Archive for September, 2015

“A Sower Went Out to Sow!”

Sermon Notes (Sunday September 27th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

A Sower Went Out to Sow!”  

Isaiah 55:10-13; Matthew 13:1-9

 

There is no doubt that Jesus was the master teacher ever lived on earth! He had the unique ability to take scenes from everyday life and use them to teach profound spiritual truths. Such is the case with the Scripture passage we have read this morning from the gospel of Matthew chapter 13. As Jesus sat by the lakeside teaching, He began to talk about an image with which everyone present was so familiar. He talked about a farmer taking seed into a field. He pictured that farmer casting the seed upon the earth. This seed fell upon the ground and landed upon differing types of soils. While some of the seed brought forth fruit, other seed did not.

 

Jesus used this very common image to invite those who heard Him to examine their lives and the condition of their hearts. God continually sows the seed of the gospel of grace in our lives. But you and I know that the soil, the human heart, must be ready and willing to receive the seed. Today and over the next three Sundays, I would like for us to investigate this parable. Jesus talked about four soils in this parable: The hard soil, the stony soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil. These four soils represent four different responses to the seed sown ~ God’s Word. As we move through this parable, I would ask you to examine your own heart to see what kind of soil you are. I do not want to rush through this important Scripture passage, therefore, each Sunday we will focus on one kind of soil, apply it to our lives as individuals and as a congregation, and see what the Spirit has to say to us. Let’s now go to the first kind of soil, the hard soil.

 

  1. The Hard Soil

The first place where the seed fell was “along the path.” In Mathew 13:3-4 Jesus said, “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” In order to understand what Jesus meant here, we need to know how did they do pathways during the time of Jesus. Today we have sidewalks made of cement or concrete, but during the time of Christ they didn’t have cement or similar materials. The fields in Jesus’ day were set out in long narrow strips, and the farmers would use the ground between the strips for pathways. These pathways would eventually get beaten down from all the walking. The ground in that path was hard as rock, and no grass would grow there. With many people walking along the same path day after day, the soil will become packed and very hard, just like concrete. That’s what this path in the parable was like. The seeds just lay on top of the path, and so the birds swooped down and ate them up.

 

We do not have to speculate what did Jesus mean by the hard soil because Jesus gave the meaning in the same chapter. In Matthew 13:18-19 Jesus said, “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” We are told here that this speaks of the person who hears the gospel, but who doesn’t “understand it”. That is, they cannot make the connection between the claims of the gospel and their own life. Maybe they are steeped in sin and refuse to believe. Maybe they are calloused and cold toward the things of God and refuse to hear. Maybe they have hardened their hearts for years against the call of the gospel and like a path trampled underfoot for centuries, they have become hard hearted! Procrastination, pride and stubbornness can also lead to a hard heart. Because of sin, pride, stubbornness, and many other reasons, some people have become hard hearted and the seed of the gospel cannot penetrate the soil of their heart. When this happens, the devil and his minions will snatch away to gospel seed by diverting the mind and helping the person become even more hardened against God.

 

Do Not Harden Your Hearts

In Psalm 95:8-11 God says, “Today, if only you would hear His voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” The same message is also found in the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 3:12-15 and so many other places in the Scripture. God has issued these warnings because when our hearts are hardened, it makes it very easy for the devil to keep us from responding to the spiritual truth found in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

 

For us as believers and followers of Jesus of Nazareth, I want you today to identify one area of your life where your heart is hardened. Identify it, pray about it, and trust the transformative power of the gospel. This could be as simple as finding a time every day to read God’s Word and commune with your Heavenly Father. It could be as simple as attending church services on regular basis. It could be prioritizing Christ over every and all things. It could be following Him faithfully and closely not at a distance or occasionally. It could be just being honest with the Lord in your giving. It could be cultivating more trust in God and His plans for your life. Whatever and wherever the hardness in your life is, this is something between you and the Lord, what I would like you to do today is to acknowledge it, pray for God’s intervention, and surrender it to the Lord.

 

For us as a congregation, as the Elmer Presbyterian Church, I guess the question is: what do we do when we feel that most of the seed we scatter fall along the path and the birds of the sky eat it up? Do we stop? Do we get discouraged? Do we quit? Absolutely not! In spite of the hardness of the soil, we should not give up on witnessing to people who are insensitive to spiritual things. Even calloused people can be won to God. In St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, there is a tablet in honor of Samuel Barnett (1844-1913), an Anglican pastor who preached to the rebellious, sinful people of East London for a half-century. That was a very difficult mission field! The tablet portrays an engraved figure of the sower, with these words: “Fear not to sow on account of the birds.” Barnett learned that sowing with this kind of people is NOT just for the birds. Even hard, calloused people can be led to the Lord. For hard ground we need to keep working to soften it until in God’s timing, if He pleases, to make it a fertile and good soil. Church, let’s keep giving and never give up on our mission because we are assured that as Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is God’s word that goes out from God’s mouth: It will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what God desires and achieves the purpose for which He sent it.”

 

Friends, as I conclude, let me ask you one more time: What is the condition of the soil in your life? Have you been hardened to the point that God’s seed can’t germinate in the hardened soil of your life? If so, would you identify the stubbornness in your life, pray for obedience and seek God’s strength to soften your heart? The way to freedom in life is through surrender ~ surrender to God’s call and God’s ways. Surrendering our will to God is the first step in developing an obedient heart. When our pride gives way to humility we experience the sheer, raw faith that grows into maturity and bears much fruit. May God give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us. May God remove from us our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Who Is Jesus? #7: The True Vine!

Sermon Notes (Sunday September 20th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Who Is Jesus? #7: The True Vine!

Psalm 80:8-11; John 15:1-8

 

This is the final week of our series through the seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus in the gospel of John. The seventh “I am” statement is found in John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” It might be helpful to briefly shed some light about the setting of this last statement. The last verse in John chapter 14 tells us that Jesus and the His disciples are about to leave the upper room in Jerusalem where they celebrated the Passover. They are headed to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus will pray His great High Priestly prayer and will later be arrested by the mob led by Judas. Apparently, Jesus speaks the words which make up chapters 15 and 16 in route to the garden.

 

The last “I am” statement pictures Jesus as the “True Vine.” I can imagine Jesus and the disciples going through the darkened streets of the city and then passing beyond the walls into the surrounding countryside. During this time of year, mid April, the grape vines would be beginning to blossom with the promise of a fresh harvest. As Jesus walked with His disciples, perhaps He reached out and took a vine in His hands and used it to teach an object lesson to His followers. He wanted to teach them about the most important and vital relationship they have in their lives ~ their relationship with Him.

 

Image of a Vineyard

When Christ called Himself the “True Vine,” He used an image that would be very familiar to the disciples. Nothing was more obvious to first century Jews than a vineyard. They lived, walked, slept and ate in the very shadow of the vine. The Israelite calendar was governed by growing season: In the winter was pruning of the vines; spring welcomed the first buds which were followed by vigorous growth of vines in summer; heavy clusters of grapes came in fall harvest.

 

For that reason the vineyard became a preeminent symbol of God’s care for His people. Frequently in the Scripture, especially the books Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Israel is described as a choice vine, brought out of Egypt to serve the Lord. And although God is the wise gardener, diligently caring for His vineyard, preparing the ground, planting the grapevines, Israel failed to be fruitful. The good vine planted by God was to bear the fruit of an obedient life, but it produced only sour grapes. The gardener’s disappointment is clear. Jeremiah wrote in 2:21: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against into a corrupt, wild vine?” Israel had been an unproductive vineyard, unfaithful to her covenant with the Lord.   But Jesus is the True Vine. He is “true” because He is perfect, complete, and enduring. He is the genuine in contrast to that which is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretentious. Three observations for us this morning as we look together at that last “I am” statement:

 

First: Remain in Him and Stay Connected

John chapter 15 is an amazingly Christo-centric chapter. Jesus uses the pronouns I, me or my…71 different times in this chapter. What you and I need to do is to remain in Jesus and stay connected to our source of strength. In John 15:4 Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” That implies some sort of response from our part. The vine is always there for the branches. We are to abide in Him, to sojourn with Him, to continue to be present with Him. In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates this as “Live in me. Make your home in me, just as I do in you.” When our Lord says, “Abide in me” He is talking about the will, about the choices, the decisions we make. We must decide to do things which expose ourselves to Him and keep ourselves in contact with Him. Let me ask you, what choices do you make that enable you to remain in Him? What decisions do we make to abide in Christ, to stay connected to the vine? As any other relationship, our walk with the Lord requires attention and maintenance.

 

The simple message of John 15 is that we are totally dependent on Christ. Remaining in Christ is not an option. Spiritual vitality does not come from us. It comes from Christ. C. S. Lewis illustrated what this means: “A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” Stay connected!

 

Second: Branches that Bear Fruit are Pruned

In John 15 the Father is described as the gardener. He is the one with pruning shears in His hand. He is in the business of cutting off any branch that bears no fruit and pruning any fruit-bearing branch so that it bears more fruit. The gardener who prunes his vine works with extreme care. There is no threat here in the picture of God as the gardener who prunes His vines. There is no warning of ‘produce or else!’ Instead we are assured that God, the gardener, actively tending His vineyard, is fully committed to bring us to maximum fruitfulness. God’s pruning work benefits us; it doesn’t threaten us.

 

At a certain time of the year, vinekeepers cut of certain “sucker shoots” from the vines. It is because they will never bear fruit. They will grow leaves abundantly, but they will never produce fruit. If allowed to remain, these shoots will actually sap the life of the vine and greatly reduce the quantity of fruit it will bear. God is pruning out of our lives those things that distract us from Him so that the fruit we do produce will be bringing joy to God and flowing into the lives of others.

Third: Those Who Receive Must give

We can’t receive from God and always just receive. We have to let it flow through us or the God life in us dies. If you’ve ever been to Israel, you know there’s a real contrast between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is full of water and full of life. There are trees and vegetation. They still do commercial fishing there. But the Dead Sea is just that – dead. There are no fish in it and no life around it. The Sea of Galilee is at the top of Israel and receives waters from the mountains of Lebanon. They all come into the top of it and then it gives out at the bottom. That water flows down through the Jordan River and enters into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea takes in but it never gives out. That’s why it’s stagnant. The point is, there must be a balance in our lives to stay fresh with both input and output. There’s got to be an inflow and an outflow. The problem is: some believers are like the Dead Sea, always taking in but never giving out.

 

Friends, there are many Christians today struggling to live the Christian life, who have never discovered where the strength to live that kind of life is to be found. There are many earnest believers, young and old, who are continually being disappointed and cast down because they are finding their own resources so inadequate to meet the demands of real Christian living. All what we need is found in the GREAT I AM. Therefore, remain in Him and stay connected, be patient if you’re going under the pruning process, and remember the more you receive the more you are expected to give. Do not be another dead sea. Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48); He is the Light of the World (8:12, 9:5); He is the Gate for the Sheep (10:7); He is the Good Shepherd (10:11); He is the Resurrection and the Life (11:25); He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6); and He is the True Vine (15:1). He is the Great I am. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Who Is Jesus? #6: The Way, the Truth, and the Life!

Sermon Notes (Sunday September 13th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Who Is Jesus? #6: The Way, the Truth, and the Life!

Proverbs 14:12; John 14:1-6

 

The past few Sundays we have heard some astonishing claims of who Jesus Christ claims to be. Instead of allowing the culture, the circumstances, or our feeble minds to define Jesus Christ, the solo purpose of this series of messages is to allow the Scriptures, God’s authoritative Word, to give its true witness of who Jesus Christ truly is. It is very crucial that we focus our attention on the true Jesus, who is revealed to us in Scripture. Seven times in the gospel of John, Jesus used a formula that God had used in the Old Testament to introduce Himself to Moses and to the Israelites. In Exodus chapter 3:13-14 we read, “Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” In defining Himself, Jesus used that very formula. I am! So far, we have covered 5 claims. Jesus claimed, “I am the Bread of Life; I am the Light of the World; I am the Gate for the Sheep; I am the Good Shepherd; and I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

 

The Exclusivity of Jesus’ Path

Today’s claim is even more profound and controversial. In reply to a question from Thomas, Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” This is probably the most exclusive statement ever made by anyone. In our pluralistic society and relativistic age, it sounds so intolerant, arrogant, narrow-minded and is very offensive to many people. If only Jesus had said, “I am one way, one truth, or a way of life” then people could accept it. But Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

 

The reason Jesus is the exclusive way to God is because He is the Unique Son, the Only-Begotten, the Creator, the only one who has been given the authority to have life in Himself. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” as John says in Revelation 22:13. Other parts of the New Testament echo this exclusivity of Jesus as the only Way to God, for example in Matthew 11:27 we read, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mortals by which we must be saved” says Luke in Acts 4:12. Jesus Himself said in John 10: 13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus is that Narrow Gate. Jesus is that Narrow Road or Way. Exclusively! To get to our destination, the Father’s House, we must follow Him and Him only.

 

Let’s now look at this six statement from John 14:6. As we do so, I trust that the Holy Spirit will encourage and comfort our souls. We can but only scratch the surface of these profound statements. What does Jesus mean by these three descriptors – the way, the truth, and the life?

 

First: I am the Way

Jesus had just told the disciples He was going to leave them and go to heaven. Thomas asked Him, I don’t know the way? In a sense, he was asking: which is the road or means to heaven? You probably heard the joke: Why do so few people get to heaven?” The answer is, “They never stop to ask for directions.” And that is very true. But I am glad that Thomas did ask for directions here. And more glad that Jesus told him the way. The world and media is always trying to direct us to the right way. Jesus says there is only one way to heaven. There is only one way to the Father’s presence. There is only one way to the Father’s house. In Proverbs 14:12 King Solomon said “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

 

This phrase, “The Way,” is used several places in the Scriptures. In Ephesians 2:18, the apostle Paul tells us, “Through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:19-20 speaks of “a new and living way” that gives us access into God’s very presence.” Earlier in the gospel of John in John 10:9 Jesus spoke of Himself as “the gate” through which His sheep enter into salvation.” To say that Jesus is “the Way” is to affirm that He is the path to God.

 

Second: The Truth

Jesus was not only saying, “I am the Way” but added, “I am the Truth.” What is truth? In John’s gospel the noun “truth” (alētheia) appears 25 times, compared to once in Matthew and three times each in Mark and Luke. In John’s gospel, alētheia, “truth,” carries the idea of “authenticity, divine reality, revelation.” The dictionary says truth is, “a certainty concerning any matter; a verified fact or statement; that which is real, steadfast and faithful. It is the opposite of lies, falsehood or deceit.” A survey taken a few years ago asked, “Do you agree strongly, somewhat, or disagree strongly or somewhat, with the following statement: There is no such thing as absolute truth.” Only a quarter of the people believed in “absolute truth.” Today people want to believe in what they call, relative truth. What that means is that a lot of truth is relative to each individual. It means that what is true to one person doesn’t have to be true to someone else. Although I believe all religions contain some truth, Christ is the absolute truth. Friends, the devil doesn’t mind a little truth.

 

Third: The Life

Finally, Jesus declares that He is the Life. Again, John’s gospel overflows with this theme. Jesus brings eternal life. In fact, He is the very source of life – both physical life as Creator, but eternal life as well. In John 1:3-4 we read, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all people.”

 

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471), a German priest who wrote The Imitation of Christ, put it well. He said, “Without the Way there is no going; without the Truth there is no knowing; without the Life there is no living. I am the way which you must follow; the truth which you must believe; the life for which you must hope. I am the inviolable way, the infallible truth, the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated. If you abide in my way you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, and you shall attain life everlasting.” What a powerful insight!

 

Friends, today’s statement is a tough one! Personally, it brings so much joy and comfort to my heart to know that my Lord and Savior is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is not the purpose of this sermon this morning to send anyone to hell. It is not the purpose of this teaching today to demonize or condemn anyone. That’s not our job. The British theologian C.S. Lewis spent his life trying carefully to define and advocate for orthodox theology. An important text for Lewis was that obscure moment at the end of John’s gospel in chapter 21:22 when Peter asks Christ, “What about this other disciple, what is his ultimate fate?” Christ responds, “What has that to do with you? Follow me!” Rather than preach John 14:6 to determine who is on the way and who is got the truth, we’ve got our hands full just trying to follow Jesus down His narrow way. In other words, our job is to follow the way of Jesus, embrace the truth of the Scripture, and allow His life to transform our lives without condemning, demonizing, or sending anyone to hell. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Who Is Jesus? #5: The Resurrection and the Life!

Sermon Notes (Sunday September 6th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Who Is Jesus? #5: The Resurrection and the Life!

Job 14:1-14; John 11:17-27

 

The famous American evangelist and publisher D. L. Moody (1837-1899) who founded the Moody Bible Institute was called on as a young preacher, as the story was told, to preside at a funeral. Moody decided to search the four gospels in order to find one of Jesus’ funeral sermons. He discovered that Jesus never spoke at a funeral. In fact, Jesus broke up every funeral He ever attended. Wherever Jesus went, He pushed back death. When the dead heard His voice, they sprang to life. Jesus didn’t do funerals. He is the Resurrection and the Life. This is why we don’t believe in the finality of death. Jesus is life and new life. The resurrection from the death is at the very center of Christian belief, and that is why you and I get comforted when death takes away someone who is dear to our hearts, a spouse, a son, a daughter, a mom, a dad, or a friend.

 

This morning we continue our series on the seven “I am” statements of Jesus in the gospel of John. The fifth statement is found in John 11:25, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” In the events of John chapter 11, Martha and Mary come to believe in Jesus in a much deeper way. And the gospel story invites us to join them in this faith journey. What might it mean for us to believe Jesus when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life”? Please allow me to underscore three important observations:

 

First: Resurrection and Life are Possible

Probably the most obvious meaning behind Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is that resurrection and life are possible. Just like when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the gate,” and “I am the good shepherd” – Jesus was making a powerful connection between Himself and God. In other words, He is declaring divinity.

 

Resurrection and life are possible because Jesus is the giver of life. All through this gospel, John presents Jesus as the giver of life. In the prologue of John’s gospel, in John 1:4, he wrote, “In Him was life; and the life was the light of all people.” That’s not only a physical life, but spiritual life as well. It is God’s life that humans were created to contain, the life that centers in a personal love relationship with God (17:3). This is the life Jesus offers to Nicodemus, the religious leader who seemed to have it all (3:16). This is the life He offered to the woman at the well, whose life was so empty (4:13,14). This is the life He offered to multitude after He fed them with bread (6:35). This is the life He offered to the worshippers in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths (7:37,38). This is the life He offered to man born blind and those who were like him spiritually (8:12). This is the life He offered to His flock (10:10). Now to a man who is in the ultimate state of death, Jesus presents Himself as life in its ultimate expression – resurrection life. Yes, resurrection and life are possible in Jesus!

 

Second: New Life Comes at a Cost

While that sounds easy in theory, we know that new life always comes at some cost, some pain, some grief. In our gospel story, Lazarus didn’t get his new life until after he had died. Martha and Mary didn’t get their new, deeper faith until after they had experienced the death of their brother. Along with their sadness, the women apparently also felt frustrated with Jesus for not being there when they thought He should have been. Anger, abandonment, disappointment, and loss of control are all aspects of grief that are felt quite naturally at times of death. Even if we believe in resurrection, even if that belief gives us hope and joy, death still hurts. Job wrestled with that in Job chapter 14.

 

Lazarus’ new life came at a high cost to Jesus also. Besides losing a friend that Jesus obviously cared about, in order to go to Lazarus, Jesus had to put Himself at great risk. Part of the reason Jesus might have delayed His coming was that the Jewish leaders had just recently tried to stone Him. Jesus knew that, if He went back to Judea to help Lazarus, He would draw attention, trouble, and death. And, in fact, that’s what happened. I read the story through verse 27. In the remaining verses of chapter 11, we see that Jesus had to go into hiding because the Jewish leaders gave orders to arrest Him. As you well know, when Jesus eventually came out of hiding, He was arrested and put to death on the cross. Resurrection and life are wonderful things. But it’s a sad truth that renewal rarely comes without some kind of pain and struggle. It’s not easy to be born, and it’s often harder to be reborn. New life is a high value for us as Christians. But it’s worth remembering that resurrection and life come at a cost.

 

Third: Resurrection and Life Require us to Step Outside

When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” He wasn’t just returning to Lazarus and family where they were. He wasn’t leaving them in their status quo positions. Just as He called Lazarus to step out of the tomb, Jesus was also calling Martha and Mary to step outside of their house, outside their village of Bethany, and outside of their familiar Jewish tradition. Jesus was calling them to step outside their comfort zones into a new way of faith and life. “What if Jesus failed to get Lazarus back to life?” Mary and Martha would’ve asked. “How are we going to face the mockery of the people in Bethany if it doesn’t happen?” They definitely stepped outside their comfort zones!

 

Jesus is asking the same thing from us today. Resurrection and life for us as individuals and as a congregation require us to step outside. What is that God asking us to do today? How and where will our spiritual growth come? Will it be that we individually step out of our comfort zone of worship-only and add to that a Bible study or small group? Will we let down our guard and become more teachable? Will we step out of our protected space and into mission outreach? Will we open up our insider circle and invite someone new to participate in our ministries? In all those ways and more, I hope we are able to step outside our box to claim resurrection and life.

 

Friends, we don’t always know where resurrection and life will take us. But I do know that it will take us to amazing places. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Matthew 22:32 says, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” The great reformer Martin Luther was often plagued by times of deep and very dark mental depression. On one such occasion he was virtually inconsolable. The Pope was after him – he was publicly proclaimed and condemned as a heretic and a criminal – his own colleagues were fighting amongst themselves – and he was in excruciating pain from kidney stones. The situation was so bleak that his wife Katie approached her husband and told him that God is dead. Luther turned to his wife in puzzlement and replied, “God is not dead!” Katie then told her husband: “It sure seems like God is dead by the way you are acting.” Luther thanked his wife and went and etched five letters on the top of his desk: v-i-v-i-t. “V-i-v-i-t” is a Latin word that means “He (Jesus Christ) Lives!” When Luther was sick, as he often was, he would trace his finger over those letters etched into the top of his desk. When Luther was depressed, as he often was, he would trace his finger over those letters etched into the top of his desk. V-i-v-i-t. He lives! Jesus lives! And because Jesus lives, you and I today can experience the power of this fifth statement, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Remember resurrection and life are possible, new life comes at a cost, and resurrection and life require us to step outside of our comfort zone. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Who Is Jesus? #4: The Good Shepherd!

Sermon Notes (Sunday August 30th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Who Is Jesus? #4: The Good Shepherd!

Psalm 23; John 10:11-21

 

A mother was once asked by a census-taker how many children she had. The mother replied, “Well, there’s Billy and Harry and Martha and…”. “Never mind the names,” the census-taker interrupted, “Just give me the numbers, please.” The mother angrily replied, “They don’t have numbers, they all have names!” While this might be a funny story, in our modern world this is so true. We are often reduced to numbers and statistics. In this day and age, we are no longer identities, only our “number” is. No wonder many people today have an “identity crisis.” Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Christ is not like this. He knows each and every one of us by our names, just like a shepherd knows each and every one of the sheep in his flock. After all, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

 

We Need a Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said more than once in John chapter 10. Of all the “I am” sayings in the gospel of John, this one is the most beloved and I think it is for two basic reasons. We are drawn to this particular “I am” saying because each of us instinctively knows how desperately we need a shepherd. Deep down inside we realize that we require guidance and leadership. Deep down inside we realize that we need shepherding to make our way down the roads of life. I mean, think about it. How many times in the past week have you asked someone for their opinion on a decision that you face. I am sue numerous times this week we all asked for help and guidance.

 

Everyone knows deep inside that they do need guidance in life. It’s a commonly held belief that sheep tend to wander off easily, perhaps because they can’t see very far ~ less than 15 yards. And, no matter how many times you bring wayward sheep back, they are prone to wander off again because they can’t learn from their mistakes. Moreover, sheep are defenseless and dependent. They don’t have much of a bite… no natural defense—no claws, no horns, no fangs. They have no camouflage, so when they are being chased by a wolf they are out of luck. They are vulnerable to all kinds of diseases. To make matters worse, sheep are easily frightened and confused. It doesn’t take much to scramble the simple mental yolk of a nervous sheep. They’ve even been known to plunge straight over the edge of a high cliff in a panic, one following right after another. The definitely need guidance!

 

Jesus is the Only One who is Qualified for this Task

So, one reason so many Christians are drawn to this particular “I am” statement is because they understand this need. Not only do we need a shepherd, but second, Jesus is the only One who is qualified for this task. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus says in John 10:11. I want you to know this morning that God doesn’t compare us to sheep so often in His Word to put us down. The Israelites knew what sheep were capable of and so they didn’t take offense at being called sheep. God makes this comparison in His book so often because He wants to communicate these two important truths to us: First, He wants us to know that we are designed to need a Guide in life. So when we read Scriptures like Isaiah 53:6 where it says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way”…or Mark 9:36 where it says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” you know what they mean. Texts like these should remind us that we have an inborn need for a Shepherd and second, Jesus is the only One who is qualified for this task.

 

The Good Shepherd: Comfort and Challenge

The fourth “I am” statement puts before us today a great comfort and at the same time brings to us a huge challenge. The comfort, as you can figure out, in knowing that we have the best Shepherd ever. In Psalm 23 we see the Shepherd as our friend, our leader, our sufficiency, our comforter, our assurance, and our eternity. He is the only one who could say in Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Best friends might leave us. Parents might abandon their children. People may fail us. But Jesus will never disown His followers. John chapter 10 puts right before our eyes the comfort and the challenge.

 

Hearing the Voice of the Good Shepherd

Again, the comfort is we have the best Shepherd ever. John 10:14 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. The challenge is found in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” The sheep can hear and recognize the voice of their shepherd. Not only that, but they will only follow the voice of that one shepherd.

 

If you meet up with a group of Bedouins today at an oasis in the Middle East you will see a scene very similar to what was common in first century Palestine. Although several flocks might gather at a sheep pen or at the same watering hole, the Bedouin shepherds don’t try to keep them apart, because when the shepherd is ready to leave, he or she gives off a distinctive call or whistle and the flock gathers to that shepherd. They know whom they belong to; they know their shepherd’s voice, and it is the only one they will follow. It would seem that sheep aren’t all that dumb after all; they know whom they can trust and whom not to trust, and they respond only to that one voice. If, then, we are part of Jesus’ flock, then we’ll recognize His voice and follow Him.

 

Friends, in our day there are many voices calling out to us. They appeal to our emotions, our needs, our desires, our pride, and our fears. They prey upon our sense of rootlessness, that nomadic spirit that has infected our age. And into this spiral of confusion, we hear Jesus saying to us: “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.”

 

Friends, we should always be expecting to hear from God, because God always has something to say. Remember God is the Word in John 1:1. God the Word, is always and ever speaking and so we need to pay attention – to be in right place, at the right time, with the right attitude; we need to shut out distractions. We need to reduce the clutter and the noise; to have a clear focus when we gather to worship God, when we read Scripture, as we pray.

 

In the Reformed-Presbyterian tradition we are taught to listen both individually and collectively. Left to our own devices, without the wisdom of the community, individuals can sometimes imagine that God is saying all manner of things, but all individual understandings are to be checked out within the community of the faith. It is as part of the Body that we can best clarify all that God has to say to us and for us. Therefore, we need one another in the church, we need one another so that we might all hear, understand, and rejoice in the Master’s Voice. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!