December 2 “Caesar”

Caesar

Jesus was born into an Israel smothered in the might and mire of Rome.
She was no longer a free nation as in the days of David and Solomon; she was a vassal state of an evil empire. Roman soldiers patrolled the streets to keep the pax romana, the “Roman Peace.”

“Keep your local religion,” said the emperor, “but have no real king but Caesar. Keep your religion indoors and there will be no trouble. Take it to the streets with treasonous little messiah-bands and there will be trouble like you have never seen. The Canaanite tribes, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, all those who conquered you before, will pale to distant memory under the iron boot of Rome.”

The second Temple, only a shadow of the first, had been replaced by Herod’s Temple. This political gift to the people, shining golden in the sun, guarded a secret, secluded, empty, Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost centuries before. Now the Roman palace, Fortress Antonia, was attached to the Temple. King Herod was a puppet king of Rome’s choosing. His real job was to keep the cantankerous priests, “prophets,” and zealots from upsetting the delicate balance of tyranny and temple worship.

A Delicate Balance Indeed
Beneath both the tyranny and the temple worship was the threat and the hope of Messiah, a king of the Jews to challenge Caesar in faraway Rome.

  • Messiah was a minor threat to Rome not to be tolerated.
  • The promise of Messiah was a major hope for the remnant in Israel, those who sincerely prayed the psalms, gathered for the feasts and festivals, and called every day on Jehovah, the God Who keeps covenant. “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Among these faithful were an aging priest with a promise from God, Simeon, who duties in the Temple were performed to perfection, the precision of a well-rehearsed faith, and an elderly woman named Anna whose tender heart leapt like that of a bride at the thought of Messiah. Their daily faithfulness in prayer was a towering threat to Rome of which Caesar knew nothing.

Soldiers in the streets, a Roman Governor in charge, a puppet, wicked King on a pretender’s throne, a hollow religion in a golden Temple, this was the world into which Jesus would come. He would sound no trumpets at His approach—angels would sing to shepherds. He would convene no council—wise-men from the East would follow a star. He would ignore the rich and powerful and choose a carpenter and his espoused wife as His caretakers.

If Caesar had known it, he would have been sleepless in his royal chamber and uneasy on his throne for the King of kings was on His way!

Scriptures:
Luke 2:1-3 NKJV
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
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: 22 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.
Matthew 2:1-2 NKJV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 12:3-8 NKJV
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 22:15-22 NKJV
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your story is so amazing! You came into a world as politically confusing as our world is today—yet You came and brought truth to those who heard You. You came into a world as violent as this one, yet You gave peace to those who welcomed You. You came to our darkness bringing light and to our pain bringing joy. Help me today to continue Your mission: truth, peace, light, and joy to this deceived, troubled, dark and despairing world. Come into my heart as You came into the Roman world. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill to all. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
How Should a King Come?
Words: Carol Owens; Music: Jimmy Owens

1. How should a King come?
Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry and the crowds make way.
And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.

2. How should a King come?
Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

3. How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.

Chorus:
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God!”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 1 “Incarnation”

Incarnation

Mystery of mysteries! Wonder of wonders! God in human form; how can it be?
Greater than any natural wonder found anywhere on this earth or in the cosmos is the wonder of the Christchild!—The Creator God, Himself confined to swaddling clothes and lying in a manger! Theologians call this mystery, the Incarnation.

The Apostles marveled at this truth:

  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory as the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John
  • “…He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” Paul

The Incarnation—“The Word Made Flesh”
What does it mean? The implications are staggering:

  • The eternal One entered into time.
  • The One who existed everywhere all at once, now existed only there and only then.
  • The One whose life was impervious to all destructive forces took on a human body that was subject to hunger, weariness, temptation, age, and death.
  • The One who knew everything limited Himself to only what a human can know. We who know so little cannot begin to imagine what it was like for the Son to lay aside omniscience to know only what an infant knows, to understand only what a child understands, to realize only what a teenager realizes, to operate only on the knowledge of a typical young man of the village.

The Apostle Paul calls this humility but there is no word strong enough to express such condescension. He is our example of humility, a goal so high we can never reach it on our own.

The Indwelling Spirit
With the Incarnation, Jesus knew only what people of His day knew except—and it is a colossal exception—that He was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knew all, just as He knows all today. Jesus walked through this life as a human being filled with the Holy Spirit—the perfect example of the life He would provide New Covenant believers to come.

The Incarnation Continues
As we begin our journey through the Christmas story we must remember that, unlike Calvary, the Incarnation is not a “once and for all” truth. It is meant to be repeated in each of us every day. In our humble, holy lives, we too must empty our hearts of pride, rid our methods of power that corrupts, and look for ways to serve not rule.

  • May the artist incarnate eternal truths into works of his/her imagination.
  • May the craftsman invest the presence of the Divine into functional works of his/her skillful hands.
  • May the ultimate reward of both artist and craftsman be the smile of the Lord Jesus felt deep in the heart.

How is this done? Through our humility and the Spirit’s ministry! “Let this same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in You!” Paul demands. We have the Spirit abiding within to help us and we have the “Word made flesh” to guide us.

These December devotions are exercises in incarnation.  I will attempt to lift the characters from the printed page and breath ordinary life into them.  Join me every morning in December!

Scriptures:
Philippians 2:5-11 Amplified Bible
Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross! Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, And every tongue [frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11 NASB
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John’s Testimony of Christ
John 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1-3; John 1:10-14
From 7 Days of Prayer and the Book of Common Prayer
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at Your condescension! You left heaven to come rescue the likes of me. Forgive me for ever counting Your love and grace as worthless. Holy Spirit, focus my heart on the manger! Help me sing with the angels, praise with the shepherds, worship with the kings and wonder with all creation at the mystery in the manger! Be born in my heart, O Holy One, as You were in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. Help me incarnate Your eternal truth into my time-locked life. Walk in my footsteps. Speak through my voice. Humble me, humble me, humble me, so that Your life and love may be all that is seen and heard in me. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Down from His Glory
Words: William E. Booth-Clibborn; Music: Eduardo Di Capua

1. Down from His glory, Ever living story,
My God and Savior came, And Jesus was His name.
Born in a manger, To His own a stranger,
A man of sorrows, tears and agony.

Refrain:
O how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all.
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him.

2. What condescension, Bringing us redemption;
That in the dead of night, Not one faint hope in sight,
God, gracious, tender, Laid aside His splendor,
Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

Refrain

3. Without reluctance, Flesh and blood His substance,
He took the form of man, Revealed the hidden plan,
O glorious mystery Sacrifice of Calv’ry,
And now I know Thou art the great I Am.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 30 “Follow”

Follow

The call to follow Jesus and be His disciple is not a call to comparison.
Is this why Jesus repeatedly questioned Peter about the measure of his love? Our love for God is not measured by that of others. Nor is this love measured against the love of things. The measure of our love of God is our love for His People. The Gospel calls all people to love God but many will not. We must love all people but our embrace of the Church is a deeper one. “Feed My sheep—tend My lambs—feed My sheep” must ring in our ears and propel our hearts.

John and Peter
As the morning sun continued its climb, Peter saw John standing by. His mind flashed back to their last supper and he remembered John leaning on Jesus. Did Peter envy the relationship John had with Jesus? Something prompted his question.

“But Lord, what about this man?”

It is a sad truth than men compete with each other and it may have been so with these two. Jesus had just predicted that Peter would someday follow Him in crucifixion. Peter wanted to know how John would fare in the days to come.

Jesus would entertain no such competition.

“If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

God’s plan for John was of no consequence to His plan for Peter. Peter’s job was to follow Jesus. Period. End of sentence. It is the same for us.

Rumors
Unauthorized versions of this conversation went out misquoting Jesus to say that John would not die until Jesus returned. This is not what He said; Jesus said, “If…” We know that John was the last of the disciples to die. He lived to see a vision of the end-times and relate that vision to us in the Book of Revelation. In fact, the full record of the Jesus Story as told by John could be considered that book and the three letters John wrote to the church as well as his gospel account.

John’s Summation
There was so much more that Jesus said and did than could ever be written in a single book. Our job and our joy is to read and read and read again the primary resources that tell us the Jesus Story. The whole Bible is about Him.

  • He is the Living Word discovered in the supernatural pages of the Written Word.
  • He is seen in type and shadow in the Old Testament Law and Histories.
  • He is seen in what are called “theophanies” where the “Angel of the Lord” or some other divine, pre-incarnate Son of God visits the earth.
  • He is celebrated as “The Lord” in the Psalms and other poetic books.
  • He is the animating spirit of the prophets as they call the nation back to God and to His Covenant.
  • He is Messiah, predicted to come and arriving on the scene, as the Old Covenant changed into the New Covenant.
  • He is the hero of the Gospels and the book of Acts.
  • His ways are the thesis of the New Testament letters.
  • He is King of kings and Lord of lords in John’s Revelation.

Our job is to know and to follow Jesus.

Do not be ashamed!
Do not shrink back from the Jesus Story. It is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Read it again and again. Seek the Christ of the Story, follow Him in all things. He wants to walk with you and in you by His Spirit. Live His story and others will find Him, too.

Scriptures:
John 21:20-25

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
Romans 1:16-17 NKJV
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Psalm 40:6-8 NKJV
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”
Hebrews 10:5-7 NKJV
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come — In the volume of the book it is written of Me — To do Your will, O God.'”
John 6:28-29 NKJV
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as the Psalmist and the writer to the Hebrews said, You have come “in the volume of the book written of You.” Thank You for words, for language that narrows truth down to a human tongue and for Your Word, which transcends all human language or thought. Though Your ways are indeed higher than mine and past finding out, Your Spirit enables me to understand holy things and, more than that, to appropriate them into my life. Tune my heart to heaven today so that I might sing with angels as I walk this earth with You. Amen. Alleluia!

Song:
Wonderful Words of Life

Words and Music: P. P. Bliss

1. Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life;
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty:

Refrain:
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life;
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life.

2. Christ, the blessed One, gives to all, wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the laving call, wonderful words of life;
all so freely given, wooing us to heaven:

Refrain

3. Sweetly echo the gospel call, wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify forever.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 29 “Restoration”

Restoration

Jesus served all the disciples a fine breakfast that morning by the sea.
He had something special prepared to serve Simon Peter. Like Simon Peter, all of us have regrets. We all have something we feel we should “live down.” We have all failed God, those who were counting on us, and we have failed ourselves, our own great expectations.

Tender Questions
Jesus asked Simon Peter the most fundamental question of all.

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”

“More than these” is not very specific.

  • Did Jesus mean for Peter to rank his love for Him in comparison with the other disciples? In one sense this could be. Peter had always been quick to take the lead over the others. Did this mean he considered himself superior to them? If so, this ran counter to the teachings of Jesus.
  • Was this a love to be measured in contrast to Peter’s old life, his love for the sea, for fishing, for a normal life? For some reason he decided, in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus, to go fishing.

Either way, it was an important question leading to the Lord’s explanation of how we should measure our love for Him.

Did Peter’s denial mean an insufficient love? Peter’s answer was quick. He appealed to the mind and heart of Jesus.

“Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

The sun was midway up the eastern sky and the wind from the sea was beginning to warm. Peter looked down at his feet, hoping Jesus agreed. Jesus waited for him to lift his head and see that his Lord was smiling that wonderful smile—encouragement, not judgement. When He had Peter’s attention, He began to teach the lesson.

The Test
There was a way to love Him that was undeniable.

“Feed My lambs.”

Peter relaxed. It sounded simple enough. Jesus continued…

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

This time the emphasis fell on the word “Me.” There were so many passions for a man to pursue. Does your passion for “Me” rule your life? The question shook Peter’s whole frame. What did the Lord mean? He could think of no other answer.

“Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

Peter turned away to look out at the sea. Was it a picture of life, a horizon that ever retreats before you? Jesus again replied,

“Tend My sheep.”

So there was more than nourishment; there was care to be taken for the sheep. A third time, Jesus asked,

“Do you love Me?”

Peter turned back to look at Jesus, this time with tears welling in his eyes. How else could he answer?

“Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

The third time, the answer remained,

“Feed My sheep.

Jesus placed His nail-scarred hands on Peter’s strong shoulders as if to say, “You can do this.” For all time, the test of our love for Jesus is our love for and care for His church—His sheep.

The Impending Future

Jesus spoke to Peter about the life that lay ahead of him. He had been given prophecies of events to come. The boasts made at the supper would eventually be his lot. He would follow Jesus in crucifixion. All of it, the pain, the travel, the loneliness, the joy, the peace, and the fellowship would be for the glory of the Lord.

Scriptures:
John 21:15-19

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, some people seem to try to love You without loving Your People. Just as with Peter, our love for You is measured by our love for Your church. Your are at work in this world through Your Spirit moving through Your People, the ekclesia –the”Called-out ones.” You have called us to be in the world but not of it, to be a holy counter-culture speaking truth into the surrounding pagan cultures. Our leaders are pastors—under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd—whose calling is to feed and care for the sheep. Let us show Your love in this way. Amen and amen.

Song:
We Are One in the Spirit

Words and Music: Peter Scholte

We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand.
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 28 “Breakfast”

Breakfast

Two miraculous appearances of Jesus to the assembled disciples share this factor: We do not know how they ended.
It is safe to assume that Jesus simply disappeared as suddenly as He had appeared. If so, a sweetness in the room must have remained. The words He spoke to His gathered followers must have stayed with them after He left. There was no announced schedule indicating when He would return. All they could do was wait and speculate on what it all meant. What was next? They remembered His announced intention to leave them. Had that already happened? If so, could they rehearse all the things He had told them and mold them into some sort of action plan? Mary had told them that Jesus said to go to Galilee where He had found most of them and He would appear to them. This is what they decided to do.

Fishing
The sight, smells, and sounds of the sea were too much for the fishermen among them. Peter, as per the well-established pattern, spoke what the others were thinking,

“I am going fishing.”

They all agreed it was the thing to do. A boat was handy so they boarded her and began a fruitless night of fishing. The fish were somewhere else but still it felt good to be back at the old job even with nothing to show for it. The night blossomed into the early morning as the sun inched over the horizon but all they had was blistered hands and sore backs.

A Stranger on the Shore
As they pulled for land, a figure waved to them from the beach. At that distance, they did not recognize the Lord. He called to them.

“Children, have you any food?”

Their negative report brought a surprising bit of instruction.

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

To some a sense of deja vu stole over them. This had happened before, hadn’t it? At any rate they obeyed, casting on the right side of the boat, something they had done repeatedly without result. This time it was different. Immediately the net started filling and was soon to the danger point with the men straining to hold it and propel the boat to shore.

John, also experiencing deja vu, realized the identity of the stranger and told Peter it was Jesus. Peter could not wait for safe passage. He plunged into the sea and started for his Jesus; things were not settled between them.

The men brought the boat and the catch—153 large fish!—to shore and found a fire with fish already frying and bread on the side. Jesus invited them,

“Come and eat breakfast.”

Their weariness forgotten, their joy returned, they consumed the meal Jesus had prepared for them.

A Meal for Us
It is not a breakfast, but Jesus has prepared a meal for us. We call it the Lord’s Supper. Like all meals shared by family and friends this one is a time of bonding in sweet fellowship. It is a renewal of the Covenant we share. It is a thanksgiving for past blessings and an anticipation of great things to come. We gather at His table because He has invited us to “Come and dine.”

Scriptures:
John 21:1-14

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?” — knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
Luke 5:3-6 KJV
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at Your invitation! As the Psalmist said, “You prepare a table for me…” even in the presence of my enemies and certainly in the presence of my friends and family. Your Word itself is a feast! Food and drink like manna from heaven, sourced in another world to give strength to those of us in this present world. Joyful new wine is at this table, Your life outpoured for us and then poured into us. There is living water at this feast. To drink it is to know in our hearts that we need never thirst for any other. I will feast today at Your Table. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Come and Dine

Words and Music: C.B. Widmyer

1. Jesus has a table spread where the saints of God are fed.
He invites His chosen people, “Come and dine.”
With His manna He doth feed and supplies our every need.
Oh ‘tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time.

Refrain:
“Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine.”
We may feast at Jesus’ table all the time.
He who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now, “Come and dine.”

2. The disciples came to land, thus obeying Christ’s command,
For the Master called to them, “O come and dine;”
There they found their heart’s desire, bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry ev’ry time.

Refrain

3. Soon the Lamb will take His Bride to be every at His side,
All the hosts of heaven will assembled be;
O ‘twill be a glorious sight, all the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 27 “Thomas”

Thomas

Jesus had told them before, “The Work of God is to believe in the One who was sent.”
The time came to obey that word. One week later, the disciples were again gathered, this time with Thomas attending. This was so different. The testimony of the women and the two disciples was now a shared experience—they had all seen the Lord! He had appeared among them, shining with an inner radiance that could only be sourced in the heavenly Zion, His ruling and dwelling place. None of them would ever look at closed doors and windows the same way again.

Absenteeism
Among them this time was one of the original 12 men chosen by Jesus, Thomas. Our brief glimpses of Thomas in the gospels indicate him to be a man of sharp intellect and prodigious reasoning skills. If Thomas had a favorite scripture it was probably, “Come, let us reason together…” On this night, he found the testimonies of the others insufficient. They had seen Jesus; he had not.

He knew the story.
Perhaps Thomas had watched from a safe distance as Jesus carried His cross through the streets of Jerusalem toward the Place of the Skull. It could be he was close enough to hear the sound of the Roman hammers or even see the nails driven mercilessly into the hands and feet of Jesus. Maybe he had stayed after Jesus cried, “It is finished” to see the Roman soldier spear Him in the side. Thomas knew of these things. The resurrection witnesses reasoned with him:

“We have seen the Lord.”

Thomas needed more. His reluctance to believe had become more a will-set than a mind-set.

“Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

In the Presence
Without warning, just as He had done a week before, Jesus was among them without benefit of door or window. Let us imagine that He materialized behind Thomas and the first indication of His presence was the two-fold witness of

  1. the looks on the faces of those who saw Jesus first, and
  2. the sweetness of the Lord’s presence among them.

Thomas ceased his internal and external debates, closed his mouth, and opened his heart. Turning a full circle, he saw Jesus, smiling and offering hands, clearly scarred, for Thomas’ inspection.

“Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

Such inspection was no longer required. As Mary Magdalene had done, Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet, clinging to Him in worship.

“My Lord and my God!”

Jesus lifted Thomas to his full height to look him full in the eyes. He had to reach deeper than the man’s mind, all the way to his heart.

“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Believing
It is good to ask questions when done in faith and not in cynicism. It is proper to reason together for the Lord, through Isaiah, invites us to do this. But the beginning and ending of our questioning and reasoning must be faith, believing in “Him who was sent.” To question in doubt leads to more questions. To reason in our own strength leads to dubious conclusions. Believing is the work of God.

Scriptures:
John 20:24-31

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Isaiah 1:18-20 NKJV
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
John 6:26-29 NKJV
Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for Your wonderful presence. As on that night, You have no need of doors for our thanksgiving is the eternal gateway to Your presence. The recognition of Your nearness comes to me through my mind, my heart, and my spirit–my whole, redeemed being! Your blood has cleansed my soul. Your Spirit has raised my mind and body to new, resurrected life. Your amazing grace has healed me completely. I once was blind, but now I see—You! And I know You are with me always. Thank You, Lord! Alleluia!

Song:
I Live

Words and Music: Rich Cook

I live, I live because He is risen.
I live, I live to worship Him.
Thank You, Jesus! Thank You, Jesus!
Because You’re alive,
Because You’re alive,
Because You’re alive, I live!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 26 “Breath”

Breath

Fear and hope were a discomfiting mixture for the followers of Jesus.
They gathered in the evening, all except Thomas, to hear again the stories of the witnesses. With what they had been through, they needed more than excited women and men who had failed when the moment of testing came—they all fit that category!—to dare to believe that Jesus was alive. The Jews were still in power and Roman soldiers patrolled every street and alleyway on full alert, all looking for the followers of Jesus. There were plenty of crosses available for rebels such as these misguided fools.

For this feast, fear was the only menu item and there was plenty to go around. All of them feasted, except for Mary and the other women—they had no doubt. Other sources tell of us of other encounters between women and the corporeal figure claiming to be Jesus in the garden of the tomb. Peter seemed on the verge of believing but they all knew he could change directions at a moment’s notice. Who could believe John, the dreamer, the mystic, whose overriding love for Jesus could lead to error as likely as to truth?

Gathered together that evening as the same watching full moon, only somewhat reduced in size from the night in Gethsemane, looked down, lighting the world around their closed windows and tightly shut doors. There was no singing, no mirth, only fear and faith doing an uncomfortable dance.

“Jesus Came and stood in the midst…”
With no suspended cymbal roll or trumpet fanfare, (We would add those things much later.) Jesus suddenly stood among them. Mary Magdalene may have, for an instant, heard a chorus of angel voices singing in that same strange harmony employed by the two angels in the tomb, but we cannot be sure. Jesus had breached no door nor any window, but there He was—very present and very real. It seemed there was no air to be had in that room though each observer sought in unison to breathe. Could their eyes deceive them? In their hearts, the combat between fear and faith rose to a heretofore unseen violence. Into this pitched battle Jesus spoke, His voice clear and unmistakable.

“Peace be with you.”

Fear, like a defeated foe, forsook this battleground and faith took the field. Jesus held out his hands for inspection. He pulled back His shining white robe for their eyes to see scars where nails had pierced them marking his graceful hands and where a deep gash marred His side. These were all they needed to completely believe—Jesus was alive and He was with them!

Slowly at first and then with a rush, they closed the circle around Him, hesitantly and joyfully touching Him—again. With each touch, faith mounted in each heart. With faith, a solemn call to mission began to sound in each of them. Jesus confirmed this inner impulse,

“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Remembering His Words
Each of them, as the Spirit led them, remembered in unison all the words of Jesus predicting their joy after their sorrow. It was only the beginning of such an inborn education. He had told them about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to come. When the sounds of wonder receded a bit, Jesus, gathering their complete attention, breathed on them, saying:

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The forgiveness of Jesus through their witness to the Jesus Story would change the world one heart at a time.

Scriptures:
John 20:19-23

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Romans 6:5-11 NKJV
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Victor—You conquered death; there is no doubt. You are the Redeemer—You destroyed sin, the destroyer. You are the King—You rule over death, hell, and the grave. You hold the keys to them all! I will follow You because by faith I have seen the scars in Your hands and feet and in Your side. “Draw me nearer, nearer, Blessed Lord!” Somehow, Your open wounds still heal those who are sick and release those who are bound. Your blood, poured out once and for all, still flows to our salvation, healing, and to our victory over evil. Amen and amen.

Song:
I Am Thine, O Lord

Words: Fanny Crosby; Music: W. Howard Doane

1. I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice
And it spoke Thy love to me.
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.

Refrain:
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord
To the cross when Thou hast died.
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord
To Thy precious, bleeding side.

2. Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord,
By the power of grace divine.
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope
And my will be lost in Thine.

Refrain

3. O the pure delight of a single hour
That before Thy throne I spend.
When I knee in prayer and with Thee My Lord
And commune as friend with friend.

Refrain

4. There are depths of love that I cannot know
Till I cross the narrow sea;
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
Till I rest in peace with Thee.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 25 “Magdalena”

Magdelena

Deep in her heart, Mary still had faith in Jesus.
Standing by the empty tomb as Peter and John disappeared on the road out of the garden, her mind raced with possibilities. What did she know for sure?

  • The soldiers were gone. It looked like they had been frightened away.
  • The stone was rolled to one side. How many men and tools did it take to do that?
  • John and Peter reported that the grave clothes were there but the body wasn’t.

She could not yet entertain the idea of resurrection, even though she had witnessed Lazarus
emerging from his tomb. The only fact to be sure of was that Jesus’ was not in that tomb.

Angels
Scarcely breathing, Mary stooped down and looked into the tomb. A pearly white light glowed deep inside the vaulted space. She stared at the light as it morphed into the forms of two tall men in shining white clothes, one at each end of the slab where the linens lay. Speaking at the same time but in a strange harmony, the men asked her,

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

She was fascinated by the multiple pitches in their voices and now her heart was racing faster than her mind. Perhaps they knew…

“Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

Dead or alive, present or absent, Jesus was and always would be her Lord.

Jesus
The two angels looked past her toward the low opening of the tomb. Suddenly, they began to worship, whispering in a language Mary had never before heard. Their constant focus on a single point behind her prompted her sense that someone else was in that tomb. Slowly she turned around to see a man standing in the morning light as it streamed into the tomb. The light was so bright she lowered her eyes assuming He was a worker in the garden. He spoke and there was something familiar about His voice.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She turned her face away from the shining light, caught her breath, and somehow managed to answer.

“Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him,
and I will take Him away.”

At this Jesus called her name. She turned to look at Him and called Him “Teacher!” He was smiling with the same smile that thrilled her heart and terrified the demons the day He set her free. Mary was transfixed by Him. Was this a vision? No, this was real. Tears flowed freely as soft notes of wonder issued from her lips. She rushed forward and fell at His feet embracing Him in complete submission and joy. After a moment, Jesus lifted her to her feet saying,

“Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'”

Her Jesus was back and He had called her name! All was right with the world again, her world, at least. As if waking from a dream, she remembered that Jesus had given her a mission. With one long look at Him, she turned and ran from the garden to find the men who had gone home too soon.

Scriptures:
John 20:11-18

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, teach me perseverance. Help me hold on to the facts of my faith until the answer comes. Help me bear up under the strain when events of people turn against me. Holy Spirit, keep me focused on Jesus and the promises made to me. Help me to never give up until victory is mine. Lord, You are alive in me and You rule this day. Give me strength to persevere to the end. For the end of this day is the dawn of a greater one. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Song:
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

Words: Charles Wesley; Music: from Lyra Davidica

1. Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

2. Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

3. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

4. Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

5. Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

6. King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved