May 20 “First”


There are always scorekeepers in every crowd.
These are the ones who are more interested in rankings than in truth. Two opposition groups combined in an attempt to catch Jesus in His words. Their question involved who should be first in the thinking of the citizens, God or Caesar. The issue was taxation. If God’s Chosen People paid taxes to Caesar, didn’t that mean Rome should be first in their thinking? These Herodians and Phrisees thought they had a foolproof plan to get the best of Jesus. How foolish!

The Image on the Coin
Jesus asked to see a Roman coin. None of the leaders wanted to be embarrassed because he was caught carrying money so there was a progression downward through the ranks until some poor low-level member of the group had to part with a coin he really needed to keep. He gave it to head Pharisee who passed it on to Jesus. Jesus took it, turned it over in His hand, and held it up in the sun so all could see. The crowd was divided between those who wanted to hear the answer and those who wanted the coin. When all had had a good look, Jesus tossed the coin back to the Pharisee.

“Whose image and inscription is this?”

They said to Him,


And He said to them,

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The combined forces of Phariees and Herodians were dumbfounded, speechless, and without answer or recourse so they simply walked away. Jesus came in first in this contest.

The Sadducees Take Their Turn
The Sadducees were the liberals of that day; they didn’t believe in the supernatural and they taught that there was no life after death. Their attempt at embarrassing Jesus involved these ideas. They told a fantastic story of a man with six brothers who married a woman and then promptly died. The Law of Moses demanded that a brother marry the widow to raise up children to his brother. However, like the first brother, this one quickly passed away leaving the twice-widowed woman to the next brother. Each one married her only to die leaving no heirs. Finally, mercifully, the woman herself died, no doubt from exhaustion. After a moment to let the details of their invented narrative sink in, they asked,

“Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

Jesus dismissed this nonsense quickly: They did not know the power of God and neither did they understand that in the resurrection there will be no need for procreation.

The Young Lawyer
An earnest young lawyer witnessed all of this. He was embarrassed by the shallow inquiries of the leaders and he had a sincere question of his own.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

In other words, what is the first duty of a man before God. As dismissive as Jesus was of the others, He was just as careful with this sincere man. His answer is famous—“love God and love others.” This is the first command, the peg that holds all the Law and the prophets.

The Return of the Pharisees
Gluttons for punishment, the leaders tried one more time to get the best of Jesus. Before they could speak Jesus asked them about Messiah,

“Whose Son is He?”

There was only one answer, the Son of David.

“How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’?
If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?”

There was no answer and that was the end of their questions for Jesus. Final score?  Jesus 3, Critics 0.

Matthew 22:15-46
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. The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool”‘? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.

Lord Jesus, You are first in my life. I will go into this day determined to love You first and people a close second. I will not keep score of the wrongs done to me by others but I will let Your forgiveness flow first through me. I will tend to my civil duty as a citizen of the land but always hold my heavenly citizenship higher. I will move through day propelled by the hope of the resurrection. While some laugh at such things, calling them foolish superstitions, I will live with an eye toward the Eastern sky and an ear tuned to heaven for the sounds of the trumpet and the Archangel signaling Your return. You indeed are first in my heart! Amen, Even so, Come Lord Jesus!

Hasten Thy Glorious Coming
Words and Music: Oren Munger

1. Christ’s coming now is nearing,
Blest day of His appearing,
This thought my heart great joy affords;
Millions around are sighing,
For this release are crying,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”

Jesus is coming soon, coming I know,
Coming His glorious bride to claim;
With rapturous hearts we’re waiting,
To join that great translating,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”

2. Sorrow and sin prevaileth,
In pain the earth travaileth,
Darkness abounds in every land;
But in earth’s darkest hour
He’ll come in mighty power
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”


3. He warns us to be watching,
Praying and always ready,
We do not know the day nor hour;
Are you your heart preparing,
Ascension robes now wearing,
Washed in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb?


4. So when the trumpet soundeth,
And He from heaven descendeth,
To claim the church, His spotless bride;
With boundless joy we’ll greet Him,
As we arise to meet Him,
“Hasten Thy glorious coming Lord”


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at

August 6 “Image”


The scribes and Pharisees had Jesus under 24 hour surveillance.
They tried every device they could think of to catch Jesus in His words. He was teaching in the Temple courts every day and the authorities were watching.

  • Temple guards were at the ready.
  • Hired witnesses were listening for things He said they could misquote before the courts.
  • Skillful actors, pretending to be sincere followers, worked the crowd doing opposition research.

And still He eluded them.

  • He kept the guards at bay because He did not deal in violence.
  • His words were too well-spoken to be twisted by hired liars.
  • His followers showed no interest in betraying Him—not yet.

A “can’t-miss-scheme” misses and by a large margin.
A few of the leaders pretended to be converts to His message. They came to Him with flattery soaked in venom.

“Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Jesus stopped to look at them and a staring contest began. He wasn’t fooled by their flattery. He locked eyes with the spokesman and burned a hole in his act. After a terrible moment of unequal eye-to-eye combat, the man dropped his eyes to the ground beneath him. Jesus looked at his chief lieutenant next to him who surrendered in even less time. One by one, Jesus stared down each hypocrite as the crowd waited to hear how He would answer. He blew the lid off their charade.

“Why do you test Me?

It was an excellent question. They had never bested Him in any argument. He always won these little debates. Yet, there they were, trying one more time. How would He deal with them?

“Show Me a denarius.”

Of course, a leader of the people would never admit to carrying money so he had to signal a servant to bring him a coin. Thus supplied, he tossed the coin to Jesus. Jesus made a great catch and held the coin up for all to see.

“Whose image and inscription does it have?”

As with so many of Jesus’ questions, there was only one answer. The leaders were silent, not wishing to fall into another trap. The servant who brought the coin knew the answer and yelled out,


He thought he would be rewarded for having the right answer but the stern look from his Pharisee-boss told a different tale. Jesus tossed the coin back at His questioner who missed it, letting it fall to the pavement. The hapless the servant saw his duty and bent to retrieve it only to be clouted by the Pharisee. Jesus closed the issue with a principle for the ages.

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Power of the Image
The Pharisees were outsmarted again and we are made aware of the importance of images:

  • The image of the government on certain things and,
  • The image of God in people.

The people of God live in the real world of governments, laws, and civic responsibilities. While we are citizens of a higher Kingdom and bear the image of God in our very lives, we must still render unto the government its due. The church needs an orderly and fair society to do her godly work. As long as the laws do not prescribe disobedience to God’s laws, we must obey and do so to the glory of God.

So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered and said, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Romans 13:1-7 NKJV
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Lord Jesus, it so amazing that I am made in the image of God—and so challenging. You are the Creator, so You made me creative. You are loving, so You gave people the ability to give and receive love. You are truth, so gave each of us a deep desire to know the truth of things. You have high and blessed purpose, so You installed in each of us the desire to be significant, to live significant lives, to make a difference in this world. Lord, help me live up to the image stamped on my heart—Your image, O God! Wonder of wonders! Alleluia!

O to Be Like Thee

Words: Thomas O. Chilslm; Music: William J. Kirkpatrick

1. Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

2. Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.

3. Oh! to be like Thee, lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer, others to save.


4. Oh! to be like Thee, Lord, I am coming,
Now to receive th’ anointing divine;
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine.


5. Oh! to be like Thee, while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love,
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.


Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at