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“On the Road to Calvary!”

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Passion Sunday ~ March 20th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

(Click on the arrow to listen to the sermon)

 

On the Road to Calvary!”

Psalm 24:7-10; Luke 19:41-44

 

A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mom. His dad returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” “You see,” replied the father, “when Jesus came into town, everyone laid down palm branches to honor Him, so we got palm branches today.” The little boy replied, “Aw man! I miss one Sunday and Jesus shows up!” You never know what you’ll miss, so I’m glad you’re here today!

 

Today is a big day. It’s Palm Sunday. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem for the last time. He is on the road to Calvary. Although we can easily see the joyous celebration the crowds had for Jesus thinking He is the one who will set them free from the bondage of the Roman occupation, I think Passion Sunday is about something of a greater importance. Jesus is on the road to Calvary. He is not going to Jerusalem to hear the crowds shout “Hosanna.”  Nor did He come for the first part of the week. No, Jesus came to Jerusalem for Good Friday. He is on the road to Calvary.

 

The Paradox of Palm Sunday

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Passion Sunday, there was a stir and all the people took notice. Matthew tells us that “the whole city was stirred and asked ‘Who is this’?”  The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” As you can tell, everyone was so excited. However, their passion and excitement will soon evaporate. The question I would like to ask this morning is very simple. How does this story come together with ours?  How does this story relate to ours today? Are we the modern day equivalent of those who lined the road from Bethany to Jerusalem with palm branches waving?” Two important observations as we look together at Psalm 24 and Luke 19 this morning:

 

First: Palm Braches Don’t Live Long

The problem with palms is that once you cut the branches from the tree, they don’t live long. The problem with Palm Sunday is that the excitement of the crowds didn’t last very long. A few short days later when Good Friday came, many of the same voices who shouted “Hosanna!” were also shouting “Crucify Him!” This was a sign that their love for the Lord was shallow and based entirely on their hope of what exciting things He could do for them.

 

They wanted to follow on the road to the throne, but they would not follow Jesus on the way to the cross.  They were more than eager to wave palms before the coming king, but they would not give their allegiance to the Suffering Servant. Are we also so shallow that we will wave palms on one Sunday a year and sing hymns of praise to our Lord, but refuse to obey the Servant king? You know, no one has any difficulty accepting and following a glorified king. The real issue for us today is to follow a crucified Messiah. The real challenge for us today is to keep trusting not on Palm Sunday but on Good Friday.

 

Second: The Cross and our Culture

I guess the question I am asking this Passion Sunday is: Are you, am I, willing to walk toward the cross and to live our lives according to what the cross demands? It isn’t a pretty life but it is a fulfilled life.  Are we willing to follow Christ and end up where Jesus did? In Romans 8:17 the Scripture teaches us if we share in His suffering, we will also share in His glory. Can we stand our ground when we get mocked and ridiculed for our beliefs especially in this skeptical age? Many will turn away to pursue the ways of the world and live lives ignoring the demands that are called for when we pick up our cross and follow. Few people find the way even though the signs are all around us.

 

As the cross was pressing in on Jesus from all sides, He would not try to go around it. He would not take the easy road nor would He try and go over it or under it. Obedience to God was more important to Jesus than anything else. The cross is against the mindset of our culture. It was against the mindset of the crowds on Palm Sunday. The contrast was so evident that day. While Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the crowd celebrated a Messiah of their own imagination. Are we following in the footsteps of the Messiah or the crowd?

 

A few years ago, Larry King interviewed Joel Osteen, the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church, the largest Protestant Church in the United States, located in Houston, Texas. The Membership of Lakewood is over 43,000. As you may know, Larry King is Jewish. Yet, his questions that night reflected a profound insight into the Christian faith. He asked his guest, “Yours is a Christian church isn’t it?” “Oh, yes,” answered the evangelist. “Well,” King continued, “I have never been to your church but I’ve watched your TV broadcast and I didn’t see a cross anywhere. You have a huge stage with a large globe depicting the earth. But there’s no cross in sight.”

 

The evangelist’s response was that his daddy who also had been a preacher didn’t have a cross in his church either, just a large map of the world with pins indicating all the places the gospel has spread. I’ve got no idea if Joel Osteen or his father knows about the work of Philip Reif, a psychologist at the University of Chicago. Reif says, “Any church that keeps preaching on the cross is not going to growbecause in our culture what we’re interested in is success, not sacrifice.”

 

When you think about it, for many Christians, Holy Week is without a cross because we skip most of Holy Week. So many Christians jump directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, leapfrogging right over all the unpleasantness. Many churches do Palm Sunday without even a nod at the Passion story so that Palm Sunday becomes “a dress rehearsal for Easter.”

 

Why include Jesus’ suffering in the joyous festivities of Palm Sunday? Why are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday indispensable aspects of Holy Week? Why is it important to remember Jesus’ suffering and death? Because in this world and in our lives there is suffering and death and to remember Jesus’ Passion is to become aware anew that we are not alone. There is One, the Son of God, who is with us, who shares our pain. Because, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Because we know the cross was so central to Jesus’ life and ministry and it should be the same way to us. In Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Friends, we do not triumph over suffering. But the truth is we triumph through suffering. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen!

“Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #4

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 13th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #4

119:89-96; 2 Timothy 2:1-7

 

Today we wrap up a four-week series of messages based on 2 Timothy 2:1-7. My goal is to help us understand the nature of the Christian life. I’ve found the passage from 2 Timothy 2 a very helpful one. The apostle Paul uses three analogies, in describing the Christian way of living: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. The last two Sundays we covered the first two analogies, Christians are likened to good soldiers and committed athletes.

 

In the image of soldiers, we are encouraged to endure hardships and avoid all kinds of entanglement. In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 we read, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”

 

In the image of the athlete, we are encouraged to consider the nature of the Spiritual race. In 2 Timothy 2:5 Paul uses a key word to describe the nature of the race. He uses the word “compete.” “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” The word compete comes from a Greek root word which is agon. We get an English word directly from this Greek word – the word is Agony. The Greek word speaks of the striving, anguish, agony and pain of those who run a race. Christian life, therefore, is not a playground; it’s a battlefield. Christian life is not a picnic; it is a life of agony. In Luke 22:44 we read about the Author and Finisher of our faith who ran the race till the very end. Luke says, “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

 

Paul’s third picture, the picture of a hard working farmer, is found in 2 Timothy 2:6. We read, “The hard-working farmer will receive the first share of the crops.” As we look together at this last analogy, pleas allow me to underscore two important observations:

 

First: Persevere Like a Farmer

What is the picture here? What the Scripture is emphasizing? What does it mean to be a hard-working farmer in the Christian life? I believe the emphasis is on hard work. We are to work even when there is NO evidence of any harvest. I assure you it is so hard to do so. Farmers only harvest for about 2 weeks a year. But do they laze around for the rest of the year? No – farmers always doing something. They are hoeing, or fertilizing, or sowing, or weeding, or fencing. Even when they cannot see any action, they keep working hard.

 

The story of this old farmer captures the idea of what Paul is saying here. The story is told about an old farmer who was very ill. He called his two sons to his bedside and said, “My boys, my farm and the fields are yours in equal shares. I leave you a little ready money but the bulk of my wealth is hidden somewhere in the ground, not more than eighteen inches from the surface. I regret that I’ve forgotten precisely where it lies.” When the old man was dead and buried his two sons set to work to dig up every inch of ground in order to find the buried treasure. They failed to find it but as they had gone to all the trouble of turning over the soil they thought they might as well sow a crop, which they did, reaping a good harvest. In autumn, as soon as they had an opportunity, they dug for the treasure again but with no better results. As their fields were turned over more thoroughly than any others in the neighborhood they reaped better harvests than anyone else. Year after year their search continued. Only when they had grown much older and wiser did they realize what their father had meant. Real treasure comes as a result of hard work.

 

It should come as no surprise that the things in life that are the most important take honest effort and hard work. In Galatians 6:9 we read, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” And that’s what we are to do, too. We need to keep following and trusting Jesus even when it seems like the foolish thing to do. We need to keep working for Jesus, even when it seems like there is nothing happening. The reward that God promises to His children who keep working hard is that they will receive the first share of the crops.

 

Second: The Christian As a Reflective Learner

After his three illustrations, the apostle Paul adds a request and a promise in 2 Timothy 2:7. “Consider what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.” If Timothy thinks over these analogies God will give him insight into the nature of Christian living. We notice that revelation and human thinking are brought together in Paul’s instruction. Paul does not promise that God will give any revelation without Timothy’s doing any thinking. Nor is it that Timothy’s thoughtfulness alone will give him understanding. Rather there is a combination. Timothy must do the thinking and God will do the revealing! Responsible human activity with God’s blessing upon it will bring spiritual understanding. He will understand “everything”. That is, Timothy will grasp the many-sided implications of the analogies Paul has used.

 

On one hand, Paul’s words here are a call to us to engage in serious study of the Scriptures. He wants Timothy to give the Word of God a very serious attention. It will not be enough to expect heavenly illumination if Timothy will not spend time meditating on the meaning and significance of God’s words through Paul. On the other hand, heavy study alone will not be enough either. With all the thinking that Timothy does, something additional is needed. The Lord Jesus Christ must give understanding. Christian study the Scripture on their knees, perhaps not literally but in their attitudes. We need God’s help. With all our thinking, all our study-aids, there is need of something over-and-above human thoughtfulness. Psalm 119:96 says, “To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.” That’s why we need the Lord to give us understanding in all things.

 

Friends, from these three pictures of faithful Christian living, we glean that Christians should be: dedicated like soldiers, disciplined like athletes, and diligent like farmers. My friends, this is normal Christianity. Nothing less than this will stand the test. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” 1 Corinthians 15:58. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen!

 

“Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #3

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 6th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #3

Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:1-7

 

Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65), the first century Roman philosopher once said, “Life is like a play; it’ s not the length but the excellence of the activity that matters.”   Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. It’s living above the curve; it’s going the second mile; it’s refusing to give anything less than one’s best. This is what Paul wanted to see in the life of Timothy and in our lives today. He is giving us a ‘how to’, if you will, of living with spiritual excellence.

 

Today we continue our series of messages on 2 Timothy 2:1-7. As mentioned, the Apostle Paul uses three illustrations, three analogies, in describing the Christian way of living: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Paul encourages Timothy to willingly embrace sufferings for the sake of the gospel; a tough sell in our comfort-oriented culture as I said last Sunday.

 

Last Sunday we had the chance to reflect upon the analogy of the soldier. The spiritual warfare is real! The question we asked, “What makes a good soldier?” 2 Timothy 2 gives us two important qualities that every good soldier possesses which are necessary in our lives if we are to be good soldiers for the Lord – enduring hardships and avoiding entanglement. As we do so, we will please our commanding officer, the Lord.

 

The Italian polymath, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) once took a friend of his to see his masterpiece of the “Last Supper.” The friend’s first comment was, “The most striking thing in the picture is the cup.” The artist immediately took his brush and wiped out the cup, saying, “Nothing in my painting shall attract more attention than the face of my Master.” Nothing should mean more to us than to please God, our commanding officer.

 

This morning we move into the second analogy. In 2 Timothy 2:5 we read, “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” The athlete was another favorite metaphor for Paul. Paul often likened the Christian life to a race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 he says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” As we look together at this analogy this morning, please allow me to share with you two important observations:

 

First: A Rule Keeping Athlete

Our text says athletes must compete according to the rules. Every sport has its own rules. So, what does it mean for the Christian to compete according to the rules? Well the literal Greek says, “the athlete is not crowned unless he has contended lawfully.” The word “lawfully” should give us a clue. Paul was saying if we intend to receive the heavenly prize we must live according to the laws or rules God has set down in His Word.

 

A few years ago I heard the story of a woman who was a world class runner. She had been invited to run in a race in a nearby state. She got her directions over the phone and left early the morning of the race to be there on time. When she got to the town, she could not find the race. She stopped at a service station to ask for better directions. The man told her that he knew a race was taking place at a nearby shopping center. She told him that this must be the race, got her directions and drove furiously to get there. She jumped out of her car, ran to the sign up table to let them know she was there, jumped into the pack of runners just as the started said, “You’re off!”

 

She ran brilliantly. In fact, she could not believe how fast she really was. She was so fast. She finished the race in first place beating everyone. Just then, however, she saw a sign hanging at the finish line that made her heart sink. The sign told the name of the race. She was at the wrong race. She had run the race on the wrong course.

 

Many people are doing the same today. They are running the wrong race! They are running for money, for fame, for pleasure, for security, for self-centered dreams, for many other things, but they are in the wrong race. Even if they finish in what appears to be first place, they lose. In the race of life you must be on the right track. To enter this race, you must receive Jesus Christ as your Savior. You can’t run your way into this race, Jesus pre-qualifies those who come to Him and receive Him by faith. It is called Salvation. You are not saved by your effort, but by His grace. But, once you receive Him, you are in the race. You are to live your Christian life like an athlete lives for his or her sport.

 

Second: The Nature of the Race of Faith

In 2 Timothy 2:5 Paul uses the word, “compete” to describe the nature of the race. “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” The word compete comes from a Greek root word which is agon. We get an English word directly from this Greek word – the word is Agony. The Greek word speaks of the striving, anguish, agony and pain of those who run the race. This athletic word is used by Paul often to speak of the commitment necessary to be the right kind of Christian.

 

Now, what is the purpose in this illustration? God desires that we understand that the Christian life is not a picnic. The Christian life is not a rose-strewn path. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but once we are saved we enter into a kind of agon, a life of dedication and commitment to excellence for Christ. An Athlete does not expect his or her practice and play to be easy. They know that the way will be hard and the competition difficult. But the athletes have a saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We have to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Too many people who claim to know Christ act like they are on a cruise where their every wish should be met and their every whim satisfied. Christian life is not a playground; it’s a battlefield. Christian life is not a picnic; it is a life of agony.

 

Friends, today we are invited to examine ourselves. As we come to the Lord’s Table, we bring ourselves into the light of God’s mercy and grace. How have you been running? How has your training been going? Are you consistent, day after day, hour after hour? Are you disciplining all parts of your life, so that you will grow in Christlikeness? Are you working hard, willing to endure suffering? How is your focus? Are you focusing on Jesus? Are you ready and alert, keeping your eyes fixed on Him, expectantly awaiting His return? Friends, this is the race of faith — the most important race of your life, the race whose goal is eternal life with Christ, made perfect in Him. I encourage you to run your best in this race. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #2

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday February 28th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #2

Psalm 27:1-6; 2 Timothy 2:1-7

 

A Minister stood at the door of the sanctuary to greet his church family after a Sunday worship service. As the Minister saw a church member approaching him whom he does not get to see more often, the Pastor thought to encourage the church member to walk faithfully with the Lord. As they shook hands, the Pastor said, “Brother, you really need to join the army of the Lord.” The man did not know what to say and wanted to just escape the situation, so he replied, “I’m already in the army of the Lord, Pastor.” So the Pastor enquired, “Then why do I only see you at Christmas and at Easter?” The man whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

 

Today we continue our meditations on 2 Timothy 2:1-7. The Apostle Paul uses three illustrations, three analogies, in describing the Christian way of living. Three important images the Apostle Paul shares with us in 2 Timothy 2: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Paul encourages Timothy to willingly embrace sufferings for the sake of the gospel; a tough sell in our comfort-oriented culture as I said last Sunday. The question we wrestled with last week was: Where do we find the strength needed to stand our ground and endure opposition? In 2 Timothy 2:1 we read, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” We are to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

 

Christians are in a spiritual warfare. The devil, the world, and the flesh are real enemies. These spiritual enemies are out to destroy the testimony and effectiveness of the believer. This morning we will spend sometime with the soldier analogy. The question I would like to ask, “What makes a good soldier?” I believe that there are two common traits, two important qualities, that every good soldier possesses which are necessary in our lives if we are to be good soldiers for the Lord – enduring hardships and avoiding entanglement. Please allow me to briefly address these two qualities this morning:

 

First: Endure Hardships

In 2 Timothy 2:3-4 we read, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.” By all reports, throughout the history of humanity there appears to be more difficult place to live than on the battlefield. In the field of battle, conditions are less than ideal, at the mercy of the weather, whether it be snow, rain, sleet or scorching sun. The little sleep a soldier receives in battle is not in a warm bed, but in a few blankets on the hardened ground. The food eaten by soldiers in battle is sparse and of poor quality. But those who would ultimately win the day are those who are willing to endure the hardships.

 

In 2 Timothy 3:12 the apostle Paul warns his young friend Timothy that anyone who wishes to live a godly life in Jesus Christ will face persecution. Paul knew this too well for as he wrote this final letter to his dear young friend, he was chained as a criminal to a Roman guard. As the messenger carried this message to Timothy in Ephesus, the blade of the executioner was sharpened, and perhaps as Timothy read these words of exhortation, Paul may have already departed this earthly life. Enduring hardships for the sake of the gospel is a part of our Christian call. Think about how many of the early Christians lost their lives for their faith, even today how many around the world do the same.

 

I tell you the truth, this commitment, the commitment to endure hardships, will be tested and tried in so many ways. It will be tested and tried from spiritual battle, discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, and even temptations from within the church itself. But based on the grace God gives, we will be able to endure the hardships.

 

Second: Avoid Entanglement

“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairshe wants to please his commanding officer,” says Paul in 2 Timothy 2:3-4. Any good soldier knows that he or she has no place in civilian affairs when they are at war. Good soldiers know that they must focus on their purpose and their goal, or risk being caught off guard when their enemy attacks.

 

Throughout Scripture, God warns His children of the dangers of worldliness, telling us to separate ourselves from the world and to recognize that we have been called out of the world. For Paul, the reminders of the draw of worldliness were fresh in his memory as all of his so called friends had abandoned him at his hearing in Rome and he writes of one called Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10 telling Timothy that it was the love of the world that caused him to leave.

 

When we visited Egypt earlier this month, a lot of church leaders there shared with us the reality of persecution of Christians. Often, pastors and leaders would ask us: how can we pray for the Church in the United States of America? I would always ask prayers for the temptation of worldliness. For the persecuted church the choice is clear and cut, it is the choice to live for Christ and die to all, or to abandon Christ to embrace the temporal things this world has and save their lives. But for us it is so much more difficult to avoid worldliness. Can worldliness be summed up in what we wear, how we speak, where we go, what we watch? Can we draw some sort of distinction between godliness and worldliness in a culture which tells us that everything is acceptable; that encourages us to be Christians who behave in every way like the others around us?

 

Friends, have we avoided entanglement with the world? Would you classify yourself as a good soldier of the Lord? A good soldier is a fighter that you can depend on to keep fighting until the victory is won. Are you that good soldier? Can Christ depend on us to keep fighting, even when we feel weak, even when we’re tempted to give up?

 

Let me conclude with the encouraging words of the Scriptures in Psalm 27:1-3, “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.” Good soldiers of Jesus Christ, endure hardships and do not get entangled in things that are not honoring to our Lord. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen!

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers! #1

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 0831

Sermon Notes (Sunday February 21st, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers! #1

1 Samuel 30:1-6; 2 Timothy 2:1-7

 

Why would anyone willingly embrace suffering? In our text this morning, the apostle Paul wants Timothy (and us) to join him in suffering hardship for the gospel. I tell you the truth that’s a tough sell in our comfort-oriented culture! How can we encourage each other to embrace suffering hardship for the gospel in such a culture? If you want to see how comfort-oriented our culture has become, examine what you and I do every day. Most of us try to park as close as we can to the store, so we don’t have to walk more than a few yards; drive a block rather than walk; sit in our recliner with the remote in hand, watching all of those crazy guys on TV run all over the field. Sometimes our exercise for the day is to walk to the kitchen for more chips and drinks. And you want me to embrace hardship for the gospel?

 

Although I chose to preach on 2 Timothy 2:1-7 before heading to Egypt, what we’ve seen there reinforced my thought. What I would like to do is to spend today and the next three Sundays working on 2 Timothy 2. I will warn you in advance, this is a very convicting text! How many of us, myself included, willingly embrace hardship for the sake of the gospel? That is to say, how many of us are willing to suffer just because of our Christian principles or way of living?

 

To use the language of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2, how many of us keep ourselves unentangled from the affairs of everyday life so that we may please our Commander-in-Chief? How many of us discipline ourselves as athletes for the kingdom so that we may win the prize? How many of us toil in the unglamorous task of farming God’s fields so that we may enjoy the crops? These are the illustrations that Paul uses to make the point: To be a fruitful Christian, you must willingly suffer hardship for the gospel now in view of future rewards. This text assumes that as a Christian, you desire to be fruitful for Jesus Christ. As we look together to this passage, please allow me to underscore two short yet two important thoughts:

 

First: Seek First His Kingdom and His Righteousness

Underlying Paul’s command to suffer hardship for the sake of following our Christian way of living is Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Did you notice that it is a command, not a nice suggestion? “All these things” refers to the things that unbelievers eagerly seek: food, clothing, a nice place to live, and other material possessions. Jesus’ command applies to every believer. Likewise, Paul’s command certainly applies to every soldier in Christ’s army, which is to say, to every believer.

 

The key and convicting word in Jesus’ command is, first. If He had only said, “Seek the kingdom of God,” we could have added that to our list of things to do. That would be somewhat manageable. But to seek it first means that we must bump it up to the top of the list. It has to control everything else! Many Christians view the kingdom of God as a nice slice of life. It makes them feel good to go to church on Sunday and to have a spiritual element in their lives. But God’s kingdom is not at the center. It’s not the driving force of their lives. So they dabble at the kingdom of God, but they don’t seek it first. This is a dangerous trap for many believers.

 

To sell us on this difficult command, Paul uses three illustrations and then he urges us to consider what he says. First, he points us to the soldier, then to the athlete, and finally to the farmer. The three analogies are similar in that each case the job comes first. The soldier must be focused and avoid entanglement to please his commander. The athlete must be disciplined to compete according to the rules to win the prize. The farmer must work hard to enjoy the first fruits of the harvest. Each endures hardship for the sake of future rewards. I will say more about these three illustrations in the next few weeks.

 

Second: The Source of our Strength

I guess the question many in the sanctuary this morning might ask is where can we find the strength we need to stand our ground and willingly embrace suffering for the sake of the gospel? In 2 Timothy 2:1 we read, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” “Be strong” ~ the Greek verb comes as a present passive imperative and could be translated “keep on or continue being strong and being empowered in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

 

The connotation here is similar to Ephesians 6:10: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.” Timothy was not to be strong in his own strength but in God’s. He was to receive God’s power and allow it to flow through him. It is this kind of strength that comes from outside of ourselves. Friends, this is a call to endurance. It is a call for all of us to continue in that which we had already begun. We come to Christ by grace to be saved, trusting in Him and resting upon His merit. But grace doesn’t stop at the cross. It only begins there. In the same way that we came by grace, so also now we are to continue in grace.

 

Friends, are we willing to embrace suffering for the sake of the gospel? Over the last two weeks during our Mission Trip in Egypt, Paul and I saw Christians who embrace suffering for the sake of the gospel. They have the courage to stand their ground and swim against the current. Athanasius of Alexandria (298-373 A.D.) was a great 4th century Egyptian Christian Theologian and the Bishop of Alexandria who defended the Doctrine of the Trinity against Arianism. Because of his position, he faced a lot of opposition. When faced with people saying to him, “The world is against you, Athanasius!” Athanasius replied, “Then I am against the whole world.” Where did Athanasius and so many other faithful Christians through the ages get this courage as they stood for what is right? It is the grace of God. “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In 1 Samuel 30, King David found himself in a difficult situation. Where did he find the strength to endure opposition? In 1 Samuel 30:6 we read, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.” May you and I today find our strength in the Lord our God and His grace so richly given to us in the Person and presence of Jesus! Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen!

“Who Do People Say I Am?”#2

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday January 31st, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Who Do People Say I Am?”#2

Isaiah 54:15-17; Matthew 16:13-20

 

The story is told about a young man who wanted to join the membership of a local church.  The Elders of the church met with him to examine his life and his faith.  An Elder asked the candidate, “Tell us what do you believe?”  The young man answered, “I believe what the church believes.”  Frustrated with his answer, another Elder asked, “So what does the church believe?”  The young man thought for a moment and replied, “Basically my beliefs and the church’s are almost the same.”

 

Today we continue our meditations on Matthew chapter 16. Unlike this young man who wanted to join the church, Jesus wants us to make sure we are not confusing His identity. So, He asked His disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Who do you say I am?” Friends, we are often tempted to create our own version of Jesus who will comfortably fit into our own lifestyle. Two Sunday ago I highlighted two things: (1) Jesus’ question must be answered and (2) half convictions are never really enough. As we dig deeper into Matthew 16, please allow me this morning to highlight two more important observations:

 

First: The District of Caesarea Philippi

In order to better understand the importance of Jesus’ discussion in Matthew 16, we should consider the location in which Peter made his confession, Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a pagan Roman city about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, just at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon. The city was given its name by King Herod the Great’s son, Phillip, when he came to power. So it was named after: Caesar Phillip.

 

Two temples stood in Caesarea Philippi: one to honor and worship Caesar, the great leader of the Roman Empire, and the other to honor and worship Pan, the god of shepherds and flocks. This city was basically considered the Sin City of its day, and most Jews would have completely avoided going there. So, as you can see, this is not the place you might expect Jesus Christ, the Jewish Rabbi who was said to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, to take His disciples to and ask them to confess whom He really is. We might think that the Jerusalem Temple or at least one of the synagogues would have been a better place.

 

And yet, it is quite intentional that Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi to reveal His identity to them. In the Roman Empire, people were often forced to worship the emperor or the gods of the empire. Many of the leaders were even given titles such as “Savior,” “Lord,” and “Son of God.” Moreover, in Caesarea Philippi, there was a cave where Pan was worshipped with a spring that flowed from it. The spring was thought to flow from underground – a place the Greeks referred to as Hades, and where the gods would spend their winters. And the source of the spring was called the “Gates of Hades,” the same phrase Jesus speaks of in our text.

 

Caesarea Philippi, therefore, is the intentional place for Jesus’ identity to be revealed. It is here in the midst of this imperial and pagan center, where Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is, and Peter answers that it is Jesus – not the Caesar or Pan – who is the Messiah, the Son of the living God! It is this Jesus Christ, who will be the ONE who saves the people who are suffering from this oppressive empire and who is worthy of worship. And not even Rome, or Pan, or Jupiter, or any other gods or imperial worldly powers will be able to prevail against Him!

 

Second: Jesus Renames Simon Son of Jonah

In Matthew 16:16-18, we read “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Jesus renames Simon. His Greek name is Petros which in English means “rock.” Simon is now a “Rock.” Whenever we re-center our lives on Christ we become a new person. Every time the lines of our lives converge on Christ we become rock-like. We become the foundation, the rock, on which rests the church, the new ark that holds and reveals the presence and glory of God. With all its frailties Jesus chooses human life and relationships to be the rock on which He builds His church. Jesus’ words, “You are rock and on this rock I will build my church,” are words of life. They were for Peter and they are for us here at the Elmer Presbyterian Church today.

 

The more we re-center our lives on Christ, the more effective we become in our communities and in the world. Re-centering is our life’s work and it is not easy work. It means we must continually let go of what we thought centered our lives and move to our true center; the Messiah, the Son of God, the living one.

 

The opportunity for re-centering is hidden within the ups and downs of our life. It is something we do over and over and we don’t always get it right. Look at Peter. He is the one of little faith sinking in the water. He doesn’t understand the parables. He argues with Jesus and ends up being called Satan. He falls asleep when he is supposed to be praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He denies knowing Jesus. Through it all, he was being shaped, formed, molded into the rock Jesus knew him to be. Ultimately Peter was crucified for re-centering, following, and loving Jesus.

 

When we keep re-centering our lives on Christ, bringing Christ into the core of our lives, Christ keeps building up His Church. As we live up the fullness of our faith, “the gates of Hades will not overcome us.” I believe expanding our missions to a far land, to the land of Egypt, is actually a victory to the Kingdom of God over the gates of Hades. In Isaiah 54:17, Isaiah writes, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.”

 

Friends, Jesus is always pushing us to go deeper, to look within and discover who or what our life is centered on, and then to re-center. “Who do you say that I am?” Don’t just answer Jesus’ question. Go live the answer. Discover the “rockness” that Jesus knows you to be. Live with hope in the midst of despair. Love your neighbor as yourself. Though the gates of death open to you, know that they cannot prevail. Care for the poor, feed the hungry, and defend the oppressed. Offer forgiveness despite your anger. Pray when you are too busy to pray. Love your enemies despite your fear. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. Practice generosity in a declining economy. Re-center even when it feels like you cannot stand up. Do these. Be the rock. Be the rock on which Jesus’ church stands before the world. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

“Who Do People Say I Am?”#1

Sermon Notes (Sunday January 17th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

 

Who Do People Say I Am?”#1

Job 37:23-24; Matthew 16:13-20

 

You probably heard this account about a hilarious email miscommunication. A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon twenty years earlier. Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel plans—so, the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday, with his wife flying down the next day.

 

The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to email his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, sent the email. Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. The widow decided to check her email expecting comforting messages from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read: To: My Loving Wife; Subject: I’ve arrived. The message read: I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was. P.S.—Sure is hot down here!

 

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew chapter 16, Jesus wants to makes sure there is no miscommunication when it comes to who He is: the Son of God. While travelling in the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus, referring to Himself, asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they replied, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

 

And as was the case in Jesus’ day, today there are also many ideas about who Jesus is. We are often tempted to create our own version of Jesus who will comfortably fit into our worldview. There is the Liberal Jesus, the Conservative Jesus, the Old School Jesus, Jesus as CEO, Jesus the Great Moral Teacher, Jesus the Misunderstood Prophet, Jesus the Philosopher, Jesus the Life Coach, Rock Star Jesus—the list goes on and on. Please allow me to share with you this morning a couple observations based on our Scriptures today:

 

First: A Question that Must be Answered

“Who do you say I am?” In his classic book, Mere Christianity, British Christian apologist C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) addresses the idea of Jesus being who He said He was, the Son of God: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about (Jesus): I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic —on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to…Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God” (Mere Christianity, p. 54-56). Liar, lunatic, or Lord— according to Lewis, those are the three choices we have as far as identifying Jesus goes.

 

Friends, we are faced with the same challenge that C. S. Lewis writes about in Mere Christianity. Who do you say Jesus is?  He is completely unique.  He doesn’t fit into our categories.  He doesn’t match popular expectations. He’s so much greater than anything we could ever conceive.  In Job 37:23 we read, “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power.”  He is the Christ.  That’s who Jesus Christ is. And there’s no more important question that we could ask this morning than this – Who do you say that Jesus is? It’s the question that we ask all the time when somebody comes to join the church, when we come before the Lord’s Table, when we administer baptism, and when we ordain and install new church officers. We ask the question, “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

 

Second: Half is Never Really Enough

We must have a clear and solid answer of who Jesus is. Half is never really enough. Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer of the New York Pen League. In one of his inspiring poems he says, “Do not love half lovers. Do not entertain half friends. Do not indulge in works of the half talented. Do not live half a life and do not die a half death …. Do not accept half a solution. Do not believe half truths. Do not dream half a dream. Do not fantasize about half hopes. Half a drink will not quench your thirst. Half a meal will not satisfy your hunger. Half the way will get you no where. Half an idea will bear you no results.” Half is never really enough. Today I leave you with a challenge, to not settle for half on anything. Remember that a life worth living is worth living all the way.

 

In our Tuesday morning Bible Study we have been studying the Letter to the Hebrews. In Hebrews we see Israel safely delivered out of Egypt, but a whole generation never enjoyed the promised rest in Canaan. It is impossible to stand still in the Christian life. We either go forward and claim God’s blessings, or we go backwards and wonder about aimlessly. Someone once said, “Most Christians are betweeners. They are between Egypt and Canaanout of the place of danger, but not yet into the place of rest and rich inheritance. They are between Good Friday and Easter Sundaysaved by the blood but not yet enjoying newness of resurrection life.” Are you a betweener? There are believers today who can make the same mistake.

 

“Who do you say that I am?” In the Greek text, that word you has an enormous stress. In fact, the you really goes at the first of the sentence. It is as if Jesus is saying, “But you who have followed me and have known me from the beginning, who do you say that I am?” It is the greatest question in the entire universe and it is one which every person must eventually answer. Let me stop here today and next Sunday, Lord willing, we will look at the life that confesses this one revolutionary truth—that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God. We will look at what kind of life is this. We will elaborate more on does it mean to acknowledge Jesus as “The Messiah, the Son of the living God.” “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”   Amen!

“Crossing Over Into a New Year!”

Sermon Notes (Sunday January 10th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Crossing Over Into a New Year!

Deuteronomy 11:8-17; Hebrews 13:8

 

The Christmas season was over. The young family started taking down the Christmas decorations and putting them away for another year. The little girl in the family observed her mom wrapping up the nativity scene and placing each figure carefully away in a storage box. When it came time for the little figure of Jesus in the manger to be wrapped up in paper, she looked at her mother and asked, “Mommy, are we putting Jesus away for another year?” Christmas is over and we are crossing over into a New Year, are we putting Jesus away for another year? Will this be a year you grow closer to Jesus or, for some reason, move further away from Him?

 

In the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 11, the children of Israel were coming to the end of an era. After 40 years of wandering in Sinai wilderness and the death of an entire generation, they are now looking forward with great anticipation to the dawn of a new era in a new land. They were encamped on the eastern bank of the River Jordan overlooking the Promised Land. They are ready to cross over the River Jordan to the land flowing milk and honey.

 

Crossing over into a New Year can bring some very mixed feelings. On one hand, we get excited for so many opportunities that lie ahead of us. On the other hand, we get nervous about the challenges 2016 might bring our way. As we cross over into the New Year and as we celebrate the ordination and installation of new church officers today, I want to share with you this morning a couple important lessons from God’s Word based on Deuteronomy 11 and Hebrews 13. Two reminders that we as Followers of Christ and leaders in this church will need through out the year:

 

First: We Will Encounter Hills and Valleys

In Deuteronomy 11:11 we read, “But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys…” As we look into the New Year, we know that we will be facing mountains and valleys. The sea will not always be smooth. The journey will not always be down hill. The road will not always be straight and bathed in light. Sometimes we will find ourselves in the dark, struggling with hills and through valleys. The fact is, like it or not, life is filled with ups and down, hills and valleys, troubles and trials, difficulties and traumas.

 

The land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys.” Mountains might not always be pleasant, but we need them. We cannot live without the hills. Friends, we need the hills – for the challenge… to force us to our knees… to teach us we can climb… to remind us of the faithfulness of God. Someone once said, “To realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the storm.” Mountains and valleys will be always there. They are part of our human experience. As followers of Christ and leaders of this congregation, some days we will be flying up there while other days we will be walking down here. In all circumstances, God’s Presence will go with us and will give us rest. And that’s the second great truth we encounter in Deuteronomy chapter 11.

 

Second: The Eyes of the Lord Continually on us

My second thought has to do with the God who continually cares for us. Along with the hills and valleys, God leads us through. He always provides the grace… the strength… to get over the mountain or through the valley. Unbelievers have no such resource… you and I do. Praise God.

 

God continually observes us all year long. In Deuteronomy 11:11-12 we read, “But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.”

 

Friends, we are tempted to think that God watches over the spiritually elite more than average, ordinary people. Isn’t it hard to believe that God is as interested in you and your life as He is in the life of Billy Graham or some other great Christian leaders? I know we feel insignificant to God at times – maybe even forgotten or forsaken.

 

The Bible makes it clear that it’s impossible for God to forget you; in fact, it’s impossible for Him to ever take His eyes off of you. The eyes of the Lord our God are continually on us from the beginning of the year to its end. Even though you are but one of His children, He observes you, sees you, focuses in on you as carefully, as tenderly and as continually as if you were the only child in His family.

 

God’s eyes never get red and sleepy observing us. God’s eyes never get distracted from you. God’s eyes never get bored watching over you. God’s awareness of you is just as real and continual when you go through difficult moments in 2016 as it is when you go through wonderful moments this year.

 

Are you worried about the days to come? Let Christ give you a fresh start. Let’s remember to keep our eyes always fixed on Him. As we embark on a new year, let’s remember God’s faithfulness. Open your eyes in the days to come and you will see tangible reminders of God’s Presence and faithfulness in your life. Friends, a lot of things can scare and frighten us this year. The unknown is frightening. But I want to encourage you today to rest secure in God’s love. “Perfect love,” says 1 John 4:18, “drives out fear.” Friends, let’s remember that we will encounter hills and valleys. Let’s also remember, which is far more important, that the eyes of the Lord are continually on us. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” Hebrews 13:8. “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Best wishes for 2016. Amen!

 

 

You Crown the Year with Your Bounty!

Sermon Notes (Sunday December 27th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

You Crown the Year with Your Bounty!

Psalm 65:11; Hebrews 1:8-12

 

This is the last Sunday of 2015. In a few days, the year will be coming to an end. I did not want us as individuals and as a congregation to miss the opportunity today to reflect upon both our lives and God’s faithfulness in 2015. I like to highlight a couple observations from Psalm 65 and Hebrews chapter one. I think both Scripture passages bring to us great insights.

 

First: The Goodness of God’s Presence

The first observation I would like to make this morning comes from Psalm 65. As we know from the title, Psalm 65 is a psalm of David. The title, however, does not inform us on what particular occasion it was written. Some scholars believe King David composed it after one of his life-threating situations. As David experienced the salvation and the deliverance of God, he gave a general acknowledgement of God’s Providence which extended itself to the end of the earth. The Psalm therefore has both the personal and corporate dimensions. It is an expression of personal and public thanksgiving for God’s deliverance and generosity.

 

I think what Psalm 65 is calling us to do is so simple. Slow down, look back and trace the generosity of God in your life. Toward the end of the Psalm, verse 11, David did the same thing and gave us his conclusion, “You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.” This is a witness of a man who took sometime and counted God’s blessings!

 

In other translations, Psalm 65:11 says, “You crown the year with Your goodness; Your ways overflow with plenty.” The emphasis here is on “Your goodness.” God’s goodness is a key word ~ “You crown the year with Your goodness.” It is not the goodness of the world, but of the Lord. What is God’s goodness? In order to understand the meaning of “God’s goodness”, we need to go back to an incident that is recorded in Exodus 33:18-20, “Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” He said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” So, what is God’s goodness? It is not His gifts; it is His very presence. Earlier in the chapter, Exodus 33:14, God said to Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

 

You probably know the story of the man who one night had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonged to him, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.

 

This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, you said that once I decided to trust and follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.” The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” Friends, our Savior is always present whether we knew it or not. As you look at your life today, can you sing the words of Psalm 65:11? If you’ve difficulty identifying the goodness of the Lord in your life, think of His presence. Earlier in Psalm 65:4, we read, “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” It is who He is not what He gives.

 

Second: God is our Trustworthy Refuge

The second observation comes from the letter to the Hebrews chapter one and has to do with God being our trustworthy refuge. As we look at our lives in 2015 and as we look ahead to 2016, where does our help come from? I am sure that there are so many answers to such a question. Some would hope to find help in their material possessions. Others would put their trust in their health, job, family or friends. But Psalm 91:2 directs us into a different direction. It says, “I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

 

Friends, everything in life might change, but God’s faithfulness and God’s Covenant with His children will never change. In Hebrews 1:10-12 we read, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.   You will roll them up like a robelike a garment they will be changed. But YOU remain the same, and your years will never end.” This is where we should put our trust. This is where we should throw our anchor. God and only God has been and will be out trustworthy and reliable refuge. 2 Timothy 1:12 states, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

 

Church, these two lessons I am suggesting this morning are so simple and yet so challenging. They are simple because they are crystal clear in the Scriptures. They are challenging because they work against our human nature. But as we see in God’s presence our utmost goodness and as we see in God our trustworthy fortress, I assure you of one great thing that will happen. We will make that transition from existing to living. There is a huge difference between someone who just exists and someone who has real life. So many people exist, but a few live. In other words, you will experience a different kind of living. Psalm 16 captures the essence of the message this morning. “Keep me safe, my God, for in YOU I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from YOU I have no good thing.” Best wishes for 2016. May we view God’s presence as our real goodness and our delightful inheritance. May we view our God as our Shield and Defender. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Joy to the World!

Sermon Notes (Sunday December 20th, 2015)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Joy to the World!

Psalm 16:8-11; Luke 2:8-14

 

If you were to ask anyone on the street what is the most joyful time of the year? Without any hesitation, it would be unanimous that Christmas is the most joyful time of the year. Several of our favorite carols capture the essence of Christmas, which is joy. To name some: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” “Shepherds, why this jubilee, why your joyous strains prolong?” “Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice,” “Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with the angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.’”  In Luke 2:10-11 the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’”

 

I wonder how many of us feel joyful this morning? Where did all the Christmas joy go? How did things get so complicated? So rushed? So squeezed and cluttered? It doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to step aside, step into a quieter moment, and read the angel’s words that came on that night that changed the whole world. Today we wrap up a four week series through which we focused on the four traditional themes associated with season of Advent: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. We have already covered the first three topics. Please allow me this morning to briefly address the topic of joy.

 

The Message of Christmas is not a Delusional Message

The question I am asking us this morning is: Where did all the Christmas joy go? It’s not always easy to feel joyful. Does that mean the Christmas message is delusional? You and I know that the message of Christmas is NOT a delusional message. We are not pretending that we live in a world that is not struggling under a curse and sin. Yet, we can be joyful. I am joyful today not because everything in my life is going just the right way. I am joyful today not because everything is exactly the way I want it to be. Let me tell you why you and I should be joyful this morning.

 

First: Emmanuel ~ God is with us

My hearts should be filled with joy today because, as Isaiah 9:6 says, “for to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” This Son is Jesus ~ Emmanuel, God is with us. I am joyful today because I am not alone and I will never walk this journey we call life by myself because my Savior walks with me. The hymn In the Garden captures that thought: “And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”

 

Friends, we don’t know what our future holds, but we do know who holds our future. So many things and people might desert us in times of need, but Emmanuel won’t. We can be joyful today because we are confident of God’s presence and God’s faithfulness. In Psalm 23:6, King David reminds us, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Friends, Christ’s joy is not determined by circumstances. It is the presence of the Lord that makes the whole difference.

 

Second: We Have Been Forgiven

We should be joyful today because we’ve been forgiven. In the gospel of Luke 2:11 we are given great news: “Today in the town of David, in Bethlehem, a Savior was born to us; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” In Matthew 1:21 the angel appeared to Joseph and said to him, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” We rejoice today because our Savior is born. Psalm 32:1 says, “Blessed (the Greek word μακάριος “makarios” means extremely happy) is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” We are joyful today because we’ve been forgiven.

 

Third: We are here for a Reason

In John 20:21 Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We should be joyful today because we know we are around for a reason. We are on earth in a mission. Once the mission is accomplished, we will be with our Lord and Savior signing praises to the Lamb with the redeemed of all ages in heaven: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” Revelation 5:12. When the time of our service is completed, we will return home.

 

Friends, nothing will hinder us from accomplishing God’s purposes in and through us. Nothing ~ no trouble, no hardship, no persecution, no famine, no nakedness, no danger, no sword will separate us from the Love of God. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” as Paul says in Romans 8:37.  Then once the journey has come to an end, we will be greeted by the Lord Himself, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master” Matthew 25:21.

 

Friends, Christmas is about declaring, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” God’s desire is that His people would be full of joy. Jesus wants you to have real joy; joy that is true joy; joy that is lasting joy; joy that is great joy. It is joy that is unshakable joy because it is not fragile. It is joy that will endure the storms of life. It is real joy that transforms the sob of the soul into a new song. It is joy that heals the broken heart and gives it new life. It is joy that turns a bitter frown into a radiant smile. It is joy that turns the deepest despair into the greatest delight. It is joy that cannot be imitated, it cannot be duplicated, it cannot be purchased in a pill, it cannot be bought in a bottle. It is joy that is found in Jesus Christ, for He and He alone is the source of joy. King David reminds us in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Merry Christmas Elmer Presbyterian Church family. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

 

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