February 17 “Return”

Return

Many people are willing to admit that Jesus came to this earth but they do not think that He will return.
Theologians call the end of the world and the return of Christ, the “eschaton.” It is defined as the divinely ordained climax of history. Endless debates originate in the various theories of how this is going to come about. Liberal thinkers see it all as symbolism. Conservatives try to parse the scriptures to discover a narrative for it. Scoffers laugh at the thought. I saw a picture of a man marching in some sort of protest carrying a sign that said, “If Jesus comes again, we’ll kill him again.” We should be sure of this: He said He would return and He will.

Back to the Mountain
Jesus and the Twelve are resting at an impressive overlook on the Mount of Olives. It is the close of another day of the public ministry of Jesus. He has tangled with the leaders of the nation and the Temple in the Temple courts. He has shared disturbing certainties with His men about the near future and the destruction of the beauty they see at their feet. Now He is about to balance the bad news with some really good news. His glory will be revealed to all!

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”

This is what they wanted to hear! Enough of the death and destruction, let’s hear more about the power and great glory. They wanted some of that. Finally, everyone would see Jesus the way they did—in all the greatness He was careful to hide every day. They could process this prediction and they did, turning it over in their minds with the implications it had for them. So what if a few stars fall out of heaven and what did it really mean that “the powers of heaven will be shaken?” They heard the part they wanted to hear.

We must hear more.
We have a more exalted view of Jesus. They saw Him up close and we can only guess at what that was like, but we see Him from the vantage point of prophecy from cover to cover in the Bible. Regardless what theory we may hold concerning specific events in the Eschaton, we must always live in constant awareness of His return.

The Engine that Drives the Boat
If our lives before Christ are seen as a journey at sea, we must be sure to keep the engine in good repair. That engine is the Blessed Hope—the imminent return of Jesus. We are not dead in the water. This hope propels us forward. He is coming and His reward is with Him! The dead in Christ will rise first and we who are live and remain will be caught up to be with Him. He is coming with ten-thousands of saints to make an end to evil in this world. It is all true for the Bible says it clearly. We must live in readiness for in a moment all our theories of the eschaton will melt before its reality. Believers, believe it. Preachers, preach it. Worshipers, sing it! Jesus will return to this earth again and no one will kill Him! All will confess Him Lord and Christ!

Scriptures:
Mark 13:24-25
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
Titus 2:11-15 NKJV
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Jude 14-15 NKJV
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me live in constant anticipation of Your return. What You have given me to do I must do quickly. There is no time to waste. Each opportunity to serve You, worship You, or to tell Your story is precious and not to be squandered. I know that at any moment I could hear that trumpet and the shout of the archangel! I will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. I will see You and my loved ones in Your company! Oh, the joy it brings my heart to think of it! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

Song:
He’s Coming Soon
Words: Thoro Harris; Music: Queen Liliukalani of Hawaii

1. In these, the closing days of time, What joy the glorious hope affords,
That soon—O wondrous truth sublime! He shall reign, King of kings and Lord of Lords.

Refrain:
He’s coming soon, He’s coming soon; With joy we welcome His returning;
It may be morn, it may be night or noon—We know He’s coming soon.

2. The signs around—in earth and air, Or painted on the starlit sky,
God’s faithful witnesses—declare That the coming of the Savior draweth nigh.

Refrain

3. The dead in Christ who ’neath us lie, In countless numbers, all shall rise
When through the portals of the sky He shall come to prepare our paradise.

Refrain

4. And we, who living, yet remain, Caught up, shall meet our faithful Lord;
This hope we cherish not in vain, But we comfort one another by this word.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 16 “Readiness”

Readiness

Inevitable things will come. We cannot stop them but we can be ready.
The observation point high on the Mount of Olives afforded a stirring view of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus and the Twelve had just left the Temple, exited the city gates, and ascended to this point on the mountain. Such sights prompted questions about the future Jesus predicted. So far His answers had not been encouraging. It would get worse before it got better.

The Prophet Daniel
The Prophet Daniel wrote on a grand scale. His work concerns nations and epochs of time. So much so, that several historical events can be linked to just a few of His words. One of those terms is “The Abomination of Desolation.” This prophecy was a familiar one to the Twelve. Literally it speaks to a terrible event, an abomination, that brings about total destruction, desolation. It is a direct reference to the worship of Jehovah in the Temple.

The worship of God is so holy it can be readily spoiled by impure hearts and sinful hands. Beyond the personal failures of those who go through the motions of worship is the abomination of idolatry. The history of Israel was plagued by periods of apostasy in which people would worship idols made my men rather than their Holy, Covenant-keeping God. These false worship systems were usually established on high places far removed from the Temple. But there is never any way to hide idolatry. The judgement of God, promised by the words of the Covenant, always fell on the nation for her idolatry. Pagan nations conquered them time and again. God sent holy prophets, faithful priests, and reformer kings to restore true worship.

The Abomination of Desolation goes beyond these seasons of apostasy. Instead of illicit worship sites in the countryside, this idolatry takes place in the Temple itself. Pagan armies invaded the city and the Temple to set up their idols in the Holy of Holies. This abomination destroyed the Covenantal relationship with God and resulted in the desolation of the city and the slavery of the nation.

It had happened before.
Each of the Temples where God Almighty chose to dwell among people ended in this type of destruction. The repeated cause? False worship—idolatry in the house of God. At the moment when Jesus and the Twelve were taking in the exalted view of the Temple and the city, there was a false hope of the appeasement of Rome with a puppet king and an established routine of the external trappings of worship. This provided an aura of hope but it was a false hope.

It would happen again.
The disturbing warning of Jesus was that all of this beauty would crumble in violence and it would happen soon—in the lifetimes of the Twelve. They must be prepared. They must be in a state of readiness.

It did happen with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies 66-70 A.D. This abomination would destroy Old Covenant worship. At the same time, it would scatter the followers of Jesus throughout the known world. He would go with them. His Spirit would empower them. Through their lives a new Temple would be built, not of stone, but of flesh, a new habitation of God by His Spirit—the Church! The Church triumphant will take root in every culture and race making the Kingdom of God one Holy nation.

It is the duty of every generation to live in a state of readiness.

Scriptures:
Mark 13: 14-23
“So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.
Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You know what the future holds; I do not. I trust You with it. I realize that my job is to be ready for whatever comes. I want to be ready in prayer, in adoration of You, in witness to Your amazing grace and in personal holiness. You have called me to serve You in these last days. To be ready for tomorrow is to serve You today. Help any fear I may have of tomorrow become faith in You for tomorrow. You are already there, Lord Jesus! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Jesus Is Coming Soon
Words and Music: R.E. Winsett

1. Troublesome times are here, filling men’s hearts with fear;
Freedom we all hold dear, now is at stake.
Humbling your heart to God, saves from the chast’ning rod.
Seek the way pilgrim’s trod. Christians awake!

Refrain:
Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon;
Many will meet their doom; trumpets will sound.
All of the dead shall rise; righteous meet in the skies;
Going where no one dies, heaven-ward bound.

2. Love of so many cold; losing their home of gold;
This in God’s Word is told; evils abound.
When these signs come to pass, nearing the end at last,
It will come very fast; trumpets will sound.

Refrain

3. Troubles will soon be o’er; happy forevermore,
When we meet on that shore, free from all care.
Rising up in the sky, telling this world goodbye;
Homeward we then will fly, glory to share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 15 “Endtimes”

Endtimes

Next to the Temple area was the Mount of Olives. From such a height, one longs to see the future.
Jesus and the Twelve left the Temple, the quarreling leaders, and the blushing widow with the deep smile on her face and climbed to an observation point on the Mount of Olives. Without turning the head, the city could be seen in its completeness and the Temple rising to heaven as its centerpiece. A vision like this prompted pride in the past and hope for the future. One of the disciples commented on the solid construction of Herod’s Temple projecting permanence and a future of hope. Jesus let the comment rest on their minds as they completed the climb. When they reached the observation point, He directed their vision to the impressive sight below, but with a dire prophecy.

“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another,
that shall not be thrown down.”

What Will the Future Hold?
This was not at all what the men expected to hear. They expected Jesus to restore the spirituality of the Temple not bring down its buildings. None of them knew what to say so they let the matter drop. Later in a private setting with just Peter, James, and John, the inner circle, Jesus gave more details in response to their questions. They wanted to know when this would happen and what signs to look for.

Jesus told them such important things:

  • Deceivers would could claiming to be from Him or to actually be Him. Do not believe them.
  • The nations of the world will wage war after war against each other.

As terrible as these things will be the end will be yet to come.

  • Natural disasters, earthquakes and famines and troubles of all kinds. Even these things will be just the beginning of sorrows.
  • His followers will be counted as outlaws to be tried and beaten before rulers as a testimony to Him.
  • Through all of these horrors, His people will continue to preach His story until all nations have heard.

The Ministry of the Spirit
Even in these terrible Endtimes, the Holy Spirit will be at work. He will fill the mouths of Christ-followers when they are on trial. To the end, they will speak as a witness that cannot be denied by courts or councils, kings or commoners. Families will be torn asunder by those who will not believe the truth. Believers will be hated and hunted, captured and killed for the sake of the Gospel.

Through it all, believers will have supernatural strength, strength to endure whatever may be hurled at them by a sinful, angry world. This strength of Spirit will carry the faithful through the trials, the torture, even the bloody tide of death to the other side of eternal life and peace.

The disciples were silent. There was nothing they could say. Some, perhaps thought of turning back. Maybe following Jesus was all a mistake. Sitting there in the presence of the Lord as the shadow of the Mount of Olives crept over the city walls toward the Temple, the words of Jesus seemed unreal, impossible, unbelievable. Yet, if they were learning anything, they were learning to believe what Jesus said. Deeper than their thoughts and fears was a stirring in each man’s heart—Jesus had called them, selected them, to follow Him. That calling gripped each man and would not let Him go.

Scriptures:
Mark 13:1-13
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Luke 21:28
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your return is near! All the signs You gave Your men are happening now in some part of the world. Be with my brothers and sisters in other lands who do not enjoy religious freedom. They serve You at the risk of their lives. Holy Spirit, give them the words to say that tell the Gospel story even as they go down to suffering and death, just as Jesus promised. We will not be distressed at the signs of the time for we see in them our final hope! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Redemption Draweth Nigh
Words and Music: Gordon Jenson

1. Years of time have come and gone
Since I first heard it told
How Jesus would come again someday
If back then it seemed so real
Then I just can’t help but feel
How much closer His coming is today

Refrain:
Signs of the times are everywhere
There’s a brand new feeling in the air
Keep your eyes upon the eastern sky
Lift up your head redemption draweth nigh

2. Wars and strife on every hand
And violence fills the land
Still some people doubt He’ll ever come again
But the Word of God is true
He’ll redeem His chosen few
Don’t lose hope soon Christ Jesus will descend.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 14 “Lord”

Lord

To be called “Lord” and to actually be LORD are two very different things.
The questioners, the “lords over the people,” were silent. They were out of trick questions and their ranks were divided. Along with the usual divisions over beliefs, there were now divisions over this man called Jesus. Some were close to believing that Jesus may be Messiah. Others were sure that He was not. Still others, the majority perhaps, were somewhere in between. Their strategies used up, their questions exhausted, there was nothing to do then but to listen to the man.

The Subject Was King David
The shepherd king was always a favorite. They sang his songs and some of them played the instruments he brought into public worship. They gloried in the reflected splendor of his victories and they ignored the failures and sins because he was “the man after God’s own heart.” If he failed so terribly and yet was used by God so mightily, perhaps there was hope for them as well.

“How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?”

This question lay at the heart of the search for Messiah. He would not be just anyone; he must be of the house and line of David. However, this was not a controversy. Where was Jesus going with this?

“Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?”

No one had ever thought of this before. Yes, Messiah would be Lord, and He would be the Son of David. Was there a contradiction here? Or was this just a play on words? Jesus did not answer His own question, leaving the mystery of the investigation of son-ship and lordship to another time. He made his surprising point to the “lords of the people.”

“Beware of the scribes!”

The leap from King David’s history to the present day was a strenuous one. There were false “lords” right there in the Temple! They were neither sons of David nor of God. They were more akin to the Devil, impostors from the heart out! What were the signs?

  • Pretense—“long robes,”
  • Show-biz—“greetings in the marketplace,”
  • Self-importance—“the best seats,”
  • Corruption—“they devour widow’s houses,” and
  • False spirituality—“prayers of pretense.”

What will be their end? -–“Greater condemnation.” Today we would say, “the hottest room in hell.”

God Resists the Proud
A fundamental truth in the dealings of God with people is this:

James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

God loves people but He hates pride. Pride is the cornerstone of false leadership. Positions gained through pride are ruthlessly guarded by any means available. Violence is always the result, sometimes private like a widow’s house devoured and sometimes in public war.

God Gives Grace to the Humble
The mark of true lordship is humility. Look to Jesus. Look to the disciples after Pentecost. Look to any truly great Christian leader and you will find humility for it is the source of the grace that flows in their lives.

To be called “a leader” and to actually be a leader are two very different things.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:35-40
Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”‘ Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?” And the common people heard Him gladly. Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
James 4:1-6 NKJV
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 NKJV
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your Lordship is that of the Son of David, the Son of God. You are Master of all time and space for they are Your creations. You rule in love and justice and peace. All of our lives are safe within Your Lordship for You care for us. We can cast all our burdens upon You because You can handle them. Holy Spirit, root out any vestige of pride in my heart for I know it is a source of God’s resistance in my life. Replace that pride with humility for Your love and Your grace flows in it. Amen and amen.

Song:
He Is Lord
Traditional

He is Lord. He is Lord.
He has risen from the dead
And He is Lord.
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 13 “Offerings”

Offerings

Offerings to God do not go unseen by heaven.
We may do everything in our power to hide our gifts from prying eyes and we regularly succeed. We succeed because we don’t want to get caught spying on the giving of someone else. Neither do we want them to know what we are doing. We cover up the cash in our hand until it is out of sight in the bucket or the bag and then we release it. Anyone watching us can think what they want about us and our offerings. When we write checks we place them in offering envelopes and it is nobody’s business but our own—and the money counters in the back room. They had better credit us with the right amount—taxes, don’t you know? All of this secrecy works on the human level but it is useless in the spiritual realm. God sees and remembers!

Resting in the Women’s Court
Jesus found a place to sit and rest after his bout with the scribes and Pharisees. There were public receptacles in the Women’s Court of the Temple where money was collected. Some commentaries say the money was for the expenses of worship supplies and others say it was for the relief of the poor. Regardless of its exact purpose, this was public giving and thus an opportunity for those who wanted to do some theatrical giving—giving for show, for effect.

Jesus sat and watched the show—rich people making grand gestures as their brass coins clanked into the receptacles. Some historians say these were metal horns which would offer several clanks per coin. There is even the suggestion that rich people would change more valuable coins into smaller, less valuable brass ones—more noise, you see—more impressive.

Just an Extra in the Drama
Into this grand drama of “giving” came a bit player, just a background “extra” from central casting—a poor widow. Perhaps she was one of the widow’s whose house had been “devoured” by the wicked rulers of the Temple. At any rate, she came, seeking above all things to be anonymous in her humble offering—two nearly worthless brass coins. They barely made a sound when she stretched her withered frame to drop them into the metal horn. Quickly, she shrunk back to her normal diminutive size to hurry away.

She had taken only a few steps when Jesus called her to His side. She wasn’t sure He meant her but a second gesture convinced her and in just a few steps she stood trembling before the Master. She was old but she knew what was happening. She knew who He was.

Jesus called the Twelve to Him:

“Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;

The men and the woman were confused. How could this be? There was no way her gift could be greater than that the parade of the privileged and their clanking coins. What sort of math was Jesus using?

…for they all put in out of their abundance,
but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

Jesus was using heaven’s math wherein things are counted differently than they are on earth. To give out of one’s abundance does not count the same as to give out of one’s need. God has the ability to multiply the offering given sacrificially to meet the greatest need.

Jesus smiled at the elderly lady, perhaps thinking of his mother, Mary. His smile made the little widow blush like a fresh young bride.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:41-44
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have given all for me. I give my all to You. Nothing else makes sense. I repent of any theatrical giving in the past. May You forget the noisy clanking of such offerings! Lead me in this area, Lord. There are so many needs crying out to me. Lead me to the sacrificial gifts that You can multiply to meet the needs. Thank You, Lord, for the privilege of partnering with You to the healing of the world. All for You, Lord Jesus, all for You!

Song:
Lord, I Give You My Heart
Words and Music: Darlene Zschech

This is my desire to honor You
Lord, with all my heart, I worship You
All I have within me, I give You praise
All that I adore is in You

Lord, I give You my heart
I give You my soul, I live for You alone
Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake
Lord, have Your way in me

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 12: “Commandment”

Commandment

In a crowd, there is always at least one who is ready to hear.
It was so that day in the Temple. Team after team had gone to bat against Jesus and had struck out swinging. But on the bench was one scribe whose eyes, ears, and heart were open to Jesus. In the silence of the defeat of his peers, he spoke up.

The Silent Type
He was the silent type, known to avoid loud and useless arguments, rarely speaking but always with an audience. His friends knew his few words were worth hearing. At the sound of his voice, hope began to rise in the opponents of Jesus. The brightest and calmest among them was speaking. Surely he would put this interloper in His place.

“Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus immediately perceived the spirit of this man. This was no trick question, no debate strategy. Jesus sensed that the man, among all those who opposed him, had recognized the truth in His words. He was brave, too, brave enough to ask an honest and important question. Jesus smiled at the man, a loving smile, that disarmed His enemies and made everyone else smile, too. His words were as gentle as a mother’s touch.

  • The first commandment is to love God and
  • The second is to love people.
  • No commandments superseded these two.

First and Greatest
The words were familiar to all but when Jesus spoke them a new ring of truth sounded.

  • What to do about the Romans? Love God and love people.
  • How to bring revival to the land? Love God and love people.
  • How to help the hurting people all around? Love God and love people.
  • How to live a victorious life in the face of constant temptation and violent persecution? Love God and love people.

When something is first and greatest in the Kingdom of God, it is worthy of our embrace.

The Truth Spoken
The sincere man had been taken deeper into the heart of God by words he had always known. He replied to Jesus as if speaking to himself.

“Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth…”

He went on to elaborate in the same quiet voice of his original question. A new authority, much like that of Jesus, sounded in his voice. He realized the deep truth as he spoke it. Loving God and loving people,

“…is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

That gentle breeze that often visited the Temple courts came again as the soft words of the scribe began to impact his peers. What? He has gone too far! Offerings and sacrifices are the source of our power over the people! We cannot release these people, these mindless sheep, to just go out and love God and be good to one another! They wouldn’t need us! Before a voice could cry out in protest, Jesus’ soft voice, accompanied by that winning smile, finished the conversation. Looking deep into the eyes of the soft spoken young man, Jesus said,

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

After that, there were no more questions, just shuffling sandals as the scribes lowered their heads and exited to their other, self-empowering duties. One among them, however, one had a new heart glowing in his chest.

In a crowd, there is always at least one who is ready to hear.

Mark 12:28-34
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your ways with me are gentle. Help me be transformed today by words I have heard all my life. Help me obey You today out of love for You and for people. This is the greatest and this is the highest duty in life. And it is the solution to all the problems I face today. This is what I can do about the world. This is how I can serve you with gladness and singleness of heart. This is how You can move through me to make a difference. Open the eyes of my heart to see these first and greatest commands. For Your Glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Open the Eyes of My Heart
Words and Music: Paul Baloche

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You, I want to see You.
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You, I want to see You.

To see You high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of Your glory.
Pour out Your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy.

Holy, holy, holy! Holy, holy, holy!
Holy, holy, holy, I want to see You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 11 “Resurrection?”

Resurrection?

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.
There were those leaders in Jesus’ day who did not believe in the supernatural. They were bright people of reason who could not imagine a world beyond their own senses. If they could see something, or taste it, or measure it, or hear it, then it was a part of their acknowledged existence. If not then it really didn’t exist and was the province of fools. Intellectual superiority marked their company and they amused themselves with lesser beings who believed in things like the resurrection of the dead.

Missing Evidence
Life after death? The whole idea flew in the face of reason. Where was the evidence of such a thing? The evidence for the finality of death was all around, from the elaborate gardens of stone tombs in the city to the cemeteries in every humble village. Stories of ghosts and demons and angels were hardly evidence at all.

A group of these men approached Jesus. They pretended to accept the premise of a resurrection. They began with a quote from Moses about brothers marrying the wife of a dead sibling to raise up children in his name. They extended the hypothetical into seven such instances in one family. Now, in the “resurrection,” whose wife will she be?

Jesus did not reason with them. They were wrong from the onset.

“Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?

A Different Reality
These proud men were mistaken. Their logic was sound but wrong. Their reasoning fell short of reality. There is a world beyond the five senses! They quoted Moses assuming his writings were natural in their source. The Word of God reflects all of reality not just the natural world. The primary concern of Scripture is not an understanding of the natural world. His Word opens to us the world of invisible realities, those of –faith!

These sincere, brilliant men were mistaken because they took reason to be everything and ignored the crucial role of faith in life. This side of heaven, there will always be more questions than answers. Reason organizes the predictable; faith deals with the unpredictable.

The Sadducees projected the ways of the natural world onto the supernatural world—marrying and giving in marriage. Jesus opened the curtain on the spirit world. Gender exists but not for procreation! Life is eternal without deaths or births, an existence like that of angels. These mistaken men were hindered because they did not recognize and exercise the role of faith. Faith in God makes sense in both worlds because the power of God is at work in both worlds. Reason without faith will lead to pride and destruction.

Faith and Reason
Jesus said these men were “greatly mistaken.” Their miscalculation robbed them of life before and after death. The same is true today. To believe in the Word and power of God is not to deny the natural world, but to enjoy it as a witness to the works of God. Within the framework of each day’s sunrise and sunset, each night’s darkness and promise of light to come, we pray—a supernatural activity—and believe and worship and serve, all with the expectation of a real reward in the life to come. Faith and reason, working together, enables us to live life to the fullest.

Faith and reason do not have to be at war with one another.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:18-27
Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.” Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are Master of both the natural and supernatural worlds! You are the Creator of both. You gave me a human spirit to understand the supernatural world and a human soul and body to process the natural world. Help me walk by sight in the natural world and by faith in the unseen world. I will not fear the unpredictable in the world nor the powers of darkness because I am living in Your care. You are God of the living and not the dead! I know my loved ones are waiting for me over there in Your presence and I know You are with me today in this world. Help me live by faith and by reason. Amen.

Song:
Living by Faith
Words: James Wells and R.E. Winsett; Music: J.L. Heath

1. I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.

Refrain:
Living by faith in Jesus above,
Trusting, confiding in His great love;
From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

2. Though tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise,
Obscuring the brightness of life,
I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies—
The Master looks on at the strife.

Refrain

3. I know that He safely will carry me through,
No matter what evils betide;
Why should I then care though the tempest may blow,
If Jesus walks close to my side.

Refrain

4. Our Lord will return to this earth some sweet day,
Our troubles will then all be o’er;
The Master so gently will lead us away,
Beyond that blest heavenly shore.
Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 10 “Inscription”

Inscription

There is power in an inscription. It is a deep mark of ownership on something, a coin, a nation, a life.
The first wave of attack had failed. Scribes, elders, and priests proved unable to impugn the authority of Jesus. They called in a more vaunted team: Pharisees and Herodians. This was an uneasy alliance of authorities on the Law of Moses and those who supported the Roman influence of the Herodian kings. They agreed that the nation should submit to Rome since the Empire had supplied them with rulers. The mark of the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, was deeply imprinted on their minds. Flattery would be their opening gambit.

“Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.”

The oil of flattery oozed from every word they spoke. Most men were subject to it and would slide right into the trap. But not this Man. Jesus stopped and looked at them, waiting for the next play in their game. Into this uncomfortable silence, they had to continue, the leader clearing his suddenly very dry throat.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

It was a brilliant move! There was no correct answer. To say yes was tantamount to blasphemy. To say no was potential treason. When Jesus did not answer right away, their confidence in their scheme began to grow. The spokesman grew bold, feigning impatience:

Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”

Jesus was not shaken by their tactics. He knew their hearts, always an advantage in these contests.

“Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.”

A coin? A Roman coin? What was this Man up to now? Any confidence the Pharisees and Herodians had gained was now shaken. None of them wished to admit he carried money, of course, so it took a little time for a servant to produce the coin and hand it to Jesus. Jesus took it and turned it over a few times, held it up to the sun as if to see it better, laughed and tossed it back to the smiling servant. At least someone was enjoying this!

“Whose image and inscription is this?”

Everyone knew the answer but Jesus let the silence hang in the air. They had to say the name.

“Caesar’s.”

Jesus made His point:

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

And that was it. Game over. The Pharisees and Herodians had been bested by a carpenter known to ride donkeys.

Empires and Kingdoms
The Empires of men are one thing. The Kingdom of God is an altogether different thing. In the public arena, believers have a civic duty to perform. In the spiritual arena, the followers of Christ have a spiritual duty which goes deeper and higher than our duty to the government. We must live for our King, serving Him in holiness and with prayer, fulfilling His call on our lives. In the process, the nation who is thus served by the Kingdom is a blessed one. God has deeply inscribed His image on His people; we are His!

There is power in an inscription. It is a deep mark of ownership on something, a coin, a nation, a life.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:13-17
Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.
Psalm 33:10-12 NKJV
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your image is stamped on me! Help it to shine clear today in my choices and attitudes and deeds. You have stamped my name deep in Your hand! I will have confidence today in that truth. Lord, help me be faithful in my civic duties rendering unto the government the things that bear its image. I will pray for my leaders, as the Bible instructs, so that we might be at peace in the world and so that fairness shall be the state of the nation. Help me work for the justice and peace that are the foundations of Your throne. To God be the Glory! Amen.

Song:
To Be Like Jesus
Traditional

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus,
All I asked is to be like Him.
All through life’s journey
From earth to glory,
All I asked is to be like Him.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 9, “Vineyard”

Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

“Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
Cornerstone
Words and Music: Dottie Rambo

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

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

Rock of Ages, cleft me! Let me hide myself in Thee.
Rock of Ages, so secure! For all time it will endure.
Till His children reach their home, He remains the Cornerstone!

Till the breaking of the dawn, till all footsteps cease to roam.
Ever let this truth be known—Jesus is the Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone, The Cornerstone!
Till the breaking of the dawn, till all footsteps cease to roam.
Ever let this truth be known—Jesus is the Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 8 “Authority”

Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Answer Me.”

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

“We do not know.”

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

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

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

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

Scriptures:
Mark 11:27-33
Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men'” — they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Philippians 2:5-11 NKJV
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is no authority higher than Yours! No name is higher. No power greater. The forces of hell and earth may oppose You but they never will overcome You. You rule and overrule. Yours is the finale word. Someday every tongue will confess that You are Lord of all. Until that day, this will be my confession. I willingly submit to Your matchless authority and Oh the peace and joy that is mine today! Amen and Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved