Glimpses of Nicodemus

January 24, 2020

Seek the truth. We are introduced to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John. Jesus calls him “a teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). Despite his position, Nicodemus is a seeker for truth. Nicodemus states, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2 ESV). He has reached the proper conclusion from the signs. He is not aligned with the Pharisees who accuse Jesus performing miracles by the power of Satan. Seek the truth.

Speak for the truth even when you are in a minority. The religious leaders have sent officers to arrest Jesus. They return empty handed saying “No one ever spoke like this man!” They belittle the officers, but Nicodemus speaks up, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does” (John 7:52)? The religious leaders give him their condescension. But Nicodemus has demonstrated the principle: Speak for truth even when you are in the minority. Note the situation will not always bring rational discourse. John will later note that others failed to confess Jesus for fear of the Pharisees and being expelled from the synagogue “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43, ESV).

Practice the lifestyle of truth. Joseph of Arimathea boldly asked for the body of Jesus to bury it in his own new, rock hewn tomb. Nicodemus is also in this scene bringing seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39). It indicates that he is a man of wealth, but one who is also capable of generosity. Jesus gives us truth to be believed and trusted, but also truth to be lived, a lifestyle of truth. We gain a glimpse of the lifestyle here in generosity.

Nicodemus disappears from the record at this point. There is much we might like to know. But that is also true for a number of people in the New Testament including some of the apostles. John has given us glimpses of Nicodemus. These glimpses give us things to ponder and practice.

— Russ Holden


Time and Eternity

January 3, 2020

The eternal God who created the universe also created time. There was neither day nor passing year until God spoke the universe into existence and separated the light from the darkness. The eternal God gave the sun, moon, and stars to mark the progress of the seasons. Humankind’s first calendar was the glorious march of sun, moon and stars across the sky—each obedient to its creator. Look beyond the clock and calendar even the magnificence of the skies to the One who made it all and give Him praise.

The eternal God should be “our dwelling place.” As we see how fleeting time is—how fleeting our time is, we ponder Him for whom a thousand years is like a day or a few hours of the night (Psalm 90). But for us even a long life is soon past. Yet in those fleeting moments we may live for God and decide eternity for ourselves. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, ESV).
Having had the opportunity to hear good news, we must not let the moment fly from us without a response. Our eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV).

And once begun, the faith must be lived. We dare not drift away from so great a salvation. We do not know when the last grain of sand will fall in the hourglass of our life.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:13-14, ESV).

Though our life is but a mist—a fleeting moment (James 3:14), God can give meaning to our lives, and living for God can give us hope beyond the transitory and the temporary. Praise God for time and eternity!

—Russ Holden


To Decide to Follow Jesus

December 21, 2019

There is no neutral position on Jesus of Nazareth. We may follow him as the Christ, or we may reject his claims, but there is no undecided point of view. We have either come to him in faith, or we are outside of Christ. We may be undecided as we investigate the claims of Jesus, but being outside of Christ is perilous spiritual position to be in. The relationship to Jesus Christ is binary: we are either in Christ or we are outside of Christ. So it is interesting reading in the gospels people’s responses to Jesus.

Jesus went up to the Feast of Tabernacles at about the middle of the feast, because the religious leaders were seeking to kill him. On the last day of the feast, Jesus cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37–38 ESV). This teaching as John noted is about the coming reception of the Holy Spirit.

John provided us with some responses to this speech. Some said, “This really is the Prophet.” This is a reference to the prophet like Moses found in Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Peter will later preach that Jesus is the prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22-23). Jesus is the Prophet, but he is more. Others said, “This is the Christ.” This confession was more on target, although one suspects that Jesus is different than their expectations. Some questioned, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?” They knew the prophecy of Micah 5:2. However, their knowledge about Jesus was deficient. They were asking a good question, It would all depend whether they sought the answer.

John also recorded a conversation with the chief priests and Pharisees. Soldiers were sent to arrest Jesus, but they returned empty handed. Their defense was “No one ever spoke like this man” (John last 7:46)! Note the religious leaders response: (1) have you been deceived?, (2) have the authorities and Pharisees believed in him?, and (3) this accursed crowd does not know the law. When Nicodemus interjected, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Their reply was a bit of a sneer, “Are you from Galilee too?”

Making a decision for Christ takes the right information and teaching about Christ. It also takes a willingness on our part to consider this message as true, and a heart willing to change. The journey to faith may not be smooth. Note the religious leaders were trying to intimidate the soldiers and Nicodemus. They were not engaged in a reasoned discourse about Jesus, a let’s consider the evidence for and against Jesus. They were attempting to keep the soldiers and Nicodemus in line by ridicule and intimidation. Don’t be surprised when those same strategies show up in the modern world.

We must be spiritual truth seekers. Because the most important decision you will ever make is to decide to follow Jesus.


Bible Names

December 13, 2019

I was recently reading in 1 Chronicles as a part of my daily Bible reading. And I came across, “Abigail bore Amasa, and the father of Amasa was Jether the Ishmaelite” (1 Chronicles 2:17 ESV). I had to mentally stop and look at the context a bit, since the Abigail I’m more familiar with was the wife of David and widow of Nabal. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are genealogies, so the reader is going through a great many names in a text that is packed with names.
Stopping and rereading a bit, I realized that this Abigail was David’s sister. Had I read this before? Absolutely. I have over a thirty-year habit of reading the Bible through in a year. Did I remember that David had a sister by the name of Abigail? No. But this incident reminds me that just as in real life, multiple people can share the same name. According to the Biographical Bible, there are 3,237 individuals named in the Bible with 1,443 who share a Bible name with someone else.

Recently, someone came to me with this same kind of issue about the name Zechariah. The two Zechariahs he was thinking about were not the same person, but he wasn’t certain. When we stopped and looked at the Bible contexts, it was clear that they could not be the same man. Actually, there are 32 Zechariahs in the Bible. This is the kind of helpful information the Bible dictionary can provide.

Bible dictionaries can help us keep names straight. We probably won’t remember every Zechariah in the Bible. Some of the men by this name are just barely mentioned. But there are some prominent Zechariahs: (1) Zechariah the prophet, see the book of Zechariah, (2) Zechariah, king of the northern kingdom, 2 Kings 14:29, (3) Zechariah, the last martyr of the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 24:25, and (4) Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

The name Zechariah also reminds me of one of the peculiarities of the King James Version. In the KJV, Zechariah is Zacharias (Luke 1:4). A number of Bible names are transliterated from Greek and thus in a different form than what we expect from our reading of the Old Testament in English. Since many people read the KJV, it is important for readers to pick up on this peculiarity. The reader needs to recognize that Elias=Elijah, Eliseus=Elisha, Rachab=Rahab (although Rahab in Hebrews 11), Booz=Boaz, Ezekias=Hezekiah, Charran=Haran, Madian=Midian, and many other names. A Bible dictionary keyed to the KJV can help the reader make the proper connections to the Old Testament.

Bible names can also be hard to pronounce. Bible dictionaries sometimes give pronunciations. I like the pronunciation guide by W. Murray Severance, That’s Easy for You to Say, and there is even an app called Biblical Pronunciations.

I will probably never remember every individual named in the Bible. But it is important to remember the main characters because God used people to bring about his salvation. And just as he used people in the past, he continues to use people today to bring the good news to a world that desperately needs it.

— Russ Holden


Only

December 6, 2019

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Only is a good word to ponder. When we have many of something, it is easier to be generous. When we are down to one item of something, it is much more difficult, and it requires sacrificial love to part with the only. When we move to persons, only becomes even more precious and more difficult to give up or lose.

It is interesting to see this use of the word “only” in relationships. The Greek word that occurs in John 3:16 (monogenēs, Strong’s # G3439) is found four times in the New Testament and once in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dealing with this kind of relationship. We can get a sense of the cost of “only” by looking at these occurrences.

Jephthah made a foolish vow to sacrifice what first came out of his house after his successful battle. The first was his daughter. The text of Judges 11:34 describes her as his “only child.” What a tragic vow and great loss!

As Jesus drew near to the city of Nain, a dead man was being carried out for burial. The dead man’s mother was a widow, and he was described as her “only son” (Luke 7:12). Her loss was great until Jesus raised her son.

Jairus implores Jesus to come to his house to heal his daughter because she is dying. She is described as his “only daughter” (Luke 8:42). Faced with a great loss, Jairus turns to the one who could save her. Jesus raises this only daughter from the dead. Loss is turned to joy.

When Jesus returns from the Mount of Transfiguration, he is met by a man whose son was seized by a spirit and thrown into convulsions. He begs Jesus because this son is his “only” (Luke 9:38). This is a case of suffering that Jesus heals, and he relieves this father who has an only son.

Hebrews 11 recounts Abraham’s faith in offering Isaac. He was in the act of offering up “his only son” (Hebrews 11:17). This may seem confusing because Abraham also had his son Ishmael, but Isaac was “only” in a special way beyond biology. Isaac was the son of promise. The promises that Abraham had received were to be fulfilled through Isaac. In that way, he was Abraham’s only son.

God’s only Son stands in a unique relationship with the Father. It takes sacrificial love to give the only Son, to watch him suffer at the hands of cruel men, and to let him die for sinners. Such is God’s great sacrificial love for our sake.

— Russ Holden


What Translations Are People Reading?

November 29, 2019

What is the best Bible translation? I like the reply that says, “The one that’s read.” I’ve read many different translations in my Christian walk, and, clearly the statistics indicate we live in a multiple translation environment, so as we attempt to teach, we have to take that into account. Translation differences can often lead to interesting investigations to help us better understand a passage. But I’m curious about what people are reading.

What are the most purchased Bible translations? The following list is from August 2019 and compiled by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

  1. New International Version
  2. King James Version
  3. English Standard Version
  4. New Living Translation
  5. New King James Version
  6. Reina Valera (Spanish)
  7. Christian Standard Bible
  8. New International Reader’s Version
  9. New American Standard Bible
  10. The Message

The Barna Group did a survey in 2018 of the most read Bible translations.

  1. King James Version 31%
  2. New International Version 13%
  3. English Standard Version 9%
  4. New King James Version 7%
  5. Amplified 7%
  6. Christian Community 4% (originally produced in the Philippines)
  7. New American Standard 3%
  8. New Living Translation 2%
  9. Revised Standard 2%
  10. Contemporary English Version 2%
  11. New American Bible 2%
  12. All others (1% or less combined) 9%
  13. Not sure 8%

Dr. Jack P. Lewis did a review of Bible translations called The English Bible from KJV to NIV*. Lewis had the knowledge of the languages, and the book is a detailed oriented book. But one of his concluding thoughts may help us in our multi-translation world.

While versions differ in translating specific statements, all of the available English translations present the basic duties toward God and man. By comparing one with the other, the person with no language training can be warned about going astray because of the peculiarities of one translation. He may be challenged to new ideas by reading a new translation. The religious problems of the world are not caused by people reading different translations; the most serious problem is that many read no translation!*

— Russ Holden

*Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV, p. 412.


Thanks in All Circumstances

November 22, 2019

This has easily been the toughest year of my life. A couple of falls on the ice last winter left me with severe back pain. During that time, my Mother died. I spent eight days in the hospital with sepsis. Although I got better, we knew that I also had a heart infection. This eventually led to open heart surgery where my aortic valve was replaced, my mitral valve repaired, and my pacemaker and wiring removed. And of course, what lay behind my infections was my low immune system due to multiple myeloma, so I’m also under treatment for cancer.

I’m glad that we face life one day at a time, one moment at time. Otherwise, this past year would have been overwhelming. Somehow, I’ve managed my way through it. I suspect that I should replace “somehow” in the previous sentence to “with lots of prayer.” I’ve recounted this past year to say that in the midst of all of this, I always found reasons to be thankful.

It is a wonderful discovery. We don’t have to have everything going right to be thankful. Maybe our thanksgiving in troubled times is just a bit sweeter because of the contrast. It may be that times of trouble also bring clarity about what is most important. I am thankful for waking up each day and having a new day to work, love, and serve.

I am thankful for my family. I had visits. Things I needed were brought to me. We had some wonderful shared meals especially meals where the food came from outside the hospital. My wife Kathy bore the burden of visits. It is exhausting having someone in the hospital. My family was there for me.

I am thankful for my church family. Again, there were many encouraging visits. I received a ton of get well cards. I had people praying for me in many different places.

I am thankful for simple things. I would be awakened early in the morning for vitals, and when I was well enough, I would just get up. I would enjoy a cup of coffee, read my Bible, and watch the encroaching rays of the rising sun on the buildings outside my window. It was peaceful and satisfying.

I am thankful for my spiritual blessings. As the hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling…” God has saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. I am thankful for God’s grace and mercy. And I have experienced God’s blessings, his providential care.

Thanksgiving is important. Thanksgiving can occur even in troubled times. I appreciate this saying: “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.”

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)

— Russ Holden