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Welcome to the Path of Life Daily Devotional–New for 2018–The Jesus Story!

The Pathsrp-experiment of Life daily devotions are designed to be an aid to daily prayer.  This year I will post a daily narrative from the Life of Christ, beginning with the Gospel of Mark.  Matthew’s Gospel will be the source of devotions from March-May.  As in 2017, I will use a single word title followed by a few selected verses on the subject, and concluding with  a prayer and a song.

Join me for a detailed walk through the Life of our Lord in this devotional form.  If you haven’t already “followed” these devotions, please select that button and register to receive email notification of each posting, including those at StevePhifer.com.  Let’s draw closer to the Savior in 2018!

The Path of Life Daily Devotions work for morning or evening.
Start your day or end your day with an encouraging word.

Each devotion, in fact each article I write, ends with the same signature:
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

Semper Reformanda!
Semper Reformanda! is my ministry motto. It means “Always Reforming.” The church must never stop progressing toward the Coming of the Lord. We must never cease to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. We must never stop seeking God’s Face. We must never restrain from testing all things to see if they are from the Lord. This ongoing process requires a growing knowledge of what God has said and a listening ear to what God is saying. If we are not constantly vigilant in these things, our lives will be tossed about by the unrelenting winds of culture. If we are constantly available to the Spirit for instruction in righteousness, we will build our lives on the Rock! To me, Semper Reformanda! is each day’s work as we walk the Path of Life.

 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 NKJV)

To begin reading the devotions for this year go to the end of this article.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

Interested in Christian Worship and Spirituality?–That is my subject!  For an extensive of articles on Worship  and Worship Renewal Go To StevePhifer.com.

 

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May 22, 2018 “Lawlessness”


Lawlessness

The King James version uses the word, “iniquity.” It means lawlessness.
It is difficult for us, more than 20 centuries later, to understand the teachings of Jesus concerning the end times. He spoke as if these events were imminent. What can we take away from these ancient words and warnings to make a difference in our world?

Outward Structures, Inward Realities
As Jesus and His men left the Temple and began their ascent up the Mount of Olives, the Disciples noted how impressive the Temple complex looked from that elevation. Jesus seized the moment.

Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another,
that shall not be thrown down.”

Buildings are symbols of invisible things. The important thing about the Temple was that it was a place for people to meet with God. All the lovely marble stones, all the impressive architecture, even all the historic forms of worship had no value in themselves. Their value was in the truth they represented. If and when it all fell down, the invisible things would still remain. In fact, under the New Covenant, The church would be the True Temple, the “habitation of God by His Spirit.” Built solidly on the Cornerstone, Christ Jesus, this structure will never fall.

The Beginning of the End
When they reached their familiar retreat on the mountain the Disciples asked Jesus to tell them when the Temple would fall. We should be grateful to the Twelve for asking—we need to hear the answers Jesus gave.

  • The end times will be an age of deception. Fake messiahs will capture the public’s attention before they are exposed. Do not be deceived by them.
  • International unrest will rule the last days. “Wars and rumors of wars” will be the daily report. “Nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom” has been and continues to be the history of this world. Why? Because nations and kingdoms spring from the fallen hearts of men. Un-redeemed, men have always and will always bring war.
  • Natural disasters and social disasters will shake the earth and the population. “These are the beginnings of sorrows.”
  • Persecution of True Believers will spread from nation to nation. Some will pay with their lives to follow Jesus. For them, it will not be the end; it will be a transformation to glory.
  • False prophets will rise up to deceive many, even those who have once known the truth.
  • The spirit of the age will be iniquity—lawlessness—and the love of even God’s people will wax cold. Apostasy, the ancient curse of Israel, will deceive many into forsaking the truth and embracing comforting falsehood.

Enduring Faith
There is no doubt this age is infested with the spirit of iniquity–of lawlessness. Even in such times of persecution and peril, an inner strength will rise up in the faithful ones—they will endure. That may not sound like much of a promise. Shouldn’t we expect to thrive and prosper? Perhaps, but the important thing is to endure.

  • Stay in touch with Jesus.
  • Stay in the Word. Be faithful to worship.
  • Find the will of God and do it. Serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.

For the Jesus Story will go out to all the nations. The Gospel cannot be stopped.

Scriptures:
Matthew 24:1-14
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I long for Your coming! In this age of lawlessness, help me be true! Help me proclaim Your salvation day by day and declare among the nations that the Lord reigns! When Your enemies come against me, come to my rescue! I will put on the Gospel Armor and fight the good fight of faith. You have made me more than a conqueror. Thank You for the reality of Your Holy Temple—the Church! More than a building or a symbol, Your Church is real and victorious! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Rise Up O Saints of God
Words: William P. Merrill; Music: William H. Walter

1. Rise up, O saints of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of kings.

2. Rise up, O saints of God!
The Kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of righteousness,
And end the night of wrong.

3. Rise up, O saints of God!
The church for you doth wait,
With strength unequal to the task;
Rise up and make it great.

4. Lift high the cross of Christ;
Tread where Christ’s feet have trod;
Come sisters, brothers, in the faith,
Rise up, O Saints of God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 21, 2018 “Leadership?”

Leadership?

Jesus had finally had enough of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.
Today, in the language of newspaper publishing, we would say He gave them a broadside. They had positions of authority but no spiritual authority. Their words were lofty but their deeds were little. Jesus warned the people to listen to the words if they came from a holy source but not to imitate their deeds. They loved public recognition and preferred to be called “Rabbi.” Jesus told the people to avoid such phony titles. Since Jesus had come into their lives, the people had their teacher!

“But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees”
When He was sure everyone knew who He was talking about, Jesus launched into a tirade.

  • You will not worship and you prevent others from worshiping.
  • You rob widows while praying long, impressive prayers in public.
  • You make a show of converting heathens only to make them all the more a child of hell.
  • You carelessly swear oaths by the things of God only to use them toward selfish ends.
  • You carefully tithe the smallest most insignificant things while paying no attention to the important things: “justice and mercy and faith.”
  • You present a holy image to the world, but inside there is only corruption. You are white-washed tombs.
  • You honor the leaders of the past saying that you would have followed them, but you are the sons of those who killed the prophets and do the same works as they.

This was the leadership style of the day.

The Brood of Vipers
Just as Jesus had used the whip to scatter the evil merchants in the Temple, He used words to flail the scribes and Pharisees. He called them:

  • Hypocrites,
  • Blind Guides,
  • Fools and blind,
  • Whitewashed Tombs, and
  • Serpents, a Brood of Vipers.

How did they react to this scathing indictment? Matthew does not tell us but we can be sure that with their hypocrisy exposed they stomped out of the Temple courts to huddle together in private to plot against Jesus.

Jerusalem
Watching the brood of vipers slither away to their nests, Jesus’ heart broke. He had not come to make enemies, but to lead people back to God. His enemies were those whose wealth and status were built on deceit and hidden iniquity. Their wickedness was no longer hidden; Jesus tore away the veil of respectability to reveal the rottenness of their souls. He had dismantled the carefully constructed system that held the people back from God, kept the Romans in power, and enriched the actors in this drama of deception.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … How often I wanted to gather your children together…but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate”

Their day was coming as sure as the morning sunrise; God, the just, will see them and their whole self-serving system tumble to the ground like the heathen walls of ancient Jericho. Go ahead and plot your schemes, devise your plots, and initiate your intrigues. You are not in control. You are merely the visible villains in the vaudeville. God is working His plan and this Man Jesus who today pronounced your doom, will triumph in the end.  His leaders will lead from true hearts, cleansed by a holy flame.

Scriptures:
Matthew 23:1-39
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

  • “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
  • “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord !'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when You walked this earth, You did so in complete integrity. You were the same inside as You appeared to be outside. When You encountered hypocrisy, You condemned it in the strongest terms. O Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart with Your fire! Make me pure from the inside out. If I am to have a positive impact on my world, I must be true to You in my most private life. Send the Fire, O God, and make me pure! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Send the Fire
Words: William Booth; Music: Frederick Booth-Tucker

1. Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Thy blood bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

2. God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

3. ’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

4. To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
O see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 20, 2018 “First”

First

There are always scorekeepers in every crowd.
These are the ones who are more interested in rankings than in truth. Two opposition groups combined in an attempt to catch Jesus in His words. Their question involved who should be first in the thinking of the citizens, God or Caesar. The issue was taxes. If God’s Chosen People paid taxes to Caesar, didn’t that mean Rome should be first in their thinking? These Herodians and Phrisees thought they had a foolproof plan to get the best of Jesus. How foolish!

The Image on the Coin
Jesus asked to see a Roman coin. None of the leaders wanted to be embarrassed because he was caught carrying money so there was a progression downward through the ranks until some poor low-level member of the group had to part with a coin he really needed to keep. He gave it to head Pharisee who passed it on to Jesus. Jesus took it, turned it over in His hand, and held it up in the sun so all could see. The crowd was divided between those who wanted to hear the answer and those who wanted the coin. When all had had a good look, Jesus tossed the coin back to the Pharisee.

“Whose image and inscription is this?”

They said to Him,

“Caesar’s.”

And He said to them,

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The combined forces of Phariees and Herodians were dumbfounded, speechless, and without answer or recourse so they simply walked away. Jesus came in first in this contest.

The Sadducees Take Their Turn
The Sadducees were the liberals of that day; they didn’t believe in the supernatural and they taught that there was no life after death. Their attempt at embarrassing Jesus involved these ideas. They told a fantastic story of man with six brothers married a woman and then promptly died. The Law of Moses demanded that a brother marry the widow to raise up children to his brother. However, like the first brother, this one quickly passed away leaving the twice-widowed woman to the next brother. Each one married her only to die leaving no heirs. Finally, mercifully, the woman herself died, no doubt from exhaustion. After a moment to let the details of their invented narrative sink in, they asked,

“Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

Jesus dismissed this nonsense quickly: They did not know the power of God and neither did they understand that in the resurrection there will be no need for precreation.

The Young Lawyer
An earnest young lawyer witnessed all of this. He was embarrassed by the shallow inquiries of the leaders and he had a sincere question of his own.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

In other words, what is the first duty of a man before God. As dismissive as Jesus was of the others, He was just as careful with this sincere man. His answer is famous—“love God and love others.” This is first command, the peg that holds all the Law and the prophets.

The Return of the Pharisees
Gluttons for punishment, the leaders tried one more time to get the best of Jesus. Before they could speak Jesus asked them about Messiah,

“Whose Son is He?”

There was only one answer, the Son of David.

“How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’?
If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?”

There was no answer and that was the end of their questions for Jesus. Final score?  Jesus 3, Critics 0.

Scriptures:
Matthew 22:15-46
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”‘? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him
anymore.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are first in my life. I will go into this day determined to love You first and people a close second. I will not keep score of the wrongs done to me by others but I will let Your forgiveness flow first through me. I will tend to my civil duty as a citizen of the land but always hold my heavenly citizenship higher. I will move through day propelled by the hope of the resurrection. While some laugh at such things, calling them foolish superstitions, I will live with an eye toward the Eastern sky and an ear tuned to heaven for the sounds of the trumpet and the Archangel signaling Your return. You indeed are first in my heart! Amen, Even so, Come Lord Jesus!

Song:
Hasten Thy Glorious Coming
Words and Music: Oren Munger

1. Christ’s coming now is nearing,
Blest day of His appearing,
This thought my heart great joy affords;
Millions around are sighing,
For this release are crying,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”

Refrain:
Jesus is coming soon, coming I know,
Coming His glorious bride to claim;
With rapturous hearts we’re waiting,
To join that great translating,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”

2. Sorrow and sin prevaileth,
In pain the earth travaileth,
Darkness abounds in every land;
But in earths darkest hour
He’ll come in mighty power
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”

Refrain

3. He warns us to watching,
Praying and always ready,
We do not know the day nor hour;
Are you your heart preparing,
Ascension robes now wearing,
Washed in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb?

Refrain

4. So when the trumpet soundeth,
And He from heaven descendeth,
To claim the church, His spotless bride;
With boundless joy we’ll greet Him,
As we arise to meet Him,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 19, 2018 “Invited”

Invited

An invitation to a wedding is an honor extended to the invitee and a grace flowing from the one doing the inviting.
This was real life in that day of arranged marriages. Jesus chose an event this common and this important to teach about the Kingdom of God. The one whose son is getting married is not some ordinary guy—he is a king. Everyone knows his name and lives in his shadow. It would follow that an invitation to the wedding of a prince would be treasured by all who were chosen.

Rejection in the Kingdom
Such was not the case. The guest list was a large one as servants hand delivered invitations throughout the kingdom. For a reason we are not given, those invited to the wedding refused the invitation. The king sent more servants to the chosen ones with details of the royal preparations. It was time to come to the feast. They made fun of the king and went about the more important details of their self-centered lives. They even killed the king’s messengers. It is not good to reject and then insult a king and then kill his men. He sent an army to destroy both them and their city.

Highway and Hedges
Rejected by the elites in his kingdom, the king turned to strangers who happened to be on their way somewhere else, inviting them to the wedding feast. The banquet hall was filled and the king made some new friends. There was great rejoicing among the common folk who had never attended a royal banquet before. They had never eaten so well and had never been entertained as wonderfully well. The frowning faces of the king’s “friends” were soon forgotten as the king enjoyed the feasting of a whole new set of friends. With the city of those who rejected him destroyed, he was going to new leaders! He started scanning the crowd for untapped talent.

The Wedding Garment
There was one person who came unprepared, willfully insulting the king by accepting the invitation and then choosing to dress improperly. At issue was something called a wedding garment. The details of this are lost to ancient history. The king spoke kindly to the man, calling him “friend.” He asked why he had refused the king’s required garment but the man had no answer. This pushed the king too far and he dealt harshly with the unprepared man.

Our Invitation to the Feast
The application of this parable is easy to see. We have been invited to feast with heaven! Just as the Israelites ate manna in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, we may feast daily on manna from heaven—the Word of God and the presence of King Jesus! All are invited to this feast but many refuse the invitation. Their refusal of the divine invitation eliminates them from the fellowship of the saints. They want to enjoy the benefits of the banquet without putting on the wedding garment. What is the wedding garment for us? It is the salvation of our souls by the Lord Jesus Himself, Master of the Feast. We need the robes of righteousness only He can provide. If we depend on our goodness, we will be cast out of the feast. With the Robes of Righteousness from Jesus, we can pull up and chair!
mercy!

Scriptures:
Matthew 22:1-14

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”‘ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have received Your invitation to the Feast. I joyfully take my place at Your table today. Fill my hungry soul with delightful things from Your Word and with the sweetness of the fellowship of the saints. As the scriptures invite me, “O taste and see that the Lord is Good!” this is my plan for today. As You lead me through the highways and hedges of this life, help me extend Your invitation to those who do not know they are invited to this feast. I will tell them of the beautiful wedding garment of salvation, the only covering for their sins. Help me make new friends today—all for the feast You have prepared for us! Amen.

Song:
Come to the Feast
Words: Charles H. Gabriel; Music: W.A. Ogden

1. “All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, for the table now is spread;
Ye famishing, ye weary, come,
And thou shalt be richly fed.

Refrain:
Hear the invitation,
Come, “whosoever will”;
Praise God for full salvation
For “whosoever will.”

2. “All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, for the door is open wide;
A place of honor is reserved
For you at the Master’s side.

Refrain

3 “All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, while He waits to welcome thee;
Delay not while this day is thine,
Tomorrow may never be.

Refrain

4 “All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Leave ev’ry care and worldly strife;
Come, feast upon the love of God,
And drink everlasting life.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 18, 2018 “Authority”

Authority

It was the central question: Who gave Jesus the authority to do the things He did and say the things He said?
There had never been anyone like Jesus. John the Baptist was a prophet; on this the people agreed. Jesus was more than a prophet—He was…Well who was He? Sickness ended with His touch. Deaf ears started hearing and blind eyes started seeing at His proclamation. Crippled legs and shrunken arms grew to normal strength when loved ones brought them close to Him. Demons fled at His command. He took the Word of God and made it live in ways that people who had read it all their lives and memorized sizable portions of it had never considered. He pronounced the judgment of God on wickedness wherever He found it. He feared no man or council or army. He even strode into the Temple courts and claimed it to be His Father’s house as He scattered the religious rats who built their nests there.

Finally, the leaders had seen enough; the question must be asked and answered:

“By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”

Without blinking an eye, Jesus answered their question with one of His own (He often did this.) He asked them about the baptism of John: was it from God? If they would declare themselves, so would He. They realized at once that He had bested them again.

  • If they said it was from God, they would have to explain their rejection of him.
  • If they said what they really believed, they would lose the confidence of the people for they held John to be a prophet.

The brightest among them answered the Lord: “We cannot say.” Laughing, Jesus told them in that case He would not reveal His source of authority either.

The Authority of Jesus
Jesus told two stories about owners of vineyards. One had two sons whom he instructed to work in his vineyard. One said he would and then he didn’t. The other said he wouldn’t and then he did. Which one did his father’s will? The Scribes and Pharisees had started this conversation so they had to answer: the first of course. Jesus agreed and declared that evil people who eventually did God’s will would enter heaven before leaders who claimed to follow God but didn’t.

Another vineyard owner constructed a first class vineyard, complete in every detail and then went on a long journey, leasing the vineyard to local workers. When the time for the harvest came, he sent representatives to collect the profits. Instead, his representatives were abused and even killed. He sent more and it happened again. Finally he sent his son and they did the same to him. Jesus asked,

“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”

His opponents fell into the trap, predicting judgement on the thieving, murdering vinedressers. Jesus sprung the trap identifying them as the wicked men and Himself as the Cornerstone—the one who has the authority of Heaven at His back.

They knew these clever stories were aimed at them. There was nothing the leaders could do. They could not debate with Jesus. They could not explain away the miracles. They wanted to arrest Him but they feared the crowd.

The Cornerstone
A mighty structure rests upon a mighty stone. In the same way the Kingdom of God rests on the person of Jesus, the Cornerstone. His authority extends to the ends of the earth. If we cast our lives onto Him, He will gently break away the parts of us that offend the Father. For those who reject Him, the judgements of God will bring personal and permanent destruction. How much better to throw our souls upon His mercy!

Scriptures:
Matthew 21:23-46
Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him. “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus You are the Cornerstone! All of my faith rests on You. You are more than a literary character or a figure from history. You are not billeted in the clouds amusing Yourself with celestial pursuits. You are here with me, involved in my life, leading me from earth to glory. You have the authority over heaven and earth. As the poet said, “thousands of angels at Your bidding speed and they also serve who only stand and wait.” Whether speeding at Your command or waiting for the next assignment, I rest in Your authority today. Amen.

Song:
Cornerstone
Words and Music: Dottie Rambo

Jesus is the Cornerstone, came for sinners to atone.
Though rejected by His own He became the Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone.

When I am by sin oppressed on this Stone I am at rest.
Where the seeds of truth are sown, He remains the Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee.
Rock of Ages so secure for all time He shall endure,
Till His children reach their home, He remains the Cornerstone.
Till the breaking of the dawn, Till all footsteps cease to roam,
Ever let this truth be known. Jesus is the Cornerstone.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 17, 2018 “Believing”

Believing

After the big parade, people were wondering what to expect from Jesus.
He quietly dismounted the young donkey and handed the guide rope to the Disciples, patting her strong neck to let her know she had done well, never balking at all the noise or stumbling on the streets. Before he headed for the Temple, He borrowed a whip from a camel driver. The man surrendered the whip without a question but wondered why Jesus would need one.

In the Outer Court
Jesus entered the Temple and slowly walked through the courtyard. This place was intended to be a place of preparation for sacrifices in the Temple, a place of repentance where sins were regretted and forgiveness sought. Not today. It was a marketplace. Animals for sacrifice were on sale everywhere: expensive lambs for rich people and expendable doves for the poor. Instead of the solemn sounds of prayer, the courtyard rang with shouts, bickering, and the ever-present clank of metal coins.

As the offense of such profanity boiled over in His Spirit, Jesus cracked the whip. Those close enough to hear it over the din of commerce gave Him a furtive glance and quickly went back to their selling. He cracked the whip again, louder, and this time across the back of a dove handler. His cage full of condemned birds fell from his hands and broke open granting the birds a welcomed reprieve. Jesus then had everyone’s attention. A few more cracks of the whip and merchants scattered for safety as birds, lambs, and tiny goats took advantage of broken cages and dropped ropes. The noise of the animals, the screams of the merchants, and the protests of the priests watching profits escape ruled several minutes of chaos. Finally, with a cordon of fearful souls surrounding Him, Jesus spoke His rage:

“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'”

In less than a minute, the crowd again took up the songs of the parade and the religious leaders renewed their protests. Sick people rushed toward Jesus and a great healing service was the result. There was little the leaders could do. In the presence of such power, their picayune protests were dismissed by Jesus:

“Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have perfected praise’?”

Over the objections of the mistaken leaders, the healing and rejoicing continued as merchants scrambled to recapture doves, round up sheep, and collect their scattered coins.

To Bethany and Back
The parade over and the healing service ended, Jesus returned to Bethany to rest, most likely to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus,. The next day He returned to the city and to the Temple. On the way, He was hungry and stopped by a fig tree but found no fruit. He pronounced judgment on the tree and it withered from the roots up. When His men marveled at this, Jesus interpreted the whole sequence of events for them.

It was all about believing.
The merchants and the priests believed that the forgiveness of sins was a business; they were wrong. The crowd believed Jesus was Messiah; they were correct. The sick people believed Jesus was their healer; they were right. Such was the power of belief when the things believed were actually true. Jesus told them, and us:

“…whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Let us, therefore, believe!

Scriptures:
Matthew 21:12-22
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there. Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe! In believe in You and in Your Word. Your promises are true and they are for me. I believe in Your will and plan for my life. You are my Savior, my Healer, My hope and My rejoicing. Show me the things that You have planned for me so I can fill my prayers with them. I believe in the future that only You can see and I know that when I get there You will already be there ahead of be. Hosanna! To the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

Song:
Because We Believe
Words and Music: Jamie Harvill and Nancy Gordon

1. We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Christ the Son.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
We are the Church And we stand as one.

2. We believe in the Holy Bible.
We believe in the virgin birt.h
We believe in the resurrection,
That Christ one day Will return to earth

Refrain:
Holy, holy. Holy is our God
Worthy, worthy. Worthy is our King
All glory and honor Are His to receive
To Jesus we sing. Because we believe

3. We believe in the blood of Jesus.
We believe in eternal life.
We believe in His love that frees us
To become the bride of Christ.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 16, 2018 “Hosanna!”

Hosanna!

Two of the disciples brought the donkey and her colt to Jesus just as He had instructed them.
Also as predicted, the owner of the two animals asked the two disciples what they were doing with his livestock. When they answered as Jesus told them to answer,

“The Lord has need of them.”

The owner of the donkeys did not question the disciples. He simply sent his animals into the care of the followers of Jesus. It is unlikely, or at least unknown, whether the man was aware of the ancient prophecy:

Behold , your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The moment for the fulfilment of this prophecy had come. The Disciples saddled the colt of the donkey as best they could using their own cloaks and robes. Something about the sight of Jesus mounting to ride the donkey signaled to the crowd that a procession was about to begin. A sort of fever ran through the assembling celebrants. Perhaps this miracle worker was about to claim the title many were already using for Him—Messiah!—Anointed One! Someone removed his cloak and spread it on the street in front of the donkey and the idea caught on. Soon the street was paved with cloths of varying colors, some bright and some dull. Another man with a long knife cut a branch from one of the trees lining the route and began to wave it in the air. This gesture, too was copied so that soon palm branches beat the morning air in celebration.

A woman produced a timbrel from the large bag she carried and suddenly the procession had rhythm. From nowhere other portable instruments came into use as the crowd began to sing. At first the song was wordless, just a melody of joy and hope spilling from the hearts of people with a long tradition who were suffering from painful oppression. The children could not resist a game so delightful that even adults could play. The words, memorized since childhood, were added to the songs:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

This was not chaotic. There was an order to this impromptu parade:

  • First came a large group of celebrants chanting psalms and dancing.
  • They introduced Jesus on the donkey attended by the Twelve.
  • Last came more dancers and singers, celebrating with all their might this moment of hope in their otherwise hopeless lives.

Jesus moved along at the center of the procession.

Into Jerusalem
Long before they entered the gates of the city the crowd had grown too large to be ignored. The music had grown in intensity and even in excellence since they had rehearsed their songs on the march. The people who had come to the city on ordinary business got more than they shopped for that day. Someone, probably a leader or a soldier who was responsible for keeping order, asked,

“Who is this?”

The crowd answered as one, never breaking the rhythm of their song and dance:

“This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

With Jesus at the center their worship, the message of hope was clear to all—when will we learn this?

Scriptures:
Matthew 21:1-11
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion,’ Behold , your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.'” So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord !’ Hosanna in the highest!” And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I too, will sing the ancient songs of praise. I will sing “Hosanna!” which means “Save us, O Lord!” I will sing “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” I will declare You to be Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of David and the Son of God. I will sing from my heart. My heart will dance to the rhythms of Your processions through this day. I will lift my voice in testimony to those who observe my march—Jesus is King! He is Lord! He is Your only Salvation! Help them hear me, O Lord, help them all to hear me. Amen.

Song:
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
Words: Jennette Threlfall; Music: Traditonal

1. Hosanna, loud hosanna the little children sang;
through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them, close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

2 From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
the victory palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children should on his bidding wait.

3 “Hosanna in the highest!” That ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven, our King.
O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 15, 2018 “Blindness”

Blindness

A shameful scene by the side of the road demonstrated spiritual blindness.
Needing a break before they began the trek to Jerusalem, Jesus led the men to a resting place on the side of the road near Jericho. While they were resting, He tried once more to warn them of what awaited them in the capitol city: betrayal, arrest, trial, condemnation, execution and resurrection. Once more, they were blind to the impending events.

A Mother’s Ambition
We are not told how the mother of James and John and the wife of Zebedee joined the group but she is suddenly there asking embarrassing questions. She had given her sons to follow Jesus and she wanted to know about His plans for them. It was not the first or the last time sons were embarrassed by ambitious mothers. These two strong fishermen could not stop her and besides, they were interested in what Jesus might say.

Travelers on the road stopped to stare at Jesus and the Twelve and the agitated old woman. Losing interest, they continued on their way. Nearby on the other side of the road two blind men were begging from the travelers headed to and from Jerusalem.

Taking the plunge, the mother of the two Disciples knelt at the feet of Jesus. She was not ill nor was she in trouble. Jesus asked her what she wanted. Her request was sincere but she was totally blind to the shame of it.

“Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”

John and James wanted to hide but there was no place. The other men laughed to themselves. After a moment of silence Jesus answered the woman’s question with a question. Could her sons really follow Him? Were they strong enough to face the future with Him and share in His challenges? She rose to her feet and dragged her sons forward to stand in front of Jesus. She urged them to speak up. They swallowed hard and mumbled that they were up to whatever was coming.

Jesus shook His head and agreed with them but her request was out of bounds.

“…to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give…”

Leadership in the Kingdom
The other 10 men stopped laughing and started rebuking the two, leaving their mother lost in a fog of ambition. Jesus seized the moment to teach them about leadership in the Kingdom of God. It was the opposite of leadership in the world. It was not about power; it was about responsibility. Leaders were servants not slave drivers.

As He continued to teach, they regained the road. Before long a multitude started following. As they walked past the two blind beggars, Jesus stopped when He heard their voices:

“Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”

He called back to them asking what they wanted. They were quick to answer:

“Lord, that our eyes may be opened.”

In their blindness they saw great possibilities in the nearness of Jesus. They could not see what the Disciples saw: the look of compassion mixed with joy that stole across the face of Jesus. It always happened just before a miracle. Suddenly the two men could see. They performed the now-I-can-see dance so many others had danced. Jesus smiled at the two men.

At least somebody could see!

Scriptures:
Matthew 20:17-34
Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, spiritual blindness is so embarrassing. The mother of James and John was blind to the blazing pride in her request. But she was only thinking the way people in the world think. Her ambition may also lurk in my heart—show it to me, O Holy Ghost! Turn the searchlight of Your love on my heart. Help me see things the way they really are! You have promised me that I could walk in the light so give me spiritual eyes to see it. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Open My Eyes that I Might See
Words and Music: Clara H. Scott

1. Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth you have for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unlock and set me free.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear
voices of truth you send so clear;
and while the message sounds in my ear,
everything false will disappear.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

3. Open my mouth, and let me bear
gladly the warm truth everywhere;
open my heart, and let me prepare
love with your children thus to share.
Silently now, on bended knee,
ready I wait your will to see;
open my heart, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 14, 2018 “Laborers”

Laborers

Without laborers, a vineyard is useless.
One of the principle models Jesus used to explain the church is the vineyard. As beautiful as a vineyard may be to the eye, it is really a business. The vineyard succeeds when it produces a product—new wine. This model has many spiritual applications:

  • Jesus and the Believer as the True Vine and the branches,
  • Jesus as the Lord of the vineyard,
  • Believers as workers in the vineyard, and
  • New Wine—a fresh move of the Holy Spirit—as the product of the vineyard.

Although many lessons are drawn from this model, in this story Jesus emphasizes the laborers in the vineyard.

The Landowner
The Landowner went into the marketplace to find laborers to bring in the harvest in his vineyard. He made his first recruiting trip early in the morning and his final trip very late in the day—four trips in all. To each group he promised fair payment for their work. When he found an idle group standing in the marketplace very late in the day, he asked them why. Their answer is so important to the story.

“Because no one hired us.”

There was work to be done and people to do the work but the connection to make it happen had never been made. He hired them on the spot.

At the End of the Day
When the long work day was finally over, the Landowner instructed his steward to pay the workers from the last hired to the first. When the 11th hour group got their fair wage, the others assumed since they had worked longer, they would get more. They did not; they got the fair wage they signed on for. The longer term workers complained to the Landowner. He answered that he had done them no wrong; he paid the agreed upon the work. This answer did not silence their grumbling but it settled the issue. The Landowner was within his rights and had cheated no one.

The Lesson
What is Jesus saying to us? We have all come to the work of His vineyard at different times in our lives. We can trust God to do for us as He has promised. He does not lie and it is not in Him to cheat. We must not compare God’s blessings upon other laborers with what He is doing for us. This illegitimate calculation will only lead to discontent and strife. At the end of the day, all will be beyond question.

Kingdom Measurements
In the Vineyard of the Lord, things are measured by heavenly standards. Here, “the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” The important thing is the work. The Vineyard must be tended by skillful hands. The vines and their branches laden with fruit must be cared for in all weathers. When the time for the harvest comes, every laborer becomes a harvester. The crop must be brought in and processed. The Vineyard is the only source for the New Wine of the fresh move of the Spirit of God.

Scriptures:
Matthew 20:1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the owner of the Vineyard. Thank You for inviting me to be a laborer in Your work. I am not distracted by worries over my compensation; that is in Your capable hands. Lord, You said that You were the Vine and I am a branch. Holy Spirit, make my connection to the Vine secure so that His life flows through me. I want to be a fruitful branch! You promised me this happy, productive life in Your Vineyard. Move among us, O Holy Spirit so those who see us may see Jesus. For the Harvest, Lord! Amen.

Song:
The Wine of the Kingdom
Words and Music: Graham Kendrick

1. One shall tell another And He shall tell his friend
Husbands wives and children Shall come following on
From house to house in families Shall more be gathered in
And lights will shine in every street So warm and welcoming

Refrain:
Come on in and taste the new wine
The wine of the kingdom
The wine of the kingdom of God
Here is healing and forgiveness
The wine of the kingdom
The wine of the kingdom of God

2. Compassion of the Father Is ready now to flow
Through acts of love and mercy We must let it show
He turns now from His anger To show a smiling face
And longs that men should stand beneath
The fountain of His grace.

Refrain

3. He longs to do much more than Our faith has yet allowed
To thrill us and surprise us With His sovereign power
Where darkness has been darkest The brightest light will shine
His invitation comes to us It’s yours and it is mine

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 13, 2018 “Receiving”

Receiving

They had seen others refuse the call to follow Jesus.
They had also seen rich people humbled by an encounter with Jesus, but this case was disturbing. This was a good man, a diligent keeper of the law. He was obviously blessed by God for his righteousness. Why should God’s blessings be the price of eternal life?

Jesus saw into their hearts, hearing their questions as easily as if they had spoken them.

“…,it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man
to enter the kingdom of God.”

Tired by the Road
Perhaps it was the end of a long day, or the weariness of the many long walks and tense conversations with the rulers, but something about this encounter stole the energy of the twelve men following Jesus. They were not yet converted from the world where riches were counted as riches, not impediments. The values of Jesus, the heavenly measuring instruments, were still not theirs. If a righteous man, blessed by God with riches…

“Who then can be saved?”

The disciple who asked the question is not revealed but all of them were thinking it. Jesus looked at them and saw their despair. He reminded them that all things were possible with God.

It didn’t help.

What do we get?
Peter spoke for the group reminding Jesus that they had not turned away when He said, “Follow me.” They had answered His call. Was there no assurance for them of eternal reward?

“See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”

Peter’s question could have come from any of their mouths. Jesus assured them of special places in His Kingdom to come. They would see a new world, a regenerated earth and sky and they would be the rulers of the nation. Jesus paused to let His promises sink into their exhausted minds. What shall they have? Much. More than they gave up to follow Him and more than the rich young ruler held on to, and more than they could ever imagine.

In the Distance
Jesus looked beyond the setting of this conversation, beyond the road and the countryside flanking the road, to the far horizon. He even looked beyond that horizon to the future. He knew that for centuries to come people would hear Him say, “Follow Me.” They would leave all to do just that. They would abandon homes and families and easy lives to follow Him to strange lands and hard times and demanding vocations all because He asked them to. That many judged to the “first” in their small worlds would leave those promising futures to be “last” in the eyes of people to advance His Kingdom. He saw the weak and overlooked ones become the “first” in His Kingdom.

And there in the distance, He saw you and He saw me.

Scriptures:
Matthew 19:23-30
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, what I have given up to follow You is insignificant to what I have gained. You are my exceeding great reward! My heart beats for Your Kingdom. You have always met my needs and blessed me abundantly in so many ways. Help me keep my eyes on You and not on others. I rejoice in the way You bless my brothers and sisters. Help me measure my life by those heavenly instruments, not the false scales of this old world. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditional

1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2. Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3. The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved