Epistle: Jude 20-25 (Proper 29, Series B)
While there are two sets of readings for this week, we are going with Jude, though the Revelation 1 pericope could offer a similar and equally powerful sermon. The Epistle from Jude is both an exhortation and a blessing. The liturgical features of the Sunday—the Old Testament from Isaiah 51 and the “Lesson of the Fig Tree” from Mark 13 along with the Introit and, may I say, beautiful hymn selections—will set the context for your preaching on this text. If you go with John 18, I fear that you will be doing most of your work trying to prove why this reading belongs on Second Coming Sunday. The theological locus for the day is “that Day,” namely, the final judgment and resurrection of all flesh. To this day belongs the eternal damnation of all the ungodly and the bodily redemption of all those who have fallen asleep in Jesus and of all those who have waited for His appearing. My goodness, it is a full day of preaching!
It is somewhat rare that preachers get a blessing as a sermon text, but that is what Jude gives us. The genre is entirely fitting for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, especially if your congregation has had a tough year (you know what I mean). This is a perfect opportunity to let the Triune God’s blessing have its way with us and give us what He promises.
We have, again, two parts: the exhortation and the blessing. In that exhortation you have a few beautiful images from which to preach. The main clause is, “keep yourselves in the love of God and wait [participle governed by the main verb] for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life,” but the language of ἐποικοδομοῦντες ἑαυτοὺς τῇ ἁγιωτάτῃ ὑμῶν πίστει, “build yourselves up in your most holy faith,” is an image rich and worthy of further contemplation. Jude exhorts his hearers to build themselves up in their holy, apostolic confession. You may want to pause here to consider whether some of your hearers will, at these words, feel how deeply they have failed to confess Christ. Maybe this is also the place to point out how weak our confession of Christ has been. We would want to avoid either railing against the saints who inwardly desire to confess Christ or railing against the world which does not care about Christ, only to make ourselves feel better. There should be a sense of inner groaning to confess Christ and a recognition that because of our weakness what we desire does not always come out.
The expression “most holy faith” is a special phrase of Jude and reflects the confessional character of the letter (see Jude 3). It seems that the participles are to be taken temporally: while this is going on, do that! “But you, beloved, as you are building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Christians in these latter days need to know what is at stake in confessing Christ, to be sure. But they should also be moved by the beauty of confessing the truth (maybe John 18 works here after all!). Knowing their failures of confessing Christ is clearly necessary. Knowing Christ wants us to confess Him regardless of our failures is also a necessary mercy from Him. To confess Christ is not only for our own good, but it builds up the body of Christ. To pray is not only to pray for ourselves, but to intercede for each other’s needs and for the whole world. This, too, builds up the body. We learn from one another to rely on God’s love alone in a loveless world. Then, as the church is strengthened in her confession and prayer, her members are ready to, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” The tension between showing mercy is tied beautifully to a pure confession of the faith. Let us all learn anew that to be confessional Lutherans means to also show mercy and to sigh for a world that does not know Jesus, that we may by God’s grace snatch as many out of the fire as we can.
The blessing in 24-25 is pure Gospel. However, it is pure Gospel which is communicated in a very fresh way, because it is a Gospel confession of who God is. In a sense, we are blessing God while He is blessing us. Consider someone in your congregation who has suffered greatly and been undergoing a great deal of doubt about their faith or about their worthiness to be in God’s presence on Sunday morning. Think of your most sin-sick sheep on the brink of despair. Then tell that person this (my colloquial translation): “Now to Him who has the power to keep your feet from slipping into the pit and to stand you up before His glorious and weighty presence as totally blameless and so innocent that you will be jumping for joy, to that God alone, our Savior, whose shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Him be glory, majesty, dominion, and power before time ever began, now, and into all ages yet to come. Amen!” By the end of the sermon, no one should doubt who is coming to find them on the Last Day and what that will mean for those whom He has made innocent by His own blood. As the Church Year ends and we move from the Final Advent back to His First Advent, the message is now and will be then, “Comfort, comfort, ye, My people; your warfare is over.”
Concordia Theology-Various resources to help you preach Jude 20-25.