February 26 “Calvary”

Calvary

Due to its remarkable shape, Golgotha was called the place of the skull.
It was a place where lives were ended in blood and shame. On this day it would live up to its image and name.

Roman soldiers paraded Jesus through the city streets and out of the city gates with whips and curses to the delight of the mob. Perhaps growing weary of the excessive time this duty was wasting, they conscripted a man, Simon from Cyrene, to help Jesus bear the cross. Arriving at the place of execution they offered Jesus a sedative to dull the pain. He refused it. With practiced efficiency the soldiers nailed Jesus to the wooden beams by His hands and feet and lifted Him to the sky. Criminals received the same, one on either side of Him, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.

“And He was numbered with the transgressors.”

The soldiers also nailed the indictment made against Jesus to the top of the cross. It read:

THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The crowd, enraged by this proclamation, began to revile Him, taunting Him with cruel words designed to pierce His heart just as the nails pierced his body:

“Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself,
and come down from the cross!”
“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel,
descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

The soldiers gambled for what was left of His clothes. It was the third hour of the day.

Six hours later, Jesus replied, not to His tormentors, but to His father:

“…Why have you forsaken me?

Someone soaked a sponge in sour wine and, using a stick, raised to His mouth. He did not drink it. He cried out again with a loud voice and it was over. From other sources we know that all of creation cried out at His death in storms and darkness and earthquakes. Struggling to keep his footing upon the shaking soil and in the driving wind, a Roman soldier realized that this was no criminal.

“Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

Meanwhile, at the Temple
Far away from Golgotha, deep in the heart of the Temple, a heavy veil designed to isolate the Holy Presence of God from an unholy world, trembled and tore from the top to the bottom. The Old Covenant with a loving God held hostage in the Holy of Holies by the sins of mankind, broke out of this confinement. A New Covenant was now in force made secure by the innocent blood of Jesus shed at Calvary. Now the New Temple of God, His dwelling place on earth, would not be in houses of stone, but in hearts of flesh, redeemed human hearts! The church would be His dwelling place in the earth by His Spirit.

At Calvary the women who followed Him, looked on as His body was taken down. Unknown to them, a friend on the council, Joseph of Arimathea, arranged with Pilate to have the body of Jesus placed in His tomb. The women rushed to do what they could before the Sabbath began.

Scripture:
Mark 15: 21-41
Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above:
THE KING OF THE JEWS. With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him. Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, may I never forget that day, the day You paid the full price for all my sins and those of everyone everywhere. With every voice of thunder I hear, may I remember that storm that day as all creation—Your handiwork!—shook in protest to Your death. Help me remember that when You said “It is finished!” it really was. There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. As the song says, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.” Thank You, Lord! Amen and Amen.

Song:
He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels
Words and Music: Ray Overholt

1. They bound the hands of Jesus in the Garden where He prayed.
They led Him through the streets in shame.
They spat upon on the Savior so pure and free from sin.
They said “Crucify Him. He’s to blame.”

Refrain:
He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels
But He died alone for You and me.

2. Upon His precious head they place a crown of thorns
They laughed and said, “Behold, the King.”
They struck Him and they cursed Him
And mocked His holy name.
All alone He suffered everything.

3. When they nailed Him to the cross
His mother stood nearby.
He said, “Woman, behold thy son!
He cried, “I thirst for water.”
They gave Him none to drink.
Then the sinful work of man was done.

4. To the howling mob He yielded He did not for mercy cry.
And when He cried, “It’s finished,”
He gave Himself to die.
Salvation’s wondrous plan was done.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 23 “Trials”

Trials

He was not a violent man, but His hands were bound with leather thongs. He was not a flight risk, hut His feet were bound with iron shackles.
Abandoned by His followers, betrayed by the kiss of a friend, Jesus stood alone before the collected leadership councils of His own religion. Peter followed at a safe distance, stopping in a courtyard where servants of the high priests awaited orders on this strange night. They had built a fire to keep out the chill. Peter joined them, hoping that he would not be recognized. From this secure location, Peter could hear the case against Jesus.

The chief priests were interviewing witnesses to testify against Jesus. They were having a difficult time getting people to agree on what Jesus had said and done. Many of the potential witness were obvious liars who would never get past the Roman authorities. Some misquoted Jesus about the destruction of the Temple and a promise to make another but the details never seemed to line up. In frustration the Chief Priest confronted Jesus.

“Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?”

This brought no response from Jesus. These inept witnesses didn’t need His assistance. The calm demeanor of Jesus unnerved the Chief Priest. He went straight to the point.

“Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”

The arena grew suddenly quiet as each participant realized the importance of the answer. In the courtyard, Peter moved to a different place by the fire, seeking safe shadows. Jesus had asked him a similar question in the wilderness. Peter remembered the deep conviction welling up within his heart as he boldly answered. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Would Jesus be so bold? It would be a death warrant. Further witnesses would not be needed. As Peter thought of these things, the expectant silence was broken by the soft but convincing voice of Jesus

“I am.”

Jesus spoke as if there was more He wanted to say. The crowd took a collective breath. At last He continued.

“And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

At this the High Priest screamed and tore his robes. His associates, not to be outdone, did the same. The crowd responded in a deep groan and then a high pitched wail that lasted some seconds before yielding to the uplifted hand of the Chief Priest.

“What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy!
What do you think?”

It was unanimous. The crowd put their words into violence, spitting on Jesus, blindfolding Him, beating Him from the left and then from the right demanding that as a prophet, He should prophesy beneath their fists. The guards, not fearing reprimand from their superiors, took their turns at him with open palms, blows designed to hurt but not kill him.

Peter heard the crowd and felt the heat of their madness. He wished above all things that He could take the blows in the place of Jesus. With a start, he realized then he, indeed, might be next.

Scriptures:
Mark 14:53-65
And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.'” But not even then did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, so innocent were you of wrong-doing before the high priests and the councils of Your religion! It was a sham as well as a shame. You were bold beneath their blows and assertive amidst their accusations. If their charge was love; You were guilty. If their indictment was for telling the truth; You were guilty. Their inept witnesses could not agree. Your confession of Your identity was the device they needed to condemn You. This means You willingly gave Your life; they did not take it from You! Why? Because You loved us! Still today, You love us. Thank You, Lord!

Song:
Man of Sorrows
Words and Music: P.P. Bliss

1. Man of sorrows what a name for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

2 Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

3 Guilty, helpless, lost were we; blameless Lamb of God was he,
sacrificed to set us free: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

4 He was lifted up to die; “It is finished” was his cry;
now in heaven exalted high: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

5 When he comes, our glorious King, all his ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

November 10, 2017: “Shame”

Shame

The shame was ours not His.
The cross was a thing of shame, meant by ancient authorities to punish the evil doer with a slow and painful death and also to shame the guilty one and all who were his. Shame is a punishment all its own. It is as heavy as a cross and bites as deep as a Roman whip. The deeds at Calvary completed a three decade+ process of humiliation for the Son of God.

  • He emptied Himself of divine qualities to become a helpless infant.
  • He learned as child learns, this One Who at one time knew everything.
  • He worked with wood, doing business with the villagers, this One Who created everything.
  • He suffered the rejection of the children of Joseph and Mary, bitter preparation for a nation soon to reject Him, this second person of the Godhead.
  • Life flowed through Him so that the dead lived again, the crippled walked again, the deaf and dumb sang again, and all manner of sick and oppressed folk laughed again.
  • They crowned Him King crying “Hosanna!” and then cried “Crucify Him,” when public opinion changed.
  • His closest followers, except for the women, listened to Him but did not hear Him. They watched and prayed with Him in the Garden and then they slept.
  • The Soldiers came to begin the final act of this theatre of shame: trials, scourging, and a cross.

He deserved none of this, this deep, deep shame. Yet He bore it all. In the Garden while His friends slept, He drained the cup of shame to the dregs and called it God’s will. Our shame was laid upon Him to the full.

Why should we bear our shame still?
This divine obliteration of shame is a proven historical event. It is appropriated by faith by anyone who will simply repent, confess, and believe. Why then, do so many trudge through this life with a cross of shame on their shoulders? I see two types of shame; let’s call shame by other biblical terms like “sorrow.” Paul speaks of a “godly sorrow that leads to repentance” and of a worldly sorrow that leads to death.

  1. There is a godly shame that leads to repentance, forgiveness, and regeneration—a new life free from the record of the past.
  2. There is a pathological shame that grips the soul and never lets go until life is choked out completely.

The difference is Jesus and His cross and His empty tomb. He carried our well-deserved shame with Him into that tomb and he left it there! He came out in resurrection power holding in his nail-scarred hands the touch of healing and forgiveness and redemption for us. Today those strong carpenter’s hands can cut away our binding fetters of guilt and shame.

Believe it. Accept it. Live in it. Just as the shame He endured was ours, not His, the acceptance and innocence that replaces our shame is His not ours—but it is His gift to us.

Believe it. Accept it. Live in it

Scriptures:
Proverbs 3:11-12 NKJV
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor detest His correction; For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
2 Corinthians 7:8-11 NKJV
For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Romans 9:33 NKJV
As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Isaiah 53
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
Psalm 69:8-9; 17-21
Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach, and shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my own kindred, an alien to my mother’s children. Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me. Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me.” “Hide not your face from your servant; be swift and answer me, for I am in distress. Draw near to me and redeem me; because of my enemies deliver me. You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; my adversaries are all in your sight.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 NKJV
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me to never forget the shame that You endured. It was mine, not Yours, yet You bared Your back to the soldiers and their whips, You shouldered the cross and carried it up the hill. You endured the violence of the words and nails of Golgotha. From the cross You quoted the psalms You learned as a child, yield Your abandoned spirit to the Father. Let me never forget the three-day silence of the Tomb as You raided hell’s headquarters, wresting the keys of death, hell and the grave from Satan’s grip. When You stepped from that tomb, you left my shame inside. Help me never to pick it up again. Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Song:
At the Cross
Words: Isaac Watts; Music: Scottish Folk Tune

1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?

Refrain:
At the Cross, at the Cross where I first saw the light
And the burdens of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day.

2. Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!

Refrain

3. Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died for his own creature’s sin.

Refrain

4. Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt mine eyes to tears.

Refrain

5. But drops of tears can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away; ’tis all that I can do.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 20, 2017 “Listening”

Listening

Imagine for a moment that the events that Friday had somehow been recorded.
The contemplation of the Cross of Christ, calls for us to listen to the sounds of the world’s most infamous scene of execution.

The sounds of the approaching parade of pain were still distant, locked within the city walls, the sounds at the Place of the Skull were those typically heard there:

  • Two criminals writhing against the pain of nails freshly driven into their hands and feet,
  • Cursing soldiers waiting another job of killing,
  • Wind sweeping over the hill called Calvary, as it had done for ages, slowing smoothing the rock face and floor of the summit, scattering trash and dust,
  • The distant cries of circling scavenger birds, high in the clear sky, riding thermals and biding their time,
  • Heavy breathing from the two criminals drooping on the crosses, their weight pulling at rusty nails, their lungs collapsing a little with each effort to inhale, and
  • Moans from these guilty men still clinging to life while hoping for death.

All in all, not a noisy scene, the atmosphere was heavy with hopelessness, the weight of the seeming inevitable triumph of evil.

Gradually the distant noise of the crowd following Jesus became clear. 
Such hostility impressed the cynical soldiers waiting for the next victim.  Whoever he was, he must have been an enemy of the people, a deceiver, a cruel man reaping what he had sowed, a self-centered charlatan whose many misdeeds had caught up with him at last.  The weeping of the few who loved him was lost in the din of those who reviled him.  This was going to be easy work, untroubled by claims of innocence and cries of injustice.  This evil man deserved the nails.

The soldiers saw something different in this procession, a man from the crowd was carrying the condemned man’s cross.  As the spectacle drew nearer, the reason was clear.  The criminal was already near death; he had collapsed beneath the cross.  His body was shredded, bleeding, and his pale skin gave a sickly glow as fresh blood flowed in little rivers of  red from so many, many wounds.  The Roman soldiers at the top of the hill shifted their hammers from one hand to the other, knowing the signs—the wrath of Rome—the whip filled with sharp objects and hooks designed to tear flesh and inflect pain beyond imagining.  This evil man had not only offended the people, he had offended Rome itself.  Between the Roman whip and the Roman cross, this will be short work, hopefully the last one of the day.

All was routine as the noise of the crowd broke the serene savagery of the mountain of death.  Like spectators in the arena, every blow of the hammer brought cheers from the crown and wails from the mourners, mostly women, the soldiers noted.  Their practiced hands made quick work of this execution.  Through the wall of noise they heard the voice of the criminal and they tried not to think that this was no voice of evil.  There was no anger, no cursing, and no cries of injustice.  His words were like arrows through the night. The soldiers heard words of compassion and concern for others, words of comfort for one of the criminals beside him and even words of forgiveness for all them.  They did not notice that the clear sky had grown dark.  The light breeze had become the blast of a storm.  Just crazy weather, they thought.

The earthquake, however could not be ignored.
The three crosses shook with the trembling earth, but they did not fall.  The sun seemed to have fled, leaving the incessant lightning to provide the only illumination.

More prayers from the man on the center cross and suddenly he slumped in death.  The soldiers knew that it was more than the loss of blood or than the depth of the wounds.  They knew that even as he died, it was more his decision than their work.  This was a life, not taken, but given.

  • Perhaps instead of a liar, this was a man of truth?
  • What if he was a revealer and not a deceiver?
  • Could it be that he was a healer instead of man of cruelty?
  • Is it possible that it was not for his own misdeeds, but those of others who were truly guilty that he went to the cross?
  • Could this be a monstrous injustice rather than an act of legal justice?
  • Could this be the triumph of good over evil

A Soldier’s Witness
At least one of the soldiers had questions like these swirling through his pagan mind.  Surely the gods were offended at this execution. The whole world was reeling in protest.  One voice sounded in the midst of the storm and darkness, a soldier’s voice, “Surely, he was the son of God!”

Scriptures:
Mark 15:25
It was the third hour when they crucified him.
Matthew 27:54
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Revelation 5:11-14
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, in my spirit today I wish to survey Your wondrous cross. Help me feel the tragic wind on that barren hill. Help me hear the angry shouts of the mob, the curses of the soldiers, and the weeping of those who loved You. Above all let me hear Your voice: “Father, forgive them.” “I thirst.” “It is finished.” “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” I want to sense the silence that followed your death and then the terrible storm. I want to feel the darkness in the middle of the day. Let me share the quiet tears of the women who love You. Why do I desire these things? So that I may never forget. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

October 13, “Paying”

Paying

Justice or Injustice?
Jesus was the only human being who understood what was really happening that dark Friday.  Throughout the night He had stood before the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities as they took turns abusing Him.  The religious authorities used words and fists.  The political leaders used false praise, fists, whips, a crown of thorns, and a mocking kingly robe.  They all knew exactly what they were doing.  Yet they could never have imagined what Jesus was doing.

He was no passive prisoner at the mercy of cruel men.  He was Prince of Heaven on an earthly mission fulfilling His part of the grand enterprise of redemption.

With the cross on His back, the crown pressed into His bleeding head, and with His back beaten raw by the Roman whip, Jesus walked the Way of Suffering, through the narrow city streets, crowded with uncaring onlookers.  The pitiless procession passed beneath the balconies of the well-to-do, living in finery and festive pride as well as second-story villains of all vices.  Windows closed at the sight of another execution underway; it was no concern of theirs.  They did not understand what Jesus was doing—for them—the price He was paying

The crowd grew as the parade passed through the city gates toward the Place of the Skull.  More and more people came to enjoy the ghastly spectacle.  They could never have known what was really happening before their eyes.

About fifty days hence, praise in countless languages would capture their attention and Peter would stand among them to explain what Jesus had done. Three thousand would remember this day on that Day of Pentecost and they would believe.

On that Friday, they did not believe.  There was nothing to believe.  That nice man who spoke so well and helped so many people must have done something wrong to be given the sentence of death. Surely this was justice. They were sure this was another tragedy of a young man defeated by the entrenched leaders of the nation. Perhaps it was injustice.

Soldiers, horses with ropes, hammers, nails, curses, and crosses were lifted against a darkening sky.  Rain, thunder, and wind made the work harder and the soldiers angrier and more brutal.

Jesus spoke but only a few heard what He said.  They didn’t know what He was doing, the price He was paying.  Their confusion rang out in abusive taunting shouts:

“He saved others but he cannot save himself!”
“Come down from that cross, if you are the Son of God!”
“Healer!  Heal yourself!”

In the rain, soldiers gambled for the robe He had worn.  As one last irony, they nailed Pilate’s sign into place, reading, “The King of the Jews.”

Pilate didn’t know the truth He spoke.
As the storm on Calvary reached the private chambers of the palace, the Roman Governor could not shake the feeling that he wasn’t in control of these events.  He pondered Jesus’ answer about his power to take Jesus’ life or give it back to Him.  “You would have no power all except what you have been given from above.”  Could a higher authority be at work in this bloody business?  It was true, Jesus was doing what He came to do.

Jesus was paying the price, the ransom, the debt.  He was paying for our redemption, laying down His humanity for the sake of all humanity.  The perfect sacrifice, He was making atonement for us. He was opening a “a new and living way” for us to enter into fellowship with God.

That terrible Friday, Jesus was paying the cost with all that He had—and it was enough!

Scriptures:
John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Matthew 20:28
…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
John 19:9-11
Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.  “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.
John 19:30
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
1 Timothy 2:4-6
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.
1 Cornthians 6:19-20
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
Galatians 1:3-5
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Psalm 85:9-10 KJV
Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.  Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, never was there such injustice than at Calvary. You were more than innocent, You were holy—with a holiness tried in the fire of life here on earth. You had no sins of Your own but You took the judgement for my sins, for all the sins of mankind. Justice and injustice mingled together in Your blood at the foot of the cross. Because You paid the price, I can face this day forgiven, a new creature, standing before God as if I had never sinned. I can pass through the new and living way You opened for me to dwell in peace at Your throne. Thank You, Lord, for paying the price. Amen.

Song:
Jesus Paid It All
Words: Elvina M. Hall; Music: John T. Grape

1. I hear the Savior say,”Thy strength indeed is small,
Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.”

Refrain:
Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,He washed it white as snow.

2. Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots And melt the heart of stone.

Refrain

3 For nothing good have I Where-by Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

Refrain

4 And when, before the throne, I stand in Him complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”My lips shall still repeat.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

September 10, 2017 “Sunday”

Sunday

Sunday is the Lord’s Day.
He gives us seven days, but claims one of them as His own.
It is not a bad deal. Life as an endless stream of days would be unbearable. We need the organizational point of the Lord’s Day each week. It is a chance to end things and start them up again.

Perhaps the slaves-turned-landowners who crossed the River Jordan into Canaan’s Land needed a day to knock off work and take up worship and rest. Without this grace, they would have worked themselves to death.

Just like we sometimes do.

In Isaiah the Lord calls it, “My Holy Day.”
It is not rightfully ours to spend as we please. Early Christians, in honor of the Lord’s resurrection, expanded the Sabbath, the seventh day, to Sunday, the first day of the week. The Sabbath Day of the Old Covenant converged with the Resurrection Celebration of the First Day to become the New Covenant Lord’s Day.  On Sunday we gaze at the cross through the door of an empty tomb.

The seeds of sanity, rest and worship, are sown in this weekly break from our routines:

  • Rest for weariness or to avoid it, and
  • Worship to renew us and reconnect us to the Lord and His family.

The Lord’s Day is a day to rise above our musical preferences to sing the music of others.
It is a day to thank God for His faithfulness and to honor His work in our brothers and sisters as we hear the testimonies of both

  • the young and the old,
  • the victor and the vanquished, and
  • the sick and the healed.

The Lord’s Day is a time to praise and worship the Lord, to seek His face in intercession and to hear His Word.

On the Lord’s Day we focus our hearts on Jesus.
In response to our attention, He lavishes us with love and truth and peace. His Holy Spirit expands our hearts so we can know Jesus better and experience more of His strength. When we close out the clamor of the week in Lord’s Day worship, our hearts can hear the worship going on in heaven as we encounter His holy presence on His Holy Day.

Offering ourselves to Him gives the Lord opportunity to retune our internal instruments to face another week proving His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

There is no day like the Lord’s Day. Let us gather together in His presence. Let us give Him the glory due His name, for as He promised, in giving we receive.

On Sunday we gaze at the cross through the door of an empty tomb.

Scriptures:
Exodus 20:8
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Matthew 12:11-12
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:27-28
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
John 20:1
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Acts 20:7
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread
Revelation 1:9-11 NKJV
I, John… was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,”
Isaiah 58:13-14
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Prayer:
Dearest Lord Jesus, today we will give You thanks. We will give You the glory due unto Your name. This day is Your Day not ours. It is Your holy day and we will not profane it. We focus on You. We seek Your face. Like the woman in the crowd we press through to touch You. We need Your healing virtue. We need a Word from You, Lord. We need to sense Your nearness and rest in Your mercy. You have called us out of darkness into Your marvelous light so that we might give You praise. And this we do, today, Your Day! Amen.

Song:
This Is the Day

Traditional Scripture Chorus

This is the day (This is the Day)
That the Lord has made (That the Lord has made)
I will rejoice (I will rejoice)
And be glad in it (And be glad in it)
This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day (This is the Day)
That the Lord has made!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

May 18, 2017

Worthless?

What It Takes…

  • It takes a good eye to see the difference between worth and worthlessness.
  • It takes a good heart to understand the differences between unworthy and worthless.

I was a freshman in college, away from home for the first time, alone one afternoon in my dorm room. It was spring of 1968. I had a visitor whom I had known a long time but on this afternoon, I came to know Him better.

I was listening to my record player, a new album by a Gospel quartet called, “The Statesmen.” About the middle of one side was a song called, “Unworthy.” When the song began to play I began to weep.

That was me—unworthy.

A Call to Ministry
There was a call to ministry on my life and yet in definite steps the Lord had led me to this little state college to get a music education degree. I was active in several campus ministry groups and learning how to be a Pentecostal among those who love Jesus as much as I do but are called by some other name.

I wept during the whole song.

I lifted the needle and placed it at the beginning of the song to play it again. With repetition, my tears increased to become sobs. I paced the floor of my dorm room weeping with great heaves.

The song ended and I played it again.

I have no idea how many times this cycle repeated but I was not going to let this moment of visitation go until God was through with me. I don’t remember how it ended. I just know that I was changed by the truth of the song.

To this day I cannot put it all into words but somehow I learned the difference between worthless and unworthy.

  • Worthless things and people are useless, a burden to the world.
  • Unworthy things and people are useful, a blessing to the world.

Not without Worth
If I had been tempted to believe the lie from Satan that I was worthless, I now had the truth from God. Like everyone else I was certainly unworthy, but I was not without worth.

  • Think of the Roman whip, the hammer and nails, the crown of thorns, the twisted trials, the beatings and the cruel words like rocks hurled at Jesus until, suspended between earth and heaven He breathed His last breath.
  • Think of the blood streaming down from the cross to splash on the sand and sink down into a fallen earth.
  • Think of words of forgiveness fueled by those last few breaths falling with the rain from high above the unworthy crowd of mourners and murderers.
  • Think of Jesus and know that He was thinking of you.

Unworthy? We certainly are unworthy.

But worthless? Not on His life!

We have been deemed so precious, more precious than flawless diamonds, to the Lord Jesus that would endure the suffering and the shame to solve our sin problem.

Don’t be Confused.
The Psalmist observes that people are confused about worth. They highly prize worthless things. The Father makes no such mistakes—He does not waste the blood of His son on worthless people.

“He made me worthy and now by His grace, His mercy has made me His own.”

Scriptures:
Psalm 12
Help me, Lord, for there is no godly one left; the faithful have vanished from among us. Everyone speaks falsely with his neighbor; with a smooth tongue they speak from a double heart. … The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined from ore and purified seven times in the fire. O Lord, watch over us and save us from this generation forever. The wicked prowl on every side, and that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.
John 3:16-18 NIV
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Hebrews 12:2 NKJV
…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Isaiah 53:5-6 NKJV
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Matthew 16:26 KJV
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Matthew 6:25-27 NIV
I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, When You came to this earth, a child born to an ordinary girl, in a stable, with shepherds and barn animals as Your attendants, it was the picture of unworthiness. Appearances were not accurate. There were angels in attendance and kings paying court—witnesses from heaven and earth to Your value, Your worthiness of honor and praise. That is what I will give You today with my thoughts, words, and deeds. My faithfulness will not balance the scales for I will remain unworthy. My value, unseen by this world, is measured in redeeming blood, in unspeakable condescension, as the King of kings became a man to solve my problems, deal with my sin and give me new life. What contradiction–unworthy and beyond price! Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
Unworthy
Words and Music: Ira F. Stanphill

1. Unworthy am I of the grace that He gave,
Unworthy to hold to His hand;
Amazed that a King would reach down to a slave,
This love I cannot understand.

Chorus
Unworthy, unworthy, a beggar
In bondage and alone;
But He made me worthy .and now by His grace,
His mercy has made me His own.

2. My sorrow and sickness laid stripes on His back,
My sins caused the blood that was shed;
My faults and my failures have woven a crown
Of thorns that He wore on His head.

Chorus

3. Unworthy am I of the glory to come,
Unworthy with angels to sing;
I thrill just to know that He loved me so much,
A pauper, I walk with the King.

Chorus

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 14, 2017 The Crucifixion

Calvary

Tools of the Trade
The Roman implements of torture and execution were tools of the trade for the soldiers of the Empire. Iron was expensive, whether the sharp bits lodged in the tentacles of the whip that tore the flesh of prisoners or the sharp pointed nails that split the hands and feet of their victims, precious iron had to be cared for and cleaned. A carefully maintained whip and supply of crucifixion nails could do their duty on many a criminal’s back and fasten many a rebel to the wood.

But the Roman soldier knew nothing of germs and microbiotic residue. Each new flogging carried with it all the ones who had gone before. Each fresh use of a set of nails was not at all fresh. But what did that matter? In a few days each one crucified would be just so much rotting meat, food for the birds, until whatever was left was taken down.

Such was the business of a place called Calvary.
This Place of the Skull warned of Roman justice to those who would take up arms, even if only treasonous words, against the Empire. Fear was the theme of this theatre. Guilt or innocence was not an issue; order was the point. Stay in your place, you wretched Jews. Worship your one God in your Temple and tend to your ancient ceremonies and chants. Speak against Rome and Calvary is your destiny.

The Cross of Christ
To this place an innocent Man came, condemned, bleeding from the whip, crowned with twisted branches from a thorn bush, carrying a heavy cross.

  • Soldiers forced Him up the stone-strewn trail to the summit with fresh lashes from their carefully maintained whips.
  • They forced Jesus to stretch out on the cross where the freshly washed nails were hammered through His hands and feet.
  • A mounted soldier backed his well-trained steed, pulling the cross and its prisoner from the ground. For a moment it remained poised against a sky where storm clouds were gathering. One more step backward by the horse and the cross plunged into the hole in the mountain that had been used countless times before.
  • Other soldiers went to work quickly to stabilize the cross with little regard for the blood splashing down on them.

The Gathering Storm
Their work done, the soldiers divided their spoils while enjoying the suffering of another rebel against Rome. They joined those in the crowd in their lame insults, each of which yielded more laughter that it deserved. They all pretended not to notice the dying of the light in the approach of the storm. This tempest was not coming from west to east but from all directions at once. It seemed to be linked to a storm deep within each witness of these events.

Jesus spoke from the cross, His voice lost in the abuse hurled at Him and heard only by those who were listening. Yet His words have lasted longer than any storm, piercing though all of the noisy crowds who still today relentlessly come to mock Him.

At last, with His last breath, He declared. “It is finished.”

And it was.

Salvation’s price had been paid.
All the whips and nails of a hostile humanity proved unable to still His voice or to stem the flow of His life-giving blood. The sin barrier was forever broken so there was no longer any need for God to separate Himself from the people He loved. The veil in the Temple ripped from top to bottom, opening a new and living way. And nothing can ever change this.

Indeed the whip and the nails were infected by all who had known them before and by all of us. They carried the disease of sin and the blood they spilled is the only cure.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:57; 67-68; 27:1-2; 27-31-40; 45-46; Mark 15:36-38; John 19:30:
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?” Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

For Fridays
The Book of Common Prayer
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord. Amen.

Song:
The Day He Wore My Crown
Words and Music: Phil Johnson

The city was Jerusalem The time was long ago
The people called him Jesus
The crime was the love He showed
And I’m the one to blame I caused all the pain
He gave Himself, the day He wore my crown

He brought me love that only He could give
I brought Him cause to cry
And though He taught me how to live
I taught Him how to die
And I’m the one to blame I caused all the pain
He gave Himself, the day He wore my crown

He could have called His holy Father, and said,
“Take me away, please, take me away.”
He could have said, “I’m not guilty.
And I’m not going to stay I’m not going to pay.”

But He walked right through the gate
And then on up the hill
And as He fell beneath the weight
He cried, “Father, not My will.”
And I’m the one to blame I caused all His pain
He gave Himself, the day He wore my crown.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 13, 2017 Judgment Halls

Trials

Irony of ironies
Jesus the Good, Jesus the Righteous, Jesus the Just—standing in the judgment halls of bad men, sinful men, and unjust systems both political and religious.

Has the world ever seen such restraint on the part of any defendant? Not only was He innocent of the charges made against Him, He commanded an unseen corps of warrior angels, ten thousand in number, ready to spring to His rescue with the slightest signal from their Master. But they were not given the order to rescue, to defend, or even to secure Jesus from further injustice. I am sure angel-heads shook in dismay. What was the Father’s plan? Why was such a thing happening before their eyes? If angels have ever breathed hard, it must have been then; angel-muscles rippling with angel-weapons tightly gripped and at the ready.

There was to be no rescue.
Jesus was taken before the religious authorities, Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the High Priest. The whole governing council of the Jews gathered for an illegal middle-of-the-night trial. Their witnesses could not get their stories straight as Jesus stood before them as silent as a lamb before the sacrificial knife. Finally He was asked to testify against Himself which he readily did:

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you:
In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One
and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

There followed sudden cries of official outrage and the requisite moans grief that could barely mask their inner delight at His words. Tearing their robes in dramatic demonstration of their political advantage, they declared Him death-worthy, slapped Him around, taunted Him and sent Him to Pilate.

Before Pilate
The Roman governor had several official duties he would rather start his day with than another Jewish rabble-rouser, but he had little choice to go along with these fanatics in their bloody, arrogant (one God!) religion. His job was to keep them happy.

Weary from the abuse, the chains, and the lack of sleep, Jesus was dragged before Pilate. He could not have looked like much of a threat to Rome. Pilate tried to make sense of it but it made no sense at all. When accused by the Jews, Jesus did not answer. It was clear to Pilate the man was innocent of any crime against Rome. Pilate took Jesus inside away from the crowd and asked Him directly, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

A Different Kingdom
Jesus told Pilate about His Kingdom—it was of a different sort—a peaceable Kingdom of might and power and justice—not a Kingdom of this world—a Kingdom built not on lies or power but on truth. For ages we have been intrigued by Pilate’s answer, “What is truth?”

The Governor tried to release Jesus but the people would have none of it. The wanted His blood, even if charged to their own accounts. In an ironic act of blasphemy the Children of Abraham confessed they had no King but Caesar.

Pilate gave in to their demands and turned Jesus over to the soldiers. He went by the book ordering Jesus to be whipped. The soldiers were as creative as they were brutal. They put a purple robe on Jesus and wove a crown of thrones and rammed it onto His head so recently bloodied by the sweat in the Garden of Prayer.

Angels wept. The disciples hid. Pilate washed his hands. The rabid crowd raged.

The soldiers led Him away to be crucified.

Scriptures:
Matthew 26:57-27:31
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled… Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied… Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”… Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.
John 18:28-19:18 NIV
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor…
Pilate … summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
… When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”…When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. … “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free…But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.” We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me walk worthy of You! My heart sinks at the thought of such injustice in the courts of men. You were not the one on trial that night and day—we were! Our sins were placed upon You. You drank all of the terrible cup of iniquity in the Garden. We could never atone for our sins so You atoned for us. You took the blows. You wore the thorny crown. You fell beneath the Roman lash—and all for love of us! Lord Jesus, help me walk worthy of You! Amen. (1 Thess 2:11-12 KJV)

Song:
He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels
Words and Music: Ray Overholt

1. They bound the hands of Jesus
in the garden where He prayed;
They led Him thro’ the streets in shame.
They spat upon the Savior so pure and free from sin;
They said, “Crucify Him; He’s to blame.”

Refrain:
He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels,
But He died alone, for you and me.

2. Upon His precious head
they placed a crown of thorns;
They laughed and said, “Behold the King.”
They struck Him and they cursed Him
and mocked His holy name.
All alone He suffered everything.

Refrain

3 When they nailed Him to the cross,
His mother stood near by;
He said, “Woman, behold thy son!”
He cried, “I thirst for water,”
but they gave Him none to drink.
Then the sinful work of man was done.

Refrain

4 To the howling mob He yielded;
He did not for mercy cry.
The cross of shame He took alone.
And when He cried, “It’s finished,”
He gave Himself to die;
Salvation’s wondrous plan was done.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

April 12, 2017 The Garden

Gethsemane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
Amazing Love
Words and Music: Chris Tomlin

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

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

You are my King.
Jesus You are my King.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved