Archive for March, 2015

See, Your King Comes To You!

See, Your King Comes to You!

Zechariah 9:9-12; Luke 19:28-40

 

More than a 100 years ago, two sportsmen were sailing along the coasts of Scotland. They anchored their boat at Inverness and went ashore to explore the countryside. At the end of the day they were lost and decided to try and find lodging before nightfall. They knocked on the door of a humble cottage and requested a meal, bed, and offered to pay, of course. The farmer looked at the two men with suspicion and sent them away and they went next door. This time the owner welcomed them and gave them a warm meal and bed for the night. Only in the morning did the host discover that one of his guests was Edward, Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward V. Imagine the shame and regret of the first farmer who refused to recognize and open the door to his future king. Yet, this is what we do all the time. The King comes to us and He finds Himself unwelcomed. Today’s message is taken from Zechariah 9 and Luke 19, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The two Scriptures tell of the occasion of Jesus’ entering into Jerusalem. As I think about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, I would like to make two short observations this morning. These two simple thoughts took my heart as I was thinking about the Triumphal Entry:

 

First: The Humility of the Coming King

Unlike the Rulers of His day, Roman Emperors and Kings of ancient kingdoms, Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord of lords and King of kings, entered Jerusalem on a donkey. The donkey is not a very pompous animal. It is not very awe-inspiring. It is utilitarian. It is a work animal, not a party animal. It is not very expensive, not something you associate with wealth and riches. It is the animal for common people. Jesus, however, did not even come riding on His own donkey. He had to find a donkey that belonged to somebody else. When the King of kings came to His city, He came in poverty and humility.

 

Jesus of Nazareth is a different kind of king. He makes no display of His great power. He makes a display of His humility. He makes a display of His poverty. He makes a display of His lowliness. He comes devoid of power, without any army, not displaying any wealth. He comes on a donkey. He is a different kind of king. He does not come to be served, but to serve. He does not come to create a distance between Himself and His people. He comes to create nearness. He comes to us when we fail to pursue Him. He does not demand of us that we stretch ourselves to the uttermost, so that perhaps we can be deemed worthy of meeting Him. Rather, He comes to meet us wherever we are. Your king is coming to you, the prophet said. Your king is coming to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.

 

The king comes to us, humble. And what could be more humble than this king coming as a little baby laid in a manger, an animal’s feed trough, where even a donkey might feed? From His lowly birth to His humble ride, the coming of Christ goes against expectations and outward appearances. It’s still that way today. Christ comes to us in lowly means. In a little church, through the foolishness of preaching, words of forgiveness, comfort, and strength as though from God – although it doesn’t look like Jesus Himself forgiving, comforting, and strengthening us. But it is. Bread and wine, and some words; this is His Body and Blood, this is forgiveness of sins? Yes, it is. Jesus says so. “See, your king is coming to you, humble.” Through these humble means, your king has so much to give to you. Through these humble means, your king is coming to you.

 

The people at Zechariah’s time were very discouraged. Things didn’t look so glorious. The place was a wreck, and it looked like the turmoil would never end. Maybe we feel like that too. Our lives have been devastated by this or that affliction, maybe even by our own folly. Rebuilding – why bother? It’ll just be something else to come along and mess things up. But when we feel like that, Zechariah’s prophecy, and Matthew’s retelling of it, gives us the encouragement we need. For the Lord remembers His promises. There is a king who will come alongthere is a king who will come againand straighten things out. It may not look like it right now, but this is the affirmation and witness of the Scriptures: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you.”

 

Second: Our King Knows the Details

As I mentioned, in today’s Scriptures, we meet a different kind of king. We meet a king whose power by far exceeds that of any other king. Not only do we meet a king with real power to make people do His bidding; we meet a king who controls every little detail that takes place in the entire universe. Where do we get that? When Jesus sends out His disciples to find the donkey for Him to ride into Jerusalem, He already knows what is going to happen. He tells them: “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.”

 

Jesus knows about the little problem the disciples will run into when they go to get the donkey. He knows that someone will ask the disciples why they are taking this donkey and her colt, and He instructs the disciples simply to tell them that “the Lord needs them.” “The Lord needs them.” In the Bible, “Lord” is the name for God, as He is the only true lord. He is the only one whose lordship never ends. He is the only one who does not depend on anyone else to remain in power. He is the only one who is truly lord. Jesus shares the name of His Father, just as He shares His majesty and power. That is why He refers to Himself as the Lord and that is why the apostle John in Revelation 16:14; 20:16 calls Him “Lord of lords and King of kings.”

 

Let me tell you a great truth today. Jesus also knows all the details of your life. Sometimes we ask ourselves: does the Lord really care? The people of God felt this way during Isaiah’s time. In Isaiah 40:27 we read, “Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lordmy cause is disregarded by my God?” Friends, this is not true. The Lord knows the details of our journey. The Lord writes to a small church in Asia Minor called Thyatira in Revelation 2:19, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” The Lord knows the details of your life!

 

Rejoice greatly, people of God! Shout, children of the Most High! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey. Your King comes to you in compassion and grace. Your King comes to you and He will walk you through this journey we call life. Your King comes to you and your way is not hidden from His eyes; your cause is not disregarded by your God. This is the bittersweetness of the gospel. Therefore, let’s go and tell it. We are the rest of the story. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Meditation Notes (Palm Sunday ~ March 29th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

The Three Great Ends of the Church #3

Glorification of God, Edification of the Saints, and Evangelization of the World!

Isaiah 43:10; Acts 1:6-11

 

I am sure most of us have heard a version or another of this amazing story. The story is told about Jesus after He accomplished the mission the Father had sent Him for, He returned back to His glory in heaven. Jesus was received by His Father, by the angels in the heavenly realms, and by the Old Testaments Saints. Michael, the Archangel, bowed down before the Lord and approached Him and asked, “Lord, welcome back! Having accomplished your mission on earth, I assume that everyone on earth is saved now, right?” Jesus said, “No! Not really.” The Archangel asked, “How come?” Jesus answered, “I have left my Church to continue the mission.” Jesus’ statement very much summarizes the third great end of the Christian Church, namely, the evangelization of the world. Friends, Jesus left nothing tangible to mark His life on earth – no book, not even a letter, no monumental work of art or great composition. He just left a handful of men and women. He says to them, “You are my witnesses.” They, and all subsequent disciples, were to bear witness to Jesus.

 

Today we will wrap up a three-week series of messages we called, The Three Great Ends of the Church. My hope for each one of us is to be able to see their lives from God’s perspective. Believers are human beings with a purpose. As I mentioned before, Ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian Church, tells us that the Church exists for three major purposes: glorification of God, edification of the saints, and evangelization of the world.   The last two Sundays we covered the first two purposes. This morning, I would like to cover the third and last one: the evangelization of the world. Let me highlight two important Scriptures as the Biblical foundation for thismissional bodywe call Church. Isaiah 43:10, the Scriptures says, “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.” And in Acts 1:8 Jesus says the same exact truth, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Two important observations for today:

 

First: Something Happens When Christians Take This Commandment Seriously

Please listen to the words of the Scripture in Acts 17:6, “And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (ESV). That was the exclamation of a concerned citizen of the ancient city of Thessalonica. He said this in reference to the Apostle Paul and his ministry partner Silas. “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” Yet, these two men did not exercise coercion, violence, or manipulation as they “turned the world upside down.” They simply came with a message – “Jesus is King” (Acts 17:3,9). It wasn’t a message that was formulated in a vacuum either. Something happens when followers of Christ take the command to witness seriously.

 

The front lines of Jesus’ army today are you – faithful men and women who live ordinary lives in the world, attending school, making a living, raising families, participating in the daily life of our society. You are the ones who will reach the people whom we as clergy may never see – relatives, friends, coworkers, and in athletics, clubs and organizations. You will be placed in situations where you will be a witness to your faith – not by standing up and preaching – but by the way you conduct yourself as a Christian. In whatever you do, you are a Christian first – a Christian athlete, a Christian doctor, a Christian in business, a Christian parent, Christian teacher, a Christian friend. In whatever we do, we are Christians first.

 

In his book, Bread for Life, New Testament Professor Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos writes, “God will provide many opportunities to the growing Christian for sharing with others his or her experience with the Bible. What better witness for the truth of the Christian faith than a solid Christian life nourished by Holy Scripture and radiating true Christian love at home, at Church and at work?” Friends, God will place you in situations to share your faith. There will be certain days when things fall into place and you feel that God is using the gifts that He has given you for His purposes. You will sense that He has placed you in a certain situation for which you are uniquely prepared. You will succeed and hopefully you will honor Him with your success, knowing that all that you accomplish has come from Him. As He called upon His disciples on the day of His Ascension, He has also called upon us today to be His witnesses “…in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

 

Second: What Does It Mean to Witness?

What does it mean to be witnesses to God’s love? David Lose, President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, once said, “We bear witness to things that are important to us all the time. We bear witness to the great movies or television programs we’ve seen and want others to enjoy. We bear witness to the accomplishments (or failures) of our sports teams. We bear witness to the important events in our family or work lives. We bear witnessthat is, tell someone aboutthe things that matter the most to us. Why it is different when we think about our faith, what happens in worship, in classes, in fellowship? Why it is different when we encounter the Lord?

 

Some of you may say, I just do not know enough to talk to others about Jesus. I don’t understand how resurrection is possible. I don’t understand how He walked through closed doors or ate fish after He had been crucified. There’s so much that even your minister doesn’t understand; however, the good news is we don’t have to understand. Jesus understands us. We do not have to understand Easter to experience Easter.

 

So when we are called to be witnesses it does not mean shoving our faith down someone’s throat or threatening them with eternal hellfire if they don’t believe like we do. It’s simply telling others where we sensed God or the Holy Spirit at work in our lifeat home or work, at church or school, through a stranger or a friend, a doctor or teacher or neighbor, even through ourselves. As David Lose says, “Bearing witness is nothing more than saying where you think God is at work in your life and the world.” For some of you it may still feel a bit scary to witness. It doesn’t happen overnight. One of my goals as your minister and teacher is to keep trying to be a good role model and show with words and actions how to answer the call Christ is still making for all of us to be witnesses. It is possible? Remember that Jesus promised His disciples and us that He would be with us always until the end of time.

 

Friends, we are simply called to be witnesses. That is our mission. Word it any way you want, but the mission is the same: we are to be witnesses, in word and deed, to what we have experienced of the risen Christ in our lives. It is a clear and present mission. And we begin right here, in our own Jerusalem. Let me add one last word of advice. You don’t have to convince your friends that they need Christ—only the Holy Spirit can do that. Just be a Christian! There’s a big difference between telling and selling. If you do the telling, the Holy Spirit can do the selling. You can’t do His work and He won’t do yours. My hope for the Elmer Presbyterian Church is to be a movement, not just another organization in the community. As a member of this body, pray that God would give you a chance to witness for Christ this week. Commit to speaking up when God gives you the opportunity you prayed for. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 22nd, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

The Three Great Ends of the Church #2

Glorification of God, Edification of the Saints, and Evangelization of the World!

Psalm 66:8-15; Ephesians 4:11-13

 

There was a church in a small town in Tennessee that had the most interesting name. The sign in front of it said, “Left Foot Baptist Church.” There was a young man who passed by the building several times, and he always got a good chuckle from the name. Finally, one day he stopped by and asked someone about the church with the unusual name. I don’t believe that he was counting on the answer that he got. He found out that several years before, a great conflict arose in the church. You see, it was a Foot-Washing Baptist Church–they washed one another’s feet as an act of worship. But the conflict broke out over which foot should be washed first. Half of the congregation thought they should start with the right foot. The other half thought that they should always start with the left foot. The conflict simmered and brewed until finally the left-foot proponents split off and organized their own church. Of course, they called it “Left Foot Baptist Church.”

 

While that story is unusual by itself, we know that it is not unusual for churches to allow small and insignificant matters to tear them apart. And when these small things become the focus of the church, then they keep the church from fulfilling God’s purpose. I am very thankful for the positive spirit of unity that exists in the church family here. It is something that we need to continually work at as we strive to live out God’s purpose for our lives and for this church.

 

Last Sunday we began a three-week series of messages that I titled, “The Three Great Ends of the Church.” We said that the more we read the Scriptures, the more we see three major ends of the church. Ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian Church, tells us that the Church exists for three major purposes: glorification of God, edification of the saints, and evangelization of the world. Last week we covered the first end, the first purpose, the glorification of God. We said that the   church is the chief instrument for glorifying God in the world. We glorify God by (1) Completing the works God has given us ~ John 17:4. (2) We glorify God by our faith ~ Romans 4:20. The second purpose is to edify the saints. Because Christ’s church is not a building – Christ’s church is a family of believers who share life together – Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church is challenging each of us to jump in and celebrate our spiritual life with the family God has given to us. Two major thoughts for this morning:

 

First: God Ordained Local Churches

The New Testament church was made up of a universal body of redeemed saints. But all of those saints located in identifiable, local, geographic gatherings that were deeply connected at every level: spiritually, emotionally, financially, and relationally. New Testament believers were taught that God wanted them to be a part of a local church. New Testament believers were taught that God wanted them to pour out their lives into one group of people day after day, and week after week.

 

If Christ had only wanted us to only be a part of the universal church then we could all just drive around each Sunday and visit a different church. We could all be well rested, never exhausted by ministry, never in a hurry to get everything done that needs to be accomplished, and just come at the posted time, take in the service, get blessed, and leave. That form of detached, uninvolved, “free as the wind” type of church was never a part of Christ’s plan for His body!

Jesus sent out His apostles to start local, visible groups of believers that lived life together as Christ’s family. God did not design the drive-in-theater type of church that has a parking lot of unconnected individuals all watching the same show. He designed Christ’s family as a group that shares life. God looks to each one of us to do our part in His Church that He is building; and each of us is a unique tool in His Hands; and each of us can do something God designed only for us to do. Therefore, God indeed ordained local churches with purposes in His mind.

 

Second: Equipping the Saints and Edifying of the Body

When we were saved we each became a vital part of Christ’s Church, with a specific job description that is found in many places including Ephesians 4:11-16.   In Ephesians 4 Paul is sharing with us the plan Jesus gave him, to keep His saints all doing what He designed them to do. Listen to God’s plan for the members of His body in Ephesians 4:11-13, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping [preparing, perfecting] of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”  (NKJV).

 

Ephesians 4:12 contains God’s goal for all of us in Christ’s church this morning—bringing believers to spiritual health and spiritual growth through truth in Christ. How is this done within a local church? Paul introduces us to the twin concepts of the “equipping church” and the “edifying church.” Both ministries are vital. We all need to grasp our responsibility, so that we come to church and operate as a church in the way that God designed us to serve Him.

 

Equip: Paul grabs a word that gave an immediate picture in everyone’s mind that read this letter. Saints need to be made whole, they need to be mended, and they need to be repaired. So the word “equip” which means either mending nets or setting bones, describes the taking injured, damaged, or weakened things and getting them back the way they are supposed to be. An equipping church is all about helping people from where they are to where God wants them to be. We all need help, and we all are to help each other. I hope that every one of us will be able le to plug those images into the purpose of Christ’s church as we meet here every time. “Mending lives” so that those lives can be engaged as tools in Christ’s hands building up, helping, exhorting, and discipling others.

 

Friends, believers are out in life getting frayed, torn, and ripped by all the troubles and struggles we go through each day. We each sustain some degree of damage through struggles at work, conflicts at home, and temptations nagging us everywhere, and fears assaulting us when we are alone. We are often just like a net as it gets dragged along the shore in daily use—we have sustained wear and tear to our lives just with the daily pressures and stresses of living.

 

But now comes the wonderful part; the good news. This truth is what has strengthened Christ’s church through all these centuries since Pentecost—when we gather obediently as Christ’s church, He is present; and when Christ is present, He uses us to do His work of repairing one another from the injuries of life’s struggles. He uses us to edify, to build up each other’s faith. Friends, God wants us to actually do something for Christ in the lives of those around us. Through His plan we get back on the road, the broken down relationships mended, the flat tires of lost hope repaired, confidence and assurance are restored, and we go back on the road of life again. We are repaired, mended, and built up—by His Spirit, through His Word, and using other believers. The church that offers these needed repairs is the church that is truly an “equipping” and “edifying” church; and that is what we see as we follow this word through the rest of the New Testament. Jesus uses us within His church to be His instruments through which He mends other believers. May we be so. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 15th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

The Three Great Ends of the Church #1

Glorification of God, Edification of the Saints, and Evangelization of the World!

1 Chronicles 16:23-29; John 17:1-5

 

 

 

This morning we begin a three-week series of messages that I titled, “The Three Great Ends of the Church.” What are the great ends of the church? What is the purpose of this “collective body of believers” we call the church of Jesus Christ? This question has always been very important and central to the life of the church. Why do we do what we do? Why are we here in the Sanctuary, in God’s House, this morning? The more I read the Scriptures, the more I see three major ends of the church. Ecclesiology, the theological study of the Christian Church, tells us that the Church exists for three major purposes: glorification of God, edification of the saints, and evangelization of the world. Over the next few weeks we will revisit our understanding of our ecclesiology. I want us to understand why we do what we do. I want us to understand that when we make an investment in God’s Kingdom, we make the best investment ever. I want us to understand that when we invest our time, our energy, and our money in the service of the Lord, we make the most beautiful thing. This morning I would like to focus on the first purpose, the first end, of the church and that is the glorification of God. The church is the chief instrument for glorifying God in the world.

 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us what man’s chief purpose is for being created. The first question in the Catechism is a very important question. Question #1:  What is the chief end of man (humanity)?   This is asking what is the main purpose of humanity. The answer is “to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” That is a little understood purpose for which God created humanity. First Peter 4:11 clearly spells this out saying, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”   We are here not to praise ourselves or glorify anyone. As Isaiah wrote in 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” How does the Church glorify God in the world? How do we glorify God in the world? Two major thoughts:

 

First: Accomplishing the Work God Has Given Us

In John 17:4 Jesus prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” Jesus prayed those words on the night of His betrayal. I’ve always found it interesting that Jesus defined glorifying God as doing the work the Father had given Him. Obedience to the Father’s will = Father receiving glory.

 

We can apply this to ourselves as Christ’s followers too. Jesus receives glory when we accomplish the task that He has given us. If the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, we might ask: how best do we glorify and enjoy God? The way Jesus glorified the Father was by fulfilling the mission.

 

In July1879 the Lord worked in the hearts of sixteen believers to establish what it came to be known as the First Presbyterian Church of Elmer. I am sure that those founding members had the mission clear in their minds. The sought the glorification of God, the edification of the saints, and evangelization of their community. Generation after generation, faithful followers of Christ, a great cloud of witnesses, who have belonged to this Church have worked hard to fulfill this mission. Too often, we think of glorifying God in abstract terms. Instead, our concern to glorify the Father ought to drive us to ask bigger questions about the Church’s mission on earth and our part on that.

 

I like the witness of the Scripture about King David in Acts 13:36. Acts tells us that King David died, only after fulfilling God’s purposes for him in his generation. “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed.” In the same way, for such a time as this, God has placed each one of us in a certain location and has charged us to spread the news and fragrance of His kingdom. Jesus could boldly say that God the Father had been glorified, because – as the Son – he had finished the Master’s plan that had been set out for Him from the beginning of time. We, in turn, must not relegate the work the Lord has entrusted to our care.

 

Second: Glorifying God by Our Faith

Friends, do you realize that a lack of faith does not honor and glorify God? In Romans 4:20 the Bible gives us a great example of this truth, the example of Abraham. Abraham actually glorified God by his faith as Paul wrote, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” In fact we cannot please God without faith, but with faith God is well pleased as Hebrews 11:6 says. Hebrews chapter 11 is full of people who glorified God in their lives because their faith was only as strong as the object of their faith: God!

 

Friends, on one hand, we can glorify God by what we do.  On the other hand, we can also bring shame to the name of Christ if we claim to be believers and do not live up to our calling. Paul understood that what we do either glorifies God, glorifies ourselves or brings shame to His Holy Name.  In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul said “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That means that whatever we do, whether serve, pray or give, we must keep in mind that our chief purpose is to glorify God.

 

Friends, we are here to glorify the Lord. The church is on a mission on this earth. In 2 Corinthians 9:13 the Scripture says that God can be glorified “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”

 

The Apostle Paul was consumed by the desire to glorify God as he said in Philippians 1:20, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

 

There are many ways to glorify God in our lives and my hope today for the Elmer Presbyterian Church is to be intentional about fulfilling that purpose. We can glorify God by our songs of praise and worship. We can exalt Him in our bodies by our acts of obedience, our selfless acts of service, our willingness to witness, and in our actions.  In 1 Chronicles 16:29 King David puts it in such a beautiful way, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” May our lives become a hymn of gory to God. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 8th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor