Sunday of the Fulfillment: Jude 20-25: Contend for the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints

We know almost nothing about St. Jude, the author of today’s epistle reading.  In the introduction to his letter, Jude only gives us a few facts about himself.  He tells us that he is a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.  That’s it.  That’s all the autobiographical data he gives us.

It seems that Jude liked his privacy, content to be in the background.  After all, it was Jesus who died on the cross for us, not Jude.  It was Jesus who came to save us, not Jude.  He was simply a servant of Jesus and a brother of James.  That was what his readers needed to know about himself.

Yet, not only might we find Jude to be a bit odd, but also some of what he included in his epistle.  He quoted two books as having authority in the Church.  Yet, those books aren’t even part of the Old Testament, back then or today.  Jude quoted the Assumption of Moses.  That book tells us about the devil trying to claim Moses’ body.  The devil had assumed that God hadn’t forgiven Moses because He wouldn’t let Moses enter the Promised Land.  Jude also quoted the book of Enoch, about God coming with His angels on the Last Day to judge the world.

So, Jude leaves us a bit perplexed.  We know little about him, and his book in the Bible quotes non-Scriptural books as having authority in the Church.  And so it’s not surprising that we sometimes ignore the book of Jude.  For Jude doesn’t fit our assumptions about what is authoritative in the Church.  And, after all, it’s easier to ignore something than have to confront that which makes us uncomfortable.

What we do know about Jude is that he was a stepbrother of Jesus.  For there was only one James prominent enough, in the early Church, for others to know him by first name alone.  That was James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, stepbrother of Jesus, and the brother of Jude.

And what is Jude’s message?  It’s something that God regularly needs to put before us.  It’s something we shouldn’t ignore, even if we find Jude’s letter strange to our taste.  Simply put, Jude urges us “to contend for the faith that was passed down to the saints once for all” (vs. 3).

In the original Greek, “contend” was a word that came from athletic competition.  Jude urges us to contend for the Christian Faith with as much commitment and vigor as an athlete preparing himself for competition.

After all, that is what God has called us to do.  We cherish, protect, and live out the faith once delivered to the saints.  That’s what contending for the faith means.  But Jude doesn’t stop there.  He also fights against false teachers who threaten the wholeness and well-being of the Christian faith.

In Jude’s day, those false teachers embraced the sexuality of the culture.  Isn’t that happening in our churches today?  Those teachers rejected authority, pushing the teachings of the apostles aside.  For they liked their own ideas better.  Isn’t that happening in our churches today?  And they belittled those who were concerned about pure doctrine and practice.  Isn’t that happening in our churches today?

So, there was Jude.  He was so bothered by what he had seen that he wrote a letter to the Church, which would later find its way into the Bible.  Jude fought for proper doctrine and the proper practices that flowed out from that doctrine.  He didn’t want the ways of the world shaping what the Church believed and practiced.

Jude’s message is even contemporary today, isn’t it?  He could have written it to a typical American congregation, tempted by pragmatism to become doctrinally indifferent.  He could have written it to a Church that had the right doctrines on paper, but then measured success by numbers, instead of faithfulness.  Jude could have written his words to any congregation in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, including our own.

So, what’s the problem anyway?  Why was Jude making such a big fuss over Church doctrine?  It’s because he knew that if we become complacent about God’s truth, we would find ourselves in the hands of the Evil One.  For the world, our flesh, and the devil are always chipping away at the truth of God–what Jesus did and does to save us!  Jude knew that.  And so he responded.

For if God’s Word can be weakened and gutted among us, then so will our faith.  As goes the Word of God, so goes our faith.  If false teaching can corrode the pure truth of Jesus Christ, then our faith will also be corroded–even to the point of being no faith at all.

Do you now see why Jude urges us “to contend for the faith passed down to the saints once for all”?  Do you now see why Jude urges us to continue building ourselves up in our most-holy faith?

So then, how do we build ourselves up in our most-holy Christian Faith?  First, we do so by placing ourselves in a setting where our faith is built up, instead of torn down.  This building up of the faith doesn’t happen on Table Rock Lake, as lovely as the lake is.  This faith-building doesn’t happen at a show in Branson, as enjoyable as a show may be.  This doesn’t happen when watching television, as captivating as an episode may be.  This building up of the faith happens in the house of God.

For in God’s house, God comes to us in Word and Sacrament to forgive and strengthen us because of our crucified-and-risen Savior, Jesus Christ.  In God’s house (including Sunday School), we are deepened in the true doctrines of the faith.

To learn the faith once delivered to the saints is to learn the doctrine of Christ, who taught the apostles in person.  That’s why we come to Church.  That’s why we attend Sunday School.  God wants to bring you deeply into His Word.  In these ways, God the Holy Spirit will build you up in your most-holy faith.

Jude also tells us to pray in the Holy Spirit.  What’s that?  It’s praying as Jesus taught us to pray.  After all, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God.  And so, the prayer Jesus gives us is also how we can pray in the Holy Spirit.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that we would keep God’s name holy by teaching His Word in its truth and purity, and by living holy lives according to that Word.  We pray that His kingdom would come to us as He gives us His Holy Spirit, so by grace we would believe His holy Word and lead godly lives.  We pray that God’s will would be done, so He would break and hinder every evil plan and purpose.  We pray that He would keep us firm in His Word and Faith until we die.

We pray that God would teach us to recognize and be thankful for all the blessings He grants to us each day.  We pray, even though we sin every day, that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins or deny our prayers because of them.

We pray that, in the same way that God has forgiven us, we would forgive those who sin against us.  We pray that God would keep us from the deceits of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature so we would overcome these threats to our faith.  And finally, we pray that God would deliver us from evil by giving us a blessed end and taking us out of this sorrowful world to Himself in heaven.

To pray in the Spirit is to pray for the grace that our heavenly Father gives through His Son.  It’s recognizing how weak we are.  It’s also recognizing how formidable our spiritual enemies are.  It’s recognizing how much we need God’s grace and forgiveness as they come to us in Word and Sacrament.

The doctrines of the Christian Faith aren’t abstract propositions that you can take or leave.  No, Christian doctrine anchors you to Jesus, to His salvation, and to His Means of Grace, by which He delivers salvation to you.

Listen to how Jude ends his letter.  “To him who can keep you from falling and present you blameless before his glorious presence with great joy–to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord. . .”

Jude directs you to the One who can bring you to life eternal, to the One who can keep you standing firm in your faith.  Jude directs you to the One who takes your sins away and presents you before God, blameless and beyond reproach.

Only Jesus can do that for you.  Only He has taken away your sins by shedding His holy, precious blood and by suffering and dying.  Rising from death’s grave, in the Holy Spirit, only Jesus reunites you to God the Father.

And God the Holy Spirit unites you to Jesus at the baptismal font, through the preached and taught Word of Christ, and by feeding you with your Savior’s Body and Blood.  In His grace and mercy, God does all that because He wants you to reach the goal of your faith–the resurrection of the body and life eternal.

So, dear saints in Christ, listen to Jude.  Take your faith seriously.  Be serious about what God has done to deliver you from sin, death, and hell.  And by God’s grace in Christ, build yourselves up in your most-holy faith by receiving the heavenly gifts God gives to you in Word and Sacrament.

And so I ask you, “What better way is there to end this Church year than resolving to begin the new Church year anchored in our most-holy faith through faithfully receiving God’s Means of Grace?”  May God in His mercy grant that to each of us.  Amen.