Build Yourselves Up (Jude)
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. (Jude 20-21)
Jude, Jesus' brother, encourages you to "build yourselves up in "your most holy faith" (v20). Jude writes his epistle to Christians throughout the world. It is chock full of evangelical counsels for the promotion of the one true faith in God to be stored in our hearts so that we are "kept for Jesus Christ" (v2). This is the only way we can fulfill Jude's exhortation to "build yourselves up." We are to build ourselves up in faith. We don't build faith. Only God does that. We build on the foundation of faith, to make it stronger, to reform our lives according to the Holy Spirit's guidance [Oecumenius, Commentary on Jude]. To do so, Jude gives us three spiritual practices and habits whereby we might build ourselves up in the faith:
- Pray in the Holy Spirit
- Keep yourselves in the love of God
- Wait for Jesus' mercy
Why does Jude feel the need to give us these admonitions? Each of us is clothed with a "garment stained by the flesh" (v23). Stained by the lusts of the flesh [Maximus the Confessor, Catena]. Bearing the righteous and unrighteous marks of our life. Our sins stick to the garment like sweat stains in the armpits of our shirts as we work hard on a hot summer day. Jude says we're to hate this garment. Not hate the body as the Gnostics. They believed everything material is inherently evil. Hate the lusts of the flesh that stain our garment. This garment was given to us in our Baptism. Building up comes by preaching and teaching in the Holy Spirit [Oecumenius, Commentary on Jude].
The first sanctified practice to "build yourselves up" is to "pray in the Holy Spirit" (v20). Moved by divine inspiration to ask for heavenly help, we receive the good things which we cannot obtain on our own [Bede, On Jude]. No ordinary prayer. The prayer of faith. Firmly believing God will answer. Prayer about the Redeemer's name being praised by "all that dwell below the skies" (LSB #816).
The readings for this Last Sunday of the Church Year remind us about the great Last Day when Jesus will return. We pray for the persevereance to continue to remain steadfast in the "most holy faith." We pray for the strength to flee temptation as we battle the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh each day until His return. Most of all, we pray for His grace not to look at our sins but look to His own suffering, death and resurrection that bought the forgiveness of sins. The Baptism that applied it all to you. The death into which you were buried. The life you received. The resurrection guaranteed to you. Baptism envelops you in God's love.
Now Jude encourages you to "keep yourselves in the love of God" (v21). We keep ourselves through the prayer for persevereance. "The saints, who here in patience their cross and suff'rings bore, shall live and reign forever" (LSB #515.3). We cannot do this on our own. We cannot bring ourselves into the God's love. We cannot keep ourselves in it. We are in God's love because of Jesus. The Holy Spirit granted us faith by grace. By this grace we were elected to salvation. A condition where Jesus says, "No one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28). We rejoice in faith. Regardless of the stains on our garment, Jesus forgives those He has redeemed. Jesus daily washes our garment clean. Being saved by grace through faith, we persevere the struggles of this world.
Persevere is such a big word, but it simply means to "wait for Jesus' mercy" to manifest itself (v21). We long for Jesus to show His mercy to us. Jesus' mercy shows itself in many and diverse ways. We cannot always see nor do we always notice. When we pray for Jesus' mercy to appear, we generally talk about His appearance at the end of the age. We look forward to the time when He will come, descending on the clouds (Acts 1:11; LSB #336.1).
But these admonitions from St. Jude come to us on the Last Sunday of the Church Year to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming Church Year. Through the Church Year, we relive Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection. Not only understanding the stories, believing that He did all these things for you. Jesus was born for you. Jesus lived for you. Jesus died for you. Jesus rose from the dead for you. Jesus still bears the scars from the crucifixion for you. "With what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars" (LSB #336.3). Jesus' mercy through these scars caused Thomas to declare Him to be both Lord and God (John 20:28). Jesus has manifested and continues to manifest His mercy through these scars. These scars are the fulfillment of Jude's desire for all believers when the Last Day comes.
On the Last Day, Jesus will present the Church to Himself as His blameless Bride. Not a lackluster presentation. A presentation "with great joy" (v24). In Revelation, St. John sees Jesus present the Church to Himself on the Last Day (21:9-11):
- Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
This glorious appearance of the Bride is Jesus presenting His people to Himself. St. John continues to describe the new Jerusalem in terms of magnificent and flawless precious stones. Jesus' glory and the glory of all His saints are so great that John has to use the things that are considered most beautiful and flawless and say, "This doesn't compare to its true beauty. It's like this only much better."
That's how we describe ourselves as Christians. We're like Him because He became like us. We trust in His promises that through Baptism His righteousness has been given to us by faith. May that faith continue to enrich your heart, soul and life as we go from this year to the next. In His grace, Amen.