July 23, 2023
Against the dark and dangerous backdrop that Jude depicts in the earlier portion of his letter, just how will believers make it safely to the Christian life’s finish line? Jude’s concluding verses answer this question, assuring readers of God’s faithful work in their lives. Alistair Begg reminds us that God’s great work—namely, His preservation of, presentation of, and jubilation over His people—is at the very heart of the life of faith. We are kept for God by the work of Christ, and He is our eternal joy and lasting treasure.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, we stand before you in the awareness that our need is great—greater than we understand. And we thank you that your Word matches, supersedes our longings, answers our cries, corrects our flaws, endears us to your truth, and conforms us to the image of Jesus. Help us as we look to the Bible now, that much of this may be at work in us and to us and through us. For Christ’s sake we pray. Amen.
Well, let me encourage you to turn to Jude. If you’re visiting with us, we’ve been studying this for some time. We’ve come now to verse 24, which reads as follows: “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…” Well, that’s our text.
There has been a fair amount of conversation in the press lately, I’m sure you will have noted, about whistleblowers—about what a whistleblower is, about how dangerous it is to do and how often they’re on the receiving of all kinds of allegations. I suppose it was that in my mind that as I was driving around this week, I said, “You know, in one sense, Jude was actually a whistleblower.” He was, if you like, a theological whistleblower or an ecclesiastical whistleblower. He was identifying for those to whom he wrote the existence of error in their ranks. People, as we’ve discovered in studying this, had “crept in unawares,” and he identified this as a clear and present danger. And as a result of that, he has written this letter in a way that takes on the challenge and seeks to encourage people to be alert to the problem. He blows the whistle.
His readers, we found from the very beginning, are those who are in Jesus Christ. They are the “called,” the “beloved [of] God.” They are “kept for Jesus.” They are on the receiving end of the abounding love and mercy and peace of God himself. And that’s how he had begun in verses 1 and 2. The body of the letter, then, as we have discovered, has been taken up with showing how the ungodliness, the blasphemy, the immorality of what is then present in these congregations actually mirrors events that had taken place long before. And he has used those events in the course of his letter to make that point forcibly, allowing us also to recognize that just as that was true way back then and as it was true in the context to which Jude wrote, so we are not immune to it in our day. And we recognize that the church at this point, in the Western world particularly, is in danger of these very same things.
Now, once he has done that—informed them of the predicament—he then went on to give them directions as to what they should be doing. And we spent time on that from verse 20 to 23. He has said to them, “I want you to keep yourselves, to stay alert, to have mercy. You know that the scoffers have been predicted, and make sure that you do not succumb to their insinuations.”
Well, that was then in a whole series of imperatives, actually, in verses 20, 21, 22, and 23. If you like, he’s been saying, “This is your work,” as the readers. And then, in verse 24 and in 25, he’s going to remind us, assure us, of the work of God.
And in this way, the letter, if you like, comes full circle. He returns to where he’d begun: “God keeps you. You need to make sure you have a part in this. But if you’ve been vacillating at all, you should be absolutely certain about the presence of God and the work of God.” And so verses 24 and 25 are essentially a doxology. They’re not really a benediction. It’s an expression—a reminder, if you like—of what is at the very heart and center of the Christian life.
And as we come to these two verses, it confronts us, I think—should confront us—with the question: Just how are we doing? How are we doing in this great adventure of the Christian life? Those of us who have taken seriously the call of Jesus to repent and to believe the good news and have become his followers, I wonder, can I ask you: Do you ever feel like quitting? Do you ever find yourself somewhere along the line saying, “You know, maybe I ought to make a run for the border. Maybe there is a place for just lying down in the grass.” In the great cross-country run, if you like, of the Christian faith, do you ever wonder if you’re going to make it to the finishing line? And if so, how will we make it to the finishing line? How will we be able to breast the tape, run right through, continue to the end?
Well, that is the encouragement that comes in verse 24: “Now to him,” he says—well-known verses. In fact, if people know only a couple of verses out of the letter of Jude, then they will know these two. And often you will find that they’re preached on their own without any reference to the context. That’s not illegitimate to do. We’ve chosen not to do that. Because I think the amazing brightness, the reality, the forcefulness of verse 24 and 25 stand out best against what is a dark and a dangerous backdrop as described in the body of the letter.
Most treatments of Jude—as we have tried to tackle Jude—most treatments of Jude in the commentaries actually breeze through verses 24 and 25. You find that a number of verses are taken at great length, and yet when it gets to the end, it’s almost as though the writer has decided, “Well, everybody knows verse 24 and 25. There’s no reason to spend any length of time on that at all.” But I decided, “No, I don’t want to breeze through these verses.” In fact, following the pattern of the Puritans, I told my colleagues during the week—last Monday, actually, at our team meeting—I said, “I’m going to design a plan to cover these verses in a whole series of sermons.” And so I came up with fifteen sermons. But I’ve decided only to use two, and you’ll be relieved by that—the first one tackling verse 24, and then, unless I change my mind, the second one in 25.
So, let’s look at verse 24.
First of all, notice the opening phrase: “Now to him…” “To him.” It’d be easy just to slide past that, wouldn’t it? But remember, Jude has begun with God. And having found it necessary to mention so much that is unsavory, he then ends his letter by establishing without doubt the one in whom all security, all joy, all assurance is to be found. Jude knew his Bible. He knew the Old Testament. He knew, for example, the psalmist declaring,
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
“Now unto him…”
When you get to the end of your Bible—it’s only a page away now that we’re in Jude—but you’ll find that the elders in Revelation are doing exactly the same as the psalmist. They recognize that all of human existence is from and directed ultimately to God; that, in the words of the Shorter Catechism, which we quote all the time, “the chief end of man” is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”—not to glorify ourselves and to enjoy ourselves forever but to begin with God. When we gather on the Lord’s Day, it must begin with God—not with ourselves and our needs but with God and his glory. And so the elders “cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’”
Now, in this way, Jude is making it clear that it is of paramount importance that these readers—and we are the readers now, aren’t we? Having warned us of the darkness and deception that is among us, having made it clear that the strategy of these people is deceitful, he says, “I want you to make sure that we, having dealt with that, now turn our focus entirely to him.” “Unto him…” This is not our preoccupation with scoffers. This is not our preoccupation with problems that arise throughout the church history and are present in contemporary Christianity. No. Our focus is to be turned to him, to the only one who is able, to the Alpha and to the Omega. Because we’re tempted, aren’t we, always to have big thoughts of ourselves and small thoughts of God?
When Paul writes to the Colossians—in fact, when he writes all the time—he writes in this vein. Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth.” That’s where we start: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We had breakfast this morning, if we had it, as a result of God, who makes grass grow, who controls the ebb and flow of the tides. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” “Unto him…” That’s where he starts: “Unto him…”
Incidentally, this was going to be my first of the fifteen sermons. I was simply going to preach—try to preach—on the phrase “Unto him,” so that we might get our focus in the right place, so that we might get our hearts in the right spot. “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” “Unto him…”
“Unto him” what? “Now [unto] him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” Three words; here they are: preservation, presentation, jubilation.
First of all, then, here is the promise of our preservation: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” “Stumbling.”
Jude’s brother James, in his most practical letter, in highlighting the responsibility of anyone who becomes a teacher of the gospel, says, “We all stumble in many ways.” “We all stumble in many ways.” What possible relevance is there in the promise that God keeps us from stumbling unless we who walk the Christian path know what it is to stumble? “We all stumble in many ways.” James is addressing that particularly, understandably, in terms of the speech of the teacher. But we all, if we’re honest, can stumble so easily in our desires, in our decisions.
That’s why in singing our song this morning, we are made aware of the fact that there is a battle—that the Christian is involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war.” Because the things that we often desire to do are things we shouldn’t do, and the things that we ought to be doing are things that we end up not doing at all. That’s what Paul says in Romans 7. In Galatians 5, he’s talking about the desires of our fleshly instincts as opposed to the desires and longings of our spiritual aspirations.
Now, I think it’s very important that we are prepared to acknowledge how easy it is to be tripped up, so that we might then say how wonderful it is that we are kept from stumbling. Because we face the weakness of our own hearts, first of all—that we can so easily run after things that God does not design for us or desire for us. We recognize, too, that although the pathway of the Christian life is in one sense supremely safe, it also is incredibly dangerous. It is fraught. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares,” Newton is honest enough to say, “I have already come.” If you’ve just lived the last month without any dangers, any toils, any snares, any potential trip-ups, any dangerous possibilities of stumbling, then come and tell me about it afterwards, because I’d like to know how you do that.
There is the problem of my heart, there is the danger of the path, and there is the presence of the enemy. It’s like you’re walking in the hills, and you have to be very, very careful. In certain places, your foot may twist, and down you go. But what makes it even worse? If there’s somebody along the pathway who’s just looking for the opportunity just to push you over, just to catch you, just when you’re about to go down say, “Woo! Try that! Off you go!” The Evil One appears in various disguises. It was the question of a servant-maid that caused the apostle Peter to stumble and to fall: “I don’t know Jesus.” “No, I’m not a Galilean like Jesus.” “No, I’m not a stinking Galilean like Jesus!” Really? How did that happen? Well, he stumbled.
God is able to keep us from stumbling—catches us on the way down, prevents us sometimes, always picks us up. Spurgeon, who’s always good on these things, writes as follows: God could do this
by shutting us up in a prison, or by depriving us … of the power to commit … sins. But he does not keep us in that way. He leaves us … with every faculty and propensity that we had before; yet, by some mysterious, omnipotent working of [the] Holy Spirit … he [keeps] his people from [stumbling].
Well, that’s a very wonderful way of putting it by Spurgeon. What underlies that? What is he actually referring to? How do we understand that, if you like, biblically? How do we understand it theologically?
And this, of course, is where the creeds and the confessions are of terrific help to us. I went looking for it in the Westminster Confession, and this is what it has to say. Listen carefully to this: “When God converts a sinner and brings him into a state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage to sin, and by his grace alone he enables him freely to will and to do what is spiritually good. Yet”—yet—“because of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly only will what is good, but also wills what is evil.” So that in Christ, although sin no longer reigns, it remains.
Now, it’s very important here that we understand that Jude is not writing about the possibility of the believer stumbling and falling out of the family of God. Right? This stumbling out of the game altogether. That’s not what he has in mind. The Scriptures are really clear. Philippians 1: “Being confident of this,” Paul writes to them, “that he who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”—so that “the work which his goodness began the arm of his strength will complete.” If our Christian life began with us, then we could never be confident that we would ever get through to the end. Because if we started it, how could we be sure that we would finish it? No, he began it. He began a good work; he brings it to completion. Paul does the same thing when he starts his letter to the Corinthians. He refers to he “who will sustain you to the end.” Jesus himself, in John 10, says, “I give them”—his children, his followers—“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one [can] snatch them out of my hand.”
So what is he talking about, then, in “stumbling”? Well, here’s where Pilgrim’s Progress, reread, would be a big help. He’s able to keep us from stumbling into By-Path Meadow, into just drifting into a sleepy unconsciousness; to keep us from finding ourselves in Doubter’s Castle or in Vanity Fair; to keep us from stumbling into error, into sinful patterns of behavior that rob us of joy and rob us of assurance. If I am being deliberately disobedient to the clear instruction of the Bible, then I ought not to have a deep sense of assurance. Because disobedience and assurance do not go hand in hand. It is into that disobedient heart that God may come to send a friend or a neighbor or a colleague, whatever it might be, and waken us up and grab us by the elbow.
You see, these individuals, who have been on the receiving end of these people with their various dreams and fancies and immoral suggestions, Jude recognizes that some of them might easily have stumbled into these environments. And he says, “Now, listen: before any of the rest of you start to do that, you need to know this.” “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling…”
But didn’t we just read earlier that we were supposed to keep ourselves? Yeah! That’s verse 21: “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” How are you going to do that? Well, he “is able to keep you.” So it’s the old farmer’s prayer: “O God, keep me kept.” God provides the means; we use the means. God preserved Noah in the deluge before the judgment of the flood, but Noah built the ark.
Now, we have to move on from this, don’t we? I find myself routinely at the moment—I’m becoming horribly repetitive. I freely acknowledge it. But the hymn by Joseph Addison, which was written in the seventeenth century, sometime in the 1600s, is increasingly one of my favorite hymns: “When all thy mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys…” It’s amazing. It is truly amazing. How is it that I am here? How is it that you are still here? How is it that we have not shipwrecked along the way? How is it that we have not succumbed to silly ideas and evil propensities in our own hearts? No, it is he who keeps us from stumbling. Even when we fancy stumbling, he keeps us.
I can’t wait to get to heaven and find out what was going on in Addison’s life, if he’s prepared to tell me about it, when he wrote the verse that’s never sung:
When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
[Thy hand] unseen conveyed me safe
And [brought] me up to man.
Secondly, presentation: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory…” You notice the negative and the positive? Kept from and presented to. That’s why we read in Titus, just so that we would be able to consider verse 13: that the believer is “waiting for [a] blessed hope,” for “the appearing of … our great God and Savior [the Lord] Jesus Christ.” And that’s what he’s referring to here. There is a day when we will be presented. When we will be presented. If you like, this great coming-out party, if you like, or whatever it might be—the final graduation where, you know, the tassels come off on one side, and you get to throw your hat in the air. That kind of thing. It’s going to be a great event.
How will we ever get there? Well, the one who keeps us will present us. He’s in charge of the presentation. We’re not going to go in there and boast about our background, what we did, what we said, what we gave, or whatever it might be. No, it will always be “unto him.” “Unto him.”
You see, if a congregation does not begin with “Unto him,” it will begin with something else. If when people come to our congregation they don’t say, “This must be about him,” then they will start to believe it must be about us. And then we have failed miserably. Miserably! “Unto him”! He will present us—present us faultless.
You know when you get an invitation to something, sometimes it comes with a dress code, doesn’t it? “Business casual”—whatever that means now, where you can look like this, but don’t wear a tie, or whatever it might be. And it might be, you know, black tie obligatory. But if there’s actually freedom to choose, then that’s the most dangerous of all, I find, because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. You find yourself phoning up. Or if you make a stab at it, it’s three o’clock, and you’re leaving at four, and you appear, and your spouse sees you coming and says, “You’re not planning on wearing that, are you?” Or worse still: “You can’t go in there looking like that.”
Remember that in the Old Testament, if you’ve been reading, like some of us, through Numbers, you realize particularly—I think it’s around Numbers 28 or 29, there’s just this succession of statements that demand that anything that is offered to God must be offered without blemish. And if you go through those two chapters and just underline “without blemish,” “without blemish,” “without blemish,” you realize that God’s holiness was such that it was not right, possible, in any sense, to offer up to him that which was blemished in any way.
And of course, that actually applied not only to food offerings, burnt offerings, or animal offerings but also to people. Hence the dilemma of David. Psalm 15: “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” And then he answers it: “He whose walk is blameless.” Well, that’s a real problem. Do you have a blameless walk? Ever stumbled? You see, because taking that—Psalm 15—to its logical limit, it actually would mean that no one could ever dwell in the presence of a holy God.
How is that answered? It’s answered in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ: that he is, Peter says—1 Peter 1:19—he is the “lamb without blemish.” We are blameworthy; we’re not blameless. We need a blameless one to take our place, to bear our punishment, to keep the law in all of its perfection, into whom we may be incorporated by grace so that we might stand in the presence of his glory, complete in him. “Unto him”—in him, for him, with him.
Now, this, of course, is what the Bible teaches us throughout its pages. It would be easy to stop here. We understand, don’t we, justification? That God of his own mercy and motivated by nothing in us remits the sins of guilty men and women. And not only does he do that, but he accounts us righteous in the righteousness that is ours in Jesus. Listen to Calvin in a sentence: “The Son of God though spotlessly pure took upon himself the ignominy and shame of our sin and in return clothed us with his purity.” So, God receives the sinner only on the grounds of the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is credited to us, imputed to us, through our faith in him.
Can you imagine the thief on the cross? Remember, he says “Remember me” to Jesus. He said, “Will you remember me?” “[Lord], remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus, of course, says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And because of the way my mind works, I said to myself, I imagine him saying, “Is there a dress code for entry? Because, Jesus, I’m naked.”
“Yes, there is. It’s a robe of righteousness.”
“But Jesus, I’m not righteous.”
“Oh, yes you are, through faith in me. You may stand bold in that day. You may learn to sing a song that will be written a long time after this: ‘Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to your cross I cling, naked come to thee for dress, and helpless look to thee for grace.’”
Can you imagine the thief welcomed into that company, singing,
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in him is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own.
That’s the testimony of believing faith.
Is it your testimony? What an amazing burden is borne by some who, having never either understood or bowed beneath the wonder of God’s amazing grace, choose to wrestle on your lives, carrying, like Pilgrim, a vast burden on your back, seeking to alleviate it by good endeavors and by kind and decent things, and yet recognizing that God, who searches and knows the heart… Even if people around think that we’re really very good, we know we’re not. Oh, you may think that I’m pretty good. But I’m not. Like I’ve told you before, if you knew what I’m like, you wouldn’t listen to me preach. If I knew what you’re like, I wouldn’t preach to you. God knows what we’re like.
We must finish: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling … to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…” Hence my word jubilation. Jubilation. If you ever come out of a background that used Latin in liturgy, you know that the Hundredth Psalm is the Jubilate. It begins, in Latin, in that way. We recited the Hundredth Psalm this morning.
So, he “is able to keep you from stumbling.” He’ll “present you blameless before the presence … with great joy.” “Great joy.” What joy? Well, joy like there’s no other joy. You know, C. S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, tackles it in all kinds of ways. And he says at one point, “The human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given—nay, can[’t] even be imagined as given—in our present mode of subjective … spatio-temporal experience.”
In other words, the thing that we long for—the thing that we long for—is actually beyond us; that the solid joys are these joys: the joy of sin being gone, the joy of Satan being shut out, the joy of temptation being over forever; the joy of the Bible class leader, the joy of the kindergarten teacher, the joy of the car park aficionado, the joy in the glory of looking across and seeing, “That little one was in my kindergarten class. That boy was a pain in the tush, and he was in my Bible class. But what joy is this? That child that I left behind in unbelief I see across the horizon. What joy is this?” The pastor’s joy: “Here I am, and the children you have given me.” The joy of the Lord Jesus himself—the joy of Jesus as he sees the travail of his soul, as he recognizes the wonder of presenting the church his bride. He will have the prize for which he died: the nations.
And as I was working on this, I came across Spurgeon making a statement that caught me entirely off guard, and this is what he said: “God himself will have joy.” “God himself will have joy.” I said, “Where do we go with this?” This is what he said: “It will be … infinitely displayed” in the presence of all. He’s quoting Zephaniah 3:17: “He”—that is, God Almighty—“will rejoice over you with gladness; … he will exult over you with loud singing.” What a picture! God running, and then the joy of the Prodigal’s return—running out to meet him? We know that part! But God singing? Spurgeon writes, “I can imagine, when the world was made, the morning stars shouting for joy; but God did not sing. He [just] said it was ‘very good’ …. There was no song [then]. But oh, … think of it, … when” that great company, innumerable, multinational, “shall meet around the throne, the joy of the Eternal Father shall swell so high, that God, who fill[s] all in all, shall burst … into [the] infinite, godlike song.”
And what will we do? We will say, “Unto him…” “Unto him”—the one who keeps me from stumbling, the one who brings me here, the one who presents me faultless and gives me a joy such as no joy could ever have been known, to quote Lewis, in the “spatio-temporal” subjective experience of living now.
That’s why, you see, we need to say to our friends and neighbors that the longing of the human heart is actually ultimately a longing to know God and to be known by God. And the solid joys and the lasting treasures are only found in God, and only found in God’s revelation of himself in Jesus, and only enjoyed by those who are prepared to say, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to your cross I cling.” I wonder: Have you said that?
 Jude 4 (KJV).
 Jude 21–23 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 138:2 (ESV).
 Jude 24 (KJV). Emphasis added.
 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1.
 Revelation 4:10–11 (ESV).
 See Revelation 1:8; 21:6, 13.
 Genesis 1:1 (ESV).
 Psalm 95:6–7 (paraphrased).
 James 3:2 (ESV).
 Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.
 See Romans 7:15, 19.
 See Galatians 5:16–25.
 John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).
 Matthew 26:70, 72, 74; Mark 14:68, 70–71; Luke 22:57–58, 60; John 18:17, 25, 27 (paraphrased).
 C. H. Spurgeon, “Danger. Safety. Gratitude,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 54, no. 3074, 19.
 Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, 9.4.
 Philippians 1:6 (paraphrased).
 Augustus Montague Toplady, “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” (1771).
 1 Corinthians 1:8 (ESV).
 John 10:28 (ESV).
 Joseph Addison, “When All Thy Mercies, O My God” (1712).
 Titus 2:13 (ESV).
 Psalm 15:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.16.6, quoted in Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief, 3rd ed. (InterVarsity, 2009), 212.
 Luke 23:42–43 (ESV).
 Augustus Montague Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be?” (1738).
 See Romans 8:27.
 C. S. Lewis, preface to The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism, 3rd ed. (1944).
 Isaiah 8:18 (paraphrased).
 C. H. Spurgeon, “Christians Kept in the Time and Glorified in Eternity,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 11, no. 634, 335.
 Spurgeon, 335–36.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.