This evening we come to the end of the Letter of Jude. We have the final two verses in our sights – that's vv 24-25. If you want to sum up what they have to say – and therefore what I have to say – then the three words of my title will do the job: Glory to God. My two headings are: God is the only source of our confidence; and God is the only subject of our worship.
But before we come to those, we need to remember the context of these two verses. They are quite often isolated from the rest of the letter. For instance, they're used at the end of funeral services. But there is at the start of them a little linking word that is left untranslated in the New International Version. So the full force of them is missed unless they're read in the context of all that Jude has been saying so far.
What has he been saying? It is this: believers are in very great danger.
I was reminded the other day of an incident that happened to me shortly after I passed my driving test. I should have been able to see what was coming because of the considerable struggle I had to get through that test. I had failed one of my earlier tests as a result of turning the wrong way down a one way road. But in the end I got through, and I was elated. I had a great feeling of liberation. I had all the confidence of youth.
I borrowed my parents car and went for a drive in the country. No instructor continually correcting me. No examiner scrutinising and judging my every glance and manoeuvre. It was as if I had a little voice in my ear saying: 'You're free! You never have to pass a driving test again. You're not in any danger of being failed. You've got your licence. You know what you're doing so you're in no danger on the road. And who cares about speed limits. You can ignore the law. No danger. No law. Do what you want.'
I enjoyed that drive immensely. Until on a country lane I was driving much too fast as I approached a bend that was sharper than I realised. I very nearly lost control of the car. I just managed to stay on the road by straying right across onto the opposite lane. As I rounded the corner, I saw a car heading straight for me. I managed to avoid it by a whisker. It disappeared with its horn blaring. I pulled over and stayed put until I'd stopped shaking. Then I set off with a new respect for the law and a big dent in my confidence.
I got off lightly. If the timing had been a few seconds different I certainly would have died, and so would that other driver. 'No danger; no law,' the little voice had said in my ear. But the danger was very great indeed.
Believers are in very great danger. There are voices saying to them, 'No danger. No law.' If those voices are listened to and acted upon, the consequences will be fatal.Verse 4:
For certain men … have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
There is attractive false teaching: 'No danger! No judgement! You're free!' And there is seductive morality: 'No law! Do what you want. You decide. You can handle it. You're grown up now. Nobody can tell you what to do.'
False teaching and seductive morals make for a dangerous environment. They lead to unbelief in the church; to church leaders being abusive about the gospel and about biblical teaching; to scoffing about the prospect of future judgement; to a divided church; to some believers doubting their faith; to other believers playing with the fire of the false teaching and immorality; and to others who had seemed to be believers abandoning the faith all together.
That was the world in which the believers to whom Jude was writing lived. And that's our world too: a world fraught with spiritual danger, with some believers still blissfully unaware; others wounded; and all of them vulnerable. If we were on our own in such a world then the best we could do would be simply to shake with fear.
'So', says Jude in verses 24-25:
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.
This is of course an outpouring of praise to God. But Jude also has an eye on those to whom he's writing. His letter has been full of woe and warning and he's in deadly earnest about all that he's written. But Jude is no pessimist. He sees all the problems that the church faces with crystal clarity. Jude is no ostrich with his head in the sand. But he also sees God. And that makes him a realistic optimist. The brilliance of his vision of God overwhelms the darkness of the situation facing the church.
So what is the significance of this torrent of worship for us? Let's take a closer look at that under my two headings.
First, GOD IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF OUR CONFIDENCE
God is 'our Saviour' says v 25. From what has he saved us? The New Testament in general and Jude in particular are quite clear about that, though we don't like what they have to tell us. Unbelief leads to just condemnation, destruction, and what Jude calls in verse 7 "the punishment of eternal fire". But through Jesus God has snatched his people out of the fire. And what has he saved us for? Verse 21:
Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
We are saved from eternal fire for eternal life. And God is the one who does that. He is our Saviour, and he alone. We certainly cannot save ourselves. And no one else can rescue us. Looking anywhere else for a saviour is worse than a waste of time. Look to God and God alone for eternal life.
So if God can't save us, nobody can, and we're lost. That is the implication of what Jude says. But God can do what it takes. Verse 24 begins:
To him who is able…
God is able. Now that doesn't simply mean that he could save us if he wanted to, but whether he will or not is an open question. It's not only that he has the power to save us, if he ever decides to use it. It's that he will exercise that power. There is no obstacle in God's way, there is no force opposed to him, that God cannot and will not overcome in order to bring those who trust in him to eternal life. He will not fail us.
And Jude spells out precisely what God can do. For one thing, God "is able to keep you from falling". We live our Christian lives in a dangerous environment, full of false teaching and seductive immorality. Will we be able to make it through? Yes, but not because we're sure-footed. We'll get through because God will bring us through. It's quite something having God for our bodyguard, protecting us from spiritual assassination.
D Sowerby, who is on a Christian pony-trekking camp at the moment, was telling me the other day about her horse. He's old and has a problem with one of his legs, and when D rode him he collapsed beneath her.
Like that old horse we are weak and wounded Christians. On our own our faith would not survive the pressures on it. But we are not on our own. God will hold us up and prevent us from collapsing. He is able to keep us from falling. So keep trusting him.
What is more, God our Saviour is able "to present [us] before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy." He will keep his children trusting him until the day when they stand before his throne and see him in all his splendour. And we will not be rejected as we deserve to be, because we will have a share in the blamelessness of Jesus. That will be no merit of ours. It will be all his.
And that will be a day of great, great joy. Imagine collecting up all the joy you've felt and seen in others and all the joy you've dreamed of, and focussing it into a moment like a magnifying glass focussing the rays of the sun. But even that is quite inadequate because this will be a quality of joy that we have never known before: it will be God-directed, eternal joy. No cloud will ever blot out the sun again. How can we be confident of that? One way only: God. God is the only source of our confidence. God is able to bring us to that day. Trust him.
Secondly, GOD IS THE ONLY SUBJECT OF OUR WORSHIP
What person, or what cause, are you going to give your life for? When at the end you look back and the fog clears who or what will you have been worshipping? Will it be money? Or status? Or career? Or another weak, wounded and flawed man or woman? Or some other man-made god as dead as a dodo? Or will it be the living God? Verse 25:
… to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and evermore.
He is the only God. There can be no room for relativism or multi-faithism. No one and nothing else is worthy of worship.
When Jude says, "to [God] be…" all those things, he isn't praying that somehow God will be given them, as if he doesn't possess them already. This is not so much a prayer as a statement of fact.
So that's what we mean when we sing all those hymns and songs, as we are, for instance, this evening:
Glory be to God in heaven…
Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks,
Honour and power and strength
Be to our God for ever and ever…
And soon we're going to end with this:
To God be the glory!
We're not somehow pumping glory up to God as if his tanks are going to run dry without us. It is the very nature of God to shine with the spendour of his glory. Ezekiel was given a vision of God and he said:
… high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell face down…
And the glory of God belongs also to Jesus the Son of God. John 1.14:
We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And majesty belongs to God – the eternal Kingly right to rule all things. And power belongs to God – absolute power that guarantees he will always be victorious. And authority belongs to God. He not only has the right to rule and the power to rule, but he exercises that right and power. He has total sovereignty over all things.
And all this is "through Jesus Christ our Lord."That could mean one of two things. It could mean that we cannot worship God except through Jesus. Or it could mean that we cannot worship God without also worshipping Jesus. In a way it doesn't matter too much which of those is uppermost in Jude's mind here. Both are true, and neither is possible without the other. True worship is possible only through faith in Christ. And any worship that excludes Jesus cannot be true worship. Glory, majesty, power and authority belong to God. They are his by right. They belong to noone else.
"Before all ages, now and evermore" they have been, are and always will be his. None of what Jude says about God is ever going to change. God is not going to stop saving his children. He's not going to take early retirement on grounds of ill health and step down from the throne of heaven. He's not going to go into the office one morning and find that his desk has been cleared, he's been kicked out and someone else has taken over his job.
Christians live in a dangerous and hostile environment. It is always spiritually dangerous. For some it's physically dangerous as well. That is the case at the moment for some of our fellow believers in South East Asia. We must keep praying for them. I recently received a copy of a press release that says that an extremist Islamist group has been announcing by loudspeaker their intention to exterminate all Christians in one town. They are systematically cleansing area by area of Christians, ransacking and burning their homes. That nation’s Defence Minister has admitted that elements of the army are fighting with the extremists. We also the other day received an email from some bible translators we help support who had to flee from there some months ago. They write:
“We have… heard news by Sat Phone that our house there and also the houses of two other colleagues have been burned down along with all the other houses in that part of the village… The attackers were armed with sophisticated modern weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades (which is what was probably used against our house), and also with automatic weapons. There have also been snipers shooting people dead in the Christian areas of the city… The situation there has been appalling, and parts of the island have been flattened. We have come to accept that the house we have rented for 16 years and lived in all of our time there until we were evacuated … (and which our children think of as their primary home) has been burnt down along with most of our possessions… Our plight, though, is nothing compared to that of our friends from there, many of whom have had to flee for their lives from their houses, losing everything they own.”
Is God guarding those Bible translators and all their fellow believers from that country? Is he really in control? Doesn't all this call into question God's glory, majesty, power and authority? Not according to them. Listen to what they say:
“We are immensely comforted and supported by God's presence with us. He has helped every member of our family in dealing with the emotions and sense of loss connected with what has happened. Despite the war, and the horrible things happening, He remains the Sovereign Lord of history, and the time will come when "The Earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea."”
And they sign themselves: "In His grip." They know themselves to be safe in God's strong hands. And they can overflow with praise to the glory of God because they are experiencing the same faith that Jude knew, and that he is urging on his readers.
To him who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only wise God our Saviour by glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore!
And Jude ends: "Amen." In other words, "Yes. Let it be so. I agree." Can you echo that "Amen"? We are in nothing like the physical danger of our brothers and sisters in Ambon. But I believe this to be the case, that we are in an environment that is spiritually just as dangerous, if not more dangerous than theirs. "No danger; no law," is the insistent whisper in our ears. We cannot for a moment afford to be complacent in the face of false teaching and seductive immorality. But God is able to keep us. And God is glorious. And that is every reason for humble confidence in the face of danger, and awe-filled worship as we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus. Amen.