January 9 “Together”

Together

The Jesus Story is about being together, no longer isolated, but connected to God and to each other.
The crowds seeking Jesus’ touch grew so large it was no longer possible to get time and space for meals. “His own people,” evidently a delegation of relatives from Nazareth, came to get Him to stop this nonsense. This was no way for a carpenter’s son to behave. “He is out of his mind,” some concluded, while others suggested a more sinister theory: “He is empowered by Satan, Himself.” They must have thought they could restrain Him by force.

A Hometown, Family Meeting
Jesus called “His own people” to His side for a conference. He reasoned with them:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand…

Perhaps this quieted them for a while; it did make sense. He was in the process of plundering “Satan‘s house,” his systematic program of confusing people, leading them away from God and then binding them in sin. Some went so far in this deception as to become hosts for demons themselves. Jesus was dismantling this demonic oppression in front of their eyes. How could He do this if He was in league with Beelzebub?

He warned of a great danger—Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
At the heart of all of Satan’s plans was an assault on the character of God. It was nothing new; it began in the Garden of Eden. Satan lied to Eve calling God a liar. His words were not to be believed, let alone trusted.  To counter this lie, the constant theme of Old Covenant worship confessed this truth:

“The Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!”

To confess that God is evil is the opposite of worship; it is blasphemy—a profanity. Sin is never more destructive to one’s soul than this blasphemy.

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”

The Good News!
We need to understand the unique role of the Holy Spirit. He draws the sinner to Christ. Without this conviction of the Spirit, the sinner never seeks forgiveness and is thus “subject to eternal condemnation.” The good news for each of us is this: If we feel a tug toward the Lord, the Spirit is still wooing us to Christ.

Mary and the Family
The retrieval committee played their highest card—His mother and family—surely at their appeal Jesus would drop this Messiah business and get back to His shop in Nazareth. At this moment Jesus added a new dimension to the word, “Together.” Who would be His family? Not just Mary and her children, but everyone who hears the words of Jesus and obeys them would be His holy family.

Scriptures:
Mark 3: 20-35
Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house. “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” — because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for calling me into Your Holy Family—the church! You and I are together! I am not alone in this world. I have fellowship with You and with those who are Yours! Help me always to honor the Holy Spirit Who draws me to You. You are good and Your mercy does endure even to this generation. You have not placed me in Your family for my comfort only, but to serve You joyfully. This I will do with all my might! Lord Jesus, all for You! Amen.

Song:
Day by Day
Words: Carolina Sandell; Music: Oscar Ahnfelt

1. Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best–
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

2. Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

3. Help me then in eve’ry tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 31 “Jordan”

Jordan

He left Nazareth early one morning.
He said his goodbyes to Mary and the rest of the family. He would not return there to live. He would no longer work in the carpenter shop; James would be in charge. It was time for His Father’s business to become His fulltime work. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. John was baptizing near there in the Jordan River.

He understood what John was doing—calling the nation to repentance. This was a moment of crisis. The sins of the people were many and the cup of iniquity was dangerously close to overflowing. Things had to change and that meant hearts had to change. The only way hearts can change is through repentance and the power of the Holy Spirit. John called the action of the Spirit a baptism of fire. He was specific about the actions of true repentance—drastic changes in behavior not just words spoken in the heat of emotion.

Down to the River
Crowds came every day, leaving the comfort of the cities and towns to swelter in the wilderness and hear John’s fiery preaching. They lined up to publically repent and submit to the well-known ritual of immersion in the muddy waters of Jordan. There was nothing glamorous about it, nothing graceful. It was the dirty business of cleaning one’s soul.

Jesus heard John’s voice before he saw him dressed in camel’s hair and lean from a diet of honey and locusts, a perfect vestment for such a drastic, desperate mission. As Jesus quietly took His place in line, a dialogue developed between John and the crowd.

“What must we do then?” Someone shouted. John answered in terms of those with much sharing with those who had less. After baptism, tax collectors and soldiers cried out to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” His reply was simply to do what was right and fair.

Jesus was guilty of none of these national sins and he had no personal sins of which to repent. The Spirit within Him led Him to keep His place in line. Eventually John saw Him and involuntarily cried out.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

Jesus was next to be baptized. John protested the whole thing.

“I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

Jesus smiled at Him and John lowered his head in recognition.

“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

John obeyed, plunging Jesus beneath the surface of the river. When the Lord emerged, dripping with Jordan’s waters, a voice thundered:

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The crowd fell into a fearful silence. Jesus recognized the voice of His Heavenly Father, heard so often in the scriptures and in His heart. Out of the shining sun, a beautiful white dove appeared and circled the two men standing in the water until all witnessed its flight. It then came to rest on the shoulder of Jesus.

With the booming voice and the circling, settling dove, the silence of the crowd grew deeper still. Suddenly there was a rush of repenting sinners splashing into the river. Jesus smiled at John and nodded for him to continue his work. He quietly exited the river and found a solitary place to pray.

Scriptures:
Matthew 3:1-17
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'” Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Luke 3:1-25
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison. When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”
John 1:29 NKJV
…John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Prayer:
Lord, baptize me with the fire of Your Spirit today! Prepare my heart for Your residence! Prepare Your church for Your visitation. Fill in our deep valleys of ignorance. Bring down our mountains of pride. Straighten out our crooked, self-centered ways. Smooth out our carelessness in holy things. Build Your holy highway through us! Let Your glory be revealed in this place, in my heart! Nothing less than the world is at stake. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Comfort Ye/Every Valley
From Handel’s Messiah

Comfort ye, Comfort ye, My people
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her
That her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned.
Comfort ye.

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

Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, Shall be exalted
and every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked straight and the rough places plain
Ev’ry valley, Ev’ry valley shall be exalted
and every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked straight and the rough places plain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also at KingdomWinds.com.

December 28 “Answers”

Answers

As a child Jesus possessed no divine powers. He performed no miracles or signs or wonders.
Yet, the mind of Christ was like no other, even in the formative stages. All children ask questions but we can only imagine the kinds of questions the boy Jesus asked. He was an excellent playmate as other children loved to participate in the childhood adventures He could dream up. He was easily and deeply touched by the pain of the other children and would rush to comfort them. Even adults would receive his solace. A community within the community grew around Him as the parents of His friends welcomed Him into their homes. He was a good influence on their children. The rumors of His illegitimate birth were almost forgotten in the presence of His excellent nature. Mary and Joseph had other children, each one special in his or her own way.

Each year this community within the community would make the journey south to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. The ceremonies had special significance for Joseph and Mary since they, too, had been called out of Egypt.

The pilgrimage was a joyful one, a moving celebration of the first order. They sang the songs of ascent, from the Psalms:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”
“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!”
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing.”

In the journey the children from these close-knit families often mixed with the families of their friends. The safe assumption was that they were all present and accounted for.

The ceremonies at the Temple were impressive and instructive.
Perhaps no one noticed that the lad Jesus lingered in the outer court of the temple. He had caught the attention of a small cadre of priests. His questions were not those of an ordinary boy. The number of priests grew as each priest was challenged by Jesus’ mind.

The boy was sincere. He really wanted to know and to understand the mysteries that plagued them all. This went on for three days. The priests took care of Him, sure that soon His parents would come looking for Him. This had become a conversation none of them would ever forget. Some of these very priests, in a matter of two decades, would have to decide about this young man as he stood before them on trial for His life, a threat to all their power.

Finally, Joseph and Mary found Jesus safe in the Temple entertaining the leaders of the land. In her maternal frustration, Mary rebuked her son. Didn’t she realize what He realized? He had a work to do for His Father in heaven. Quickly with deep embarrassment, Joseph and Mary collected Jesus and shepherded Him back home, back to the normal routine. But it would not be so. A corner had been turned for all of them. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:41-52 NKJV
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Songs of Ascent
Psalm 121: 1-3
I will lift up my eyes to the hills — From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Psalm 122:1-2
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Psalm 125:1
Those who trust in the Lord Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to march in the procession to Your House! I want to ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place. Give me clean hands and a pure heart. I remove any idols from my life and fill my mouth with truth! You are worthy of all my praise. Let me think deeply about You, not just now on Your holy throne, but then—in Your earthly life—Your childhood, Your teen years, Your young adulthood. Thank You for entering this life to show us how it should be lived. Help me to grow as You did “in favor with God and men.” Amen.

Song:
Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
Traditional German Carol

1. Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright, Amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

2. Isaiah ’twas foretold it, The Rose I have in mind:
With Mary we behold it, The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright She bore to men a Savior
When half-gone was the night.

3. This Flower, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also available at KingdomWinds.com.

December 18 “Inn”

Inn

All they needed was accommodations—a room for the night.
With seven words, Dr. Luke introduces a most fruitful image into the Christmas story: “…there was no room for them in the inn.” This bit of history has birthed so much fiction:

  • If there was an inn there had to be an innkeeper and he had to have a wife.
  • The manger meant there was a barn or someplace unfit for the birthplace of a king.
  • If there was no room for them then the people at the inn were so caught up in their own lives they missed the most important thing.

It is the firm conviction of this writer that these sketchy histories exist precisely for the purpose of firing our imaginations. As we fill in the missing details, the story becomes more real to us.

So there was an inn in Bethlehem.
The end of the torturous journey for a young woman “great with child” was a first century version of a No Vacancy sign. There was a stable out back where beasts of burden rested tired limbs and aching backs. It would have to do for an exhausted Joseph and a sore, weary Mary. No one knew better than she that her time was near.

Joseph, the planner, the builder, the careful, caring husband did his best to make his wife comfortable. It was a losing cause. Her discomfort was beyond the reach of his skills and the possibilities of the primitive conditions. She did not blame him, of course. None of it was his fault. It was part of the blessing for which they had been chosen. Joseph had prepared for this moment by listening to the advice of his mother and Mary’s. Knowing this, he and Mary waited. He fed and watered the donkey.

They were ready.
The extra blankets they had brought along were put to good use, propping Mary up and shielding off the chill of night. None of the guests at the inn knew about them or cared. The innkeeper did not visit to check on them. He was too busy with his paying guests to worry about this unfortunate couple. The animals were quiet and the wind stopped at the frail door to the stable. They were so alone.

But they were not alone.
Unseen by them, angels stood at every corner of the stable. Each heavenly guard stood at an unusual alert. This was no routine assignment. Angels knew of the miracle that escaped the notice of the people at the inn. The One Who Sits on the Throne had somehow abandoned glory for this humble inn and its barn. He was soon to be born. The mystery of human life that fascinated angels was about to unfold before them—birth!—new life! An infant, helpless but full of potential, would enter the world. The clock of mortality would start ticking for the little one, measuring a life fading even as it begins.

As the pains become sharper and more frequent, Mary held Joseph’s hand. Together they grew strength with each whisper of the name, “Jesus.”

Luke 2:1-7 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Bethlehem was prophesied; the back room of an inn was a surprise. The joy of Your birth is clothed in irony and pain. Christmas today retains this uneasy duet of hope and sadness. We rejoice in the songs of the season and think deeply of those we have lost who in Christmases past rejoiced with us. It is a time of having and losing, of smiles and tears, of singing hope and uneasy doubt. Lord, help me adjust to the situation the way it is and find the comfort You provide. Assure me that angels are ever on guard and that Your name is the most powerful prayer I can pray. Jesus! Amen.

Song:
What Child Is This?
Words: W. Chatterton Dix; Music: Greensleeves

1 What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain:
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

2 Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Refrain

3 So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 17 “Bethlehem”

Bethlehem

As old as religion itself is the concept of “sacred space.”
The Old Covenant was permeated with the idea of places where God would meet with people who reached out to Him. The patriarchs built their altars of sacrifice and God met with them there. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was a movable space, no less sacred for its portability. God’s presence was manifested there. When the singers and players made “one sound” to praise and honor the Lord, King Solomon’s splendid Temple was saturated by a cloud of God’s glory. The glory was so thick the priests could not stand up to perform their duties. This was the pinnacle of sacred space and would remain so until certain events would unfold in the vicinity of place called Bethlehem.

The City of David
Bethlehem was called the City of David. He was born there and anointed to be king there. The fields near Bethlehem were his fields before they were occupied by shepherds when Jesus was born. In them he killed the lion and the bear in preparation for his battle with Goliath. He never lost his love for Bethlehem. When King Saul pursued him and David was hiding in a cave, he remembered the sweet waters from a well in Bethlehem. His men risked their lives to bring him some. Later Ruth and Boaz would meet in the fields near Bethlehem to continue the Line of David which would eventually include both Mary and Joseph. When Rome called for a census Mary and Joseph had to make the journey to Bethlehem.

Big things happen in small places.
After the days of Ruth and Boaz, Bethlehem fell into a well-deserved obscurity. The Prophet Micah, however, exalts the little town to the pinnacle of prophetic importance.

Micah 5:2-5
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

This little town, these peaceful pastures and fruitful fields, will be the birthplace of Messiah, King of kings, Lord of lords. This town whose name means “house of bread” will produce the One who is called the Bread of Life, David’s Royal Son.

Sacred Space indeed.

Places of Worship Today
Just as Jehovah met with Abraham and the other patriarchs at their altars of sacrifice, the Lord meets with people today when they gather in the name of Jesus. Our praise makes that place a sacred space. Just as the glory of the Lord rested on the Tabernacles of David and Moses and filled the Temple of Solomon, we can know the Shekinah of God when we call upon His name in truth. In small numbers or large, the Lord inhabits and is enthroned upon the praises of His people.

Let us make our journey to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to at last be filled with the Bread of Heaven. Let us make our way to Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Savior so that He can be born in us. The star is leading. The angels are singing. The journey is underway.

Scriptures:
Micah 5:2 NKJV
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”
Matthew 2:5-8 NKJV
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
1 Samuel 16:1-5 NKJV
Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord .’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you.” So Samuel did what the Lord said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.
2 Samuel 23:13-17 NKJV
Then three of the thirty chief men went down at harvest time and came to David at the cave of Adullam. And the troop of Philistines encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the Lord. And he said, “Far be it from me, O Lord , that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things were done by the three mighty men.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NKJV
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Psalm 22:3 KJV/NKJV
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Matthew 18:20 NKJV
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, just as you blessed little Bethlehem with Your entrance into this world, You have blessed my heart with Your entrance there. Now, miracle of miracles, my heart is sacred space. Manifest Your glory there. Let me join the songs of angels today in worship as they sing before Your throne. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!” I gather with the saints in Your holy name to feast on the Bread of Life and drink from the Living Waters. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.

Song:
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Words: Phillips Brooks; Music: Lewis H. Redner

1. O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep  the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth  the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

2. For Christ is born of Mary and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

3. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 16 “Taxed”

Taxed

Mary and Joseph lived in a real world at a specific time in history.
In his astounding account of the life of Jesus, Dr. Luke cites dates and locations to anchor his report in verifiable facts. Rome taxed Joseph and Mary in many ways: money, energy, convenience, and personal risk. At the late stages of a pregnancy, a young mother-to-be should not have to trek 40+ miles past Jerusalem down to Bethlehem, the City of David.

It is easy to imagine Joseph’s anger and frustration. A good man wants to control things and Joseph must have felt he could control nothing. Ignoring the taunts and whispers of the town he served, he tried his best to provide Mary with everything she needed and now this! A decree from a godless heathen miles and miles away, but with soldiers enforcing his mandates very close by, destroyed every plan Joseph had made for Mary and the child to come. There was no denying or delaying the journey. They would just have to trust God, that is all. It had come to that!

Through the centuries as this story is told and retold, imagined and re-imagined, we have settled on the image of Joseph leading the donkey bearing young Mary, great with child, through the hills and valleys of taxation. So much pain! And it all seems so unnecessary!

God had a purpose in their pain.

He always does. Unlike this young couple striding and bouncing their way south to Bethlehem, God sees beyond the next hill or bend of the road. He never loses track of either the destination in the distance or the pain in the journey. Just as each human being enters this world through pain, so must Messiah, if He were to live the sinless life redemption required.

This fallen creation, once so pristine and perfect, was now riddled with pain and imperfection. Just as Rome needed an accounting of the citizens of Israel, a sinful world needed a full accounting of its evil deeds and desires. Jesus, rocking safely in Mary’s womb, carried by a faithful beast of burden, would someday ride another donkey through Jerusalem’s gates toward the place of His taxation, a place called Calvary.

God has a purpose in our pain.
God does not cause pain but He uses the inevitable pain of this fallen creation to His purposes.   Like Joseph and Mary, we live in the real world.  We, too, have civic responsibilities that tax us, literally and figuratively.  The New Testament is clear on this; faithfulness in these things is part of our witness before the world.

For Joseph and Mary, the facts of the taxation and the birth to come in Bethlehem would serve to document in history the greatest story ever told. In the process, God provided what the torturous journey demanded: safety, provision, and an ever deepening bond between Joseph and Mary. Meanwhile, as the unforgiving road passed beneath them, God was assembling a well-drawn cast of witnesses:

  • shepherds in fields near Bethlehem,
  • rulers on another long road from the East with a star to guide men wise enough to follow, and
  • a pair of elderly saints praying through each night for Messiah to come.

Mary and Joseph lived in a real world at a specific time in history.

Scriptures
Luke 2:1-5 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Luke 20:20-26 NKJV
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Romans 13:1-7 NKJV
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, someday You will wipe away all our tears and the pains of this life will be only an distant memory. Until then, there will be pain, the tax life demands of each of us. It helps to know that You are with us. We are never overlooked or forgotten. By Your stripes we are healed. So the Bible says and we believe it. Sometimes—praise Your holy name—the healing is here and now!—Hallelujah! Sometimes, the pain persists. Even in this, You are with us, comforting us, strengthening us, and giving songs to sing even in the long nights that tax us so deeply. Thank You for coming to this world to experience the pain of being human. Thank You for lifting us above the pain both now and for removing it completely in eternity to come. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Song:
Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Words: Charles Wesley; Music: Christian Friedrich Witt

1. Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

2. Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

The JesusStory devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 15 “Prophetess”

Prophetess

The Bible refers to Anna as a Prophetess.
In the days of the Christmas story, the Temple had a women’s court. Women could not be priests or Levites of course, but they could pray. When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.  Heaven also speaks. This elderly saint had no family from her long-departed husband so her full attention went to prayer and fasting. The life she chose in her advanced age was one of service to God; the scripture makes this plain. God is faithful to reward those who serve Him from a pure heart.

The Presence of the Lord
Years after Anna had gone on to her reward in Heaven, Jesus would come to these same outer courts and find commerce and politics but not consecration and prayer. He would call it a Den of Thieves. Even though this was surely the case in Anna’s day, she ignored the money-changing and power-grabbing and focused her heart on God. She disciplined her frail body with fasting and empowered her heroic spirit with prayer. Since God is faithful, we can be sure that He granted her the sweetness of His presence. In the midst of chicanery Anna found Shekinah.

The Word of the Lord
Anna arose to pray, as did her counterpart Simeon, seven times each day. Like him, she had memorized the psalms and much of the prophets. She used the holy words to call upon God for a Redeemer. Her treble voice graced the long hours of the night like a song on the wind in a meadow. Indeed, it was as if she felt a wind even within the sheltered walls of the Temple. She felt the winds of the Spirit of God stirring in her heart. Messiah was near—very soon to “suddenly arrive” at the Temple as Malachi predicted. The ancient words of God sounded in her hearing as if freshly spoken.

A New Covenant
Anna and Simeon knew the prophecy of Jeremiah and they were longing for Messiah. Perhaps they sensed that Messiah would bring a New Covenant. Jesus, the Christ, would indeed bring a New Covenant, one made in His own blood. He would be the final Lamb. A new type of worship would be instituted in His victory over death. Instead of worship in time and place, New Covenant worship would consist of spirit and truth. These two saints can be seen as the incarnations of Truth and Spirit:

  • Simeon, the priestly prophet preaching through his prayer-dreams for the truth of God to bring repentance and restoration, and
  • Anna, the praying prophetess, calling on God in effectual, fervent prayer—prayer in the Spirit—that, even then, availed much.

Unseen by the public and ignored by the leaders, this little woman prayed in the Temple for their Redeemer to come.

When a woman of faith prays, heaven listens.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:36-38 NKJV
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 NKJV
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Isaiah 44:6-8 NKJV
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.'”
Isaiah 59:19-21 NKJV
So shall they fear The name of the Lord from the west, And His glory from the rising of the sun; When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him. “The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord. “As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord , “from this time and forevermore.”
Isaiah 60:16-18 NKJV
You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, Instead of iron I will bring silver, Instead of wood, bronze, And instead of stones, iron. I will also make your officers peace, And your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, Neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation, And your gates Praise.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, teach me Anna’s secret! I want to renew my commitment to prayer and to the things of the Spirit of God. I will tune out the noise of this secular age and the clamor of commerce all around me. Help me feel the winds of the Spirit in my heart as she did there in the Temple. Your Spirit is at work. When people of faith pray, You still listen! You still speak when You find us listening in prayer. Help me to dwell in Your presence and to occupy myself with Your mission. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
I Will Sing of My Redeemer
Words: Philip P. Bliss; Music James McGranahan

1 I will sing of my Redeemer and his wondrous love to me;
on the cruel cross he suffered, from the curse to set me free.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

2 I will tell the wondrous story, how my lost estate to save,
in his boundless love and mercy, he the ransom freely gave.
I will praise my dear Redeemer, his triumphant power I’ll tell:
how the victory he gives me over sin and death and hell.

3 I will sing of my Redeemer and his heavenly love for me;
he from death to life has brought me, Son of God, with him to be.
Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With his blood he purchased me;
on the cross he sealed my pardon, paid the debt, and made me free.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 14 “Priest”

Priest

There is always a faithful remnant, even within the priesthood.
To the old man named Simeon, the priesthood was more than a family business; it was a calling from God. There were specific duties to be performed in a rotation. Each assignment was a joy to fulfill. More than these things, there was a general duty, a daily duty of scripture, prayer, and adoration. With a whole tribe of priests and Levites very few of them actually lived on the Temple grounds. When assigned the specific duties, they occupied temporary residences. Others lived at the Temple as caretakers and representatives of God to the people. A few, Simeon among them, lived close by, perhaps even in a small chamber in outer courts the Temple itself.

The Word of God was Simeon’s occupation.
He had long ago memorized huge portions of the prophets and all of the psalms. It is the duty of old men to know the Scriptures and bring them to bear on the issues of the day. His old heart was troubled and comforted by the Words he quoted in prayer. The spiritual state of the nation and of the Temple troubled him. The promises of Messiah comforted him. Sleep was of little interest to him. He followed the most demanding hours of prayer—seven times a day—rising at appointed times in the night to call upon God for deliverance. He quoted the words of the prophets as if there were a crowd listening to him and he was the prophet himself.

The Temple guards on duty through each night were accustomed to the sounds of preaching coming from Simeon’s little room. They somehow knew that the old man’s prayers and confessions were important even if there were no crowds to hear him, only a few sleepy soldiers. Deep in their hearts they knew that Simeon had the attention of heaven itself.

Simeon Prayed the words of the Prophets.
The Prophet Joel was a favorite source:

Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming…
Rend your hearts and not your garments…

The Prophet Hosea supplied another prayer:

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy;
Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord….

The old man could sense in his spirit a stirring in the heart of God. Something was about to happen. Long uttered prayers were about to be answered! Jehovah would hear their prayers and respond…

A Promise Given
Simeon stopped his preaching in midsentence. The listening guards were startled at the sudden silence. Had the old man’s heart finally given out?

In the silence of his obscure chamber Simeon, priest of the Most High God, was given a promise. He would not taste of death until he had seen with his own eyes the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.

The rest of that night was spent in silence. A Temple guard looked in on Simeon to see if the end had come for him and found him fully awake. The guard honored the silence just as he had the noisy praying. Somehow he knew that the Hope of Israel was at stake.

“It is time to seek the Lord!”

Scriptures:
Luke 2:25-27 NKJV
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple.
Joel 2: 1; 12-19; 28-32 NKJV
Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the Lord is coming, For it is at hand: “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, And leave a blessing behind Him — A grain offering and a drink offering For the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, And pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations. …”And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls.
Hosea 10:12 NKJV
Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let me feel the significance of these times. It is time to break up the fallow ground of my heart, of the church! It is time for all of us to seek the Lord. It is time to sow in righteousness and reap in mercy. Send the rain, O Lord! Let each worship service be both a celebration of joy in that You have come to earth and You are here with us and a solemn assembly wherein the needs of the hour and the demands of the day are pressed upon us by Your Spirit. Pour out Your Spirit as You have promised. The task before us is beyond our human abilities to perform. Let us as Your Holy-Royal Priesthood pray and preach through this long night until the Dayspring from on High dawns in this world. As we rend our hearts and not our garments—do a deep work in us today! Amen and amen.

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 6 “John”

John

Imagine for a moment Elizabeth sitting at the table with her husband Zacharias.
She is holding baby John. It is a quiet moment which Elizabeth appreciates. Her husband has regained his ability to speak and now he won’t stop. He is telling her, again, about that day at the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

“The angel—he said his name was Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, can you imagine?—told me that you would have a son and that we should name him John.”

“What did you say?”

“What could I say? I explained that we were both too old for such a thing to happen…” He stopped and patted her hand. She started to withdraw the hand, but then thought better of it—the man had seen an angel! She squeezed his warm hand. The baby wiggled a bit in her arms. He was a restless one!

“He told me such wonderful things! Just when I didn’t know what to say, I couldn’t say anything! I went outside and the people were looking at me so strange, like I had seen a vision or something. Of course, I couldn’t explain so I gave up trying and left.

“Tell me again, what Gabriel said about our John.” Elizabeth had not grown tired of hearing these things.

“Oh, it was wonderful! He said John would be great in the sight of the Lord and he would never drink wine or strong drink.”

“Really?”

“Yes! And he would be filled with the Spirit from birth—we both know what that is like!—And, best of all, he will turn people to the Lord! Just what we have been praying for!”

“So, he will be a priest, like his father!”

“Perhaps, or a prophet. Gabriel said he would go in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

“He said something about fathers and children…”

“Yes, the words of Malachi, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.’ When you think about it, that is so important!”

John wiggled in her arms. “He’s hungry again! I never dreamed that we would have a family! At our age! We had better be filled with the Spirit!”

“Oh, I remember when it happened to me—right after I agreed to name him John when we had him dedicated. Then I suddenly knew what was happening to us. It was like I was a prophet myself!–and I could talk again!”

Elizabeth could see he was about to get lost in the story. She quietly got up to leave the table and find some privacy. Zacharias continued to relive his prophecy.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The old man shook his head in amazement that he had a son at all and that his son was to be the forerunner of Messiah.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:8-26
So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:57-80
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her. So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.” But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father — what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied…

Prayer of Praise:
The Prophecy of Zacharias
Luke 1:68-80
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Song:
Prepare ye the Way of the Lord
Words and Music: Terry MacAlmon

Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way Of the Lord
For His judgments are true
And His mercies are new
So prepare ye the way Of the Lord

He that hath an ear
Let him hear what the Spirit says
To the churches

Make ready the pathway
Make straight the highway
Of the Lord

Behold I am coming
My Glory will be outpoured
Behold I am coming Says the Lord

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

“The Jesus Story Daily Devotions” are now available as part of KingdomWinds.com

December 5 “Elizabeth”

Elizabeth

The life of a priest’s wife was a quiet one and Elizabeth preferred it that way.
Especially now. For five months Elizabeth had hidden herself away. The last thing an old lady wanted to be was the center of attention. She and her husband Zacharias were deeply in love, now more than ever. All their peers we now parents and grandparents many times over. The absence of children in Elizabeth’s home formed a natural barrier to friendships. People were not unkind; they were just busy with their own lives and children and grandchildren.

She and Zacharias often sat quietly these days.
Since the day her husband had come home from his assignment in the Temple, he had been unable to speak so sitting quietly was the only option for them. He smiled a lot, though, especially as her body began to change. It was not unusual for a woman of her years to gain a little weight, but no one would ever guessed the cause. “But I know!” the old priest said to himself with a wry smile. Elizabeth turned her face away, still blushing because of this surprising turn of events.

Her name meant, “Oath of God,” and she had always believed the promises of God would come to them if they were faithful. Everyone who knew them, knew how faithful and full of hope they were. They were such a pleasure to be around. These five months of seclusion and silence stirred interest among their friends. They had all heard the story of Zacharias’ extended stay in the Temple and of his emergence having lost his ability to speak. Rumor was he saw a vision. The truth was an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zacharias and told him that his wife would bear him a son. When he protested that she was too old, he was struck dumb.

A Visitor from Nazareth
Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, her young cousin, Mary, came for a visit. Neighbors caught a glimpse of the older woman as Mary approached the house. “She’s put on weight!” the gossips whispered before she and her visitor hurried indoors.

In the house, away from prying eyes, Elizabeth explained that the child within her lept at the sound of Mary’s voice! As Mary marveled at this, a strange look came upon Elizabeth’s face. Mary recognized the look at once—the Holy Spirit! Mary had been overshadowed by the Spirit and she knew that now Elizabeth had been filled with the Spirit, too.

Two women, two miracles, two babies, God was at work. With the infilling of the Spirit, understanding flooded Elizabeth’s heart and she prophesied.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-25 NKJV
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Luke 1:34-45 NKJV
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like Sarah, wife of Abraham, Elizabeth received Your blessing, a promise fulfilled, long after the natural course of life would allow. Teach me this lesson, Lord. Help me never to give up, but cling to Your promises forever in this life. I will have faith in You not in circumstances. I will take joy in every sunrise as the dawn that brings Your promise closer. I will rest with each sunset, knowing that a night’s rest under Your watchful eye will bring the fullness of Your promise nearer. Fill me with Your Spirit so I can see clearly the promises You supply. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional Chorus

Have faith in God.
Have faith in God.
Have faith in God for the answer
Have faith in God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved