, “I only jump to big arms.”

            Moses said in Deuteronomy 33, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27).  And I don’t know about you, but that sounds like arms that are big enough to catch us if we fall.

            In Psalm 37, there’s a beautiful passage where the Psalmist says, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”(Psalm 37:23-24).  For me, that’s such a comforting image.  “Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

            There’s a similar thought contained in a passage that we’re going to look at this morning from the book of Jude.  The book of Jude has been referred to as “the most neglected book in the New Testament” and I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment.  I think the reason we neglect it is probably due to several factors.

            First of all, the book of Jude is relatively short.  And there is a temptation, especially here in America, to equate importance with size.  And since this book is short, some people assume that it’s just not all that important. 

            Secondly, the book of Jude is tucked away toward the back part of the Bible and it’s very easy to miss.  If you’re one of those people who does their Bible study by just letting the pages fall open wherever they may, you’ve probably never even noticed the book of Jude.  This is a book you have to go looking for.

            And thirdly, the message of the book of Jude is often viewed as “negative.”  I think a more accurate term is that this book is rather dark, and it’s filled with some heavy topics.  If you like to read scriptures that talk about how life is wonderful and happy and full of joy and butterflies, then the book of Jude is probably not going to appeal to you.

            Jude spends most of his time in this letter warning Christians about false teachers.  He talks about how ungodly they are and how, one day, God is going to destroy them just like he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.  And that message of judgment and condemnation keeps a lot of readers away.  And so, as a result, Jude often gets overlooked by Christians and sometimes even by preachers.  To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I preached a sermon from the book of Jude.

            But Jude is an important book that I think has a much-needed message for all of us.  But, before we get into the text, I want us to take a look at some background material.

            The letter begins this way, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James….” (Jude 1:1).  So, we know that this book was written by somebody named Jude, which is another version of the name Judah or Judas.  But that was a fairly common name in the first century, so which Jude was this?  There are a few possibilities, but we can scratch off a couple of them pretty quickly.

            I think we can definitively say that this is not Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, since he killed himself shortly after Jesus was crucified. That leaves us with two primary options.

            In Luke 6:16, we read about a man by the name of Judas, son of James, who was selected by Jesus to be one of his 12 apostles.  If that Jude wrote this letter, it would certainly carry with it a great deal of authority, since he was an apostle.  But, the author of this letter tells us that he was Jude, the brother of James, not the son of James, so it looks like we can rule out the apostle Jude as the author.

            That leaves us with our third option.  In Mark 6:3, we read about another Jude who was the brother of James and half-brother of Jesus.  You may recall that the brothers of Jesus did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah while he was alive, but tradition tells us that they were all converted following the resurrection of Jesus.  For example, we know that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was a leader in the church in Jerusalem and that he wrote the book of James, so it certainly seems feasible that his brother Jude wrote this book.

            The only question that people have, though, is that if Jude was a half-brother of Jesus, then why would he refer to himself in this letter as “a servant of Jesus Christ?”   And I think the obvious answer to that question is that Jude felt that his spiritual relationship with Jesus was much more important than his physical relationship.


            So, the next question is to ask is why Jude wrote this letter.  We don’t know exactly who he was writing to, but we do know that Jude wrote this letter to combat false teaching in a Christian community where he was considered a leader.

            In verse 3, Jude writes, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:3-4).

            These false teachers were guilty of the same things that the false teachers in 2 Peter were guilty of – they denied Jesus Christ, they were guilty of sexual immorality, and they were motivated by greed,

            And although most of Jude’s short letter is a harsh rebuke and warning against these false teachers that had infiltrated the church, his letter both begins and ends on a beautiful note.  And that’s where I want us to focus our attention this morning.

            But first, let’s take a look at this overview of the book of Jude, and then I’ll be back to take a look at a promise from God that he will always catch us if we fall.

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            Going back to verse 1, Jude addresses this letter “to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.”  Don’t just skim over that verse.  Judedescribes those of us who are Christians as “those who are calledloved and kept.” All three of those verbs are passive.  In other words, that’s not what we do; that what God does.  God calls us, God loves us, and God keeps us.  

            And then at the end of his letter, in verse 24, Jude says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” 

            Notice, back in verse 1, Jude said that God keeps us for Jesus Christ.  And now, here at the end of his letter, he again says that God is able to keep us from stumbling.  Jude both begins and ends this letter by assuring those of us who are Christians that God is able to keep us in a saved relationship.

            Now, here’s why I think it was so important for Jude to emphasize this.  Jude has just written about all the dangers of falling away.  In verse 4, “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation.”  But these false teachers didn’t come from the outside, but they came from the inside.  In verse 12, “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves.” (Jude 1:12)

            And I think the question that would naturally arise among these Christians is this, “If these false teachers have fallen away from Christ, then what about me?  How do I know I’m not going to fall away, too?”  We know that is certainly possible for us to fall away from Christ.  Paul said of the Christians in Galatia, “You have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4).   In 2 Peter,Peter referred to false teachers who had come to know Jesus Christ but then went back into the ways of the world, the same way a pig gets cleaned up and goes back to roll around in the mud.

            And so, it’s certainly possible for us to fall away from Christ.  But that’s not the full picture.  Jude tells us that God is able to keep us from falling.  So, how does that happen? 

            First of all, Jude says in verse 17 to remember. Remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They told us that in the last times there would be scoffers following after their own lusts.  They told us that people like this would come.  Don’t be surprised.

            First, remember.  And then the second thing.  Starting in verse 20, But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:20-21)

            There are four important instructions here, but there is one primary instruction.  Let me give you a quick English lesson to help you to see this.   A verb shows us what we should be doing, but there are two kinds of verbs here in this passage – there’s an imperative verb and supporting participles.

            Let me give you an example – Suppose you were to tell your children on a school morning, “I want you to go wait at the bus stop, holding your books in your hands, avoiding the mud puddles, and watching for traffic.”  Now, there are four instructions in that statement, but there’s one only primary instruction.  The imperative verb is “go wait”.  That’s the primary instruction.  And, as you wait, you need to be holding (your books), avoiding (mud puddles), and watching (for traffic).

            So, let me read Jude verses 20 and 21 again and see if you can pick out the one imperative verb, and the three supporting participles.  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:20-21)

            The imperative verb here is “keep yourselves in the love of God.”  If you want to avoid ending up like those false teachers, you need to keep yourselves in the love of God.  And as you do that, you need to be building up your faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

            But, first and foremost, keep yourselves in the love of God.  God has the ability to keep you, but only if you keep yourself close to him.  Keep yourselves in God’s commitment to keep you.  And the way you do that is by trusting, by praying and by waiting patiently for God to finish the work he has begun in us. 

            You need to do what David did in Psalm 16.  You pray for God to keep you (“Preserve me, O God”). You trust the promise that he will keep you (“for in you I take refuge”).  And then you wait for his mercy.  Trusting, praying, waiting, as we keep ourselves in the love of God.

            And, if we do that, then this is the assurance that we have. “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)

            These two verses form what is known as a doxology.  The word doxology comes from two Greek words: doxa meaning “glory” and logos meaning “word.” And so, a doxology is a “word of glory” or a statement about the glory of God.

            The Bible is filled with doxologies.  We see them throughout the book of Psalms.  “Praise the Lord!  Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!  Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (Psalm 150:1-2).

            Angels sang a doxology when Christ was born, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

            We see them scattered throughout the letters of the New Testament.  In Galatians 1:3-5, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

            Paul says in I Timothy 1:17, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”  

            In 2 Timothy 4:18, Paul says, The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18)

            Here’s how doxologies typically work.  They refer to something that God has done or will do.  And they often identify some of the attributes of God – his wisdom, his compassion, his power.  And then they give God the glory for what he has done and who he is.

            So here in Jude, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)

            Let’s take a look at this doxology phrase by phrase.

1.         He is Able

            “Now to him who is able…”

            Our God is a God of all power, and he has the ability to make things happen.  I heard about a small village that suffered an earthquake.  The inhabitants of that village were very much alarmed.  And the people had reason to be afraid, because that earthquake had destroyed many homes and taken several lives.  But there was one elderly woman in that village who remained calm.  One of the others asked her, “Are you not afraid?”  To which she said, “No.  I rejoice to know that I have a God who can shake the world.”

            We need to be reminded that the God we serve is immensely powerful. He can shake the world because he created this world, and our God has demonstrated his great power over and over throughout the history of mankind.  Whatever comes up, our God is able.

2.         God is Able to Keep You from Falling

            “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling…”

            Now God is able to keep us from stumbling, but only if we do what Jude said back in verse 19.  We’ve got to keep ourselves in the love of God.  If we turn our backs on Jesus Christ, God can’t do anything for us.  God will draw near to us, but we have to draw near to him.

            Paul had the same idea in Philippians 2:12-13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”  I like the way someone has put it.  Keeping us spiritually safe is God’s work. But you can always tell the people he’s working in, because they’re also working. God doesn’t call us to simply let the Christian life happen to us and he certainly doesn’t command us to save ourselves. He calls us into a partnership with him.

 

 

3.         God is Able to Present You Blameless

            “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory…”

            This is the part that I find most amazing.  Scripture tells us that God has a glorious presence. When God’s glory entered the tabernacle, Moses couldn’t go in.  And the Israelites didn’t dare get close to Mt. Sinai because of the glory of God’s presence.  And God told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  The reason we can’t get close to God is because of our sin.

            But, notice what God is going to do in the last day.  God is going to present us blameless before his glorious presence.  When we stand before God, we will be without fault.  And that’s not something that we do for ourselves, it’s something that God does for us.  And when I stand before God without fault, it will not be my doing, it will be his doing.  Because, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away.” (Romans 3:11-12).

            Think about all the sins that you have committed over your lifetime.  What would you give to be able to go back and undo all those mistakes?  What is there in your past that causes you shame and embarrassment every time you think about it?

            If you are a child of God, God removes that sin and he will present you faultless before his throne.  Every sin you’ve ever committed will be forgotten, and you will stand perfect before God’s throne. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).

            Micah tells us that God throws our sins “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).  I heard someone say that when God throws our sins into the sea, he places a sign nearby that reads “No Fishing.”  What a beautiful thought!  That God will take our sins, hurl them into the depths of the sea, and remember them no more!

4.         With Great Joy

            “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…”

            Scholars seem to be divided about this phrase.  There are some who think it will apply to us as we stand in the presence of God.  We will stand in God’s presence with great joy, and I certainly think that’s true.

            But I tend to agree with those who think this phrase “with great joy” applies not to us, but to God, and that makes this promise even more amazing.  The idea is that God will keep us from stumbling and he will bring us into his presence blameless, and he does all of this “with great joy”.

            And I don’t know why that hits me so hard, but it does.  It’s amazing enough that God would send his Son to die for our sins, and that God would forgive us, and that he would welcome us to be a part of his family.  But to realize that God doesn’t do all of that reluctantly, but he does it with “great joy” just absolutely boggles my mind.

            But, of course, this promise is only for those who are in Christ.  As we saw last week, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).   But those who are in Christ, God will present before his throne, not only without fault, but with great joy.

5.         Words of Praise

            And then to close out this doxology, we have these words of praise, “…to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” 

            It’s only right that we would ascribe to God glory, majesty, power, and authority, because our God is able to do something absolutely incredible.  He is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us faultless with great joy before his throne.

            Jesus told us that we all need to become like little children, and so, my prayer is that I can learn to be like my children on the playground.  When I get afraid and feel like I’m going to fall, I need to learn to say, as my children did, “Father, stay close.  Catch me if I fall.”  And may I always have the kind of faith in my heavenly Father that my children had in me, to have the assurance that whenever I fall, he always will catch me.

            “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” 

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