December 9 “Joseph”

Joseph

Of course he was handsome, the pride of the village of Nazareth.
With never a hint of scandal, never a worry about his future, never a complaint about his craftsmanship, many a mother of daughters in Nazareth had chosen Joseph to be a son-in-law. He arrived at his shop early each day and opened for business. The skill of his hands and his easy manner with clients made his carpenter’s shop a busy place.

On this day the door was closed and he didn’t answer those who called to him from the street. His skillful hands were clasp in a combination of prayer and despair. His friendly manor was now sullen and menacing.

Sometimes circumstances demand that a man do terrible things.
He had not slept since Mary had given him the news of her pregnancy. How can such a thing be? He knew, or he thought he knew, that Mary loved him yet here was evidence that some other man had…had what? Seduced her? Raped her? There was no good answer only the fact that she was with child.

He turned wearily to a small cot and collapsed. His brain was racing at speeds his heart could not match. Her story? More pain. How could he believe it? How could he not believe it? An angel? The stories of angelic visitations were for the Word of God, not for the village of Nazareth! Was she covering for someone? The thought of another man brought Joseph to his feet, pounding a fist into his hand as if it were the face of his rival. He paced the dimensions of the shop. Each finished and unfinished project mocked him, robbed by this intruder of any promise of a future with Mary. Exhausted by this fruitless combat he fell again on the cot, closing his bloodshot eyes as if he could shut out the truth. He knew what he had to do.  As sleep, long abandoned, reclaimed him, there was a single thought. He would  not subject Mary to public shame…

Soon merciful, heavy breathing commanded his frame. His mind finally relaxed as fear retreated to safe distance. He was ready for a visit from Gabriel.

A Dream, an Angel
The scriptures do not name Gabriel but an angel was suddenly commanding the shop. Light emanated from him as did peace, a welcome sensation to Joseph. The angel spoke in a voice deep and reassuring.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

As soon as he had spoken, the angel was gone but the peace he brought remained. Joseph slept the rest of the day. As he slept, a new name often escaped his lips: “Jesus.”

Villagers were amazed that the industrious Joseph slept all day in his shop. It was only the beginning of their amazement.

Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 1:26-27 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
Matthew 2:13-15 NKJV
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.
Matthew 2:19-23 NKJV
Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, let me learn from Joseph! He was a good man who was faced with an impossible situation. Through the trial he kept his faith in You! He believed the story he was told by Mary and by the angel. Help me to face facts but keep my faith in You and in those I love. It would be wonderful to be visited by an angel in a dream, but I have Your Word in my heart and in my hands. I have Your Spirit in residence in my life. There is no dilemma I will ever face that has no answer from You. There is no trial I will ever endure that is beyond Your strength. Help me, awake or asleep, to keep Your holy Name on my lips. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
That Beautiful Name

Words: Jean Perry; Music: Mary Johnston Camp

1. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That angels bro’t down to earth;
They whispered it low One night long ago,
To a maiden of lowly birth.

Refrain:
That beautiful name, That beautiful name,
From sin has power to free us!
That beautiful name, That wonderful name,
That matchless name is Jesus!

2. I know of a name, A beautiful name,
That unto a Babe was given;
The stars glittered bright Thro’out that glad night,
And angels praised God in heav’n.

Refrain

3. The One of that name, My Savior became,
My Savior of Calvary;
My sins nailed Him there, My burdens He bare.
He suffered all this for me.

Refrain

4. I love that blest name, That wonderful name,
Made higher than all in heaven;’Twas whispered, I know,
In my heart long ago,
To Jesus my life I’ve given.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 8 “Gabriel”

Gabriel

Gabriel means “Champion of God.” He stands in the presence of God.
Thus, he identified himself to Zacharias. Gabriel expected that his station in heaven would make what he said on earth believable. It should have! Zacharias paid the price in silence.

in the Bible, angels are unnamed most of the time. They appear when needed, perform the task given to them, and disappear without further announcement. Gabriel is mentioned by name in three instances.

  1. He assists the prophet Daniel in understanding the will of God in his important prophecy.
  2. He announces the birth of John the Baptist to the priest Zacharias.
  3. He visits Mary with news that she is the chosen virgin who will conceive and bear a son.

An angel, probably Gabriel, comes to Joseph in a dream to comfort him and instruct him to marry Mary.

Angels are Witnesses.
They are witnesses to the great events in history from creation to the Annunciation, to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Empty Tomb, to the ascension. The hosts of heaven witnessed the creation as “the morning stars sang together.”  Angels have always been there. Gabriel was there:

  • From the sad exile of Adam and Eve from Eden,
  • to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
  • to the moment when Moses commanded the sea with a shepherds staff, angels witnessed all the dealings of God with mankind, and
  • to the towering, flaming majesty of Sinai.
  • They observed the faithless trek through the wilderness and
  • One of them, perhaps Gabriel, the Captain of the Lord’s Hosts, came to Joshua before the conquering of Canaan.

Angels are Participants.
Throughout Old Testament history, angels are important to the unfolding story. They are the messengers of God visiting human beings with the knowledge of the mind of God. In the Gospels, they are vital to the ministry of Jesus.

  • Angels ministered to Jesus at points of need.
  • The armies of heaven exercised amazing restraint as they watched the Lord’s Passion.
  • Angels rolled away the stone at the tomb and spoke with the faithful women who came there in grief and left in joy.
  • At the ascension, an angel promised that this same Jesus would come again in the clouds of glory.
  • In the Book of Acts, angels rescued saints and delivered messages from God.

The book of Psalms teaches that angels are camped around each believer, guarding and guiding us through this earthly life.

Angels are Worshipers.
For all their angelic missions to earth, their primary purpose is praise. The Throne Room of God is described in Isaiah 6 and Revelation chapters 4-5. Angels worship God, day and night, without rest or pause for this is “the glory due His name” they are instructed to give in Psalm 29. The writer to the Hebrews says that this Zion is a place of “innumerable angels in joyful assembly.” When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, Gabriel was standing nearby. In John’s Revelation drama of the “One Who Sits upon the Throne,” Gabriel is in the supporting cast. Surely for Gabriel and all the angels, worship turned to wonder as Jesus laid aside His divinity to become a child in a cattle stall. No wonder angels sang to shepherds. No wonder the heavens danced with song and the earth glowed with glory! “Unto us a Child is born!”

Scriptures:
Psalm 34:7 NKJV
The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them.
Job 38:4-7 NKJV
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Daniel 8:15-16 NKJV
Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.”
Luke 1:19 NKJV
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.
Luke 1:26-27 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
Matthew 1:19-21 NKJV
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Prayer:
Calls to Worship from the Psalms
Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Psalm 95:1-7 NKJV
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand.
Psalm 99:5 NKJV
Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool — He is holy.

Song:
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Words: James Montgomery; Music: Henry Thomas Smart

Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth;
ye who sang creation’s story now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Refrain:
Come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king.

2. Shepherds, in the field abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing; yonder shines the infant light:

Refrain

3. Sages, leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great Desire of nations; ye have seen his natal star:

Refrain

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

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 Your 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

December 4 “Zacharias”

Zacharias

The old priest looked forward to each time the Temple rotation of duties included him.
On this day, his role was to burn the incense on the altar in the Holy Place, the final chamber before the mysterious Holy of Holies. His ancient heart was strong as his pulse quickened with anticipation of this priestly privilege. A crowd was waiting in the antechamber for Zacharias to reappear, his duty done. Perhaps, like Moses coming down from Mt. Sanai, his face would glow with reflected glory. One could never tell when the repeated prayers of Israel would be answered in their time as in the days of old.

More than an Audience
Who were the people in the crowd? Perhaps there were a few tourists on their first trip to Herod’s new Temple but most of them were of the remnant, the remaining faithful who sought the face of God. They knew Jehovah was their only hope. True worship was their only counterplan to the evil structures of Roman rule: religious freedom wrapped in military force. “Pax Romana,” the Roman Peace, allowed ethnic religions as long as they did not threaten the Empire and its god, Caesar. Their religion called for a different King! Messiah was their only hope, the promises of Messiah their constant liturgy.

Meanwhile, in the Holy Place
Zacharias’ turn at burning the incense was anything but routine. From the outset of his duties, he felt a strange excitement, a deep anticipation that heightened all his senses. His heart was full of praise and petition. For some reason an old prayer of his, long ago abandoned as beyond hope, returned to his heart. He knew better than to refuse to pray a prayer brought to mind in this Holy Place so he repeated it, feeling a little foolish for the effort.

The Holy Place was an interior room lit only by oil lamps representing the Spirit of God. The shadows cast by the lamps began to flee before a new light source just the right of the Altar of Incense. Zacharias’ heart almost stopped as did his breathing. The light became a figure and then a man, no, larger than a man and more magnificent than any man. It was angel! Fear started the old man’s heart again and suddenly he couldn’t get enough air. The angel told him not to be afraid—they always say that! He told him his prayer was heard—Elizabeth will give Zacharias a son! That was the foolish prayer, long ago discarded but rediscovered today!

The old man protested the obvious facts of life; he shouldn’t have done that. The angel identified himself as Gabriel who stands in the presence of God. That should be enough credentials! He told Zacharias details about who his son would be and what he would do. In the process, Zacharias became voiceless.

When the old man tarried in the Temple, the restless crowd of the faithful outside wondered what it might mean. When he emerged, the people saw something that made them think he had seen a vision but he could not explain. When his duties were completed, Zacharias returned to his home and to his very surprised wife, Elizabeth.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:5-26 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.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I am a member of the Holy, Royal Priesthood of New Covenant believers. Help me be faithful at the altar or prayer. Like incense burned in the Holy Place of the Old Covenant, the prayers of the saints are precious to You. They are collected before Your Holy Presence. Help my prayers never to be missing from that collection. Lord, if, like Zacharias, If I have given up praying for long-standing needs according to Your long-standing promises, resurrect them in my prayers today! You are not slack concerning Your promises. Your very name is “Faithful and True!” Help me be faithful and true in my prayers. For Your Glory and Your Kingdom! Amen.

Song:
God Answers Prayer
Traditional Chorus

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 3 “Emmanuel”

Emmanuel

At the center of life there is a longing.
If our possessions crowd every inch of space in the house, garage, and rented storage space, we can still see something we do not possess and long for it. It is just the way we are. At the dawn of man’s existence, fellowship with God was broken by sin. Adam and Eve “walked with God in the cool of the day.” This provocative description describes an intimacy of creature with Creator that we cannot really understand. Still, we can long for it, and we do.

  • The restlessness deep in each of us testifies to it.
  • The drive to learn, to understand, and to explore, is evidence of this longing.
  • The need to own more and more, to control events and people, and to organize the universe around our desires is the residue of an unfulfilled longing for fellowship with our Creator.

Ancient Israel Longed for Messiah, Sometimes.
They knew they were “God’s Chosen People.” They knew also that this was as much a curse as it was a blessing.

  • They had to fight their way through their Land of Promise.
  • There was an inconvenient connection between true worship of God and victory over their enemies. When their worship was true, their borders were safe. When they forsook Jehovah their borders were porous.
  • Their beliefs were spiritual not material, rooted in an invisible world of faith rather than in the tangible, visible world around them.

Why couldn’t they have good, solid idols to pray to like all the other peoples of the earth and practical, sensual rituals like the pagans around them? They had been short-changed—only one god—and he could not be seen! Their seasons of faithfulness were outnumbered by their many apostasies.

By the time of Jesus, Israel was a bundle of conflicting longings. Their leadership was divided into competing factions. Corruption connected religious leaders with political ones. Only a faithful remnant called upon the Lord.

A Sign from Heaven
There was a remnant who continued to seek the face of God. They had the Book of the Law, God’s own words to them. They had priests and prophets and a Temple to call them to faithfulness. Isaiah was a prophet whose writings defined their longings.

  • Someday God would give a sign—a virgin would conceive and bear a son. His name? Emmanuel—“God with us!”
  • This child, this Emmanuel, will not dwell in obscurity—He will be King!—A King with Us!
  • He will take the government on His broad shoulders and He will be called my many names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace. His ever-increasing Kingdom would emanate from the throne of His Father, David and it will have no end.

This longing, fueled the prayers of the faithful through the dark nights of Roman tyranny and the depressing days of religious corruption. They must have reasoned to themselves, “When Emmanuel comes, surely we will walk with God again, in the cool of the day.”

Little did they know! Emmanuel—God with Us—would indeed walk this earth in holiness to redeem all who call upon in truth. “Unto us a Child is born!”

Scriptures:
Genesis 3:8 NKJV
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Isaiah 7:13-15 NKJV
Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Isaiah 9:2-7 NKJV
The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation And increased its joy; They rejoice before You According to the joy of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden And the staff of his shoulder, The rod of his oppressor, As in the day of Midian. For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, And garments rolled in blood, Will be used for burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Matthew 1:22-25 NKJV
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus .

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like ancient Israel, my heart longs for You. You are, indeed, Emmanuel, God with Us! We do, indeed, walk together in the cool shadows of this day of Your amazing grace, sins forgiven, the Spirit in residence within, and a squad of guarding angels patrolling on every side. What else could I long for? Only more of You for all my loved ones and for all those I contact today. Help me point them to You! Help me love them with Your love. Somehow, let them see that You long to be their Emmanuel, too! Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
O Come, O Come Immanuel
Ancient Christian Chant

1. O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

2. O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. Refrain

3. O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

4. O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. Refrain

5. O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death’s abode. Refrain

6. O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. Refrain

7. O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace. Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 2 “Caesar”

Caesar

Jesus was born into an Israel smothered in the might and mire of Rome.
She was no longer a free nation as in the days of David and Solomon; she was a vassal state of an evil empire. Roman soldiers patrolled the streets to keep the pax romana, the “Roman Peace.”

“Keep your local religion,” said the emperor, “but have no real king but Caesar. Keep your religion indoors and there will be no trouble. Take it to the streets with treasonous little messiah-bands and there will be trouble like you have never seen. The Canaanite tribes, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, all those who conquered you before, will pale to distant memory under the iron boot of Rome.”

The second Temple, only a shadow of the first, had been replaced by Herod’s Temple. This political gift to the people, shining golden in the sun, guarded a secret, secluded, empty, Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost centuries before. Now the Roman palace, Fortress Antonia, was attached to the Temple. King Herod was a puppet king of Rome’s choosing. His real job was to keep the cantankerous priests, “prophets,” and zealots from upsetting the delicate balance of tyranny and temple worship.

A Delicate Balance Indeed
Beneath both the tyranny and the temple worship was the threat and the hope of Messiah, a king of the Jews to challenge Caesar in faraway Rome.

  • Messiah was a minor threat to Rome not to be tolerated.
  • The promise of Messiah was a major hope for the remnant in Israel, those who sincerely prayed the psalms, gathered for the feasts and festivals, and called every day on Jehovah, the God Who keeps covenant. “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Among these faithful were an aging priest with a promise from God, Simeon, who duties in the Temple were performed to perfection, the precision of a well-rehearsed faith, and an elderly woman named Anna whose tender heart leapt like that of a bride at the thought of Messiah. Their daily faithfulness in prayer was a towering threat to Rome of which Caesar knew nothing.

Soldiers in the streets, a Roman Governor in charge, a puppet, wicked King on a pretender’s throne, a hollow religion in a golden Temple, this was the world into which Jesus would come. He would sound no trumpets at His approach—angels would sing to shepherds. He would convene no council—wise-men from the East would follow a star. He would ignore the rich and powerful and choose a carpenter and his espoused wife as His caretakers.

If Caesar had known it, he would have been sleepless in his royal chamber and uneasy on his throne for the King of kings was on His way!

Scriptures:
Luke 2:1-3 NKJV
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
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: 22 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.
Matthew 2:1-2 NKJV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 12:3-8 NKJV
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 22:15-22 NKJV
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “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.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your story is so amazing! You came into a world as politically confusing as our world is today—yet You came and brought truth to those who heard You. You came into a world as violent as this one, yet You gave peace to those who welcomed You. You came to our darkness bringing light and to our pain bringing joy. Help me today to continue Your mission: truth, peace, light, and joy to this deceived, troubled, dark and despairing world. Come into my heart as You came into the Roman world. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill to all. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Song:
How Should a King Come?
Words: Carol Owens; Music: Jimmy Owens

1. How should a King come?
Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry and the crowds make way.
And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done.
That’s the way that a King should come.

2. How should a King come?
Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way that it’s done,
That’s the way that a King should come.

3. How should a King come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.

Chorus:
And the angels cried: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Earth was silent so heaven rang: “Glory! Glory to God!”
Men were dumb so the angels sang: “Glory! Glory to God!
Peace on earth good will to men, Glory! Glory to God!
Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
“Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God! Glory in the Highest!
Glory to God!”

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

December 1 “Incarnation”

Incarnation

Mystery of mysteries! Wonder of wonders! God in human form; how can it be?
Greater than any natural wonder found anywhere on this earth or in the cosmos is the wonder of the Christchild!—The Creator God, Himself confined to swaddling clothes and lying in a manger! Theologians call this mystery, the Incarnation.

The Apostles marveled at this truth:

  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld His glory as the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John
  • “…He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…” Paul

The Incarnation—“The Word Made Flesh”
What does it mean? The implications are staggering:

  • The eternal One entered into time.
  • The One who existed everywhere all at once, now existed only there and only then.
  • The One whose life was impervious to all destructive forces took on a human body that was subject to hunger, weariness, temptation, age, and death.
  • The One who knew everything limited Himself to only what a human can know. We who know so little cannot begin to imagine what it was like for the Son to lay aside omniscience to know only what an infant knows, to understand only what a child understands, to realize only what a teenager realizes, to operate only on the knowledge of a typical young man of the village.

The Apostle Paul calls this humility but there is no word strong enough to express such condescension. He is our example of humility, a goal so high we can never reach it on our own.

The Indwelling Spirit
With the Incarnation, Jesus knew only what people of His day knew except—and it is a colossal exception—that He was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knew all, just as He knows all today. Jesus walked through this life as a human being filled with the Holy Spirit—the perfect example of the life He would provide New Covenant believers to come.

The Incarnation Continues
As we begin our journey through the Christmas story we must remember that, unlike Calvary, the Incarnation is not a “once and for all” truth. It is meant to be repeated in each of us every day. In our humble, holy lives, we too must empty our hearts of pride, rid our methods of power that corrupts, and look for ways to serve not rule.

  • May the artist incarnate eternal truths into works of his/her imagination.
  • May the craftsman invest the presence of the Divine into functional works of his/her skillful hands.
  • May the ultimate reward of both artist and craftsman be the smile of the Lord Jesus felt deep in the heart.

How is this done? Through our humility and the Spirit’s ministry! “Let this same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in You!” Paul demands. We have the Spirit abiding within to help us and we have the “Word made flesh” to guide us.

These December devotions are exercises in incarnation.  I will attempt to lift the characters from the printed page and breath ordinary life into them.  Join me every morning in December!

Scriptures:
Philippians 2:5-11 Amplified Bible
Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross! Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, And every tongue [frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11 NASB
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John’s Testimony of Christ
John 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1-3; John 1:10-14
From 7 Days of Prayer and the Book of Common Prayer
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at Your condescension! You left heaven to come rescue the likes of me. Forgive me for ever counting Your love and grace as worthless. Holy Spirit, focus my heart on the manger! Help me sing with the angels, praise with the shepherds, worship with the kings and wonder with all creation at the mystery in the manger! Be born in my heart, O Holy One, as You were in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. Help me incarnate Your eternal truth into my time-locked life. Walk in my footsteps. Speak through my voice. Humble me, humble me, humble me, so that Your life and love may be all that is seen and heard in me. Amen and Amen.

Song:
Down from His Glory
Words: William E. Booth-Clibborn; Music: Eduardo Di Capua

1. Down from His glory, Ever living story,
My God and Savior came, And Jesus was His name.
Born in a manger, To His own a stranger,
A man of sorrows, tears and agony.

Refrain:
O how I love Him! How I adore Him!
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all.
The great Creator became my Savior,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him.

2. What condescension, Bringing us redemption;
That in the dead of night, Not one faint hope in sight,
God, gracious, tender, Laid aside His splendor,
Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

Refrain

3. Without reluctance, Flesh and blood His substance,
He took the form of man, Revealed the hidden plan,
O glorious mystery Sacrifice of Calv’ry,
And now I know Thou art the great I Am.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 19, 2018: “Bethany”

Bethany

We must minister to the Lord if we are to minister to the world.
After the rigorous events in Temple and teachings He gave the men, Jesus was tired. He retreated to one of the few places on earth where He was made welcome, Bethany, the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Most of what we know about these sisters and their brother comes from other accounts so we will not treat them here. This particular dinner was at the home of a former leper names Simon. It is likely that Martha and Mary helped Simon put the dinner together. Lepers were not known for social graces.

A Plot Brews in Jerusalem.
The defeated leaders of the people in Jerusalem were hatching another plot against Jesus. He was not concerned. He was beyond their trickery. As they were about to proceed, the brightest among them realized that it was near the time of the Passover, not a good time for a political ploy. They decided to wait for a more opportune time.

A Celebration of Joy
It is easy to imagine that this dinner at the home of Simon, a former leper, was a joyous celebration. Add to the healing of Simon the celebration of the resurrection of Lazarus and you have the makings for quite a party. Martha hurried here and there in the unfamiliar, dreadfully ill-equipped kitchen working her hospitality magic just as if she were home in her own well-designed kitchen.

Mary was there, too, in her customary place at the feet of Jesus. She had prepared for this scene by secretly bringing a gift for Jesus, her most valued possession, a flask of expensive ointment. She was oblivious to the noise of laughter and of fellowship. Her focus was on Jesus. She was waiting for the right moment—not a moment for others, but a moment just for her and Her Lord.

The Alabaster Flask
The moment came and she knew it. There was no change in the room as she removed the flask from her loose clothing. No one noticed as she broke its seal. When she started to release its contents into her hands and then on to Jesus’ head, the aroma of the ointment filled the house. Silence stole over the room as Jesus smiled at her with tears in His soft eyes. He knew what she was doing.

The Twelve did not smile. This was a waste of a valuable commodity. Someone, Judas probably, did the math and announced what a blessing this could have been to the poor.

Jesus did not agree.

“Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me.”

He reminded them—again—that these days were of a special season. The poor will always be available but these moments will not come again.

“She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.”

The party mood was gone now. Jesus had one more thing to say as the heavy fragrance hung in the air. It was about the preaching they were going to do.

“…wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

From that moment, worship and preaching the Gospel have been linked. Each needs the other.

We must minister to the Lord if we are to minister to the world.

Scriptures
Mark 14:1-11
After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people.” And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there are moments to be seized in this life; do not let me miss them. Mary worshiped You without regard for the opinions of others. Let me learn to do that! She ministered to You with the best gift she had. Let me learn that lesson, too. I will not offer to You a praise that costs me nothing. Holy Spirit, show me how to focus on Jesus as I worship. I want to sense deep in my spirit the same commendation that You gave Mary. “You have done a beautiful thing to me.” Lord, help me, as she did, to do what I can! Amen and amen.

Song:
Broken and Spilled Out
Words: Gloria Gaither: Music: Bill George

1. One day a plain village woman
Driven by love for her Lord
Recklessly poured out a valuable essence
Disregarding the scorn
And once it was broken and spilled out
A fragrance filled all the room
Like a pris’ner released from his shackles
Like a spirit set free from the tomb

Refrain 1:
Broken and spilled out Just for love of you Jesus
My most precious treasure Lavished on Thee
Broken and spilled out And poured at Your feet
In sweet abandon Let me be spilled out
And used up for Thee

2. Lord You were God’s precious treasure
His loved and His own perfect Son
Sent here to show me
The love of the Father
Just for love it was done
And though You were perfect and holy
You gave up Yourself willingly
You spared no expense for my pardon
You were used up and wasted for me

Refrain 2:
Broken and spilled out Just for love of me Jesus
God’s most precious treasure Lavished on me
You were broken and spilled out And poured at my feet
In sweet abandon Lord You were spilled out and used up for Me

In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out
And used up for Thee

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 9, 2018: “Vineyard”

Vineyard

A vineyard is much more than a yard with vines. It is a business that must produce a product and a profit.
When questioned about His authority, Jesus countered the silence of the scribes, priests and elders with a parable.

  • It was the story of a man who planted a fine, secure vineyard and leased to vinedressers while he traveled extensively.
  • Still on his journey when the time for product and profit came, the man sent his servant to collect.
  • The vinedressers beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. This shameful thing happened several times.
  • At last, the man sent his only son, expecting that they would surely respect his son.
  • They did not. They saw an opportunity to steal the vineyard, its product and the profits. They killed the son and threw his body out of the vineyard.

When He spoke of a vineyard, there was no misunderstanding His meaning. It was an ancient image for the nation of Israel.

What will their profits be?
After detailing the repeated crimes, Jesus let the story hang in Temple air. By this time a crowd had gathered to watch this contest of authorities. Did the hopes of the nation lie in the system, so ancient, so corrupt, and so firmly established? Or did was it possible that One with greater authority was on the scene, One who could not only cleanse the Temple of profane merchants, but also reform the entrenched leadership? How would their leaders answer such a pointed accusation of their wickedness?

Though by now the sun was high and hot in the sky, the assembled, challenged leaders facing Jesus alternately shivered in their sandals and sweated in their vestments. When the silence grew unbearable Jesus finished the story with a question.

“Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do?

A slight breeze traversed the floor of the Temple court between Jesus and His interrogators. It did nothing to warm the shivering ones or cool the sweating ones. In the silence Jesus locked eyes with each of the leaders, staring until each one dropped his eyes to the ground. No one could think of anything to say. Finally, Jesus answered His own question.

“He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.”

No one was expecting this. Even the disciples wondered what He meant. Who but the Jews could care for the House of God? Surely renewal and revival were the plans for the Messiah’s ministry, not abandonment! Who else could tend this vineyard? Certainly not Gentiles!

The Cornerstone
Jesus continued. There is one coming whom the leaders will reject. He will become the cornerstone of a new Temple.

“Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Several of the leaders started to rush Jesus and put an end to this. Cooler heads restrained them for fear of the people. One by one, they remembered they had others things to do that day.

Scriptures:
Mark 12: 1-12
Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have appointed me to be a worker in Your Vineyard—the church! Each of us is also a branch, vitally connected to You, the True Vine. You expect me to bear much fruit! Together You expect all of us to be about the business of the Vineyard—glorifying You, telling Your story, caring for each other and seeing new life in the Vineyard. You said that You had chosen me and ordained me that I should bear much fruit and my fruit should remain. I know You are about to return so help me be faithful and fruitful! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Cornerstone
Words and Music: Dottie Rambo

Jesus is the Cornerstone, came for sinners to atone.
Tough rejected by His own, He became the Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone.

When I am by sin oppressed on the Stone I am at rest
And where the seeds of truth are sown, He remains the Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone, The Cornerstone!

Rock of Ages, cleft me! Let me hide myself in Thee.
Rock of Ages, so secure! For all time it will endure.
Till His children reach their home, He remains the Cornerstone!

Till the breaking of the dawn, till all footsteps cease to roam.
Ever let this truth be known—Jesus is the Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone, The Cornerstone!
Till the breaking of the dawn, till all footsteps cease to roam.
Ever let this truth be known—Jesus is the Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved