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The second Temple, only a shadow of the first, had been replaced by Herod’s Temple.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

February 27, 2018: “Victory”

Victory

When you have seen something with your own eyes, it is most difficult to believe otherwise.
And so it was with the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. With their own eyes they had witnessed His death. After His body was taken down from the cross, the women who loved and followed Jesus had hastily prepared His lifeless form for the tomb. After the Sabbath had come and gone, they returned to do proper service to the body of their Lord.

We cannot imagine the grief they experienced that Saturday. Each of the women had received countless undeniable blessings from the hands of Jesus.

  • Mary and Martha of Bethany had seen their dead and decaying brother, Lazarus, come waddling out of his own tomb, wrapped in grave clothes, at the command of Jesus! How could the One who was the Master of death, be overcome by death? It made no sense, but they had seen the still body of Jesus for themselves and handled it in preparation for its rest in Joseph’s tomb.
  • Mary Magdalene had been delivered from the violence of seven demon spirits at Jesus’ command. Now His voice was stilled and she had to wonder if the forgiveness He had granted was just an illusion. Was she still in her sins?
  • From other accounts, we know that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was at the cross when he died. Without doubt she was among the women who went, early that Resurrection morning, to visit the tomb.

They went to the tomb not knowing how they would roll away the huge stone placed over the entrance by the Roman soldiers. There was little logic in their mission but they were compelled to make the effort.

When they arrived, they saw that the stone was already moved. Their first thoughts were that someone had stolen His body. Cautiously, they entered the tomb. A young man dressed in brilliant white robes was standing on the right side of the large flat stone where the body of Jesus should have been. Startled, they shrank back in fear. His voice was both commanding and soothing

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He is risen! He is not here.”

They did not, they could not, move. From other accounts we know that the linen in which the body was wrapped lay flat on the stone, as if it had been deflated. The linen that had covered His head was folded neatly at the head of the stone. The body was gone but this was not the work of mortals.

“See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

The man spoke with an authority very much like that of Jesus Himself, so they knew they must obey. They ran from the tomb but shared this experience with no one. Who would believe it, anyway?”

Other Witnesses
Mary Magdalene was the first to actually see the risen Lord. She told the other followers of Jesus, but in their depth of their grief, there was no way for them to ascend to the level this truth. They could not believe what they were hearing; they knew what their eyes had seen. When He appeared to two of them as they were walking, the two were convinced but even this was not enough to counter the witness of the eyes.

The world’s greatest victory had been won and so many could not see it. We are all witnesses to the reality of death. It is for us to see the Risen Lord with eyes of faith.

Scripture:
Mark 16: 1-13
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away — for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples — and Peter — that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, you told Thomas that those who believe in Your resurrection without actually seeing You, would be blessed. I am in that number. I believe You conquered death. I believe You hold the keys of death, hell, and the grave. I believe that death has been swallowed up in victory. I believe that my loved ones who have departed this life are with You now enjoying life everlasting. I believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with You. I believe that You are the Lord of the living. Through Your grace, I walk each day in newness of life! The Lord is risen—He is risen, indeed! Amen!

Song:
Christ Arose!
Words and Music: Robert Lowry

1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain:
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 16, 2018: “Readiness”

Readiness

Inevitable things will come. We cannot stop them but we can be ready.
The observation point high on the Mount of Olives afforded a stirring view of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus and the Twelve had just left the Temple, exited the city gates and ascended to this point on the mountain. Such sights prompted questions about the future Jesus predicted. So far His answers had not been encouraging. It would get worse before it got better.

The Prophet Daniel
The Prophet Daniel wrote on a grand scale. His work concerns nations and epochs of time. So much so, that several historical events can be linked to just a few of His words. One of those terms is “The Abomination of Desolation.” This prophecy was a familiar one to the Twelve. Literally it speaks to a terrible event, an abomination, that brings about total destruction, desolation. It is a direct reference to the worship of Jehovah in the Temple.

The worship of God is so holy it can be readily spoiled by impure hearts and sinful hands. Beyond the personal failures of those who go through the motions of worship is the abomination of idolatry. The history of Israel was plagued by periods of apostasy in which people would worship idols made my men rather than their Holy, Covenant-keeping God. These false worship systems were usually established on high places far removed from the Temple. But there is never any way to hide idolatry. The judgement of God, promised by the words of the Covenant, always fell on the nation for her idolatry. Pagan nations conquered them time and again. God sent holy prophets, faithful priests, and reformer kings to restore true worship.

The Abomination of Desolation goes beyond these seasons of apostasy. Instead of illicit worship sites in the countryside, this idolatry takes place in the Temple itself. Pagan armies invaded the city and the Temple to set up their idols in the Holy of Holies. This abomination destroyed the Covenantal relationship with God and resulted in the desolation of the city and the slavery of the nation.

It had happened before.
Each of the Temples where God Almighty chose to dwell among people ended in this type of destruction. The repeated cause? False worship—idolatry in the house of God. At the moment when Jesus and the Twelve were taking in the exalted view of the Temple and the city, there was a false hope of the appeasement of Rome with a puppet king and an established routine of the external trappings of worship. This provided an aura of hope but it was a false hope.

It would happen again.
The disturbing warning of Jesus was that all of this beauty would crumble in violence and it would happen soon—in the lifetimes of the Twelve. They must be prepared. They must be in a state of readiness.

It did happen with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies 66-70 A.D. This abomination would destroy Old Covenant worship. At the same time, it would scatter the followers of Jesus throughout the known world. He would go with them. His Spirit would empower them. Through their lives a new Temple would be built, not of stone, but of flesh, a new habitation of God by His Spirit—the Church! The Church triumphant will take root in every culture and race making the Kingdom of God one Holy nation.

It is the duty of every generation to live in a state of readiness.

Scriptures:
Mark 13: 14-23
“So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days. “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.
Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 NKJV
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You know what the future holds; I do not. I trust You with it. I realize that my job is to be ready for whatever comes. I want to be ready in prayer, in adoration of You, in witness to Your amazing grace and in personal holiness. You have called me to serve You in these last days. To be ready for tomorrow is to serve You today. Help any fear I may have of tomorrow become faith in You for tomorrow. You are already there, Lord Jesus! Amen and Amen.

Song:
Jesus Is Coming Soon
Words and Music: R.E. Winsett

1. Troublesome times are here, filling men’s hearts with fear;
Freedom we all hold dear, now is at stake.
Humbling your heart to God, saves from the chast’ning rod.
Seek the way pilgrim’s trod. Christians awake!

Refrain:
Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon;
Many will meet their doom; trumpets will sound.
All of the dead shall rise; righteous meet in the skies;
Going where no one dies, heaven-ward bound.

2. Love of so many cold; losing their home of gold;
This in God’s Word is told; evils abound.
When these signs come to pass, nearing the end at last,
It will come very fast; trumpets will sound.

Refrain

3. Troubles will soon be o’er; happy forevermore,
When we meet on that shore, free from all care.
Rising up in the sky, telling this world goodbye;
Homeward we then will fly, glory to share.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 14, 2018: “Lord”

Lord

To be called “Lord” and to actually be LORD are two very different things.
The questioners, the “lords over the people,” were silent. They were out of trick questions and their ranks were divided. Along with the usual divisions over beliefs, there were now divisions over this man called Jesus. Some were close to believing that Jesus may be Messiah. Others were sure that He was not. Still others, the majority perhaps, were somewhere in between. Their strategies used up, their questions exhausted, there was nothing to do then but to listen to the man.

The Subject Was King David
The shepherd king was always a favorite. They sang his songs and some of them played the instruments he brought into public worship. They gloried in the reflected splendor of his victories and they ignored the failures and sins because he was “the man after God’s own heart.” If he failed so terribly and yet was used by God so mightily, perhaps there was hope for them as well.

“How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?”

This question lay at the heart of the search for Messiah. He would not be just anyone; he must be of the house and line of David. However, this was not a controversy. Where was Jesus going with this?

“Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?”

No one had ever thought of this before. Yes, Messiah would be Lord, and He would be the Son of David. Was there a contradiction here? Or was this just a play on words? Jesus did not answer His own question, leaving the mystery of the integration of son-ship and lordship to another time. He made his surprising point to the “lords of the people.”

“Beware of the scribes!…”

The leap from King David’s history to the present day was a strenuous one. There were false “lords” right there in the Temple! They were neither sons of David nor of God. They were more akin to the Devil, imposters from the heart out! What were the signs?

  • Pretense—“long robes,”
  • Show-biz—“greetings in the marketplace,”
  • Self-importance—“the best seats,”
  • Corruption—“they devour widow’s houses,” and
  • False spirituality—“prayers of pretense.”

What will be their end? -–“Greater condemnation.” Today we would say, “the hottest room in hell.”

God Resists the Proud
A fundamental truth in the dealings of God with people is this:

James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5
“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

God loves people but He hates pride. Pride is the cornerstone of false leadership. Positions gained through pride are ruthlessly guarded by any means available. Violence is always the result, sometimes private like a widow’s house devoured and sometimes in public war.

God Gives Grace to the Humble
The mark of true Lordship is humility. Look to Jesus. Look to the disciples after Pentecost. Look to any truly great Christian leader and you will find humility for it is the source of the grace that flows in their lives.

To be called “a leader” and to actually be a leader are two very different things.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:35-40
Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”‘ Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?” And the common people heard Him gladly. Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
James 4:1-6 NKJV
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5-7 NKJV
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your Lordship is that of the Son of David, the Son of God. You are Master of all time and space for they are Your creations. You rule in love and justice and peace. All of our lives are safe within Your Lordship for You care for us. We can cast all our burdens upon You because You can handle them. Holy Spirit, root out any vestige of pride in my heart for I know it is a source of God’s resistance in my life. Replace that pride with humility for Your love and Your grace flows in it. Amen and amen.

Song:
He Is Lord
Traditional

He is Lord. He is Lord.
He has risen from the dead
And He is Lord.
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord.

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

February 6, 2018: “Prayer”

Prayer

Prayer is the most powerful force in the spirit realm and therefore, in all of creation.
On the way to back to Jerusalem from Bethany, Jesus, being hungry saw a leafy fig tree in the distance. He diverted his journey seeking figs from the tree although He knew it was not the season for fruit but just for leaves. Finding nothing to eat, He cursed the tree:

“Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”

The disciples heard this but, like us, they did not understand it. It would be the next day before this mystery would begin to unwind.

A House of Prayer, Not Merchandise
Returning to the city and the Temple He knew exactly what must be done. It was time for action. The people and their leaders were about to see a side of Jesus that on one had had seen before. Without warning, Jesus found a whip and cracked it to get their attention. Some looked up and some didn’t. It was noisy place. Another crack of the whip brought blood to the surface of a nearby merchant with a large stock of animals to be used for sacrifices before God Himself. To the report of the whip was added the sharp cry of the wounded man. Now Jesus had the attention of the crowd. He began turning over tables and scattering the “merchandise” as well as the merchants. His gentle voice raised to a pitch never before heard. He commanded that this all had to stop. This was not the purpose of His Father’s house! Unsatisfied with simply breaking up the market, Jesus somehow prevent merchants even to carry the wares through the Temple. He was in command of the place.

Having gained the attention of the people, Jesus taught them why He was so upset.

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

With the noise of the marketplace subsiding, a soft sound of music came through the entrance of the Temple. It was the sound of the ancient prayers of David and other psalmists chanted by the priests inside. The soft murmur of pilgrims who came to the Father’s House to prayer performed a gentle drone tone beneath the psalteries and trumpets of the priests. Order had returned to the House of God. Purpose, the true purpose, had been restored.

The religious authorities saw all of this but they could not stop it. They took their losses and consolidated their plans to destroy Him. Jesus and the men returned to Bethany.

What changed?
There is no record that Rome took any notice of these things but that is no matter. Events were now set in motion for the only force to ever conquer the Roman Empire—the Church of Jesus Christ at prayer. It would take 300 years but it would happen. First there would be Calvary, then Pentecost, then the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and finally the dispersal of the church throughout the world. Christ-followers would form churches from places of prayer in every corner of the Empire. They would infiltrate every level of Roman life from soldiers to merchants to even officials of the Empire itself. Finally in 312 A.D. the Emperor himself would believe.

Prayer is the most powerful force in the spirit realm and therefore, in all of creation.

Scriptures:
Mark 11:12-18
Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, And His disciples heard it. So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'” And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city.

2 Chronicles 7:12-18 NKJV
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, we have yet to unleash the power of prayer! The changes for the better that have happened in this world are the results of prayer. You have chosen to move in agreement with Your people. When we pray, we confirm our agreement with You. Help our churches to remain houses of prayer for all nations. If we do, we will see You change the world. Help us feel the passion You demonstrated  when you drove the money-changers out of Your Father’s house. Lord, listen to Your children praying! Amen.

Song:
Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
Words and Music: Ken Medema

Lord, listen to Your children praying.
Lord, send Your Spirit in this place.
Lord, listen to Your children praying.
Send us love, send us power, send us grace.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 4, 2018: “Colt”

Colt

Kings don’t ride donkeys. Everyone knows that.
Kings ride proud, prancing steeds bedecked in armor and battle colors. The whole scene is an act of public theatre designed to impress the masses with the mastery of their champion over the finest examples of horseflesh.

Servants ride donkeys. They do not prance; they plod. They are naked beneath their load save a dirty blanket or two. The message the rider and donkey deliver is one of humility, poverty, and servanthood.

A Man and His Animal
In a village on the way to Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, a man tied his freshly weaned young donkey, just a colt, not far removed from his mother, to a post near the city gate. He had been waiting for this day, watching the colt mature into a proper beast of burden, as much a pet as an asset. This was a devout man who thought often about Messiah and who prayed regularly to be used of God in his homeland.

Jesus and Jerusalem
Jesus knew that when He arrived at the gates of Jerusalem an impromptu parade would break out. He would need an animal to ride to lift Himself above the throng and keep the procession from descending into chaos. In preparation for this event, Jesus sent two of His men into a nearby village. Their mission was to find a mount for Jesus to ride into the city. They were not aware of the purpose of their mission, just the mission itself. Jesus was specific in His instructions:

  • Go to the village.
  • Upon entering you will see a young, unbroken, donkey tied to a post.
  • Without asking anyone, untie it and bring it.
  • If anyone stops you and asks what you are doing, just tell them this:

‘The Lord has need of it.’

Evidently Jesus foresaw the owner of the colt and knew that God was already speaking to him. Without a word of protest the proud owner of the colt let these strangers take the unknowing beast. Amazing.

The Texas Cowboy
A story is told of a rough and tumble Texas cowboy whose mother was praying that he would become a follower of Christ. He knew that he was a maverick at heart and doubted anyone could control his behavior. Reluctantly, he attended a Sunday morning service. The preacher told the story of Jesus and the unbroken donkey colt. Before the invitation could be given the man ran to the altar to give his heart to Jesus. As the people rejoiced, his praying mother among them, he was asked what had moved him to accept Jesus. His answer came from his cowboy world, so familiar with horses, cows, mules, and donkeys. “If Jesus can ride an unbroken donkey, He can ride herd on me!”

The Power of Humility
As we shall see in the days ahead, the power of Jesus was not an act of public theatre designed to give an impression of regal standing. His power was so great that riding on a young colt became an act of royalty.

Scriptures
Mark 11:1-6
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go.
Zechariah 9:9 NKJV
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I invite You again today to be the master of my day, of my heart, of my life. I will join the procession of praise. I will engage with the multitudes who serve You today to advance Your Kingdom. Somehow, in Your astounding grace use me! Give me purpose and responsibilities and help me to never fail to answer Your call to service. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
All Hail King Jesus
Words and Music: Dave Moody

All hail King Jesus All hail Emmanuel
King of Kings Lord of Lords
Bright Morning Star
And throughout eternity
I’ll sing Your Praises
And I’ll reign with You throughout eternity

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 3, 2018: “Bartimaeus”

Bartimaeus

Like the wings of a bird, mercy gives flight to grace.
The road to Jericho was paved with history. Joshua and his army, carrying torches and trumpets, took this road to conquer the city. They returned after the walls fell down. When a new city was built not far from the site of the one that fell down, Jericho became a major city in the Jordan valley. As Jesus and His followers took this road on their way to Jerusalem, it was crowded with travelers. Travelers attracted beggars and beside the road a blind man had set up shop, Bartimaeus by name.

A Blind Man’s World
We can only imagine what the ancient world was like to one who could not see. Sounds, smells, and temperature changes, along with something we might call extrasensory perception, brought information to the brain. Voices revealed more than the words spoken; accents, inflections, and volume said as much as words in the super-tuned ears of a blind man. Evidently, Bartemaeus knew that Jesus was coming his way. He lifted his voice above the noise of the crowd.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What the Blind Man Saw
He did not cry out for healing but for mercy. Interesting. Perhaps mercy was a beggar’s careful approach to his real need. Or perhaps, Bartemeaus knew something about Jesus to which others were blind. Jesus was not a showman. His miracles were not done to draw a crowd although they certainly did. He was not out to build a name for Himself although that, too, was happening. Jesus healed people, delivered demoniacs, and performed spectacular miracles because He loved people. People with perfect vision lost sight of this while blind Bartemaeus saw it clearly.

It may be that Bartemaeus had heard that Jesus didn’t heal everyone. Sometimes, when there was no faith in action, He passed people by who did not call out to Him. This beggar knew that his moment of opportunity had come. There was faith in his cry for mercy and Jesus heard him. He stopped and called for the one who had called to Him. Helpers assisted the blind one to Jesus:

“Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”

Bartimaeus cast aside his thick, protective garment and positioned himself—a little off-center— in front of Jesus. Smiling, Jesus straightened out the man’s position and asked,

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

Now was the time for specifics: mercy was about to make grace take wings.

“Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”

With Jesus, a simple word was all that was needed.

“Go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Faster than the flight of the swiftest bird, light came into the world of Bartemaeus. Rubbing his eyes and shaking his head as if to shake off the last fragments of night, the man’s face shone like a sunrise. His head jerked this way and that as each familiar sound was matched with a new image. He spun around taking in the symphony of color he had always imagined the world to be. In one whirl of his spin his eyes came to rest on Jesus, smiling, laughing, enjoying once more what faith can do. Bartimaeus stopped, steadied himself and fell at His feet. Jesus raised him to eye-level and continued along on the road to Jericho. Perhaps in His spirit He could still hear the faint sound of trumpets and shouts and crumbling walls—another victory at Jericho. Bartemaeus followed.

Scriptures:
Mark 10: 46-52
Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.” And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I may see You clearly—in Your Word, in creation, in my life! You are my all in all. Sharpen my spiritual vision to see more of You and to see You more clearly. Let me move in mercy through this world so that my life gives wings to grace! Help me hear the cry for mercy from those I pass on the roads today. Miracles await the cry for mercy and the confession of faith! Open my eyes that I may see! Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Song:
Open My Eyes that I May See
Words and Music: Clara H. Scott

1. Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me.
Place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes; illumine me, Spirit divine!

2. Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear.
And while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my ears; illumine me, Spirit divine!

3. Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere.
Open my heart, and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart; illumine me, Spirit divine!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

January 29, 2018: “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 an 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

January 22, 2018: “Confession”

Confession

Words have power. When they are spoken that power is called into action.
Jesus grew up confessing the psalms. It was part of the training of every boy in Nazareth. Since He was—Jesus!—we can be sure that He had a deeper understanding than others of these normal processes. The Holy Spirit inside of Him told Him things, gave Him a perspective on normal events and practices that others could not see. Thus, when as a young man, He began this teaching and miracle tour of the regions around Galilee, He had lots to say, many observations to share and many parables and metaphors to employ. Among these was the power of confession.

Jesus knew that beliefs privately held possessed an innate power and when those beliefs were publicly spoken, that innate power externalized; it entered into life itself. The crowds coming to Him were enormous and they did not depart from Him disappointed. He knew there would be many theories as to who He was. If the general confession was that He was Messiah, it could bring about the end too soon. Perhaps for this reason He implored those who benefitted from His healing, delivering touch to remain quiet about it. It was a hopeless cause, of course. Who, once blind but now seeing, could not confess it? What deaf person now hearing, lame person now walking, dead person now alive, could refrain from telling people about Jesus? What sane person, once possessed by emissaries from hell, now clothed and in his right mind could keep from telling people how it happened as by whose hand?

Bethsaida
So they came to a fishing village called Bethsaida. A blind man was led to Jesus by friends. He and his friends begged Jesus to touch him. Jesus did some strange things:

  • He took the man by the hand and led him out of town.
  • He spat in the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him.
  • He interviewed the man. He asked if he could see anything.

“I see men like trees, walking.”

The job wasn’t finished. The man’s true confession revealed that there was more healing needed. Jesus touched his eyes again and made the man look up, beyond the level of men or trees. The blind man’s vision was completely restored. Then Jesus sent him home, commanding him not to confess his miracle to the town. He left the outskirts of the village and made his way unassisted home avoiding the townspeople.

Caesarea Philippi
By foot Jesus and the Twelve went north to Caesarea Philippi on the slopes of Mount Hermon, the northernmost point of Jesus’ ministry. On the road, Jesus asked His disciples about the various confessions of His identity. As they discussed various ideas expressed by the wondering crowds, Jesus asked them personally who they were confessing Him to be. Peter’s answer continues to ring all these centuries later.

“You are the Christ.”

It was too soon for this explosive confession, so Jesus asked them to keep this to themselves for a little while.

Confessing Christ
It is great to believe in Jesus, but we must confess Him publicly. When we do this with repentance, we become a follower of Him. When we do this every day we are a witness to Him. The innate power of our believe goes out into the world with our confession and someone’s life gets changed.

Scriptures
Mark 8:22-30
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.

Prayer:
Confession of Faith

The Apostles’ Creed
From the Book of Common Payer
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Song:
Because We Believe
Words and Music: Don Moen

1. We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Christ the Son.
We believe in the Holy Spirit.
We are the Church and we stand as one.

2. We believe in the Holy Bible.
We believe in the virgin birth.
We believe in the resurrection
That Christ one day will return to earth

Refrain:
Holy, holy, holy is our God!
Worthy, worthy, worthy is our King!
All glory and honor are His to receive.
To Jesus we sing because we believe.

3. We believe in the blood of Jesus.
We believe in eternal life.
We believe in His love that frees us
To become the bride of Christ.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved