First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sunday Sermon Notes (January 5th, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Focus has become more and more an important to me this year. There are somethings that need to be just the right distance for my eyes to read. You see – demonstration holding the bulletin. Some of you who may be older than me know what I am talking about; some of you who are younger than me may say, “What do you mean?” I thought if your eyes work, they always work. Right? No. Focus is not always easy. Just imagine you’re at a concert or attending a worship service at a church and you’ve got one program or bulletin that you’re sharing with the person next to you whom you love very much. What happens is that person needs the program a certain distance to be able to read it, but you need the program a certain other distance to be able to read it. I feel we need the help of a team from the Hubble Telescope to run the calculations and find where these things can intersect. Focus can be a great challenge.
Every year I try to set a theme, a broader topic, for my teaching and preaching delivered from this pulpit every Sunday. “Going Deep” and making roots was the theme for 2019. It was a need that I felt not only for those of us who are new to the Christian faith, but also for those who have been Christians for a long time. Whether you belong to this group or that group, God is calling us to go deep and experience the Lord in fresh and new ways.
The theme I chose for 2020 is “Fixing our Eyes on Jesus.” This is a theme that runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and it is so central to Biblical Christianity. This year, we will be exploring some key Scripture passages that address this topic, then drawing some important implications for our life, our ministry, and our spiritual journey. Today I want to just scratch the surface of this topic as I share with you some introductory observations.
First: Why Fixing our Eyes on Jesus?
Why fixing our eyes and thoughts on Jesus is an important topic? Because we live in a very distracted culture. Let me ask you a simple question? What is on your mind today as you sit here in church? As much as I’d like to think that your mind is totally focused on hearing God’s Word and singing God’s praises, I know better, because I know my mind isn’t always totally focused on these things when I sit in church. Distractions around that seem to abound.
There’s so much going on in our lives. Busy days. Crazy schedules. Everything going on in the lives of our children. Bills that need to get paid. Health issues. Things we need to do around the house. Deadlines we face at work or the frustration of being without work. What are we going to do this afternoon or evening? What are we going to have for lunch or dinner? We are so distracted, and we are torn apart by many things. We get pulled or pushed in a hundred directions, therefore, fixing our eyes and thoughts on Jesus is crucial.
Second: The Temptation to Rely on other Things than Jesus
I believe humanity’s all-time temptation is to rely on other things than Jesus; to fix our eyes and thoughts, to build our lives on the shifting sands of this world. Twice in the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer exhorts Christians from a Jewish background to fix their eyes on Jesus. In Hebrews 3:1 we read, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.” Also, in Hebrews 12:1-2 we read, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
This exhortation carried a special significance to the Hebrew Christians back then. Yes, they converted to Christianity, but they also carried with them too much Judaism. Yes, they accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, but they had a hard time trying to get rid of the rituals and the shadows of the Old Covenant.
This year, we are challenged to fix our eyes and thoughts on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. The word “fix” comes from a Greek word “katanoeô” that has the idea of concentrating your gaze. It means to look away from other things so that you can focus all your attention on one object. It is the picture of a lost child walking alone down a carnival midway, enthralled by the lights and sounds and smells. The child’s eyes flit this way and that. The child doesn’t even realize that he or she is in danger. Suddenly through the din, the child hears his or her mother’s voice. Looking up, the child sees the mother calling for him or her to come. With the child’s eyes now fixed on the mother, he or she walks straight ahead, ignoring everything else. Soon the child is safe by the mom’s side.
In the same way a coach will tell the runners, “When the gun sounds, start running as hard as you can. Don’t look back. Don’t look around. Keep your eyes on the finish line and keep on running.” What fills your gaze? Is it Jesus or something else?
As you think about your life at the beginning of a year, that’s a good way to begin fixing your eyes and thoughts on Jesus. This would be a time for you to begin to pull in the loose ends.
The twentieth-century British Pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) said, “If we only spent more of our time in looking at Christ, we should soon forget ourselves.” Fixing our eyes on Christ is the first step and the entire path of the Christian life. We don’t look to Christ in faith to be saved and then look to ourselves to persevere. We trust Christ alone as our Savior and look to Christ alone and follow Him as our Lord.
Friends, we’re called neither to fix our eyes on ourselves nor to fix our eyes on our own sins that entangle themselves around our ankles. We’re called to run with endurance by looking to Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. We are united to Christ and are made able and willing to turn our eyes upon Jesus — away from ourselves — so that by looking to Him, we are motivated to joyful, cross-bearing obedience as we “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.
When we take our eyes off our Lord and set our eyes on ourselves, the Christian life becomes not only miserable but impossible. Our greatest need before conversion is Jesus, and our greatest need after conversion is the same Jesus. The secret for a God-honoring Christian life is a heart that is centered on Christ. Amen.