February 9, “Vineyard”

Vineyard

A vineyard is much more than a yard with vines. It is a business that must produce a product and a profit.
When questioned about His authority, Jesus countered the silence of the scribes, priests and elders with a parable.

  • It was the story of a man who planted a fine, secure vineyard and leased to vinedressers while he traveled extensively.
  • Still on his journey when the time for product and profit came, the man sent his servant to collect.
  • The vinedressers beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. This shameful thing happened several times.
  • At last, the man sent his only son, expecting that they would surely respect his son.
  • They did not. They saw an opportunity to steal the vineyard, its product and the profits. They killed the son and threw his body out of the vineyard.

When He spoke of a vineyard, there was no misunderstanding His meaning. It was an ancient image for the nation of Israel.

What will their profits be?
After detailing the repeated crimes, Jesus let the story hang in Temple air. By this time a crowd had gathered to watch this contest of authorities. Did the hopes of the nation lie in the system, so ancient, so corrupt, and so firmly established? Or was it possible that One with greater authority was on the scene, One who could not only cleanse the Temple of profane merchants, but also reform the entrenched leadership? How would their leaders answer such a pointed accusation of their wickedness?

Though by now the sun was high and hot in the sky, the assembled, challenged leaders facing Jesus alternately shivered in their sandals and sweated in their vestments. When the silence grew unbearable Jesus finished the story with a question.

“Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do?

A slight breeze traversed the floor of the Temple court between Jesus and His interrogators. It did nothing to warm the shivering ones or cool the sweating ones. In the silence Jesus locked eyes with each of the leaders, staring until each one dropped his eyes to the ground. No one could think of anything to say. Finally, Jesus answered His own question.

“He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.”

No one was expecting this. Even the disciples wondered what He meant. Who but the Jews could care for the House of God? Surely renewal and revival were the plans for the Messiah’s ministry, not abandonment! Who else could tend this vineyard? Certainly not Gentiles!

The Cornerstone
Jesus continued. There is one coming whom the leaders will reject. He will become the cornerstone of a new Temple.

“Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Several of the leaders started to rush Jesus and put an end to this. Cooler heads restrained them for fear of the people. One by one, they remembered they had others things to do that day.

Scriptures:
Mark 12: 1-12
Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have appointed me to be a worker in Your Vineyard—the church! Each of us is also a branch, vitally connected to You, the True Vine. You expect me to bear much fruit! Together You expect all of us to be about the business of the Vineyard—glorifying You, telling Your story, caring for each other and seeing new life in the Vineyard. You said that You had chosen me and ordained me that I should bear much fruit and my fruit should remain. I know You are about to return so help me be faithful and fruitful! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Cornerstone
Words and Music: Dottie Rambo

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

When I am by sin oppressed on the Stone I am at rest
And where the seeds of truth are sown, He remains the Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone, The Cornerstone!

Rock of Ages, cleft me! Let me hide myself in Thee.
Rock of Ages, so secure! For all time it will 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!
Jesus is the Cornerstone, The Cornerstone!
Till the breaking of the dawn, till all footsteps cease to roam.
Ever let this truth be known—Jesus is the Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 8 “Authority”

Authority

True Authority is something a leader either has or does not have.
If it is missing from the life of the leader, there is little he or she can do to acquire it. It doesn’t come with education because we have all seen educated idiots. It does not reside in ignorance for this results in noise and chaos. Authority may appear to abide in personality but time will reveal its absence or presence. Authority can come with position when a leader climbs some sort of ladder making friends along the way who are obligated to him or her. These leaders may even exhibit public careers for decades within the corrupt system that props them up in a cruel theatre of public relations. Beneath the facade, there is cover up after cover up and good people lose their careers to the evil powers of those who get the headlines and the riches but whose authority is disingenuous. Another source of false authority is inherited, not earned. It also rings hollow and must be maintained with power and manipulation.

Chief Priests, Scribes, and Elders
When Jesus and the Twelve returned to the Temple area, an assortment of leaders like those described above, were ready for them. They grouped together for safety when they saw Him coming. Seeing He had no whip and did not seem to be angry, they bravely approached Him, calling Him out. They asked the question each of them wanted answered. What was the source of His authority?

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

He was not a priest and, though it was said He was in David’ royal line. He was not a scribe or an elder. What ladder did He climb to this position of authority? Sickness fled at His touch. Demons jumped and screamed at His command. Miracles were within His purview. Where did He get such authority?

What was their purpose? Surely to stop Him; perhaps to enlist Him; and perhaps, for a few of them, to investigate the possibility that He was sent from God. Regardless of the motive, the question was asked and He had to answer.

Answering a Question with a Question
Jesus read them like a scroll. He posed a question to them He knew they would not answer.

“I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — was it from heaven or from men?

Not to be deterred by their show of force, He followed the question with a command.

“Answer Me.”

The leaders stepped back, affronted both by the question and the command. They improvised a huddle, whispering among themselves how to give an answer. Slowly, they realized that Jesus had beaten them at their own game. There was no answer that wouldn’t get them into deeper trouble. If they said John was a prophet, He will challenge them for not believing and if they said he was not, the people would lose faith in them. They simply must avoid the question.

“We do not know.”

Jesus smiled. This was better than the whip He used the day before!

“Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

The Real Authority
They had the robes; Jesus had the power. They had the position; Jesus had standing with God. They had the tradition; Jesus had the moment. They had the questions; Jesus had the answers.

True Authority is something a leader either has or does not have.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:27-33
Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men'” — they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Philippians 2:5-11 NKJV
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:
Lord Jesus, there is no authority higher than Yours! No name is higher. No power greater. The forces of hell and earth may oppose You but they never will overcome You. You rule and overrule. Yours is the finale word. Someday every tongue will confess that You are Lord of all. Until that day, this will be my confession. I willingly submit to Your matchless authority and Oh the peace and joy that is mine today! Amen and Amen.

Song:
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
Words: Edward Perronet; Music: (Coronation) Oliver Holden

1. All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all!

2. O seed of Israel’s chosen race now ransomed from the fall,
hail him who saves you by his grace, and crown him Lord of all.
Hail him who saves you by his grace, and crown him Lord of all!

3. Let every tongue and every tribe on this terrestrial ball,
to him all majesty ascribe, and crown him Lord of all.
To him all majesty ascribe, and crown him Lord of all!

4. Oh, that with all the sacred throng we at his feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song and crown him Lord of all.
We’ll join the everlasting song and crown him Lord of all.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 7 “Whatever”

Whatever

To follow Jesus is to live with the expectation of the supernatural.
Oh, yes, we live in the natural world like everyone else, subject to winds and temperature, seemingly random events both good and bad, natural laws like sowing and reaping, and the force of gravity. In addition to these natural phenomena, we live in the world of the spirit. Our spirits are host to the Holy Spirit of God! Angels, unseen, but powerful, attend our every move. Wicked spiritual forces oppose us and sometimes threaten our peace but we overcome them in the name of Jesus. They have no defense for this. Temptation to sin and displease the Lord is an ever present danger but with every temptation Jesus provides a way of escape. He gives us power over the enemy at every level of attack.

Supernatural Expectations
Jesus walked this earth in the power of the Spirit. He demonstrated an absolute mastery of spiritual things. This seems to be the category into which we must place the incident of the fig tree. Jesus knew that according to the natural seasons of the year, the poor tree would only have leaves and not figs. Yet, He expected a ripe fig to eat. When it was not forthcoming, He cursed the tree.

The next day, after the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus and the men came by the tree again. To their surprise the fig tree had dried up from the roots. It stood there, drooping in the sun, its brown leaves, so green and full the day before, were falling like tears to the dusty earth. Never would it bear fruit again. The disciples expressed their amazement:

“Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”

He called them together positioning them so they could all learn a lesson from the fate of the fig tree.

“Have faith in God.”

Amused by their puzzled looks, Jesus continued:

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done,
he will have whatever he says.

Their puzzled looks did not diminish as they sneaked looks from one to other to see if anyone was understanding what Jesus was saying. It was unanimous; no one got it.

“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

Whatever things. There is no more inclusive word than whatever. Rolled under its broad canopy is the natural world and the supernatural realm. In the days ahead each of them would learn that the Lord would expect fruit from them, in season or out. They would produce! Weakness would not weaken them. Sickness would not stop them. Enemies would assault them to no avail. The Gospel would be preached to the whole world through them and those who followed them. How will this be possible? Because they would live lives of prayer.

Beware of this Blight!
There was only one thing that could rob them of their fruitfulness— an unforgiving spirit. This would rob their prayers of results and blight them like the unfortunate tree. Baring this, their prayers would bring perennial fruitfulness.

To follow Jesus is to live with the expectation of the supernatural.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:20-26
Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” So Jesus answered and said to them, For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
2 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have called me to a supernatural life in this natural world. You are Lord of all, including all the elements and forces in the spirit world. Help me see myself in the fig tree. I know You have called me to a productive life in season and out of season. My only hope of success is the flow of Your supernatural power. When You call on me, help me to always have something to present to You—whatever You demand from me! For Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Faith Is the Victory
Words: John Henry Yates; Music: Ira D. Sankey

1. Encamped along the hills of light, Ye Christian soldiers rise,
And press the battle ere the night Shall veil the glowing skies;
Against the foe in vales below Let all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know, That overcomes the world.

Refrain:
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, That overcomes the world.

2. His banner over us is love, Our sword the Word of God;
We tread the road the saints before With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith, they like a whirlwind’s breath, Swept on o’er every field;
The faith by which they conquered death Is still our shining shield.

Refrain

3. On every hand the foe we find Drawn up in dread array;
Let tents of ease be left behind, And onward to the fray.
Salvation’s helmet on each head, With truth all girt about,
The earth shall tremble ’neath our tread And echo with our shout.

Refrain

4. To him that overcomes the foe White raiment shall be giv’n;
Before the angels he shall know His name confessed in heav’n;
Then onward from the hills of light, Our hearts with love aflame,
We’ll vanquish all the hosts of night, In Jesus’ conqu’ring name.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 6 “Prayer”

Prayer

Prayer is the most powerful force in the spirit realm and therefore, in all of creation.
On the way to back to Jerusalem from Bethany, Jesus, being hungry saw a leafy fig tree in the distance. He diverted his journey seeking figs from the tree although He knew it was not the season for fruit but just for leaves. Finding nothing to eat, He cursed the tree:

“Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”

The disciples heard this but, like us, they did not understand it. It would be the next day before this mystery would begin to unwind.

A House of Prayer, Not Merchandise
Returning to the city and the Temple He knew exactly what must be done. It was time for action. The people and their leaders were about to see a side of Jesus that on one had had seen before. Without warning, Jesus found a whip and cracked it to get their attention. Some looked up and some didn’t. It was noisy place. Another crack of the whip brought blood to the surface of a nearby merchant with a large stock of animals to be used for sacrifices before God Himself. To the report of the whip was added the sharp cry of the wounded man. Now Jesus had the attention of the crowd. He began turning over tables and scattering the “merchandise” as well as the merchants. His gentle voice raised to a pitch never before heard. He commanded that this all had to stop. This was not the purpose of His Father’s house! Unsatisfied with simply breaking up the market, Jesus somehow prevented merchants even to carry the wares through the Temple. He was in command of the place.

Having gained the attention of the people, Jesus taught them why He was so upset.

“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?
But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'”

With the noise of the marketplace subsiding, a soft sound of music came through the entrance of the Temple. It was the sound of the ancient prayers of David and other psalmists chanted by the priests inside. The soft murmur of pilgrims who came to the Father’s House to prayer performed a gentle drone tone beneath the psalteries and trumpets of the priests. Order had returned to the House of God. Purpose, the true purpose, had been restored.

The religious authorities saw all of this but they could not stop it. They took their losses and consolidated their plans to destroy Him. Jesus and the men returned to Bethany.

What changed?
There is no record that Rome took any notice of these things but that is no matter. Events were now set in motion for the only force to ever conquer the Roman Empire—the Church of Jesus Christ at prayer. It would take 300 years but it would happen. First there would be Calvary, then Pentecost, then the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and finally the dispersal of the church throughout the world. Christ-followers would form churches from places of prayer in every corner of the Empire. They would infiltrate every level of Roman life from soldiers to merchants to even officials of the Empire itself. Finally in 312 A.D. the Emperor himself would believe.

Prayer is the most powerful force in the spirit realm and therefore, in all of creation.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:12-18
Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, And His disciples heard it. So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out 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 would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'” And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city.

2 Chronicles 7:12-18 NKJV
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, we have yet to unleash the power of prayer! The changes for the better that have happened in this world are the results of prayer. You have chosen to move in agreement with Your people. When we pray, we confirm our agreement with You. Help our churches to remain houses of prayer for all nations. If we do, we will see You change the world. Help us feel the passion You demonstrated  when you drove the money-changers out of Your Father’s house. Lord, listen to Your children praying! Amen.

Song:
Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Words and Music: Ken Medema

Lord, listen to Your children praying.
Lord, send Your Spirit in this place.
Lord, listen to Your children praying.
Send us love, send us power, send us grace.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

For more  on the issue of prayer in public worship:

The Power of Corporate Prayer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 5 “Hosanna!”

Hosanna!

More than a song of the moment, “Hosanna!” was the heart-cry of a nation in bondage.
Something in the heart of the average citizen of Israel told him that he was made for freedom, not bondage. The presence of Roman soldiers on patrol in the holy streets of the city of David was an affront to this inner sense. It wasn’t right. The Chosen People of God should not chafe in the iron grip of Rome.

Other potential “Messiahs” had arisen only to be captured by Rome and proved to be powerless. The religious leaders had a stake in the status quo; trouble with Rome was trouble for them. With the exception of a devout priest here and there, they had no interest in Messiah. They had heard about Jesus and were ready for Him.

The people had heard about Him, too. Many had relatives from the north who were in the miraculously fed multitudes, or were family members who had been healed or delivered at Jesus’ hand or spoken word. Now the miracle man had come to the city. There was reason to hope, reason to take up the ancient hopeful shouts for Messiah—“Hosanna!”

Hosanna—“Save Us Now!”
The word has a specific meaning—“Save us now!” It was a cry for rescue, for a miracle of deliverance. It is an expressed hope in the ultimate plan of God for the nation. They were a people under covenantal relationship with Jehovah God. If they would be faithful in worship, He would keep them free and make them a blessing to the whole world. The conditions of Roman occupation were a far cry from these promises. For 400 years, since the appearance of the last of the Prophets, the heavens had been silent; there was no new word from the Lord. The people had been faithful to the Temple and the calendar and still the Romans remained in power, the latest in a long list of conquerors. When would Jehovah act? When would Messiah come? This man riding the donkey was the best hope they had so they took up the song.

‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’

While they sang, people in the crowd threw their clothes in Jesus’ path and cut down leafy branches to wave in honor to Him and to pave the way for the donkey. This donkey rider had done things none of the others had done. He seemed to have come in the name—and the power—of the Lord.

“Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord!”

It was said He was the Son of David. This was another reason to hope. The storied glories of David and Solomon might come again with riches and tribute flowing into the nation rather than out to Rome. Peace was what they wanted and safe borders. It was a good time for the promises of the Covenant to come true again.

Into the Temple and Out
Jesus road to the Temple, dismounted and carefully examined all that He saw. If the praises of the crowd did not lift His spirits, the conditions in the Temple took them even deeper into sadness. Due to the lateness of the hour, Jesus and the Twelve retired from the Temple area and the city itself to a house in Bethany.

Scriptures
Mark 11:7-11
Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Prayer:
Lord, Jesus, thank You for salvation, full and free! The cries and prayers of the multitude have been answered. The praises of the crowd have been realized. You are King. You are Savior. You are Messiah! You are mounted well and in splendor, ruling in majesty and righteousness and justice and peace. Thank You, Lord! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hallelujah, Amen!

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

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

February 4: “Colt”

Colt

Kings don’t ride donkeys. Everyone knows that.
Kings ride proud, prancing steeds bedecked in armor and battle colors. The whole scene is an act of public theatre designed to impress the masses with the mastery of their champion over the finest examples of horseflesh.

Servants ride donkeys. They do not prance; they plod. They are naked beneath their load save a dirty blanket or two. The message the rider and donkey deliver is one of humility, poverty, and servanthood.

A Man and His Animal
In a village on the way to Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, a man tied his freshly weaned young donkey, just a colt, not far removed from his mother, to a post near the city gate. He had been waiting for this day, watching the colt mature into a proper beast of burden, as much a pet as an asset. This was a devout man who thought often about Messiah and who prayed regularly to be used of God in his homeland.

Jesus and Jerusalem
Jesus knew that when He arrived at the gates of Jerusalem an impromptu parade would break out. He would need an animal to ride to lift Himself above the throng and keep the procession from descending into chaos. In preparation for this event, Jesus sent two of His men into a nearby village. Their mission was to find a mount for Jesus to ride into the city. They were not aware of the purpose of their mission, just the mission itself. Jesus was specific in His instructions:

  • Go to the village.
  • Upon entering you will see a young, unbroken, donkey tied to a post.
  • Without asking anyone, untie it and bring it.
  • If anyone stops you and asks what you are doing, just tell them this:

‘The Lord has need of it.’

Evidently Jesus foresaw the owner of the colt and knew that God was already speaking to him. Without a word of protest the proud owner of the colt let these strangers take the unknowing beast. Amazing.

The Texas Cowboy
A story is told of a rough and tumble Texas cowboy whose mother was praying that he would become a follower of Christ. He knew that he was a maverick at heart and doubted anyone could control his behavior. Reluctantly, he attended a Sunday morning service. The preacher told the story of Jesus and the unbroken donkey colt. Before the invitation could be given the man ran to the altar to give his heart to Jesus. As the people rejoiced, his praying mother among them, he was asked what had moved him to accept Jesus. His answer came from his cowboy world, so familiar with horses, cows, mules, and donkeys. “If Jesus can ride an unbroken donkey, He can ride herd on me!”

The Power of Humility
As we shall see in the days ahead, the power of Jesus was not an act of public theatre designed to give an impression of regal standing. His power was so great that riding on a young colt became an act of royalty.

Scriptures
Mark 11:1-6
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go.
Zechariah 9:9 NKJV
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I invite You again today to be the master of my day, of my heart, of my life. I will join the procession of praise. I will engage with the multitudes who serve You today to advance Your Kingdom. Somehow, in Your astounding grace use me! Give me purpose and responsibilities and help me to never fail to answer Your call to service. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
All Hail King Jesus
Words and Music: Dave Moody

All hail King Jesus All hail Emmanuel
King of Kings Lord of Lords
Bright Morning Star
And throughout eternity
I’ll sing Your Praises
And I’ll reign with You throughout eternity

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 3 “Bartimaeus”

Bartimaeus

Like the wings of a bird, mercy gives flight to grace.
The road to Jericho was paved with history. Joshua and his army, carrying torches and trumpets, took this road to conquer the city. They returned after the walls fell down. When a new city was built not far from the site of the one that fell down, Jericho became a major city in the Jordan valley. As Jesus and His followers took this road on their way to Jerusalem, it was crowded with travelers. Travelers attracted beggars and beside the road a blind man had set up shop, Bartimaeus by name.

A Blind Man’s World
We can only imagine what the ancient world was like to one who could not see. Sounds, smells, and temperature changes, along with something we might call extrasensory perception, brought information to the brain. Voices revealed more than the words spoken; accents, inflections, and volume said as much as words in the super-tuned ears of a blind man. Evidently, Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was coming his way. He lifted his voice above the noise of the crowd.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What the Blind Man Saw
He did not cry out for healing but for mercy. Interesting. Perhaps mercy was a beggar’s careful approach to his real need. Or perhaps, Bartimeaus knew something about Jesus to which others were blind. Jesus was not a showman. His miracles were not done to draw a crowd although they certainly did. He was not out to build a name for Himself although that, too, was happening. Jesus healed people, delivered demoniacs, and performed spectacular miracles because He loved people. People with perfect vision lost sight of this while blind Bartimaeus saw it clearly.

It may be that Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus didn’t heal everyone. Sometimes, when there was no faith in action, He passed people by who did not call out to Him. This beggar knew that his moment of opportunity had come. There was faith in his cry for mercy and Jesus heard him. He stopped and called for the one who had called to Him. Helpers assisted the blind one to Jesus:

“Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”

Bartimaeus cast aside his thick, protective garment and positioned himself—a little off-center— in front of Jesus. Smiling, Jesus straightened out the man’s position and asked,

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

Now was the time for specifics: mercy was about to make grace take wings.

“Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”

With Jesus, a simple word was all that was needed.

“Go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Faster than the flight of the swiftest bird, light came into the world of Bartimaeus. Rubbing his eyes and shaking his head as if to shake off the last fragments of night, the man’s face shone like a sunrise. His head jerked this way and that as each familiar sound was matched with a new image. He spun around taking in the symphony of color he had always imagined the world to be. In one whirl of his spin his eyes came to rest on Jesus, smiling, laughing, enjoying once more what faith can do. Bartimaeus stopped, steadied himself and fell at His feet. Jesus raised him to eye-level and continued along on the road to Jericho. Perhaps in His spirit He could still hear the faint sound of trumpets and shouts and crumbling walls—another victory at Jericho. Bartimaeus followed.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 46-52
Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.” And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I may see You clearly—in Your Word, in creation, in my life! You are my all in all. Sharpen my spiritual vision to see more of You and to see You more clearly. Let me move in mercy through this world so that my life gives wings to grace! Help me hear the cry for mercy from those I pass on the roads today. Miracles await the cry for mercy and the confession of faith! Open my eyes that I may see! Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

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

1. Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.
Place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes; illumine me, Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear.
And while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy 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 thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart; illumine me, Spirit divine!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 2 “Serving”

Serving

Witnessing miracles impresses the mind but does not change the heart.
Consider for a moment what the Twelve had seen: countless healings, confused opponents, conquered demons and two miraculously catered lunches in the wilderness. Think of the teachings of Jesus they had heard; lessons on greed and sharing, pride and humility, leadership and servanthood, punishment in hell and rewards in heaven, and still they didn’t get it. Their hearts remained unchanged, carnal not spiritual. Two of the fisherman brothers made the most amazing statement to Him.

“Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

We know from other accounts that their mother had great ambitions for them. She could not know that James would be the first of them killed for the sake of Christ and that John would outlive all the rest. She must have transferred her ambitions for her sons to the brothers. Jesus answered:

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

Pause for a moment to let the audacity of their request sink into your heart. We need to fall before the Lord seeking what He wants us to do for Him, not the other way around! There was no shame in their carnal hearts, not even enough class to cloak their conceit.

“Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

Amazing. But their conceit went even deeper in response to Jesus’ rebuke and challenge.

“You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

“We are able” was their astounding reply. Jesus assured them that they would indeed share His baptism of death in the service of Life and that their futures were in God’s capable hands. The other disciples heard all of this and were much displeased with their colleagues and secretly glad that they had not earned such a rebuke and prophecy. Jesus called them all together as He often did when their hearts drove them apart.

No Lordship Options
At this moment Jesus announced a binding rule of leadership for those who would follow Him. According to unredeemed human nature, Gentiles ruled by lordship—raw power, rank manipulation, and rancid self-serving.

“Yet it shall not be so among you.”

There is no wiggle room here, no plan B, no alternative in case of emergencies. Human-powered leadership is not the Jesus-way, not ever, not then, not now, not at all. We must not cry out to Jesus for help as we lead and then proceed in a manor abhorrent to Him. To ask God to bless ungodly leadership methods is as foolish and arrogant as the pride of James and John.

“…but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.”

Jesus, of course, was the supreme example of this kind of leadership. It cost Him His life and gave us ours.

Scriptures:
Mark 10:35-45
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; 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.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am embarrassed for James and John yet I must confess that I am prone to similar conceits. Save me from pride and ambition for the glory of my own name. I reserve the depths of my heart for Your glory, my ambitions for Your service. Help me be a servant leader today. Reveal to me the disgust You have for leaders who would seek to advance Your Kingdom by their own power, politics, and personalities. These things are abhorrent to You. You treasure humility and servanthood. When I obey You not just in the ends sought but in the means You taught, then I can expect Your power to flow in my life. Lord, make me like You! Amen.

Song:
Oh, To Be Like Thee
Words: Thomas O. Chisholm; Music: William J. Kirkpatrick

1. Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Refrain:
Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

2. Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.

Refrain

3. Oh! to be like Thee, lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer, others to save.

Refrain

4. Oh! to be like Thee, Lord, I am coming,
Now to receive th’ anointing divine;
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine.

Refrain

5. Oh! to be like Thee, while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love,
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 1 “Jerusalem”

Jerusalem

As a child growing up in an observant Jewish home, Jesus had been to Jerusalem many times.
This time, however, would be different. This was not a pilgrimage to the Temple for worship. This was the march to the cross. The men would see more than the usual spectacle of sacrificial lambs and goats and pigeons. They would witness the slaughter of the Lamb of God. The words of Isaiah would no longer be an obscure prophecy of indeterminate meaning. They would witness the exact fulfilment of the prophet’s words concerning Messiah.

  • His face, so kind and handsome that it flashed friendly flames when He spoke of the Kingdom, would be so marred by the hands of men that there would be nothing attractive left in it.
  • His lean, strong body, shaped by hard work and long hours in the carpenter’s shop would be bruised and pierced, hammered and battered beyond recognition.
  • Even His closest followers would turn away from His ruined visage and broken body; those who professed to love Him would reject Him.
  • His Father’s will was in this terrible process for He had to bear the sins of us all and the healing of a hurting world would be won in the stripes He would bear.

He knew. The Twelve did not.
The men knew the passage but they could not know that the Prophet was talking about Him. If the brightest among them came close to making the connection between their belief that Jesus was Messiah and Isaiah’s disturbing predictions, he would surely dismiss such a thought in a moment. It was much more pleasant to remember the power of God flowing through Jesus and through them! Why couldn’t this go on forever?

Jesus could not leave them to their uniformed reveries. He had to warn them of what awaited them in this pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

  • Jerusalem was the domain of the chief priests and scribes—self-exalted enemies of Messiah, protectors of the self-empowering status quo.
  • They will arrest Him and deliver Him to the Romans who will execute Him.
  • On the third day the religious and political leaders would have a whole new problem on their bloody hands.

Worship in Time and Place
The Old Covenant called for worship in time and place.

  • Time: the hours of every day; the weekly Sabbath; the seasonal festivals; and the generational year of Jubilee.
  • Place: The home, the local synagogue, and the Temple in Jerusalem as the object of holy pilgrimage.

Messiah would bring a whole new order of worship with a New Covenant to enforce it: Worship in Spirit and Truth.

  • Spirit: worship led by and empowered by the Spirit of God resident in the redeemed human spirit.
  • Truth: the eternal truth of God flowing in time through the sincere worship of redeemed human beings.

Jesus would open the new way through the ordeal of Calvary–worship at the intersection of Time and Eternity. Beyond our imagination is the truth that a hope of joy would somehow sustain Jesus through these inevitable events—the Hope of communing with His People as they worship. This will be worship in spirit and truth, adaptable to any time and space. And so it has proven to be through 20 centuries.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 32-34 NKJV
Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: “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; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
Isaiah 53:1-7 NKJV
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
Hebrews 10:19-23;12:1-2 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….Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my heart overflows with thanksgiving to You for Your unspeakable gift—Your innocent life for our guilty lives. Help me know that when I pray alone at my altar and when I worship with Your saints in the House of God, I am providing You the joy that was set before You in those terrible days—the joy of communing with us in the Secret Place and the Holy Place. Thank You for opening up this new and living way. It cost You so much; may I never neglect so precious and powerful a gift. Thank You, Jesus! Amen and Amen.

Song:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Lowell Mason

1. When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them through his blood.

3. See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

4. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 31 “Following”

Following

Perhaps the Twelve had never thought about the consequences of not following Jesus.
Now they considered it. Walking along with Jesus involved long periods of silence during which the Twelve thought deeply about what Jesus had just said. These things were mysteries beyond their ability to explain, riddles they could not solve. Each of them had heard the same call the rich young ruler had heard—“Follow me!” They had abandoned fishing businesses, tax rolls and other means of security for life to follow Jesus into a future none of them could imagine. They had just seen a man refuse to follow. They had heard solemn and violent warnings against things that would hinder them in following Jesus. Lose a hand or an eye but do not lose the call! Heaven awaits those who follow and hell those who are hindered.

Remembering the Abandoned
In this silence, perhaps they each remembered what they used to have before Jesus called them to follow Him. The four fisherman abandoned more than nets and boats; they left a life of security and useful purpose. Levi, also known as Matthew, left a shady but lucrative life in league with the governments, that of a tax collector free to skim his prosperity from the loosely kept records. Nine other untold stories are unknown to us but were the real histories of these men. As usual, Peter spoke what they all were thinking.

“See, we have left all and followed You.”

Kingdom Assumptions
From our distance of 2000 years, we must remember the revolutionary message of Jesus. These men had never known of a kingdom that did not involve riches for those who led it. There was no way for them to conceive of a kingdom that would be led by servants. Now Jesus was telling them not to expect riches or power but to live a life of poverty and servanthood. Perhaps if Jesus had challenged them the way He did the rich young ruler, they would have also turned away. But they hadn’t turned away. They had answered His call, leaving all behind to follow Him. He just needed to be reminded of their obedience.

Promises without Limits
Jesus loved these men and truly appreciated their love for Him, their sense of destiny, adventure and purpose. He knew what was coming and though He tried to warn them, He knew there was no way they could know what was ahead for them. He made certain promises to them that have remained in force for 20 centuries to all who answer His call.

  • Those who follow Him, leaving their comfortable lives to embark on His adventure and mission will be cared for. Leaving their families, they will find new ones, spiritual ones. Leaving their ancestral homes and traveling to the next place of service, they will be provided homes of safety and rest. There will also be persecutions.
  • In the age to come there will be mansions of glory and reunions of magnificent magnitude and no more pain or parting ever again.

Choose to serve now and you will reign then.

These promises are still in effect as Christians have proved in every generation. Without them the Gospel would be locked into one time and place. With them, the Jesus Story goes out to the whole world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 28- 31
Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard and answered Your call. I can testify that though I left my natural family to follow You, You have blessed me with a multitude of friends and family. Though I left my hometown and state, You have given me traveling mercies without number and new environs in which to serve You with gladness and singleness of heart. You have been faithful to these promises. Your Word is true and following You is the only way to live! Thank You, Jesus!

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. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

4. 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