An Identity Rooted in Jesus

“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James…”
Jude 1

Over the next few installments of this blog, I’m going to be taking a little different direction. Usually, the blog is just a random collection of thoughts, with very little connection from one week to the next. What resulted was a rather scattered, cluttered mess – which, apropos, describes a lot of my life right now.

In an attempt to be more organized, I’ve decided that I’m going to start working through scripture, slowly, methodically, systematically. My hope is not to write a commentary or sermon, but to simply reflect on the passage, soak in it for a while, and hopefully, prayerfully, discern truth in it. If you benefit from reading along in this journey, all the better.

So we begin with Jude. It’s a great little letter, near the end of the New Testament. If you haven’t read it in a while, I encourage you to step away from your computer, find your Bible, and read it. It won’t take long.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

Did you notice how Jude introduces himself, how he identifies himself? 

The introduction of  the letter follows the typical format of the NT epistles: name and credentials of authority. Paul did this regularly, giving his name, then commenting on his call and relationship to the audience. We see it also in James’ and Peter’s letters, while Hebrews remains anonymous and John never introduces himself except in Revelation.

Here, Jude describes himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and the brother of James. 

This is interesting because at the time this was written the only “biblical” James we know of who is still alive is James the brother of Jesus, the author of the epistle James.  That means that Jude would have also been the brother of Jesus. 

So why not come out and say that? If part of the introduction of a letter is the validation of authority, don’t you think that saying, “I’m the brother of Jesus” would carry some weight? Wouldn’t that make you a shoe-in for apostolic authority? 

This is how a lot of the world works. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, that really counts. We drop names in order to bolster our influence, we make connections hoping to advance ourselves.

If you read about the brothers of Jesus in the Gospels, however, you see perhaps why Jude doesn’t emphasize this relationship. Mark tells us that Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21), and John says that even his own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). Imagine, then, the shame that the brothers of Jesus would have felt when they come face to face with the resurrected Lord. It was the resurrection changed everything.

After the resurrection, Jude calls Jesus “Master” and “Lord.” He recognizes Jesus as the Christ. He knows Jesus not simply as the brother he grew up with, but as the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who saved him from his sins and unbelief, and to whom he owes His life. From now on, Jude’s identity is wrapped up in the person and work of Jesus Christ. “Jesus is Lord,” says Jude, “I am his servant.”

Is this how you are identified? That’s a question that gets tossed around a lot today, “How do you identify yourself?” The world says that identity is fluid; changeable, malleable by successes, failures, opinions, moods, feelings, so that it becomes impossible to even begin to know who you are. So much of our identity is established by our work, our accomplishments, even our failures. We let these things define us, and entrap us. “It’s just who I am…”

But here in the introduction of Jude we hear, not just who Jude is, but how we too may be identified: “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Master, I am His servant.

If you want to know my real identity, if you want to see behind the mask that I wear (no, I’m not Batman), here’s who I am. I am a sinner. I have been redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I have been purchased by His blood, redeemed by His cross, covered in His righteousness, secured in His kingdom. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Master, I am His servant.

Whatever else may be said, regardless of your accomplishments and failures, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, your identity is rooted in Him. 

Tune in next week as we explore the second half of this verse in greater detail.

SDG

Wash Your Hands!

Wash your hands, you sinners!
(James 4:8)

The Sayler home has a sign hanging in the main-floor bathroom that says, “Wash your hands and say your prayers, because Jesus and germs are everywhere.”  It’s cute.  And now more than ever, a very timely reminder.

We’re well on into our 5th week of “social-distancing” due to the spread of the Coronavirus.  There are all sorts of community, state, and national efforts to help slow the spread of the infection, but one of the simplest and easiest things each one of us can do is wash our hands.  

I found this picture that shows the effectiveness of handwashing: 

hand washing

My boys and I also enjoyed watching this video on hand-washing:

In short, 20 seconds of hand-washing with warm soapy water is the best way to help prevent getting and spreading viral infections.  While you’re washing your hands, sing a song (Amazing Grace) or recite Scripture or catechism questions, which you can put on index cards and tape to your mirror.

But all of this begs the question, were people not washing their hands before this?  I’m reminded of my favorite quotes of R.C. Sproul, “What’s wrong with you people?”

The fact that we needed to be reminded to wash our hands is bad enough. Then there was a run on soap and hand sanitizer, so that you can hardly find it in stores today. This tells me that some of you weren’t washing your hands like you were supposed to.  What’s wrong with you people!

It has always bothered me that we have to have signs in the bathrooms of restaurants and stores that remind employees they are required to wash their hands. This should just be a given. But then I’ve watched in amazement as people come into a bathroom, do their business, then leave without even approaching the sink. They’re out touching the groceries – argh!

Sorry – Where was I? Oh yeah, hand-washing.

While the text above from James reminds us to wash our hands, we have to remember that’s not really what James is talking about. James wasn’t worried about the spread of a virus. Instead, he was pointing us to a deeper sickness that had infected the Church. James was addressing a worldliness that had crept into the Church, and still lurks in the heart of the church today.  In his letter he comments on an arrogant, selfish, and quarreling spirit that all stemmed from unchecked pride.  This is not what the Church is meant to be, and James unequivocally calls the Church out on it.

Sproul’s video that I shared early relates to this as well.  We tend think so little of the holiness of God that we think his punishment for sin too severe. We then think the peccadilloes that we harbor in our hearts are inconsequential and will be overlooked in the end. What’s wrong with the church if this is our attitude?

James is calling the church to repentance. “Draw near to God” – you’ve been distant from him because of your sin – “and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands” – they are covered in sin – “purify your hearts” – for your love for God has been mixed with worldliness.  

How do we come clean? There’s no amount of hand sanitizer or pumice soap that will clear the stain of your sin. James is pointing us to something else. “Humble yourselves before the Lord,” he says, meaning: repent. Confess your sins to Christ, come clean. Look to Jesus alone for your salvation, your hope, and your peace.  Be obedient to him, for He is your Lord. Let his grace cover you, but also humble you, so that you can love, forgive, and be forgiven.

James is calling us to wash our hands of the stain of sin, that we would live as the true Church of God in Jesus Christ. That is what the world needs now more than anything else: A Church that will live and proclaim the Gospel clearly. The worst part about this viral epidemic is not that so many people are dying (that is tragic enough indeed), but that they are dying in their sin, not knowing the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. May they come to know that grace through the witness of the Church today.

SDG