December 17, 2017: “Bethlehem”

Bethlehem

As old as religion itself is the concept of “sacred space.”
The Old Covenant was permeated with the idea of places where God would meet with people who reached out to Him. The patriarchs built their altars of sacrifice and God met with them there. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was a movable space, no less sacred for its portability. God’s presence was manifest there. When the singers and players made “one sound” to praise and honor the Lord, King Solomon’s splendid Temple was saturated by a cloud of God’s glory. The glory was so thick the priests could not stand up to perform their duties. This was the pinnacle of sacred space and would remain so until certain events would unfold in the vicinity of place called Bethlehem.

The City of David
Bethlehem was called the City of David. He was born there and anointed to be king there. The fields near Bethlehem were his fields before they were occupied by shepherds when Jesus was born. In them he killed the lion and the bear in preparation for his battle with Goliath. He never lost his love for Bethlehem. When King Saul pursued him and David was hiding in a cave, he remembered the sweet waters from a well in Bethlehem. His men risked their lives to bring him some. Later Ruth and Boaz would meet in the fields near Bethlehem to continue the Line of David which would eventually include both Mary and Joseph. When Rome called for a census both Mary and Joseph had to make the journey to Bethlehem.

Big things happen in small places.
After the days of Ruth and Boaz, Bethlehem fell into a well-deserved obscurity. The Prophet Micah, however, exalts the little town to the pinnacle of prophetic importance.

Micah 5:2-5
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

This little town, these peaceful pastures and fruitful fields, will be the birthplace of Messiah, King of kings, Lord of lords. This town whose name means “house of bread” will produce the One who is called the Bread of Life, David’s Royal Son.

Sacred Space indeed.

Places of Worship Today
Just as Jehovah met with Abraham and the other patriarchs at their altars of sacrifice, the Lord meets with people today when they gather in the name of Jesus. Our praise makes that place a sacred space. Just as the glory of the Lord filled the Temple of Solomon and rested on the Tabernacles of David and Moses, we can know the Shekinah of God when we call upon His name in truth. In small numbers or large, the Lord inhabits and is enthroned upon the praises of His people.

Let us make our journey to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to at last be filled with the Bread of Heaven. Let us make our way to Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Savior so that He can be born in us. The star is leading. The angels are singing. The journey is underway.

Scriptures:
Micah 5:2 NKJV
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”
Matthew 2:5-8 NKJV
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
1 Samuel 16:1-5 NKJV
Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord .’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.” So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
2 Samuel 23:13-17 NKJV
Then three of the thirty chief men went down at harvest time and came to David at the cave of Adullam. And the troop of Philistines encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord. And he said, “Far be it from me, O Lord , that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it.These things were done by the three mighty men.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NKJV
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Psalm 22:3 KJV/NKJV
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Matthew 18:20 NKJV
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, just as you blessed little Bethlehem with Your entrance into this world, You have blessed my heart with Your entrance there. Now, miracle of miracles, my heart is sacred space. Manifest Your glory there. Let me join the songs of angels today in worship as they sing before Your throne. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory.” Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!” I gather with the saints in Your holy name to feast on the Bread of Life and drink from the Living Waters. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.

Song:
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Words: Phillips Brooks; Music: Lewis H. Redner

1. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep  the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth  the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

2. For Christ is born of Mary and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

3. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 16, 2017: “Taxed”

Taxed

Mary and Joseph lived in a real world at a specific time in history.
In his astounding account of the life of Jesus, Dr. Luke cites dates and locations to anchor his report in verifiable facts. Rome taxed Joseph and Mary in many ways: money, energy, convenience and personal risk. At the late stages of a pregnancy, a young mother-to-be should not have to trek 40+ miles past Jerusalem down to Bethlehem, the City of David.

It is easy to imagine Joseph’s anger and frustration. A good man wants to control things and Joseph must have felt he could control nothing. Ignoring the taunts and whispers of the town he served, he tried his best to provide Mary with everything she needed and now this! A decree from a godless heathen miles and miles away but with soldiers enforcing his mandates very close by destroyed every plan Joseph had made for Mary and the child to come. There was no denying or delaying the journey. They would just have to trust God, that is all. It had come to that!

Through the centuries as this story is told and retold, imagined and reimagined, we have settled on the image of Joseph leading the donkey bearing young Mary, great with child, through the hills and valleys of taxation. So much pain! And it all seems so unnecessary!

God had a purpose in their pain.

He always does. Unlike this young couple striding and bouncing their way south to Bethlehem, God sees beyond the next hill or bend of the road. He never loses track of either the destination in the distance or the pain in the journey. Just as each human being enters this world through pain, so must Messiah if He was to live the sinless life redemption required.

This fallen creation, once so pristine and perfect, was now riddled with pain and in imperfection. Just as Rome needed an accounting of the citizens of Israel, a sinful world needed a full accounting of its evil deeds and desires. Jesus, rocking safely in Mary’s womb, carried by a faithful beast of burden, would someday ride another donkey through Jerusalem’s gates toward the place of His taxation, a place called Calvary.

God has a purpose in our pain.
God does not cause pain but He uses the inevitable pain of this fallen creation to His purposes.   Like Joseph and Mary, we live in the real world.  We, too, have civic responsibilities that tax us, literally and figuratively.  The New Testament is clear on this; faithfulness in these things is part of our witness before the world.

For Joseph and Mary, the facts of the taxation and the birth to come in Bethlehem would serve to document in history the greatest story ever told. In the process, God provided what the torturous journey demanded: safety, provision, and an ever deepening bond between Joseph and Mary. Meanwhile, as the unforgiving road passed beneath them, God was assembling a well-drawn cast of witnesses in fields near Bethlehem, on another long road from the East with a star to guide men wise enough to follow, and a pair of elderly saints praying through each night for Messiah to come.

Scriptures
Luke 2:1-5 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Luke 20:20-26 NKJV
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “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.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Romans 13:1-7 NKJV
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, someday You will wipe away all our tears and the pains of this life will be only an distant memory. Until then, there will be pain, the tax life demands of each of us. It helps to know that You are with us. We are never overlooked or forgotten. By Your stripes we are healed. So the Bible says and we believe it. Sometimes—praise Your holy name—the healing is here and now!—Hallelujah! Sometimes, the pain persists. Even in this, You are with us, comforting us, strengthening us, and giving songs to sing even in the long nights that tax us so deeply. Thank You for coming to this world to experience the pain of being human. Thank You for lifting us above the pain both now and for removing it completely in eternity to come. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Song:
Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Words: Charles Wesley; Music: Christian Friedrich Witt

1. Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

2. Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 15, 2017: “Prophetess”

Prophetess

The Bible refers to Anna as a Prophetess.
In the days of the Christmas story, the Temple had a women’s court. Women could not be priests or Levites of course, but they could pray. When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.  Heaven also speaks. This elderly saint had no family from her long-departed husband so her full attention went to prayer and fasting. The life she chose in her advanced age was one of service to God; the scripture makes this plain. God is faithful to reward those who serve Him from a pure heart.

The Presence of the Lord
Years after Anna had gone on to her reward in Heaven, Jesus would come to these same outer courts and find commerce and politics but not consecration and prayer. He would call it a Den of Thieves. Even though this was surely the case in Anna’s day, she ignored the money-changing and power-grabbing and focused her heart on God. She disciplined her frail body with fasting and empowered her heroic spirit with prayer. Since God is faithful, we can be sure that He granted her the sweetness of His presence. In the midst of chicanery Anna found Shekinah.

The Word of the Lord
Anna arose to pray, as did her counterpart Simeon, seven times each day. Like him, she had memorized the psalms and much of the prophets. She used the holy words to call upon God for a Redeemer. Her treble voice graced the long hours of the night like a song on the wind in a meadow. Indeed, it was as if she felt a wind even within the sheltered walls of the Temple. She felt the winds of the Spirit of God stirring in her heart. Messiah was near—very soon to “suddenly arrive” at the Temple as Malachi predicted. The ancient words of God sounded in her hearing as if freshly spoken.

A New Covenant
Anna and Simeon knew the prophecy of Jeremiah and they were longing for Messiah. Perhaps they sensed that Messiah would bring a New Covenant. Jesus, the Christ, would indeed bring a New Covenant, one made in His own blood. He would be the final Lamb. A new type of worship would be instituted in His victory over death. Instead of worship in time and place, New Covenant worship would consist of spirit and truth. These two saints can be seen as the incarnations of Truth and Spirit:

  • Simeon, the priestly prophet preaching through his prayer-dreams for the truth of God to bring repentance and restoration, and
  • Anna, the praying prophetess, calling on God in effectual, fervent prayer—prayer in the Spirit—that, even then, availed much.

Unseen by the public and ignored by the leaders, this little woman prayed in the Temple for their Redeemer to come.

When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:36-38 NKJV
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 NKJV
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Isaiah 44:6-8 NKJV
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.'”
Isaiah 59:19-21 NKJV
So shall they fear The name of the Lord from the west, And His glory from the rising of the sun; When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him. “The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord. “As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord , “from this time and forevermore.”
Isaiah 60:16-18 NKJV
You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, Instead of iron I will bring silver, Instead of wood, bronze, And instead of stones, iron. I will also make your officers peace, And your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, Neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation, And your gates Praise.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, teach me Anna’s secret! I want to renew my commitment to prayer and to the things of the Spirit of God. I will tune out the noise of this secular age and the clamor of commerce all around me. Help me feel the winds of the Spirit in my heart as she did there in the Temple. Your Spirit is at work. When people of faith pray, You still listen! You still speak when You find us listening in prayer. Help me to dwell in Your presence and to occupy myself with Your mission. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I Will Sing of My Redeemer
Words: Philip P. Bliss; Music James McGranahan

1 I will sing of my Redeemer and his wondrous love to me;
on the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

2 I will tell the wondrous story, how my lost estate to save,
in his boundless love and mercy, he the ransom freely gave.
I will praise my dear Redeemer, his triumphant power I’ll tell:
how the victory he gives me over sin and death and hell.

3 I will sing of my Redeemer and his heavenly love for me;
he from death to life has brought me, Son of God, with him to be.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 14, 2017: “Priest”

Priest

There is always a faithful remnant, even within the priesthood.
To the old man named Simeon, the priesthood was more than a family business; it was a calling from God. There were specific duties to be performed in a rotation. Each assignment was a joy to fulfill. More than these things, there was a general duty, a daily duty of scripture, prayer, and adoration. With a whole tribe of priests and Levites very few of them actually lived on the Temple grounds. When assigned the specific duties, they occupied temporary residences. Others lived at the Temple as caretakers and representatives of God to the people. A few, Simeon among them, lived close by, perhaps even in a small chamber in outer courts the Temple itself.

The Word of God was Simeon’s occupation.
He had long ago memorized huge portions of the prophets and all of the psalms. It is the duty of old men to know the Scriptures and bring them to bear on the issues of the day. His old heart was troubled and comforted by the Words he quoted in prayer. The spiritual state of the nation and of the Temple troubled him. The promises of Messiah comforted him. Sleep was of little interest to him. He followed the most demanding hours of prayer—seven times a day—rising at appointed times in the night to call upon God for deliverance. He quoted the words of the prophets as if there were a crowd listening to him and he was the prophet himself.

The Temple guards on duty through each night were accustomed to the sounds of preaching coming from Simeon’s little room. They somehow knew that the old man’s prayers and confessions were important even if there were no crowds to hear him, only a few sleepy soldiers. Deep in their hearts they knew that Simeon had the attention of heaven itself.

Simeon Prayed the words of the Prophets.
The Prophet Joel was a favorite source:

Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming…
Rend your hearts and not your garments…

The Prophet Hosea supplied another prayer:

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord….

The old man could sense in his spirit a stirring in the heart of God. Something was about to happen. Long uttered prayers were about to be answered! Jehovah would hear their prayers and respond…

A Promise Given
Simeon stopped his preaching in midsentence. The listening guards were startled at the sudden silence. Had the old man’s heart finally given out?

In the silence of his obscure chamber Simeon, priest of the Most High God, was given a promise. He would not taste of death until he had seen with his own eyes the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.

The rest of that night was spent in silence. A Temple guard looked in on Simeon to see if the end had come for him and found him fully awake. The guard honored the silence just as he had the noisy praying. Somehow he knew that the Hope of Israel was at stake.

“It is time to seek the Lord!”

Scriptures:
Luke 2:25-27 NKJV
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple.
Joel 2: 1; 12-19; 28-32 NKJV
Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the Lord is coming, For it is at hand: “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him — A grain offering and a drink offering For the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, And pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations. …”And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls.
Hosea 10:12 NKJV
Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let me feel the significance of these times. It is time to break up the fallow ground of my heart, of the church! It is time for all of us to seek the Lord. It is time to sow in righteousness and reap in mercy. Send the rain, O Lord! Let each worship service be both a celebration of joy in that You have come to earth and You are here with us and a solemn assembly wherein the needs of the hour and the demands of the day are pressed upon us by Your Spirit. Pour out Your Spirit as You have promised. The task before us is beyond our human abilities to perform. Let us as Your Holy-Royal Priesthood pray and preach through this long night until the Dayspring from on High dawns in this world. As we rend our hearts and not our garments—do a deep work in us today! Amen and amen.

Song:
Search Me, O God
Words: J. Edwin Orr; Music: Maori Melody

4. O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

3. Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 13, 2017: “Temple”

The Christmas Story is a story about worship.
Throughout history, God has met people at altars of prayer.

  • The Patriarchs of old made altars of stone to meet with Jehovah.
  • At the Exodus, God gave Israel plans for a portable sanctuary. They built it with these plans using the riches of Egypt and the skills of their own hands. God dwelt among them.
  • King David wanted to build a temple as the meeting place but that would be the job of his son, King Solomon. When the temple was finished, the presence of God filled the place.
  • Generations later because of false hearts and false worship, that temple was destroyed.
  • In less than a century, faithful rebuilders returned from captivity and made another temple as the house of Jehovah.
  • At the time of the Christmas story, King Herod was building a larger, more beautiful temple, not as a place of prayer so much as a political ploy to keep the Jews under Roman control. This would be the temple of Jesus’ day.

Generations of Priests and Levites
With their lineage dating all the way back to the smoking, shaking mountain called Sanai, the men of the tribe of Levi were chosen to be the leaders of worship in the House of God. This heritage affected different men in different ways.

  • Some saw it as a vocation—to care for the House of God and minister to the people.
  • Others saw it as a career—to advance through the system, to climb a ladder to power, prestige, and influence.

The temple in the time of Jesus was occupied by both kinds of men. Some were looking for Messiah but most were looking out for themselves.

The Time Was Coming…
Quietly, in a forgotten corner of Israel, the Messenger of a New Covenant was forming deep in a sanctuary called “Mary.” Jesus would liberate worship from the confines of “time and place” worship and usher in a New Covenant of “Spirit and Truth” worship. The meeting place of God and man would be mobile again, like that blessed tent in the wilderness. Jesus Himself would be the New Temple, His body would be the veil torn to open up a new and living way to the heart of God. Jesus, the Temple, would indeed be taken down but He would rise again in three days.

He would build something called, “the Church,” that would be His resurrected Body in the world, the Habitation of God by His Spirit. It would be impervious to the devices of hell. The tent called the church would displace the palaces of Rome and someday be pitched on every continent of the globe. Jesus, anointed to be all we could ever need, would walk the aisles of each little church with healing in every step. God meets with people at the Body of Christ. All this was about to begin as the Word became a human embryo.

The Christmas Story is a story about worship.

Scriptures:
Exodus 40:34-38 NKJV
Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
2 Chronicles 5:11-14 NKJV
And it came to pass when the priests came out of the Most Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without keeping to their divisions), and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets —indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord , saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
Ezra 6:15-18 NKJV
Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.
Malachi 3:1-3 NKJV
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness.
Hebrews 10:19-25 NKJV
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Prayer:
Psalm 43:3-5 ESV
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Amen.

Song:
Oh, the Glory of Your Presence
Words and Music: Steve Fry

Jesus, all glorious, create in us a temple,
Called as living stones where You’re enthroned.
As You rose from death in power, So rise within our worship.
Rise upon our praise and let the hand that saw You raised
Clothe us in Your glory, Draw us by Your grace.

Oh the Glory Of your presence!
We, your temple, give you reverence.
So arise from your rest
And be blessed by our praise
As we glory in your embrace,
As your presence now fills this place.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 12, 2017: “Jesus”

Messiah has many names but one name stands above all others.

“His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”  “Call his name, Emmanuel which means ‘God with us!’”

–So many names!

The angel that visited Joseph in his desperate dream said his name would be “Jesus, for He shall save his people from their sins.” Jesus means “Savior.” Messiah’s ministry as Savior is the most important of all and the most relevant.

  • It is true that Jesus reveals who God is but if we remain bound by sin, we can only know God from a distance.
  • Jesus lived a sinless life but if we are still sinners that is just an interesting detail.
  • Jesus had a healing touch, but if the diseases of iniquity remain at work in us, His healing touch is only a fact of history.
  • Jesus commanded demons and they obeyed but if He does not wash away our sins, we remain a plaything of hell.

Jesus must be our Savior, the One who can save us from ourselves—from our sins. Without Him, we are lost forever, bound on earth and doomed in eternity.

No wonder the angel said call Him Jesus!
In the days before the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph spent every possible hour together. He kept his shop opened as his cheerful demeanor returned. His work was excellent, as always, which kept the work coming in as ideas and going out as finished products. No one could say a word against Joseph on that account.

Mary’s increasing form was another matter. There was no hiding her condition and she was oblivious to all the whispers, some not so hard to hear. Had she no shame? Hardly. She was possessed of an endless joy! Joseph’s continuing diligence and Mary’s inexplicable joy served as a damper on the gossip—at least in public.

If people only knew the source of their remarkable behavior! It was a name, one commanded by heaven itself—“Call Him Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins!” To whisper that name was for Mary and Joseph an instant rescue from the perils of each day. It was a one-note lullaby singing them to sleep each night. Peace came with the sound of His Name—Jesus.

How would Jesus save us?
Once in a while Mary would think about the implications of how Jesus would save His people from their sins. How would he do that? What would he have to do? What would be the cost? Each of these questions was like a sword to her heart.

Joseph was troubled by passages in Isaiah that he had long ago memorized: “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities…” What would Jesus have to do to be the Savior of the World?

Quickly, at each reflection on the possible cost of it all, the beauty of the name itself would reassure their hearts. They would smile to themselves and to each other and say the name, “Jesus.”

Still today, saying that name brings a smile to each of us—“Jesus.” Why? Because He has saved us from our sins.

Scriptures:
Matthew 1:20-25 NKJV
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Philippians 2:5-11NKJV
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer of Praise:
There’s Something about that Name
Gloria Gaither (adapted SRP)
Jesus, the mere mention of Your Name can calm the storm, heal the broken, raise the dead. At the Name of Jesus, I’ve seen sin-hardened men melted, derelicts transformed, the lights of hope put back into the eyes of a hopeless child. At the Name of Jesus, hatred and bitterness turned to love and forgiveness, arguments cease.  I’ve heard a mother softly breathe His Name at the bedside of a child delirious from fever, and I’ve watched that little body grow quiet and the fevered brow cool.  I’ve sat beside a dying saint, her body racked with pain, who in those final fleeting seconds summoned her last ounce of ebbing strength to whisper earth’s sweetest Name-Jesus, Jesus. Emperors have tried to destroy it; philosophies have tried to stamp it out. Tyrants have tried to wash it from the face of the earth with the very blood of those who claimed. Yet still it stands. And there shall be that final day when every voice that has ever uttered a sound-every voice of Adam’s race shall raise in one great mighty chorus to proclaim the Name of Jesus- for in that day “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!” So you see- it was not mere chance that caused the angel one night long ago to say to a virgin maiden, “His Name shall be called Jesus.”- Jesus-Jesus-Jesus. There is something about that Name. Amen.

Song:
There’s Something about that Name
Words and Music: Bill and Gloria Gaither

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus;
There’s just something about that name.
Master, Savior, Jesus,
Like the fragrance after the rain.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Let all Heaven and earth proclaim;
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away,
But there’s something about that name.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 11, 2017: “Impossible”

Impossible

Gabriel’s words were the words that counted most.
The long-anticipated day finally arrived; Mary was home from her trip to Elizabeth’s house. Joseph appeared at the door to her home as nervous himself as a bride. When she came to the door the sight of her took his breath away. She had always been beautiful to him but now there was a glow from within that made her even more wonderful in his eyes. Her eyes met his straight on without a hint of shyness. She carried a confidence in herself and her mission that seemed to invite him into her faith.

Without speaking she took his hand led him confidently through the streets of Nazareth as villagers stopped what they had been doing to watch them. The murmuring and muttering did not faze either of them as they looked either straight ahead or at each other. Joseph knew where she was taking him. On they went through the town to a small hill that marked the edge of the village. The familiar path lifted them to the summit where the view of the surrounding fields was always inspiring. It was a favorite spot for them to meet and talk about the future. No talk would ever be as important as this one. In years to come, the boy Jesus would come to the brow of this hill to think and to pray. As a young man he would be led by an angry mob of worshipers to this very spot but that is another story.

Finally, a Chance to Talk
Mary’s revelation of her condition and her sudden exit to her cousin’s house for these months had been the darkest time in young Joseph’s life. In this quiet moment, the story of his struggle poured out of him like a pent up stream. Mary listened quietly, the knowing smile never leaving her face. He recited the things he knew for sure:

  • He loved her; nothing would ever change that.
  • She loved him; she could never be unfaithful to him.

There seemed to be only one choice—to have her put away privately. He could never submit her to the mercy of the town. He paused, waiting for her to say something.

She was silent, still smiling, waiting for more. She was sure there was more.

The stream gushed again.
He told her of his sleepless nights and finally of the deep sleep in which he dreamed of an angel. It was more real than a dream. The angel told him to not be afraid to marry her and that the child was the son of God. They were to name him Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins.

The torrent of words past, Joseph took a deep breath and looked deeply into Mary’s eyes for her answer.

She smiled at him, took his hand and said this, the words of Gabriel to her, “With God, nothing is impossible.”

They sat quietly for the longest time. Few words passed between them because few words were needed.

Scriptures:
Matthew 1:16-25 NKJV
And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus , for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 1:39-45: 56 NKJV
Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Joseph was a man of great faith. Let me follow his example. Let me have faith in You and in Your promises. I also need faith in others the way Joseph needed faith in Mary. Let me value and learn from what You are doing in the lives of my brothers and sisters. I need my brothers and sisters and they need me! Help me be faithful and full of faith! I want my life to be an adventure of faith, too, like that of Joseph and Mary. Also, may You live in me so large that all can see You! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Emmanuel
Words and Music: Bob McGee

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called, Emmanuel.
God with us, revealed in us,
His name is called, Emmanuel.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 10, 2017: “Magnificat”

Magnificat

Magnificat

Sometimes we need the company of someone who understands.
After the Annunciation, Mary traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This 70 mile journey may have taken five days. It is inconceivable that Mary made this trek alone. Let’s imagine her father and a servant accompanied  her to keep her safe and well attended.

The Long Journey South
This extended walk included long periods of silence as her father tried to sort out the news he had received. He loved his daughter and had enjoyed a pleasant exchange of views in every stage of her life. Recent events brought down a curtain of silence between them.

As much as he admired Joseph, he loved Mary more. There were only two possibilities:

  1. Joseph had broken the law or
  2. Mary’s incredible story was true.

His mind told him that the first was the only logical answer but his heart told him Mary’s explanation was true. When he tried to talk about it, all she would do was tell the story again. He couldn’t bear to take it any further for to do so would be to accuse her. He could never look into those brown eyes and believe that she had sinned. Also, there was more evidence of the truth of what she said—the deep peace she possessed as the rugged miles passed beneath their feet. Down from the hill country of Galilee, through the city of Jerusalem, and 40 miles farther south through the hill country of Judah to Hebron, the city of the priests, nothing disturbed this peace.

He thought of Joseph, alone back in Nazareth, trying to piece his life back together. Surely no man had ever been so alone. Guilty or not, Mary’s father prayed for the man she loved.

The Arrival at Hebron
When they finally arrived at the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth things, incredible things, happened quickly.

  • Mary’s father saw immediately that Mary’s cousin, an elderly woman, was several months pregnant. How could that be? He would hear another tale of an angel and a miraculous child.
  • Something happened to Elizabeth when Mary greeted her. She almost fell down at the sound of Mary’s voice. Mary’s father felt it, too, even at a safe distance. It was like a jolt of energy deep in his heart.

They hurried into the house away from their neighbor’s eyes. Inside, the sensation continued to fill the air and their hearts. For some reason Mary’s father thought of the Shekinah Glory of God that rested on the Tabernacle in the Wilderness—the Glory of God revealed!

Elizabeth explained what was happening—a move of the Spirit of God! The child within her leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice and she was filled with the Spirit of God! She prophesied calling Mary “The Mother of My Lord!”

Then Mary began to sing. As she did, all doubt departed from her father’s heart and he believed her story as he would the stories of Elizabeth and Zacharias.

For three months they remained in Hebron. Their many, many quiet conversations made up for the painful silences they had endured on the journey south.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:39-56 NKJV
Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
The Magnificat—Mary’s Song
And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your Word contains things that defy logic and stretch far beyond reason. Believing them requires faith. Expand my mind beyond what is merely possible to what is possible with You. Your ways are higher than my ways; they are beyond finding out. Help me hear the voice of Your Spirit within acting upon Your Word within. Lord Jesus, as Mary prophesied, “scatter my pride.” Bring down any petty throne I may sit upon. As I humble myself, prepare me for Your use and fill my hungry heart with good things. Help me to live in such a way that I magnify You! Amen.

Song
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

Words: E.S. Elliot; Music: Timothy R. Matthews

1. Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

2. Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

3. The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

4. Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

5. When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 9, 2017: “Joseph”

Joseph

Of course he was handsome, the pride of the village of Nazareth.
With never a hint of scandal, never a worry about his future, never a complaint about his craftsmanship, many a mother of daughters in Nazareth had chosen Joseph to be a son-in-law. He arrived at his shop early each day and opened for business. The skill of his hands and his easy manner with clients made his carpenter’s shop a busy place.

On this day the door was closed and he didn’t answer those who called to him from the street. His skillful hands were clasp in a combination of prayer and despair. His friendly manor was now sullen and menacing.

Sometimes circumstances demand that a man do terrible things.
He had not slept since Mary had given him the news of her pregnancy. How can such a thing be? He knew, or he thought he knew, that Mary loved him yet here was evidence that some other man had…had what? Seduced her? Raped her? There was no good answer only the fact that she was with child.

He turned wearily to a small cot and collapsed. His brain was racing at speeds his heart could not match. Her story? More pain. How could he believe it? How could he not believe it? An angel? The stories of angelic visitations were for the Word of God, not for the village of Nazareth! Was she covering for someone? The thought of another man brought Joseph to his feet, pounding a fist into his hand as if it were the face of his rival. He paced the dimensions of the shop. Each finished and unfinished project mocked him, robbed by this intruder of any promise of a future with Mary. Exhausted by this fruitless combat he fell again on the cot, closing his bloodshot eyes as if he could shut out the truth. He knew what he had to do.  As sleep, long abandoned, reclaimed him, there was a single thought. He would  not subject Mary to public shame…

Soon merciful, heavy breathing commanded his frame. His mind finally relaxed as fear retreated to safe distance. He was ready for a visit from Gabriel.

A Dream, an Angel
The scriptures do not name Gabriel but an angel was suddenly commanding the shop. Light emanated from him as did peace, a welcome sensation to Joseph. The angel spoke in a voice deep and reassuring.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

As soon as he had spoken, the angel was gone but the peace he brought remained. Joseph slept the rest of the day. As he slept, a new name often escaped his lips: “Jesus.”

Villagers were amazed that the industrious Joseph slept all day in his shop. It was only the beginning of their amazement.

Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 1:26-27 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
Matthew 2:13-15 NKJV
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.
Matthew 2:19-23 NKJV
Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let me learn from Joseph! He was a good man who was faced with an impossible situation. Through the trial he kept his faith in You! He believed the story he was told by Mary and by the angel. Help me to face facts but keep my faith in You and in those I love. It would be wonderful to be visited by an angel in a dream, but I have Your Word in my heart and in my hands. I have Your Spirit in residence in my life. There is no dilemma I will ever face that has no answer from You. There is no trial I will ever endure that is beyond Your strength. Help me, awake or asleep, to keep Your holy Name on my lips. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
That Beautiful Name

Words: Jean Perry; Music: Mary Johnston Camp

1. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That angels bro’t down to earth;
They whispered it low One night long ago,
To a maiden of lowly birth.

Refrain:
That beautiful name, That beautiful name,
From sin has power to free us!
That beautiful name, That wonderful name,
That matchless name is Jesus!

2. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That unto a Babe was given;
The stars glittered bright Thro’out that glad night,
And angels praised God in heav’n.

Refrain

3. The One of that name, My Savior became,
My Savior of Calvary;
My sins nailed Him there, My burdens He bare.
He suffered all this for me.

Refrain

4. I love that blest name, That wonderful name,
Made higher than all in heaven;’Twas whispered, I know,
In my heart long ago,
To Jesus my life I’ve given.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 8, 2017: “Gabriel”

Gabriel

Gabriel means “Champion of God.” He stands in the presence of God.
Thus, he identified himself to Zacharias. Gabriel expected that his station in heaven would make what he said on earth believable. It should have! Zacharias paid the price in silence.

Most of the time angels are unnamed in the Bible. They appear when needed, perform the task given to them and disappear without further announcement. Gabriel is mentioned by name in three instances.

  1. He assists the prophet Daniel in understanding the will of God in his important prophecy.
  2. He announces the birth of John the Baptist to the priest Zacharias.
  3. He visits Mary with news that she is the chosen virgin who will conceive and bear a son.

An angel, probably Gabriel, comes to Joseph in a dream to comfort him and instruct him to marry Mary.

Angels are Witnesses.
They are witnesses to the great events in history from creation to the Annunciation, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Empty Tomb, to the ascension. The hosts of heaven witnessed the creation as “the morning stars sang together.”  Angels have always been there. Gabriel was there:

  • From the sad exile of Adam and Eve from Eden,
  • to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
  • to the moment when Moses commanded the sea with a shepherds staff, angels witnessed all the dealings of God with mankind, and
  • to the towering, flaming majesty of Sinai.
  • They observed the faithless trek through the wilderness and
  • One of them, perhaps Gabriel, the Captain of the Lord’s Hosts, came to Joshua before the conquering of Canaan.

Angels are Participants.
Throughout Old Testament history, angels are important to the unfolding story. They are the messengers of God visiting human beings with the knowledge of the mind of God. In the Gospels, they are vital to the ministry of Jesus.

  • Angels ministered to Jesus at points of need.
  • The armies of heaven exercised amazing restraint as they watched the Lord’s Passion.
  • Angels rolled away the stone at the tomb and spoke with the faithful women who came there in grief and left in joy.
  • At the ascension, an angel promised that this same Jesus would come again in the clouds of glory.
  • In the Book of Acts, angels rescued saints and delivered messages from God.

The book of Psalms teaches that angels are camped around each believer, guarding and guiding us through this earthly life.

Angels are Worshipers.
For all their angelic missions to earth, their primary purpose is praise. The Throne Room of God is described in Isaiah 6 and Revelation chapters 4-5. Angels worship God, day and night, without rest or pause for this is “the glory due His name” they are instructed to give in Psalm 29. The writer to the Hebrews says that this Zion is a place of “innumerable angels in joyful assembly.” When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, Gabriel was standing nearby. In John’s Revelation drama of the “One Who Sits upon the Throne,” Gabriel is in the supporting cast. Surely for Gabriel and all the angels, worship turned to wonder as Jesus laid aside His divinity to become a child in a cattle stall. No wonder angels sang to shepherds. No wonder the heavens danced with song and the earth glowed with glory! “Unto us a Child is born!”

Scriptures:
Psalm 34:7 NKJV
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them.
Job 38:4-7 NKJV
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Daniel 8:15-16 NKJV
Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.”
Luke 1:19 NKJV
And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
Luke 1:26-27 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
Matthew 1:19-21 NKJV
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Prayer:
Calls to Worship from the Psalms
Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Psalm 95:1-7 NKJV
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand.
Psalm 99:5 NKJV
Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool — He is holy.

Song:
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Words: James Montgomery; Music: Henry Thomas Smart

Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth;
ye who sang creation’s story now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Refrain:
Come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king.

2. Shepherds, in the field abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing; yonder shines the infant light:

Refrain

3. Sages, leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great Desire of nations; ye have seen his natal star:

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved