It was on a long car drive that Paul McCartney created a simple song “Hey Jules” as words of comfort for a child by the name of Julian who was struggling to cope with the news of his parent’s divorce (son of John and Cynthia Lennon). The song would later evolve into “Hey Jude” and after its 1968 release would become one of the Beatles biggest hits.
Every time I read the New Testament letter Jude I cannot help but think of the melody from this song. While they share little in common other than name, they are both written to troubled audiences. Jude was one of Jesus’ brothers, and like James, he did not become a believer until after the resurrection. He quickly went from spiritual skeptic to an astute defender of the faith.
Some of the greatest Christian minds throughout the history of the church have been former skeptics. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy dialoging with agnostic, skeptic and atheist students. I know that the power of the gospel can breakdown the worldviews they are hiding behind. Like a C.S. Lewis, or a Francis Collins, God can use them in an amazing way.
Jude’s letter hits at the heart of this theme. He begins describing our great salvation in Christ, but out of necessity moves to a charge to defend the truthfulness of the gospel:
Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. (Jude 1-2)
John Piper points out that the opening verses utilize three passive verbs to describe a believers position: called, loved, and kept. This deepening appreciation for our position in Christ is intended to be multiplied in the life of the believer. In other words, we are to grow in grace; to grow in our understanding of our common salvation.
But Jude felt compelled to move beyond a foundational understanding of salvation to apologetics:
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 3)
There is a necessary balance to speaking the truth and defending the truth. We must do them both. God help us to do them in love.
This admonition to defend the faith smacks against the cultural mentality to acquiesce to a politically correct agenda. To say that one worldview is true and others false is neither popular nor safe these days. However, followers of Christ are not given the option to water down the claims of Christ.
Jude could speak with such clarity and conviction precisely because of a “faith” which hand been “handed down.” This is reminicient of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 where he quotes an early creed of the church that was likely formulated just a few short years after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep, then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
This is the faith that was handed down. It was a basic, clear, non-negotiable core of doctrine summarizing the ministry of Christ that is neither open for edits nor revisions. Jude was in essence saying that truth is a closed case. It’s not open for re-imagining. We don’t need a “new kind of Christianity.” In fact, such a title is an oxymoron. There is no such thing. The faith was “once for all” handed down by the apostles, the eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ.
The Beatles sang, “Hey Jude, take a sad song and make it better.” Some, like Brian McClaren, have sought to do that very thing to the gospel. However, the gospel is not a sad song that needs improvement. It is the true story of a gracious Creator God who has lovingly written himself into our story. The best words of comfort for troubled hearts is the old, old story of a rugged cross on a hill far away.
The only true and abiding source of comfort for humanity is found in the faith once for all delivered to the saints.