But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 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. Now to him 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 Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:20-25
Flipping through the TV channels the other day, I came up with a great idea for a new program. It would be a half-hour long game show entitled “The Waiting Game.” What would make this show new and exciting is the fact that I would give the contestants their prizes at the beginning of the show. Right from the first minute of air time they would all know exactly what was in store for them at the end of the half-hour. And to make it even more unbelievably wonderful, during the course of the show there would be no trivia questions to answer, no feats of skill to accomplish. No one would be made to sing or dance or act or tell jokes to gain their prize; all the contestants would have to do is simply wait. Can’t you just picture it all! They could sit in really comfortable chairs, or maybe on a couple of sofas. They could sit quietly for the half-hour thinking to themselves, or they could talk to one another if they really wanted to. I think it has real potential to be a ratings giant! What about you?
Well, you don’t have to worry, I already tried passing it by some network executives. They weren’t in the least bit interested. They said the whole thing sounded insincere, like a big joke, and asked me where I got such a crazy idea. Believe it or not, I got the idea from looking at the lives of Christians, my own included. You see, we are all right now at this very moment, playing the waiting game. In these last few days of the church year our focus has ever more increasingly been upon Christ, who has promised to return. We are waiting, as St. Jude put it, for our (21) “Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life.”
Part of this waiting involves getting ready. In the Gospel of Mark for this week Jesus told us to always be ready because we don’t know how long we might have to wait. Jude also points out the importance of this personal preparation. He gives a fourfold exhortation to Christians. First, we are to continue building ourselves up in our most holy faith. We are to continue to go to Church, to hear God’s Word and to receive His Sacraments. Second, we are to pray in the Holy Spirit. The Holy sprit gives us the strength and the words we need to talk with God on a personal basis. Third, Jude tells us to keep ourselves in God’s love. God’s love will never leave us, but we can surely turn our backs on it. Finally, Jude tells us to always keep our attention fixed on the mercy of Jesus Christ which will bring us to eternal life. As Christians we know that the prize is already ours, we need only wait for that final fulfillment of all God’s promises when Christ returns again in glory. So in the meantime, we wait, and we watch, and we prepare.
And yet if our lives as Christians were nothing more than this “Waiting Game,” this drawing in upon ourselves in preparation for the end; we could easily become as insincere as this fictional game show I described to you. This time in which we wait is not a necessary evil we all must endure. If that were so, then God would be like a mischievous child tormenting a cat by dangling a string just out of its reach. Our time here would be a punishment. But, God is not a tormentor, and our time here is not a punishment. Our time of waiting is a gift from a loving God. It is a time in which God calls us not only to be prepared but also to be active.
For as much as our text from Jude calls us to focus upon God’s gifts and promises, it also calls us to use the time left to us to serve others. Jude outlines several groups of people and the ways in which we are to be of help to them. First we are to be merciful to those who doubt. These are our fellow believers: Our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are beset by false teachers, improper expectations, and the temptations of the world around us. We are called to use these last times to build them up in their most holy faith as well as our own.
The second group we are called to serve is in much worse shape. “Snatch others from the fire and save them …” Many people around us are in mortal danger. They have never heard of the mercies of Christ, or don’t yet believe in Him. Our call to serve them is most urgent. It is hard to interpret a phrase like “snatching from the fire” in a nonchalant, “whenever I can get around to it” kind of attitude. This is THE most important and urgent task you’ve been given – one to be done right now, before it is too late.
The final group mentioned in the text is one step beyond the previous two. As with these first two groups, these also are people who we are to treat with mercy. This group, however, also deserves our fear. These are the ones so stained by their beliefs and lifestyles that they are a danger to be around. They are the ungodly, unrepentant few, who outwardly seek to trap and ensnare the righteous. They are the overly worldly, those who have so fallen victim to their sinful flesh even their clothing is stained. But Jude doesn’t say that even these souls can be left alone! We are to treat them with mercy, despite the dangers to ourselves.
This all seems like a pretty daunting task, I will admit. If the prize is ours then wouldn’t it be easier just to keep ourselves safe and prepared, while we wait? After all, our salvation doesn’t depend upon our good deeds does it? Of course not! But just because we are justified it does not mean that we have been given the right to slack off either. We should never boil the Gospel down to little more than an excuse for inactivity. Saying in effect, “Thats OK because I’m forgiven anyway.” That kind of thinking is at best, insincere. The Gospel is so much more than that. It not only sets a hard task before us, it gives us the strength and courage to face up to it. The precious blood of Christ serves not to coat our lives with exuses, but to course through our veins, pumping life and energy into all that we do in His name and for His kingdom.
Just look at the way that Jude speaks about Christ. “To him who is able to keep you from falling, and present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…” Christ is our strength in all that we do. He was here, in the flesh, to take the burden of our sin. He came back in life, to give us eternal life. He is here with us in every deed, to bear us up and keep us from falling. The promise of Christ is not a promise of an easy way out. It is a promise of the strength needed to keep trying. Furthermore, Christ himself is the one who will bring us before God, when our time of waiting is done. None of our actions will help or hinder us in coming before God. Whether we served others well or not. Whether we are able to snatch anyone from the fire, or just get our hands burnt trying. Jesus will bring us and set us down before the Almighty. And as we stand there with Him, we will be blameless, free of guilt and shame, and full of all joy at all that Jesus has done for us.
In these last few days of our church year, and then on into the season of Advent which is quickly approaching, let us continue to prepare ourselves and to serve others. Let us keep our hearts and minds directed toward Our Lord Jesus and that glorious day when all his promises will be fulfilled. That is surely something worth waiting for.