First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Epiphany Sunday ~ January 8, 2023)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Pursuing Jesus in a New Year!”
Many years ago, I had the joy of leading a young Iraqi lady to Christ. She grew up in a Muslim home in Iraq and her first real exposure to Christianity happened after she migrated to the United States. After attending the congregation that I served back then for almost a year, she came to me with a big smile on her face asking if I would get her baptized because she wants to be a Christian. I said, “I will be honored to do that, but first, let’s schedule a meeting with the Church Elders to examine your faith.” On the day of the meeting, she came and one of the Elders asked her, “Tell us, what is different about the God of the Christian faith?” I will never forget what she said. “The God of Christianity is a pursuing God. Though I turned my back on Him for so long, He keeps pursuing me day after day after day. I’ve never seen this in any other religion.”
Our God is a pursuing God. This is a truth that we often forget. The question that I would like to ask on this Epiphany Sunday is what is our proper response to a pursuing God? The story of the wise men traveling all the way from the East to visit with the newborn King and worship Him has so much to say to us on this regard.
What should be our response to a pursuing God? On this second Sunday of 2023, I want us to consider this question. In Christ, God has pitched His tent in our own backyard. If our God is a pursuing God, we are under two obligations:
First: We Are to Intentionally Pursue God Back
The wise men had seen the star of the newborn King and they realized right away they needed to do something. They needed to pursue more of this good news. It was a long journey from their homeland to Bethlehem. Most scholars believe they came from the modern-day Iraq or Iran which means they travelled over 800 miles. It was a long and difficult journey, but they were willing to pursue the star.
A New Year is ahead of us. Every day presents a fresh opportunity to pursue more of Jesus; to pursue a closer relationship with Him. I think one of the dangers in our walk with the Lord is we settle for just occasional encounters with Jesus in some casual manner. I wish we go for the maximum, not the minimum this year. I hope we pursue more of God’s voice in our ears; more of His hope in our grief; more of His dreams in our hearts; more of His nearness in our loneliness.
Jeremiah 29:13 is a great Scripture that speaks of pursuing God. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” The people of Israel are in exile in Babylon. God sends them a message through the prophet Jeremiah and tells them that even at this very dark hour of their history, God is still accessible. They can call on God and He will hear them. They can seek God, and the promise is: they will find Him. He never hides from us. It’s such a beautiful assurance to know that when we seek God with all of our hearts, we will find Him.
Second: We Pursue Jesus Together
The story of the wise men pursuing Jesus reminds us that we pursue Jesus together. We pursue God in community. Community is so central to the Jesus movement. From day one, Jesus of Nazareth built a community of followers. This community was so diverse; educated and not well educated; rich and poor; Jews and Gentiles; religious and not very religious; young and old; Roman citizens and non-Romans. The first community of Jesus of Nazareth was so diverse, but they all had one thing in common, they wanted to pursue more of Jesus together.
“Together” is an important concept in the New Testament. It’s at the heart of our calling. It’s God’s plan for us to run the race of faith together; to pursue Jesus together. There is power in togetherness. I am praying today for a new epiphany, a new revelation, a new understanding this year as we think about the importance of this fellowship of believers.
As the community pursues Jesus together, we all know that we are not perfect. Rather, we are work in progress. Sometimes our togetherness gets messy and sometimes we fail, but God doesn’t define us by our failures. This is the truth. We are not perfect. That truth, however, doesn’t mean we give up, but it means to keep fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. We can be easily defeated when we run the race alone, but this is not what Jesus wants for us. That’s why Ecclesiastes 4:9 & 12 state, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Friends, I charge you today to pursue more of Jesus this year. Keep pursuing until your whole life is saturated with God’s presence. We pursue God because, in Christ, we have been pursued by God. May we do it passionately, actively, and intentionally. Do it within the community of Christ’s followers. Do it remembering the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:78-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Amen.
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