December 7 “Mary”

Mary

Of course she was pretty, the flower of the village of Nazareth.
Mothers of sons had long had their eyes on her for a daughter in law. Young men of the village were in awe of her so they left her alone. Other girls wanted to be her friend. She was bright and thoughtful with a ready laugh. That tireless young carpenter, Joseph, always made time for her. They seemed to go together as if made for each other and no one was surprised when they announced their engagement. There was a sense of pride in Nazareth that their little town could produce such a fine couple. Their joy in each other radiated through the village. No one could see the clouds gathering and the storm that was just ahead.

A Disturbance of the Peace
Alone in her room late at night Mary was still awake, too happy to sleep! Her candle-lit room was suddenly invaded by a light the likes of which she had never seen. She shrank back but the light filled the room and there was no place to hide. In the center of the light a figure slowly emerged, a man, taller than any she had ever seen, and as imposing as the light was blinding. If there had been someplace to run, Mary would not have, for she was as fascinated as she was afraid. Music was sounding, distant but distinct, strange harmonies and melodies. From the center of the music came a voice, deep and thrilling, almost singing with the music.

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

The light, the music, the voice, the tall figure, it was more than Mary could process. “The Lord is with you…” was the part that lodged in her brain and it sent a shock of fear through her.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

“Favor with God.” What could that mean? The answer was not long in coming.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary thought of Joseph. She protested her innocence.

“How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

The words of the angel were specific and enigmatic at the same time.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Overshadowed!

He went on to tell her of her elderly cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy and ended his message this way:

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Mary could only whisper but all of heaven heard her:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

He faded from view, the light and the lingering music dying away until the room was left untouched as if nothing at all had happened. But something indeed had happened. Mary suddenly inhaled a deep breath and held it. Her brown eyes were wide with wonder.

Overshadowed, she thought as she whispered, “For with God nothing is impossible.”

Scriptures:
Isaiah 7:14-15 NKJV
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Luke 1:26-38
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your ways are higher than our ways. They are past finding out. Your plans for us are always only partially given; there are details that You alone can see. While these unseen things surprise us when they occur, You are never surprised. Help me learn from Mary. She kept herself from evil so that when Your plan for her was revealed she was able to receive it. She was guided by Your encounter with her; You changed her life. I have encountered You in prayer, in corporate worship, in Your Word, and in the holy fellowship of friends who follow You. Guide me, Lord. Help me be overshadowed by Your Spirit so that I might bear You to my world in my life. With You this is not impossible. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Into My Heart
Traditional Chorus

Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my Heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today. Come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

The Jesus Story devotions can also be found at Kingdomwinds.com.

December 6 “John”

John

Imagine for a moment Elizabeth sitting at the table with her husband Zacharias.
She is holding baby John. It is a quiet moment which Elizabeth appreciates. Her husband has regained his ability to speak and now he won’t stop. He is telling her, again, about that day at the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

“The angel—he said his name was Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, can you imagine?—told me that you would have a son and that we should name him John.”

“What did you say?”

“What could I say? I explained that we were both too old for such a thing to happen…” He stopped and patted her hand. She started to withdraw the hand, but then thought better of it—the man had seen an angel! She squeezed his warm hand. The baby wiggled a bit in her arms. He was a restless one!

“He told me such wonderful things! Just when I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t say anything! I went outside and the people were looking at me so strange, like I had seen a vision or something. Of course, I couldn’t explain so I gave up trying and left.

“Tell me again, what Gabriel said about our John.” Elizabeth had not grown tired of hearing these things.

“Oh, it was wonderful! He said John would be great in the sight of the Lord and he would never drink wine or strong drink.”

“Really?”

“Yes! And he would be filled with the Spirit from birth—we both know what that is like!—And, best of all, he will turn people to the Lord! Just what we have been praying for!”

“So, he will be a priest, like his father!”

“Perhaps, or a prophet. Gabriel said he would go in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

“He said something about fathers and children…”

“Yes, the words of Malachi, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.’ When you think about it, that is so important!”

John wiggled in her arms. “He’s hungry again! I never dreamed that we would have a family! At our age! We had better be filled with the Spirit!”

“Oh, I remember when it happened to me—right after I agreed to name him John when we had him dedicated. Then I suddenly knew what was happening to us. It was like I was a prophet myself!–and I could talk again!”

Elizabeth could see he was about to get lost in the story. She quietly got up to leave the table and find some privacy. Zacharias continued to relive his prophecy.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The old man shook his head in amazement that he had a son at all and that his son was to be the forerunner of Messiah.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:8-26
So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:57-80
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father — what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lo rd was with him. Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied…

Prayer of Praise:
The Prophecy of Zacharias
Luke 1:68-80
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Song:
Prepare ye the Way of the Lord
Words and Music: Terry MacAlmon

Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way Of the Lord
For His judgments are true
And His mercies are new
So prepare ye the way Of the Lord

He that hath an ear
Let him hear what the Spirit says
To the churches

Make ready the pathway
Make straight the highway
Of the Lord

Behold I am coming
My Glory will be outpoured
Behold I am coming Says the Lord

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

“The Jesus Story Daily Devotions” are now available as part of KingdomWinds.com

December 5 “Elizabeth”

Elizabeth

The life of a priest’s wife was a quiet one and Elizabeth preferred it that way.
Especially now. For five months Elizabeth had hidden herself away. The last thing an old lady wanted to be was the center of attention. She and her husband Zacharias were deeply in love, now more than ever. All their peers we now parents and grandparents many times over. The absence of children in Elizabeth’s home formed a natural barrier to friendships. People were not unkind; they were just busy with their own lives and children and grandchildren.

She and Zacharias often sat quietly these days.
Since the day her husband had come home from his assignment in the Temple, he had been unable to speak so sitting quietly was the only option for them. He smiled a lot, though, especially as her body began to change. It was not unusual for a woman of her years to gain a little weight, but no one would ever guessed the cause. “But I know!” the old priest said to himself with a wry smile. Elizabeth turned her face away, still blushing because of this surprising turn of events.

Her name meant, “Oath of God,” and she had always believed the promises of God would come to them if they were faithful. Everyone who knew them, knew how faithful and full of hope they were. They were such a pleasure to be around. These five months of seclusion and silence stirred interest among their friends. They had all heard the story of Zacharias’ extended stay in the Temple and of his emergence having lost his ability to speak. Rumor was he saw a vision. The truth was an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zacharias and told him that his wife would bear him a son. When he protested that she was too old, he was struck dumb.

A Visitor from Nazareth
Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, her young cousin, Mary, came for a visit. Neighbors caught a glimpse of the older woman as Mary approached the house. “She’s put on weight!” the gossips whispered before she and her visitor hurried indoors.

In the house, away from prying eyes, Elizabeth explained that the child within her lept at the sound of Mary’s voice! As Mary marveled at this, a strange look came upon Elizabeth’s face. Mary recognized the look at once—the Holy Spirit! Mary had been overshadowed by the Spirit and she knew that now Elizabeth had been filled with the Spirit, too.

Two women, two miracles, two babies, God was at work. With the infilling of the Spirit, understanding flooded Elizabeth’s heart and she prophesied.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-25 NKJV
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:34-45 NKJV
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like Sarah, wife of Abraham, Elizabeth received Your blessing, a promise fulfilled, long after the natural course of life would allow. Teach me this lesson, Lord. Help me never to give up, but cling to Your promises forever in this life. I will have faith in You not in circumstances. I will take joy in every sunrise as the dawn that brings Your promise closer. I will rest with each sunset, knowing that a night’s rest under Your watchful eye will bring the fullness of Your promise nearer. Fill me with Your Spirit so I can see clearly the promises You supply. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional Chorus

Have faith in God.
Have faith in God.
Have faith in God for the answer
Have faith in God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 4 “Zacharias”

Zacharias

The old priest looked forward to each time the Temple rotation of duties included him.
On this day, his role was to burn the incense on the altar in the Holy Place, the final chamber before the mysterious Holy of Holies. His ancient heart was strong as his pulse quickened with anticipation of this priestly privilege. A crowd was waiting in the antechamber for Zacharias to reappear, his duty done. Perhaps, like Moses coming down from Mt. Sanai, his face would glow with reflected glory. One could never tell when the repeated prayers of Israel would be answered in their time as in the days of old.

More than an Audience
Who were the people in the crowd? Perhaps there were a few tourists on their first trip to Herod’s new Temple but most of them were of the remnant, the remaining faithful who sought the face of God. They knew Jehovah was their only hope. True worship was their only counterplan to the evil structures of Roman rule: religious freedom wrapped in military force. “Pax Romana,” the Roman Peace, allowed ethnic religions as long as they did not threaten the Empire and its god, Caesar. Their religion called for a different King! Messiah was their only hope, the promises of Messiah their constant liturgy.

Meanwhile, in the Holy Place
Zacharias’ turn at burning the incense was anything but routine. From the outset of his duties, he felt a strange excitement, a deep anticipation that heightened all his senses. His heart was full of praise and petition. For some reason an old prayer of his, long ago abandoned as beyond hope, returned to his heart. He knew better than to refuse to pray a prayer brought to mind in this Holy Place so he repeated it, feeling a little foolish for the effort.

The Holy Place was an interior room lit only by oil lamps representing the Spirit of God. The shadows cast by the lamps began to flee before a new light source just to the right of the Altar of Incense. Zacharias’ heart almost stopped as did his breathing. The light became a figure and then a man, no, larger than a man and more magnificent than any man. It was an  angel! Fear started the old man’s heart again and suddenly he couldn’t get enough air. The angel told him not to be afraid—they always say that! He told him his prayer was heard—Elizabeth will give Zacharias a son! That was the foolish prayer, long ago discarded but rediscovered today!

The old man protested the obvious facts of life; he shouldn’t have done that. The angel identified himself as Gabriel who stands in the presence of God. That should be enough credentials! He told Zacharias details about who his son would be and what he would do. In the process, Zacharias became voiceless.

When the old man tarried in the Temple, the restless crowd of the faithful outside wondered what it might mean. When he emerged, the people saw something that made them think he had seen a vision but he could not explain. When his duties were completed, Zacharias returned to his home and to his very surprised wife, Elizabeth.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-26 NKJV
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am a member of the Holy, Royal Priesthood of New Covenant believers. Help me be faithful at the altar of prayer. Like incense burned in the Holy Place of the Old Covenant, the prayers of the saints are precious to You. They are collected before Your Holy Presence. Help my prayers never to be missing from that collection. Lord, if like Zacharias, I have given up praying for long-standing needs according to Your long-standing promises, resurrect them in my prayers today! You are not slack concerning Your promises. Your very name is “Faithful and True!” Help me be faithful and true in my prayers. For Your Glory and Your Kingdom! Amen.

Song:
God Answers Prayer
Traditional Chorus

God answers prayer in the morning.
God answers prayer at noon.
God answers prayer in the evening
So keep your heart in tune.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 3 “Emmanuel”

Emmanuel

At the center of life there is a longing.
If our possessions crowd every inch of space in the house, garage, and rented storage space, we can still see something we do not possess and long for it. It is just the way we are. At the dawn of man’s existence, fellowship with God was broken by sin. Adam and Eve “walked with God in the cool of the day.” This provocative description describes an intimacy of creature with Creator that we cannot really understand. Still, we can long for it, and we do.

  • The restlessness deep in each of us testifies to it.
  • The drive to learn, to understand, and to explore, is evidence of this longing.
  • The need to own more and more, to control events and people, and to organize the universe around our desires is the residue of an unfulfilled longing for fellowship with our Creator.

Ancient Israel Longed for Messiah, sometimes.
They knew they were “God’s Chosen People.” They knew also that this was as much a curse as it was a blessing.

  • They had to fight their way through their Land of Promise.
  • There was an inconvenient connection between true worship of God and victory over their enemies. When their worship was true, their borders were safe. When they forsook Jehovah their borders were porous.
  • Their beliefs were spiritual not material, rooted in an invisible world of faith rather than in the tangible, visible world around them.

Why couldn’t they have good, solid idols to pray to like all the other peoples of the earth and practical, sensual rituals like the pagans around them? They had been short-changed—only one god—and he could not be seen! Their seasons of faithfulness were outnumbered by their many apostasies.

By the time of Jesus, Israel was a bundle of conflicting longings. Their leadership was divided into competing factions. Corruption connected religious leaders with political ones. Only a faithful remnant called upon the Lord.

A Sign from Heaven
There was a remnant who continued to seek the face of God. They had the Book of the Law, God’s own words to them. They had priests and prophets and a Temple to call them to faithfulness. Isaiah was a prophet whose writings defined their longings.

  • Someday God would give a sign—a virgin would conceive and bear a son. His name? Emmanuel—“God with us!”
  • This child, this Emmanuel, will not dwell in obscurity—He will be King!—A King with Us!
  • He will take the government on His broad shoulders and He will be called my many names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace. His ever-increasing Kingdom would emanate from the throne of His Father, David, and it will have no end.

This longing fueled the prayers of the faithful through the dark nights of Roman tyranny and the depressing days of religious corruption. They must have reasoned to themselves, “When Emmanuel comes, surely we will walk with God again, in the cool of the day.”

Little did they know! Emmanuel—God with Us—would indeed walk this earth in holiness to redeem all who call upon in truth. “Unto us a Child is born!”

Scriptures:
Genesis 3:8 NKJV
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Isaiah 7:13-15 NKJV
Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Isaiah 9:2-7 NKJV
The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation And increased its joy; They rejoice before You According to the joy of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden And the staff of his shoulder, The rod of his oppressor, As in the day of Midian. For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, And garments rolled in blood, Will be used for burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Matthew 1:22-25 NKJV
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like ancient Israel, my heart longs for You. You are, indeed, Emmanuel, God with Us! We do, indeed, walk together in the cool shadows of this day of Your amazing grace, sins forgiven, the Spirit in residence within, and a squad of guarding angels patrolling on every side. What else could I long for? Only more of You for all my loved ones and for all those I contact today. Help me point them to You! Help me love them with Your love. Somehow, let them see that You long to be their Emmanuel, too! Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
O Come, O Come Immanuel
Ancient Christian Chant

1. O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

2. O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. Refrain

3. O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

4. O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. Refrain

5. O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death’s abode. Refrain

6. O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. Refrain

7. O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace. Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

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: 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 breathe 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 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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 19 “Mercy”

Mercy

They found each other, these ten lepers.
They had no one else. Their families had turned them out; they had to. It was only right. Their villages had sent them away; they had to. And now they had found each other; they had to, as well.

They drifted from garbage heap to garbage heap finding only rags to wear and scraps to eat. When the wind was right, their collective odor announced their approach and people scattered before them. When the wind blew the other way, they would often catch people unaware. People fled before them, like a beaten army before a conquering foe and always with the cry, “Unclean! Unclean!”

The sight of healthy people running from this rag-tag mob was ironic. The lepers had no strength; they were practically starving. There weren’t even enough fingers and toes, and hands and feet to go around. There was no cure except to keep it away and pity the poor ones who had it. It was only right.

So, they had each other and that was it. This was the life they lived: human refuse, a moving trash heap.

“He saw them…”
But, somewhere along the way they heard about a man who did not run from lepers. He was coming their way. As He approached, they stood at the appropriate distance.

“Jesus, have mercy on us.”

Jesus looked at the ten, seeing them, not their disease. He saw

  • wives without husbands, homes without fathers, and important work that was not being done. He saw
  • men whose dreams had crumbled within them as their bodies crumbled on the outside and He saw
  • helplessness and despair.

“…he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests.
And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.”

This man told them what to do—go to the priests. There was a ritual, a Word from God for them. God had not forgotten them. He had a plan. Something in His words, in His eyes, in Him, told them to obey. They ran as well as rags and bandages and makeshift crutches would allow.

As they went, something began to happen.

  • Crippled feet began to tingle and burn with new growth as toes sprouted where stumps had been.
  • Fingers and hands and whole arms began to swing in the wind as strength returned.
  • Their rhythm-less running became smooth and effortless like Greek gods in a race.
  • They began to strip away rags they no longer needed or deserved.

Nine of them ran on to the village but one stopped and looked back to Jesus. If Jesus hadn’t met them on the road their lives would never have changed. Slowly, this man who was one in ten, a Samaritan, realized that before he ran to meet his future, there was something else he had to do. He fell at Jesus’ feet giving thanks. He had asked for mercy and found it.

It was only right.

Jesus was touched with the thanksgiving of this one. But He wondered about the others.

“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

The man did not know where they had gone; home most likely. Ironically, their disease had made them a community and healing had separated them. Jesus smiled at the thankful one, seeing in him those who would someday return to give thanks when the other great disease of mankind was cured.

It is only right.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:11-19

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my healer, my deliverer! You found me in the fellowship of the diseased and despised and took away the leprosy of my sin. You restored the withered limbs, rescued my wounded mind, and revived my fainting heart. I give You thanks today. May I never miss an opportunity to honor You whether others do or not! I will walk today in the health and strength You provide. When others inquire as to my strength, I will tell them of You! Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Give Thanks
Words and Music: Don Moen

Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.

And now, let the weak say, “I am strong.”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
because of what the Lord has done for us!
And now, let the weak say, “I am strong.”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
because of what the Lord has done for us!
Give thanks. Give thanks.

Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

July 17 “Offenses”

Offenses

Just as Jesus was not immune to the pain of the whip, the thorns, and the nails, personal offenses hurt him, too.
He was not a whiner, easily upset by every little thing that happened, but the rejection of the religious leaders hurt Him. The ingratitude of those who received His miracles but refused to follow His teaching offended Him. In the days ahead of Him as He turns toward the cross, the betrayal of Judas will hurt Him. The denials of Simon Peter will offend Him. The taunts of the crowd around the cross will be an emotional storm of offense as hurtful as the Roman soldiers working at their horrid craft of crucifixion.

Offenses will come.
The road to Calvary was not an easy one. The Kingdom of God Jesus brought was a radical departure from the established Old Covenant religion. As such, it sparked violent opposition from the religious establishment. Leaders understood immediately that the “Good News” Jesus preached was not good news for them. He threatened their power structures and jeopardized all their control mechanisms.

The freedom Jesus brought was dangerous on many counts:

  1. They could not match the flow of God’s power through Jesus to heal and deliver.
  2. They could not refute the truth He taught—He knew the Law and the Prophets better than they did.
  3. His message of the love of God for the individual threatened to bypass the leaders altogether.
  4. His friendliness toward sinners, tax collectors, the sick, and the poor upset the carefully balanced stratified society threatening chaos at every level.
  5. His radical teachings and the accompanying signs and wonders could not be ignored by Rome. When the people called Him, “Messiah,” this was an insurrection in the making, something the leaders did not need.

In fairness to the leaders, they were trying in their own way to be true to the Covenant with Jehovah and keep the peace with the Romans at the same time—no easy set of tasks. Their lives were tough enough without Jesus; with Jesus in the picture, they seemed impossible.

So they fought back. The schemed against Jesus, spied on Him and His men, attacked Him in public, and finally conspired against Him. Jesus saw their tactics and these things broke His heart. The Bible is sparse in its descriptions of Jesus’ pain, reporting only His times of solitude and His tears over the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. We know Jesus loved His enemies, these same Pharisees, Sadducees, priests and scribes. He came to save them, not antagonize them, to relieve their suffering, not add to it. Thus His sad commentary:

“It is impossible that no offenses should come…”

The Cost of Offending
Offense causes more than just the pain of the one who is offended. Jesus completed the sentence:

“…but woe to him through whom they do come!”

Everyone has the power to offend and to strike back when offended. This is how cycles of violence get started and continue from generation to generation: attacks followed by reprisals, ad infinitum.

In Jesus, every believer has the power to forgive—the Sermon on the Mount in action!  Violence and counter violence can only be stopped by a new and living way—the Gospel of the Kingdom of God!–Repentance and forgiveness, grace received and extended. If your brother offends you, forgive him, no matter how many times it happens!

Life Lesson: Do not offend your brother and when offended, forgive.

Scriptures:
Luke: 17:1-4
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is so much violence in this world! May I never contribute to any of it! Give me the courage to break the pattern of strike and reprisal with forgiveness. Help me turn the other cheek when necessary. Lord, may I never offend my brother or sister and help me be quick to forgive others. Most of all, may I never offend the Holy Spirit! May I never break Your heart! Keep me true, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Freely, Freely

Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

Freely, freely, you have received.
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.

God forgave my sins in Jesus’ name.
I’ve been born again in Jesus’s name.
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to. He said,

“Freely, freely, you have received.
Freely, freely give.
Go in my name and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.