February 28 “Commission”

Commission

Some things are so very real, they can only be seen with eyes of faith.
With repeated appearances to those who had loved and followed Him, Jesus convinced them all that He was, indeed, back from the dead. He gently rebuked those who failed to believe the good reports from the first witnesses. After all, He had told them this was going to happen!

From other sources we know that He did meet with the disciples in Galilee. On one occasion He met with the Eleven and those wonderful women and convinced even the skeptical Thomas that he was back and His power was greater than ever. He could appear and disappear at will and could pass through walls without effort.

We cannot imagine the joy of the followers of Jesus to have Him back. But this was not the end of surprises. There were always surprises with Jesus! It seemed He wasn’t planning on staying. Later they would realize that He had come to earth to complete a two-fold mission:

  1. To show people what their God was really like, and,
  2. To redeem the sins of the world so that we could walk with God in this life.

That two-fold mission had been accomplished and it was time for Him to return to the throne room of God in heaven.

There was one more thing that He had to do: Commission His followers to continue His work in the earth. His story had to be told to the whole world and they, and those who came to know Him through their ministry, were the ones to tell it. He condensed the mission into a single statement and a promise:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

“Gospel” means “Good News.”

  • In a world in the iron grip of Rome, Good News was needed.
  • In every epoch of time since the ancient world existed, Good News has been needed.
  • Any type of news rooted in man’s character will eventually be found to be corrupt.
  • Any message based on the intellect of man will present only partial solutions since the knowledge of mankind is inadequate.
  • Any hope of staving off disease that rests in man will itself be found infected with sin.

Death rules man as it always had until that day at the empty tomb. The only source of Good News is the Gospel of Christ.

The Power of the Holy Spirit
The Jesus story is not complete without the story of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not commission us to go out in our own power! He sends us the Holy Spirit to make us holy and empower us to be His witnesses. We should expect the demonstration of the Spirit when we tell His story. We will protected from harm as we go and signs will follow as we pass through this life preaching the Gospel. Demons cannot stop us for we can call on Jesus’ name. The sick will be healed as we pray in Jesus’ name. Wild animals and poison will not even slow us down.

Having spoken His final words to them until the Holy Spirit would come upon them and bring His words back to them as needed, He made His exit into the welcoming skies. Heaven took Him back and He resumed His rightful place at the right hand of Majesty on High.

What did they do then? They waited in Jerusalem until they received “power from on high” and they went out and preached His Story everywhere. The Lord was with them confirming the Word with miraculous signs. Amen.

Scripture:
Mark 16:14-20
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have heard Your call to follow You. I have obeyed that call. I hear Your call to tell Your story, to preach the Good News about You in every possible way. I will fear no demons or dangers, no sickness or setbacks, no opposition or lack of opportunity. I will follow and I will tell. I receive Your Holy Spirit to make me holy, Your power to make me mighty, and Your love to make me lovable. Use me, all of me, my gifts and my gaffs, my head and heart and hands to do your work. Thank You, Lord. Thank You.

Song:
We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
Words and Music: H. Ernest Nichol

1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, a story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright,
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.

2. We’ve a song to be sung to the nations, that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil and shatter the spear and sword, and shatter the spear and sword.

Refrain

3. We’ve a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above
has sent us His Son to save us, and show us that God is love, and show us that God is love.

Refrain

4 We’ve a Savior to show to the nations, who the path of sorrow has trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples may come to the truth of God, may come to the truth of God.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 27 “Victory”

Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
Christ Arose!
Words and Music: Robert Lowry

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 18 “Seasons”

Seasons

Many times natural phenomenon, like the changing of the seasons, point toward supernatural things.
The sun had almost disappeared behind the hills surrounding Jerusalem as Jesus told the Twelve about the things that were to come. Could they also see the sun setting on an old Covenant? Could they see a terrible night of suffering just ahead for Jesus and for them? Is it possible that they could have foreseen the dawning of a New Covenant of presence and power? We can be sure they did not see these things. All they saw was the ending of another day.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree
Somewhere on the approach to Jerusalem a withered fig tree gave silent warning of the endtimes. Jesus had sought figs from it out of season and, finding only leaves, He cursed it and it obediently died. The fig tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel. Jesus had come to them in a green season, expecting fruit and receiving none, He spoke of their destruction. Now, He took the lesson deeper.

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree…”

This was an agrarian society, one engaged with the seasons. The men knew what He was talking about. Now was the time of their visitation! If they reject Jesus in these favorable days, what will they do when the stones of the Temple start to fall?

“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”

Each of the men looked at Jesus and then at each other. “This generation!”—Them! He was talking about them! This was no parable; this was about to happen—to them! None of them wanted to believe it but how could they doubt the words of Jesus?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

If He said it would happen; it would happen.

“Take heed, watch and pray.”
No one knows the day or the hour, but we can detect the season. Like the natural cycles of the earth, seasons of war and peace will come and go. People see these things but cannot know when the end will come. The solution is to be ready at all times. Jesus said that we who follow Him are like caretakers in His House with specific work to do—do it! Do it with all your might. Do it faithfully for you never know when the Owner will return.

Jesus was talking about them and the destruction of the Temple in their lifetimes and He is talking about us and the endtimes. There are three things for us to do:

  1. Take heed—keep our eyes open on current events so we can understand.
  2. Watch—be sensitive to the leadership of the Spirit.
  3. Pray—pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the Promised Outpouring of the Spirit. Pray this prayer: “Even so, Come Lord Jesus!”

As we shiver through another winter, rejoice in another spring, swelter through another summer and find our jackets to ward off the winds of another fall, may these seasons speak to us of these last days.

Many times natural phenomenon, like the changing of the seasons, point toward supernatural things.

Scriptures:
Mark 13: 28-37
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near — at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming — in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning —lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I know You are coming soon! I want to be ready when You come. I want You to find me working at my assignment in Your great House. Help me take heed, watch, and pray for that day! I know that Your Word is sure and will never pass away. I recognize that in my generation Israel was restored to nationhood. If this is what You meant by the generation when all is fulfilled, help me be ready! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Signs Are Everywhere
Words and Music: Mrs. F.W. Suffield

1. The King is coming in glory to catch His bride away.
It may be in the morning. It may be at midday,
At the even at midnight; the trump will sound so clear;
The dead in Christ, and we that live, His voice shall hear.

Refrain:
The King is coming, hallelujah! He’s coming in the air,
The fig tree is budding, the signs are everywhere.
The saints are looking ever upward while journeying on their way.
He’s coming, hallelujah! To catch His bride away.

2. Behold He cometh and leaping and skipping o’er the hills;
Like the young roe, like the young hart, My soul with rapture thrills;
Through the window He’s looking, through the lattice work is seen,
The winter’s past, the rain is o’er, the figs are green.

Refrain

3. The King is coming, “Be ready,” to meet Him on that day;
With your heart right, with your robes white, and in this holy way;
Like the light’ning that flashes in the twinkling of an eye,
Our Lord shall come to claim His own, He’s drawing nigh.

Refrain.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 17 “Return”

Return

Many people are willing to admit that Jesus came to this earth but they do not think that He will return.
Theologians call the end of the world and the return of Christ, the “eschaton.” It is defined as the divinely ordained climax of history. Endless debates originate in the various theories of how this is going to come about. Liberal thinkers see it all as symbolism. Conservatives try to parse the scriptures to discover a narrative for it. Scoffers laugh at the thought. I saw a picture of a man marching in some sort of protest carrying a sign that said, “If Jesus comes again, we’ll kill him again.” We should be sure of this: He said He would return and He will.

Back to the Mountain
Jesus and the Twelve are resting at an impressive overlook on the Mount of Olives. It is the close of another day of the public ministry of Jesus. He has tangled with the leaders of the nation and the Temple in the Temple courts. He has shared disturbing certainties with His men about the near future and the destruction of the beauty they see at their feet. Now He is about to balance the bad news with some really good news. His glory will be revealed to all!

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”

This is what they wanted to hear! Enough of the death and destruction, let’s hear more about the power and great glory. They wanted some of that. Finally, everyone would see Jesus the way they did—in all the greatness He was careful to hide every day. They could process this prediction and they did, turning it over in their minds with the implications it had for them. So what if a few stars fall out of heaven and what did it really mean that “the powers of heaven will be shaken?” They heard the part they wanted to hear.

We must hear more.
We have a more exalted view of Jesus. They saw Him up close and we can only guess at what that was like, but we see Him from the vantage point of prophecy from cover to cover in the Bible. Regardless what theory we may hold concerning specific events in the Eschaton, we must always live in constant awareness of His return.

The Engine that Drives the Boat
If our lives before Christ are seen as a journey at sea, we must be sure to keep the engine in good repair. That engine is the Blessed Hope—the imminent return of Jesus. We are not dead in the water. This hope propels us forward. He is coming and His reward is with Him! The dead in Christ will rise first and we who are live and remain will be caught up to be with Him. He is coming with ten-thousands of saints to make an end to evil in this world. It is all true for the Bible says it clearly. We must live in readiness for in a moment all our theories of the eschaton will melt before its reality. Believers, believe it. Preachers, preach it. Worshipers, sing it! Jesus will return to this earth again and no one will kill Him! All will confess Him Lord and Christ!

Scriptures:
Mark 13:24-25
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
Titus 2:11-15 NKJV
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Jude 14-15 NKJV
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, help me live in constant anticipation of Your return. What You have given me to do I must do quickly. There is no time to waste. Each opportunity to serve You, worship You, or to tell Your story is precious and not to be squandered. I know that at any moment I could hear that trumpet and the shout of the archangel! I will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. I will see You and my loved ones in Your company! Oh, the joy it brings my heart to think of it! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

Song:
He’s Coming Soon
Words: Thoro Harris; Music: Queen Liliukalani of Hawaii

1. In these, the closing days of time, What joy the glorious hope affords,
That soon—O wondrous truth sublime! He shall reign, King of kings and Lord of Lords.

Refrain:
He’s coming soon, He’s coming soon; With joy we welcome His returning;
It may be morn, it may be night or noon—We know He’s coming soon.

2. The signs around—in earth and air, Or painted on the starlit sky,
God’s faithful witnesses—declare That the coming of the Savior draweth nigh.

Refrain

3. The dead in Christ who ’neath us lie, In countless numbers, all shall rise
When through the portals of the sky He shall come to prepare our paradise.

Refrain

4. And we, who living, yet remain, Caught up, shall meet our faithful Lord;
This hope we cherish not in vain, But we comfort one another by this word.

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 16 “Readiness”

Readiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 15 “Endtimes”

Endtimes

Next to the Temple area was the Mount of Olives. From such a height, one longs to see the future.
Jesus and the Twelve left the Temple, the quarreling leaders, and the blushing widow with the deep smile on her face and climbed to an observation point on the Mount of Olives. Without turning the head, the city could be seen in its completeness and the Temple rising to heaven as its centerpiece. A vision like this prompted pride in the past and hope for the future. One of the disciples commented on the solid construction of Herod’s Temple projecting permanence and a future of hope. Jesus let the comment rest on their minds as they completed the climb. When they reached the observation point, He directed their vision to the impressive sight below, but with a dire prophecy.

“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another,
that shall not be thrown down.”

What Will the Future Hold?
This was not at all what the men expected to hear. They expected Jesus to restore the spirituality of the Temple not bring down its buildings. None of them knew what to say so they let the matter drop. Later in a private setting with just Peter, James, and John, the inner circle, Jesus gave more details in response to their questions. They wanted to know when this would happen and what signs to look for.

Jesus told them such important things:

  • Deceivers would could claiming to be from Him or to actually be Him. Do not believe them.
  • The nations of the world will wage war after war against each other.

As terrible as these things will be the end will be yet to come.

  • Natural disasters, earthquakes and famines and troubles of all kinds. Even these things will be just the beginning of sorrows.
  • His followers will be counted as outlaws to be tried and beaten before rulers as a testimony to Him.
  • Through all of these horrors, His people will continue to preach His story until all nations have heard.

The Ministry of the Spirit
Even in these terrible Endtimes, the Holy Spirit will be at work. He will fill the mouths of Christ-followers when they are on trial. To the end, they will speak as a witness that cannot be denied by courts or councils, kings or commoners. Families will be torn asunder by those who will not believe the truth. Believers will be hated and hunted, captured and killed for the sake of the Gospel.

Through it all, believers will have supernatural strength, strength to endure whatever may be hurled at them by a sinful, angry world. This strength of Spirit will carry the faithful through the trials, the torture, even the bloody tide of death to the other side of eternal life and peace.

The disciples were silent. There was nothing they could say. Some, perhaps thought of turning back. Maybe following Jesus was all a mistake. Sitting there in the presence of the Lord as the shadow of the Mount of Olives crept over the city walls toward the Temple, the words of Jesus seemed unreal, impossible, unbelievable. Yet, if they were learning anything, they were learning to believe what Jesus said. Deeper than their thoughts and fears was a stirring in each man’s heart—Jesus had called them, selected them, to follow Him. That calling gripped each man and would not let Him go.

Scriptures:
Mark 13:1-13
Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Luke 21:28
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your return is near! All the signs You gave Your men are happening now in some part of the world. Be with my brothers and sisters in other lands who do not enjoy religious freedom. They serve You at the risk of their lives. Holy Spirit, give them the words to say that tell the Gospel story even as they go down to suffering and death, just as Jesus promised. We will not be distressed at the signs of the time for we see in them our final hope! Even so, Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Redemption Draweth Nigh
Words and Music: Gordon Jenson

1. Years of time have come and gone
Since I first heard it told
How Jesus would come again someday
If back then it seemed so real
Then I just can’t help but feel
How much closer His coming is today

Refrain:
Signs of the times are everywhere
There’s a brand new feeling in the air
Keep your eyes upon the eastern sky
Lift up your head redemption draweth nigh

2. Wars and strife on every hand
And violence fills the land
Still some people doubt He’ll ever come again
But the Word of God is true
He’ll redeem His chosen few
Don’t lose hope soon Christ Jesus will descend.

Refrain
Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 14 “Lord”

Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Beware of the scribes!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song:
He Is Lord
Traditional

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 10 “Inscription”

Inscription

There is power in an inscription. It is a deep mark of ownership on something, a coin, a nation, a life.
The first wave of attack had failed. Scribes, elders, and priests proved unable to impugn the authority of Jesus. They called in a more vaunted team: Pharisees and Herodians. This was an uneasy alliance of authorities on the Law of Moses and those who supported the Roman influence of the Herodian kings. They agreed that the nation should submit to Rome since the Empire had supplied them with rulers. The mark of the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, was deeply imprinted on their minds. Flattery would be their opening gambit.

“Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.”

The oil of flattery oozed from every word they spoke. Most men were subject to it and would slide right into the trap. But not this Man. Jesus stopped and looked at them, waiting for the next play in their game. Into this uncomfortable silence, they had to continue, the leader clearing his suddenly very dry throat.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

It was a brilliant move! There was no correct answer. To say yes was tantamount to blasphemy. To say no was potential treason. When Jesus did not answer right away, their confidence in their scheme began to grow. The spokesman grew bold, feigning impatience:

Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”

Jesus was not shaken by their tactics. He knew their hearts, always an advantage in these contests.

“Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.”

A coin? A Roman coin? What was this Man up to now? Any confidence the Pharisees and Herodians had gained was now shaken. None of them wished to admit he carried money, of course, so it took a little time for a servant to produce the coin and hand it to Jesus. Jesus took it and turned it over a few times, held it up to the sun as if to see it better, laughed and tossed it back to the smiling servant. At least someone was enjoying this!

“Whose image and inscription is this?”

Everyone knew the answer but Jesus let the silence hang in the air. They had to say the name.

“Caesar’s.”

Jesus made His point:

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

And that was it. Game over. The Pharisees and Herodians had been bested by a carpenter known to ride donkeys.

Empires and Kingdoms
The Empires of men are one thing. The Kingdom of God is an altogether different thing. In the public arena, believers have a civic duty to perform. In the spiritual arena, the followers of Christ have a spiritual duty which goes deeper and higher than our duty to the government. We must live for our King, serving Him in holiness and with prayer, fulfilling His call on our lives. In the process, the nation who is thus served by the Kingdom is a blessed one. God has deeply inscribed His image on His people; we are His!

There is power in an inscription. It is a deep mark of ownership on something, a coin, a nation, a life.

Scriptures:
Mark 12:13-17
Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.
Psalm 33:10-12 NKJV
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, Your image is stamped on me! Help it to shine clear today in my choices and attitudes and deeds. You have stamped my name deep in Your hand! I will have confidence today in that truth. Lord, help me be faithful in my civic duties rendering unto the government the things that bear its image. I will pray for my leaders, as the Bible instructs, so that we might be at peace in the world and so that fairness shall be the state of the nation. Help me work for the justice and peace that are the foundations of Your throne. To God be the Glory! Amen.

Song:
To Be Like Jesus
Traditional

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus,
All I asked is to be like Him.
All through life’s journey
From earth to glory,
All I asked is to be like Him.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 9, “Vineyard”

Vineyard

A vineyard is much more than a yard with vines. It is a business that must produce a product and a profit.
When questioned about His authority, Jesus countered the silence of the scribes, priests and elders with a parable.

  • It was the story of a man who planted a fine, secure vineyard and leased to vinedressers while he traveled extensively.
  • Still on his journey when the time for product and profit came, the man sent his servant to collect.
  • The vinedressers beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. This shameful thing happened several times.
  • At last, the man sent his only son, expecting that they would surely respect his son.
  • They did not. They saw an opportunity to steal the vineyard, its product and the profits. They killed the son and threw his body out of the vineyard.

When He spoke of a vineyard, there was no misunderstanding His meaning. It was an ancient image for the nation of Israel.

What will their profits be?
After detailing the repeated crimes, Jesus let the story hang in Temple air. By this time a crowd had gathered to watch this contest of authorities. Did the hopes of the nation lie in the system, so ancient, so corrupt, and so firmly established? Or was it possible that One with greater authority was on the scene, One who could not only cleanse the Temple of profane merchants, but also reform the entrenched leadership? How would their leaders answer such a pointed accusation of their wickedness?

Though by now the sun was high and hot in the sky, the assembled, challenged leaders facing Jesus alternately shivered in their sandals and sweated in their vestments. When the silence grew unbearable Jesus finished the story with a question.

“Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do?

A slight breeze traversed the floor of the Temple court between Jesus and His interrogators. It did nothing to warm the shivering ones or cool the sweating ones. In the silence Jesus locked eyes with each of the leaders, staring until each one dropped his eyes to the ground. No one could think of anything to say. Finally, Jesus answered His own question.

“He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.”

No one was expecting this. Even the disciples wondered what He meant. Who but the Jews could care for the House of God? Surely renewal and revival were the plans for the Messiah’s ministry, not abandonment! Who else could tend this vineyard? Certainly not Gentiles!

The Cornerstone
Jesus continued. There is one coming whom the leaders will reject. He will become the cornerstone of a new Temple.

“Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Several of the leaders started to rush Jesus and put an end to this. Cooler heads restrained them for fear of the people. One by one, they remembered they had others things to do that day.

Scriptures:
Mark 12: 1-12
Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?” And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You have appointed me to be a worker in Your Vineyard—the church! Each of us is also a branch, vitally connected to You, the True Vine. You expect me to bear much fruit! Together You expect all of us to be about the business of the Vineyard—glorifying You, telling Your story, caring for each other and seeing new life in the Vineyard. You said that You had chosen me and ordained me that I should bear much fruit and my fruit should remain. I know You are about to return so help me be faithful and fruitful! For Your Glory, Lord! Amen.

Song:
Cornerstone
Words and Music: Dottie Rambo

Jesus is the Cornerstone, came for sinners to atone.
Tough rejected by His own, He became the Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone.

When I am by sin oppressed on the Stone I am at rest
And where the seeds of truth are sown, He remains the Cornerstone.
Jesus is the Cornerstone, The Cornerstone!

Rock of Ages, cleft me! Let me hide myself in Thee.
Rock of Ages, so secure! For all time it will endure.
Till His children reach their home, He remains the Cornerstone!

Till the breaking of the dawn, till all footsteps cease to roam.
Ever let this truth be known—Jesus is the Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone, The Cornerstone!
Till the breaking of the dawn, till all footsteps cease to roam.
Ever let this truth be known—Jesus is the Cornerstone!
Jesus is the Cornerstone!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

February 6 “Prayer”

Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

For more  on the issue of prayer in public worship:

The Power of Corporate Prayer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved