April 2 “Reports”

Reports

The only news service in those days was the one we still call the best: word of mouth.
Still in the vicinity of His hometown, Nazareth, two people came to Jesus with great needs because they had heard about Him. They occupied the opposite ends of society. He was a ruler and she was a poor woman, probably a widow with no family to care for her. Word of mouth had reached both the high and well-connected and the low and powerless. They had two things in common: problems they could not solve alone and the news about Jesus—He was the problem-solver, the Healer.

The Ruler
We know from other sources his name was Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue. Leaders in the synagogues had a problem with Jesus. His miracles were wonderful but He had a way of taking it too far, claiming to be Messiah. This threatened the leadership structure. Great personal need led Jairus to be more concerned with Jesus the Healer than Jesus the potential Messiah. Jairus’ daughter was ill to the point of death. Perhaps news of the healing of the Centurion’s servant prompted Jairus to reach out to Jesus. Unlike the Roman, he felt worthy to have Jesus come to his fine house. Jesus and His men started that way.

The Woman
Their progress was interrupted by the woman who had suffered with a blood disease for 12 years. The illness had broken her financially as well as physically. Hearing about Jesus turned her desperation into hope. She felt if she could just get close enough to touch His clothes, she would be healed. She gathered all her remaining strength to pursue Jesus through the streets. As the crowd jostled him, it tossed her about, sometimes forward but most often backwards. She never gave up, continuing to press through until with a final stretch of her ancient arm she lightly touched the hem of His robe.

Jesus stopped and looked around. He had felt her touch, the touch of faith. It was as powerful to Him as the Centurion’s confession of faith. More than just her touch, Jesus felt power flow from His body to hers bringing a flood of healing. When He stopped and inquired as to who had touched Him in faith, the crowd murmured and gradually gave way revealing the old woman standing taller than she had stood in decades, strong, whole, healed, and smiling. Jesus returned her smile:

“Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.”

And she was! The word-of-mouth-machine went into high gear.

At the Ruler’s House
When Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house He was met by the sound of mourning; the man’s little girl had died. Professional mourners were already on the job. Seeing all this, Jesus went to work.

“Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.”

The mourners were not about to lose a job! They ridiculed His analysis so Jesus had them removed from the home. He went to her room, took her by the hand, and helped her to her feet. The mourners knew death but Jesus knew life!

“And the report of this went out into all that land.”

The only news service in those days was the one we still call the best: word of mouth.

Scriptures:
Matthew 9:18-26
While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am so glad that I have felt Your touch! When I was sick, You touched me and made me well. When I was afraid, Your touch comforted me and calmed my fears. When I was alone, I felt Your gentle touch deep in my aching heart. Your love keeps me going, Lord. I know I can count on You and Your wonderful love. I am so glad the news about You reached me! Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Let Me Touch Him
Words and Music: Vep Ellis

1. Let me touch Him let me touch Jesus.
Let me touch Him as He passes by.
Then when I shall reach out to others
They shall know Him they shall live and not die.

Refrain:
Oh to be His hand extended
Reaching out to the oppress’d.
Let me touch Him let me touch Jesus
So that others may know and be bless’d.

2. I was straying so far from Jesus.
I was lonely had no peace within.
Then the hand of my Saviour touched me.
Now I’m reaching to others in sin.

Refrain

3. There’s a river a river flowing
From within and to cleanse my soul.
And the flow sets my life to glowing,
Holy Spirit more than silver and gold.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

For an article based on this story go to: https://stevephifer.com/pressing-through/

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 1 “Wineskins”

Wineskins

Jesus is called the Messenger of a New Covenant that would emerge from the Old.
Still at the dinner with “tax collectors and sinners,” probably at the home of Matthew, newly chosen as a disciple, Jesus taught about the New Covenant using the analogies of new and old wine and wineskins. We are told that wine, fermented juice of the grape, was a safer thing to drink than water in the first century. To keep the wine at peek potency, animal skins were used as containers. New wine was still in the fermenting process and would burst old wineskins that could no longer expand. New wine required new wineskins that were still soft and stretchable.

Power but not Flexibility
The Covenants before the Jesus Covenant, those of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David, could not rightly be called flexible. Worship happened in specified times and places with prescribed sacrifices given in great detail. Like old wine, it was powerful stuff but there was little room or need for innovation. Old wineskins were required.

Jesus changed all that when He said “a time was coming and now is” when true worshipers would worship God not in time and place but in Spirit and Truth. The Old Covenant structures of the Tabernacles and Temples would be replaced by a spiritual house—the Church—the Calvary-cleansed People of God, the Habitation of God by His Spirit. Churches have sprung up in the strangest places all over the world because of this flexible New Covenant which adapts itself to the cultures and languages of the believers. This New Covenant wine—the moving of the Holy Spirit—is such powerful stuff that new songs and methods and signs and wonders are needed to transport it from place to place.

The Disciples of John
Those who had repented in response to the call of John to prepare for the Kingdom of God asked Jesus a sincere question about fasting. These were not critics or cynics; they were sincere seekers of the Kingdom. They had patterned their lives after the serious message of John: a life of repentance and the disciplining of fleshly desires for the sake of the Kingdom. They were confused by the joy they saw in the followers of Jesus. It was like a new and potent wine leading to laughter and celebration. Why this difference in lifestyle?

The Bridegroom
Jesus was with them every day! His joy was complete and infectious. Blind people were seeing again and deaf people were hearing as people who once could not speak were singing. Those once lame were dancing as those formerly possessed by demons sat smiling in the presence of Jesus. This was a time for celebration, for feasting not fasting. Those times would come and the disciples of Jesus would do their duty, but not yet.

The New Covenant supplied garments of praise made from the new cloth of redeemed lives. The Spirit flowed from vats in the hearts of those whose sins were forgiven and the old ways could not contain the new.

The dinner at Matthew’s house was a foretaste of the Kingdom to Come, the one Jesus told them to pray for every day. For a moment it was on earth as it was in heaven.

Scriptures:
Matthew 9:14—17

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Malachi 3:1
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts.
John 4:23-24
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Messenger of the New Covenant! You made this covenant in Your own blood, making it possible for us to worship in spirit and truth. You cleanse our hearts from sin, making them fitting hosts for the residence of the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is peace and freedom and joy! This is the new wine of the New Covenant! Help me to never substitute earthly wine but to drink deeply of the New Wine kept in these wonderful, creative new wineskins! You are the Joy of My Desire! I Love You, Lord Jesus!

Song:
Joy of My Desire
Words and Music: Jennifer Randolph

Joy of my desire, all consuming fire.
Lord of Glory Rose of Sharon Rare and sweet
You are now my peace, Comforter and friend,
wonderful, so beautiful, You are to me.

I worship You in spirit and in truth.
Lord, I worship You in spirit and in truth.
There will never be a friend as dear to me as You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 30 “Dogs”

Dogs

Her people lived in the land of Canaan before Joshua brought the Children of Israel across the river Jordan.
In the estimation of the Jews, she counted as less than human, no more than a dog in the streets. Jesus was of a different view. He had heard the words of His cousin John standing in that same Jordan: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”—not just the Jews but the Gentiles, too. The prophets were clear on this, but the Jews of that day hurried over the parts that didn’t fit their narrative.

Tyre and Sidon
These two cities near the Mediterranean Sea were famous for merchandise, fishing, crafts, and sin. The Canaanites who lived there were the descendants of the people conquered by the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan. They served a nasty pagan god named Baal, a highly adaptable source of evil—each village had its own little Baal.

Amazingly, a Canaanite woman came to Jesus, expecting nothing but contempt from His men, but desperately hoping that He was different. Two things about this woman are remarkable:

  1. She knew about the Jewish Messiah—she called Jesus, “Son of David.”
  2. She knew the power of the spirit world—her daughter was demon possessed.

We know from the writings of Apostles that household idols could host demons. This poor woman had been betrayed by her native religion. Her worship of Baal had introduced her child to a demon. She knew that hell could not cast out hell. When she heard about Jesus, she decided that He, a Jewish Rabbi, was her only hope. She braved the prejudice and pleaded her case.

Playing the Game
Jesus tested her faith by pretending to be just another prejudiced man, referring to her as a dog. Her brave reply moved the heart of the Savior.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

She called Him Lord! The leaders of the People of God called Him Satan and this pagan mother called Him Lord.

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.”

Her daughter was instantly delivered. Then Jesus left that city to find a place to preach. He had come all that way to the region of Tyre and Sidon  to rescue the daughter of a pagan woman. But He was just getting started. A great healing revival broke out and God, the God of Moses, and Joshua, and Jesus, was glorified.

Prejudice offends God.
We marvel that one group of people would consider another group of people as no better than dogs. We should not marvel. There was a time in the USA when Negros were considered only a fraction of a human being for the purposes of the census and congressional representation. Race prejudice has raised its ugly head in every civilization on the planet. The only One who has an answer for it is Jesus. He can remove it from the heart. He can exalt each individual to a place of equality. The Sermon on the Mount does this; it is the constitution of the Kingdom of God. How do we please God? Love Him and love our neighbors. How do we offend Him? Treat others like dogs.

Scriptures:
Matthew 15:21-31
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.
Matthew 6:26-27; 10:29-31
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Galatians 3:26-29
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me love everybody. I want to treat people as equals. You love everyone, even the most unlovely and the most unlovable. I need help with that. From the homeless person I see on my way to church walking the street early on Sunday morning, to the prisoner behind bars, to the elderly lost in a fog and cared for my strangers to well-off in their fancy cars and snoozing in their elaborate homes in gated communities, to the radical spewing hatred, help me love them all and to show it by praying for them. They are not dogs; they are worth Your agony on the cross. Lord Jesus, help me love everybody. Amen.

Song:
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Traditional

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 29 “Hearts”

Hearts

The religious leaders in Jesus’ day had many skills. Missing the point was chief among them.
While Jesus and His men were in the North doing the work of the ministry, a delegation of scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem confronted Him. They had a pre-packaged charge to level against Jesus and His men—eating with unwashed hands. It was a big deal to them because they found power in the various traditions of the elders. Some of the rules came from Scripture but many were elaborations on the Law by teachers in past eras of time. These leaders were the keepers of these traditions and wielded power over the everyday person just trying to get by.

Hypocrisy was inevitable; they would rigidly enforce small, easily measured, readily visible infractions of these laws, while large, more important but less visible matters would be ignored if there was benefit in it for them.

Jesus was ready for them.
Instead of defending Himself and His men, Jesus leveled a counter charge involving complicated matters of inheritance. This stopped the scribes and Pharisees cold. For us it would be like someone asking about private taxation records or hidden back accounts. How did Jesus know about that? Lawmakers make laws to benefit lawmakers and they bend the Word of God to do so. He immediately applied the principle:

“Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.”

The arrogance required to do this is simply massive. To negate the Word of God by superseding it with one’s own self benefiting schemes is an amazing way to sin against God. Their trip, begun in arrogance, ended in embarrassment and a lecture. Jesus condemned them and their like. They displayed an outward, carefully manufactured show of religiosity but their hearts were far from God. Dirty hands at dinner were not the problem; dirty hearts in power were true violations of God’s laws.

“…in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

The corruption spewing from their mouths was more damaging that dirt under the fingernails of the disciples.

When asked to explain what He meant, Jesus told us all we need to know about the heart.

“…those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”

Heart Trouble
Until we meet Jesus and follow Him, the whole human race suffers from heart trouble. Our sinful words and deeds come from our sinful hearts. Even those of us who would worship God in Spirit and Truth must guard our heart for a heart full of mixed motives cannot worship in truth. Our outward show of praise does not impress God if our heart is not worshiping. The heart is led by the eyes. Sin in the heart—impure motives, lustful fantasies, proud schemes—blind us to the dangers of sin. We are deceived by these internal things, hidden from the eyes of others and we think that God is also blind to them. We become, like the scribes and Pharisees, the blind leading the blind, and the only destiny we have is the ditch.

The Heart Dealer
Jesus deals in new hearts. Yes, He repairs broken hearts. Yes, He heals wounded hearts. His specialty is this: He can give you a brand new heart! A heart that is free from sin and beating to His rhythms of grace.

Matthew 15:1-20
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God” — then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.” So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
Psalm 24:3-6
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, And righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,Who seek Your face.
Proverbs 4:23
Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like every other human being, I sometimes have heart trouble. Mold my heart into the likeness of Your great heart, full of compassion and truth, gentle and pure, holy and a blessing to all. Purify my heart, O Holy Spirit. Cleanse it from self-centeredness. Make it pliable to the will of God. I will guard my heart, as Your Word commands, and fill it with good things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinosa

Change my heart O God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart O God.
May I be like You.

You are the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me.
This is what I pray.

Change my heart O God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart O God.
May I be like You.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 28 “Storm”

Storm

The storm is coming. Of this we can be sure.
The intensity of it is yet to be seen, but its certainty is beyond dispute. The winds may blow from the west or from some unusual direction but they will blow. The rain may pummel the ground, dropping like a hail of stones or it may join the wind and streak sideways but we can be sure the rains will come. The sky may snap with electricity and the earth shake with sound but we can be sure that violence will accompany the storm. We may find shelter or we may be caught in transit to weather the storm in the open. The storm is coming.

After the Feast
When the multitude was fed and sent away to their homes, Jesus told the Disciples to get in a boat and sail to the other side of the sea while He climbed a mountain to pray. They obeyed Him but soon the storm arose and the winds were contrary. This went on for some time, their strong fisherman arms swelling and their disciple joints complaining as they rowed against the wind. Sometime after 3 in the morning, Jesus came to their aid, walking on the raging sea. His superstitious men thought He was a ghost! Fear added itself to their inventory of troubles. Peter recognizing the form if not the face of Jesus, hailed Him:

“Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

Perhaps Peter didn’t really think this request through but the Lord took him up on it. He gave one of those one-word answers that changes lives.

“Come!”

What was Peter’s reasoning? Was he sure that Jesus would share this wonderful aquatic skill with him? Did Peter even think at all? Whatever may have prompted the fisherman, Peter exited the boat. Instead of jumping into the sea, Peter stepped out onto it—and it held him up! He paused for a moment just to make sure of this miraculous buoyancy, smiled at Jesus and the other men, swallowed hard and took a step. Then he took another and another. The winds still blew and the waves still did their best to upend him but each step took Peter closer to Jesus. When he was within arm’s reach of the Master, he took his eyes off Jesus. As if waking from a dream, the reality of the storm broke upon him like a tidal wave. With his eyes on the storm, Peter began to sink. He cried out to Jesus for salvation and a strong carpenter’s hand caught him just before the waters would have claimed him. Jesus laughed:

“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Both of them laughing, they got into the boat and immediately the storm ceased. Any lingering doubts among the men vanished and they confessed His Lordship.

After the Storm
By the next morning they reached the other side where another multitude had gathered. Many believed that all it took was a touch of Jesus’ clothes and healing would be theirs—and it was true!

Life Lesson?
When the inevitable storm arises, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. He can help us walk in places that are impossible for us to walk! Every step brings us closer to Jesus—the Master of every storm.

Matthew 14:22-36
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when You have called me to do something, that means that it can be done! Peter walked on water at Your invitation; help me to realize the fact of this! With Your empowerment I can do what You call me to do! Give me courage to obey, to get out of a comfortable boat, keep my eyes on You and walk! I trust You in all things so let me obey You in all Your commands. I know the storm is coming, Lord. Keep me steady, Lord! All for Your glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I’ve Anchored in Jesus
Words and Music: Lewis E. Jones

1. Upon life’s boundless ocean where mighty billows roll,
I’ve fixed my hope in Jesus, blest anchor of my soul.
When trials fierce assail me as storms are gath’ring o’er,
I rest upon his mercy and trust him more.

Refrain:
I’ve anchored in Jesus, the storms of life I’ll brave,
I’ve anchored in Jesus, I fear no wind or wave,
I’ve anchored in Jesus, For he hath pow’r to save,
I’ve anchored in the rock of ages.

2. He keeps my soul from evil and give me blessed peace,
His voice hath stilled the waters and bid their tumult cease.
My pilot and deliv’rer to him I all confide,
For always when I need him, he’s at my side.

Refrain

3. He is my Friend and Saviour, in him my anchor’s cast,
He drives away my sorrows and shields me from the blast.
By faith I’m looking upward beyond life’s troubled sea,
There I behold a haven prepared for me.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 27 “Feasting”

Feasting

Following Jesus into the wilderness was an experience not to be missed.
There were signs and wonders. There were debates with entrenched leaders (which they always lost!) and there were those wonderful stories about the Kingdom of God. Hearts were stirred. Minds were challenged. Even so, bellies still tended to report empty. The disciples reported this hunger crisis to Jesus and much to their surprise, He told them to feed them. Of course, the only thing to do was break up the meeting and send the people on their way left to their own devices as far as provisions were concerned. They were all too far into the wilderness to supply food beyond what the most farsighted of them had thought to bring. Of these farsighted ones, a solitary little boy was found to have a small lunch. Jesus commanded the small provision be brought to Him.

“Little Is Much when God Is in It”
There is a vintage gospel song by this title and it remains true to this day. Remember that Jesus measured faith in grains of mustard seed—small measures in the world’s eyes. The disciples could not see the little boy’s lunch as relevant to the massive needs of the multitude, but Jesus knew better. He took the loaves and fishes in His hands, gave thanks, and blessed them. (The word used in John’s gospel is the root word of Eucharist, the “Great Thanksgiving!) This “little” bit of food became “much” in the hands of the disciples. As they broke the bread and the fish, it multiplied before their eyes. A miracle of creation occurred with each plunge of their hands into the baskets and they had enough for each group of people all sitting orderly on the ground. There was no panic, no rush to get food before it ran out. Jesus was in charge, this one who commanded demons and disease with equal authority, so people quickly relaxed and waited their turn. If the fish needed salt, I am sure the tears of the disciples supply that seasoning as well.

The Fellowship Meal
Eating together is an indispensable method of spiritual fellowship. The Old Covenant was celebrated by the Seder and Passover meals. For New Covenant worshipers, the Communion Meal is the heart of public worship. Why are these feasts important?

  • They physically represent spiritual realities. We are family, committed to God and to each other! Our souls are nourished by this fellowship.
  • Spiritually, the things of God and His Kingdom nourish our spirits, strengthening us for demands of the times in which we live. In the Bible, the Word is called meat and bread, the flow of the Spirit is New Wine, and the waters of worship are the very River of Life.

The feast in the wilderness teaches us that to follow Jesus is to be well fed. He can take “little” and make it “much.” There is always enough because Jesus is serving the substance and life of His own victory over death.

One More Thing
Like the tiny mustard seed in the parable and the little boy’s lunch in this feast, when the Lord takes into His mighty hands what we have to give, He blesses it. He blessing is so powerful, what we have becomes enough!

Scriptures:
Matthew 14:14-21

And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Prayer:
Communion Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (adapted SRP)
We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people  the Substance and Life of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom. All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ: By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

Song:
Little Is Much
Words and Music: Kittie L. Suffield

1 In the harvest field now ripened
There’s a work for all to do;
Hark! the voice of God is calling
To the harvest calling you.

Refrain:
Little is much when God is in it,
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown, and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.

2 Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem too small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.

Refrain

3 When the conflict here is ended
And our race on earth is run,
He will say, if we are faithful,
“Welcome home, My child, well done

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 26 “Dances”

Dances

There are all kinds of dances: musical, psychological, political, mental, and deadly.
While Jesus was trying to do some good in Galilee, events beyond His control were unfolding down in Jerusalem. John the Baptist was imprisoned by King Herod, the evil son of the Herod who had slaughtered the innocents when Jesus was born, because John had denounced Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law. I don’t claim to know how good King Herod was on the dance floor, but he was good at the political dance—keeping opposing forces under control to keep the peace with Rome. John had just gone too far, that was all, denouncing the private life of the king. Prison was where he belonged. It was not enough for with new wife, Herodias. She wanted John punished and eliminated. Her new husband didn’t feel that was necessary. Herodias knew how to dance the dance of manipulation. She arranged for her daughter to entertain the King and his guests. It is good not to try and imagine the young woman’s dance, but, coached by her mother, it pleased the king. Inflamed by her dance, Herod made a rash promise.

“Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.”

Still out of breath from her sensual dance she panted out her demand.

“Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”

Surprised by the demand, Herod’s ardor quickly cooled. He realized he had been danced into a corner. For the sake of his guests, he felt he must honor his promise. What’s one prophet more or less, anyway? He ordered the execution. The party was suspended until a servant returned with the severed evidence of a promise kept. Herodias was the only one who still had an appetite. John’s disciples took his body away for burial and representatives came to tell Jesus.

Jesus Receives the News
Herod had convinced himself that Jesus was really John resurrected. His political dance had failed to bring any peace to his soul. It is certain that both John’s disciples and those of Jesus considered this a serious threat to the Lord. Hearing the sad news of His friend, cousin, and forerunner, Jesus needed to be alone. He was not a dancer, especially not the political kind. He hated plots and saw through them easily. His enemies were never successful at covering up their political schemes against Him. Neither did Jesus dance with words. He was the original man who said what He meant and meant what He said. Those who tried to dance around Him with clever words and trickery always ended up tripping and falling on their faces.

Sometimes it is good to be alone.
Here we see the humanity of Jesus. The death of a good man saddened Him. The murder of a friend broke His heart. He wanted to be still and quiet so He sought solitude. It wasn’t long before the multitude discovered His location and came bringing their needs to Him. There was little time to grieve the loss of His friend or to ponder the opposition of a powerful politician. There were sick people to heal, demons to scatter, and there was a message of hope to preach. This was no time to dance with grief.

Scripture:
Matthew 14:1-13
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the news of the death of John the Baptist broke Your heart. You had to get alone with the Father for a while. Give me the wisdom to get alone with You. You said the Father was in the Secret Place. I want to join Him there today. When I am alone with You, I am not really alone at all! Your Spirit abides within me so I am never alone.  Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Shut in with God
Traditional

Shut in with God in the Secret Place.
There in the Spirit beholding His face.
Gaining new power to run in the race.
Oh I long to be shut in with God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 25 “Family”

Family

It took courage for Jesus to claim to be Messiah.
It took even more courage for Him to make this claim in His hometown synagogue. There was trouble at home. We don’t know when Joseph died but he is no longer mentioned in the narrative. Mary and her other children seemed to be divided in their opinion of Jesus. There is no doubt that Mary believed in Jesus and everything He said and did. After all, she had been visited by angels. She knew that Joseph was not the father of Jesus; He had been a true miracle child. Some claim that Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage. The evidence in this passage disputes that. Mary and Joseph had four sons and more than one daughter. We are not given the breakdown of who believed in Him and who did not but it seems Mary was in the minority.

Unbelieving Family
It was all very hard to believe. It is likely that the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth before their marriage was like a dark cloud over the family. Small towns have long memories. Mary’s other children had to live with suspicions and snide remarks their whole lives. Perhaps they thought it would be better when Jesus finally left home. It was not to be. He didn’t leave quietly and fade into obscurity in some other town. No, He was preaching heresy and performing magic tricks all the way to Jerusalem and back. Why didn’t He just go away and stay away?

In the synagogue at Nazareth, the leaders gave Jesus one more chance; they invited Him to speak. As He spoke the inherent authority in His voice, manner, and message was undeniable. People quizzed Him about the miracles rumored to accompany Him everywhere. Was it all true? Either Jesus or someone else assured them it was all true. The people were astonished.

“Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

Obviously they were skeptical. They knew this man! He had always been on the strange side. He never disobeyed His parents. He never got in trouble as a child, unless some other boy lied about Him. He was always respectful and His carpentry work was without peer. Many of them had objects in their homes He had made for them. He had only one fault—He didn’t know His place. All of this notoriety was unseemly for a carpenter’s son.

Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary?
And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?
And His sisters, are they not all with us?
Where then did this Man get all these things?”

This embarrassed Mary and broke Jesus’ heart. Then it got worse. From Luke we learn that at that time, or perhaps at a similar time, the good people of Nazareth rose up and sought to throw Jesus off a nearby hill. Jesus stopped them with a look, exited through the middle of them and no one dared oppose Him. His conclusion?

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”

The Price of Unbelief
The sick people of Nazareth went to bed that night with no divine touch to relieve their pain. The blind people still could not see,  the deaf ones could not hear, nor did those infested with demons find release. Why? Because these people refused to believe. How foolish. How tragic.

Scripture:
Matthew 13:53-58
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
Luke 4:28-30
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe. You said the work of God is to believe. I believe all of your story: born of a virgin, a life without sin, an atoning death, a spectacular resurrection, and Your ascension to the Throne of Heaven. I believe it all. As the angel said to Mary, “with God nothing is impossible.” I believe in Your will for my life. I believe You will be with me throughout the day ahead. I believe. I believe. That makes us family! Amen.

Song:
Only Believe
Traditional

Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.
Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.

Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible, Lord I believe.
Lord, I believe. Lord, I believe.
All things are possible, Lord I believe.

Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible, Jesus is here.
Jesus is here. Jesus is here.
All things are possible, Jesus is here.

Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.
Only believe. Only believe.
All things are possible, only believe.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 24 “Hidden”

Hidden

There is something about the search that excites the human soul.
Solomon, mankind’s wisest king, said this:

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”

God is not surprised by our love of the search; He put it in our hearts. All of the wonders of science discovered by experiment and observation have been there all along, waiting for some curious person to search them out. It took many centuries to discover the secret of flight in the shape of the wings of the bird while birds flew effortlessly all around the heads of those who were searching for it.

Hidden in the Word
The Word of God is like that, too. Somethings are not hidden at all; they are stated in clear, unambiguous terms for us to believe on first reading. We can search these things out and find deeper applications, thrilling prophesies, inspiring metaphors, and instructive similes about these truths all through the Bible. God put them there; in Solomon’s words, He concealed the matter. He did not do this to hide truth from us, but to reward the combination of curiosity and faith. We search the Scriptures in faith because it is the only way to please God. We search with curiosity because there is joy in discovering eternal truth while we walk each day locked into time.

Parables of the Search
Jesus spoke parables on the joy of the quest, teaching us about the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • A Treasure Hidden in a Field. When an individual learns of a treasure hidden in a field, he/she changes his/her plans and buys the field. Then begins the joy of searching until the treasure is uncovered.
  • The Pearl of Great Price. When a merchant finds an overlooked pearl he/she determines to be of greatest value, the only thing to do is refinance everything and buy that pearl. The merchant sees value others do not.
  • The Net Full of Fish. When fishermen cast a large net into the sea, there is no selection process—all kinds of fish are caught up in it. The fishermen drag the net ashore and there they separate the good from the bad.

Life Lessons from these Parables
These are not meaningless bedtime stories. There are priceless truths hidden in these simple analogies.

  • Somewhere along the line, we heard the gospel story. Somehow we knew this wasn’t a fairy tale; it was the truth! We could see the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus. Jesus was and is who He said He was and is. We knew that to find Him, we had to “buy the whole field”—believe the whole Bible—and we did.
  • Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price. His church isn’t perfect. He told us that His field contained both the real and the fake. We cling to His church despite its imperfections. We have reordered our lives around the value of this Pearl of Great Price.
  • We keep on casting the net. The world is full of people who haven’t heard the Jesus Story so we keep telling it. When the net comes to shore there are bad fish and good. We seek out the good and pray for the bad for we know the Day is coming and the angels carrying the scythes.

As we go along, we enjoy the search for the hidden treasures of the Kingdom. God has given us the opportunity to fulfill this urge He planted deep in our hearts.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:44-52
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
Proverbs 25:2
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my treasure! I will search for You in Your Holy Word. I will buy the whole field of Your truth. I want to believe it all, even the parts I do not understand. You are the Pearl of Great Price. I will remain with Your church and I will be a blessing in Your power. Guide me, Holy Spirit as I search the Word for priceless treasure. Amen.

Song:
More Precious than Silver
Words and Music: Lynn DeShazo

Lord, you are more precious than silver.
Lord, you are more costly than gold.
Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with you.

Who can weigh the value of knowing you?
Who can judge the worth of who you are?
Who can count the blessings of knowing you?
Who can say just how great you are?

Lord, you are more precious than silver.
Lord, you are more costly than gold.
Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds,
And nothing I desire compares with you

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

April 23 “Field”

Field

Who can deny the beauty of a wheat field as the wind makes the stalks move like waves on the sea?
The mission of Jesus was larger than any single field of grain. When the disciples asked Him to explain the parable of the tares, Jesus said this:

“The field is the world…”

As wonderful as the personal ministry of Jesus is to each of us, He is also ministering to the whole world. This is not some local event; it is cosmic, universal, majestic, and mighty. The Lord has the ability to care for each of us as he does the sparrows and to tend the garden of each heart the way He does the lilies of the field and at the same time deal with nations, peoples, and generations. Neither the individual nor the people groups are lost to His care. Just as gravity pulls on everything on the surface of the earth, the love of God pulls on every beating heart.

  • Some have never heard the truth about God but He is working on someone’s heart to go and tell them.
  • Some have heard the Good News and filed it away as if it were just a legend or a myth. His Spirit is convicting them of its truth.
  • Some have heard and believe but are distracted by lesser concerns that seem to be more pressing. His Spirit is convicting them to reorder their lives around what is really important.
  • Others have heard the Word, believed it, and set about to live it. There is no way to count the number of true believers in the world; only heaven knows. There is no particular color to them, or shape of the eyes, or language on their lips. John heard the hosts of heaven declare that we are from “every tribe and tongue and nation.”

And there are the tares, the fakes, the enemy agents standing with us, waving in the same wind as if they, too, were followers of Christ.

Tares and Wheat
The field of the world contains the genuine and the imitation, the real and the fake. Jesus did not leave us to their devices. He told us how to recognize the fake—by the fruit of their lives—a bad tree yields bad fruit. He said listen to what people say. Eventually, the contents of their hearts will come spewing out of their mouths. Our first instinct is to grab the scythe and chop away, cutting them down and casting them away. The church is instructed on how to do this in the correct way. When the divisive deceivers are revealed they are to be cast from the fellowship. But if they are believers who are carnal, we must treat them in a way to restore them to the faith.

What about the tares?
Tares were a particular kind of weed that looked very similar to a stalk of wheat. Jesus said let them grow in the field until the Day of Judgment when the truth shall be revealed. We cannot be distracted by them. None of us is called to be the judge—that is a job for angels and there are none of those among us. Jesus made it abundantly clear what would happen to them. Our job is to keep on being good wheat—catching every nuance of the winds of the Spirit—beautiful and fruitful as we are changing the world. His field is our field and each of us has a place in it.

Scriptures:
Matthew 13:36-43
Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
2 Thessalonians 3:6;13-15
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he* received from us. …But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
1 Corinthians 15:33-34
Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
Jude 16-19
These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to realize this day that Your field is wide; it is the world itself, not just my little world. Lord give me wisdom to follow You when others choose not to. Give me discernment to sense when someone who should be genuine is not. Lord, if they are a brother or sister who have been deceived, use me to help them find their way back to You. If they are from the evil one, I pray against them in Your Holy Name! Amen and amen.

Song:
A Pure Heart
Words and Music: Rusty Nelson

A pure heart, that’s what I long for.
A heart that follows hard after Thee.
A pure heart, that’s what I long for.
A heart that follows hard after Thee.

A heart that hides Your Word
So that sin will not come in,
A heart that’s undivided
But one You rule and reign.
A heart that beats compassion,
That pleases You, my Lord.
A sweet aroma of worship
That rises to Your throne.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.