An Exercise in Remembering

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) famously stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”1 Knowing the past is an exercise in remembering as opposed to forgetting. The reason is that remembrance is fundamental to life itself. History is remembering the events, faith, and individuals recognized as foundational to our lives.

Throughout the Old Testament, one can easily discern the priority given to remembering. For instance, the Jewish people observed Passover, to remember their enslavement in Egypt and how God delivered and redeemed them from their bondage (Lev 23; Deut 16). Of course, believers today also have a Passover lamb—the Lord Jesus Christ—and His sacrifice does not need repeating (Heb 7:1-28; 9:23-26). In the Old Testament, one can see that the vitality of the nation of Israel was not only related to their continual trust in God, but also remembering His actions on their behalf. Even the church has special days for remembering, such as the Messiah’s resurrection at Easter and the birth of the Lord Jesus at Christmas.

There are several memorable days on calendars worldwide. Bastille Day is a day of celebration among English-speaking countries, to commemorate a decisive moment in the French Revolution. Belgians have their National Day, and Italians have their San Gennaro Feast Day. The most significant celebration of American independence and individual freedom is remembered on the Fourth of July. The memory of the nation is enshrined in concrete and granite, such as Mount Rushmore and the Washington Monument. Even coins and currency are continual memories of America’s illustrious history. It is important to remember the past, to avoid being molded into whatever entirely new forms that emergent leaders desire. The result of forgetfulness is not a “new” people; rather, it will be a lost and dying populace. For this very reason, Jude 5 begins with an exhortation to believers that they remember the past.

Remember the Past
Jude 3-4 gave the admonition to recognize those who threaten the Christian faith: (1) the ungodly; (2) the sensualists; and, (3) the rebellious. Following this first exhortation, the next verses admonish believers to remember the past: “Now I desire to remind you” (v. 5). One may assume that those reading verses 5-7 knew the historical events mentioned. Indeed, the point is that the readers know, yet they needed to remember God’s judgment in the past. God judged some of the people who were counted among the covenant nation of Israel. He also judged some who were counted among the elect (holy) angels, and He judged Sodom and Gomorrah “and the cities around them.”

Believers need to apply knowledge of the past to current experiences. There is a danger in knowing historical events in merely an academic manner; meaning knowing something intellectually, but not applying that knowledge in a manner that impacts one’s life. There is an ongoing relationship between what a person confesses and the impact of that belief upon one’s actions. If a believer’s confession and actions contradict one another entirely, then it may be assumed that such a person is either a lying hypocrite or quite confused (or even both). Christians must guard against viewing the Old Testament as merely an interesting record of historical events; believers also need to examine how their lives are impacted based upon what those truly historical events communicate.

God saved “a people out of the land of Egypt”; however, not every person was saved in a spiritual sense. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God “subsequently destroyed those who did not believe” (v. 5). There are many who merely associate with others, but do not share the beliefs and convictions of the larger group. The same is true with regard to the church today. For example, Hebrews 6:7-8 refers to the world of nature to distinguish between a true believer (v. 7) and an apostate (v. 8).

In being likened to land receiving invigorating rain, both the believer and the apostate experience the same privileges (6:4-5). The crop of vegetation (vv. 7-8) indicates the ultimate response to the received privileges, which determines whether the land is blessed or cursed. (Hebrews 6:4-6, 8 indicate actions that do not accompany salvation.) Two “things that accompany salvation” (6:9) are evident in the life of the believer: “work” and “love” (6:10). True faith manifests itself in a life of godly works and active love for the family of God. Hebrews 6 warns those who experience many blessings as a result of associating with God’s people, yet are not truly believers. This is what occurred in the Old Testament and was the experience of the early church, and thus challenges believers in the present. The point of Jude 5 is that God will judge “those who do not believe,” in contrast to those who know and heed the inspired Word of God.

“And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, [God] has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). The angels who sinned were dissatisfied with God. Their rebellious attitude was not mentioned to teach believers (since the assumption is that such truth is already known); rather, verse 6 was given to cause believers to remember what occurred to the angels. There are two truths communicated in Jude 5-6: (1) “those who did not believe” and the sinning angels will experience God’s judgment; and, (2) believers are not to follow the example of those who are to be judged.

The last example to remember is Sodom and Gomorrah. The inhabitants of those cities were judged for unrepentant lifestyles. They are listed among Israel and angels, “For there is no partiality with God” (Rom 2:11). There are apostates among all kinds of people and places, even among those who associate outwardly with believers.

Remember the Prophecies
“Certain persons” knew the facts of Jude 5-7, “yet in the same way these [persons], also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties” (v. 8). The reference here is to the adulterous behavior among the leadership. They defiled themselves in conjunction with false prophecies and revelations that they claimed to receive “by dreaming,” and would thereby lead God’s people astray (cf. Jer 23). Always guard against those who make appeals to subjective experiences as opposed to the objective (propositional) truth of God’s Word.

The antiestablishment insult those to whom honor and respect are due (Jude 8-9). By their actions, they “revile the things which they do not understand . . . like unreasoning animals” (v. 10). Such behavior is entirely contrary to the example of Michael the archangel (v. 9), who even demonstrated respect toward the devil with regard to the body of Moses. As opposed to ignoring the boundaries established by God (similar to those of verses 5-7), Michael did not use his position or attendant powers as archangel, but relied upon the One who is truly judge to rebuke the devil (cf. Rev 12:7-9).

“Woe to them!” is an outcry in response to the ruin of those who insult the living God; their destiny is the same as Cain, Balaam, and Korah (v. 11). Jude 12-13 provide a myriad of images to enable believers to identify those who may harm the Christian faith. God will “execute judgment upon all” the ungodly (v. 15), who are known by their words and works (v. 16), having threatened the believer from times of antiquity (v. 14). Being driven by one’s own desires is never satisfying, because the pleasure is not enduring. Always finding fault with God, His Word, and His people, the ungodly are experts in flattery (v. 16; Luke 6:26).

Only living in faith and obedience to God’s Word will result in enduring satisfaction. The “beloved” of God are exhorted “to remember the words” of the inspired Word of God; to live in a manner wherein they continue to receive the blessings of God’s love, even as they await the Lord’s return. When God’s people are most satisfied in Him, then He is truly glorified the most in them.

Remembering the Lord’s Birth
C. S. Lewis once remarked, “Long before December 25th everyone is worn out—physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merrymaking; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act.”2 With all the busyness of this time of year, Lewis serves as a reminder not to let plans and schedules become so challenging that one does not pause and focus upon the true meaning of Christmas. Even though Christmas is a human-made tradition, there is a godly principle to consider. Just as Jude’s readers were challenged in an exercise of remembering, so all Christians today do well to ponder the enormous sacrifice that God made to come and dwell among humanity.

All people will benefit from Christians who commit to celebrating the Christmas holiday in a manner that bears witness to the reality of Christ’s birth, so that God receives all the glory. Truly, the greatest gift to humanity was born on the day of the Lord’s birth. God loved the world so much that He gave humanity the greatest gift: the Savior, who is Jesus. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15)—not only on December 25th, but also each and every day.                         

1 George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 5 vols. (New York: Scribner’s, 1905-06) 1:284.
2 C. S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian (New York: Collier Books, 1977) 204.

Midnight Call - 12/2018

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