Wednesday The Garden

Gethsemane

Alone
Like the full Passover moon overhead, an angel from heaven stood watch in Gethsemane.  The sleeping disciples were scattered throughout the grove of ancient olive trees using cloaks and outer garments to keep warm and to soften the hard ground.

Jesus was alone in a way that no one has ever been alone. Sensing the moment and the heaviness of the burden, the angel came near to Jesus as He agonized in prayer. He touched the Lord’s shoulder, imparting strength, a flow of energy as heaven touched earth and earth responded. The strength the moment required was quickly spent in prayer, prayer so deep the blood vessels in his scalp and forehead broke as sweat and blood mingled flowing down His face to drop heavily to the garden floor.

His prayer was the same as before, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me!” His voice was hoarse with the depth of His struggle.

The angel stood by, this time unable to assist his Lord.

The Decision
Jesus was doing what no one else could ever do; He was drinking a cup no one else could drink and He must drain it dry.

“Nevertheless, not my will but Your will, Father, is what I will do.”

In this garden with a watching angel and sleeping friends, the decision was made. Jesus had emptied Himself of heavenly majesty and traded His jeweled crown for one to be made of thorns. He was the only one who could drink from the cup containing the sins of the world, all of them, yours, mine, those of all history and of all the evil deeds yet to come.

The Prize
He had won the struggle and this was the prize. He had been tempted to sin in all points as we have all been tempted yet not once had He yielded. Now, He had won the right to take all our sin upon Himself.  The decision was made that night in the Garden and tomorrow the deeds would be done: trials, beatings, scourging, abuse, insults, and finally a cross and just the right number of nails to pin Him there.

The Kiss
As Jesus prayed, Judas led Temple guards with torches, swords, and binding ropes. The disciples stirred from sleep and tried to fight the intruders but they were a sorry lot of warriors. One blow, that’s all, and a severed ear fell to the ground. Jesus rebuked the disciples and Peter, the one with the sword. His Kingdom did not advance by the sword. While still speaking, Jesus found the severed ear and replaced it to its rightful place as whole as the untouched one. Even a miracle could not prevent the events unfolding in a steel-blue moonlight of Gethsemane.

The disciples fled in terror as the guards led Jesus away. Soon the garden was quiet again with no one but the moon and the angel left to ponder these things.

Scriptures:
Luke 22:39-48
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have felt what it is like to be alone. In the depth of my isolation, You were with me. Your words were on my lips. Your presence was in my heart. Your hope was the song I heard, faint but unmistakable. I was not alone, really. In this week as we seek to somehow appropriate Your love for us, help us feel some of what You felt there in that garden alone, your friends sleeping, your enemies approaching while an angel touched your shoulder. I cannot know the agony of sweat turned to blood. I cannot feel the weight of the world’s sins, only mine. But even here in this garden I can still hear the angels singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy…” Amen.

Song:
Amazing Love
Words and Music: Chris Tomlin

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken,
I’m accepted, You were condemned.
I am alive and well, Your sprit is within me,
Because You died and rose again.

Amazing love, How can it be?
That You, my King would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

You are my King.
Jesus You are my King.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Palm/Passion Sunday

Temple

No one knows where Jesus found that whip, the one He used on the money-changers that day, but He knew how to use it.

It was the third Temple to stand In Jerusalem.
The first Temple, built by King Solomon on the plans of His father, David, stood for many years before apostasy and the Babylonians brought it down. The second was built by Zerubbabel, a “Prince of Judah,” born in Babylon but also born in King David’s line. It stood until the reign of King Herod who began construction on a Temple of a size and beauty to rival Solomon’s structure. This political gesture was still under construction the day Jesus found that whip.

The gentle Jesus had fire in His eyes.
His strong, carpenter’s hands were sure of grip and his powerful arms smooth in motion. He did not miss. Doves flew from broken cages. Coins scattered noisily on the stone pavement. Merchants scrambled down dangerous Temple steps facing injury if they fell forward and the lash if they stood still.

It wasn’t as if no one had seen Jesus angry before.

  • His disciples had seen the fire in His eyes every time He and the religious leaders confronted each other in the city streets.
  • Many times Jesus seemed almost amused at the stupidity of His attackers. As quickly as lightning can light up a stormy night, His eyes would flash with anger at their wickedness, their pride, and their uncaring malice toward the people of God.
  • His ready powers of speech could produce impressive names as His anger erupted toward them: “Whited sepulchers,” –that meant they were cleaned up graves with only death and corruption inside, “brood of vipers,–meaning they were just so many snakes.

Sometimes His anger was so great that it brought tears.
On this day, as He approached the city, He had broken down in tears over their disregard of the visitation from God that was happening in front of them. He had wept before because the people were leaderless, like “sheep without a shepherd.”

  • This was a city of intrigue instead of truth.
  • This government was one of raw power instead of grace and these leaders of show and not substance broke His heart.
  • Now this Temple was a house of greed instead of grace, a place of profit instead of prayer.

Perhaps His eyes still stung with tears even as he overturned the tables, scattered the scavengers, and proclaimed their sin for all to hear!

“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?
But you have made it ‘a den of thieves.”

A Different Order
Their corrupt political machine grinding to a halt before them, the religious leaders scrambled to restore order. Before they could do that, Jesus started healing sick people. The same strong hand that served out justice without mercy, now delivered mercy and justice. There was nothing the establishment could do to stop Him.

Some of the people listened. Some of them felt His touch. They came to the temple that day with barely enough to buy a dove for a sin sacrifice and they went home healed. How can this be? How can one group of people have welts to dress from the whip and others have new life to relish from the same hand?

The only answer is grace—the one thing a Temple must possess.

When the healing was done, Jesus returned to rest in Bethany. The next day brought another debate with the leaders and another loss for them. Jesus was just as sure a marksman with the comment or story as He was with the whip. They were sorely outmatched.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:15-18; 13:1-2
NIV
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.”
Psalm 24:7-10 NKJV
Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.
Isaiah 62:10 NKJV
Go through, Go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; Build up, Build up the highway! Take out the stones, Lift up a banner for the peoples!

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, to you we shout “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” We must honor Your procession into this house of worship. We shout Your praises and sing of Your might. We will not let rocks and stones out-sing us! We will carpet the ground before with our hearts. We will wave our hands like living branches to welcome You into our House, into our spirits. Hosanna! In the Highest! Save us now, O Lord! We need You and Your astounding peace. May Your Kingdom come and Your Will be done in us this day! Hallelujah! Amen!

Song:
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
Words: Jennette Threlfall; Music: Traditional

1. Hosanna, loud hosanna the little children sang;
through pillared court and temple the lovely anthem rang.
To Jesus, who had blessed them, close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.

2. From Olivet they followed mid an exultant crowd,
the victory palm branch waving, and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children should on his bidding wait.

3. “Hosanna in the highest!” That ancient song we sing,
for Christ is our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven, our King.
O may we ever praise him with heart and life and voice,
and in his blissful presence eternally rejoice.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 19 “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 named 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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

February 9, “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 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.
Though 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

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

February 1 “Jerusalem”

Jerusalem

As a child growing up in an observant Jewish home, Jesus had been to Jerusalem many times.
This time, however, would be different. This was not a pilgrimage to the Temple for worship. This was the march to the cross. The men would see more than the usual spectacle of sacrificial lambs and goats and pigeons. They would witness the slaughter of the Lamb of God. The words of Isaiah would no longer be an obscure prophecy of indeterminate meaning. They would witness the exact fulfilment of the prophet’s words concerning Messiah.

  • His face, so kind and handsome that it flashed friendly flames when He spoke of the Kingdom, would be so marred by the hands of men that there would be nothing attractive left in it.
  • His lean, strong body, shaped by hard work and long hours in the carpenter’s shop would be bruised and pierced, hammered and battered beyond recognition.
  • Even His closest followers would turn away from His ruined visage and broken body; those who professed to love Him would reject Him.
  • His Father’s will was in this terrible process for He had to bear the sins of us all and the healing of a hurting world would be won in the stripes He would bear.

He knew. The Twelve did not.
The men knew the passage but they could not know that the Prophet was talking about Him. If the brightest among them came close to making the connection between their belief that Jesus was Messiah and Isaiah’s disturbing predictions, he would surely dismiss such a thought in a moment. It was much more pleasant to remember the power of God flowing through Jesus and through them! Why couldn’t this go on forever?

Jesus could not leave them to their uniformed reveries. He had to warn them of what awaited them in this pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

  • Jerusalem was the domain of the chief priests and scribes—self-exalted enemies of Messiah, protectors of the self-empowering status quo.
  • They will arrest Him and deliver Him to the Romans who will execute Him.
  • On the third day the religious and political leaders would have a whole new problem on their bloody hands.

Worship in Time and Place
The Old Covenant called for worship in time and place.

  • Time: the hours of every day; the weekly Sabbath; the seasonal festivals; and the generational year of Jubilee.
  • Place: The home, the local synagogue, and the Temple in Jerusalem as the object of holy pilgrimage.

Messiah would bring a whole new order of worship with a New Covenant to enforce it: Worship in Spirit and Truth.

  • Spirit: worship led by and empowered by the Spirit of God resident in the redeemed human spirit.
  • Truth: the eternal truth of God flowing in time through the sincere worship of redeemed human beings.

Jesus would open the new way through the ordeal of Calvary–worship at the intersection of Time and Eternity. Beyond our imagination is the truth that a hope of joy would somehow sustain Jesus through these inevitable events—the Hope of communing with His People as they worship. This will be worship in spirit and truth, adaptable to any time and space. And so it has proven to be through 20 centuries.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 32-34 NKJV
Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”
Isaiah 53:1-7 NKJV
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
Hebrews 10:19-23;12:1-2 NKJV
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water….Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, my heart overflows with thanksgiving to You for Your unspeakable gift—Your innocent life for our guilty lives. Help me know that when I pray alone at my altar and when I worship with Your saints in the House of God, I am providing You the joy that was set before You in those terrible days—the joy of communing with us in the Secret Place and the Holy Place. Thank You for opening up this new and living way. It cost You so much; may I never neglect so precious and powerful a gift. Thank You, Jesus! Amen and Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 31 “Following”

Following

Perhaps the Twelve had never thought about the consequences of not following Jesus.
Now they considered it. Walking along with Jesus involved long periods of silence during which the Twelve thought deeply about what Jesus had just said. These things were mysteries beyond their ability to explain, riddles they could not solve. Each of them had heard the same call the rich young ruler had heard—“Follow me!” They had abandoned fishing businesses, tax rolls, and other means of security for life to follow Jesus into a future none of them could imagine. They had just seen a man refuse to follow. They had heard solemn and violent warnings against things that would hinder them in following Jesus. Lose a hand or an eye but do not lose the call! Heaven awaits those who follow and hell those who are hindered.

Remembering the Abandoned
Perhaps In this silence, they each remembered what they used to have before Jesus called them to follow Him. The four fisherman abandoned more than nets and boats; they left a life of security and useful purpose. Levi, also known as Matthew, left a shady but lucrative life in league with the governments, that of a tax collector free to skim his prosperity from the loosely kept records. Nine other untold stories are unknown to us but were the real histories of these men. As usual, Peter spoke what they all were thinking.

“See, we have left all and followed You.”

Kingdom Assumptions
From our distance of 2000 years, we must remember the revolutionary message of Jesus. These men had never known of a kingdom that did not involve riches for those who led it. There was no way for them to conceive of a kingdom that would be led by servants. Now Jesus was telling them not to expect riches or power but to live a life of poverty and servanthood. Perhaps if Jesus had challenged them the way He did the rich young ruler, they would have also turned away. But they hadn’t turned away. They had answered His call, leaving all behind to follow Him. He just needed to be reminded of their obedience.

Promises without Limits
Jesus loved these men and truly appreciated their love for Him, their sense of destiny, adventure, and purpose. He knew what was coming and though He tried to warn them, He knew there was no way they could know what was ahead for them. He made certain promises to them that have remained in force for 20 centuries to all who answer His call.

  • Those who follow Him, leaving their comfortable lives to embark on His adventure and mission, will be cared for. Leaving their families, they will find new ones, spiritual ones. Leaving their ancestral homes and traveling to the next place of service, they will be provided homes of safety and rest. There will also be persecutions.
  • In the age to come there will be mansions of glory and reunions of magnificent magnitude and no more pain or parting ever again.

Choose to serve now and you will reign then.

These promises are still in effect as Christians have proved in every generation. Without them the Gospel would be locked into one time and place. With them, the Jesus Story goes out to the whole world.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 28- 31
Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard and answered Your call. I can testify that though I left my natural family to follow You, You have blessed me with a multitude of friends and family. Though I left my hometown and state, You have given me traveling mercies without number and new environs in which to serve You with gladness and singleness of heart. You have been faithful to these promises. Your Word is true and following You is the only way to live! Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Traditional

1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2. Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
my cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

4. The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com

January 29 “Possessions”

Possessions

Possessions can deceive us. Sometimes, when we think we have them, they have us.
A running man gets everyone’s attention. Full of the energy of youth and the optimism of opportunity, a man ran up to Jesus and knelt before him. With such a dramatic entrance, this scene was guaranteed to play before a crowd. Only slightly out of breath, the young man hurled his question at Jesus.

“Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

Jesus smiled down at the man, instantly understanding that this was not a question rooted in humility. It was based in pride, self-righteousness, and false spirituality. Jesus played the man’s game. After a question and statement about the goodness of God, He cataloged the commandments. With each one, the young man smiled beneath his bow, mentally checking off each one. That Jesus could really pick up a cue! When the checklist was complete, the man stood to his feet and straightened his back and reported the good news.

“Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus’ smile never left His face. Here before Him was what we would call a “good man.” He was a credit to his family and his religion. He either was or would someday make a good husband and father. He was a master of the externals. The Bible says Jesus looked at him and loved him. He loved him so much, he could not let the man rattle along in this life when the externals were so right and internals were so wrong.

“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

The smile never left Jesus’ face but the young man’s smile disappeared quickly along with his self-confidence. He hadn’t bargained on this. Weren’t his great possessions signs of God’s approval? Why would it be necessary to divest himself these blessings? God had given them, why would God then require them back? It made no sense.

He felt like running away but he didn’t. He could sense the crowd he had gathered looking at him in wonder. He kept his bearing and turned, walking away with all his great possessions intact and a troubling new poverty in his spirit. Jesus did not try to stop him or reason with him. He let him go. The time for repentance had not arrived for the young man. The words of Jesus would never be far from his mind.

Possessions can deceive us. Sometimes, when we think we have them, they have us.

Scriptures:
Mark 10:17-22
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, save me from the power of possessions to own me. Help me keep things in perspective. You have blessed me with possessions but I recognize that they are not really mine—they are Yours. Everything I have is Yours. I recognize You as the source of blessings. They have been given to me to please You with my management of them. Beginning with the tithe on my increase, all I have is potentially an offering to You. Help me hold to things with such a careful but loose grip that they never have a hold on me. In Your Name, Lord Jesus.

Song:
I’d Rather Have Jesus
Words: Rhea F. Miller; Music: George Beverly Shea

1. I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand

Chorus:
Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

2. I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.
I’d rather be true to His holy name

Chorus

3 He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs.
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

Chorus

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 7 “Sabbath”

Sabbath

Though intended for rest and worship, men misuse the Sabbath for their own evil purposes.
On another Sabbath Jesus entered another synagogue to preach the Kingdom of God and to relieve the suffering of people who were sick or bound by demons. The Rules People had a unit there “to watch Him closely” to see if they could catch Him healing on the Sabbath (as if they could miss such a thing!) Jesus was up to their game and would prove more than a match for these small-minded Rules People.

Withered
In the crowd there was a man with one hand that was shrunken and useless. Jesus called him out and the man stepped forward. The Pharisees could not miss this! He challenged the opposition.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

They had no answer. Some of them knew they were in trouble but there was no stopping this contest now. Jesus was angry, the first record of this emotion for Him in Mark’s Gospel. These people had withered souls. They knew the rules but missed the point! The Sabbath was meant for the benefit of people, not for oppression! Jesus’ anger was based in grief. The hardness of their hearts broke His. Kindness overruled His anger and grief as He turned to the man, saying simply,

“Stretch out your hand.”

When the man obeyed, his withered hand began to inflate. Finger bones crackled and stretched to the proper length. He swiveled the hand back and forth; the stiff wrist was limber. He opened and closed the hand, fully able to grip anything he desired. The first thing he touched was his face, feeling for the first time with the hand that had never known feeling. It was warm, not cold as before. He clasped his two hands together. He had never done that before either! With the deepest smile he had ever known he extended both hands over his head. In the process he saw Jesus smiling, framed by his two matching hands. He lifted them higher in praise and thanksgiving!

Everyone laughed, everyone except the Rules People. The smartest of these were looking for an exit but most of them actually thought they had won the match! They had caught Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They had Him now! Indignation at this “travesty” propelled them out the door. They allied themselves the Herodians, Jewish leaders who sought to reform their religion through Greek and Roman thought—the more rules, the merrier.

The Sabbath Today
Each person has some part of life that is useless. It is numb and lifeless like the hand of the man in the synagogue. To worship God is to lift our withered souls up to Him. When something about us makes us feel unworthy to worship, we must hear His words, “Stretch it out to me.”

Scriptures:
Mark: 3:1-6
NKJV
And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Reference Passages:
Mark 12:29-31
Psalm 29:1-2
Hebrews 10:19-25

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I hear Your call to worship. At the same time I know that my personal record does not qualify me to worship. Because of Calvary, Your record has been applied to my name. You have made me worthy to enter Your holy presence. Lord, sometimes I feel dry and useless. Help me remember that at these times I must stretch out my wounded heart to You in worship. I know Your healing will come! Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Come into the Holy of Holies
Words and Music: John Sellers

Come into the Holy of Holies,
Enter by the blood of the Lamb.
Come into His presence with singing.
Worship at the Throne of God.

(Repeat)

Lifting holy hands, to the King of kings!
Worship Jesus! Worship Jesus!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions also appear at KingdomWinds.com.

December 30 “Savior”

Savior

In my imagination, I see a hill near Nazareth high enough to endanger the life of one who fell from its heights.
It commanded a peaceful view of the countryside below where fields of sheep and goats grazed in contentment. Well-traveled roads, footpaths really, could be seen approaching and crossing and diverging in different directions. People and their animals loaded with the burdens of the day occupied the roads. It was wonderful place to sit and think and pray.

Joseph and Mary met here often while they were waiting for Jesus to be born. The boy Jesus soon discovered this hill and, like all boys do, delighted in ascending its heights to sit and think and pray. As a carpenter’s apprentice, when the work was done in the late afternoon or in the early morning before the work day began, Jesus would climb this hill to meet with God.

A Heavenly Father
As a boy He could sense the presence of God in this place, a presence that was very much like the nearness of Joseph whom He loved dearly. In the presence of God there was something more somehow, as if He were the Heavenly Father. By His teen years, Jesus regularly considered God to be His Father in Heaven. He once spoke of this to Joseph who was not at all offended. He felt that way, too. Joseph and Jesus enjoyed long talks late at night about prophesies concerning Messiah. Jesus considered Joseph an expert in these matters.

Unavoidable Questions
When Joseph was gone, Jesus began to ask questions of Mary, questions about His birth. Mary prayed deeply about this before deciding that the time had come for Jesus to know the truth. On a Sabbath, they climbed the hill even though this was a questionable thing to do on the Sabbath. She told Him the whole story, the story we have told in this document. As she proceeded she watched His face to see how He was reacting. To her relief, He didn’t seem surprised at all. It answered so many questions that had lingered in His mind for as long as He could remember. For Mary, it was a burden lifted from her shoulders.

The Prophecies
After this, Jesus would often steal away to the hill to pray and consider the prophesies of the Redeemer. They were not comforting. Both angels in their declarations to Mary and Joseph had insisted that He be named Jesus, meaning Savior. “For He shall save the people from their sins.” He did not have to search for prophesies describing how this would be done. He knew that He must suffer for the sins of the whole world. He must have no sins of His own—he must go to the slaughter innocent, a helpless and pure lamb, the Lamb of God.

He could not foresee the circumstances of how it would come about, but from the beginning, He knew how it must end. He knew of other prophesies of great healing and restoration.

  • There would be a forerunner who would prepare the remnant—God always had a remnant—to receive Him.
  • There would be a great joy set before Him enabling Him to endure the shame.

His entire humanity cried out against such suffering. He possessed the same will to survive that we possess. He knew that He would have to serve against this nature to do what must be done. The will of the Father must be done.

Scripture:
Luke 22:41-44 NKJV
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
1 Timothy 2:5-7 NKJV
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle — I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying — a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Philippians 2:5-11
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are the Savior of the world—of my soul! I can never know the suffering You endured to accomplish this redemption but I can know some of Your joy in its accomplishment. The smile my worship can bring to Your face is part of that joy. The deep satisfaction of working for You to see good things happen here and now is also a part of it. Help me surrender my will to Yours every day—on this day, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
He’s the Savior of My Soul
Traditional Chorus

He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.
He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.

Your sins He’ll wash away.
Your night He’ll turn to day.
Your life, He’ll make it over anew.

He’s the Savior of my soul. Jesus, my Jesus.
He’s the Savior of my soul.
He’s the Savior of my soul.
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 29 “Craftsman”

Craftsman

The Incarnation—God appearing in the flesh—has many facets of meaning.
One of these is the fact that Jesus was a craftsman, a tradesman doing business in the real world of commerce. Just as He learned His faith in the synagogue, He learned His trade as an apprentice to Joseph. He developed the necessary skills to make a living in this world. In every culture of the world where people love and follow Him, this factor draws Him closer to both the worker and the business owner, the men and women who make that culture function. He learned how to design and build things, to choose materials, to fulfill a contract, and to make a sale. He knew the long hours required to do the job right. He understood the cost of doing business and importance of a job well done. He flourished in the competitive world of commerce where the customer was always right even when he wasn’t. Best of all, he learned the joy of craftsmanship, of doing good work, of making something. It was a joy He had known before, this joy of creation. Jesus learned all of these at Joseph’s side.

The Death of Joseph
Sometime between the Lord’s 12-year old visit to the Temple and His baptism in the Jordan at about age thirty, Joseph disappears from the biblical narrative. We can only imagine the grief in the home when the man of faith, the one who dreamed of angels and obeyed their commands, was suddenly absent. What a comfort Jesus must have been to Mary and to her children. As her first born son, Jesus became the head of the family. He was no longer the promising apprentice; He was the proprietor of the carpenter shop. He had to become the mentor to James, his half-brother, as Joseph had been to Him. After long days in the shop there must have been long discussions by lamplight about family and business details that only He and Mary could handle.

Mary grew to depend on Jesus as she had Joseph. His amazing mind was of great assistance in solving problems, both in the family business and in the family itself. As much as He loved them, Jesus recognized the challenge his brothers and sisters, and Mary for that matter, faced in having Him in their lives. He was wonderful but He was different. Mary knew, if the others didn’t, that He had other work to do. His calling was to be about “His Father’s business,” that of being Savior, Redeemer, King. What did that mean? When would it begin?

A Different Craft
As Jesus dealt with the people in His life, family, friends, customers, citizens of Nazareth, and even the ever-present Roman soldiers, He was learning a different craft. He was learning to be the Carpenter of Souls. He studied people, sensing who was worthy of selection and who was not, like selecting wood for a project. He listened to people, understanding that the contents of their hearts poured forth in their speech. He studied the normal conflicts between friends and the battles between enemies. He made note of the weaknesses that brought people to ruin and the strengths that carried them through crises.

When the time came, He would leave the shop to James and the home to Mary and begin attending to His Father’s business. He would be the Carpenter of Souls, the Redeemer, the Savior. He continues that ministry today with skillful craftsman’s hands, now scarred by nails, as He makes all things new for those of us who love and follow Him.

Scriptures:
Colossians 3:17; 23-25 NKJV
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
2 Timothy 2:20-26 NKJV
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 NKJV
But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, like You, I have a set of useful skills, a life business to which I must attend daily. I have many crafts to master. Direct my mind, guide my hands, and focus my heart so that I might do Your work well in this earth. Let my work be a work of integrity, done well for the right reasons. May the work of my hands be praise to You. Thank You, Lord for Your gentle, skillful hands molding and shaping my life in Your very likeness. You are indeed the Carpenter of Souls. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated
Words: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Henri A. Cesar Malan

1. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3. Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6. Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.