January 26 “Greatest”

Greatest

Sometimes it seems all of life is a contest to determine who or what is the Greatest.
Jesus passed through Galilee in secret on His way to Capernaum. He explained this clandestine approach to the Twelve: a plot was forming against Him led by someone who wanted to betray Him. He told them the time would come for this but it was not then and not there. The men could not understand this at all. A dispute rose up among them concerning what Jesus meant. He assured them that when it eventually did happen that it would not be the end. He would rise on the third day.

Jesus in the Lead
Jesus walked ahead of the group, leading the way south. A group in the rear, safely out of earshot from Jesus, shifted the topic to a more pleasant one—who among them would be the greatest and take the lead in the new Kingdom. Knowing this, Jesus brought the subject out into the open.

“What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”

It was useless to answer Him so they didn’t. Jesus stopped and found a place to sit by the road. Sheepishly the men gathered around for another lesson in leadership.

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

No long lecture. No puzzling parables. Just one simple hypothesis with no elaborate proofs offered in evidence.

A New Kingdom
The Kingdom of Heaven would be the direct opposite of the Kingdoms of men. Instead of leaders having servants, servants will lead! Power, which so often corrupts, will be seen as responsibility, which often leads to integrity. Humility will replace pride as the ruling sentiment. How could He illustrate this fundamental for them?

At that moment a family with children walked by the roadside classroom. Politely, Jesus asked the parents of a small child if He could hold the child. Perhaps they knew who He was, but at least they sensed He could be trusted.

Quickly, Jesus made a friend of the child bringing joy into all those who witnessed this object lesson. He looked at the crowd and with a big smile said this.

“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me;
and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Childlike faith will be the standard of the Kingdom to come. The least will be the greatest and the greatest will be the smiling servants of all. What a glorious Kingdom it will be!

He lifted the child and handed him/her back to the parents. They thanked Him as if He had blessed them with a valuable gift. Indeed, He had! The family went on their way as did Jesus and the Twelve. This time there was no dispute, in fact, no conversation at all. Nothing needed to be said but everything that had been said required deep thought.

Scriptures:
Mark 9:30-37
Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it. For He taught His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day.” But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the greatest of all! Help me know that to strive to be the greatest in Your Kingdom is the opposite of my natural instincts. To be first with You is to take the lowest place. To lead is to serve. Help me welcome responsibility while I shun power. Lord, make me to become like You. You emptied Yourself of heavenly majesty to become a person of low estate. Help me have that same mind in me. All for Your glory, Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Greatest Thing in All My Life
Words and Music: Mark Pendegrass

1. The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You
I want to know You more
I want to know You more
The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You

2. The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You
I want to love You more
I want to love You more
The greatest thing in all my life is loving You

3. The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You
I want to serve You more
I want to serve You more
The greatest thing in all my life is serving You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 25 “Believe!”

Believe!

Jesus said a remarkable thing—all things are possible to him who believes!
A mixed crowd gathered around the disciples. Many people believed in Jesus but the religious officials—scribes, experts in the Law—did not believe. In fact they disputed all the evidence in front of them. Perhaps they were hiding something.

A Desperate Father
When some in the crowd saw Jesus approaching they ran to meet Him, greeting Him warmly, much to the displeasure of the scribes. Jesus looked at the scribes:

“What are you discussing with them?”

Perhaps He was ready for the Twelve to go it alone with the enemy. Someone in the crowd answered, the man at the center of the dispute. He told Jesus that he had brought his son to be healed and delivered from satanic possession. The last thing the scribes needed was demonstration of the power of Jesus in their presence.

It was an extreme case. The boy was mute. The spirit within him was known to seize him and throw him to the ground foaming at the mouth, his teeth gnashing as his body grew rigid. We can only imagine the hell this was for this home. First, the boy’s father had taken his son to the disciples who were said to share in the power of Jesus but they were of no help. The scribes had seized upon this as evidence that Jesus and the Twelve had no real power at all.

Bring him to Me.
Jesus expressed His disappointment at the failure of the disciples and the faithlessness of the whole generation. It seemed He could command demons and diseases but not people’s hearts.

“Bring him to Me.”

When the boy approached Jesus, the spirit within him convulsed, throwing the boy to the ground where he wallowed with foam glistening at his lips. A sense of evil spread through the crowd like a deadly mist. Had Jesus, like the Twelve, met His match?

“How long has this been happening to him?”

The father’s answer was discouraging. Since childhood this happened regularly and he had even been cast into fires and deep waters. The man refused discouragement.

“…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus answered him this way,

“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

The boy’s father’s answer has become the text of many sermons,

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

That was all Jesus needed. He commanded the demon to depart and it did with a cry, convulsing the boy one last time. The boy collapsed as if dead. Jesus took his hand and he rose up healed and delivered.

This Kind
Later when the disciples got of the nerve to ask why Jesus had succeeded when they had failed, he told them.

“This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Hell has no defense against those who pray and fast and believe!

Scriptures:
Mark 9:14-29
And when He came to the disciples, He saw a great multitude around them, and scribes disputing with them. Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him. And He asked the scribes, “What are you discussing with them?” Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have all power. Help me to believe. Where unbelief lingers in my heart, root it out. I need to move in the realm of Your almightiness so help my unbelief. I will take Your holy name as a shield and Your holy Word a mighty sword. When temptation comes my way help me resist in Your Power. When hell opposes the work You have given me to do, I will call on Your name and proceed. Lord, I believe! 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.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 24 “Glimpse”

Glimpse

Glory—the full weight of the magnificence of God—is so powerful, just a glimpse of it will change a life.
Jesus sensed in His spirit that the Father wanted to take the disciples deeper. He told the men that some of them would not taste death until they had seen the Kingdom of God coming in power. Six days later, it began to happen for three of them.

Every day with Jesus was unpredictable. It was at once the greatest adventure of their lives and the greatest mystery they could imagine. Jesus’ words about some of them living to see the Kingdom come were thrilling and frightening all at once. Would this be the day? This question rose in their minds with every sunrise.

Transfiguration
Shortly after one of these hopeful sunrises, Jesus selected Peter, James and John to go with Him up a high mountain. It was His practice to pray in such places, so it is likely that the three men thought this was the purpose of the climb. To their profound surprise there was another purpose—a revelation of the Glory of the Man they were following.

In the clear morning sunlight a greater light appeared, not from the sky but from Jesus Himself. His clothes glowed white, whiter than any white the men had ever seen. The light emanated from Jesus and soon lit the whole mountaintop with beams of glory. Out of the beams of light stepped two figures, similarly clothed in garments made white but of lesser magnitude than the robes Jesus wore. Without being told, Peter, James, and John knew who these two men were:

  • Elijah, representing the prophets of old, and,
  • Moses, representing the Covenantal Law of God.

These two beings of light were alive and well and were deep in conversation with Jesus. They were talking like old friends at a reunion.

Tabernacles
Fear seized Peter, James, and John. The language the other three were speaking was unknown to them but the holiness of the meeting was clearly understood. They could add nothing to the communion enjoyed by Jesus, Moses, and Elijah but each of the disciples wanted to join in somehow. Eventually Peter timidly offered a suggestion—they should memorialize this moment with booths to each of these heavenly figures.

The Voice
As if in response to Peter’s idea, a voice like thunder sounded in a language they could not misunderstand,

“This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

They fell face forward to the ground—the shining light, the three mystical beings, and the booming voice—were all too much for them. In the silence that followed, each regained the courage to open his eyes and regain his feet. The light was gone. The voice that echoed from the hills  sounded no more. Only Jesus stood before them. He took them back down the mountain commanding them to keep the glory they had experienced to themselves for now. When He rose from the dead, they would understand.

A Question
One of them ask what was meant when the Scriptures said that Elijah must come before the Messiah. Jesus made it clear that John the Baptizer came in the power of Elijah, fulfilling his ministry.

A Glimpse of Glory
The three of the Twelve who witnessed the Transfiguration did indeed see the Glory of the Lord Jesus before their deaths. This glimpse of Glory was a foretaste of their witness to the resurrected Christ and, for John, to his witness of heaven recording in the Revelation. We are invited to behold His glory in worship and we do we also, are changed!

Scriptures:
Mark 9: 1-13
And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves. Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant. And they asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Then He answered and told them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.”
2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, give me a new vision of Your glory. Reveal Your glory to me at my private altar and in my public worship. Let me see as Isaiah did the majesty of Your Throne. May the revelation of Your glory shake the foundations of my life as worship did the doorpost of heaven in Isaiah’s vision. Take a coal of fire from the altar before You and touch my lips with it. Help me hear the Father’s voice—“This is my beloved Son!” Let me hear Your voice, “Who will go for me?” I will go. I am going!–in the power of the revelation of who You are now, resurrected, enthroned in Heaven and in my heart, and soon to return. O, the Glory of Your Presence! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Oh, the Glory of Your Presence
Words and Music: Steve Frye

Refrain:
O, the glory of Your presence.
We, Your Temple, give You reverence.
Come and rise to Your rest and be blest by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace.
As Your presence now fills this place.

Verse:
Jesus, all glorious, create in us a Temple
Called as living stones where You’re enthroned.
As You rose from death in power
So rise within our worship.
Rise upon our praise
And let the hand that saw You raised
Clothe us in Your glory,
Draw us by Your grace.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 23 “Denial”

Denial

Just as we are called to confess Christ, we are also called to deny ourselves to follow Him.
The crowds were huge. The miracles were many. His fame had spread beyond Galilee to Jerusalem. Pilgrims seeking God were coming to Galilee rather than traveling to the Temple. When they came to Jesus they saw the power of God at work, undeniable miracles, signs, and wonders. In Jerusalem they saw politics as usual dressed in the finery of hypocrisy. They were tired of mumbling rabbis so they came to Jesus to hear the Word of God proclaimed in power and authority.

A Change of Subject
Jesus knew it was time to take His teaching deeper. Yes, He had come to touch and heal a hurting humanity but He had also come to die a redeeming death. Yes, He was the Word of God made flesh, but He was also the Sin Bearer prophesied by Isaiah. This hard message must be delivered. If not, His death would be seen as tragedy rather than triumph.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…

His disciples were not ready for this class. Peter took Jesus aside and tried to get Him back on topic. Jesus’ rebuke was sharp:

“Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter’s face burned red and none of the others dared even to look at him for they knew they were just as guilty.

The Things of God
It is not surprising that men would be primarily concerned about “the things of men:” food, clothing, shelter, power, position, wealth, influence. The surprising thing was that their eyes could be elevated to a higher vision, their passions could flow to others and not to self only, and that their minds could conceive of eternal truth, not just matters of the here and now. Yet, this surprising transformation in men was precisely what Jesus had come to bring about. He called all the people nearer, including his embarrassed disciples, and taught them this new and very ancient truth. To follow Him, there would be a heavy cost.

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Jesus turned life upside down. Personal success was found in self-denial. To lose one’s life in Jesus was to find it. If someone gained the whole world there would be no profit in it if he lost his own soul in the process.

Crosses
For the first time Jesus spoke of His cross. An implement of death, it provides eternal life for all who believe. He spoke of other crosses, one for each person who would follow Him. Although demanding the denial of self, this cross would be a thing of life—a life’s work we do for Him. If we would follow Him, we must deny ourselves, find our cross—God’s will for us—and do it.

This is the life we were created to live. We dare not bargain it away on “the things of men.”

“…what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Scriptures:
Mark 8:31-38
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for taking up Your cross, for denying Your humanity and submitting to the plan of the Father for Your earthly life. It was not plan B. It was so for the beginning, that You would create human life, see it fall into sin, and then enter it through the virgin’s womb, live it to perfection and then die unworthily for those of us so worthy of death. Your cross, an instrument of torture, has become an implement of life. Help me today to be faithful in bearing my cross—Your plan for me—that I might bring someone closer to You. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Take Up Thy Cross and Follow Me
Words and Music: Alfred H. Ackley

1. I walked one day along a country road,
And there a stranger journeyed too,
Bent low beneath the burden of His load:
It was a cross, a cross I knew.

Refrain:
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,”
I hear the blessed Savior call;
How can I make a lesser sacrifice,
When Jesus gave His all?

2. I cried, “Lord Jesus,” and He spoke my name;
I saw His hands all bruised and torn;
I stooped to kiss away the marks of shame,
The shame for me that He had borne.

Refrain

3. “Oh, let me bear Thy cross, dear Lord,” I cried,
And, lo, a cross for me appeared,
The one, forgotten, I had cast aside,
The one, so long, that I had feared.

Refrain

4. My cross I’ll carry till the crown appears—
The way I journey soon will end—
Where God Himself shall wipe away all tears,
And friend hold fellowship with friend.
Refrain

<em>Semper Reformanda!</em>
<em>Stephen Phifer</em>
</div>
<em> © 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved</em>

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 22 “Confession”

Confession

Words have power. When they are spoken that power is called into action.
Jesus grew up confessing the psalms. It was part of the training of every boy in Nazareth. Since He was—Jesus!—we can be sure that He had a deeper understanding than others of these normal processes. The Holy Spirit inside of Him told Him things, gave Him a perspective on normal events and practices that others could not see. Thus, when as a young man, He began this teaching and miracle tour of the regions around Galilee, He had lots to say, many observations to share and many parables and metaphors to employ. Among these was the power of confession.

Jesus knew that beliefs privately held possessed an innate power and when those beliefs were publicly spoken, that innate power externalized; it entered into life itself. The crowds coming to Him were enormous and they did not depart from Him disappointed. He knew there would be many theories as to who He was. If the general confession was that He was Messiah, it could bring about the end too soon. Perhaps for this reason He implored those who benefitted from His healing, delivering touch to remain quiet about it. It was a hopeless cause, of course. Who, once blind but now seeing, could not confess it? What deaf person now hearing, lame person now walking, dead person now alive, could refrain from telling people about Jesus? What sane person, once possessed by emissaries from hell, now clothed and in his right mind could keep from telling people how it happened as by whose hand?

Bethsaida
So they came to a fishing village called Bethsaida. A blind man was led to Jesus by friends. He and his friends begged Jesus to touch him. Jesus did some strange things:

  • He took the man by the hand and led him out of town.
  • He spat in the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him.
  • He interviewed the man. He asked if he could see anything.

“I see men like trees, walking.”

The job wasn’t finished. The man’s true confession revealed that there was more healing needed. Jesus touched his eyes again and made the man look up, beyond the level of men or trees. The blind man’s vision was completely restored. Then Jesus sent him home, commanding him not to confess his miracle to the town. He left the outskirts of the village and made his way unassisted home avoiding the townspeople.

Caesarea Philippi
By foot Jesus and the Twelve went north to Caesarea Philippi on the slopes of Mount Hermon, the northernmost point of Jesus’ ministry. On the road, Jesus asked His disciples about the various confessions of His identity. As they discussed various ideas expressed by the wondering crowds, Jesus asked them personally who they were confessing Him to be. Peter’s answer continues to ring all these centuries later.

“You are the Christ.”

It was too soon for this explosive confession, so Jesus asked them to keep this to themselves for a little while.

Confessing Christ
It is great to believe in Jesus, but we must confess Him publicly. When we do this with repentance, we become a follower of Him. When we do this every day we are a witness to Him. The innate power of our believe goes out into the world with our confession and someone’s life gets changed.

Scriptures
Mark 8:22-30
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.

Prayer:
Confession of Faith

The Apostles’ Creed
From the Book of Common Payer
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Song:
Because We Believe
Words and Music: Don Moen

1. We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Christ the Son.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
We are the Church and we stand as one.

2. We believe in the Holy Bible.
We believe in the virgin birth.
We believe in the resurrection
That Christ one day will return to earth

Refrain:
Holy, holy, holy is our God!
Worthy, worthy, worthy is our King!
All glory and honor are His to receive.
To Jesus we sing because we believe.

3. We believe in the blood of Jesus.
We believe in eternal life.
We believe in His love that frees us
To become the bride of Christ.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 21 “Hard-hearted”

Hard-hearted

Following Jesus was many things—exciting, amazing, fun, even—but easy it was not.
The Twelve were normal people following an extraordinary man. They were physical and emotional and Jesus was spiritual. Beyond all the miracles, Jesus wanted to teach them higher truths and deeper concepts. This was long before Calvary, so their hearts were not made new. It was years before Pentecost so they did not have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Like the disciples that night in the middle of the lake, Jesus was paddling against a strong wind.

Back across the Galilee
After another miraculous meal, Jesus and the disciples boarded the boat and headed across the water again. Whichever disciple was assigned to take provisions failed in his mission and they had no bread to eat on the boat. It must be that the dispersed crowd claimed the seven baskets of leftovers but the fact remained they were in a boat with nothing to eat.

The Leaven of the Pharisees
Unconcerned with provisions, Jesus wanted to take the men deeper into the truths before them. Bread was a metaphor as was the ingredient in bread that made it rise in the baking process. Jesus wanted His men to see that there was a corrupting factor beneath the behavior of the Pharisees.

“Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

With empty faces the disciples looked at each other. They didn’t get it. They thought He was complaining that they had nothing to eat on board. You can hear the frustration in Jesus’ response.

“Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?
And do you not remember?

He shook His head and started over.

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

They knew this answer and the next one about the four thousand. They still didn’t get it

“How is it you do not understand?”

Us, too.
Before we come down too hard on these hard-hearted disciples, we need to take a look at our own hearts. We can be just as hard-headed and hard-hearted as the Twelve. How soon do we forget the faithfulness of God yesterday and begin to doubt His promises today? Truly we are without excuse. We are living under the New Covenant! Our sins were washed away when we repented of them and asked Jesus to be our Lord. The Disciples would not experience this until the resurrection. We have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit within us to teach us and empower us. They would not experience this until the Day of Pentecost. When our hearts are hard, we are without excuse. If we keep having to learn the same lesson over and over, perhaps we should ask the Lord to soften our hearts.

Scriptures:
Mark 8: 13-21
And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart. still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, soften my heart! Give me a teachable spirit. Help me remember Your faithfulness in the past as I face the challenges of this day. Help me hear what the Spirit is saying to me. Train me thoroughly in Your Word by principle and directive. Help me act in faith upon this base of knowledge in the questions I must answer today. Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart. Empower my life so that I might walk the Path of Life in Victory! Amen and amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. C. Milan

1. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

January 20 “Signs”

Signs

What is it about people who witness the hand of God at work right in front of them who still ask for a sign?
For three days the multitude followed Jesus. They were so fascinated with Him they forgot about eating. So many of them, or their friends, were so desperate for His touch they paid no attention to the passing of time or their distance from home. Their portable supplies were long gone but they seem to have had no desire to break off their pursuit of Jesus. They had heard about the 5000 men and their miraculous meal at the hands of Jesus. Why go home? It could happen again.

4000 This Time
When Jesus expressed compassion for the people, His disciples seemed to have forgotten about the feeding of the 5000+.

“How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”

Jesus must have sighed at this question. So he started the who process over again.

“How many loaves do you have?”

“Seven,” was the bleak answer. Jesus commanded the preparations, again. He took the bread and fish in His hands, again. He blessed it, again. He gave it to the men and they in turn set it before the people. Again, the blest food supply would not deplete. It multiplied, again. They people got their wish and ate their fill. Jesus sent them away, healed, delivered, informed, inspired and with their bellies full for the journey home.

Back in the Boat

He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples,
and came to the region of Dalmanutha.

When they arrived the Rules People were waiting for them. They argued with Him and asked Him for a sign. Two miraculous meals to two vast multitudes, countless physical healings and emotional releases, and a host of previously possessed people now clothed in their right minds were not enough for the Rules People; they wanted a sign. What, beyond these amazing signs, could possibly serve these hard-hearted, hard-headed people?

When the mind is made up, signs don’t matter.
It is the same today. Signs of the validity of the Christian Life are everywhere:

  • Lives transformed when people repent of sins and confess Christ as Savior,
  • Sicknesses healed when the prayer of faith is prayed and anointing is made,
  • Powers of Hell broken in the Name of Jesus,
  • Wickedness in men’s hearts replaced by righteousness, and,
  • Communities transformed by Spirit-led revival.

And still people need a sign.

There is a sign—two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross—a sign that changes worlds and hearts. See this sign and know that God is loving. See this sign and know that God is just. See this sign and believe that there is hope for you.

Scriptures:
Mark 8:1-12
In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha. Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the only sign I need from You is the cross. It tells me everything I need to know. It shows me everything I need to see. It points me in the way, the only way, I should go. This symbol of guilt and execution is now more than a symbol; it is a means of forgiveness and pardon. I see my guilt in the cross and I see Your innocent blood flowing down to cover my guilt and wash it away. I see my victory in the power of the cross for there is no other power to save and deliver me. Thank You, Lord, for the one sign I need—The Cross! Amen.

Song:
The Old Rugged Cross
Words and Music: George Bennard

1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.

2. O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.

Refrain

3. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.

Refrain

4. To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then he’ll call me some day to my home far away,
where his glory forever I’ll share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

January 19 “Well-done”

Well-done

With Jesus there were no half-measures. When He did something, it was something well-done.
Jesus and His team journeyed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He sought refuge from the crowd in a private residence and it was one of the few things at which He failed. Somehow a Greek woman found Him there. We are not told if she had converted to Judaism or remained a pagan but she sought Jesus and found Him. Her daughter was demon possessed. Whatever this meant to a person of polytheistic beliefs, to her it was certain that an evil presence had invaded her home and captured her daughter. She must have heard of this man who had power over such evil. Her single mission was to find Jesus and bring the case of her daughter before Him.

A Social Barrier
She entered the house, found Jesus and fell at His feet. She told Him about her daughter and asked Jesus to cast the demon out. She knew she was crossing a societal barrier—Jews did not mix with Greeks. In this context, Jesus spoke within this prejudicial system although He knew that His Kingdom would eventually break such barriers.

“Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread
and throw it to the little dogs.”

She was not deterred by this rebuff. Prejudiced or not, this man had the power required to rescue the woman’s daughter. Again, speaking within the societal conventions, she persisted; her faith would not let her be turned away.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus was so impressed with her faith, He sent the demons away without ever leaving the house. This was an exorcism well-done even by remote control.

Making Mud
His ministry tour of Galilee led them to Decapolis where a man who was deaf and speechless was brought to Him, his friends begging Jesus to intervene. Jesus took the man aside to deal with him. Before He touched the man’s ears and tongue He spat on the ground and made mud. He spoke to the afflicted man, saying,

“Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Immediately the man heard and spoke clearly. Jesus told them to keep this to themselves but of course they did not. Their astonishment would not permit silence. Their testimony is classic:

“He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

What was the purpose of making mud to perform this miracle? The action is not explained in the text. It can be seen as an act of incarnation, Heaven’s power flowed through earthly substance when touched by the divine. This partnership of the divine with the human is an amazing characteristic of ministry well-done. With Jesus there were no half-measures. When He did something, it was something well-done.

Scriptures:
Mark 7:24-37
From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.” Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed. Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You do all things well. When I turn to You, You always turn to me. When I call on You, You answer me. I can count on Your covenantal promises to me. You will never leave me or forsake me. Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. My life is in Your capable hands. You send Your angels to stand guard over my life today. You have hemmed me in behind and before and laid Your hand upon me. Yes Lord, You do all things well. Amen.

Song:
God Is So Good
Traditional

God is so good. God is so good.
God is so good, He’s so good to me.

God answers prayer. God answers prayer.
God answers prayer, He’s so good to me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

For more on Making Mud as a metaphor for ministry, read:

https://stevephifer.com/making-mud-a-metaphor-for-ministry/

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

January 18 “Hearts”

Hearts

While the physical heart remains unseen, the emotional heart cannot be hidden for long.
The news about Jesus reached south to Jerusalem. A squad of higher ranking Rules People came to Galilee to investigate Jesus. The Galileans were impressed. They saw the extravagant display of finery in their appearance, the regalia of power in the religious leaders and the army of servants it took to care for such important men. Jesus saw their hearts. There was no finery there, only rags of self-righteousness. Their hearts wore no robes of power; they were naked with ambition. The hearts of these men were not attended to by servants, they were themselves slaves to Satan.

What the Rules People Saw
It didn’t take long for the Rules People to catch the disciples in an infraction of their law—they were actually eating bread without washing their hands! Horror of horrors! Such wickedness!

“Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders,
but eat bread with unwashed hands?”

Jesus did not take the bait. He cut straight, shall we say, to the heart of the matter. These hypocritical power people were not concerned with health and safety—their concern was power. They were of the ruling class and their rules kept them in power over the ordinary people. They were not happy about a new level of health in the community because so many people had been healed. They were not impressed that the power of evil had been dealt a heavy blow and there suddenly was a shortage of demons in people. They were upset that here were men they could not control. Jesus and the twelve threatened their power structure.

He called them Out.
He quoted the prophet Isaiah speaking for God Himself:

‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.”

He accused them of setting aside the commands of God and replacing them with their own rules. Their hearts were far from God—their actions proved it. In detail He pointed out their guilt. Far from unwashed hands holding bread, their tainted hearts spoiled everything they did “in the name of God.”

He called the multitude together and publicly shamed the Rules People. He explained the truth to everyone. Wickedness is in us all. It is folly to blame it on some outside force. What comes out of the heart defiles us!

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Later, in a nearby Home.
Away from the crowd Jesus explained things more deeply to the disciples. The truth was illustrated in the normal process of eating food. But when the evil that is in the heart erupts to the surface it is clearly seen by all. What lies hidden in the heart? He gave them a terrifying list beginning with evil thoughts and finishing with crimes, pride, and foolishness.

Do we have ears to hear? Unlike that Galilean crowd, we live in a day when the evil abiding in our hearts can be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We are on the right side of Calvary. When we give our hearts to Jesus, He moves in to take up residence. The evil has to go. And it does! From our newly repaired hearts come praise and obedience and blessing to others.

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Scriptures:
Mark 7:1-10:1
Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ‘For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban” — ‘ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You know my heart! You live their because I have repented of my sins and asked You to move in. Keep my heart clean, Lord. Let no wicked thoughts abide there. Let no selfish ambition take root. Give me a heart for You and for the people I meet today. Holy Spirit, fill my heart with the Word of God so that I might not sin against God. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the deeds of my life be acceptable in Your sight O Lord, my Redeemer! Amen.

Song:
Search Me, O God
Words: J. Edwin Orr; Music: Maori Melody

1. Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

2. I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

3. Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

4. O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 17 “Winds”

Winds

Jesus commanded the winds and they obeyed. The hearts of men were a different matter.
That boat really came in handy. At Jesus’ command, the disciples took the boat toward another town on the other side, Bethsaida. Then Jesus sent the multitude away—happy I’m sure. When all the good-byes were finished, Jesus climbed a nearby mountain to be alone with the Father to pray.

Along about evening, the disciples were still only half way across the lake because the winds were against them. He saw His men struggling against the wind and the heavy seas. This went on for several hours. In the middle of the night, Jesus went to help them—walking on the tumultuous waters. The waves never shook Him. The winds never disturbed His balance. It was like a pleasant walk on the beach rather than on the surface of a raging sea.

Frightened Sailors
After hours of rowing against the wind and getting nowhere the exhausted disciples were losing all the faith they had gained on the ministry tour. It seems yesterday’s victories did little for the crisis that night. Some of them were rowing, others were bailing out the onboard water, while others were draped over the side losing what was left of the loaves and the fishes. All they needed was a ghost walking up to them on the top of the unforgiving waves. That was what they thought Jesus was—a ghost! Fear of more than a capsized boat now added to their misery. Sensing their fear, Jesus called to them:

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

When they helped Him into the boat, the winds calmed down to normal. In a little while, the waves followed suit.

Hard Hearts
The men looked at Jesus as if they were seeing Him for the first time. Who was He? How did He do these things? Why had He chosen them? Sheepish looks passed from man to man while no one wanted to look Jesus in the eyes. When each of them worked up the nerve to look at Him, Jesus was smiling. He knew their hearts had a long way to go. He knew that one day the Holy Spirit would reside in their hearts as He did in His own. He knew that the inward ministry of the Spirit, not the outward work of the ministry, was the change agent. Power over demons and sickness, even food multiplying in their hands, did not prepare them for the storm. Their time was coming and coming soon, but first must come the cross.

The Land of Gennesaret
By sunrise they landed in the land of Gennesaret—so much for a night of rest—and the crowds were even bigger at the landing and the healing winds were blowing in force. Wherever they went in towns of all sizes people pressed Him seeking just to touch the hem of His garment.

“And as many as touched Him were made well.”

Scriptures:
Mark 6:45-56
Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is healing in Your touch. Help me to never forget the answers to yesterday’s prayers in the midst of today’s challenge. Every day Your promises are true. You will not leave me alone in the storm; You will come to me in my distress. If my heart has hardened in recent days, soften it, O Holy Spirit. Let the restoring winds of Your spirit brace my faith. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh 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 oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh 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.