First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (1st Sunday in Advent, December 1, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Isaiah 2:1-4; Luke 21:20-28
I believe the Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the best Christian movies ever produced. As you know, the movie is based on a book that has the same name. The book is written in 1678 AD by the English writer and puritan preacher, John Bunyan, and is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious and theological fiction in English literature. It has been translated to more than 200 languages.
In one of the events in the Pilgrim’s Progress, we see Christian, who is the main character of the movie, and his friend Hopeful are being thrown into the dungeon of Doubting Castle. For four days they are brutally beaten by the cruel lord of the castle, Giant Despair.
On the eve of their execution, Christian remembers a key. In his exhausted weakness he exclaims, “What a fool I am, to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a key in my pocket called “Promise”, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” The key works! And the two pilgrims escape the horrors of imprisonment to Doubting Castle and Giant Despair.
The “Key of Promise” continues to be effective today in liberating us from all our doubting castles and despair. God’s promises are His means of delivering us from the darkness of our fear, worry, self-hatred, rejection, and a multitude of other struggles that land us in the prison cell of despair and doubt.
Today is the First Sunday in Advent and it also marks the beginning of the New Church Year. “Hope” is the central theme of this First Sunday in Advent. It’s the hope of Christ’s coming. The apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:27 that “Christ in us is the hope of glory.” As we lit this morning the First Advent Candle, the Candle of Hope, we are reminded that our hope is found only in the Lord. Hope is not found in our health, wealth, or power.
I pray that you will find that hope in God’s promises today and may this hope inspire your faith. The question I am asking today is simple yet challenging. How can we have hope? Where do we find hope? Is it even possible to have hope in spite of the fact that certain times we feel that everything is falling apart? Let me suggest two unshakable foundations for our hope:
First: God’s Sovereignty
Our hope is rooted in the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign. No matter what happens in our lives, He is sovereign, and He is in control. Sometimes it seems hard to believe so, but yes, God is sovereign, and He is in control.
In our worst circumstances, when storms of this life hit our lives, we are not forgotten; we are not beyond the care of our loving God. In Luke 12:6-7 we read those great words of Jesus, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Jesus was referring to the bargains people used to make in ancient Israel marketplaces. You purchase two pairs of sparrows and get the fifth sparrow free. Though this fifth sparrow doesn’t count. It is worthless. It is basically forgotten, but Jesus says, “Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
You may be “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” as the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. Our main source of comfort in any trial, major or minor, is that our Father in heaven is sovereign.
Second: God’s FaithfulnessBut second, our hope is also rooted in God’s faithfulness. Ever since the heavenly Father created time, everything has been in flux—everything changes, except God Himself. The environment changes with the seasons, and in a similar way, our life also goes through seasons. Some are filled with joy, while others are characterized by difficulty. But the Lord is faithful, and we can always take comfort in knowing this.
Faithfulness is one of God’s unchanging attributes. It means that He always does exactly what He says He will do and acts in accordance with His nature. He can never deny Himself, so when He promises to “never leave you never forsake you” Hebrews 13:5, you can count on Him when you sail rough seas.
God’s unchanging nature and faithfulness is an important foundation of our hope. Because He won’t change His mind about our salvation, we have the assurance of eternal security. Since He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe, we never have to fear that our world is out of His control. His plans were formed long ago with perfect faithfulness (Isaiah 25:1), and no one can frustrate them or turn back His hand (Isaiah 14:27). Because God is faithful, we can have peace of mind in any circumstance—even in the face of death. I like the words of Psalm 91:4. It says, “His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
We Are A People of PromiseBottom line is: we are a people of promise. In Luke chapter 21, Jesus speaks of some tough days ahead of God’s people. Luke speaks about a time of desolation that has come near, days of vengeance, people who will be taking captives, and getting trampled under the foot. Yet, in Luke 21:28 Jesus said, “Now, when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” So with this promise in mind, we enter this new church year to tell anew of God’s faithfulness. This is the promise that Jesus makes to us, that regardless of what catastrophic events might come upon the world as a result of human sinfulness, God will, in the end, be victorious! He will show up. He will never let’s down.
In this First Sunday in Advent we proclaim God’s faithfulness, by both looking back in time, and observing how God has always been faithful to His promises in the past, so that we, living today, might live in the courage and assurance that His promise to us, will be kept as well. Let’s not stay in the “stinking dungeon” of doubt, fear, and despair, for we have a “key in our pocket called Promise.” Friends, lift up your heads, because our redemption is drawing near. Amen.