January 17 “Winds”

Winds

Jesus commanded the winds and they obeyed. The hearts of men were a different matter.
That boat really came in handy. At Jesus’ command, the disciples took the boat toward another town on the other side, Bethsaida. Then Jesus sent the multitude away—happy I’m sure. When all the good-byes were finished, Jesus climbed a nearby mountain to be alone with the Father to pray.

Along about evening, the disciples were still only half way across the lake because the winds were against them. He saw His men struggling against the wind and the heavy seas. This went on for several hours. In the middle of the night, Jesus went to help them—walking on the tumultuous waters. The waves never shook Him. The winds never disturbed His balance. It was like a pleasant walk on the beach rather than on the surface of a raging sea.

Frightened Sailors
After hours of rowing against the wind and getting nowhere the exhausted disciples were losing all the faith they had gained on the ministry tour. It seems yesterday’s victories did little for the crisis that night. Some of them were rowing, others were bailing out the onboard water, while others were draped over the side losing what was left of the loaves and the fishes. All they needed was a ghost walking up to them on the top of the unforgiving waves. That was what they thought Jesus was—a ghost! Fear of more than a capsized boat now added to their misery. Sensing their fear, Jesus called to them:

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

When they helped Him into the boat, the winds calmed down to normal. In a little while, the waves followed suit.

Hard Hearts
The men looked at Jesus as if they were seeing Him for the first time. Who was He? How did He do these things? Why had He chosen them? Sheepish looks passed from man to man while no one wanted to look Jesus in the eyes. When each of them worked up the nerve to look at Him, Jesus was smiling. He knew their hearts had a long way to go. He knew that one day the Holy Spirit would reside in their hearts as He did in His own. He knew that the inward ministry of the Spirit, not the outward work of the ministry, was the change agent. Power over demons and sickness, even food multiplying in their hands, did not prepare them for the storm. Their time was coming and coming soon, but first must come the cross.

The Land of Gennesaret
By sunrise they landed in the land of Gennesaret—so much for a night of rest—and the crowds were even bigger at the landing and the healing winds were blowing in force. Wherever they went in towns of all sizes people pressed Him seeking just to touch the hem of His garment.

“And as many as touched Him were made well.”

Scriptures:
Mark 6:45-56
Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there. And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, there is healing in Your touch. Help me to never forget the answers to yesterday’s prayers in the midst of today’s challenge. Every day Your promises are true. You will not leave me alone in the storm; You will come to me in my distress. If my heart has hardened in recent days, soften it, O Holy Spirit. Let the restoring winds of Your spirit brace my faith. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Song:
Change My Heart, O God
Words and Music: Eddie Espinosa

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

 

January 14 “Unbelief”

Unbelief

Unbelief was an affliction more damaging to the soul than leprosy to the body.
It was more binding to the spirit than demon possession to the mind. Jesus could reverse the degeneration of disease with miraculous regeneration of tissue. With a word He could send demons away shrieking in terror. When he encountered unbelief, sicknesses remained and demons relaxed. His mighty words fell to the ground like spoiled fruit from a tree too late in the harvest. He walked this earth in the power of the Spirit but it was a divine power working through human agreement. Faith made all things possible. With unbelief impossibilities remained in power.

Two Sides of the Sea of Galilee
On one side of the sea, miracles abounded—lives were changed by His words and His touch. On the other side, after demonstrating His dominion over hell, the local leaders sent Him away. They saw no more miracles. Back on the faith side, miracles continued. The presence or the absence of faith was the difference—Jesus was the same.

Back to Nazareth
A delegation of “His own people” had made the crossing and tried in vain to get Him cease and desist. Surely the pain of this brought Him to the synagogue in His hometown. The details of this worship service are given in Luke’s gospel. Mark deals with the broad strokes of the story. He taught with unusual authority and the people were astonished. They could only see such behavior as pretentious and above His station in the community. As if by reflex, they tried to cut him down to the proper size.

“Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”

“His own people” were offended by Him. They thought they knew Him but they were mistaken. They believed something that wasn’t true and this amounted to unbelief. We can hear the pain in Jesus’ voice.

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives,
and in his own house.”

There is much more to the story but we will leave that do Dr. Luke. The sad epitaph given by Mark is this:

Now He could do no mighty work there…because of their unbelief …

Traveling light, Jesus had few belongings so gathering them up took little time. On His way out of town a few people reached out to Him in faith and found in Him the healer they needed. On He went to preach His message to those who would believe.

Such a Strange Truth
It seems excessively strange that the God who can do absolutely anything would limit Himself to accomplish the things that require human beings to believe. Yet the words of Jesus affirm this fact time and again:

  • With faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.
  • All things are possible to him who believes.
  • Impossible things for men are possible with God.
  • Without me you can do nothing.

This is a fact of life, a fact of faith. This is the secret behind the need for our prayers. With them we confess our agreement with God; we express our belief. Believing is health to our bones. Believing is safety to our lives. Believing sets the promises and power of God in motion.

Scriptures:
Mark 6: 1-6
Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.
Matthew 17:20-21 NKJV
I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
Mark 9:23 NKJV
“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
Luke 18:27 NKJV
“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
John 15:5 NKJV
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Prayer:
Lord, I believe in You! I believe in Your Word. I believe in Your Holy Covenant. I believe You hear and answer prayer. I believe that by Your stripes I am healed. I believe and my faith is bigger than a mustard seed so I will speak to the mountains in my path and watch You move them. I am a branch in You, the Vine, and I believe I will bear much fruit. With this confidence in You, I believe nothing is impossible when I am following You. Lord, I believe in You! Amen.

Song:
Have Faith in God
Traditional

Have faith in God.
Have faith in God.
Have faith in God for the answer,
Have faith in God.

God answers prayer.
God answers prayer.
God answers prayer in the morning,
Have faith in God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory Devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 12 “Chains”

Chains

Sometimes chains aren’t strong enough.
Nothing could control the demon-possessed man in the country of the Gadarenes. He lived among the tombs for no place else could afford him rest. His torment spread from the host of demons inside to the whole village. Community efforts were made to silence him; nothing worked. He was bound with chains and they couldn’t hold him; he snapped them like threads. Iron shackles were useless; he broke them in pieces. His tormented cries echoed from the hills in daylight and haunted the long sleepless nights. He could not even take his own life although he tried cutting himself with stones.

Then Jesus Came. 
Without announcement or promotion, Jesus crossed to the Gadarene side of Galilee to continue His work there. Through a demonic haze the poor man saw Jesus coming across the sea. Somehow He knew that Jesus was not just any man. When the Lord stepped out of the boat, the demonized man met Him.  He fell at Jesus’ feet, not with tormented cries of pain but with worship.

How could this be? The Bible says that demons believe and tremble, but the demons inside the man did not worship; this afflicted man worshiped. As far down as he had fallen, he still had something left of his spirit, that God-conscious part of him. Jesus spoke to the darkness inside the man:

“Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”

With a loud voice one of them cried out:

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

Jesus was quick with a reply:

“What is your name?”

“My name is Legion; for we are many.”

The demons begged Jesus not to send them to hell. 2000 pigs were minding their own business, feeding in the nearby hills. At the request of the demons, Jesus sent the legion into the hapless hogs. Although they were ignorant beasts, they knew better than to host demon spirits. They went mad, rushed off a cliff and drowned themselves in the sea.

What do we do about this?
The herdsmen of the swine told the people of the town what had happened. There was nothing in their leadership manuals about what to do about something like this. They saw the man who was their biggest problem now clothed, quiet, and in his right mind. A quick meeting of the brightest of these pillars of the community was convened. Their solution was to ask Jesus to go away and not come back.

To conform to their wishes, Jesus got back into the boat. The delivered man started to climb in the boat with Him. Who could blame him? Jesus asked him to stay as His representative to the town that had just sent their Healer away.

“Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you,
and how He has had compassion on you.”

With those words Jesus returned to the other side of the lake. In the country of the Gadarenes sick folks were not healed. People in bondage were not delivered from their spiritual chains. Their days and nights were quieter now without the noise of the man who lived among the tombs but they had missed their time of God’s visitation. The chains of their unbelief were strong and binding.

Sometimes chains are strong enough.

Scriptures:
Mark 5: 1-20
Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?” And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I marvel at the power of Your name, the glory of Your Presence. Help me seize the opportunities You afford me each day. There are chains in this life than seek to bind me; break them by Your power! You have defeated all my enemies! You have given me Your Holy Name as a weapon. I know demons tremble at the sound of it! Help me never to turn from You but always toward You. I will call out to You in my pain and You will always hear and deliver. For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Jesus Breaks Every Fetter
Traditional

Jesus breaks every fetter.
Jesus breaks every fetter.
Jesus breaks every fetter.
And He sets me free.

I am now on the altar.
I am now on the altar.
I am now on the altar.
And He sets me free.

I will shout Hallelujah!
I will shout Hallelujah!
I will shout Hallelujah!
For He sets me free!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

January 2 “Wilderness”

Wilderness

In wild places, powerful things come about.
Far from the safety of home and the comfort of the routine, Jesus sought His Father’s heart in the desert. For 40 days he prayed and waited before God and did not eat or drink. Why? He was without sin. Surely He could “ascend the Hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place.” His hands were clean and His heart was pure.

The Spirit
No longer acting as a gentle dove, the Holy Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness. This was no gentle prompting, no sweet wooing of the soul. It was a demand to seek the solitary place, to flee from the distractions of everyday life and commerce, to retreat from normal interaction with people, even those He dearly loved. There was work to be done in this wilderness.

The Flesh
Years later in a garden, green and lush, Jesus revealed a mismatched contest within Himself: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Now in this desert, the spirit must subdue the flesh. The risk of the incarnation was that the flesh might win the contest. With fasting and deprivation the flesh was disciplined. Jesus’ body was strong and lean, that of a man who did hard work with his hands and the strength of his back and legs. There was no storehouse of calories packed anywhere on His frame. Fasting soon weakened these strong limbs and drained His stamina. Thirst stiffened his joints making the slightest move a painful ordeal.

The Beasts
Mark adds a dangerous detail. He “was with the wild beasts.” Desert predators can sense the weakness of a prey. They found him long before the 40 days were up. Perhaps like Daniel before Him, angels stopped the beasts and shut their mouths. Imagine that every night was filled with the hungry red eyes of wild beasts and every day the sky was patrolled by winged scavengers. This desert was no place of ease.

The Temptation
Mark gives no record of Satan’s temptations leaving those details to other evangelists. He reports only that Jesus was “tempted by Satan.” Jesus endured temptation as none of us ever have or will and He did not yield to sin. Therefore He can help us in our times of testing. The New Testament gives us details of how this happens but it is because of this victory in the wilderness. The same Jesus who went without food and water is with us in our privations. This same Jesus who turned away from pride, position, and false worship resides in us by the Spirit to enable our humility, servanthood, and true worship.

The Angels
How long the 40 days seemed for the guardian angels of Jesus! We marvel at their restraint. Jesus would not need their assistance. When the testing was done and Jesus proved victor, we can imagine the angelic rush to His aid. Wild beasts scattered before them. Perhaps manna, the bread of angels, was brought to Him, as well as the living waters He would promise to others. Strength for the tasks ahead returned to Him—God in the flesh, tested in the wilderness, ready to touch and heal, teach and deliver.

In wild places, powerful things come about.

Scriptures:
Mark 1:12-13 NKJV
Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Hebrews 4:14-16 NKJV
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 2:14-18 NKJV
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 NKJV
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I cannot not imagine Your agony in the desert. You explored the depths of physical weakness to make me strong. You endured the extremes of loneliness in the wilderness to have fellowship with those who would come to love You. Help me enter into and flourish within that fellowship today. You went face to face with the devil and defeated him on his own ground. Let me share that victory today in my thoughts, my words, my actions, and in compassion to those around me. Help me feed on manna and drink deeply of living water so I can be strong this day and meet its demands. For Your Glory! Amen.

Song:
Yield Not to Temptation
Words and Music: Harold R. Palmer

1. Yield not to temptation, For yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you, Some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward, Evil passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain:
Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

2. Shun evil companions, Bad language disdain;
God’s name hold in rev’rence, Nor take it in vain;
Be thoughtful and earnest, Kindhearted and true;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

3. To him that o’ercometh, God giveth a crown;
Through faith we will conquer,Though o ften cast down;
He who is our Savior, Our strength will renew;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 26 “Anna”

Anna

Anna always deferred to Simeon.
They shared so many things in this Temple life they had adopted:

  • The rhythms of prayer through each day and night,
  • The psalms and prophecies that were living water and holy bread for their souls,
  • The constant parade of people passing through the Temple,
  • The spectacle of ceremonies and feasts and a preening politicized priesthood, and
  • The remnant of faithful ones, like themselves, seeking God and longing for Messiah.

Thus Anna was just a few steps away when Simeon addressed Joseph and Mary. His prophecy rang true in her heart. Stepping forward, she lifted her voice to address whomever might care to hear. Anna spoke to the nation, to the generations gathered in the Temple.”…she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”

The nation had sinned against God time and again, generation after generation. Rome was their judgment and without repentance all of the beauty of Temple and the traditions born at the mountains of Sanai and Zion would be pounded into dust. But God had sent a Redeemer—this little child!—a King mightier than Herod, a Kingdom more powerful than Rome. Her words are not recorded but we can imagine they flowed from the prophecies she knew by heart! Perhaps Isaiah was her source. She lifted her thin voice against the noise of the crowd.

“For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.” Arise! Shine! For Your Light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you! Behold! Deep darkness covers the land but the Lord shall arise upon you!”

Heads began to turn to listen and watch this lady with the piercing voice.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, Instead of iron I will bring silver. I will make your officers peace, and your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.”

Her energy began to fade as she paused to breathe. Simeon took a step toward her as with new strength she continued.

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness the moon; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory… and the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also your people shall all be righteous… Lift up your eyes all around, and see!”

Her energy was gone as her voice faded. She concluded her witness with words of thanksgiving to God. She, too had lived to see Messiah. The crowd lost interest and busied themselves with their own affairs. Joseph and Mary invited Anna and Simeon to join them for the dedication ceremony. They shared a joy the presiding priest himself did not understand. But they understood, three generations of those who seek the Lord.

Scriptures:
Luke 2:36-38 NKJV
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Isaiah 59:20; 60:1-5; 16-22 NKJV
“The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord. … Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. “Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side. Then you shall see and become radiant, And your heart shall swell with joy; Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. …You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, Instead of iron I will bring silver, Instead of wood, bronze, And instead of stones, iron. I will also make your officers peace, And your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, Neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation, And your gates Praise. “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, And a small one a strong nation. I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time.”
Isaiah 62:1 NKJV
For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You are my Redeemer! From Zion You came to earth to bear our sins far away never to be remembered against us again. You have restored to us the things stolen by the enemy of our souls. You shine light on us in these dark times. You make our walls salvation and our gates praise. Your promises to restore Israel will happen someday. Today You will redeem all who call upon You in truth, repent of their unrighteousness, and seek Your face. You will in no wise cast out those who call upon You for redemption. Let the spirit of Anna fall on me! Help me cry out to those around me that the Redeemer has come! For Your Kingdom, Lord! Amen.

Song:
There Is a Redeemer
Words and Music: Melody Green

1. There is a redeemer Jesus, God’s own Son
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah Holy One

2. Jesus my redeemer Name above all names
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah
Oh, for sinners slain

Refrain:
Thank you, oh my father For giving us Your Son
And leaving Your Spirit ‘Til the work on Earth is done

3. When I stand in Glory I will see His face
And there I’ll serve my King forever In that Holy Place

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 23 “Gifts”

Gifts

The tradition of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas comes from the gifts at the manger.
In the gifts presented in the stable that holy night we see the whole Gospel Story:

  • Gold represented the birth of the King of kings.
  • Frankincense spoke of the way of worship Jesus would open for each of us.
  • Myrrh signified that Jesus was the Anointed One, the Christ, the Savior of the World.

In the light of all this, the gift of the heart is the only reasonable gift we can give this Christmas.

The Gift of the Heart
The heart is the most important gift I can bring to the Lord. If my heart is proud, it is not ready yet to be given. I need to expose it to the Word and presence of the Lord for softening. If my heart is full of unholy things, I need to fill it with truth as a proper gift to the King. Jesus would later say that a spoiled heart could only present corrupted worship.

Gold
Gold has value as a medium of exchange—commerce moves when gold changes hands. The gold of the wise men was needed by the King and His family in the days ahead. They had taxes to pay and a trip to Egypt to finance. Gold was a beautiful and practical gift for the Child.

Gold is also a symbol of royalty. Kings deal in gold.

  • They bank it as the measure of their wealth.
  • They build their palaces with it, decorating their surroundings with significant reminders of their worth.
  • They adorn their bodies with gold.

When the wise men gave gold to the Holy Family, their gift spoke eloquently of true royalty. All the kings of the earth should bow before this King!

Frankincense
Less familiar to us than gold is the gift of frankincense. The resin was added to sacrifices when they were burned before the Lord. Therefore, frankincense was seen as an aid to worship and prayer. It produced the atmosphere associated with the Tabernacle and the Temple. It is understood to be a component in the bowls containing the prayers of the saints in the book of Revelation.

Myrrh
In ancient times this spice was a major component in the anointing oil. With this gift the wise men declared that Jesus was the anointed One, the Christ of God. It was also used in the preparation of bodies for burial. This gift was a recognition that the Child was the Sin-bearer, The Lamb of God, born to die and to live again.

Such Meaningful Gifts
From these facts we see how important our prayers of worship and petition are as gifts to the Lord. They are sweet to the senses of the Lord Himself. The greatest gift of God was one offered by shepherd and king alike—the gift of the heart.

Scriptures:
Matthew 2:11 NKJV
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV
Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, Give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
1 Chronicles 16:28-30 NKJV
Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved.
Isaiah 60:1-3; 6 NKJV
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. … They shall bring gold and incense, And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.
Leviticus 2:1-3 NKJV
‘When anyone offers a grain offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it. He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.
Revelation 8:1-4 NKJV
When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me be more impressed with the simple gift of the heart than I am with great riches or ancient symbols no matter how full of meaning. When I give you my heart, it becomes a gift of gold. When I offer to You my sacrifice of praise, as frankincense did the offerings of old, a pure heart makes my gift a sweet-smelling savor to You. I want the prayers of my heart to be scented with myrrh, a deep appreciation for the cost of my ready access to Your presence. You opened heaven to me by the tearing of Your body, the riven veil. Lord, may You never have occasion to say to me, “With your lips you draw near but your heart is far from me.” Lord, Jesus, here is my heart; make it whole! For Your Glory, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
What Can I Give Him?
Words: Christina Georgina Rossetti; Music: Don Cason

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also at KingdomWinds.com.

December 19 “Angels”

Angels

Angels were not born; they came to be when God spoke them into existence.
The birth of Jesus in the Bethlehem barn was not the first for the angels standing guard to witness. They all had been assigned to attend the birth of the children of God’s chosen people. Gabriel was there when Eve gave birth to Cain and to Able. He had guarded the infant Moses from birth to the tiny ark on the Nile to the palaces of Pharaoh. It’s what angels do. God’s love for people would not allow Him to leave a woman uncared for at such a painful and crucial time.

On the occasion of this birth, more than one angel attended.

The attention of the hosts of the Heaven was focused on the humble shack out back of the inn in Bethlehem. If those evil angels who prowled the earth had wanted to see these events, they could never have broken through the angelic cordon surrounding Mary and Joseph. No devilish spies had been able to penetrate the perimeter established around the mother of the Lord of Hosts. If angels breathe air the way we do, they were holding their breath with each moan and wince that escaped Mary’s lips. Their angelic muscles contracted with hers. This was perhaps the most human moment any of them would ever know. Why? For this was heaven invading earth, divinity embracing humanity, the Word of God entering the world as flesh, eternity merging with time, and both Spirit and Truth struggling to appear in one person.

The Mission
Mary’s labor was not long but she was not spared the pain all women know just because her Child was from the Holy Spirit. Such indulgences would never be hers. She would know the fullness of a mother’s pain from this moment until she visited a tomb some 30 years later. Her mission, like that of her Son, was to take the pain and turn it into blessing.

Joseph’s assistance was loving but there is so little a man can do for a woman in labor.
He can hold her hand and return the fierce grip of her contractions with his own counter force. In a masculine effort to encourage her, he can smile when she cannot. The effectiveness of this is probably just an illusion that comforts only him. He can pray. Joseph prayed. He somehow felt the presence of the angel who had visited each of them months before. Yes, there was a divine comfort in this awful place, unseen, but keenly felt. It was what the angels could do for Mary.

Finally, it happened.
A long sigh, a final push, and Jesus was born. A moment of deep silence, as the boy filled his lungs with the atmosphere of earth, was followed by his first cry. His tiny tears brought broad smiles to Mary and Joseph but their joy was overmatched by the hosts of heaven. Angels danced suspended in the air. They sang “Alleluia!” with all their strength and their strength is substantial. It was as if the floor of heaven had dropped spilling angels to the earth in raucous praise. It was like a friendly thunderstorm of worship lighting the earth in flashes of glory unseen by any on earth except a few humble shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:26-38 NKJV
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
Luke 2:8-20 NKJV
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the protection of angels. At both the crucial and routine moments of life they guard us from harm. Working in league with the Holy Spirit who abides within the believer, Your strength and Your truth come to me just when I need them. I stand amazed at Your amazing salvation plan! You came from heaven to earth to rescue and redeem us! No wonder angels sang! Help me join their joy today, walking in the newness of life You won for me. No longer bound by sin, I am free to live rejoicing. Hallelujah! Amen.

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 18 “Inn”

Inn

All they needed was accommodations—a room for the night.
With seven words, Dr. Luke introduces a most fruitful image into the Christmas story: “…there was no room for them in the inn.” This bit of history has birthed so much fiction:

  • If there was an inn there had to be an innkeeper and he had to have a wife.
  • The manger meant there was a barn or someplace unfit for the birthplace of a king.
  • If there was no room for them then the people at the inn were so caught up in their own lives they missed the most important thing.

It is the firm conviction of this writer that these sketchy histories exist precisely for the purpose of firing our imaginations. As we fill in the missing details, the story becomes more real to us.

So there was an inn in Bethlehem.
The end of the torturous journey for a young woman “great with child” was a first century version of a No Vacancy sign. There was a stable out back where beasts of burden rested tired limbs and aching backs. It would have to do for an exhausted Joseph and a sore, weary Mary. No one knew better than she that her time was near.

Joseph, the planner, the builder, the careful, caring husband did his best to make his wife comfortable. It was a losing cause. Her discomfort was beyond the reach of his skills and the possibilities of the primitive conditions. She did not blame him, of course. None of it was his fault. It was part of the blessing for which they had been chosen. Joseph had prepared for this moment by listening to the advice of his mother and Mary’s. Knowing this, he and Mary waited. He fed and watered the donkey.

They were ready.
The extra blankets they had brought along were put to good use, propping Mary up and shielding off the chill of night. None of the guests at the inn knew about them or cared. The innkeeper did not visit to check on them. He was too busy with his paying guests to worry about this unfortunate couple. The animals were quiet and the wind stopped at the frail door to the stable. They were so alone.

But they were not alone.
Unseen by them, angels stood at every corner of the stable. Each heavenly guard stood at an unusual alert. This was no routine assignment. Angels knew of the miracle that escaped the notice of the people at the inn. The One Who Sits on the Throne had somehow abandoned glory for this humble inn and its barn. He was soon to be born. The mystery of human life that fascinated angels was about to unfold before them—birth!—new life! An infant, helpless but full of potential, would enter the world. The clock of mortality would start ticking for the little one, measuring a life fading even as it begins.

As the pains become sharper and more frequent, Mary held Joseph’s hand. Together they grew strength with each whisper of the name, “Jesus.”

Luke 2:1-7 KJV
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Bethlehem was prophesied; the back room of an inn was a surprise. The joy of Your birth is clothed in irony and pain. Christmas today retains this uneasy duet of hope and sadness. We rejoice in the songs of the season and think deeply of those we have lost who in Christmases past rejoiced with us. It is a time of having and losing, of smiles and tears, of singing hope and uneasy doubt. Lord, help me adjust to the situation the way it is and find the comfort You provide. Assure me that angels are ever on guard and that Your name is the most powerful prayer I can pray. Jesus! Amen.

Song:
What Child Is This?
Words: W. Chatterton Dix; Music: Greensleeves

1 What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain:
This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

2 Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Refrain

3 So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions can also be found at KingdomWinds.com.

December 10 “Magnificat”

Magnificat

Sometimes we need the company of someone who understands.
After the Annunciation, Mary traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This 70 mile journey may have taken five days. It is inconceivable that Mary made this trek alone. Let’s imagine her father and a servant accompanied  her to keep her safe and well attended.

The Long Journey South
This extended walk included long periods of silence as her father tried to sort out the news he had received. He loved his daughter and had enjoyed a pleasant exchange of views in every stage of her life. Recent events brought down a curtain of silence between them.

As much as he admired Joseph, he loved Mary more. There were only two possibilities:

  1. Joseph had broken the law or
  2. Mary’s incredible story was true.

His mind told him that the first was the only logical answer but his heart told him Mary’s explanation was true. When he tried to talk about it, all she would do was tell the story again. He couldn’t bear to take it any further for to do so would be to accuse her. He could never look into those brown eyes and believe that she had sinned. Also, there was more evidence of the truth of what she said—the deep peace she possessed as the rugged miles passed beneath their feet. Down from the hill country of Galilee, through the city of Jerusalem, and 40 miles farther south through the hill country of Judah to Hebron, the city of the priests, nothing disturbed this peace.

He thought of Joseph, alone back in Nazareth, trying to piece his life back together. Surely no man had ever been so alone. Guilty or not, Mary’s father prayed for the man she loved.

The Arrival at Hebron
When they finally arrived at the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth things, incredible things, happened quickly.

  • Mary’s father saw immediately that Mary’s cousin, an elderly woman, was several months pregnant. How could that be? He would hear another tale of an angel and a miraculous child.
  • Something happened to Elizabeth when Mary greeted her. She almost fell down at the sound of Mary’s voice. Mary’s father felt it, too, even at a safe distance. It was like a jolt of energy deep in his heart.

They hurried into the house away from their neighbor’s eyes. Inside, the sensation continued to fill the air and their hearts. For some reason Mary’s father thought of the Shekinah Glory of God that rested on the Tabernacle in the Wilderness—the Glory of God revealed!

Elizabeth explained what was happening—a move of the Spirit of God! The child within her lept at the sound of Mary’s voice and she was filled with the Spirit of God! She prophesied calling Mary “The Mother of My Lord!”

Then Mary began to sing. As she did, all doubt departed from her father’s heart and he believed her story as he would the stories of Elizabeth and Zacharias.

For three months they remained in Hebron. Their many, many quiet conversations made up for the painful silences they had endured on the journey south.

Scriptures:
Luke 1:39-56 NKJV
Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
The Magnificat—Mary’s Song
And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your Word contains things that defy logic and stretch far beyond reason. Believing them requires faith. Expand my mind beyond what is merely possible to what is possible with You. Your ways are higher than my ways; they are beyond finding out. Help me hear the voice of Your Spirit within acting upon Your Word within. Lord Jesus, as Mary prophesied, “scatter my pride.” Bring down any petty throne I may sit upon. As I humble myself, prepare me for Your use and fill my hungry heart with good things. Help me to live in such a way that I magnify You! Amen.

Song
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

Words: E.S. Elliot; Music: Timothy R. Matthews

1. Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

2. Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

3. The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

4. Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

5. When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 30, 2017: “Messiah”

Messiah

No one saw it coming.
They all knew Him—Jesus, the son of the carpenter Joseph of blessed memory. The young man had earned the respect of the community because of his cheerful disposition, his obvious adoration and care for His mother, Mary, the loveliest widow in the village whom no man dare approach. The quality of His carpentry was without peer. His character was beyond question. He had never lost His temper, or cheated anyone, or showed disrespect to the elders. There was not the slightest shadow of scandal, unlike Mary and Joseph when they were young.

Now He was home and the Sabbath found Him just where He should be—in the Synagogue.
The Rabbi asked Him to read the scriptures for the day and handed Him the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. In the shadows, his brother James wondered if they were now to hear of the exploits of Jesus’ latest foray into the regions around Galilee. Rumors of miracles at His hand and strange new teachings had preceded His return to Nazareth.

Jesus stood to read and with steady hands Jesus turned through the scroll until He reached the place marked for today. He began to read without looking at the text. These were words He memorized as a child long before. He had taken them to the highest hill in the village where he liked to go and think. He had meditated on them as he lay quietly at night waiting for sleep to visit. They had often been the first thoughts of the morning after He prayed the Shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ He began reading.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me…”

There was still some restlessness in the congregation but the slight pause in Jesus’ reading stifled the extraneous noise. This had to be heard by those who knew Him best.

“to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted…”

The thoughts of the sharpest thinkers among them began to race ahead of Jesus’ words. Surely he means Messiah—everyone knows this prophecy concerns the Messiah! When He comes He will do these things. We must wait for Him…

“…He has anointed me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind…”

Rumors say that such things had happened in the crowd that came to hear him preach out in Galilee. God must be praised for such miracles!

“..to set at liberty those who are bruised and oppressed by evil…”

Surely Jesus isn’t taking credit for what God has done! He needs to let God be God and not interfere with Romans or the Elders. It is not wise to speak of oppression. Finally we have peace, such as it is—but this is not the time of rebellion…

“…to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

That wasn’t the end of the passage but it was where Jesus stopped. He closed the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

In the silence, hearts beat so loud you could almost hear them. Breathing did not stop but it slowed to a deep stillness. This was the carpenter’s son, a tradesman himself! He was a fine young man to be sure but he always was a little strange. Had his mind snapped? Had the acclaim of the crowd shaken his good sense? Awakened his long-suppressed pride? Tradition called for Him to comment on the passage…

“…Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Riot
The silence did not immediately relent. Heads began to turn as hometown worshipers looked at each other. They began to whisper.

“Is this not Joseph the carpenter’s son?”

No one knows what Jesus expected of His friends, patrons, and fellow citizens of Nazareth. Quickly He sensed their unbelief, their skepticism, their suspicion. His whole life He had ignored their snubs and their whispered abuse of Joseph and Mary. He wanted them to understand what He had read and prophesied—the time was now! Messiah had come! Things were about to change forever and they could be witnesses to it all. They could testify to the world of the life He had lived before them. They could finally reinterpret the rumors and believe the truth about Joseph and Mary as prophecies fulfilled. But they would not listen. They would not believe.

Every face He looked at represented a story about Him.

  • Things He made were in their homes, tables, chairs, cabinets, all crafted with care by His hands.
  • Some of the men plowed their fields with plows He built or them.
  • He saw men with whom He had played as children.
  • A few still owed Him money for His work.

There was not a stranger in the synagogue that day.

“ You say to me, ‘Physician, heal yourself—do the same things here that you did Capernaum.’ The saying is true that a prophet never finds honor in His own country.”

Using Bible stories of people who missed their opportunities He scolded them from a broken heart, not an angry one.

Like lightning, the crowd turned violent. They rose as one and seized Jesus, dragging Him out of the synagogue smashing pots and jars, spilling their contents into the streets and smashing the ancient laws of behavior on the Sabbath. Though He did not resist them they wrestled Jesus through the narrows streets, out the town gates, and to the brow of that same contemplative hill. The time had come, but not for this.

Somehow Jesus stopped and silenced the mob. Those who held Him simply let Him go. Perhaps it was His eyes, so gentle to them day by day, now shining with wrath—like the wrath the Temple merchants would see in a short while—but whatever it was, something disarmed the mob.

Jesus stood there, staring deep into each set of familiar eyes. No one could return His stare for long. Gradually a lane cleared before Him. Quietly, peacefully, Jesus walked through the mob. No one tried to stop Him but no one could take their eyes from Him either. The Bible closes the incident like this:

“Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.”

An Opportunity Missed
The people of Nazareth missed their opportunity. Unbelief settled into the village, even into the home of Mary, His mother. Jesus moved His residence to Capernaum. From this point Nazareth could be called the Capitol of Irony. In Nazareth:

  • Gabriel announced the coming of Messiah to the virgin Mary.
  • Joseph and Mary established their home and business upon their return from Egypt.
  • Jesus grew from childhood to manhood, learning a trade as He learned about the Kingdom of God at the local Rabbinical school.
  • Jesus was violently rejected by the people who thought they knew Him.

When we gather to worship Him, Jesus walks among us—an opportunity to be seized.

Scripture:
Luke 4:16-30 NKJV
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way..

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never underestimate You! You are the Lord, Messiah, Redeemer, Revealer of God’s Heart. May I always treasure every opportunity to be with You in morning prayer and weekly worship. May I hear Your voice and Your message. May I ever experience Your anointing to be all I will ever need. May Your miraculous provision be mine each day and may I always be sensitive to Your Holy Presence. You are Emmanuel, God with Us, with ME! May I live and move and have my being in You! Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Pass Me Not
Words: Fanny Crosby; Music: W. Howard Doane

1. Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry;
while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.

Refrain:
Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry;
while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.

2. Let me at thy throne of mercy find a sweet relief;
kneeling there in deep contrition, help my unbelief.

Refrain

3. Trusting only in thy merit, would I seek thy face;
heal my wounded, broken spirit, save me by thy grace.

Refrain

4. Thou the spring of all my comfort, more than life to me,
whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heaven but thee?

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved