Michael Youssef - Vision Above All Visions
Every anniversary Sunday is always an occasion for all of us to stop and reflect on God's past blessings, on God's past grace and mercy, on God's past blessings, on God's past work in our lives, both individually, as a family, families, and as a church. But also it's an occasion to reaffirm, recount, reiterate God's vision for this church. In the Bible God sets those memorials, he sets those anniversaries, he sets those places and times so that God knowing how fickle we are and how poor memory we have so that it might be constant reminder of the faithfulness of God.
In the Old Testament not only came and gathered in order to thank God and be reminded of his past faithfulness delivering them from Egypt and bring 'em into the Promised Land, but also it was an opportunity for everyone in the present to renew their covenant with God for that generation, and also it's an opportunity for them to look forward to a future of God's leading and guiding in faith and in confidence. When you... that God is calling this church. That this church is going to serve as a haven for the faithful remnant who will be battle-weary and be looking for a place where the gospel is uncompromised and the gospel is preached and taught and lived and loved and experienced.
Recently I went back and looked through some of my 1,270 messages that I have preached in this place, and I was looking through past messages, and I saw how with clarity the Lord kept communicating this message over and over and over again. I noticed the intensity by which I communicated the urgency to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the vision that he has given us, and I'm so grateful that he allowed me to be here and not decrease the intensity, but increase the intensity and then gratitude to God. I want to affirm and confirm and reiterate and reinstate the vision that's above all visions, the vision that dominates all of the visions in this church.
I want you to turn with me, please, to 1 Timothy chapter 3. 1 Timothy 3. In fact, verse 16 of 1 Timothy 3 you're gonna find there a six-fold credo. It spells out the vision of faithful church and spells out the vision of this church and how God kept us faithful. If you look closely at this verse you see those six-fold credos, but if you can't see them I'm gonna show them to you in a minute. This is the foundational stone upon which this pillar, this pillar on this hill, has been built. I wanna explain to you. Listen carefully. If you visit any major city in the world, you find that in the heart of the city there is a pillar that is upholding a person and the significance about that person.
If you go to Rome, you will find that at the center of the city, there by the Arch of Constantine, there is a pillar that was erected in 185 A.D. and that pillar is 141 feet tall, and it carried the statue, until recently and they moved it, of the Marcus Aurelius. In the heart of the city, in the middle of the city, there is a pillar carrying up a person and holding up the truth about that person. Now, beloved, that's precisely what the Apostle Paul is saying in this passage here, particularly verse 15. Look at it very carefully. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he explains that for every faithful church, for every church that is faithful to Jesus, that every church that is faithful to its Lord and Savior, that for every church, that church must hold a person. Not a statue, but a living, moving, powerful King Jesus. He's the only one that is to be held up in any faithful church.
The Apostle Paul gives the church a number of definitions, and you see them there. He calls the church the household of God. He calls the church the people among whom God dwells. He calls the church the assembly of the living God, but above all he calls the church to be the foundation that upholds a person and the truth about that person. Sadly, today the truth about that person has been muddied in many a church, to say the least, and yet here in this church our vision that's above all visions, and I pray to God will always be the case until the end, that the minister of this church and that the ministry of this church will be a pillar upholding the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, our victorious King, Lord and Master of this church. We as a church do many wonderful things. We hold many great activities and many wonderful activities, many wonderful ministries.
Now, we financially and personally support 27 ministries in this city alone, plus other ministries around the world, and that is absolutely wonderful. It's splendid. We enjoy each other's fellowship in small groups and in-home Bible study groups and that is absolutely splendid. We, through "Leading the Way," are taking the gospel to 195 countries, 5,000 times a week, but at the heart of this church is vision. The core of this church is reason for existence. The very essence of this church's calling is that it is a pillar that is upholding a person, only one person, on this hill. Look at verse 15. 1 Timothy 3:15. Paul said that the church "is the buttress of the truth". Another translation puts it: "It's a bulwark of the truth". Another translation said that church is, "the mainstay of the truth".
The image here is the same as I have described to you about all the other pillars in the cities. It is a pillar that is upholding the truth about Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ and the truth about him, to be held high, holding the truth unashamedly, holding the truth without fear and without compromise. If you take away this fundamental truth about Jesus, that he and he alone is the Savior of the world, that he and he alone without whom people are lost for eternity into hell, if you remove the truth, if you water down the truth, if you modify the truth, we will end up to be nothing but a social movement organization.
This is a place for the remnant who will be escaping this current and coming apostasy that is gonna be on the increase before the return of Christ, to bring those remnant, to strengthen them, to strengthen one another, to uphold one another so that we may uphold only who? The truth does not rest in the church. The church rests on the truth. Our hope and our vision has and is, I pray God always will be, the proclaiming that Jesus and only Jesus is Savior of the world. Without him people are lost into eternity. The Bible said, "There is no name under heaven given by which men can be saved," and I'm talking about all men, everywhere across the globe, and this age of tolerance and this age of compromise, this truth need to be upheld with clarity and with love.
Now, beloved, listen to me. I am not fooling myself. Many of you know what I'm saying. There are churches all around us here that once preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now they've watered down the gospel. There are churches all around us who once preached the truth. Now they modify that truth. There are churches all around us who have sought to do away with the truth altogether and make no mistake about it, and many of you know this. You know what I'm talking about. We have so much pressure put on us. It was subtle pressure, and it was clever pressure, it was masked pressure to compromise, to move just a little bit, to shift just a little bit at a time. It was a relentless pressure to depart from this truth, but thank God for the leadership of this church that has stood shoulder to shoulder and said, "No, absolutely not". Amen. Amen.
Now, I get to my sermon. Are you looking at verse 16 of 1 Timothy chapter 3? There is a six-fold credo. It is the foundational truth for our existence, and it is the foundational truth about Jesus. Six-fold credo. First you see Christ's manifestation. He appeared in a body. Secondly, you see Christ vindication. He's vindicated by the Spirit. Then you see Christ observation. He was seen by angels. Then you see Christ proclamation. He has been proclaimed among the nations. Then you see Christ's reception. He was received throughout the world. And finally, Christ glorification where he is right now in heaven and soon one day we'll be reigning and ruling with him, amen? Well, first, Christ manifestation.
Look what Paul said. I'm not making the stuff up. It's the Word of God. As a pillar that buttresses the truth, we hold up the incarnation of Christ to be an absolute without question and without doubt. None of this heretical stuff that is being preached in many an evangelical church today that Jesus is a way, not the only way, that Jesus is a mere good teacher, that Jesus was a mere prophet, that Jesus was a mere founder of a religion just like the other misfits, or so much of the evangelical church today. So many of them are falling in this horrible, horrible modern-day heresy that says that a Muslim can stay a Muslim as long as he follows Jesus. The truth is this: before Bethlehem was, he is. Before the blessed Virgin was, he is. Before the world, he is. He manifested and made the invisible to be visible because he is before all worlds. He is above all things. He is higher than all.
In his Epistle to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul said that Christ emptied himself. Here is another heresy that's preached in evangelical churches: that he emptied himself of his divinity. No and a million no. He only emptied himself of the manifestation of his divinity, of the splendor of his divinity. We couldn't be able to look at him if he showed up with his manifestation of his divinity. Hear me right, please. Christ is the same Christ who appeared to Moses and said to him, "I am who I am," is the very Christ who was a babe in the manger. The one who appeared on Mount Sinai is the very one who died on that cross. The one who visited Abraham's tent is the very same one who rose up victoriously on the third day. Christ's manifestation. Secondly, Christ vindication by the Spirit.
What does that mean? What does that mean, Christ vindication? Our Muslim friends say that Jesus was a good man, and because he was such a good man God will not allow him to go to the cross. So, when the soldiers came in Gethsemane and they said, "Are you Jesus"? and they said, "Yes," and they all fell back, God grabbed him and took him up to heaven, and then he put the likeness of Jesus on Judas Iscariot, and Judas Iscariot was crucified. They have no concept of redemption. There is no need for redemption. There is no need for salvation. They don't understand it, and they say, "How can God die on a cross"?
Listen to me. There is an apparent contradiction here between Jesus's divinity and his death on the cross. There is an apparent contradiction. There is an apparent contradiction between being the Creator of the world, but the man from Nazareth and that is why this contradiction had been resolved by his resurrection from the death, for when he was raised from the dead never to die again, the very fact that he was vindicated by the Spirit, by his resurrection makes us confident when we say to others that all religions are not valid.
All religions are not equal. But if they persist, then you can ask them, "Did Buddha rise from the dead? Is Muhammad's tomb empty? Did Krishna defeat death and the grave"? And the answer is no. As a matter of fact, the first successor of Muhammad, an older gentleman by the name of Abu Bakr, when Muhammad died he came out to the crowd, and he said to them, "If you worship Muhammad, Muhammad is dead". But the Lord Jesus Christ is alive. He was resurrected from the dead, and his tomb is empty as a vindication by the Spirit. Thus he and he alone is the way to heaven, salvation, eternal life, joy, peace, everything else that you want in life. Manifested. Vindicated.
Thirdly and fourthly, he was seen by angels and proclaimed to the world. After the resurrection of Jesus, he was revealed in his omnipotent power. He was revealed to the highest of the high in heaven, and he was revealed to the lowest of the low on Earth. He was revealed and proclaimed by those who are closest to the throne of God, the angels, and to the furthest away, sinners on the earth. Ephesians 3:10 tells us God's Word says that God's intention all along was that through the church, that is Jesus's church, that is the faithful church of Jesus Christ, that the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the furthest corner of the globe, as well as in the heavenly realm.
What does that mean? It means when Jesus was manifested, when he rose from the dead, he was manifested not only to those of us here on the earth, but also to level upon level upon level and rank upon rank upon rank of the invisible and the unseen spiritual realms. These supernatural creatures, these celestial creatures, the sons of light, they watched the eternal Son of God strip himself of the splendor of his divinity and come to our planet. Now he's glorified. Try to imagine with me. Imagine when the news spread throughout heaven that the eternal Son of God is gonna go down to Earth. Imagine when that news was breaking out in heaven, and the angels probably... and, again, I'm using my imagination. Don't tell me it's not in the Bible.
I know it's not in the Bible. It's my imagination, okay? Blame me. Some of the angels probably thought, "He's gonna appear like a blazing power in order to dazzle people". Probably some of the angels, the other angels said, "No, no, no, no, he's not gonna do that. He's gonna be revealed as one of the great Roman generals in order to intimidate people into believing". Probably some of the other angels said, "No, no, no, no, no, I tell you he is gonna be revealed as one of the wisest of all philosophers because he's going to eclipse Plato. He's gonna eclipse Socrates". But then, when some of them were given the task to proclaim his birth in the little town of Bethlehem, they were shocked.
"You mean there is no pomp and ceremony? You mean there is no trumpet to announce his coming? You mean to tell me there is no pageantry and procession"? No, he took off his splendor and the Shekinah glory, which was his before all times, and he became an embryo in a virgin's womb. The angels observed him. The world, he's proclaimed in the world among the nations. No doubt that when the angels looked down upon his helpless body hanging on that cross, some of them couldn't look upon him and turned away, and yet at the same time there was a man next to him, a sinner, who looked over and received salvation.
At the time when Gabriel and his host looked down with indignation, as they watched the eternal Son of God bleed to death, a woman from Capernaum looked up and received salvation. Both saw the revealed Christ. He was seen by the highest of the high and the lowest of the low. They looked and they saw a person and that person is the Son of God whom we in this church lift him up on a pillar, a buttress, the truth about who he is: Jesus the Christ. His manifestation, his vindication, his observation, his proclamation. May this pillar, this lighthouse on this hill, at the heart of this city always, always uphold Jesus. Manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the nations, believed in the world, glorified in heaven.
When I think of the thousands of Muslims who at the risk of their own lives coming to Christ, thousands of Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims coming to Christ all around the globe, I have to say, yes, he is believed in the world. When I see young children in Syria and Iraq receive death gladly rather than deny Jesus, I say, yes, he is believed in the world, Paul. When I watch people gladly lose everything for his sake, including their willingness to lose life itself, I say, yes, he is believed in the world.
When I hear of many people here in this place go into Christianity, explain that, surrendering their life to Christ, I say, yes, he is believed. Thank God for this pillar lifting up Jesus. I'm buttressing the truth about Christ as our only Savior and Lord. When I hear of students leading other students to Christ, and when I hear the transformations in life of so many people who walk through these doors or go to one of the 72 ministries around this place here, I wanna shout, "Thank God for this pillar that is lifting up the person of Jesus Christ".
I received a message from Facebook, and I wanna read it to you to the glory of God, okay? Here is what this person said. "I came to the Lord at the Church of the Apostles. I admit Dr. Youssef made me angry in the beginning. He was uncompromising about what the Word said, but I went home and read, and then I went again and listened and was angry, and I came back, and I read again, and went back and read again and listened again, and my heart was opened. And one day he called anyone who desire to surrender their heart. There I was standing up. Best day of my life. Thank you for being true to every syllable and your unique context. You made the Bible alive to me. Many years later you blessed my fiancée and myself and our plans to be married before we had to move away from Atlanta. If I may, Casey Hawley, I could never thank you enough for bringing me to the Church of the Apostles. Thank you. Changed my life and me. I miss Atlanta mostly because of the Church of the Apostles".
And that is why I constantly want to affirm and reaffirm that we have one vision above all visions. That we have no higher calling than this one. That we have no greater destination than this one. That we have no holier calling than this one: lifting up Jesus. Manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed in the world, taken to glory, with whom one day we're all gonna reign and rule. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that we are now facing a morally dark and getting darker world, right? More than we've ever seen in our lifetime and therefore to accomplish God's vision, to keep God's vision alive in this place, we're going to need every hand on deck. Every hand. No one can say, "Well, they don't need me".
Let me assure you it is a fallacy. It's a lie from the pit of hell. Those days of being spectators and coming in and getting entertained and leaving, they're gone. But as for us in this place, these are urgent times and urgent times call for urgent people. Urgent times call for those who are all in, not one foot here and one foot somewhere else. Urgent times call not for half-hearted commitment. With Elijah, I could say for how long you gonna fall between two opinions? If God is God worship him. If Baal is god then worship him.