The Last Sunday after Trinity November 21, 2004
12, 426, 428, 309
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
On this final Sunday of the Church year, we thank our God for His kindness and compassion, and we pray that our good and merciful Father in Heaven would continue to guard and bless his little flock during the coming year. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
It is the end of the church year and a time for backward glances. This morning, however, I ask you to take a moment to look back, but only at the week just past. As you look back ask yourself a few questions:
How many times during this past week did you fail to trust God to be God? In other words, how often did you think or act as if God were less than He really is—as if God were not in control of both heaven and earth?
How many times did you imagine that you had to hold life and limb together with your own worry and effort?
How many times did you place upon your own shoulders the burden of providing for your physical needs? In other words, how often did you make your God too small?
We cannot even begin to count either the times or the ways in which we fail to trust our God. Sometimes we catch ourselves living moment by moment as if God were not in control of all the events here on this earth. We treat God as if He were not capable of looking out for us and for all of the rest of the world at the same time. We human beings almost never truly trust God.
This morning we will focus, in part, on one of the more subtle ways in which we fail to trust our God to be God. Christians often display a perverse tendency to concentrate on what God has not told us in His Word while ignoring what He has placed within the realm of our human understanding. We love to dwell upon what God has not told us almost to the exclusion of what He has told us. The most natural result of dwelling on what we can neither know nor understand is that we begin to fault God for our own deficiencies. We blame Him for not revealing more, explaining more, or using clearer language. Yet the problem really isn’t with God, it is with you and me.
Here’s an example: In the South a homeowner can receive an occasional visit from an armadillo. For those of you who have never seen an armadillo at work, suffice it to say they are digging machines. In a single night they can make a fair-sized lawn look like a battlefield. You have probably all faced one type of yard pest or another. Would you ever consider reasoning with the offending animal? Would you ask him nicely or put up signs with clear instructions and prohibitions? Probably not. The animal simply is not capable of knowing and understanding our form of communication. Knowing that ahead of time, we don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to communicate with armadillos, moles, gophers, and such.
This gives us insight into the relationship between God and man. The problem is not that God has not expressed Himself well enough. The problem lies with man and his lack of true wisdom and understanding. Like the armadillo, the gopher, and the mole, we are just too inferior to God to be able to understand Him as we would like. The result is that God must often deal with mankind as with brute beasts—the whip when we are bad, and the feed sack when we are good. Yet, the deficiency does not lie with God, but with man.
How much better off we would be if we would just let God be God. Instead of spending our time and effort chasing after those things that we cannot comprehend on this side of heaven, why not dwell instead on that which our God has given us to know and to know well? As we end another church year we resolve to be sure of what God has given us to know and do, and to leave the rest to Him. So also we are instructed in our text for today, found in the Book of Jude:
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.
Here ends the Holy Word of God, given by God to us this day for our learning and our growth. Blessed are those who hear God’s Word and keep it. Therefore we pray: “Sanctify us through Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
We human beings can be such arrogant creatures. We read God’s Word and are slow to understand it as we should. Then, instead of placing the blame on ourselves and our own inadequate understanding, we wonder why God couldn’t have written the Bible in “plainer language” so that it would be a little more understandable. The answer is that God’s Word is perfect and perfectly understandable if we would do two things: 1) Study God’s Word faithfully, regularly, and humbly; and 2) Let God be God.
When we sit as humble students of the Word of God rather than self-appointed critics, the Scriptures will fill us with a sense of awe at God’s wisdom and His understanding of all things. Different men were used to write God’s Word in the Bible so it shouldn’t surprise us that different parts of the Bible appeal more to some than others. Different parts touch the hearts of different Christians. Luther finally understood the Gospel through one of the letters of Paul, while countless thousands have been brought to a simple faith by John 3:16. Everything that God does and says is perfectly planned and perfectly true. Like a master chess player, every move not only has a short-term reason, but also a long-range goal.
The point is simply this: God has given us what we need to know and what we are able to know. Instead of trying to discover that which we can never discover, why not focus on what God has revealed to us and busy ourselves with what God has given us to do?
With this in mind, we reread our text for this morning and find there these words: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” [vv.20-21] Here we find the very heart of the Gospel—the key to life eternal itself! Here is the good news for all to see and comprehend, a divine truth like no other, carried into our hearts by God the Holy Spirit.
Jude tells us to “build ourselves up in our most holy faith…as we wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life.” (NIV) Notice that it is “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” that will “bring us to eternal life.” Here is a truth so high and wonderful that we could not accept and truly benefit from it except through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts; and yet, these are not hard words, nor is their message complicated or obscure. The message is, therefore, both a profound, otherworldly truth and a simple, elementary concept—something even young children have no trouble understanding. It is the Holy Spirit, mentioned in our text who has placed this truth within our understanding. Jesus Christ has paid what we owed because of our sins. Though we had rebelled against God by sinning against Him in countless ways, God the Father sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to be punished for that sin in our place. No payment of any kind is now required from us. No payment could be made by us. How could there ever possibly be? The payment was made long before we were ever born. Our eternal salvation relies not on our goodness, but on Jesus’ goodness. Our sins are forgiven!
Here is enough truth from God to last man into eternity. This truth we needed if we were ever to be reconciled to God the Father in heaven. The Bible tells us in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Even so our text becomes all the more dear to us, for we understand all the more that it is only “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ…” that can “bring us to eternal life.”
It is amazing how quickly mankind can become bored with this “Bread of Life.” It loses its taste because man loses sight of just how desperate our condition was without Jesus. Once the hunger is filled, man quickly forgets the suffering that he believes is now in the past. To occupy his time, man now moves to contemplate those things about our existence that cannot be known or comprehended by the human mind. No good will ever come from trying to discover such things.
Those of you with children have probably seen the animated movie, Beauty and the Beast. In this movie, Belle was told that she could go anywhere in a vast castle except into the west wing. Where did Belle most want to visit? The west wing, of course! So it is with man. By not giving us the understanding and the information, God has given us certain restriction as to where we should try to go with our own mental and moral understanding. Yet, man is concerned with exactly those “forbidden” areas. Thus we find mankind not so much concerned with the true way to salvation as revealed by God, as he is with “out of body experiences,” communicating with the spirits of the dead, determining the date of the end of the world, and trying to find Biblical prophesy for every single world event. Indeed it has become so silly today that a Third World dictator can hardly blink without some self-appointed “Bible expert” finding a prophecy “clearly foretelling the event” in Daniel or Revelation.
In the verses preceding our text, Jude describes the unbelievers who lurk within the walls of the Christian churches and who dwell on such things: “These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.” (Jude 1:16-19 NIV)
Our text calls us away from the evil of such men. We, instead, are to dwell on these three: Faith, hope, and love. It is not our knowledge or imagination that separates us from the rest of mankind. It is the faith that has been created in us by the Holy Spirit. That is what is of interest to our God.
If rejoicing in the mystery of our salvation were not enough to keep us busy all the days of our life, God has given us other work to do. Our text reminds us of our own frailty. All of us will have times when Satan powerfully tempts us. We become weakened in our faith. We begin to doubt, to question, to wonder. Our text tells us to “have compassion on some” and “save others with fear, pulling them out of the fire.” [vv.22-23] How beautifully this system works—Christians helping Christians. So also Paul said in Galatians 6:1-2: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When Christians reach out to help those who are, at that moment, weak in one way or another, the whole “body of Christ” is strengthened. This system of mutual help and building up will only work when you and I remember that there is a God and that it isn’t us. Isn’t that really the problem whenever we refuse to ask for or accept help when we truly need it? We act as if we ourselves are gods. Gods give help, they don’t need help.
You and I make lousy gods. Let the one true God be God. There is God-pleasing study and work enough for a lifetime without wandering into the wasteland of human speculation. God has called us to a life of service and He has given us all that we need to know to carry us through to heaven. In God’s Word we learn not only how dangerous and urgent the situation really is on this earth, but just how vital is the role that God has given to us as Christians. Think of it! God has called you and me to serve as His instruments in rescuing souls from eternal death! Such is work fitting for divine beings, but given to us sinners.
Our text concludes: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever.” [vv.24-25] God alone is truly wise, truly glorious, and truly majestic. To Him alone belongs both the dominion and the power forever. He saved you by sending his own Son to die for your sins. Therefore trust God to be God and be content with the knowledge, the comfort, the Means of Grace, and the vitally important work He has given to each of us. So help us dear Lord! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.