Well I wonder if anyone here today knows what chalara fraxinea is - chalara fraxinea? I don’t see any hands up… Ah!… somebody said it!… ash dieback. Wonderful! I knew that Jesmond wouldn’t let me down. And ash dieback is that fungus leading to leaf loss, bark lesions and eventually to the die-back of the whole tree. It is spread by spores, difficult to contain, and apparently it is usually fatal for the tree. I am told that it was first discovered or seen in 1992 in Poland but by 2009 it had spread to more than twenty European countries. And in that same year, in the United Kingdom concern was first expressed by the Horticultural Trades Association responsible for trees being shipped in, bought from plantations in Europe. But their concerns were ignored, and by February 2012 it was first seen in the UK and by the autumn it had spread to a large number of counties. It is now a serious issue affecting the whole of our countryside and our landscape.
Well it is very easy to think that something is not our problem, and then a few years go along and suddenly it has become our problem, and it is a serious concern affecting everyday life. And it is indeed exactly the same with something that is far more serious than ash dieback, and that is the problem of false teaching, and the spread of views that do not take seriously the authority of the word of God and what it reveals about the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what has been seeping through the system in the west over many, many decades. It is something that is more toxic than ash dieback, and it is something that within Christian circles can so easily affect all the air that we breath.
And so what do we do with a situation when the Bible itself is not being recognised as an authoritative voice within our denomination, within the west? What sort of things do we need to do? Well we need to go back – back to the Bible itself, and indeed back to a book such as Jude, because Jude will tell us exactly what to do. So I have three headings, and the first is very simply:
We have a great salvation, vs 1,2
Jude introduces himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James”. In fact he is also born of Mary a brother of Jesus Christ, but humbly describes himself simply as a “servant”. And he rejoices in three things in verse 1 that are true for every single believer here. He rejoices in the fact that we “have been called”, that God has called us, in eternity in Christ, to be part of his people. Imagine that you get a phone call - somebody calls you up. Perhaps you are a youngster here and they call you up to see if you can play in the football team, the five aside, after work or after school. Or somebody calls you to come along to this particular special event that is happening. You feel so privileged perhaps to receive such a call, but we have received a call from none other than God our Father, who speaks to us through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But more than this, for that has happened to many believers in the past. We are also beloved in God the Father, loved in God the Father. Now what does that mean? Perhaps picture a park, and there are swings and roundabouts and all sorts of things. And there is a little one just trying to get on a roundabout or something, and they fall over and there are tears, and immediately they spring up and dash over to Mum. And they are enfolded in the skirts of Mum as she looks after her own child. And so it is that believers are able to rejoice in being loved in God the Father, the one who is concerned and cares for us, the one who we can run to amidst all the struggles that we experience in our lives. That is something for our present experience.
But then we turn to the third of these things, called, loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ, a reference to something in the future. We belong to Jesus Christ and one day we will be claimed. Perhaps you are a parent here and you decided to get a bike for one of your children at Christmas time. And perhaps you got yourself organised and you went to the bike shop in October and you bought a bike. You paid for it – but they would keep it until the 22nd of December. It was kept for you. And yet although it was still at the bike shop, it had your name written on it, and one day it was going to be delivered to you. And as it were, the Lord Jesus Christ one day will receive every single believer, that we might see Him face to face. What a glorious prospect! Secure now in the knowledge that we are those who have been purchased and are kept, that at the end of our earthly pilgrimage we will see the Lord Jesus Christ. What a glorious salvation it is – past, present, future! Called, loved and kept! And this is the thing that Jude revels in. He delights, verse 2, in God’s mercy and peace and love. And so no wonder, when he gets to verse 3, he says ‘Beloved, I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation’. Jude is excited by this. These aren’t just points that he can tick off on a tick-list. ‘Oh yes got this, got that, got that, …’ as you go round the shops and tick off your list. No! No! This is something that he is passionately excited about and longs to convey to any who will listen, and especially to those to whom he is writing. Jude is excited by the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And on this 40th anniversary of David’s ministry, it is very clear that David has been excited by the gospel and has longed that mercy, peace and love be multiplied within this city and beyond. Twenty years ago or so he produced this book Ready, Steady, Grow which I read many years ago to my profit. It is a book which is passionate about multiplying the believers, about seeing the church grow, because it is focussing on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And indeed Richard Clayton, in whose memory, this church was started to remind people about this glorious gospel that Richard Clayton had preached in nineteenth century Newcastle had that same vision. And are we, in our generation, those who are similarly excited about the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we those who have been called, and who sense that wondrous privilege of being called? Are we those who know today what it is to be loved in God the Father? Are we those who have confidence that we have been marked out from nothing of our own but through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we have been kept that one day we will meet with our Father and with our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we excited about this glorious gospel?
But we must go on, because Jude goes on and says ‘Yes, the gospel is tremendously exciting’ but, point two:
There is a great danger, vs 4.
For what has happened? Certain people have ‘crept in unnoticed’. They have infiltrated. Imagine a burglar planning to break in while everybody is watching Downton Abbey on Christmas day. They infiltrate. They get in, slipping in by the back door. They are unnoticed. Of course they are unnoticed in order to try to do their work. And it is so easy within the church. We focus on what is happening in our parish. We focus on getting the gospel out. And within the denomination as it were, unnoticed people are creeping in, getting ordained, getting into this position. But they are there with a different gospel. They are there without respect for the authority of the word of God, the scriptures. And so we have wolves in sheep’s clothing who slip in. And it is a warning that Paul often sounds out within his own writings in the New Testament.
And what were they teaching? Well it says that they were perverting the grace of our God into sensuality and denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. They were twisting things. Perhaps think of a cartoon character, and they have got a gun, and somehow in the cartoon this gun is then twisted back and facing in a completely different direction. They are aiming in that direction and yet the bullet goes in a completely different one. And so it is here that the grace of our God according to Paul in Titus 2:11 is to teach us to say, ‘No!’ to ungodliness. And yet what was happening here was that that had been twisted so that the grace of our God was to give permission to sensuality, to living a sinful life. The complete opposite of what the grace of our God is designed to do. It was twisted.
The truth was also twisted as we see in verse 4 as well. You see these leaders no doubt believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course they did, but not as their only Master and Lord. ‘Yes I will listen to Jesus and follow His word – I will also listen to the world and follow it’s advice and go along with the spirit of the age because we need to listen to these things’, they might argue, ‘in order to make Christianity relevant to our particular generation.’ But if you are listening to the word and you are also giving equal value to listening to what the world says, well that will be a denial of Jesus as our only Master and Lord. It will be twisting the truth. I know that people up here are passionate about Newcastle United, but just imagine in the January transfer window, and there is a player somewhere else in the Premiership and they are wondering whether they will get offers from both Newcastle and Sunderland. But they can’t play for both! A choice needs to be made! And so it is with for these teachers. They were trying to go with both. And that was a denial of Jesus as our only Saviour and Lord. And what will happen? Well we see as we go on to verse 12 and 13. It says there that these are hidden reefs at your love feast; they are waterless clouds swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn; they are wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars. All these images are images where something is promised but nothing is delivered. A waterless cloud in a dry country promises much but it is waterless. It doesn’t actually help. A fruitless tree that blossoms in the spring but there is no fruit at the end of the day. And this wave, lots of noise, but just lots of foam and detritus left on the beach. ‘Know what happens when such people’, says Jude, ‘get in charge of the church, is that we find they might promise relevance. They might promise “This is the way to build the church”. But it delivers nothing’. And has that not been exactly what has happened in our denomination over recent decades with all the various changes to make us more relevant? But actually it has been a betrayal, a twisting in all sorts of ways of the truth. And today again as we think of David’s fortieth anniversary, we are grateful for his ministry and this book, Church and State in the New Millennium that David wrote thirteen years ago. In many ways it was prophetic, because the chapter headings, when you go through them, you realise that these are all issues that David was able to see all those years ago, that are actually much more issues for our own day, and they highlight the many many, ways in which our church seems to have lost its grip on the authority of the word of God. David in his coloured supplements month by month has again so often given evidence of wisdom in being able to analyse what is actually going wrong. And therefore we thank and honour him for his biblically informed analysis, wide ranging, acute, and we need to be those who are aware of the dangers within our society, within our church, of what happens when it is led by people who pervert grace and twist the truth. So what is the answer, well point three:
We are involved therefore in a great battle v3.
What does it say? It says in verse 3, ‘I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’ We need to recognise that we have been entrusted, that the faith, the body of teaching that we have in the scriptures has been delivered to us. It has been entrusted to us and we are to be those in our own generation who look after it. Just imagine that your neighbour goes on holiday. They deliver you the key and entrust you with the house. It’s no good when they get back after two weeks and you have sold a bit of the front garden and you have let some squatters in and all the rest of it. You have to preserve it, to look after it, and deliver it back. And so it is that we in our generation have been entrusted with the truth.
It has been delivered to us once and for all, and therefore we are to be those who, in the words of Jude, ‘contend for the faith’. It is a word that conjures up ideas of athletics or of the rugby scrum. It is a word that is a picture of effort, energy – yes, sometimes of conflict, sometimes of getting wounded for not letting go, contending for the faith. And therefore Jude is saying to the believers way back then, it is their duty whether through prayer, through teaching, through Godly living, through involvement within the denomination, whatever it takes, to speak the truth in love, to hold on to this faith that has been delivered to you. And today again we are grateful for David’s ministry faithfully contending in the church over the last forty years; General Synod, Reform, through the Christian Institute. And he is an example for us also to stand firm and hold on to this precious deposit of the gospel that has been entrusted, not just to church leaders but to every single Christian. And therefore perhaps in our work places, when we are tempted to take the easy way out to go with the flow, we are to contend there, to hold on to say there, “…no, but I do believe this, this is what the bible says.” That this is what is taught in our church. Wherever it is we are to contend there, whether it is at the school gate, we are to be those who are similarly holding on to the gospel, and holding on to what the scriptures say.
Then perhaps as we come to a close, we started by reminding ourselves of something that crept in unnoticed as it were, like ash dieback, and we suddenly wake up to a serious issue. And here Jude is pointing out the issue of church dieback, something that we have experienced in the west over many decades now, and which is something that we must take seriously as we look to the future. We have a great gospel, but there are great dangers and therefore whether we like it or not Christians are plunged into a great battle. And therefore can I simply ask these questions as we close?
Will you pray for a renewed excitement about your salvation?
Will you pray for a renewed understanding of what it means to be called, to be loved, and to be kept for Jesus Christ?
And will you pray for wisdom about the dangers of drifting away from the scriptures?
And will you pray for courage, courage to face all the battles in our secular society, all the battles in our denomination?
Will you pray for those like David and others who are involved in this battle in a public way?
Will you pray for each other and for yourself that you also will contend for the faith that has been specially delivered to you.
And now, ‘To him’, as Jude says, ‘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 Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority before all time now and for ever! Amen’