July 30, 2023
Can knowing the God of the Bible help us tackle life’s issues or fix our problems? The closing verse of Jude’s letter returns his readers to where he began, focusing on the greatness of “the only God, our Savior,” who has dominion and authority over all things. Far from being impractical or irrelevant, as this and every worldly culture is prone to think, Alistair Begg reminds us that knowing God through Christ provides the only framework, focus, and foundation for living an abundant life.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now, we’re going to be turning to Jude and to verse 25. But I want, before we turn there, to read two brief passages—and if you care to follow along: first in 1 Chronicles chapter 29, and then in Isaiah 44. We’re heading to Jude via 1 Chronicles 29 and Isaiah 44.
And 1 Chronicles 29:10: “Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of … the assembly. And David said: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.’” Quite an oration from one who was the king of Israel!
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; [beside] me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.’
“All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.”
And then to Jude and to the closing verse of Jude: “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.”
Father, with our Bibles open before you, we ask for the enabling of the Holy Spirit to both speak and hear and understand, and to believe and to obey, and to walk in the pathway of your choosing. So accomplish your purposes, we pray. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, if you were present last time, you know that we finished up with this amazing picture, this astounding notion of a singing God. We were instructed in that by paying attention to the Victorian preacher Spurgeon, who, in saying that, was quoting Zephaniah 3:17:
The Lord your God … in your midst,
[is] a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
It’s an amazing picture, a notion of God himself as a singing God.
Now, I hope at least two more than myself have been thinking about this during the week. I hope that as you were driving home or as you’ve been working and in moments of opportunity, you said to yourself, “What am I going to do with this idea of a God who sings?” Because if, like me, you remember when we used to sing the song based on Isaiah —“Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy will be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and mourning and sorrow shall flee away”—I’m not sure we really knew what we were singing about when we sang it, but we sang it with great gusto. And we understood, “Yes, there will come a day when all the longings of our hearts are more than met, and we will be filled with joy.”
But the realization that God saves not simply for his glory but also for his gladness is quite staggering. And as I thought about it this week, I said, “I wonder: Did Spurgeon go out on a limb on this?” And it led me back to the classic book written in the ’70s—maybe ’73—by J. I. Packer, the late Packer. And his book, if you’ve never read it, is a classic book and ought to be on your shelves. It’s entitled Knowing God. And if you all go through there in a moment, you’ll find out that we’ve run out already. But in that book, on this very theme, Packer says, “God’s happiness will not be complete till all His beloved ones are … ‘ … saved to sin no more.’” Now, the fact of the matter is that God was supremely happy before he made the world. He didn’t need the world to be happy. If he had not done that, he would have been supremely happy. And yet his happiness, by his own determination, is somehow wrapped up in the salvation of his people.
Now, we move on from there to recognize that what Jude is doing at the end of this letter—which has covered all kinds of circumstances, as we know—what he is doing: he’s ending his letter by turning the gaze of his readers to the living God. Turning them to God—the God with which his letter began. Verse 1: they are the ones who have been “called” and loved and are being “kept” by God. And so he ends his letter by confronting them with the greatness of God: his glory, his majesty, his dominion, his authority, and so on. Very well.
But you might say to yourself, “Well, that’s very interesting. I’m sure it must have been the kind of thing that people in Jude’s day probably would benefit from.” You might even find yourself saying, “But here we are, and our lives are far more complex.” Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t see how a consideration of God enables me to tackle the issues of life or to fix my problems. Why would you ever take time on this, Jude, or Alistair, when after all, think about all the issues of our lives that need to be addressed!” We prayed for those who are in a hospital. We are concerned for our loved ones. We think about the nations of the world, the concerns of our own nation, and so on. And someone might justifiably say, “Surely those are the issues that need to be addressed.” Some might even be as bold as to suggest that such a focus is unpractical if not actually irrelevant.
And so it is that I take up that challenge. It might be an imagined challenge; I don’t know. But I’m purposefully delaying in concluding in order that I might address with us this very issue. I want to say to you that such a notion could never be further from the truth.
As an aside: if you think about it, in our generation, even in the last twenty years, we have produced more books about practicalities of living, whether they are the practicalities of finance or marriage or employment or singleness or whatever it might be. And our stores are replete with all the kind of information that we feel we desperately require. Yet why is it that our faith is so feeble? Why is it that our worship is so flabby? Answer: because of the absence of a consideration of and a belief in and a submission to the God to whom Jude directs us in this final verse. Spurgeon, when he was only twenty-one, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, addresses his congregation in these amazing words: “Would you lose your [sorrow]? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity. [I urge upon you],” he says, “a devout musing upon the subject of [God].” “A devout musing upon the subject of [God].”
But somebody says, “But wait a minute! That was 1855 in London. This is 2023 in Cleveland.” Exactly. Here we are, stumbling our way towards the halfway mark of the twenty-first century, discovering that our world becomes a strange, mad, painful, and disappointing place without God. When God is silent, our world is messed. So I want to say to us this morning—first to myself, you understand. When I study the Bible, it’s first to me. I get the immense privilege of doing this. You actually make it possible for me to do this, because you give me money—not to preach; you couldn’t pay me enough, or too little. But you give me money—and my colleagues, too—so that we can study the Bible so that we can do what the Bible says we’re supposed to do: exhort the saints and encourage them in the works of ministry.
So, I’ve been thinking about this all week, and I’ve been saying to myself, “Alistair, knowing God—knowing God—is absolutely crucially important to you in the living of your life. It always has been, it is, and it always will be.” That’s what I’ve been saying to myself. So then, having said it to myself, I thought, “Well, then I’ll come, and I’ll say the same thing to you.”
You see, part of the problem with it lies in the fact that we’re actually tempted to conceive of God in a way that suits us—that an individual is often found saying things like “Well, I’m sure that God is just like a bigger version of me.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
Part of our reading today—wasn’t it, in Murray M’Cheyne?—part of the reading was Acts 17, as it turns out. So I was reading it earlier in the morning. And I was struck by the fact that when Paul is left in Athens, and he moves around, and he sees what’s going on, and he’s eventually invited to give a talk, where does he begin? God! God. That’s what he says: “You’ve got all kinds of ideas here about deity, all kinds of idols. You’ve even got one to ‘the unknown god.’” So he says, “Let me start there”: “The God who made the world and everything in it…” That’s the starting point. In other words, what he’s saying to the people there is “You think you can encapsulate God. You think you can sort of solidify him in a little place. God is so completely above us”—“the only God, our Savior.”
Now, the creeds and the catechisms help with this, and that is why we went to question 2 in the New City Catechism, asking the question, “What is God?” “God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection,” in his “goodness and glory,” in his “wisdom, justice, and truth.” And “nothing happens except through him and by his will.” You see, the real problem is that we’ve got huge ideas about ourselves and tiny ideas about God.
He is “the only God.” “To the only God…” How does that ring for you here in the twenty-first century? “The only God.” He’s referred to him as the “only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” back in verse 4. That’s the story of the Bible. The psalmist’s words:
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours. …
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
Psalm 86:10. Deuteronomy 6, which we often recite when we are sharing together in a baby dedication, as we will in the second hour: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord [your] God, the Lord is one.” And it’s a declaration: Yahweh—Yahweh—is God. Our God is Yahweh.
And despite the fact that the Jewish people recited that—and recite that, if they’re Orthodox—on a daily basis, as the story of the Bible unfolds, we discover that the prophets have to say to the people, who daily say, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” had succumbed to the notion of engaging with substitute gods… They had looked around on the nations, and the nations had shrines, and they had poles, and they had ideas, and they had drama, and they had all kinds of things going on. And so there’s a real challenge to the people: “We declare that God is the only God,” and yet Isaiah has to come in the word of God and say to them, “Why are you turning to all the gods of the nations?” That’s why we read Isaiah 44. And in that chapter, he simply shows the futility of doing so. It’s not my purpose to expound it, but we’ll do well to ponder it again, perhaps as the week unfolds, going back to it. Incidentally, in Acts chapter 17 this morning, we also read that having gone from Apollonia to Berea, and on from Berea, then Luke records that the Bereans “were more noble than [the Jews] in Thessalonica.” Why? Because they “examin[ed] the Scriptures [every day] to see if these things were so.”
Now, my dear friends, if they were listening to the apostle Paul expound the Bible and they felt they had to go and check on it, don’t you think you have a legitimate reason to make sure that you are checking on me, that you are checking on us? You nod your heads: “Oh, yes, of course, Isaiah 44.” When’s the last time you read Isaiah 44? I’m not talking about ticking it off. I’m talking about reading it and saying, “What does this actually mean? What does it mean, these gods, these idols? We don’t have little shrines. I don’t have anything on the front of my car”—at least I hope you don’t. But no. What is it?
Well, it’s very straightforward. What they were doing was they were imaging that it is possible to make from things that are less than human something which is more than human in the hope of finding in it the power that they need to navigate their lives. That’s an amazing futility, isn’t it? That we’re going to look inside yourself and come up with an idea, fashion it. You can carry it around with you if you want—set it up and set it down, kneel at it if you choose. This is a measure of insanity, isn’t it?
What does it mean? Well, it means simply this… Because, you see, idolatry is actually the essence of sin. The essence of God’s amazing grace towards us is that he puts himself in our place in order that he might do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. And the essence of sin is that we seek to put ourselves in his place, so that we’re going to do and make the decisions as we please, setting out to satisfy myself, believing that in myself I have the power to be satisfied.
Now, all of this because we’re stuck on one phrase: “to the only God, our Savior.” “To the only God, our Savior.”
In a book entitled Culture and the Death of God, Terry Eagleton, who’s a literary critic, lists several idols of the modern age—not talking about the twenty-third century; just the modern age. Enlightenment rationalists, he said, made a god out of reason. That’s the Enlightenment: “We have grown up. We have grown beyond God. We have discovered that we know more than anybody else ever knew before us. And since we have lived later than the people who lived before us, later must be better; therefore, we must be brighter; therefore, we must know.” That was the Enlightenment. We are living in the post-Enlightenment. How did it do? Make your own deduction. The Romantics deified imagination: “If we can conceive of it… If we can imagine it…” Nationalists, then and now, exalt the nation, worshipping the nation. Marxists offered an extensive analysis of sin and salvation, seeing it in political and in financial terms. And in all of that, what you discover as you review things is this: when God is rejected, something else or someone else has to be concocted to replace him. Let me say that to you again: when God is rejected—on a personal level, on a family level, a national level—when God is rejected, something or someone else will have to be concocted to replace him.
You see, the rise of what we call the New Atheists—that has actually begun to fade a little as people realize the emptiness of it all—the rise of the atheists is no threat to Western culture. We’re not atheistic. We’re polytheistic. We’re polytheistic. When the people come and ask the question at the end of a survey that says “Do you believe in God?”—no, what they should be asking is “Which god do you believe in? Do you believe in a god of your own fashioning? Do you believe in the god of yourself?”
The fact of the matter is that the environment in which we live is an environment in which the truth about the God of the Bible is disappearing fast. Disappearing fast. Emerging in other parts of our world—in the Southern Hemisphere, in sub-Saharan Africa, in various places—where lives of people, families of people, congregations are turning to the living God and finding him the answer to all their animism and to all their idolatry and to all the stuff that had bedeviled their lives all the way through. And now they turn, and they look back across to where we live our lives, and they say, “How in the world can it be that this people—a post-Reformation people, a people whose foundations were built at least in deism if not in sufficient theism—how is it that they can be now buying this stuff from us and wearing it around their necks and sticking it in the stores? Why are they doing this?” The answer is clear: because they have dethroned God. God is dethroned. They no longer believe he is “the only God.” They no longer believe that he’s the only Savior. No, they have succumbed to it all.
Or, if God is still around, for them he’s not much of a God. David Wells, whom I admire so greatly, has done this masterfully in pointing it out in all of the work that he has written in the past. And here’s just one quote from him: “It is one of the defining marks of Our Time that God is now weightless.” “Weightless.” “Not … that he is ethereal” but that he is “weightless.” “He has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as [to not be] noticeable. … Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence”—listen to this—“may nevertheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgment[s] no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, … his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies.” This, he says, “is weightlessness.” “Weightlessness.”
Now, we began this morning with a call to worship, which suggests that our grasp of things, by God’s goodness, enables us to understand why it is that the psalmist exhorts us as he does: “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” We come as creatures to worship the Creator. We come as subjects to give honor to the King. We come as sinners in need of a Savior. That’s how we come.
That’s why we want to tell the children the story of Jesus. Because we need the story of Jesus. And it’s in there in the bulletin if you want it encapsulated. It’s the story of God’s love for sinners and of his sending his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to redeem the lost. The story of Jesus is the story of good news for all mankind, because he is the “only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Listen: either he is, or he isn’t! We’re either involved in dealing with objective, historical, verifiable data and truth, or we’re involved in the greatest theological con trick the world has ever seen in its entire existence. There is no middle ground—no middle ground, no matter how we might try and create it.
We need to be able to remind ourselves: We were made in God’s image to love him and to enjoy him. We were made capable of receiving communication from him and of enjoying communion with him. However, we have forfeited, by our sin, any right to know his favor. Why? Because we doubt his goodness. We reject his wisdom. We rebel against his authority. And God in his love—seeing us in our inability to know and love him, to understand him and to serve him—God in his love decides to take the initiative and comes in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ to redeem us and to restore us, to make us his friends, bringing us into a relationship with him by making us know his love.
Do you know that God loves you? He loves you. He might be the only the person you’ve ever heard of loves you. You may feel yourself the most unloved person in the world. The story of the Bible is this: the story of the Bible is salvation. Paul says, “You know the Scriptures, Timothy. They make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” The story of the Bible is very simple: “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” The story of the Bible is straightforward: God saves us; we can’t save ourselves. The story of the Bible is very straightforward: we don’t make God our friends; he comes and makes us his friends. We can’t access God in our own time or on our own terms. We have to know him the way he declares himself. How does he declare himself? He’s “the only God,” coming to us in the only Son, the only Savior, working in us by the Holy Spirit.
Now, you say, “Well, this is a bit of an overemphasis, is it?” I don’t think so—not for a moment, no, no. “This is eternal life,” says Jesus, “that they know you”—“that they know you”—“the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
“Well,” the people say, “surely this is good for folks in Jude’s day. We don’t really need this, do we? We’ve grown up. We’ve grown on.” Well, let me suggest to you that the absence of this at a deep, visceral level is the explanation for the rather tawdry influence of American evangelicalism that is rich on the horizontal and poor in the vertical—services that begin with man and his need rather than God and his glory; issues that suggest that somehow or another, the God who made us is unable to care for us, that we must care for ourselves. We’re like a silly man up on the top of a ladder, and his wife knows he’s in such a precarious position, and he shouts down to her, “Leave me alone! I’ve got this covered.” And then you hear the collapse that comes after that: boom! And now he’s lying on the floor, and she has to bite her tongue from saying, “I told you before you went up there that you couldn’t possibly do this.” “Leave me alone! I’ve got it covered.”
And the prophets had to address that, because that’s what the people were saying. And so Jeremiah 9, he says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom.” There’s nothing wrong with wisdom. God is the author of wisdom. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. But when that becomes your thing… “Let not the mighty man boast in his might”—strength—“let not the rich man boast in his riches.” “But if anyone’s going to boast, boast in this.” What? “That he knows and understands me, the living God.” You put that on your résumé. Put that on your job application: “Well, I’m not particularly bright. I’m not particularly rich. I’m not particularly strong. But I’ll tell you something: I understand and know the living God.”
Incidentally, you and I can have a head full of information about God without ever taking to heart the reality to which those truths point. It’s not simply about creed. It’s about commitment. Knowing the latitude and longitude of Glasgow will not get you to Glasgow until you commit to believing that the objective reality of latitude and longitude is sufficient to be trusted as you set out on your journey. In other words, knowing God gives us focus. Gives us focus.
Knowing God gives us a framework. The truths about God map the journey of a man or a woman’s life. The truths about God. That’s why we want to teach the children, “Listen: hey, God made the whole world. Now, tell me that again.” “Oh, that sounds like indoctrination!” Yeah, exactly! “You shall indoctrinate your children while you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Doesn’t use the word indoctrination: “You shall teach your children.” Because otherwise, it’d be very unfair to them, wouldn’t it? You don’t teach them that their left hand is their right hand, or their right hand is their left hand, or whatever it is. No, you’ve got to do this. You’ve got to know where you are in the world. You’ve got to tell yourself that knowing God is the framework that allows me to navigate my life, that tells me the understanding of history: that it is not cyclical; that it’s linear—that we began, and we’re moving to a destination. And the destination is outlined for us in the Bible.
Have you ever seen one of these? Do you remember these things? Isn’t that fantastic? Look at that thing! It’s in pristine condition. Why is it in pristine condition? Well, because of Google. But the problem with Google is the blue dot shows you where you are. Like, “I’m here.” Well, I knew that, because I’m here. But where is “here” in relationship to everywhere? How do I get from here to there? “Trust me.” Uh-uh. I’m not going to. I want to see it for myself. I want a map. That’s what the Bible is: food for the journey, map. It gives us a focus. We know our direction. It gives us a framework. Framework.
Tom Paxton is eighty-five years old—folk singer from the ’60s, still singing. I can’t believe it. He’s coming to Cleveland. I didn’t tell you this, Sue, but he’s coming to Cleveland. And I’m going. So, it goes like this:
Had a brother way back home,
And he started out to roam,
And last I heard he was out by Frisco Bay.
And sometimes when I’m feeling blue,
His old voice comes ringing through,
And I’m going out to meet him some fine day.
But I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound, where I’m bound;
I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound.
“I don’t know where I’m going,” he says.
[Well,] I’ve been up and down this highway,
Far as my eyes can see.
No matter how fast I run,
I can never seem to get away from me.
No matter where I am,
I can’t help thinking I’m just a day away
From where I want to be.
These are not uncommon expressions. The poets, they get this. They write out of the reality of human beings’ experience. That song is called “Your Bright Baby Blues,” if you’re interested. It’s about a girl and her blue eyes. I get it. You get it too! Whether they’re blue or brown, as long as she has eyes, that’s fine; you got it. Focus, framework.
Sinéad O’Connor: what a tragedy! What a pretty girl! What an amazing voice! You want something to churn your tummy? Go and find her singing—dressed in the garb of a Roman Catholic priest—go and watch the video of her singing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.” She tried being a Rastafarian. She tried being a Buddhist. She tried everything she could try. She moved back to London a few months ago in order that she could try somehow or another to deal with her loneliness—in London, for goodness’ sake! “Look at all these lonely people. Where do they all come from? Where do they all belong?” Father McKenzie won’t fix them—not unless he preaches the gospel.
Focus, framework, and a foundation. The truth about God underpins everything. When those truths are denied or ignored, the substructure collapses. We shouldn’t be surprised in any way at all, because Jesus, in his masterful storytelling, made it as clear as it could be:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did[n’t] fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
“And everyone who hears these words of mine and does[n’t] do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as [the] scribes.
Who has authority? Only our only Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. That’s why Jude ends in this way.
Now let’s go to the word “glory.” Just a joke.
Our God and our Father, write your Word in our hearts, we pray. You know exactly where we are on the journey of life. You know whether our focus is on “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” You know where we have built our foundation. Lord, if we’re tempted to build it on our money or our brains or on our strength of body, God grant that even this day there might be that great dethronement of ourselves and the enthronement of you, the living God. And we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Isaiah 51:11 (paraphrased).
 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 113.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God,” The New Park Street Pulpit 1, no. 1, 1.
 See Ephesians 4:12.
 Acts 17:24 (ESV).
 Psalm 86:8, 10 (ESV).
 Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV).
 Acts 17:11 (ESV).
 David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 88.
 Psalm 95:6 (ESV).
 2 Timothy 3:15 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9 (ESV).
 John 17:3 (ESV).
 Jeremiah 9:23 (ESV).
 See Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10.
 Jeremiah 9:23 (ESV).
 Jeremiah 9:24 (paraphrased).
 Deuteronomy 6:7 (paraphrased).
 Tom Paxton, “I Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound” (1964). Paraphrased.
 Jackson Browne, “Your Bright Baby Blues” (1975).
 John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby” (1966). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Matthew 7:24–29 (ESV).
 Hebrews 12:2 (KJV).
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.