February 28, 2018: “Commission”

Commission

Some things are so very real, they can only be seen with eyes of faith.
With repeated appearances to those who had loved and followed Him, Jesus convinced them all that He was, indeed, back from the dead. He gently rebuked those who failed to believe the good reports from the first witnesses. After all, He had told them this was going to happen!

From other sources we know that He did meet with the disciples in Galilee. On one occasion He met with the Eleven and those wonderful women and convinced even the skeptical Thomas that he was back and His power was greater than ever. He could appear and disappear at will and could pass through walls without effort.

We cannot imagine the joy of the followers of Jesus to have Him back. But this was not the end of surprises. There were always surprises with Jesus! It seemed He wasn’t planning on staying. Later they would realize that He had come to earth to complete a two-fold mission:

  1. To show people what their God was really like, and,
  2. To redeem the sins of the world so that we could walk with God in this life.

That two-fold mission had been accomplished and it was time for Him to return to the throne room of God in heaven.

There was one more thing that He had to do: Commission His followers to continue His work in the earth. His story had to be told to the whole world and they, and those who came to know Him through their ministry, were the ones to tell it. He condensed the mission into a single statement and a promise:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

“Gospel” means “Good News.”

  • In a world in the iron grip of Rome, Good News was needed.
  • In every epoch of time since the ancient world existed, Good News has been needed.
  • Any type of news rooted in man’s character will eventually be found to be corrupt.
  • Any message based on the intellect of man will present only partial solutions since the knowledge of mankind is inadequate.
  • Any hope of staving off disease that rests in man will itself be found infected with sin.

Death rules man as it always had until that day at the empty tomb. The only source of Good News is the Gospel of Christ.

The Power of the Holy Spirit
The Jesus story is not complete without the story of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not commission us to go out in our own power! He sends us the Holy Spirit to make us holy and empower us to be His witnesses. We should expect the demonstration of the Spirit when we tell His story. We will protected from harm as we go and signs will follow as we pass through this life preaching the Gospel. Demons cannot stop us for we can call on Jesus’ name. The sick will be healed as we pray in Jesus’ name. Wild animals and poison will not even slow us down.

Having spoken His final words to them until the Holy Spirit would come upon them and bring His words back to them as needed, He made His exit into the welcoming skies. Heaven took Him back and He resumed His rightful place at the right hand of Majesty on High.

What did they do then? They waited in Jerusalem until they received “power from on high” and they went out and preached His Story everywhere. The Lord was with them confirming the Word with miraculous signs. Amen.

Scripture:
Mark 16:14-20
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard Your call to follow You. I have obeyed that call. I hear Your call to tell Your story, to preach the Good News about You in every possible way. I will fear no demons or dangers, no sickness or setbacks, no opposition or lack of opportunity. I will follow and I will tell. I receive Your Holy Spirit to make me holy, Your power to make me mighty, and Your love to make me lovable. Use me, all of me, my gifts and my gaffs, my head and heart and hands to do your work. Thank You, Lord. Thank You.

Song:
We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
Words and Music: H. Ernest Nichol

1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, a story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.

2. We’ve a song to be sung to the nations, that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil and shatter the spear and sword, and shatter the spear and sword.

Refrain

3. We’ve a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above
has sent us His Son to save us, and show us that God is love, and show us that God is love.

Refrain

4 We’ve a Savior to show to the nations, who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples may come to the truth of God, may come to the truth of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 27, 2018: “Victory”

Victory

When you have seen something with your own eyes, it is most difficult to believe otherwise.
And so it was with the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. With their own eyes they had witnessed His death. After His body was taken down from the cross, the women who loved and followed Jesus had hastily prepared His lifeless form for the tomb. After the Sabbath had come and gone, they returned to do proper service to the body of their Lord.

We cannot imagine the grief they experienced that Saturday. Each of the women had received countless undeniable blessings from the hands of Jesus.

  • Mary and Martha of Bethany had seen their dead and decaying brother, Lazarus, come waddling out of his own tomb, wrapped in grave clothes, at the command of Jesus! How could the One who was the Master of death, be overcome by death? It made no sense, but they had seen the still body of Jesus for themselves and handled it in preparation for its rest in Joseph’s tomb.
  • Mary Magdalene had been delivered from the violence of seven demon spirits at Jesus’ command. Now His voice was stilled and she had to wonder if the forgiveness He had granted was just an illusion. Was she still in her sins?
  • From other accounts, we know that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was at the cross when he died. Without doubt she was among the women who went, early that Resurrection morning, to visit the tomb.

They went to the tomb not knowing how they would roll away the huge stone placed over the entrance by the Roman soldiers. There was little logic in their mission but they were compelled to make the effort.

When they arrived, they saw that the stone was already moved. Their first thoughts were that someone had stolen His body. Cautiously, they entered the tomb. A young man dressed in brilliant white robes was standing on the right side of the large flat stone where the body of Jesus should have been. Startled, they shrank back in fear. His voice was both commanding and soothing

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He is risen! He is not here.”

They did not, they could not, move. From other accounts we know that the linen in which the body was wrapped lay flat on the stone, as if it had been deflated. The linen that had covered His head was folded neatly at the head of the stone. The body was gone but this was not the work of mortals.

“See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

The man spoke with an authority very much like that of Jesus Himself, so they knew they must obey. They ran from the tomb but shared this experience with no one. Who would believe it, anyway?”

Other Witnesses
Mary Magdalene was the first to actually see the risen Lord. She told the other followers of Jesus, but in their depth of their grief, there was no way for them to ascend to the level this truth. They could not believe what they were hearing; they knew what their eyes had seen. When He appeared to two of them as they were walking, the two were convinced but even this was not enough to counter the witness of the eyes.

The world’s greatest victory had been won and so many could not see it. We are all witnesses to the reality of death. It is for us to see the Risen Lord with eyes of faith.

Scripture:
Mark 16: 1-13
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away — for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, you told Thomas that those who believe in Your resurrection without actually seeing You, would be blessed. I am in that number. I believe You conquered death. I believe You hold the keys of death, hell, and the grave. I believe that death has been swallowed up in victory. I believe that my loved ones who have departed this life are with You now enjoying life everlasting. I believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with You. I believe that You are the Lord of the living. Through Your grace, I walk each day in newness of life! The Lord is risen—He is risen, indeed! Amen!

Song:
Christ Arose!
Words and Music: Robert Lowry

1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain:
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 26, 2018: “Calvary”

Calvary

Due to its remarkable shape, Golgotha was called the place of the skull.
It was a place where lives were ended in blood and shame. On this day it would live up to its image and name.

Roman soldiers paraded Jesus through the city streets and out of the city gates with whips and curses to the delight of the mob. Perhaps growing weary of the excessive time this duty was wasting, they conscripted a man, Simon from Cyrene, to help Jesus bear the cross. Arriving at the place of execution they offered Jesus a sedative to dull the pain. He refused it. With practiced efficiency the soldiers nailed Jesus to the wooden beams by His hands and feet and lifted Him to the sky. Criminals received the same, one on either side of Him, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.

“And He was numbered with the transgressors.”

The soldiers also nailed the indictment made against Jesus to the top of the cross. It read:

THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The crowd, enraged by this proclamation, began to revile Him, taunting Him with cruel words designed to pierce His heart just as the nails pierced his body:

“Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself,
and come down from the cross!”
“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel,
descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

The soldiers gambled for what was left of His clothes. It was the third hour of the day.

Six hours later, Jesus replied, not to His tormentors, but to His father:

“…Why have you forsaken me?

Someone soaked a sponge in sour wine and, using a stick, raised to His mouth. He did not drink it. He cried out again with a loud voice and it was over. From other sources we know that all of creation cried out at His death in storms and darkness and earthquakes. Struggling to keep his footing upon the shaking soil and in the driving wind, a Roman soldier realized that this was no criminal.

“Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

Meanwhile, at the Temple
Far away from Golgotha, deep in the heart of the Temple, a heavy veil designed to isolate the Holy Presence of God from an unholy world, trembled and tore from the top to the bottom. The Old Covenant with a loving God held hostage in the Holy of Holies by the sins of mankind, broke out of this confinement. A New Covenant was now in force made secure by the innocent blood of Jesus shed at Calvary. Now the New Temple of God, His dwelling place on earth, would not be in houses of stone, but in hearts of flesh, redeemed human hearts! The church would be His dwelling place in the earth by His Spirit.

At Calvary the women who followed Him, looked on as His body was taken down. Unknown to them, a friend on the council, Joseph of Arimathea, arranged with Pilate to have the body of Jesus placed in His tomb. The women rushed to do what they could before the Sabbath began.

Scripture:
Mark 15: 21-41
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above:
THE KING OF THE JEWS. With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him. Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never forget that day, the day You paid the full price for all my sins and those of everyone everywhere. With every voice of thunder I hear, may I remember that storm that day as all creation—Your handiwork!—shook in protest to Your death. Help me remember that when You said “It is finished!” it really was. There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. As the song says, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.” Thank You, Lord! Amen and Amen.

Song:
He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels
Words and Music: Ray Overholt

1. They bound the hands of Jesus in the Garden where He prayed.
They led Him through the streets in shame.
They spat upon on the Savior so pure and free from sin.
They said “Crucify Him. He’s to blame.”

Refrain:
He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels
But He died alone for You and me.

2. Upon His precious head they place a crown of thorns
They laughed and said, “Behold, the King.”
They struck Him and they cursed Him
And mocked His holy name.
All alone He suffered everything.

3. When they nailed Him to the cross
His mother stood nearby.
He said, “Woman, behold thy son!
He cried, “I thirst for water.”
They gave Him none to drink.
Then the sinful work of man was done.

4. To the howling mob He yielded He did not for mercy cry.
And when He cried, “It’s finished,”
He gave Himself to die.
Salvation’s wondrous plan was done.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 25, 2018: “Pilate”

Pilate

Pilate cared nothing for the religion of the people. He had two goals: control and peace.
The problem with control was that everybody wanted it. The challenge of peace was balancing all the groups competing for control. As the sun rose and Pilate attended to his morning routine, he had no idea he would make history that day.

The leaders in the Temple held an early morning meeting to prepare their presentation of Jesus to Pilate. How could they present Jesus as a threat, not just to their control mechanisms, but to those of Rome itself? They strengthened the bonds on Jesus’ hands and feet and shuffled Him into Pilate’s court. Hearing their confused case against this beaten, powerless man, Pilate was faintly amused that such a one could cause such a stir. In a voice dripping with irony he asked,

“Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus looked up, his face already showing deep bruises.

“It is as you say.”

It was like a punchline to a joke. Pilate smiled in spite of himself thinking, “Yes, this is the kind of king these miserable people would have!” Choking back his contempt for these accusers, Pilate listened to their conflicting testimonies, accusing Jesus of outrageous but harmless things, matters of great importance to these small-minded leaders but of no consequence to Rome. When Jesus did not attempt to answer their charges, Pilate began to be more interested in this man. He marveled that this one so eloquent in reputation would be so mute in court.

Barabbas
There was a custom at the time of the feast. To appease the people and maintain control without force, a prisoner could be released. They were holding a rebel, named Barabbas, who had committed murder. Pilate offered him to the people. The people, stirred by the priests, called for Jesus instead. Pilate knew the driving force behind the priests and other leaders was envy. Here was a man they could not control so their fragile peace was threatened. To be sure, Pilate made the question clear:

“What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”

As if on a conductor’s cue, a shout of “Crucify Him!” became a rhythmic chant. Pilate’s protests of the innocence of Jesus could barely be heard over the chant. Pilate, for the sake of control and for the hope of peace, released Barabbas and delivered Jesus to the mob. Roman soldiers tied Jesus to a whipping post and did their worst. They took Him to headquarters to mock Him publically, stripping Him and putting a purple robe on Him. They twisted a crown of thorns and jammed it onto His head. They struck Him with a rod and pretended to worship Him. Finally tiring of their sport, they removed the “kingly” purple robe, put His own clothes back on Him, and led Him off to be crucified.

Neither Pilate nor the cruel soldiers knew that the blood they spilled that day would someday save the world.

Scripture:
Mark 15: 1-20
Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. Then Pilate asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered and said to him, “It is as you say.” And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, “Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!” But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled. Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!” So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified. Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, sometimes I feel that I am a victim of injustice. Sometimes, for the sake of Your Kingdom, I suffer for the sins of others. This is nothing new. The Bible warns us that we will join the “fellowship of Your sufferings”—suffering when we are innocent. However, none of us will ever suffer the level of injustice that You endured that day, not even close! Yet, You share Your strength to endure with us. Help us take joy in this privilege. With it comes the joy of knowing You better. Amen.

Song:
I Find No Fault in Him
Words and Music: Andrea Crouch

They led Christ to Calvary
And He spoke not one word.
Just the cries of lost sinners
Was all my Savior heard.
Then they pierced Him so deep in His side
Until the Blood came streaming down.
And that’s how Jesus purchased my salvation
And I find to fault in Him.

I find no fault in Him, I find no fault in Him,
Yet He was rejected, despised of men.
But I find no fault in Him.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 23, 2018: “Trials”

Trials

He was not a violent man, but His hands were bound with leather thongs. He was not a flight risk, hut His feet were bound with iron shackles.
Abandoned by His followers, betrayed by the kiss of a friend, Jesus stood alone before the collected leadership councils of His own religion. Peter followed at a safe distance, stopping in a courtyard where servants of the high priests awaited orders on this strange night. They had built a fire to keep out the chill. Peter joined them, hoping that he would not be recognized. From this secure location, Peter could hear the case against Jesus.

The chief priests were interviewing witnesses to testify against Jesus. They were having a difficult time getting people to agree on what Jesus had said and done. Many of the potential witness were obvious liars who would never get past the Roman authorities. Some misquoted Jesus about the destruction of the Temple and a promise to make another but the details never seemed to line up. In frustration the Chief Priest confronted Jesus.

“Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?”

This brought no response from Jesus. These inept witnesses didn’t need His assistance. The calm demeanor of Jesus unnerved the Chief Priest. He went straight to the point.

“Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”

The arena grew suddenly quiet as each participant realized the importance of the answer. In the courtyard, Peter moved to a different place by the fire, seeking safe shadows. Jesus had asked him a similar question in the wilderness. Peter remembered the deep conviction welling up within his heart as he boldly answered. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Would Jesus be so bold? It would be a death warrant. Further witnesses would not be needed. As Peter thought of these things, the expectant silence was broken by the soft but convincing voice of Jesus

“I am.”

Jesus spoke as if there was more He wanted to say. The crowd took a collective breath. At last He continued.

“And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

At this the High Priest screamed and tore his robes. His associates, not to be outdone, did the same. The crowd responded in a deep groan and then a high pitched wail that lasted some seconds before yielding to the uplifted hand of the Chief Priest.

“What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy!
What do you think?”

It was unanimous. The crowd put their words into violence, spitting on Jesus, blindfolding Him, beating Him from the left and then from the right demanding that as a prophet, He should prophesy beneath their fists. The guards, not fearing reprimand from their superiors, took their turns at him with open palms, blows designed to hurt but not kill him.

Peter heard the crowd and felt the heat of their madness. He wished above all things that He could take the blows in the place of Jesus. With a start, he realized then he, indeed, might be next.

Scriptures:
Mark 14:53-65
And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.'” But not even then did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, so innocent were you of wrong-doing before the high priests and the councils of Your religion! It was a sham as well as a shame. You were bold beneath their blows and assertive amidst their accusations. If their charge was love; You were guilty. If their indictment was for telling the truth; You were guilty. Their inept witnesses could not agree. Your confession of Your identity was the device they needed to condemn You. This means You willingly gave Your life; they did not take it from You! Why? Because You loved us! Still today, You love us. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Man of Sorrows
Words and Music: P.P. Bliss

1. Man of sorrows what a name for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

2 Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

3 Guilty, helpless, lost were we; blameless Lamb of God was he,
sacrificed to set us free: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

4 He was lifted up to die; “It is finished” was his cry;
now in heaven exalted high: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

5 When he comes, our glorious King, all his ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 22, 2018: “Garden”

Garden

Gethsemane means “oil press,” a place where harvested olives were put under pressure to release their essence.
This garden was situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It was a preferred place of prayer for Jesus. The disciples were exhausted. Following Jesus was harder work than fishing or collecting taxes or any of the other occupations they had known since Jesus had looked at each of them and said the words from which there was no return, “Follow me.” Of late, His teaching was most disturbing. They were glad when He told them to wait while He and the inner circle went deeper into the garden to pray. The eight remaining behind were glad for once not to be included with Peter, James, and John.

The three followed Jesus deep into the garden when He suddenly fell to the earth. This was more than exhaustion—this was sorrow, a deeper sorrow than they had ever seen in Jesus.

“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.”

Now it was their turn to stop and wait as Jesus struggled to His feet and continued His lonely vigil. He was not so far away that they could not hear Him praying. He prayed desperately for this hour to pass and leave Him untouched. They heard Him cry out to His Father to take this cup of suffering away. They waited in the deep silence that followed this petition for some answer from heaven. None came. When Jesus spoke again, His voice was stronger. The decision had been made.

“…nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

Relieved by this, the trio drifted into an unrestful sleep. Jesus returned to them, not all surprised to find them sleeping. He was strong now, Himself again. The press had done its work. He teased them awake announcing the approach of Judas.

While He was still speaking, Judas led the religious leaders and their military escort, armed to the teeth, into the garden. He had prearranged a signal, a kiss. With the greeting, “Rabbi!” he delivered it and the authorities went to work. In the brief violence one of the disciples drew a sword and sliced off the ear of a guard. Jesus noted the irony of the moment. It was all so unnecessary.

“Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

When the disciples saw there was no fighting to be done they fled the garden, one leaving his clothes behind. They left Jesus to the mercy of His enemies, just as He had predicted they would. Only Judas was left. His face betrayed his growing regret. Whatever he had expected did not happen.

The leaders were gleeful. The guards were cruel. The Disciples were in hiding. Jesus was resolved. The night was young.

Scriptures:
Mark 14:32-52
Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.” He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. Then He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.” And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.” As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him. And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then they all forsook Him and fled. Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, never has anyone on earth known the depth of isolation that You knew in that garden. The soft breezes through the familiar trees could not cool your brow heated by sweat turned to blood. When You called out to Your Father for relief no answer came. There was no turning back, no other course to take. The Father’s will was clear. In the pain and loneliness of the garden, the Father’s will became Yours. Help me to always do the same. Amen.

Song:
What Wondrous Love Is This?
Anonymous

1. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

2. When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, O my soul!
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

3. To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great “I AM,”
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
while millions join the theme, I will sing.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 21, 2018: “Supper”

Supper

This would not be just another meal together. It would be miraculous and meaningful from the first to the last.
Never knowing for sure what Jesus would do from one moment to the next, the Twelve were sure of one thing: it was time for the Passover meal. They asked Jesus what they should do. He chose two of them to go ahead to find a place. Events unfolded just as Jesus said they would and the meal was prepared in a borrowed upper room.

As the familiar meal progressed, Jesus made a remarkable statement:

“…one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.”

First there was a moment of disbelieving silence then there was a chorus of denials and personal questions, “Master is it I?” Each of them knew that he was capable of such a horrible thing and hoped against hope that he would not be the guilty one. Surely only someone not of their group would do such a thing. Jesus insisted it was one the Twelve sharing that meal, that night. Sorrow filled the upper room as heads shook from side to side in disbelief and hearts raced with fear. Who could or would do such a thing? What would Jesus do to him? As if He heard their hearts, Jesus went on:

“…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.”

All hunger was gone as the ceremonial food and wine graced the table before them. Jesus took the unleavened bread and broke it, blessed it, and distributed it to each of the men.

“Take, eat; this is My body.”

He took the cup of wine, gave thanks and gave it to each of them and each of them drank from it. He said it represented His blood, that of a New Covenant. He would not eat or drink again until the Kingdom was established. They sang a hymn and returned to a Garden on the side of the Mount of Olives where Jesus loved to pray.

The mood was a somber one and no one spoke, each man lost in his own thoughts and fears.
Jesus broke the heavy silence:

“All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

This was too much for Peter. His shouted protest sent roosting birds flying from their nests, breaking the solemnity of the evening.

“Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.”

The eleven disciples lowered their heads in embarrassment for Peter. For all his boast, he was no better than the rest of them. Jesus smiled at Peter, that disarming smile that tore away a man’s pride.

“…even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”

Peter was insulted now and spoke even louder, the noise of a man unsure of his own heart.

“If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”

Peter’s blustery courage seemed to infect the others and they aligned with him, agreeing that none of them would ever do such a thing. No one noticed that Judas had slipped away into the night.

Scriptures:
Mark 14: 12-31
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?” And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.” So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover. In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.” And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” And another said, “Is it I?” He answered and said to them, “It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.” And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered.’ “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all said likewise.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may my courage never prove to be only bluster. My heart’s desire is to follow wherever You may lead. You know this already and You also know that I am only human. My deeds sometimes stray from my intentions. You know my heart and all its secrets. I invite Your Holy Spirit there to do the work only He can do. I have eaten the bread and drank from the cup You instituted that night. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for me the substance and life of You, Lord Jesus, “the holy food and drink of new and unending life.” Amen.

Song:
In Love for Me
Words: Carol Owens. Music: Jimmy Owens

This is my body, broken for you,
Bringing you wholeness, making you free.
Take it and eat it, and when you do,
Do it in love for me.

This is my blood, poured out for you,
Bringing forgiveness, making you free.
Take it and drink it, and when you do,
Do it in love for me.
Do it in love for me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 20, 2018: “Judas”

Judas

When unbelievers tell the Jesus story they are drawn to the character of Judas.
Actors would much rather portray the character of Judas than that of Jesus. Who knows how to play the Son of God? Every competent actor knows how to play Judas—he is much more like us. In some unbelieving films, Judas is the only sane one in the bunch, perhaps even the real hero.

He was one of the Twelve.
For believers, Judas is an anomaly, the exception to the rule, an enigmatic figure of unknown motivations and mysterious behavior, from his betrayal of Jesus to his suicide. What can we learn from the story of Judas?

Mark, as is his custom, is sparse with details. In two verses he introduces this man of the Twelve who would play such a pivotal role in the redemption story. Perhaps the most important thing to note is the clear statement that Judas was one of the Twelve. He was a member in full standing. Some say he was the treasurer of the group. When Jesus sent the men out to minister in His name in small teams, Judas was on one of the teams. He healed the sick and drove out demons in Jesus’ name just as did the others. Judas saw the bits of food multiply in his hands as he fed the multitude on two different occasions. He heard the teachings of Jesus. No doubt he participated in the discussions of the meanings of those teachings. He was standing close by when Jesus did all the marvelous things He did. He was an eyewitness to the mastery of Jesus over the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and priests and to his tenderness with those who came to Him in faith. He, along with the other eleven, experienced Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Judas and the Chief Priests
What was Judas thinking? No one knows although many have speculated. Mark gives us no clue, Judas

“…went to the chief priests to betray Him to them.”

Mark gives no motivation for Judas’ actions and there is little to be gained from speculating on this. We must be content at this point with Mark’s report. We can note the irony of pleasing the enemies of Christ and grieving the Lord Himself.

What can we learn from Judas?
Starting is one thing while finishing is another. Judas probably obtained a position of leadership among the Twelve since he was treasurer of the ministry. Are we capable of answering the call of the Lord on our lives and then turning on Him at the end? While this is unthinkable and impossible it seems, this is what happened to Judas. How sad the report of the Evangelist,

And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money.

Judas responded to their joy by seeking some moment when He could betray the Lord “conveniently.” Whatever his motive, Judas did what he did. It brings sadness to us now to consider it, sadness and a warning.

Scriptures:
Mark 14: 10-11
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to always be faithful to You. The kiss of my worship will always be one of love and never one of betrayal. I cannot imagine the deeds of Judas but I know that only You know what was in his heart. You also know the contents of my heart, even the deep things and the hidden things I don’t even know about myself. O Refiner’s Fire and Launderer’s Soap, cleanse my heart from any dark thing lurking there that would ever cause me to betray You. O Lord, Cleanse me! Amen.

Song:
Silver and Gold
Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

Here is the money you paid for my kiss.
I must have been out of my mind.
See I have sold you an innocent man
And you knew it all of the time.

Silver and gold I gained in exchange for my soul.
Silver and gold I gained in exchange for my soul.

The devil came in through the door of my greed
And swept through my head like a flood.
He told me that riches were better than love
And filled up my pockets with blood.

Silver and gold I gained in exchange for my soul.
Silver and gold I gained in exchange for my soul.

Forever the blame. Forever the shame.
Judas! Judas is my name!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 19, 2018: “Bethany”

Bethany

We must minister to the Lord if we are to minister to the world.
After the rigorous events in Temple and teachings He gave the men, Jesus was tired. He retreated to one of the few places on earth where He was made welcome, Bethany, the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Most of what we know about these sisters and their brother comes from other accounts so we will not treat them here. This particular dinner was at the home of a former leper names Simon. It is likely that Martha and Mary helped Simon put the dinner together. Lepers were not known for social graces.

A Plot Brews in Jerusalem.
The defeated leaders of the people in Jerusalem were hatching another plot against Jesus. He was not concerned. He was beyond their trickery. As they were about to proceed, the brightest among them realized that it was near the time of the Passover, not a good time for a political ploy. They decided to wait for a more opportune time.

A Celebration of Joy
It is easy to imagine that this dinner at the home of Simon, a former leper, was a joyous celebration. Add to the healing of Simon the celebration of the resurrection of Lazarus and you have the makings for quite a party. Martha hurried here and there in the unfamiliar, dreadfully ill-equipped kitchen working her hospitality magic just as if she were home in her own well-designed kitchen.

Mary was there, too, in her customary place at the feet of Jesus. She had prepared for this scene by secretly bringing a gift for Jesus, her most valued possession, a flask of expensive ointment. She was oblivious to the noise of laughter and of fellowship. Her focus was on Jesus. She was waiting for the right moment—not a moment for others, but a moment just for her and Her Lord.

The Alabaster Flask
The moment came and she knew it. There was no change in the room as she removed the flask from her loose clothing. No one noticed as she broke its seal. When she started to release its contents into her hands and then on to Jesus’ head, the aroma of the ointment filled the house. Silence stole over the room as Jesus smiled at her with tears in His soft eyes. He knew what she was doing.

The Twelve did not smile. This was a waste of a valuable commodity. Someone, Judas probably, did the math and announced what a blessing this could have been to the poor.

Jesus did not agree.

“Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me.”

He reminded them—again—that these days were of a special season. The poor will always be available but these moments will not come again.

“She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.”

The party mood was gone now. Jesus had one more thing to say as the heavy fragrance hung in the air. It was about the preaching they were going to do.

“…wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

From that moment, worship and preaching the Gospel have been linked. Each needs the other.

We must minister to the Lord if we are to minister to the world.

Scriptures
Mark 14:1-11
After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.” And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there are moments to be seized in this life; do not let me miss them. Mary worshiped You without regard for the opinions of others. Let me learn to do that! She ministered to You with the best gift she had. Let me learn that lesson, too. I will not offer to You a praise that costs me nothing. Holy Spirit, show me how to focus on Jesus as I worship. I want to sense deep in my spirit the same commendation that You gave Mary. “You have done a beautiful thing to me.” Lord, help me, as she did, to do what I can! Amen and amen.

Song:
Broken and Spilled Out
Words: Gloria Gaither: Music: Bill George

1. One day a plain village woman
Driven by love for her Lord
Recklessly poured out a valuable essence
Disregarding the scorn
And once it was broken and spilled out
A fragrance filled all the room
Like a pris’ner released from his shackles
Like a spirit set free from the tomb

Refrain 1:
Broken and spilled out Just for love of you Jesus
My most precious treasure Lavished on Thee
Broken and spilled out And poured at Your feet
In sweet abandon Let me be spilled out
And used up for Thee

2. Lord You were God’s precious treasure
His loved and His own perfect Son
Sent here to show me
The love of the Father
Just for love it was done
And though You were perfect and holy
You gave up Yourself willingly
You spared no expense for my pardon
You were used up and wasted for me

Refrain 2:
Broken and spilled out Just for love of me Jesus
God’s most precious treasure Lavished on me
You were broken and spilled out And poured at my feet
In sweet abandon Lord You were spilled out and used up for Me

In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out
And used up for Thee

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 18, 2018: “Seasons”

Seasons

Many times natural phenomenon, like the changing of the seasons, point toward supernatural things.
The sun had almost disappeared behind the hills surrounding Jerusalem as Jesus told the Twelve about the things that were to come. Could they also see the sun setting on an old Covenant? Could they see a terrible night of suffering just ahead for Jesus and for them? Is it possible that they could have foreseen the dawning of a New Covenant of presence and power? We can be sure they did not see these things. All they saw was the ending of another day.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree
Somewhere on the approach to Jerusalem a withered fig tree gave silent warning of the endtimes. Jesus had sought figs from it out of season and, finding only leaves, He cursed it and it obediently died. The fig tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel. Jesus had come to them in a green season, expecting fruit and receiving none, He spoke of their destruction. Now, He took the lesson deeper.

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree…”

This was an agrarian society, one engaged with the seasons. The men knew what He was talking about. Now was the time of their visitation! If they reject Jesus in these favorable days, what will they do when the stones of the Temple start to fall?

“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”

Each of the men looked at Jesus and then at each other. “This generation!”—Them! He was talking about them! This was no parable; this was about to happen—to them! None of them wanted to believe it but how could they doubt the words of Jesus?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

If He said it would happen; it would happen.

“Take heed, watch and pray.”
No one knows the day or the hour, but we can detect the season. Like the natural cycles of the earth, seasons of war and peace will come and go. People see these things but cannot know when the end will come. The solution is to be ready at all times. Jesus said that we who follow Him are like caretakers in His House with specific work to do—do it! Do it with all your might. Do it faithfully for you never know when the Owner will return.

Jesus was talking about them and the destruction of the Temple in their lifetimes and He is talking about us and the endtimes. There are three things for us to do:

  1. Take heed—keep our eyes open on current events so we can understand.
  2. Watch—be sensitive to the leadership of the Spirit.
  3. Pray—pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the Promised Outpouring of the Spirit. Pray this prayer: “Even so, Come Lord Jesus!”

As we shiver through another winter, rejoice in another spring, swelter through another summer and find our jackets to ward off the winds of another fall, may these seasons speak to us of these last days.

Many times natural phenomenon, like the changing of the seasons, point toward supernatural things.

Scriptures:
Mark 13: 28-37
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near — at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming — in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning —lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I know You are coming soon! I want to be ready when You come. I want You to find me working at my assignment in Your great House. Help me take heed, watch, and pray for that day! I know that Your Word is sure and will never pass away. I recognize that in my generation Israel was restored to nationhood. If this is what You meant by the generation when all is fulfilled, help me be ready! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Signs Are Everywhere
Words and Music: Mrs. F.W. Suffield

1. The King is coming in glory to catch His bride away.
It may be in the morning. It may be at midday,
At the even at midnight; the trump will sound so clear;
The dead in Christ, and we that live, His voice shall hear.

Refrain:
The King is coming, hallelujah! He’s coming in the air,
The fig tree is budding, the signs are everywhere.
The saints are looking ever upward while journeying on their way.
He’s coming, hallelujah! To catch His bride away.

2. Behold He cometh and leaping and skipping o’er the hills;
Like the young roe, like the young hart, My soul with rapture thrills;
Through the window He’s looking, through the lattice work is seen,
The winter’s past, the rain is o’er, the figs are green.

Refrain

3. The King is coming, “Be ready,” to meet Him on that day;
With your heart right, with your robes white, and in this holy way;
Like the light’ning that flashes in the twinkling of an eye,
Our Lord shall come to claim His own, He’s drawing nigh.

Refrain.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved