This Sunday marks the last Sunday of the Church Year. Endings are often cause for reflection. To be sure, this past year has given us much to ponder. Personally, I have come upon a rather unsettling development in my adult life. You see, for most of my life, I have been a night owl. I love staying up late and reading a book, bingeing Netflix, or having a drink and extended conversation with my bride. But lately, something has changed. You see, after 9:00 PM I can no longer stay awake to the end of any TV show or movie I watch. Show comes on and I am out. It does not matter how exciting, funny, interesting, or educational, they all sound like lullabies to me! So, as I reflect on my year, I think about all the movies, TV shows, and conversations I have missed because I cannot stay awake.
On this last Sunday of the Church Year, however, we hear our Lord exhort us to the opposite of this. Rather than looking back and dwelling on the past, Jesus calls us to look forward to His coming in a manner opposite of my position on the couch. We are to look forward and stay awake! He writes, “Be on guard! Stay awake! For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33). Jesus is telling you today that the end of all things is coming, and this is no time to fall asleep on the couch! After all, you do not know when He will arrive! It is like He is on His way to Thanksgiving dinner from Los Angeles and stuck in traffic. You know He is coming, but there is no telling when! So, get the table set, because you know He will be here, it is just a matter of when.
As we await His return, we are constantly tempted away from vigilance. We are tempted to sleep. The waiting can seem so long, and my eyes are so heavy, and the world is selling me a really soft pillow. Our watchfulness wanes. Our zeal falters. Apathy may be the greatest temptation the Church faces in our day. We let our guard down, snuggle up on the couch, and turn on Netflix instead of doing what is necessary to stay awake. I mean, it is taking so long, and I am tired of waiting, tired of fighting. I am kind of just ready to give in and sleep.
When apathy arises, the Church is susceptible to attacks from without, but more so, within. False teaching and division are constant threats which seek to convince the bridesmaids they need not worry about having oil-ready lamps (Matthew 25:1-13). Just before our reading from Jude, he reminds us of the Lord’s warning that, “‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 18-19). False teachers have arisen in the Church to lead the sheep astray. Jude is clear, they will seek to lull the Church to sleep by teaching them to follow their passions rather than the Word of God. False teachers seek to put the Church into an antinomian coma wherein she embraces sin like a teddy-bear.
False teachers seek to put the Church into an antinomian coma wherein she embraces sin like a teddy-bear.
In light of this, Jude exhorts us to stay vigilant. He keeps our eyes open by shining the light of Jesus into our ears. Just as Odysseus had to rescue his soldiers from the island of lotus-eaters, so Jude comes to a lethargic church, self-indulgent church with the force of God’s Law and Gospel to wake us from our slumbers. He opens our eyes to, “The mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 21). What is more, he shows us there are others with us in the Church who are harried by the same temptations. He wakes us from our slumbers to drive us to love those who are facing the same temptations. “And 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” (Jude 22-23).
The only solution to the slumber of sin that would leave us ill-prepared for Christ’s return is to have our eyes fixed on Jesus for our salvation and on our neighbor in love. He alone is, “...able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy” (Jude 24). It is only Christ who can keep us awake!
A good structure for preaching this text is the Problem/Solution structure. The trick here is that the assigned reading only presents us with the solution. The problem is found in Jude 17-19. He warns us of false teachers who will infiltrate the Church as we await Christ’s return. In Jude’s church, they came with an antinomian doctrine, teaching the congregation to worship their desires rather than Jesus. Much like in our own day, people were told their feelings were lords, not servants, and had to be obeyed. To keep us from self-indulgent “belly-gazing,” Jude fixes our eyes on Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Selfish idolatry and self-indulgence find their remedies in faith and love. So, Jude points us to Jesus and our neighbor. For the first part of the sermon, you could contrast the self-serving life promoted by the false teachers and the life of faith given by Christ. You might contrast self-reliance with praying in the Holy Spirit, staying in the love of the world with staying in the love of God, and embracing the vindictive bitterness of the ego with waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus that leads to eternal life.
Selfish idolatry and self-indulgence find their remedies in faith and love.
Then, show how this faith works itself out in love for our fellow saints. All of us endure the assault of false teaching together. What is more, we are all prone to fall for one lie or another. Thus, we need each other to keep Christ placarded before our ears. So, when brothers and sisters begin to stray, it is incumbent upon us to show mercy to the doubting and preach the saving truth to those who have wandered too close to the flames fanned by false teaching. Not only for ourselves, but we must fight for the truth of God’s Word for the sake of our weaker brothers and sisters, just as we need them to do for us.
Conclude the sermon by preaching Jude’s glorious doxology and the promise that Christ alone can keep you from stumbling. Be sure you preach the Gospel to that end. Give them the only One who will sustain them into life everlasting.
Christ in the Text
The doxology at the end of Jude gives glory to God in truly enthralling terms. You cannot help but be caught up into the grandeur of our God. This doxology praises God for His, “Glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 25). As glorious as this all is, it is terrifying for the sinner until they realize this One so glorified is also known as the God who is “our Savior.” He is the God who sent His Son to be “our Lord.” God, in other words, is most glorified in the sending of Jesus to be the Savior of sinners. And it is this Savior whose Word is the only saving truth. Only by the preaching of this Savior for your congregation will they be kept awake for the coming of our Lord Jesus. It is the preaching of the Word which sustains us into life everlasting, by grace alone. Fix the drowsy eyes of your congregation on the salvation promised by this glorious, crucified Lord.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Jude 20-25.