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

March 8, 2018: “Repentance”

Repentance

In modern Christian circles we tend to think of repentance as the final goal of our witness. Actually, it is the beginning.
The meaning of the word is simple and beyond dispute: it means to turn around. It is a deliberate reversal. Instead of traveling north we do a 180º turn and start traveling south. This is the first step in following Christ and it is a step often repeated on the Path of Life because we tend to get sidetracked onto useless paths that lead to destruction though at first they seemed right to us. When the Holy Spirit convicts us that we are on a path to destruction, we need to repent and get back on the Path of Life!

John’s Call to Reversal
John, the Forerunner of Christ, stood in the waters of the Jordan River and called for a reversal in the ways of his generation. He was not gentle.

“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…”

He called his generation’s leaders snakes—not exactly good PR and very poor “optics” as they say in politics today. But this was his message, his mission. He was not called to be gentle; he was called to tell the truth to his generation. Change was coming and repentance was the first step in preparation for the change. Results rescue repentance from being just an act of public theatre.  Repentance is a real reversal of the heart. “Fruit worthy of repentance” was John’s demand. When we really repent, our lives produce a different set of results.

  • We are peacemakers rather than strife producers.
  • We are loving instead of hate-filled.
  • We are honest instead of deceptive.
  • We are humble instead of haughty.
  • We deal in grace not vengeance.

These things are the tests of true repentance. Words without a reversal of conduct are worthless.

Heritage does not automatically transfer.
The object of John’s preaching claimed to be children of Abraham, as if their bloodline won them favor with God. While Jehovah is a covenant-keeping God and will be true to His promises to bless Israel, those promises included warnings against apostasy—falling away from true worship and godly living. Their heritage had merit as long as their personal conduct was in keeping with the Law and such was not the case. John as much as said, “Big deal!”

“God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”

It was the day of reversal, of pruning the national tree and the ax was already at the root.

Water and Fire
Standing and preaching in the river, John plunged the repentant ones under the water as a public act representing the inward reversal their lives. For those people it was a dividing line in their lives. How many of these people would be the ones to be healed or delivered by the hand and Word of Jesus? How many of these would be miraculously fed in the wilderness? How many would witness the resurrection of Lazarus? There is no way to know, of course, but this act of preparation was the first step in preparing for Jesus to walk among them in power.

Standing and preaching in the river, John prophesied about another baptism to come, one not of water but of fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit. The cleansing begun in the waters of repentance would continue in the fires of the Spirit. God would raise up children of Abraham from every nation of the world.

And it has been so!

Scriptures:
Matthew 3:7-12
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.”
Proverbs 14:12
There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
2 Corinthians 7:9-11
Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Acts 2:1-4
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Prayer:
O Lord, I want the power of the Spirit! I know it begins with repentance so I repent! I have gone under the water and up again to new and unending life in You. Now I want what John said You would bring—a baptism of fire! I realize how inadequate my gifts are to do the work You have called me to do. I need the Holy Ghost! Please do not leave me to my meager gifts and talents! Anoint me with Your power! Fill me with Your Spirit! “O Lord, send the power just now!” Amen.

Song:
O Lord, Send the Power Just Now
Words and Music: Charles D. Tillman

1. They were in an upper chamber, They were all with one accord,
When the Holy Ghost descended As was promised by the Lord.

Refrain:
O Lord, send the pow’r just now,
O Lord, send the pow’r just now;
O Lord, send the pow’r just now
And baptize every one.

2. Yes, the pow’r from Heav’n descended With the sound of rushing wind;
Tongues of fire came down upon them, As the Lord said He would send.

Refrain

3. Yes, this old-time pow’r was given To our fathers who were true;
This is promised to believers, And we all may have it too.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

March 7, 2018: “Forerunner”

Forerunner

When the time came for Jesus to begin His earthly ministry, God sent a man ahead of Him to prepare the way.
His name was John. From other sources we learn that he was a cousin of Jesus. His father, Zacharius, was a member of the faithful remnant of priests in the Temple who were looking for Messiah. He was born to Zacharius and his mother Elizabeth in the later years of their lives—a miraculous birth. When Mary learned of her pregnancy, she visited Elizabeth and the Spirit of God filled the older woman when the child within her leapt at the sound of Mary’s voice. When both boys were grown into men, their lives would intersect in the waters of the Jordan River.

John the Forerunner
Jesus grew up in the north, in Galilee, separated from the apostasy and appeasement in the south in Jerusalem. John grew up in the south, an eyewitness to the sins of the nation and her leadership. He was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. This equipped him with an awareness of the spiritual aspects of life. The sins of the nation and the wickedness of the entrenched leadership in the Temple propelled him to the desert. He abandoned the accepted norms of dress, preferring simple camel’s hair and a leather belt to cover his body. He fasted from a normal diet, preferring locusts and wild honey. The Spirit within him compelled him to speak, to cry out to an apostate nation to return to God. Repentance became his message, simple and direct with no ornamental soft pedaling. He waded into the Jordan River inviting those convicted by his message to join him there and plunge beneath the water as a public act of contrition. With no publicity, and no organization, people came and repented and were baptized.

His words spoken in the desert were repeated in the city to the discomfort of the political leaders. He was quoted in the Temple to the disturbance of the scribes and priests in their various sects and divisions. His call for repentance was heard by hungry souls and by angry men who saw him as a threat to their precious hold on power.

Repentance
John’s message began with repentance of sin but went well beyond that. His was a call to preparation for what God was about to do. He quoted the prophet Isaiah who predicted that the glory of the Lord would be revealed and they would see it. How this must have stirred the souls of the faithful remnant who were longing for Messiah and how it must have alarmed those whose hope was in the status quo. Something new was about to happen—get ready for it! Their God who was so active in their history was on the move in their day. Repentance meant more than being sorry for sins. It meant bringing down mountains of pride, building up valleys of apathy, straightening crooked roads of evil conduct, and smoothing out rough paths of carelessness. It meant changing the way you lived and thought. It meant opening up to the ways of God and putting away the ways of the flesh. It meant a new time was upon them, not one of God’s wrath, but one of God’s blessing and they could be a part of it if they chose to be.

Isaiah and John still speak today through the pages of Scripture. Repentance is still the start of a new life in God.

Scriptures:
Matthew 3:1-6
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.
Isaiah 40:1-9
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord ‘s hand Double for all her sins.” The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist still sound in my heart. I must prepare for the days ahead. Help me bring down the mountains in my mind that exalt themselves against Your plan for my life. I want to build up the deep valleys of my ignorance of Your Word and Your ways. Lord, my ways are often rough; smooth them, Lord. Holy Spirit where the road I have taken causes me to veer off the path, straighten me up! Lord, I want to see Your glory revealed to all. Make my life Your highway through this desert! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Just As I Am
Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William B. Bradbury

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 18, 2018: “Hearts”

Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 31, 2017: “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.

The booming voice, 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