Your Bible’s Bells & Whistles

Your copy of the Bible is likely chock full of extra features to help you study more efficiently. Let’s take a few moments and get familiar with them, like learning the buttons and gadgets on a new automobile. Here are a few:

Concordance: This is usually near the back. It’s an index of significant words with the passages where they can be found. It doesn’t contain every place a word is located, so you’ll need to refer to a separate concordance, such as Strong’s, Young’s or Cruden’s, to see a complete listing. If you are looking for passages with the word “pastor,” for example, check the concordance. Keep in mind these are usually case-specific, meaning you won’t find verses with synonymous terms – such as bishop or elder – listed under the heading for pastor, even though from a doctrinal standpoint these terms are interchangeable.

Marginal references or footnotes: These are often indicated by tiny, superscript letters in a passage. Depending on the Bible you’re using, these will provide more literal or alternative translations of a word, or perhaps clarify a phrase by providing its historical usage or explaining an idiom. This information helps us dig deeper into the meaning of the text.

Cross-references: These appear at the end of a verse or chapter, in a column in the middle of the page, or along the outside margin of the page. These point us to passages addressing similar subjects. Rarely will we learn all God says about a topic in a single verse. It’s also helpful to mark these when we learn something new. For example, in my Bible at Romans 10:13 (“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”), I have written in a cross-reference to Acts 22:16 (“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”).

Maps: These provide a geographic perspective on events in Scripture. For example, the phrase “from Dan even to Beersheba” (II Sam. 24:2) takes on new meaning when we locate those two sites on a map of ancient Israel. [Now, use your concordance or cross-references and see how frequently that phrase appeared in the Old Testament.]

Study notes and commentary: These are explanatory comments by a teacher or writer which elaborate on the text, and, while sometimes helpful, are not authoritative. Treat these like you would statements by any modern teacher, weighing them against the actual teaching of Scripture (see I Thess. 5:21 (“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”) and I John 4:1 (“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”). Examining these to see “whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11), can help us clarify our understanding of a passage and uncover God’s truth on the matter.

10 Reasons to Believe in Jesus’ Resurrection

Christians believe something that makes them different from any other religion: Our founder died for our sins and afterwards came back to life. Paul explained:  “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (I Cor. 15:1-4). And thereafter He ascended to heaven, so that “[a]fter he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever,” Jesus “sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).

We ought to believe in our hearts that Jesus was resurrected (see Rom. 10:9-10), but that’s not the only basis for our faith. The Bible and history provide us with some solid reasons to believe that Jesus’ resurrection is an actual event of history:

1.  Jesus was publicly tried and executed, which removed any doubt that He was in fact put to death. Scripture says, “When they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs; but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:33, 34).

2.  Jesus was buried in a new stone sepulcher which was guarded by Roman soldiers. So there was no way thieves could enter or leave with His body (Matt. 27:57-66).

3.  The tomb of Jesus was officially sealed, which identified it as the burial place of the One who had been crucified and ensured that it received special attention (Matt. 27:66).

4.  The apostles – Jesus’ closest followers – personally saw Him on many occasions after His resurrection (for example, Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:3-9). They couldn’t be fooled (see II Peter 1:6; I John 1:1-3).

5.  A large number personally saw the resurrected Savior. Paul said that over 500 saw Him, among others (I Cor. 15:6-8).

6.  The apostles were changed by His resurrection and preached it widely. The resurrection of Christ was a key component of Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; I Pet. 1:21). Paul, who had been a vigorous persecutor of Christians, became Jesus’ follower,  and emphasized that Christ arose from the dead (Acts 13:30, 34; 17:3, 31; Rom. 1:4; 4:24, 25; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9; I Cor. 6:14; 15; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; I Thess. 1:10; 4:14; II Tim. 2:8). All were highly motivated to serve the purpose of Christ.

7.  The apostles were willing to be martyrs for Jesus (see, e.g., Acts 12:1-3; 21:13; II Tim. 4:6-8). They died because He lived.

8.  Jesus foretold His resurrection. He said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). He also promised to “rebuild the Temple” of His body in three days (see John 2:19-22). He specifically foretold that He would be put to death and rise again (see Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19).

9.  The Old Testament prophets foretold Jesus’ resurrection. Key passages are: Psalm 16:9-10; 22:22-31; 118:22-24; Isa. 53:10; Job 19:25. Psalm 16:9-10 is cited by Peter (Acts 2:25-31) and Paul (Acts 13:33-37) in teaching Jesus’ resurrection. Psalm 22:22 is quoted in Hebrews 2:12, and Psalm 118:22 is quoted in Acts 4:10-11 as proof that He arose.

10.  Life would be meaningless without Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul pointed out the futility of life apart from the empty tomb (I Cor. 15:12-19). We have hope because Jesus is “he that liveth, and was dead; and [is] alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18).

God’s Mercy: Case Studies in Divine Clemency

God’s mercy can never be exhausted. Jeremiah, in a terrible time in life, said God’s mercies “are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23). Paul praised the Lord because He is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). Perhaps the most extensive thanksgiving for God’s leniency is found in Psalm 136:

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. 2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. 4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. 5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. 6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever. 7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: 8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: 9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 136:1-9).

If we were to continue reading the rest of that chapter, all 26 verses in that Psalm refer to God’s unending supply of clemency. God’s mercy has been defined as “the eternal principle of God’s nature that leads him to seek the temporal good and eternal salvation of those who have opposed themselves to his will, even at the cost of infinite self-sacrifice.” (Strong’s Systematic Theology).

God’s mercy and God’s grace have been distinguished by pointing out that His grace is His giving us something that we do not deserve, while His mercy is His withholding something from us that we do in fact deserve, such as a penalty for our sins.

An effective way to study God’s mercy is to examine cases of His withholding punishment when it was due in favor of being kind and forgiving:

1. David – Psalm 51 is David’s confession of sin after he committed adultery and aided in the murder of his paramour’s husband. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions…. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:1, 16-17). The natural consequences of David’s sin took their course, but God forgave him.

2. The ancient Israelites – Though they repeatedly turned to idolatry, God continued to extend mercy to them. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide; neither will he keep his anger forever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-12). God’s mercy was ultimately expressed to them through the sacrifice of Jesus. “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:8, 12).

3. Jonah – He ran from God and resented His plan, but God was patient with him. “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah. 4:2).

4. Paul – He said of himself: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief…. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (I Tim. 1:13, 16).

The Lord offers His mercy today to you and me. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).

People of the Bible: Samson

Samson was the strongest man in Scripture – in terms of sheer physical power. He had many weaknesses, however, most of which he did not initially recognize. He was able to provide ancient Israel some relief from Philistine oppression, but his weakness for wanting Philistine friends, including girlfriends, eventually led to his demise. He revealed the secret of the Nazarite vow, including unshorn hair, to Delilah, who betrayed him to some jealous Philistines. They cut his hair, and turned him into something like a carnival act.

At the lowest point in his life, Samson asked for God to give him strength so that he could complete his mission. The Bible says, “And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).

Like Samson, God is best able to empower us when we recognize our need for Him. A paradox of Scripture is that when we have recognized our deprivation without God’s strength, He will strengthen us, using His word, the fellowship of His people, our worship of Him, and His providence. Here are some of the passages which refer to that concept:

  • “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee” (II Chron. 20:12).
  • “For the Lord will not cast off for ever: 32 But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies” (Lam. 3:31-32).
  • “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Cor. 12:7-10).
  • “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you” (II Cor. 13:4).

The real source of Samson’s strength was his faith in God. The Heavenly Father can strengthen us once we recognize our weaknesses. God takes our faith and “out of weakness” makes us strong (Heb. 11:34).

Having a hard time in life right now? Perhaps the moment is arriving when you can experience God’s strength more fully.

People of the Bible: Stephen

Stephen was one of the first prominent members of the church of Christ in Jerusalem, and was also one of the first to die for being Jesus’ follower.

The primary text about Stephen is Acts 6 through 8. Consider three stages of his life as revealed in Scripture:

Stephen the Minister

We first read about Stephen as a servant in the church (Acts 6:1-7). From the beginning, Christianity has been about community and helping others.  However, it is challenging to meet every need in the context of a variety of different demands and an array of personalities.  It is no surprise that a problem arose, in which some Christian widows expressed criticism that they weren’t receiving fair attention from the church.

The apostles announced a solution:  Select seven men who would be specially assigned to this task.  Stephen is the first name mentioned on the list, and he is described as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). His name is Greek, which lets us know that he had a Grecian background, which would be helpful in addressing the situation.

Based on the other descriptions provided, we also know that Stephen had a good reputation in the community (6:3), was “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:3), and was capable of tending to the job at hand.

Like Jesus, Christians should be servants.  Jesus said He came “to minister” (Mark 10:45), and He left us an example of humble service when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13).

Stephen the Messenger

Next, we see Stephen as a spokesperson for the gospel (Acts 6:8-7:53). Stephen’s natural and supernatural abilities led him to a more public role in the church, particularly in leading Jews to Christ.   Those who wanted to protect Judaism were disturbed that they were unable to rebut Stephen’s teachings (6:10).

The contention between Stephen and the Jews became so intense that some of the Jews paid witnesses to make false statements about him, and he was placed on trial for blasphemy (6:11-15).

Christianity is an aggressive religion.  Jude said that we should be prepared to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).

Despite the likely adverse consequences, Stephen delivered a powerful summary of God’s people under the Old Testament, and continued with a pointed application to his hearers (7:1-53).  They were turning from God’s plan in the same way God’s people had in the past (7:51-53).

Stephen the Martyr

The crowd was furious with Stephen (Acts 7:54). In the face of death, Stephen remained committed to Christ and entrusted the keeping of his soul to Him (7:55-60).

Jesus promised us that if we were “faithful unto death,” He will give us a crown of life (Rev. 2:10). “Stephanos” in Greek means “crown.” Stephen was stoned to death, and was buried by some of the devout men in the church (8:2).

The event sparked intense persecution of the church by the Jews, including Saul. Paul never forgot the day Stephen died, later reminding the Lord that he guarded the robes of those who threw the stones at Stephen and didn’t do anything to help him (22:20). Stephen’s death became a catalyst for others to look to Jesus.