May 30, 2018 “Calvary”

Calvary

Roman soldiers were men of chance.
They knew that each day could be their last. Their business was spilling blood and each one knew that on any day, their own blood may be spilt. So why not gamble on the fine robe of this criminal? It was woven in one piece, woven with care by some woman, no doubt. Amid the blood splatters, the Roman dice were tossed.

Golgotha
Beneath the whips of the soldiers, after hours of abuse, the strength of Jesus was just about gone. A man from Cyrene named Simon was conscripted by the soldiers to carry the cross as they approached Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. They offered Jesus sour wine to dull the pain but He refused. There the business was done: nails in His hands and one nail through His crossed feet. His blood, deemed worthless by the soldiers, left a trail marking His route to the mountain and covered the ground beneath the cross. No one but the Father could see how far that trail of blood would extend—through centuries, across oceans, and beyond all the mountain ranges of the world.

KING OF THE JEWS
Mocking Him, the clever soldiers placed a sign over His head.

“THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Their little joke has become the Gospel, “to the Jew first” and then to the rest of us. Passers-by, those people entertained by blood and violence, scorned Jesus and hurled His own words back at Him, not in faith, but in derision.

Darkness
Creation itself recoiled at such evil. Darkness fell for three hours. This was no cloud cover; it was an unnatural shadow that spread, not from the sky, but from the hearts of the people. The darkness muffled but did not silence the noise of the crowd. Suddenly, the voice of Jesus shook the darkened mountain,

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Someone offered Him sour wine on a stick. Again He refused any comfort from men whose sins were the cause of this.

The Storm
Clouds began to roll in from all points of the compass accompanied by distant thunder. With a loud voice, Jesus released His body, the one prepared for Him as a tool of Messianic ministry, from suffering and slumped in death. The storm broke. Wind and lightning, rain and hail, pounded the top of Golgotha as the ground itself began to shake. An earthquake, localized to the path of Jesus from the Temple to Golgotha, ripped the ground open. When the quake passed through a cemetery, graves of the righteous dead burst open—a foretaste of glory yet to come. At the Temple, the earthquake reached the veil hiding an empty Holy of Holies. Attending priests scattered for shelter as the heavy veil began to tear from the top to the bottom. The Shekinah of God spilled from that little room, never to return.

The Tomb
As quickly as it started the storm was over. The skies cleared and the sun returned to full strength. The women who never left Jesus wanted to care for His body before the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus, had prearranged with Pilate to care for Jesus’ body. His men took His body down and laid it in Joseph’s tomb. Joseph’s men rolled a heavy stone over the entrance. Joseph and his men left and only the women remained until they, too, had to leave before the Sabbath.

Scriptures:
Matthew 27:32-61

Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may the image of the cross always break my heart. May the truth of the cross always set me free. In profound innocence, You suffered the punishment for the sins of this whole world. Your blood is my healing. Your wounds are my hiding place. You atonement is my redemption. I will keep Your cross always in my heart, its meaning always in my mind. When I think of Your cross, it will not be an image of You helpless in its grip; that was the moment of atonement. I will see an empty cross, for Your work was done once and for all. Your vacant cross is my standard, my banner of victory. Amen and amen.

Song:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Lowell Mason

1. When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

3. See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 29, 2018 “Trials”

Trials

It is the story of the world’s greatest injustice that was in fact the world’s greatest act of mercy.
In the public trials of Jesus, justice was nowhere to be found. First before Caiaphas the High Priest, Jesus was judged by the Sanhedrin, a spiritual trial by spiritual men to determine offences to the spiritual laws of Israel. Later before Pilate He had a civil trial before officers of Roman law who could care less about spiritual things. In common they held a fear of Jesus, the ultimate nonconformist who held a different spirituality and whose citizenship was that of a higher Kingdom. In both cases, Jesus was demonstratively innocent but in both cases, He had to be found guilty.

Caiaphas
Liars came in bunches to testify before the elders. Having had little time to prepare, their stories did not match but that was of no consequence. The outcome was predetermined. Finally a pair of liars accused Jesus of speaking against the Temple threatening its destruction. This was useful for they had heard something like that from Jesus themselves. When questioned about this, Jesus did not answer. To the charge of claiming to be the Son God, Jesus pled guilty. The old man tore his priestly robes and declared blasphemy, seeking to end the trial at once. Suddenly the guards were free to beat Jesus and spit on Him. The council judged Him worthy of death as the tormentors of Jesus continued their unjust work.

Peter
Listening in an adjacent courtyard Peter tried to blend in with the vagrants in the pre-dawn darkness. Three times he was accosted by someone who had seen him with Jesus and three times he denied knowing Jesus at all. Much too early a rooster in the distance sang his raucous song. The bird awakened the grief within Peter, sending him running away in tears.

Pilate
With daylight, the elders brought Jesus before the Roman Governor, Pilate. Blasphemy was of no concern to Pilate; he just wanted to keep the peace. A man who could stir such unrest must be dealt with.

Judas
These trials sent him back to the elders. He threw the pieces of silver at their feet declaring Jesus to be innocent. They were not moved and refused the money. Judas saw no options, no way out, no way back to the fellowship of his brothers. All he could see was a tree and rope; the price of his guilt.

Barabbas
Before Pilate things were simpler. There were no confusing religious standards of right and wrong; there was just Roman Law. The issue was not His claim to be the Son of God, but that of being King of Jews. When asked directly, Jesus admitted this was so. As testimony grew, Jesus fell silent. Pilate offered, as the custom was, a convicted assassin, Barabbas, instead of Jesus. The crowd demanded Jesus and, although Pilate saw no guilt in Jesus, and over the warning of his wife, he gave Jesus to the Roman soldiers to continue the torment.

The stripes on His back, the abuse from first the Temple guards and then the Roman soldiers, none of these bloody wounds was earned by the Lord. He was innocent of all wrongdoing yet He was judged guilty by the courts of Men. It is the story of the world’s greatest injustice that was in fact the world’s greatest act of mercy.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:36-56; 27:1-

And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest’s courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end. Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'” And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.” Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?”
Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.” And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!” And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.” Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
Chapter 27
When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the judgements of men against You were merciless. You were innocent and they were guilty but You took the punishment. It was only the beginning of Your suffering; You were on Your way to Calvary. Lord, I am as guilty as any of the Temple guards or the Roman soldiers. I have been as wrong as the councils of Caiaphas or the courts of Pilate. Yet, now I stand before You as if I had never sinned, so thorough and complete is Your forgiveness! Thank You, O faultless One! Amen and Amen.

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

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

They led Christ to Calvary
But He never said one word.
Just the cries of lost sinners
Was all the Savior heard.
And then they pierced Him in the side
And His blood came streaming down.
And that’s how he purchased my salvation
And I find no fault in Him.

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 28,, 2018 “Gethsemane”

Gethsemane

They had been there before.
There had been other nights when Jesus had led them to this isolated section of the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps there was an olive press nearby since that is what the name “Gethsemane” means. The men probably had their own little bed plots chosen for the long nights beneath the ancient trees. The moist air retained the heat of the day in the early evening but chilled in the dead of night and as the early morning approached. Despite their little routines, there would be nothing routine about this night in Gethsemane.

Sorrowful unto Death
Jesus could never get His men to understand what was at hand. Perhaps the one who was missing, his little bed-plot undisturbed by preparation for sleep, knew. Jesus posted the men in one place and took the inner circle deeper into the garden. He wanted them to pray with Him. They had never seen Him like this before, burdened with such heaviness. The could not know that Gethsemane was His time of pressing. He left them and went deeper into the green-shadowed sanctuary. They heard Him praying to the Father about a cup from which He must drink but one that repulsed Him. His protests fell to the ground as they heard the now famous words,

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

Silence.

Then He was back, seeking support, but the men were already asleep. No one would watch with Him. No one would pray with Him.

“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Twice more He retreated into the Garden to pray the same prayer only to return and find the Disciples sleeping. The third time, He blessed them as they slept only to hear the noise of an approaching mob, their feet trampling the peace of the Garden and their weapons clanging away the silence of the night. Jesus alerted His men.

“Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”

The Arrest
Judas, the missing one, the only one who knew what was happening, approached Jesus, called Him Rabbi and kissed Him on the cheek. It was the prearranged signal to the Temple guards. They seized Jesus to bind His hands and feet. From other sources, we know that Peter drew his sword and struck off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. This earned Him a rebuke from Jesus and gave the world a wise warning that those who live by the sword would be destined to die by it. Jesus touched the wounded man and healed the severed ear. The confused silence that followed was broken by a sharp command to seize Him. Jesus did not struggle; He assured those handling Him that the Father would send a mightier army than they to rescue Him if He wanted. He pointed out that He never ran from them and neither would He on this night. Let the prophecies be fulfilled.

As the soldiers captured Jesus, all the disciples, no longer laden with sleep and totally unable to pray, deserted Him.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:36-56
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.” And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.” Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I cannot know the depth of Your sorrow in Gethsemane. It is beyond my ability to imagine. You drank everything that was in that cup: all the sin of all the world. Such an invasion of wickedness into Your sinless soul!—Such a bitter mixture of hate and violence, cruelty and deception, anger and malice. No profane words had ever lodged in Your heart and therefore none had ever escaped Your lips, yet You consumed the lies of hell. You took it all so that I could be relieved of it all. Hallelujah! What a Savior! Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 27, 2018 “Supper”

Supper

Jesus and the Twelve enjoyed many meals together, but none like this one.
It was the time of the Passover feast, a time the enemies of Jesus sought to avoid. The Twelve asked Jesus what His plans were for the traditional Passover meal. As He did with the donkeys, He told them to go talk to “a certain man” who would allow them to use a room in his control. It happened just that way and the meal was prepared and presented there. The context for the whole evening was this:

“My time is at hand.”

The laughter was limited at this supper; no one could break the somber mood of Jesus. He looked at all the familiar elements of the meal, bread and wine, candles and oil lamps, shadows and substance as if He were seeing them all for the last time. Finally He spoke what was on His mind.

“…one of you will betray Me.”

He had often spoken of arrest and its horrible aftermath but now He was involving one of them in the business. Each man protested his potential innocence but then wondered if he were capable of such a thing. Judas did not join them in protest until Jesus took some bread and dipped it in the sauce and offered it to Judas saying,

“He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.”

His private thoughts now laid bare to the others, Judas asked,

“Rabbi, is it I?”

Jesus answered Him:

“You have said it.”

The other men looked at Judas, his face pale for lack of blood and His eyes hollow in the trembling lamplight.

A New Covenant Meal
Jesus took the familiar elements of the Passover meal and redefined them for His followers. This was no longer about deliverance from Egypt only; it was about the deliverance of the whole world from sin. The bread represented His body, soon to be broken. The cup represented His blood, soon to be spilled. This was their last supper until a New Kingdom began, a new life stronger than death, and a new hope impervious to designs of hell. Hearts raced as the new wine of the Kingdom to come coursed through the men. In their weariness a new strength gathered in their minds as the Bread from Heaven nourished them.

To the Garden of Prayer
They sang and hymn (How I wish text of that song was included in the record!) and ascended the Mount of Olives toward their accustomed place of rest and prayer. In route, Jesus tried again to warn them of impending events; they would scatter like frightened sheep when their Shepherd was stricken. The men protested at this, Peter leading the way. His boast was answered by Jesus with a prophesy of repeated denials before sunrise.

“Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”
And so said all the disciples.”

By this time, they were no longer, “The Twelve.” The night shadows provided Judas an escape from his companions and their uncertain fate. Remembering the words of Jesus that His time had come, Judas stole through the streets of Jerusalem toward the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:17-35
Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”‘” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?” He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?” He said to him, “You have said it.” And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your love for us in overwhelming. Sometimes there just are no words adequate to express how I feel so You give me the tongues of angels and the miracle of music. Far beyond my ability to conceive is Your care for me, Your personal attendance to the details of my day. Help me live at Your Table, O Lord. I want to follow You as Peter and the disciples did, through the marketplaces of my world, in the Temple of Worship, and into the Garden of Prayer. Help me be faithful in all these arenas as Your life and substance flow through me. Amen.

Song:
This Is My Body (In Love for Me)
Words and Music: Jimmy and Carol Owens

1. This is My body, broken for you,
Bringing you wholeness, Making You free.
Take it and eat it, and when you do,
Do it in love for Me.

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 26, 2018 “Offerings”

Offerings

There are many kinds of offerings: worship, advice, plans, money, and insight.
An offering is not the response to a request; it is something extended to someone unbidden, a gift from the heart of the giver.

The Offering of Caiaphas, the High Priest
I am sure the lower level leaders of the Temple were not in the habit of dropping in on the High Priest but here we see the account of a meeting in his home. The situation with Jesus was so pressing, the normal channels of leadership were abandoned and an emergency conference took place in the High Priest’s home. In turn the leaders began to formulate a plot against Jesus they could offer to the High Priest. Caiaphas didn’t have to ask for this; they knew it was up to them. As much as they needed to do something about Jesus, they did not need to risk a rebellion from the people. Many in the multitude had been healed and delivered by Jesus so they could not be counted on to rise up against Him—especially at Passover. Cooler heads prevailed and they decided to wait for a better time.

The Offering of Mary of Bethany
At the home of a former leper named Simon—it is certain that Jesus healed the man!—it seems Mary and Martha of Bethany were in charge. This was no small gathering: 12 disciples, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—late of the tomb, Lazarus!—and who knows how many others. A leper was most likely unskilled in such celebrations so Simon needed the services of the sisters and brother from Bethany.

The exceptional meal was over and all were resting in the afterglow of this fellowship of heaven and earth. Most of the men looked optimistically toward a bright and blessed future. Not Mary. She was the one who really listened to Jesus. She heard His dire predictions of what was about to happen to Him: betrayal, arrest, death, and life again. Understanding all this was not her job; believing it all was her duty. As the celebration continued she produced from a hidden place on her person, an alabaster jar. This was a container carved from a soft white stone used to hold precious oils and perfumes, the kinds of anointing oils used to prepare bodies for burial. This particular jar was as valuable as a year’s wages for a common laborer. It was her most prized possession.

According to her premeditated plan, with no thought to what others might think, she took her customary place at the feet of Jesus. She took the smooth white vessel and broke the thinly carved neck and poured the contents on Jesus’ feet. As the aroma of it filled the house, Mary, wept as she stood behind Jesus and poured the rest of the perfume on His head. The fragrance, the deed itself, broke the festive mood. Martha and Lazarus wept as they remembered Jesus’ warnings. The men, were also moved, not to sorrow but to anger. They only saw the money they considered wasted in this impromptu offering. Jesus rebuked them and commended Mary.

The Offering of Judas
Judas, the keeper of the operating funds of Jesus and the Twelve, left the meeting. As he exited the house, the aroma of Mary’s gift accompanied him and lingered even as Judas made his offering to the High Priest and received theirs.

There are many kinds of offerings.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:1-16
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.” But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have received with joy Your holy offering to me of eternal life. In return, I offer You my life such as it is. Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart so that my offering of praise will be pure, made acceptable through the blood of Jesus. May my life emanate a sweet essence of Your love just as Mary’s gift filled that house with sweetness. Save me from the treachery of the enemies of righteousness! My life is an offering to You, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
We Are an Offering
Words and Music: Dwight Liles

We lift our voices. We lift our hands.
We lift our lives up to You. We are an offering.
Lord use our voices. Lord use our hands.
Lord use our lives they are Yours.
We are an offering

All that we have. All that we are
All that we hope to be. We give to You.
We give to You.

Lord use our voices. Lord use our hands
Lord use our lives they are Yours.
We are an offering. We are an offering.

All that we have. All that we are
All that we hope to be. We give to You.
We give to You.

Lord use our voices. Lord use our hands
Lord use our lives they are Yours.
We are an offering. We are an offering.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 25, 2018 “Kingdom”

Kingdom

Jesus is King, not president.
Those of us who are blessed to live in Western democracies do not relate very well to kings. A king is a sovereign lord. Others may reason with him but no one commands him. His word is law with no debate or recourse. The army is his army and as are the naval and air forces that protect his country. The education system teaches his version of truth. When the king enters a room, his music plays and all stand and bow before him until he is seated on the throne. In his hand He holds a scepter, the symbol of absolute authority. Americans threw off the trappings of royalty and chose a president to lead us but this in no way reflects the truth about our leader—King Jesus! An elected president His is not. He will never be unelected and there are no term limits. No one will depose Him and take His throne. It is our business to serve Him, to find our place in His Kingdom and fill it.

The King Is Coming!
In two parables and a significant lecture Jesus spoke to the nature of His Kingdom. We must remember that He instructed us to pray, “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done as it is in heaven.” How is that?—instantly, thoroughly, and without hesitation or question.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast
According to the customs of the day, representatives of the village held vigil through the night awaiting the Bridegroom. Ten young women gathered for this purpose. All of them brought lamps: five of them brought extra oil for the lamps and the other five did not. The Bridegroom was long in coming and the five foolish ladies ran out of oil and sought out merchants. While they were gone, the Bridegroom arrived. The five wise ladies were invited into the feast and the other five were excluded. Lesson? Be more than ready, for the King is coming and we don’t know when.

The Parable of the Talents
A king went on a long journey leaving the business of his kingdom to servants. Each servant was supplied with varying amounts of capital to invest while the king was away. When the king returned he held each servant responsible for the funds. Most of the servants were wise and the king profited from their work. He blessed them calling them “good and faithful” and inviting them to enjoy the kingdom. One servant was fearful and unwise. Instead of risking the king’s capital, he buried it. When he had to give an account, he had gained nothing for the king. The king was furious, calling the man “wicked and lazy.” He took the small amount in the poor man’s account taken as punishment. Lesson?—take what God has given you and make it count in the Kingdom.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory…”
As Jesus explained His Kingdom, He made it personal. We do not serve at a distance—we serve at His side. When He comes, He will separate the false servants from the true and reward accordingly. Deeds will be important, but more important will be the motivation behind the deeds. Jesus placed Himself in the center of our service. When we do deeds of mercy, we are really doing them to Him. Servants with motivations other than this will be cast away and the King will declare them unknown to Him.

Jesus is King, not president.

Scriptures:
Matthew 25:1-46
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Sovereign Lord! I praise You for You will never be deposed. Your Kingdom is forever and ever. Thank You for inviting me to serve You. Let me touch others in Your name, knowing that as I do, I am touching You. Give my courage to dig up any talents that lie buried and put them to use for You. Give me oil in my lamp and keep me burning through this long, dark night. When You come back, I want to be ready! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Shall I Empty Handed Be?
Words: Neal A. McAulay and Maud Frazer; Music John P. Mills

1. Will I empty-handed be
When beside the crystal sea
I shall stand before the everlasting throne?
Must I have a heart of shame
As I answer to my name,
With no works that my Redeemer there can own.

2. When the harvest days are past,
Shall I hear Him say at last,
“Welcome, toiler, I’ve prepared for thee a place?”
Shall I bring Him golden sheaves,
Ripened fruit, not faded leaves,
When I see the blessed Savior face to face?

3. When the books are opened wide,
And the deeds of all are tried,
May I have a record whiter than the snow.
When my race on earth is run,
May I hear Him say, “Well done,”
Take the crown that love immortal doth bestow.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 24, 2018 “Return”

Return

The Jesus Story is not finished.
It did not end with crucifixion, a tragic tale of a brilliant, misunderstood young man cut down before His work was done. It did not end with the resurrection as the ultimate enemy of mankind had to bow before the power of the life-giving Spirit of God. Neither did the story end on the Day of Pentecost when that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead filled every interior inch of the hearts of His followers. The story did not end at the last chapter of the Book of Acts for it contains no conclusion at all. More than 20 centuries later the Jesus Story is still being told in the lives of those who believe in Him and trust Him as Savior. He has promised to be with us to the end of the age.

The End of the Age
An interesting idea—the End of the Age! There will be a final chapter in the Jesus Story, just before a new story will be written set in a New Heaven and a New Earth. As an old song once said, “He came. He’ll come again, this Christ in all His glory!” Theologians call this the eschaton—the study of end-time events. This is a whole theological discipline far beyond the scope of a 500+ word devotion. Scriptures drawn from the Hebrew prophets, the words of Jesus, the letters of the Apostles and the Revelation of John on the Isle of Patmos must all be considered and believed. They seem to describe two events,

  1. one is a secret catching away of the saints of God and
  2. the other a very public return of Christ with the armies of Heaven including the saints.

Some cannot deal with two events and chose to treat one or both as allegories. I will summarize the teachings of Jesus in this passage.

What Jesus Said

  • The Return of Christ will be preceded by signs in the heavens and on earth.
  • All will see Christ when He returns with the hosts of heaven.
  • When these things begin to happen, they will all happen within a generation.
  • That generation will be similar to the times of Noah—universal wickedness, an age of iniquity—lawlessness.
  • The secret coming of Christ will separate friends and family and coworkers.
  • Only the Father knows the time of this event. Our job is to live in a state of readiness, doing what God has called us to do.
  • To live in denial of the approaching eschaton is to be an “evil servant” who says in his heart, “My Lord delays His coming.” Jesus will return in an unexpected hour for those who are not looking for Him.
  • The wise servant living in expectation of the return of Christ will be rewarded on earth and it heaven.
  • The foolish, wicked servant will suffer loss on earth and the agonies of hell forever.

Whatever one believes about the details of the eschaton, it is important for each of us to live with a keen eye on the signs of the times. We must remember His words, “Behold I come quickly.”

He Will Return.
To live in expectation of the return of Christ provides a context for our hope. The story is not over. Our lives are simply a chapter in that story and when our lives are through here, they will continue elsewhere. We will be there at the end and see the dawning of the new day of New Creation. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Scriptures:
Matthew 24:29-51
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near — at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Revelation 21:1-5
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus I know You are coming soon! I believe I will hear the trumpet and the voice of the archangel. I will see the graves burst open. I will meet my loved ones with You in the air! And so shall we ever be with the Lord! With this hope working alive in me, I will seek the sanctification of Your Spirit. Purify my heart O Lord, so that I may live in a state of constant readiness. I will be about the work You have given me to do so that when You come You will find me at work! Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
The Message of His Coming
Words and Music: R. E. Winsett

1. We’re looking for His coming, in the clouds of heaven,
Coming back to earth to catch away His own;
Then may we all be ready, when midnight cry is given,
To go and reign with Christ on His throne.

Refrain
Gladly may we herald the message of His blessèd appearing,
Soon He’s coming in glory, tell to one and all;
Then awake, ye saints of the Lord,
Why slumber when the end is nearing,
But get ready for the final call.

2. We’re longing for the glory that awaits the faithful,
Who shall overcome, and ev’ry conflict win;
Press ever bravely onward, the prize is life eternal
To all who win the fight over sin.

Refrain

3. We’re praying for the advent of our blessèd Savior,
Who has promised life to all who trust His grace;
His coming now is pending, the message being given,
And soon we’ll see our Lord face to face.

Refrain

4. We see the signs appearing of His blessèd coming,
Lo, behold the fig leaves now becoming green;
The Gospel of His kingdom has gone to every nation;
That we are near the end can be seen.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 23, 2018 “Lightning”

Lightning

An electrical charge high in rain-laden clouds builds as contrary winds torment each other.
When a cloud can hold no more electricity, the charge jumps, sometimes to another cloud and sometimes all the way to the ground. Objects too close feel the power. Positive and negative forces are balanced again, for a while.

So it is in a storm and so it is in history. Evil accumulates in the hearts of men as they ignore their Creator and live only for themselves. Nations do this, too. Israel always had enemies, like storm clouds, threatening their borders. When the negative forces became so great, the pagan hordes invaded the holy places and sacrificed unclean animals in the Holy Place. In the language of prophets, this was called “The Abomination of Desolation.”

Like the contrary winds in a terrible storm, this stroke of lightning required more than the evil of pagans; it required the apostasy of God’s people, a great falling away. This was what was meant by “desolation.” Pagan sacrifices outside of the city were an abomination—a deep offense to God. When these profane sacrifices were made in the house of God—that was desolation.

It had happened before and Jesus warned that it would happen again. Not one stone of the beautiful temple would be left standing. In AD 70, the Roman general leading this siege was Titus, himself destined to reign as Caesar. The Roman army broke through the gates, sacked the city, and burned Herod’s Temple. The warnings in Jesus’ words applied to those hearing Him who would experience this abomination of desolation. It would result in the diaspora of the Jews—exiled to wander through the earth until God restores them to the Land of Promise. That happened in 1948.

Another Tribulation
The words of Scripture can have more than one application. The warnings of Jesus in this passage have a meaning for our day as well.

  • The first thing we must learn from these passages is this: True worship brings God’s protection and false worship brings destruction. The promises of God are Covenantal promises, that is, they are conditional. If we will do our part; God will do His part.
  • The other thing we must learn is that another tribulation period is coming. There will be a great falling away and the love of many shall wax cold. Worship will no longer be in spirit and truth, but in the flesh and in lies.
    In these end-times a contrary wind will also blow from God. As He did at Creation, the Spirit of God will move upon the earth. A great wind of the Spirit of God will counter the evil winds of the abomination. Never has such a conflict been seen on the earth. The Gates of Hell will put the Church to siege, seeking to ruin our worship and thus break our covenant of protection with God.

The Great Outpouring
As the Spirit is poured out, our sons and daughters shall prophecy. There will be signs and wonders because Jesus Himself walks among us with healing in His wings. We will be caught away from the worst of this Tribulation to feast with the Lord until suddenly, like blinding lightning, Jesus will appear with 10000 of His saints to right all wrongs and establish His peace.

So let us worship in spirit and truth so we can be ready when the trumpet sounds!

Scriptures:
Matthew 24:15-28
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Revelation 22:20 NKJV
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me be true to my Covenant with You! It is a New Covenant in Your blood. I will worship in Spirit and in Truth. I will tell Your story to one and all. I will live a holy life by the power of Your Holy Spirit. I will not participate in the Great Falling Away but I will seek the great Outpouring of Your Spirit. I want to hear that trumpet and that angel shout. I want to join You and my loved ones in that meeting in the air! Amen. Even so, Come Lord Jesus!

Song:
Hasten Thy Glorious Coming Lord
Words and Music: Oren E. Munger

1. Christ’s coming now is nearing, Blest day of His appearing,
This tho’t my heart great joy affords;
Millions around are sighing, For this release are crying,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord.”

Refrain:
Jesus is coming soon, coming I know, Coming His glorious bride to claim;
With raptrous hearts we’re waiting, To Join that grand translating,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord.”

2. Sorrow and sin prevaileth, In pain the earth travaileth,
Darkness abounds in ev’ry land;
But in earth’s darkest hour He’ll come in mighty power,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord.”
Refrain

3. He warns us to be watching, Praying and always ready,
We do not know the day nor hour;
Are you your heart preparing, Ascension robes now wearing,
Washed in the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb?

Refrain

4. So when the trumbet soundeth, And He from heav’n desendeth,
To claim the church, His spotless bride:
With boundless joy we’ll greet Him, As we arise to meet Him,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord.”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 22, 2018 “Lawlessness”


Lawlessness

The King James version uses the word, “iniquity.” It means lawlessness.
It is difficult for us, more than 20 centuries later, to understand the teachings of Jesus concerning the end times. He spoke as if these events were imminent. What can we take away from these ancient words and warnings to make a difference in our world?

Outward Structures, Inward Realities
As Jesus and His men left the Temple and began their ascent up the Mount of Olives, the Disciples noted how impressive the Temple complex looked from that elevation. Jesus seized the moment.

Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another,
that shall not be thrown down.”

Buildings are symbols of invisible things. The important thing about the Temple was that it was a place for people to meet with God. All the lovely marble stones, all the impressive architecture, even all the historic forms of worship had no value in themselves. Their value was in the truth they represented. If and when it all fell down, the invisible things would still remain. In fact, under the New Covenant, The church would be the True Temple, the “habitation of God by His Spirit.” Built solidly on the Cornerstone, Christ Jesus, this structure will never fall.

The Beginning of the End
When they reached their familiar retreat on the mountain the Disciples asked Jesus to tell them when the Temple would fall. We should be grateful to the Twelve for asking—we need to hear the answers Jesus gave.

  • The end times will be an age of deception. Fake messiahs will capture the public’s attention before they are exposed. Do not be deceived by them.
  • International unrest will rule the last days. “Wars and rumors of wars” will be the daily report. “Nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom” has been and continues to be the history of this world. Why? Because nations and kingdoms spring from the fallen hearts of men. Un-redeemed, men have always and will always bring war.
  • Natural disasters and social disasters will shake the earth and the population. “These are the beginnings of sorrows.”
  • Persecution of True Believers will spread from nation to nation. Some will pay with their lives to follow Jesus. For them, it will not be the end; it will be a transformation to glory.
  • False prophets will rise up to deceive many, even those who have once known the truth.
  • The spirit of the age will be iniquity—lawlessness—and the love of even God’s people will wax cold. Apostasy, the ancient curse of Israel, will deceive many into forsaking the truth and embracing comforting falsehood.

Enduring Faith
There is no doubt this age is infested with the spirit of iniquity–of lawlessness. Even in such times of persecution and peril, an inner strength will rise up in the faithful ones—they will endure. That may not sound like much of a promise. Shouldn’t we expect to thrive and prosper? Perhaps, but the important thing is to endure.

  • Stay in touch with Jesus.
  • Stay in the Word. Be faithful to worship.
  • Find the will of God and do it. Serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.

For the Jesus Story will go out to all the nations. The Gospel cannot be stopped.

Scriptures:
Matthew 24:1-14
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I long for Your coming! In this age of lawlessness, help me be true! Help me proclaim Your salvation day by day and declare among the nations that the Lord reigns! When Your enemies come against me, come to my rescue! I will put on the Gospel Armor and fight the good fight of faith. You have made me more than a conqueror. Thank You for the reality of Your Holy Temple—the Church! More than a building or a symbol, Your Church is real and victorious! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Rise Up O Saints of God
Words: William P. Merrill; Music: William H. Walter

1. Rise up, O saints of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of kings.

2. Rise up, O saints of God!
The Kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of righteousness,
And end the night of wrong.

3. Rise up, O saints of God!
The church for you doth wait,
With strength unequal to the task;
Rise up and make it great.

4. Lift high the cross of Christ;
Tread where Christ’s feet have trod;
Come sisters, brothers, in the faith,
Rise up, O Saints of God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 21, 2018 “Leadership?”

Leadership?

Jesus had finally had enough of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.
Today, in the language of newspaper publishing, we would say He gave them a broadside. They had positions of authority but no spiritual authority. Their words were lofty but their deeds were little. Jesus warned the people to listen to the words if they came from a holy source but not to imitate their deeds. They loved public recognition and preferred to be called “Rabbi.” Jesus told the people to avoid such phony titles. Since Jesus had come into their lives, the people had their teacher!

“But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees”
When He was sure everyone knew who He was talking about, Jesus launched into a tirade.

  • You will not worship and you prevent others from worshiping.
  • You rob widows while praying long, impressive prayers in public.
  • You make a show of converting heathens only to make them all the more a child of hell.
  • You carelessly swear oaths by the things of God only to use them toward selfish ends.
  • You carefully tithe the smallest most insignificant things while paying no attention to the important things: “justice and mercy and faith.”
  • You present a holy image to the world, but inside there is only corruption. You are white-washed tombs.
  • You honor the leaders of the past saying that you would have followed them, but you are the sons of those who killed the prophets and do the same works as they.

This was the leadership style of the day.

The Brood of Vipers
Just as Jesus had used the whip to scatter the evil merchants in the Temple, He used words to flail the scribes and Pharisees. He called them:

  • Hypocrites,
  • Blind Guides,
  • Fools and blind,
  • Whitewashed Tombs, and
  • Serpents, a Brood of Vipers.

How did they react to this scathing indictment? Matthew does not tell us but we can be sure that with their hypocrisy exposed they stomped out of the Temple courts to huddle together in private to plot against Jesus.

Jerusalem
Watching the brood of vipers slither away to their nests, Jesus’ heart broke. He had not come to make enemies, but to lead people back to God. His enemies were those whose wealth and status were built on deceit and hidden iniquity. Their wickedness was no longer hidden; Jesus tore away the veil of respectability to reveal the rottenness of their souls. He had dismantled the carefully constructed system that held the people back from God, kept the Romans in power, and enriched the actors in this drama of deception.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … How often I wanted to gather your children together…but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate”

Their day was coming as sure as the morning sunrise; God, the just, will see them and their whole self-serving system tumble to the ground like the heathen walls of ancient Jericho. Go ahead and plot your schemes, devise your plots, and initiate your intrigues. You are not in control. You are merely the visible villains in the vaudeville. God is working His plan and this Man Jesus who today pronounced your doom, will triumph in the end.  His leaders will lead from true hearts, cleansed by a holy flame.

Scriptures:
Matthew 23:1-39
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

  • “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
  • “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“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 chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord !'”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, when You walked this earth, You did so in complete integrity. You were the same inside as You appeared to be outside. When You encountered hypocrisy, You condemned it in the strongest terms. O Holy Spirit, cleanse my heart with Your fire! Make me pure from the inside out. If I am to have a positive impact on my world, I must be true to You in my most private life. Send the Fire, O God, and make me pure! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Send the Fire
Words: William Booth; Music: Frederick Booth-Tucker

1. Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Thy blood bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

2. God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

3. ’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

4. To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
O see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved