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

Preaching the Impossible

This week I have the distinct privilege of preaching the impossible!  It is “Holy Week,” that week in the season of the Church when we especially focus our attention on the passion of Christ, His suffering and dying upon the cross, and His resurrection on the third day for our salvation.

In reality, I hope to preach this Gospel message every Lord’s Day; that in every text, on every day, we can once again hear that Christ has died for our sins, and has been raised for our justification.

This message never grows tired.  It is full of power to transform lives. This Gospel message can set the vilest offender free from sin and death, can loose the bonds of guilt and shame, can restore the rebel to fellowship and peace with God.

And yet this message, on its surface, is simply impossible.  How can the dead come back to life?  How can the human heart, broken and corrupt, ever hope to change? How can a sinful person ever hope to fully satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God?  “Who can be saved?” the disciples cried!  Jesus’ replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God!” (Luke 18:27).

I recently came across this conclusion from a sermon by D.M. Lloyd Jones entitled “The Wonder of the Gospel.”*

In view of the fact that salvation is of God and therefore supernatural, although we cannot understand it, it holds out a hope for all. “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” It is our only hope. it is the only way. It is the only gospel, the only really good news. It is the one thing that enables me to stand in the pulpit and preach with confidence and assurance. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” and not merely an indication of how men can save themselves!

It is God’s work, and because it is His work, it is possible for all and can be offered to all. Were salvation something human and natural it would be impossible for all, yes, even for those who talk most about it in that way. For it is one thing to talk, it is a very different thing to live and act!

It is all very well to use idealistic phrases and to talk beautifully about love, and, to consider exalted ethical standards and to talk glibly about applying the principles of the gospel to the problems of life. But the question is, Can they be applied? Do those who talk thus apply them in their own lives? Can they do so? And can all this teaching be “applied” to the world? Look at the world today in spite of all this teaching. And what has such teaching to offer to the failures, the broken and the maimed in life, to those who have lost their will-power as well as their character?

Oh! how I thank God that salvation is something which He gives to us, for we can all receive a gift, the weakest as well as the strongest. There is literally hope for all.

“How shall this be?” asked Mary. “Nothing shall be impossible with God”, came the answer.  And in due time Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The impossible happened. And oh! the hundreds and thousands of cases in which that was repeated during His earthly ministry! Which are the cases that the people and the disciples take to Him? Oh! always the most hopeless, always the ones which had baffled and defeated everyone else and all their powers – the born blind, the deaf, the paralyzed, yes, even the dead. The hopeless of the hopeless, the most helpless of the helpless. Can Jesus do anything for them?

“How can these things be?” Can it really happen? “Go and show John again those things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sign, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt 11:4-5). Yes, it happened. There was no limit to His power. The most desperate case was no more difficult than any other, for “with God nothing shall be impossible.” Is that so? Is that really true? Surely there is a mistake! For one afternoon He is to be seen hanging upon a cross utterly helpless, and the people standing near by say, “Others He saved, Himself He cannot save.” So mighty in life, apparently conquered by death! “Nothing impossible”?  And He there, dying, yes, dead and buried in a grave! But wait! He bursts asunder the bands of death and rises from the grave. Even death could not hold Him. He has conquered all; yes, again I say, “With God nothing shall be impossible.”

“But how does that affect us?” asks someone. Well, I am here to tell you that whatever your problem, however great your need, it is still the same for all who ask. The gospel just asks you to allow God to forgive you, to pardon you, to cleanse you, to fill you with a new life by believing that He sent His only begotten Son into the world, to live and die and rise again in order to make all that possible. “How can these things be?” “With God nothing shall be impossible.”

* Lloyd-Jones, D.M. Evangelistic Sermons at Aberavon. (The Banner of Truth Trust; PA, 1983). Pages 203-204.