November 19, 2018 “Pilate”

Pilate

Caiaphas reviewed the report of his father-in-law, Annas, and sent Jesus to Pilate.
By this time the sun was up. The Jewish leaders did not enter the Praetorium, the Governor’s Palace containing Pilates’s Judgmental Hall. To do so would have disqualified them for participation in the Passover. Pilate came out to a balcony to meet with them.

Pontius Pilate
His usual headquarters were in Caesarea and He only came to Jerusalem when he had to.
He hated the Jews, Jerusalem, and this assignment from Rome. He loved pleasure and power and found the Jews strict, joyless, unyielding, preoccupied by frivolous things and as hungry for power as any other people. In his view their vaunted piety was pretense. He was sure whatever was bothering these overdressed buffoons could be handled quickly. Looking down from his lofty balcony, Pilate saw their prisoner, Jesus, bound and bleeding from the mouth. He asked for a clarification from the Sanhedrin. Their complaints against this poor man seemed to Pilate to be religious in nature and no business of his. The indication was His claim to be king, a thing surely deserving of death.

“It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death…”

They hated Pilate as much as he hated them, but they needed Roman authority to rid Israel of this menace. Pilate turned to Jesus,

“Are You the King of the Jews?”

Pilate almost laughed at the thought that anyone one think this pitiful man was anyone’s king. Jesus responded,

“Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”

This angered Pilate and he demanded Jesus to give a better answer. Jesus tried to explain that His Kingdom was of a different kind and waged a different kind of warfare. Pilate tried to understand as Jesus explained.

“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

Guilty as Charged
Knowing he would have to make a judgment, Pilate asked if Jesus really considered Himself a king. Jesus confessed,

“You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born,
and for this cause I have come into the world that I should bear witness to the truth.
Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” ”

At the word, “truth,” Pilate groaned, turned, and retreated into his residence. Did anyone speak the truth? Was there any such thing as “the truth?” Didn’t each man and each dilemma demand a different truth? Almost as if distracted by these questions, Pilate looked at the bleeding man before him. Who was this criminal to speak of truth? Did he have truth? If so, what good had it done him? Returning in anger to the balcony’s edge,

“What is truth? I find no fault him at all!”

The Pharisees, in no mood for philosophy, received this with riotous claims for justice. Pilate was ready to make a deal. According to custom, he offered Barabbas, a convicted murderer and rebel instead of Jesus. The angry crowd welcomed Barabbas and demanded death for Jesus.

Scriptures:
John 18:28-40

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die. Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all. “But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You could have called for army of angels to rescue You from this agony but You did not. You faced the judgment of men for the sins of the world when You had none, Your courage inspires me to follow You no matter how “charged with punishment the scroll” of my life. My life is in Your capable and merciful hands. As the Psalmist says, “You have hemmed me in behind and before and laid Your hand upon me.” Whatever this day may bring, You, who remained faithful in the courts of men, will give me strength to make it through all of my trials. 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 me, but
I find no fault in Him.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 18, 2018 “Annas”

Annas

At the rebuke of Jesus, Peter dropped his sword, covered with Malchus’ blood, and ran. The other men followed suit, leaving Jesus alone with the Captain, the soldiers, Judas, and the stupefied Malchus, still holding an ear that no longer hurt. The unimpressed moon lit their way. The soldiers arrested Jesus, bound in chains, hand and foot, and led Him away toward the Temple, striking Him often with open palms and laughing at His pain.

The Court of Annas
They led Jesus first to the chambers of a priest named Annas. His son-in-law was Caiaphas who was high priest that year. At a safe distance, two of the eleven followed closely enough to observe events but at sufficient distance to avoid their own arrest: Peter and John. John entered the outer court of Annas but Peter hesitated at the doorway. A servant girl’s post was this doorway, assisting those who wished an audience with Annas. John was known to her so he spoke with her to allow Peter to enter. As Peter stepped through the entrance, she was sure she recognized him.

“You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?”

In a panic, Peter denied knowing Jesus. The remaining soldiers who had performed the arrest waited there in the outer court while a squad of their ranks took Jesus inside. Small fires tried to give light to this pre-dawn darkness and provide a little warmth. Counting on the cover of darkness, Peter stood by one of the fires warming his hands. As he did, he saw blood on his right hand and quickly wiped away this evidence of his futile resistance in the Garden. His mind spun in useless circles of terror and regret. The prophecy of Jesus was in the process of fulfillment.

The Trial
Through the stone walls, Peter and John could hear the interrogation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin. Annas wanted to know about the disciples—this compounded the fear in their hearts—and what doctrine Jesus taught. Jesus refused to answer.

“I spoke openly to the world…Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me… “

At that answer, the Captain of the guard slapped Jesus across the mouth with an open palm.

“Do You answer the high priest like that?”

As Jesus reeled from the blow a trickle of blood ran from his mouth. Peter and John heard the sound of the assault and it was if the Captain had struck each of them instead of Jesus. Jesus replied,

“If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”

On to Caiaphas
Frustrated, Annas commanded the soldiers to take Jesus to Caiaphas. They manhandled Jesus back through the courtyard and collected the other soldiers. Together, they dragged Jesus passed the terrified Peter and John.

Peter tried to act as if none of this concerned him but one of the men sharing the fire with him accused him of being a follower of Jesus. He denied the charge. A relative of Malchus repeated the accusation with same result.

The eastern sky grew brighter as the inevitable morning approached. A nearby rooster, faithful to his God-given mission, announced in his manner the approaching day. At the crowing of the rooster the soldiers stopped for a moment, just long enough for Jesus to look in Peter’s direction. Their eyes met: pain and sorrow in the dawn of a New Covenant.

Scriptures:
John 18:12-27

Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in. Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself. The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?” Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I must not look with pride on my brother Simon Peter. I am no stronger than he was. I am sure that my denials of You are much more than three. There have been moments when You counted on me and I wasn’t there. I am so glad that failures do not eliminate us from Your care. I dare not judge Peter for I could not bear what he went through. Keep me true, Lord Jesus! Keep me true. Amen

Song:
Keep Me True

Traditional

Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.
There’s a race that I must run.
There are victories to be won.
Every hour, by Thy power, keep me true.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 17, 2018 “Malchus”

Malchus

Malchus, faithful servant of the High Priest, had seen Jesus many times.
He was a man who knew his duty and attended to it faithfully. The leaders in the Temple trusted him. He was also close friends with the Captain of the Temple guards. He knew that Jesus was a threat to his superiors but Malchus couldn’t help liking Him. He had often been assigned to watch Jesus and report back to the leaders. Who else could do the things He did? Malchus had heard the best speakers in the Temple and none of them compared with Jesus.

Betrayal
Now one of His own men had betrayed Jesus. A deal was made and Judas stood among them. He would lead them to Jesus. Immediately, Malchus hated Judas. Such betrayal was too far beyond his personal code; his whole life was built on loyalty and solemn duty. His friend, the Captain of the guard was ordered to assemble a squad of heavily armed soldiers to follow Judas and arrest Jesus. There were eleven other disciples still true to Jesus, so the detachment had to be a substantial one. Malchus would accompany them but he hated the duty as much as he hated Judas. He watched the Captain strap on his short sword, hoping it would not be needed and accompanied the soldiers out of the courtyard in the footsteps of Judas.

The Garden
Judas knew where to find Jesus and led the Temple guards to Him. It was a beautiful, peaceful grove of ancient olive trees with an olive press nearby. The full moon lit the garden almost like mid-morning. It was called “Gethsemane,” literally, “olive press.” He and His men often spent the night in prayer or slumber here. Jesus made no attempt to avoid capture. Here Jesus, like olives from the grove, would be crushed in His spirit in prelude to the torture of His body.

As was His custom, Jesus had separated Himself from the disciples and sought a solitary place to pray. His men, exhausted from the intense teaching Jesus had given them, found the Garden to be a place or rest, not prayer. Their rest would be short-lived.

The Arrest
Led by their Captain, the Temple guards entered the garden with the religious officials safely in the rear. Malchus flanked his friend, the Captain, at his left side. A signal had been prearranged by Judas to point out which man was Jesus. Jesus asked the guards,

“Whom are you seeking?”

As Judas stood with the guards, they answered simply,

“Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus identified Himself with the most ancient name of God that could be uttered,

“I am He.”

The ground shook at this proclamation and to a man, the Temple guards fell backwards. As they trembled on the ground, He asked the question again and received the same answer. Jesus then pled for the safety of His men.

“I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way…”

Without warning Peter drew his own short sword and attempted to strike the Captain, aiming for his neck. He missed and removed the ear of the unfortunate Malchus. The stricken servant sank to the ground, the blood pouring from the right side of his head. Jesus rebuked Peter:

“Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

We learn from other witnesses that Jesus retrieved the severed ear from the ground and gently reattached it to the bleeding head of Malchus. The servant struggled to his feet. The ear was healed and the pain was gone. Only the blood remained.

Scriptures:
John 18:1-11

When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth. “Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Then He asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,” that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You came to this earth on a solemn mission no one else could ever perform. None of the things that happened to You that night surprised You. You exercised no supernatural means to avoid the pain. Your very human heart suffered from the rejection predicted by Isaiah—You felt everything inside and out. It is easy for us, from the distance of two millennia to wonder why this was necessary. Open our eyes, Lord, to the tragedy and cruelty of sin. It is no minor annoyance; sin is the plague of this fallen world. All the pain and rejection You experienced was needed to counter sin and establish a New Creation again. Thank You, Lord.

Song:
Ten Thousand Angels

Words and Music: Ray Overholt

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 16, 2018 “Them”

Them

Jesus concluded His remarkable, tender prayer for the Disciples by praying for us.
We have the privilege of “listening” while Jesus prayed for the Disciples and all who will believe in Him through their witness.

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one…”

It seems only right that we should learn from His prayer. What concerned Him should also concern us.

His Primary Concern for the Church
Jesus came to build a community of believers, His Church. This is more than an organization; it is a spiritual organism, a living thing in the world. No organization built by people can contain it and no force from hell can destroy it. All the powers of heaven stand ready to aid and comfort those who follow Christ. He has designed this family for each of us, multiple generations of those with “like, precious faith” called out of this world as representatives of the world to come. Jesus prayed for us all.

What was His primary concern? It was and is our unity. Although the “gates of hell” are powerless to prevail against the Church, human frailty and ignorance can certainly hinder Her effectiveness. The Church is made up of believers who are in full possession of their free will. Submission to Christ and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit are not automatic; they are choices individuals and collective groups make, with or without the backing of the Word of God.

Unity in the Local Church
We must be smart enough to recognize the enemy’s efforts to divide the local church.

  • The world is fueled by division; the Church must operate in the power of unity.
  • The marketplace depends on demographics—computerized division—for success; the ministries of the Church must call for and enjoy a unity of purpose and belief, of passion and behavior, and of principles and balance.

The Church Jesus is building should not be a pale reflection of the culture. We must be a holy counter culture proclaiming Jesus, unified from the heart out. Let the world divide. We must unite.

The Church Universal
The Body of Christ is made up of True Believers in every corner of the world. The ancient creeds of the church were formed before division became the norm. They express what is called orthodox Christian belief. Unity at this level is beyond anyone’s power to achieve. What we can do is confess our beliefs and live out our calling in our world and prepare for the coming of our King!

Like Spokes on a Wheel…
How can we be the answer to the prayer of Jesus? It begins in our closeness to the Lord. Like spokes on a wheel, the closer we get to the hub, the closer we get to each other. Our passion for the Lord, His Word, and His work will connect us with others who love Him, too, making us One.

Scriptures:
John 17:20-26

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Matthew 16:13-18 ESV
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (See 1 Cor 3;11 for Christ as the foundation of the church.)
Psalm 145:4 NKJV
One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.
1 Corinthians 1:10-11 NKJV
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Prayer:
The Apostles Creed

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:
They’ll Know We Are Christians

Words and Music: Peter Scholtes

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 15, 2018 “Sanctify”

Sanctify

To be sanctified means to be set apart, consecrated, and made holy for the Master’s use.
As the eleven men chosen by Jesus gathered around, Jesus prayed for their sanctification. This was a tender moment. He had taken them on an up-and-down journey in His attempt to prepare them for the events to follow. It was exhausting. No longer instructing them, He was praying for them. This was a privilege beyond measure. So many times, Jesus had stolen away from them to be alone with the Father, out of earshot and not to be disturbed. Now, He prayed for them while they listened to Him. The Holy Spirit imprinted the words of His prayer indelibly on each man’s heart. His words would come back to them at crucial times throughout their lives.

A Job Finished
These men had lived normal lives until Jesus walked into them. He saw something in each of them and He called each one to follow Him. It was a simple process; He called them and they obeyed. They traveled with Him, listening to His words, participating in His miracles, and being changed from the inside out in the process. In the beginning there had been twelve and now there were eleven. There was sorrow in that accounting but the plan of God was moving forward. Jesus had laid the groundwork for their lives, lives that would change the world. They were ready now to witness the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant to be written in His blood.

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.
They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.”

Jesus’ Prayer for the Disciples
The content of Jesus’ prayer is rich.

  • He prayed for them to have a vital relationship with the Father. This was the basis of their faith as expressed in the Prayer He gave them to pray.
  • He prayed that they would see the glory of the Lord. As Isaiah prophesied, they would walk in light when the world around them walked in darkness, a continuing supply of the glory of the Lord.
  • He prayed for their unity, that they “may be one as We are.” This was the most complete standard of unity imaginable. As the Father, Son, and Spirit are one, so must followers of Christ be one. Division is never the work of the Spirit; it is the work of the devil.
  • He prayed for them to have joy. They could never reach the world with long faces and depressing testimonies. The world had enough of that. They were to be joyful men with a joyful message.
  • He prayed for safety from the evil one. All of hell’s forces would be arrayed against the followers of Jesus. He prayed for a keeping power from God to protect them.
  • He prayed that they would be sanctified, set apart, and made holy by the transforming truth of His story.

Hear His prayer for them:

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

Jesus knew they were part of a higher world, a greater one than the sad and desperate one they must reach with the Gospel.

Scriptures:
John 17:6-19

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I long for that sanctification, too. My heart’s desire is to be set apart for Your work, for the fellowship of Your suffering and the joy of Your victory, to be fit for Your use. O, Holy Spirit, do this work in me! Make me holy as Jesus is holy—pure in motivation, faithful in prayer, and moving in compassion. May I never cause division or strife in the church but be one who unifies around You and Your calling on our lives. May each day of my life advance Your Holy Kingdom. Amen

Song:
For Sanctifying Power, We Come Today

Words: Eliza E. Hewitt; Music: J. Lincoln Hall

1. For sanctifying power, We come today;
The fullness of the blessing, O send us, we pray.

Refrain:
Holiness, through the blood; Keep us under the flow;
In Calv’ry’s cleansing fountain, O make us whiter than snow;
Filled with Thy Spirit, Be Thy grace outpoured;
Sanctify, sanctify, All Thy people, Lord.

2. As consecrated vessels, O may we be,
To bear Thy name to others; To glorify Thee.

Refrain

3. From sin’s dominions, save us This very hour;
That lives made pure and holy, May show forth Thy pow’r.

Refrain

4. Conformed to Thine own image, Lord, may we be,
Till waking in Thy likeness, Thy glory we see.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 14, 2018 “Before”

Before

Jesus—Son of God, Son of Man, Second person of the Trinity—has always existed.
An ancient Christian profession of praise expresses this mystery in vivid terms.

“Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

To begin to comprehend the mystery of Christ and His story, we must realize that the narrative does not begin at a manger in Bethlehem. The life of Christ—the Jesus Story—is a three-act drama:

  • Act One: The Christ of Eternity, “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1)
  • Act Two: Christ the Redeemer, “…He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross…” (Philippians 2:8)
  • Act Three: Christ the Exalted One, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him…” (Philippians 2:9)

On this night, Jesus was preparing for the finale of Act Two. As He prepared, memories stirred of the Throne Room of Heaven, both His past and His future. As He prayed for the disciples, and by extension for us, He remembered the glory He had known, “before.”

The High Priestly Prayer
Some have said, and there is a fine case for this belief, that what we know as John 17 could be truly be called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” The wonderful prayer He gave us in the Sermon on the Mount could then be called, “The Believer’s Prayer.” The important thing so often overlooked is the content of this prayer. The things for which Jesus prayed should become the philosophy of the church, the engine behind her industry, and the measure of her success. In this prayer, Jesus reveals His heart for us.

The Glorify of the Son
He prayed that the Glory of the Lord would be revealed in the world. This was the message behind all the miracles and was the point of all the power on display as Jesus walked this earth. Jesus gave glory to the Father. In turn, the Father gave glory to the Son. The one brief, shining moment on the Mount of Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory of Christ to come. The agenda of our adoration of God in public worship should be to give glory to God yet so often we attempt to bend worship to others purposes. God forgive us!

The Overcomer
In that moment, Jesus was not alone. When the soldiers invaded the garden of prayer and His men scattered in fear, the Father would remain with Him. The same was true in all the events of the Passion until the His final moments on the cross. Nailed there, however, Jesus would become the most forsaken man who ever lived. Yet, in that moment of complete abandonment, He would overcome the world.

The Authority of the Son
Jesus, the name above every other name, must be uttered in faith as we praise, worship, and pray. When faith is in our hearts and the confession of His name is on our lips, the authority of Christ comes on the scene. Just as He promised, in His name we cast out demons, heal the sick, and work wonders. The name of Jesus on our lips is the Good News we preach to the poor, those afflicted with all kinds of poverty—it is eternal life through Jesus, the Christ!

The Throne of God and of the Lamb
Jesus, with the completion of His mission on earth, spoke of the glory He had known in heaven “before.”

“I have glorified You on the earth.
I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.
And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself,
with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Our great joy and privilege is to enter this heavenly Zion when we come before Him in private and public worship. The writer to the Hebrews makes this clear. “We have come to Mount Zion…” Oh, the Glory of His presence!

Scriptures:
John 17:1-5

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
John 1:1-5 NKJV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
Philippians 2:5-11 NKJV
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Hebrews 12:22-24 NKJV
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NKJV
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You take the believer on a blessed journey from sin to righteousness, from death to life, from fear to faith, from despair to hope, from hate to love, and from sorrow to joy. Thank You for inviting me on this adventure! Help me to always remember that to worship You is to transcend this earth to dwell with You in heavenly Zion and to join the chorus of angels and elders and victorious saints around Your throne. As I dwell there, contemplating Your glory, I am changed from glory to glory. Such a privilege for one such as I. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Oh the Glory of Your Presence

Words and Music: Steve Fry

Refrain:
O the glory of Your presence
We Your temple give You rev’rence
Come and rise from Your rest
And be blessed by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace
As Your presence now fills this place

Verse
Jesus all-glorious, Create in us a temple,
Called as living stones Where You’re enthroned
As You rose from death in pow’r So rise within our worship
Rise upon our praise And let the hand that saw You raised
Clothe us in Your glory Draw us by Your grace

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 13, 2018 “Cheer”

Cheer

Speaking plainly at last, Jesus predicted His ultimate victory.
This victory would not be one of symbols or images; it would be a real victory over real enemies in this very real world. The time for symbols alone was passing and the time had arrived for the realities they represented to be clearly seen.

“I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.”

Jesus longed for the day when the Holy Spirit would reside in the hearts and minds of the disciples, making the Father whom Jesus loved a present reality to them.

‘…the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world.
Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

The disciples rejoiced in this.

“See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!”

Every teacher knows the moment of breakthrough when his/her students finally get what he or she has been saying all along. The wonderful epiphany of this night was the first of many—a lifetime of revelation by the power of the Holy Spirit. They claimed to believe.

“Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”

Not so fast!
Jesus was glad for this small victory, this promising breakthrough in their minds, but He knew the matter was not yet settled. Again, He had to bring them back to earth, to rescue them from their self-congratulation.

“Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone.”

As painful as the truth must have been, it had to be told. They had spoken brave words but impending circumstances would make them regret them. Like the agony facing Jesus, the victory on the other side of the pain facing Jesus was beyond their control. God was at work in the earth, undoing the work of Satan. This heavenly momentum was a work in progress. In many ways, the men were simply bystanders though certainly not innocent ones. When the test came, they would desert Him but Jesus would not be alone; He would be doing the will of the Father.

“And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”

The Overcomer
In that moment, Jesus was not alone. When the soldiers invaded the garden of prayer and His men scattered in fear, the Father would remain with Him. The same was true in all the events of the Passion until the His final moments on the cross. Nailed there, however, Jesus was the most forsaken man who ever lived. Yet, in that moment of complete abandonment, He would overcome the world.

After that, He would never be alone again. The Father, the Spirit, the hosts of Heaven and the holy, blood-bought church would be His companions. Together, we share His astounding, marvelously complete victory.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

It has all proven true: tribulation, peace, victory, all in the name of Jesus.

Scriptures:
John 16:25-33

“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, because of You, I can face an often cheerless world with a cheerful song in my heart. Your passion, endured by You to rescue me from sin, and Your victory over sin, form the tune and rhythm of my heart-song. To think that You personally turned the sorrows of life into peace and cheer is the theme of my song. Help me sing it well and often. Give me listeners to hear my song as I sing Your story to my world. May failures on my part never hinder for long the music of my life. I know You will forgive and cleanse men and then play the introduction for me again when I repent and confess Your name. What joy, peace, and cheer I have to be in Your choir! Amen.

Song:
Rejoice the Lord Is King!

Words: Charles Wesley; Music: John Darwall

1. Rejoice, the Lord is King: Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing, And triumph evermore.
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

2. Jesus, the Savior, reigns, The God of truth and love;
When He has purged our stains, He took his seat above;
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

3. His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell Are to our Jesus giv’n:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

4. Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord and judge shall come
And take His servants up To their eternal home:
Lift up your heart, Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 12, 2018 “Joy”

Joy

Sometimes the words of Jesus just made no sense at all.
Such was the case when Jesus told His eleven remaining disciples that they would not see Him and then in a little while, they would see Him again, all because He was leaving them.

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me,
because I go to the Father.”

What was that again? His men protested the illogic of such a statement.

“We do not know what He is saying.”

Jesus could hear their private conversations and, more than that, He knew their thoughts. He had to prepare them for both the sorrow to come and the joy to follow that. As for the deep sorrow:

“…you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice…”

Out of Sync
They were destined to be out of phase with the world. The joy of the sinful world would cause them great sorrow. It has always been so. Those who follow Jesus are often saddened to tears by the thinking and actions of sinful people. Their laughter sends believers to the closet of intercession to weep before the Throne of God. Their mirth is seen as prelude to disaster, their frivolity to great tribulation. On the other hand, Christ-followers sow in tears over the sadness of the world so that they also may reap in joy when the Rescuer intervenes, saving lost souls and healing deep and debilitating wounds.

“…and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

Trading Our Sorrows
Only Jesus can perform this astounding transformation—sorrow into joy—but it can be seen in creation itself. Jesus cited childbirth as an example.

“A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come;
but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish,
for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

We must remember this was an all-male gathering so this very masculine sentiment can be forgiven. The women who loved and followed Jesus might have moderated this view somewhat but the truth remains. Witness the smile of the mother, just delivered from the door of death, when she holds her child for the first time.

Unassailable Joy
They too, were about to come near the door of death as Jesus passed through it. They would weep and lament as they scattered to find their own hiding places. They would abandon the One who had found them and desert the One who had brought them to the gates of heaven.

Then, they would see Him again, see Him as they had never seen Him, with the shining garments of glory draped about Him. The inner circle had seen a glimpse of this on the mountain but soon they would all see Him thus and their hearts would rejoice.

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name.
Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

A new joy would be theirs, a joy deeper than the deepest sorrow, a continuing joy of unlimited answers to prayer. Things would be so different then. Perhaps His words made sense after all.

Scriptures:
John 16:16-24

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I live in a world marred by the sins of people. The pristine environment You created is now polluted and scarred by the actions of sinful man. And so it is with the lives of people. Created to experience Your glory and be host to the Holy Spirit, people are now ruined and desperate, ravaged by their own choices and misled by the culture. Yet You have come into the world to ravage sin itself and counter the lies of the culture with truth of the Gospel. The result for believers is a joy like no other—Your joy, hard won in the garden of prayer, in the courts of men, on the cross of death and in triumph of an empty tomb! Thank You for this impervious joy! Amen.

Song:
If You Want Joy, Real Joy

Traditional

If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come into Your heart.
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come into Your heart.
Your sins He’ll wash away.
Your night He’ll turn to day.
Your life, He’ll make it over anew.
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy,
Let Jesus come into Your heart.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 11, 2018 “Advantage”

Advantage

It was a classic good news / bad news situation.
The bad news was that Jesus was leaving them. The good news was that He would send them the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to the earth on a divinely appointed mission. He never married, set up a business, and settled down to stay. In a very real sense, in the same way that He was born to die, He came here to leave. His rightful residence is Zion, God’s ruling and dwelling place, where on His throne of majesty, He receives the worship of thousands of angels, dozens of elders, and a gallery of faithful believers.

The good news is this: because of this sequence of events in His mission:

  • The Incarnation,
  • The sinless life,
  • The atoning death, and
  • The Resurrection,

Jesus makes the hearts of those who follow Him and worship Him, an outpost of Zion. He dwells and rules in the hearts of those who love Him.

Better for Them
When Jesus spoke of terrible events soon to commence, sorrow filled the hearts of His men. What He had to get across to them was that this was all to their advantage. This was difficult to believe. How could it be an advantage to them for Jesus to go away?

“I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

Because they had not yet experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, they could not understand what Jesus was telling them. On the Day of Pentecost, they would suddenly understand, as the flood of the Holy Spirit gushed through their hearts. On this night, all they could do was listen and try to make sense of what Jesus was saying. They knew that if Jesus promised to send the Spirit to them, it must be a good thing to anticipate. How would the Spirit help them?

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
These are some of the most important words of Jesus. He explains the work of the Holy Spirit among us. These are the things Spirit will do:

He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come.

“…of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

It would not be the job of the disciples to browbeat people to faith in Christ. All they had to do was tell people about Jesus and the Holy Spirit would do the convicting.

He will guide believers into all truth.
There were many details of the Christian life that Jesus did not address. For instance, He told us to baptize believers but did say how it should be done. The same is true for the Lord’s supper. These men and the ones they taught would continue to hear from the Spirit as to the details of how to live out the teachings of Christ.

He will glorify Jesus.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is all about revealing Jesus to believers. Anything we know about Jesus, we know because the Spirit has revealed it to us. That is His job!

“He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”

The Holy Spirit leads the church in worship. When true worship happens, it is all about Jesus.

We are truly advantaged to have the ministry of the Spirit with us!

Scriptures:
John 16:5-15

“But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He abides in my heart because You have taken my sins away and made my heart a fitting place for the Spirit to dwell. I can function beyond the limits of my talent and skill because Your anointing rests on me, lifting my efforts to a higher level. Oh Holy Spirit, sanctify my heart and my mind, keeping my inner life pure and simple. O Lord, help me represent You well in my world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
Spirit of the Living God

Traditional

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 10, 2018 “Witness”

Witness

Jesus spoke of two simultaneous floods of the Holy Spirit.
One would be a flood of revelation, knowledge of the holy things of God flooding into their lives. The other would be a tide of witness as they told people about Jesus. Truth would flow into them and out of them.

  • The Holy Spirit would abide with them, the Spirit of Truth, The Helper, The Comforter, the One who would bring His words to their remembrance and lead them into all truth.
  • The Holy Spirit would anoint them, enabling them to live holy lives and empowering their words. They would perform the same kind of miracles they had seen Jesus do. Their words and deeds of witness would fly like arrows piercing the hearts of those who heard and saw them. Their lives would point the way to Jesus.

This two-way flood would give them a lasting impact on the world. In short, they would be His witnesses.

The First Generation
They were the first generation of countless generations to come. They would possess an authority no other Christ-followers would enjoy. They were the ones who walked this earth with Jesus. Millions more would come to know Jesus by believing their witness but the distinction of being His original disciples would forever belong only to them. As such, they would set patterns and teach principles for believers to follow for ages to come, all the way to our day and to the wonderful day when Jesus will return. Like everything else Jesus asked of them, this was far beyond their ability to perform. They would need the Holy Spirit to strengthen them from the inside out and guide them through every unpredictable, unprecedented situation they would face.

They must not stumble.
So much depended on these eleven men and the ones they would train. As if their mission weren’t daunting enough, they would have to deal with intense opposition. Just as the leaders of Israel opposed Jesus, they would likewise oppose His disciples.

“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.
They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”

What is worse than the opposition of those who should be helping? Following Jesus would divide families both internally and among the generations. Two great forces of opposition would arise:

  1. The entrenched religious leaders, and
  2. The Roman authorities.

The leaders of Israel would arrest them, torture them, and execute them thinking they were doing the work of God. In their generation, the Roman government would suppress them and make following Christ a dangerous life style. The disciples would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus was leveling with His men. He did not exaggerate for history reveals nearly three centuries of persecution from religious leaders and from the Romans.

Knowing God
The sustaining force to counter this two-pronged onslaught of violence was the two-fold flood of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was gone from them physically, He would still be with them spiritually through the abiding Spirit of God. The more they opened to the inward flow of life from the Spirit, the more powerful would be the outward flow of power and victory in their lives.

Scriptures:
John 15:26-27; 16:1-4

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 16) “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. “And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I open my heart to the ministry of the Holy Spirit—flow into my heart in a flood of compassion and into my mind in an ever-rising tide of wisdom and understanding. O Holy Spirit, let Your anointing rest on me to sanctify my life and empower my witness. Flow into me, Lord! Flow out from me, Lord! When persecution comes my way, help me be strong and patient, trusting always in You. You have called me to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Grant it, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Let Me Touch Him

Words and Music: Vep Ellis

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved