Michael Youssef - What is Your Ebenezer?
As I read the Scripture, it is so clear that God over and over and over again asked his people to set up memorials in order to remember his faithfulness of the past. These memorials are not for people, these memorials are not for us, but they are memorials to the faithfulness of God. I read how, in the Scripture, God warned them again and again and again and again, "Don't forget, don't forget, don't forget". Do you think God our Maker knew a little bit about our fickle memory? And then the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, in order to establish the memorial that is visible other than what's in the Word of God, but a visible memorial of the supernatural intervention of him coming from heaven, dying on a cross, and him making a covenant with us, he established the Lord's table, a reminder that Jesus once and for all defeated death, defeated sin, and defeated shame.
Now, I want you to turn with me please now to 1 Samuel chapter 7, verse 12. "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. And he named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far has the Lord helped us.' So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israel's territory again". You see, growing up in a culture that is hostile to the Christian faith, it is not a surprise for my mother on a new year to pray that prayer, to repeat those words. And my mother was not a great theologian, but in her simple faith, she would go on from this verse to say, "But he who brought us safe thus far will keep us safe in the future until he takes us all the way home".
Now, as a boy, I did not know, I didn't look the Scripture up. I thought that was part of the Bible. But that was the verse she added, expressing her own faith, her own confidence that the very God who brought us to this point is going to take us all the way home safely. Beloved, listen. In our individual lives, in marriage, in relationships, in family, in our corporate life as a church, we get into deep trouble when we forget the exhortation of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:12, namely that, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, and the authorities, and the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm".
You do not need me to tell you that we are facing an increasingly hostile culture. It seems that the movies and the television and the academia and magazines and everything around us, the professors in schools, all seem to be conspiring in order to assault the hearts and the minds and the souls of believers. And that is why we must constantly remind ourselves that people are not our enemies, but the devil is. Our fight is not against flesh and blood, but is against the spiritual forces. And that is why we need to fight these battles with weapons of faith and obedience, of righteousness. Amen belongs here.
Now, to understand Samuel, what he did here, is I need to put this text in its context. In the book of Judges, we read that God's people kept wandering away from God again and again and again. Oh, but remember this. In all of their wanderings, they've never ceased to be Jews. They never ceased to be the people of God. They never ceased to keep the rituals and the religious rituals of Judaism. They never ceased to pay homage to Yahweh. And God often would let them go their way, not force them to stay. He will let them go, and he will leave them to the consequences of their decision of departing from God, compromising the Word of God. And he will let them go, and then they suffer, and they come back weeping blood, crying out to God, calling on God, and God hears their prayers, and then he answers their prayers, and he gives them a deliverer who would deliver them out of their misery.
Again and again and again and again, the cycle of defection and repentance went on for 450 years. What a great God we have. What a patient God we have. What a gracious God we have. Finally, God raised Samuel, who was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. And in 1 Samuel chapter 4, Israel once again had fallen away from God. People's heart turned away from Yahweh to their favorite idols. I don't know what your favorite idol is, but you know and you know it, you know it. This time, the Philistines waged a bloody war on the Israelites on the plain of Aphek. Four thousand of the great warriors of Israel lost their lives. The Israelites thought that, if they call upon their secret weapon, they can have victory.
You know what that secret weapon was? The Ark of the Covenant. They thought because it represents the presence of God, so they said, "If we take the Ark of the Covenant with us into the battlefield, then we will have victory". You see, that's called knowing the form of religion, but denying its power. They thought the secret is in the box itself. And so, they took the ark with them into the battlefield, but they did not win the battle. It doesn't work that way.
Beloved, listen to me. Formality and outward devotion and religiosity never wins a spiritual battle. Wearing or even carrying a Bible is not going to win a spiritual battle, but a changed heart, a transformed heart, a heart that is totally dedicated, devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ will help you win the battle every time. Even though the ark was with them, the Philistines won over them, won the battle. And this time, 30,000 Israelites lost their lives. Not only that, but the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and took it over. Eventually, they returned it back. I'm not going to get into the details, but it came back to Israel.
By that time, we get to 1 Samuel chapter 7. The Ark of the Covenant has been in Israel now back from the land of Philistine for 20 years. But God still not blessing his people. God still not giving them victory. God still withholding his hand of blessings, why? Because their hearts were not right with God. In 1 Samuel chapter 7, verse 3, Samuel calls the people to true repentance. Can you say that with me? True repentance. Listen to what he said to them, and listen carefully. "If you return to the Lord with all," can you say, "all", "all of your hearts, and rid yourselves of your idols, and commit yourselves to the Lord, and serve him only, then he will deliver you".
When you are facing an impossibility in your life, the first thing you need to do is to genuinely and truthfully turn away from whatever it is that is stealing your affection. Here, Samuel sets a landmark memorial so that the Israelites would never, never, never, never forget the intervention of God, never, never, never forget what God did on that day in confusing the enemy. And so, he took a stone, it's a whole lot bigger than this. But he took a stone and he put it between Mizpah and Shen. This is halfway between the two major cities. And he sets that stone, he calls it Ebenezer. Can you say that with me? "Thus far the Lord helped us". Say it with me, "Thus far the Lord has helped us".
Believing just like my mother used to add to the Scripture and say that the one who helped us to this point is going to help us all the way home and to all of eternity. As we look back on three decades, we can truly say thus far, the Lord has helped us. If these buildings can speak, oh what stories they would tell. They will tell of lives that were lost and became found in this place. They would tell of hearts that were broken and became mended in this place. They would tell of relationships that were devastated and became restored in this place. They would tell of heavy souls that hardly was able to walk through the doors, and they walked out of here rejoicing and jumping for joy. They would tell of lives that were floundering, and they found purpose in this place.
In fact, I believe with all my heart that when we get to heaven, there will be many, many, many untold souls who will come up to us and say, "I have been blessed, I have been saved, I've been transformed, I've been changed because of your faithfulness and the faithfulness of the members of this church". Amen, amen.
Beloved, these are all our Ebenezer stones. They're all the mark of remembrance. They all remind us thus far, the Lord has helped us. Like the Israelites, we had to work and we had to serve, we had to pray, we had to trust in God alone, even when others betrayed us and disappointed us. I want to testify to you. I always testify to the glory of God and my shame in many ways, my lack of faith. In every crisis we faced, it was the Lord and the Lord alone who gave us the strength and the grace and the victory. Make no mistake about it, sin and pride and self-sufficiency will always pull us down to defeat. But confession, repentance, and humility, and reliance on the Lord alone will always give us victory.
We easily forget the source of our victory, easily forget to acknowledge God for what he has done. We easily take credit for what only God could have done. We easily forget that thus far, the Lord has helped us. And that is why we need a landmark, and that is why we need an Ebenezer stone. Some of you probably are asking, what is an Ebenezer stone? Well, I'm sure Samuel's Ebenezer stone was a whole lot bigger than this. But I'm glad you asked because I really want to tell you. See, most of us associate the term Ebenezer with that miserable character Ebenezer Scrooge, right? We always think of that, and we've got a negative thought about it because "A Christmas Carol," of Charles Dickens. It's the most negative feeling that comes out when we think the name Ebenezer.
But in the Hebrew language, Ebenezer is a beautiful word. I'm going to explain it to you. But I personally think that Dickens, when he was writing this fictitious novel, when he was writing this, I believe with all my heart he had the biblical meaning in mind because after all, Scrooge saw the past, the present, and the future, and then he became a transformed man. He became a changed man. He became a loving man, he became kind. And the word "Ebenezer" in the Hebrew comes from two Hebrew words, they're two words that's stuck together, ebhen and hezer. Ebhen means stone, and hezer means the help. Ebenezer means the stone of help, did you get that? Okay, don't forget it now. Samuel was not saying this Ebenezer stone is remind us that God helped us in some way to a certain degree. No, Samuel wanted them to always remember and never forget this event.
When people repented and prayed when Samuel sacrificed to the Lord, when the Lord thundered and terrified the Philistines, when God sent help to Israel at a certain moment at certain time in history when he gave Israel victory, that is the greatest remembrance, and he want them to know that. Come, thou fount of every blessing. I'm sure you're probably saying this and came to that verse about Ebenezer, and he wondered what that means. Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by the help I've come. And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God, he to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.
Beloved, Ebenezer stone is where you'll remember the faithfulness of God. Ebenezer stone is where we remember that God answered many a prayer. Ebenezer stone is where we experience individually an individual revival inside of us, restoration, and renewal. Ebenezer stone is where we rededicate ourselves. Ebenezer stone is the place we can go to for a new beginning. So, let me ask you a question. What is your Ebenezer stone? What is your Ebenezer stone? You might feel a tug in your heart right now as I'm speaking, but I don't want this to be an emotional, temporary experience. Please don't let that happen. God might be calling you to raise an Ebenezer stone in your life. God may be calling you to review your walk with him.
Now, God may be reminding you of his faithfulness, which you have forgotten long time ago. It is time to say, "Thus far, the Lord helped me. Here I raise my Ebenezer stone". What is your Ebenezer stone? Well, today we're going to give you an Ebenezer stone as a gift. You probably came here and you said, "Oh, this church has gone back to stoning sinners". You looked at these boxes, there are four upstairs and six here. I hope nobody came in here and left, they said, "Ooh, there's a stoning ritual in this church". No, this is our gift to you. I want you to place it on your desk or in your kitchen, your mantelpiece above the fireplace, your briefcase, wherever it is where you can see it on a regular basis to remind you of the faithfulness of God to you, the faithfulness of God to this church, to remind you of the help that he has given you when you were desperate. To remind you of the victory that he gave you over cancer, over fear, over guilt, and over bankruptcy.
Ebenezer stone is anything that says to you, "Thus far, the Lord helped us". God has been dependable in the past. God can be relied upon in the present. God is totally trustworthy all of the future, for this Ebenezer stone says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It says that God is not going to bring you all the way thus far and then he drops you, or let you fall. It says that the battle belongs to the Lord, and he gives us the victory. And when Samuel took a knife and he shed the blood of that lamb on the altar of sacrifice, victory took place. Victory over the enemy. Victory over the oppressors. Victory over the Philistine. And that lamb that Samuel shed the blood of is a foreshadowing of the secret of our victory, namely the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, who hung on that cross and shed his blood for every one of us.
And I want you to remember that when Jesus cried on the cross and said, "It is finished," and yielded his life as a sacrifice for sin and death, your victory was purchased then. Did you know that? Your salvation was wrought then. Your triumph over your enemy, Satan, is already received. Your subduing of the flesh became possible. Your victory over death, sin, and the grave became accomplished, amen. Thus far, the Lord has helped us. Say it again, thus far the Lord has helped us. Thus far, the Lord has saved us. And therefore, we know that the one who brought us safe thus far, he will help us tomorrow, and he will help us throughout eternity. He will never forget to help you.
Here's the thing you need to remember, he will never, never, never, never, never forget to help us. Today, we thank God for the past 30 years. And as you come forward and you dip the wafer in the wine cup, I want you to say to the Lord, "Lord, let your blood, the only blood that can heal me, the only blood that can transform me, the only blood that can strengthen me, the only blood that can give me victory, I saturate and I drown whatever my favorite idol is. I give that idol to you". And then come to one of these boxes here, take one with you. It's our gift to you because I want the whole body of Christ to unite not only in repentance, but also in setting up the Ebenezer stone, amen?