June 8 “Prepare!”

Prepare!

Major events require intense preparation. That was the job of John the Baptist.
Dr. Luke sets the Jesus story in a historical context, one that was familiar to his first-century readers. He gives the details down to the exact year when all the preparations of childhood and youth ended for John and Jesus.

John the Baptist
While the high priests Annas and Caiaphas carried on business as usual at the Temple in Jerusalem, John received a word from the Lord in the wilderness. The contrast between the high priests and John could not have been more stark:

  • Regal robes, the finery of power compared with camel’s hair;
  • Solemn, well-rehearsed prayers echoing from marble walls rather than the ruined voice of single man reverberating from canyon walls;
  • A bland call to normalcy and un-rocked boats instead of an impassioned plea for repentance of sins and spiritual revolution; and
  • Worn out lectures falling on deaf ears against knife-like sermons that cut to the heart.

All through the region of Judea around the Jordan River crowds came to hear John. He was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, a voice crying in the wilderness.

“Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth.”

Action was required from those who longed to be right with God. Sin had ruled the nation long enough. It was time for righteousness again. The hunger of the multitudes for the glory of the Lord drove people to the wilderness abandoning the Temple. They wanted to see the glory again and this was what Isaiah promised.

“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God…”

Works of Repentance
The nation did not need more words; more mercy was the need. Instead of more ritual, real power was needed. Instead of good intentions, works worthy of repentance were needed. John went into detail.

  • To be true sons of Abraham they must follow God as Abraham did.
  • The ax was already at the root of the fruitless tree.

When people asked what he meant, he became even more specific.

  • Be generous givers, not hoarding misers.
  • Tax collectors, do not skim off the excess for yourselves.
  • Soldiers, do your duty fairly with justice and not for bribes.

Lines of repentant sinners splashed through the Jordan at John’s hands.

John and Jesus
Many began to openly speculate if John was Messiah. John set them straight. His baptism was for repentance. The One to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. This holiness revival reached all the way to Herod and John was destined for prison. Before his arrest, Jesus came to him for baptism. John protested but Jesus prevailed. When Jesus came up out of the Jordan, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Jesus. A voice from the sky declared His identity.

“You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

The people who were prepared heard the voice. Those who refused to fill in their apathetic valleys, bring down their mountains of pride, straighten out their crooked methods and smooth out their careless, rough ways heard nothing but thunder on the winds of the wilderness.

Scriptures:
Luke: 3:1-22

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison. When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to live in a continual state of preparation. Keep my heart clean from sin. Fill in the valleys in my knowledge of the truth with holy facts. Blast away any stubborn boulders of pride in my life. Show me the crooked places so I can straighten them according to Your word. Give me the grace to smooth out may rough, careless ways. I want to witness it when Your glory is revealed to all mankind! I want to be prepared for what it is next! Amen.

Song:
Revive Us Again

Words: W.P. Mackay; Music: John. J. Husband

1 We praise thee, O God, for the Son of thy love,
For Jesus who died and is now gone above.

Refrain:
Hallelujah, Thine the glory!
Hallelujah, Amen!
Hallelujah, Thine the glory!
Revive us again.

2 We praise thee, O God, for thy Spirit of light,
Who has shown us our Savior and scattered our night.

Refrain

3 All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain,
Who has borne all our sins and has cleansed ev’ry stain.

Refrain

4 Revive us again – fill each heart with thy love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 7 “Scholars”

Scholars

By the time Jesus was 12 years old, Joseph and Mary seemed to forget who He really was.
Each year, the family (Joseph and Mary had their own children by that time.) repeated the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover. Perhaps they busied themselves with the other children and left Jesus to His own devices. He was never any trouble anyway.

When the feast was over, everyone started for home, supposing Jesus to be with the entourage. He wasn’t. One day out, they realized this and returned to Jerusalem to find Him. It took them three days to think of the Temple. If they had been paying attention, they would have seen how the Temple fascinated the 12-year old Jesus. He was transfixed by the ceremony, the colors, the music, and the constant chanting of the Psalms. He knew all the psalms by heart but hearing them in the Temple gave them a thrilling new context.

He never left the Temple
The other pilgrims finished their obligatory worship and headed for home, eager to get back to their businesses. Jesus had just found His business and could not leave it. The Temple was His Father’s house. The psalms were addressed to His Heavenly Father! He belonged here! This place held a vital connection to His mission—the business His Father had sent Him to do. Thoughts of Nazareth and Mary and Joseph and the growing family seemed distant and disconnected.

Jesus and the Scholars
Like all academics, they were a mixed crowd. Many of them were sincere students of the Word and others were in it for power and prestige. Regardless of their heart conditions, all of them knew the Word of God. Imagine what it was like for them to see this little boy emerge from the crowd to ask them questions. This was flattering, of course. Men with all the answers love to entertain questions from lesser beings.

This boy was different. His questions sprang from an intense knowledge of the Word, not from ignorance of the law. For three days the Q and A continued. The boy never seemed to tire and he wore out group after group of the finest minds in the Temple. He asked questions they never before considered and for which they had no answers. The sincere ones kept the conversation going. Jesus was feeding their souls with truth. When the first night came, they took care of Jesus and were surprised when he peacefully slept in the quarters they provided. Shouldn’t a lost boy cry for his parents at night? Evidently not. The power-hungry priests were embarrassed and annoyed that this presumptuous little fellow could do this to them. They huddled together and decided to mark Jesus as a man to be watched. He might get one of their jobs one day.

The Return of Mary and Joseph
Late on the third day, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple teaching the scholars. They were embarrassed and rebuked Jesus. How could He do this to them? His answer sounds a bit rude to us but it really tells the tale.

“Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

This answer confused the priests. Wasn’t His father the carpenter? The Temple was not his business place.

Joseph and Mary thanked the scholars and hurried Jesus out of there and back to Nazareth. Jesus submitted to them for this, too, was His Father’s business.

Scriptures:
Luke: 2:39-52

So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the living Word. Those scholars in the Temple had no way of knowing that You knew the Word because You are the Word. But I know this and believe it will all my heart. Illumine my every step, O Lamp of God! Give light to my path, O Light of the World! The world around me is shrouded in darkness but Your Light shines on me, just as Isaiah promised. As I walk in this light, help me show the light to those who walk in darkness! For Your glory, Lord! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Thy Word Is a Lamp unto My Feet

Words and Music: Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant
1. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

When I feel afraid, think I’ve lost my way,
still you’re there right beside me,
and nothing will I fear as Iong as you are near.
Please be near me to the end.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

2. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

I will not forget your love for me,
and yet my heart forever is wandering.
Jesus, be my guide and hold me to your side,
and I will love you to the end.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 5 “Joseph”

Joseph

Like all men of character, Joseph’s every instinct was to control events where his wife-to-be was concerned.
So far it seemed he was failing at every point;

  • His wife was pregnant and the child wasn’t his.
  • The village gossips had never had such a good time and he had no answer for them.
  • Then, as if all this were not enough, the Romans wanted to count everyone in Israel by their ancestral families.
  • That meant a long trip south to Bethlehem of Judea, the last thing a very pregnant Mary needed.

Nevertheless, he saddled the donkey, and did his best to make Mary comfortable. This was not rapid transit; each roll of the donkey’s backbone felt like it would bring on labor pains. Joseph had his heart set on a comfortable room at one of the inns in or near the City of David.

It was not to be. The only space available was a cave used as a stable. Mary’s time was near. This was all God’s plans and they were in God’s hands. We are not told the details, only that the time came and so did the baby. Mary wrapped Him in loose cloths to keep out the chill and laid Him in a feeding trough. As Mary and the baby Jesus slept, Joseph gave sincere thanks to God for a safe delivery and for Mary’s sweet spirit. She did not seem to blame Joseph for any of these shortcomings.

Shepherds
A group of shepherds lived in the fields near Bethlehem. They watched the sheep as the night wore on like so many others. But this was a night like no other. Light from everywhere lit the night and a brightly shining man, the angel of the Lord, stood before them. He was speaking to them in a strange dialect but as their fear subsided and the listened closely the words became intelligible. It was news of a child born that night in Bethlehem, and not just any child, but Messiah!–Christ, the Lord! As if to document the word of the one angel, the curtain parted between the natural world and the realm of the supernatural. The hosts of heaven assembled over that pasture near Bethlehem, singing at the limit of angel voices:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

The startled shepherds could only watch and wonder as the lights and the music peaked and began to subside. When they were gone and the night returned to normal, there was no other thing to do but go to Bethlehem and find this child.

Guided by some unexplained impulse they found the first family in their cave. After gaining entrance from Joseph—surely he could control inquisitive shepherds!—the shepherds worshiped at the manger until one by one they felt the need to tell everyone about the angels and the tiny sleeping Messiah. After they left on this mission, Mary started a mental file on such visitations. Soon the shepherds returned rejoicing and praising God.

Joseph was learning that he was not alone in caring for Mary and the Child.

Scriptures:
Luke: 2:1-20

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, teach me what Joseph had to learn—this isn’t about control. It is about obedience. Help me leave the controls to You and busy myself with the details of obedience. I have not seen angels dancing and heard them singing, but I have heard the voice of Your Spirit in my heart. Help me be a peacemaker and one who spreads good will—the Good News of Your coming! Yes, Lord, yes!

Song:
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
Words: Edith Sanford Tillotson and Nahum Tate; Music: G.F. Handel

1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.

2. “Fear not,” said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind
“glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.

3. “To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this shall be the sign:

4. “The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed,
all simply wrapped in swaddling clothes and in a manger laid.”

5. Thus spoke the angel. Suddenly appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus addressed their joyful song:

6. “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests goodwill shall never cease.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 4 “John”

John

Friends and relatives of Elizabeth were concerned for her health.
As the time for her child to be born approached, Elizabeth’s wellbeing was the topic of much conversation and nearly as much prayer for her safety. In those days a young woman went terribly close to death’s door to give birth. No one knew how the ordeal would affect a woman of Elizabeth’s advanced years. Poor Zacharias was unable to speak for the whole term.

John Is Born.
When the time finally came, all the resources, including prayer, of a village full of priests and their families were brought to bear. God was merciful to Elizabeth and the child came with no more trouble than a normal birth at a normal age.

Eight days later when Zacharias and Elizabeth presented the child at the Temple for dedication, more than the usual crowd gathered to honor this miracle child. Someone suggested they name him after this father. Elizabeth corrected them: His name would be John. Since no one in the family was named John, protestors took the matter to the boy’s father. Crude sign language communicated the dilemma to the priest. He asked for a writing table and settled the question. His name would be John. Immediately the old man’s tongue was loosed and he began to praise God. Making up for lost time, it was as if a dam had burst as praise gushed from the lips of Zacharias.

The Holy Spirit
As these pent-up rivers of adoration flowed, Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit. This was the New Wine Jesus would preach about later. It was a foretaste of the new joy and freedom of a New Covenant. With the power of the Holy Spirit, the praise of Zacharias became prophesy. The people listened in amazement, wondering what kind of man this John might be. If they had listened to his father’s prophesy, they would have heard.

The Song of Zacharias
The old priest, perhaps with his 8-day old son in his arms, began to prophesy

  • of salvation to come to the House of David,
  • of the defeat of the enemies of the nation,
  • of a renewal of the Covenant, and
  • of holiness and righteousness restored to the land.

This child would be the prophet of the Highest going before the face of the Lord

  • to prepare His ways,
  • to give knowledge of salvation and the remission of sins, and
  • to announce the tender mercies of the Lord.

John would announce the coming of “The Dayspring from on High,” “the Bright and Morning Star” who would give light to those who sit in darkness. He would guide the feet of the faithful in the way of peace.

Preparing the Way
While Jesus was still being knit together in Mary’s womb, His prophet and forerunner had already brought revival to the Temple. His whole life would be given to this single, demanding mission: to quote Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Build Him a highway in this wilderness that the glory of the Lord may be revealed. The plan was underway. Events were unfolding that had never happened before. The Morning Star was rising.

Scriptures:
Luke: 1:57-80
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father — what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, even though he has left the scene, the ministry of John the Baptist must continue. Help me lift up his cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” So much of following You is preparation. Help me be faithful to the ministry of preparation today. I want to fill in the deep, empty valleys and bring down the proud mountains that exalt themselves against You. I want to be straight when the world is crooked and smooth when the world rides rough. I want to see Your glory revealed! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Comfort Ye / Every Valley / And the Glory of the Lord

Words: Isaiah; Music: G. F. Handel from “Messiah”

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. . . .

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low,
the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 3 “Mary”

Mary

No one questioned the integrity of Mary.
Growing up in a small town, everybody knew everything about everybody. Her beauty was more than a perfectly proportioned face; it came from within like a flame in her heart. She was no flirt and the young men kept their distance, all except Joseph. He was her match in the eyes of the citizens of Nazareth. There was no reason to worry about those two.

Gabriel
The same angel who visited Elizabeth, whose job it was to stand in the presence of God, was assigned another trip to planet earth, this time to Nazareth. He appeared to her saying,

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

Naturally, fear gripped her heart but she was also troubled by the words of Gabriel. She did not consider herself highly favored or blessed among women. The angel went on to tell her that she had been chosen by God to have a son to be named Jesus.

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary tried to take it all in but it was beyond her heart to understand. She and Joseph were engaged to be married but were not yet husband and wife. How could she have a son before that happened?

The Holy Spirit
Gabriel was ready with the blessed answer to her question. Jesus was not to be Joseph’s child. The Holy Spirit would “overshadow” Mary and the child would begin His earthly ministry within her.

“…that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Immediately Mary thought of Joseph and their small village lives. What will he think of her? What will people think of them? She knew that their lives were changed forever.

Elizabeth
There was more news; Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, had conceived a child in her old age. It seemed that with God nothing was impossible. Mary’s response, so quietly spoken, echoed through heaven causing unnumbered angels to dance,

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

As quickly as he came, Gabriel departed. Mary knew of two things she had to do:

  1. Tell Joseph, and
  2. Visit Elizabeth.

She hastily arranged a surprise trip south to the hill country of Judea to the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth. When the older mother-to-be heard Mary’s greeting, the child within her jumped, startling Elizabeth. At the same moment, she was filled with the Holy Spirit thus making a divine connection between her child and Mary’s child.

Mary’s prophetic song, improvised at that moment, has become known as the Magnificat. It was a prophecy of things to come. For three months these two blessed women enjoyed a fellowship of the Spirit we cannot begin to imagine. When her condition started becoming visible, Mary returned to face her Joseph.

Scriptures:
Luke: 1:26-56

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I be as willing as Mary to accept Your divine call! Help me to do what I can do and leave the impossible things to You. I am not in this world by accident. You have had a plan for me since before the beginning. My job is to obey You and follow Your plan every day. When I need miracles, You will provide them. When I need strength, I can lean on You. When I need truth, I listen to Your voice. When I need comfort, I feel Your arms around me. Let it be to me according to Your will! Amen.

Song:
Sing Out, My Soul

Words and Music: Ralph Carmichael

Sing out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior!
Tenderly He looks upon His lowly servant girl.
My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior!

From this day on all people will honor me.
Holy is His name! Holy is His name!
For He that is mighty has done great things to me.
Holy is His name! Holy is His name!

To all who revere and honor His name,
His mercy will go on forever and ever.
The deeds He has done disclose His mighty power.
His mercy will go on forever and ever.

The arrogant of heart He has put to flight
But the humble ones have been lifted high.
The hungry He will always satisfy.
But the humble ones have been lifted high.

And how He has helped you, O Israel,
And shone you His loving-kindness
As He promised Father Abraham,
He has shone us His loving-kindness.

Sing out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior!
Tenderly He looks upon His lowly servant girl.
My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 2 “Zacharias”

Zacharias

The old priest, Zacharias, had forgotten the frequent prayer of his younger years—a child from God.
His love for his wife Elizabeth was greater than his desire for a son or a daughter so after years of disappointment, they never discussed having children anymore. Life in the rotation of priests who ministered in the Temple was rich and full; the fellowship of the priests and their wives was sweet. As the years advanced for each of them, their integrity and winning personalities won them friends their own age and from among the young priestly couples just beginning their families. They enjoyed this inter-generational community. There was much to teach the next generation. It was as if they really were parents. Zacharias would not allow anyone to speak of Elizabeth as a woman cursed. It just didn’t seem to fit her, somehow.

Burning Incense
It fell Zachahrias’ lot to burn incense at the Altar of Incense in the Temple. He loved this assignment. The sweetness of God’s presence renewed him in every way. In the Holy Place, there were three holy objects.

  1. There was a beautiful table where a loaf of unleavened bread was kept. All the priests knew this was a symbol of the Word and Presence of the Lord.
  2. Closer to the old man’s heart, a brass Altar of Incense where a special mixture of oil and other flammable material was always burning as a representation of ceaseless prayer. Zacharias was assigned the installation of new fuel for the constant flame.
  3. Giving light to this enclosed space was a beautiful seven-fold lampstand of pure gold. Lamps brimming with oil drove the darkness of this enclosed space back, just as the nation of Israel was supposed to drive back the evil in men’s hearts with the power of God.

During the course of this duty, Zacharias had a shining visitor, an angel from the very presence of Jehovah, Gabriel by name. His news was this: God had not forgotten the earnest prayer of this godly couple. Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son. They were to name him John and he would come in the power of Elijah to turn the hearts of parents to their young and the young to their parents. He would prepare the People of God for great things to come.

How will I know?
The old man was full of questions and he couldn’t keep them to himself. When he asked the angel how he would know and pled the logical case against such a thing, Gabriel was annoyed and stuck him dumb. Zacharias had the best news of his life and he couldn’t talk!

Facing the Crowd
All of this took longer than normal and the people waiting outside began to worry about the old man. When he finally emerged from the Temple, his face seemed to glow and he could not talk. Onlookers perceived that he had seen a vision. To be sure, it was true.

Back Home
Soon the time of his service ended and he and his wife went home with a new energy in their hearts. Soon Elizabeth was pregnant and safe from public view.

Scriptures:
Luke: 1:5-25

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

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, in Luke Your story begins in the Temple with a faithful priest tending the flame of prayer. How appropriate! Help me be faithful to prayer each day for You have made me a holy, royal priest! Help me know that angels attend my times of prayer with messages direct from Your throne. Like the golden lampstand, the light and power of the Holy Spirit help me pray. With a daily routine like this, Your story will be on my lips throughout each day. Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
God Answers Prayer
Traditional

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 1, “Theophilus”

Theophilus

The man’s name meant, “One Who Loves God.”
Dr. Luke addressed this, the longest book in the New Testament canon, to a man named Theolphilus. He called him, “most excellent,” indicating the possibility that he was a man of means, or perhaps one possessing an official standing.

Setting
Quite possibly Luke was a Gentile, yet he numbered himself as a full-fledged member of the Christian fellowship when he referred to the Jesus Story as things fulfilled “among us.” In fact, his version of the Gospel is addressed to Gentiles and places the Jesus Story in a universal context. It is set against the backdrop of Rome, not just Jerusalem.

Sources
His Gospel was not written in a vacuum; it was one of many versions, authorized and otherwise, of the Jesus Story. Part of his mission was to tell an authentic version that could be relied upon for those who read it. Scholars believe that he used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source. It is also believed that just as Mark wrote his version of the story from the preaching of Peter, Luke relied upon the preaching of Paul for his. There are events in this Gospel that are found nowhere else, so other sources are believed to have been available to him. His sources were

“…eyewitnesses and ministers of the word…”

An Orderly Account
In the light of all the manuscripts competing for the attention of the church, Dr. Luke’s intention is clearly stated:

“…it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account…”

As revealed in the book of Acts, the second historical account written to Theolphilus, Luke was often a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul and was called by him, a “beloved physician.” Many speculate that this Greek doctor became a believer through the ministry of Silas when he led a team that included Paul early in the ministry of the Apostle. It should not surprise us to find that this indeed is “an orderly account.” One would expect no less from the trained mind of a physician and the precise observations of a historian.

God’s Saving Actions in the World
The theme of Dr. Luke’s history is nothing less than God saving the world. He is the Savior of mankind and the redeemer of the individual. In Luke’s account, we see the way of salvation as Jesus, the Son of Man, invades a fallen world to make a way for the lost to be found, the sinner to be saved, and the wrong to be made right.

“One Who Loves God.”
It is for us to take on the role given in the meaning of the name of Theolphilus—Each of us must become one who loves God as we read each day. Along the way, the reliability of the ancient sources will ring true to us with new force. We will know the certainty of those things in which we have been instructed.

Scriptures:
Luke: 1:1-4

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am not ashamed of Your Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.  This power is found in no other narrative.  The power of the  Holy Spirit rests upon Your story for in it I find You!  You are not a figure of history—You are “God with us!”—God with me!  I am not worthy of such grace, but Your story is not for the worthy but for the worthless!  Those ruined by sin or headed for destruction.  Through the truth of Your story, I find worth and value and mission and a destiny of eternal joy.  Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Tell Me the Story of Jesus

Words: Fanny J. Crosby; Music: John R. Sweney

1. Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word;
tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels, in chorus, sang as they welcomed His birth,
“Glory to God in the highest! Peace and good tidings to earth.”

Refrain:
Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word;
tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.

2. Fasting alone in the desert, tell of the days that are past;
how for our sins He was tempted, yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labor, tell of the sorrow He bore;
He was despised and afflicted, homeless, rejected and poor.

Refrain

3. Tell of the cross where they nailed Him, writhing in anguish and pain;
tell of the grave where they laid Him, tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender, clearer than ever I see:
stay, let me weep while you whisper, love paid the ransom for me.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 10, 2018 “Analogies”

Analogies

The Kingdom of God is a spiritual reality.
Jesus employed analogies, comparisons to material things, to help us “see” the Kingdom. Sometimes these were elaborate short stories, parables illustrating a life lesson. At other times, the analogy was a single image and it is up to us to make the application.

The Mustard Seed
The Kingdom of God is like this tiny seed, easily overlooked but full of life and potential. When we take in the Word of God, the seed of the Kingdom, and tend it carefully in our hearts, it takes root. Like a huge tree growing from a small source, the truth of the Kingdom grows deep in the heart, drawing nutrients from roots deep in God’s presence. In time and with careful care—discipleship—the Kingdom matures in the believer and he/she becomes a whole, healthy, productive tree.

The Leaven of the Gospel
Jesus mentioned leaven. What is that? Here is the second definition from Webster’s: “something that modifies or lightens.” Jesus was talking about a chemical reaction in bread, making it lighter and more palatable. The gospel is like that change agent. A test of whether a person is truly a follower of Jesus is the presence of change, not just change but improvement. Like yeast in bread, the gospel of Christ changes us.

  • The believer is modified by the Gospel when it is obeyed. We are altered by what we believe for believing in Jesus demands a new lifestyle. Old things begin to pass away and all things begin a process of becoming new. This is not reform; this is transformation! The words spoken over those who are baptized in water as an outward sign of this transformation express this: “Buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life.”
  • To use the definition from Webster, the believer is made lighter by the entrance of Jesus. In what way? The guilt of sin is taken away. We no longer bear the burden of our mistakes or evil deeds. In their place, is the “easy yoke” and the “light burden” promised to those who follow Jesus.

More than the chemical reaction in bread when it rises, the leaven of the Gospel transforms the believer from the inside out.

The Narrow Gate
How does one enter into this transformational life? Although the way has been opened by Jesus to all, most people will not use the gate. Why? Because, the Gate, indeed, is a narrow one. It requires the denial of self, the voluntary taking up of a cross (God’s plan for one’s life) and the restructuring life around God’s will. The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane becomes the daily confession: “Not my will but Thine, O Lord.”

Most people just aren’t going to do this. Many will get the outward routines right without the tending of the mustard seed or submission to the work of the leaven. When judgment comes, they will discover that they were fakes, never yielding to the inner work of the Spirit and settling instead for the wide, wide gate of the masses—human nature.

Jesus predicted that King Herod and Jerusalem would find themselves excluded while the unknown, unheralded, true believers, those of mustard seed faith and the leaven of the Gospel, will go in to enjoy the Goodness of Heaven.

In the words of Isaiah, “Go through the Gate!” The leaven of positive change is waiting and the Good Seed of the Word is yours to enjoy when you believe the Gospel.

Scriptures:
Luke: 13:18-35

Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I believe in Your Story—the Gospel of Christ. I am not ashamed of it. I embrace the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Help me to carefully tend the seed of the Word You have deposited in my Heart. I open my life to the wonderful working of Your Holy Spirit, the leaven of heaven. Change me, Lord! Lighten my life! Alter my thinking and the deeds of this day! I love the Narrow Gate for I know I will find You there! Amen.

Song:
Into My Heart

Words and Music: Harry D. Clarke

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

July 9, 2018 “Repent!”

Repent!

When will we realize the smartest thing we can do is to repent of our sins?
Because sin comes from corruption in the heart—selfishness, lust, pride, hate and such wonderful things—when we do the sins demanded by these things, and never repent, these forces grow stronger in us. Result? Unrepentant hearts lead directly to stupidity on an amazing scale. Here are some cases in point.

Events Beyond Our Control
We all know that sometimes bad things happen to good people and bad people seem to prosper in spite of their sins. No one can explain this—except to say that we live in a fallen universe. Someone brought up one of these cases to Jesus concerning some diseased Galileans and bloody Governor Pilate. Jesus made no attempt to explain how such an injustice could happen; He merely exhorted the people to take care of their own sins with repentance. Then He referenced a well-known industrial accident and warned against trying to assign blame to the victims. He offered the same warning—Repent! Who knows what today or tomorrow may bring?

An Unproductive Fig Tree
Next came a parable about a man who planted a fig tree and worked with it for three years and it still did not produce figs. The man had had enough and was ready to cut it down and try something else. He told his servant,

“Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’

The keeper of the vineyard asked for one more year of intensive care for the useless tree. Jesus did not finish the story. It is unusual for Him to leave us hanging. Did a year of pruning and special care solve the problem? The implication is that it did. Of course, the intensive horticultural care in the story represents an intense reassessment of life—repentance—turning from sin. Stupidity avoided.

A Hard Case of Stupid
While teaching in the synagogue, a woman bent over at the waist with an infirmity 18 years in her broken body was miraculously healed by Jesus. Wonderful! Right? Not to the Pharisees. Loaded as they were with sins never repented of, they saw no cause for rejoicing. In their sin-induced stupidity, all they saw was an imagined violation of the Sabbath. Jesus had “worked” on the Lord’s Holy Day by healing someone. The height, breadth, and depth of this stupidity is hard for us to understand but it is the inevitable result to the brain of piled up sins. Jesus could not resist addressing their spiritual blindness. He compared the woman’s plight with that of an injured beast of burden.

“So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound — think of it — for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”

This answer swayed the worshipers in the synagogue to support Jesus and shamed the Pharisees. Lesson: Unrepentant hearts lead directly to stupidity on an amazing scale. When will we realize the smartest thing we can do is to repent of our sins? Can you hear Jesus saying, “Repent!”?

Scriptures:
Luke: 13:1-17

There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'” Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound — think of it — for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is simply no reason for me to carry around with me the record of my past sins! You have nailed them to Your Holy Cross! Because I confessed my sinful life and deeds to You and repented of them—seeking to reverse course and go Your way and not mine—those sins are gone, never to be remembered against me again! Thank You, Jesus. Each sin was a handle for Satan to grab hold of me but You have broken all those access points. When the old devil tries to grab me there, his hands slip away for my life is soaked by Your Holy Blood. Stupidity avoided! Praise the Lord!

Song:
Just As I Am

Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 30, 2018 “Confession”

Confession

It was time to share His power and authority with the 12 men He had chosen.
Jesus did exactly that—He gave all 12 of them the power to preach the gospel and heal the sick. He put them under an order of strict discipline regarding provisions for the campaign and deportment among those who supported or refused to support them. We don’t know if they traveled in teams or alone, but they did exactly as Jesus commanded and His power indeed went with them and they saw the same results as they had seen with Jesus.

Herod
A campaign like that generates news. When the stories got to King Herod, the king didn’t know what to think. Theories were presented:

  • John was back.
  • Elijah or another long-dead prophet had risen from the grave.

Jesus alone was enough of a threat to peace and order; 12 men acting in His name and in His power was a crisis.

Time for a Rest
Although the flow of power is divine, ministry takes a toll on the human frame. Jesus took His men to a deserted place near Bethsaida, to hear the details of their ministry and to get some much-needed rest. It was not to be. Somehow news of their location got out and the multitude found Jesus. He let the disciples rest while He taught the people and healed them of their various diseases and impairments.

Time for a Meal
As the day was passing, the disciples suggested Jesus should close down the meeting send people back to town. This was not to be either. Jesus told His men,

“You give them something to eat.”

Jesus organized the people into groups of 50 and seated them on the ground. He took the meager menu items and blessed them, giving them to the disciples to distribute. As they did, they saw the blest food multiply in their hands as they gave it away! In a short while the crowd of 5000 men, not counting women and children, was filled as were 12 baskets of leftovers.

The Confession
When the people were gone, Jesus retreated from the men a little distance to be alone to pray. When they had caught their breath, the men gathered to Him quietly, not wishing to disturb Him. All of them, Jesus included, were thinking of the events of this remarkable day. Jesus asked the men what people were saying about Him—specifically, what theories existed as to His identity. When all the standard answers were offered a silence fell, each man thinking the unthinkable. Jesus asked them who they thought He might be.

A soft voice spoke from among the 12. It was unusual for Peter to speak so quietly but His words were so full of meaning, they did not need volume to have an impact. Dr. Luke gives us the most economical version of Peter’s confession.

“The Christ of God.”

Never have four words meant so much. This confession is the power behind the power and the truth behind the truth. Many will admit that if Jesus really existed, He was a great teacher or philosopher or humanitarian, but they shrink back from the truth. This confession is the dividing line between believers and unbelievers. To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Suffering Savior, and Triumphant Lord is to worship and witness all at once. In its light all goodness is possible and all evil can be overcome.

Scriptures:
Luke: 9:1-26

Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. “Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by Him; and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again. Herod said, “John I have beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things?” So he sought to see Him. And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them. And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” So they answered and said, “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I confess with the ancient church: “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:
Crown Him with Many Crowns

Words: Matthew Bridges; Music: George J. Elvey

1. Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless king through all eternity.

2. Crown him the Lord of life, who triumphed o’er the grave,
and rose victorious in the strife for those he came to save;
his glories now we sing who died and rose on high,
who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

3. Crown him the Lord of love; behold his hands and side,
rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty, glorified;
no angels in the sky can fully bear that sight,
but downward bends their burning eye at mysteries so bright.

4. Crown him the Lord of years, the potentate of time,
creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! for thou hast died for me;
thy praise shall never, never fail throughout eternity.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved