The executive pastor delivered a light-hearted yet thought-provoking sermon to remind the church to trust in Jesus above all.
In Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees tested Jesus by asking Him to show them a sign from heaven. Aries Zulkarnain, City Harvest Church’s executive pastor, started his sermon with this story and reminded the congregation that they too, can become overly reliant on signs and wonders.
Over the weekend of Jan 23-24, Zulkarnain preached on the importance of focusing on Jesus instead of constantly searching for supernatural signals.
“When one is overly dependent on signs and wonders, one can be so accustomed to them that he or she becomes paralyzed in their walk with God,” he explained. Although it is great to witness them, Zulkarnain pointed out that signs and wonders should follow the believer, not the other way round.
When times are good, it is very easy to see the signs, yet when the storms of life hit, people often feel that signs are nowhere to be found no matter how hard they search for it, said the pastor. They would go down on their knees praying for signs to assure them. When signs do not appear, they start to despair.
Zulkarnian highlighted 2 Corinthians 5:7, which says “For we walk by faith, not by sight”. “Similarly, we are also called to live by faith and not by signs,” he says, drawing laughter from the congregation.
In Matthew 16, Jesus, too, warned His disciples to be careful not to depend on signs. Verse 12 reads: “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Leaven, said Zulkarnain, means a lifestyle of always needing a sign instead of believing and trusting in God.
Living a lifestyle of heavy dependence on signs will slowly destroy one’s faith, trust and vision in God. “As Christians, we must learn to trust in God, not signs and wonders,” Zulkarnain said.
“When there is no manifestation of God’s power, it does not mean His power is not at work. God’s power is not determined by feelings, emotions or manifestation.”
While feelings are important in many areas of life, he noted, they are completely unreliable in matters of faith.
“The age we live in now is known as the age of sensations; youngsters’ attentions can only be captivated by sensations nowadays,” Zulkarnain said, joking that the church should install “4D” chairs in the hall in order to get them to focus on the preaching during service instead of going on social media on their phones.
“We should install wind and heat effects in the seats, so that when the preacher talks about the Holy Spirit, everyone will then literally feel wind and fire of the Holy Ghost,” he quipped.
On a more serious note, Zulkarnain reminded the congregation that worship is not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship; instead, worship is an act that develops feelings towards God.
“What we need is not a feel-good factor; what we need is a ‘feel-God’ factor. When we feel God, we will feel good,” he declared.
Zulkarnain went on to encourage the congregation to build their image of God through revelation and not signs and wonders. He referred to Matt 16:13-18, in which Peter told Jesus that some said He was John the Baptist, Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Zulkarnain explained that this was because of Jesus’ ability to preach, to heal, and to prophesy. When Peter said that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus said that that was Peter’s revelation.
The lesson that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in Matthew 16 was to live their lives based on relationship and revelation, not based on signs and wonders alone. In Matthew 17, Peter told Jesus that he wanted to build an altar and tabernacle after seeing Moses and Elijah appeared before them. Zulkarnain explained to the congregation that to his desire to build the altar and tabernacle represented Peter’s willingness to base his entire life on them. Moses represented the preaching of God’s Word and Elijah represented prophecies, Zulkarnain explained. Peter was about to put his life down on these two things.
However, God wanted Peter to focus on Jesus alone. In verse 5, God said to Peter, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
“What if the sermons you have been listening to contradict reality? What if the prophecies you await are delayed, and end up contradicting reality as well?” Zulkarnain asked, explaining that if a Christian’s faith is built on the sermon, it is not founded on solid ground and he will eventually miss Jesus.
“The danger of depending on the sermons and preaching is that you’ll catch the wind and not the Holy Spirit, the shaking and not the power, the fire but not the fire of the Holy Ghost,” he said.
The pastor reminded the church that it is more important to have the Messiah than the message.
Similarly, if a believer’s faith were anchored on prophecies instead of Jesus, he or she would just end up feeling confused and disappointed when the prophecies are delayed.
Referencing Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps,” the pastor continued: “We want God to do the planning and we direct His path, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead, we need to trust in God.’
Zulkarnain showed the people that the word “trust” looks like it has two crosses at the beginning and the end. “Trust” is believing that God will finish what He began and that the end will always be more glorious than the beginning, he said.
“The problem is what is between the two Ts: ‘R-U-S’,” he said. “They stand for ‘are you sure?’. Trust is putting the ‘are you sure’ between two crosses, or giving it to Jesus.”
Zulkarnain urged the congregation to focus on Jesus and receive revelations from Him. He ended his message by drawing from Psalm 121:1-2, reminding the church that help comes from Jesus Christ alone.