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Biblical People

Biblical People: Lazarus (1)

Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary (3). The Bible writers give more attention to Mary and Martha, but we can only speculate why. It may be that Lazarus is the younger brother, possibly not even an adult.

Maybe he just doesn’t do anything worth mentioning, but the one story about him in the Bible is a story that most people know. 

It starts with Lazarus getting sick. This isn’t a cold, flu, or eating too much of the wrong thing. This is a serious “go get Jesus because Lazarus might die” situation. 

Martha and Mary send word to Jesus: “The one you love is sick.”

Even though the Bible says that Jesus loves the three siblings, he doesn’t drop everything to pay them a visit and heal the ailing Lazarus. He waits two days. Then he heads out. 

By the time Jesus arrives, it’s too late—or is it? Lazarus has been dead four days and is already entombed.

Martha reaches Jesus first and criticizes him. “If only you’d been here, he wouldn’t have died.” Yet she clings to a glimmer of hope. “Even so, God will do whatever you ask.”

Jesus promises her that Lazarus will rise again. Though Jesus means now, Martha thinks he means at the end of time. Then Jesus says, “I am resurrection, and I am life. Do you believe?”

Martha affirms Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Then Mary shows up and criticizes Jesus, just like her sister.

“Where’s he buried?” Jesus asks.

As the sisters take Jesus to the tomb, he cries.

“Open the burial vault,” Jesus commands. 

After some debate about how bad the decaying body will smell, they do as Jesus requests.

Jesus gives a prayer of thanksgiving to Papa. Then he calls, “Lazarus. Come out!”

Lazarus does, still wrapped with burial cloths.

Thanks to Jesus, Lazarus has a second chance at life. 

Through Jesus, we all have second chances. What are we doing with ours?

[Discover more about Lazarus in John 11:1–44 and John 12:1.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: Simon (5) the Pharisee

In Luke’s account of the woman who pours her perfume on Jesus, Luke says it happens at the house of Simon, a Pharisee. Luke also records the interesting exchange between Simon and Jesus that isn’t in the other three biographies of Jesus.

In this account, Luke writes that it’s Simon who levies the criticism, but it’s not directed at the woman who pours her perfume on Jesus, it’s against Jesus. Simon doesn’t denounce Jesus out loud. He merely thinks it. He feels Jesus should have known the woman is a sinner and stopped her from touching him.

Perceiving Simon’s thoughts, Jesus turns to him. “Suppose two people owe money to a moneylender. One owes a couple hundred bucks and the other only twenty. Neither one can pay him back, so the lender writes off both loans. Which of the two people will be more appreciative?”

“The one with the larger debt,” Simon says.

“You’re right.” Then Jesus turns to the woman. “See her,” Jesus says. “When I came into your home you didn’t wash my feet as is the custom, greet me with a kiss, or anoint my head with oil, but this woman has washed my feet with her tears, not stopped kissing my feet, and anointed them with perfume. Though she has done many wrong things in her life, she’s most grateful for having been forgiven.”

As the people murmur about Jesus forgiving her sins, he has one more thing to say to her, “By your faith, you’re saved. Now go in peace.”

How grateful are we to Jesus? Should we be more grateful than we are?

[Discover more about Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36–47.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: Theophilus

As mentioned in the previous chapter on Luke, we know he writes twice to Theophilus and that these letters are part of the Bible in the books of Luke and Acts. 

Though the Bible tells us nothing about Theophilus, Luke addresses both his letters to this mysterious person. The reason is significant. Luke wants Theophilus to know for certain the things he had been taught about Jesus. 

Think about this.

Someone tells Theophilus about Jesus. Perhaps Theophilus believes, but maybe he isn’t fully convinced. He might carry a tinge of doubt about this Jesus, the man who changed religion into a relationship.

It’s so countercultural that it’s revolutionary. Regardless, Luke feels it’s worth his time to help Theophilus know Jesus for sure.

This is a huge undertaking for Luke. He spends a great deal of time researching the subject and more time writing his findings—all for Theophilus. 

Luke’s biography of Jesus is the longest book in the New Testament, at just under 20,000 words. His sequel, the book of Acts, is the second longest. Together they’re almost the length of a short novel. That’s a lot of words, a lot of writing, and a lot of research.

Though Luke writes this book for one person, Theophilus, it’s available for us two thousand years later. Like Theophilus, we too can read Luke’s account of Jesus so that we can know for certain the things we’ve been taught.

How much effort will we make to help one person know Jesus for sure?

[Discover more about Theophilus in Luke 1:1–4 and Acts 1:1–2.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: Luke

Luke, the only non-Jewish author in the New Testament, writes as an outsider looking in. This gives his writing a perspective that most non-Jewish Christians embrace, because we, too, are outsiders.

Luke writes the two longest books in the New Testament. They make up about 25 percent of the New Testament’s content. Only Paul is more prolific.

The first book Luke writes is his biography of Jesus, called The Gospel of Luke or simply Luke. Luke researches his subject and interviews eyewitnesses. He records his findings for Theophilus.

In Luke’s second piece, he continues his investigation, chronicling the early church. We call this book The Acts of the Apostles, the book of Acts, or simply Acts.

Again Luke documents his findings for Theophilus. At some points in the narrative, Luke participates in the events he covers. We see this when he switches from third person to first person, using the pronouns I and we.

Many people appreciate Luke’s writing style for the details he mentions that aren’t in the other three biographies of Jesus. Aside from this, we know little about Luke. His name only appears three times in the Bible, each time toward the end of one of Paul’s letters.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, he calls Doctor Luke a dear friend who sends greetings to the Colossians. It’s likely that Luke is with Paul when he writes that letter.

Next, in Paul’s personal letter to his protégé Timothy, Paul dips into a bit of despair, writing that “Only Luke is still with me.” 

Then, in Paul’s letter to Philemon, he calls Luke a fellow worker for the cause of Jesus.

From these we see Luke as a dear friend, loyal companion, and faithful missionary.

Luke does much to help us better understand Jesus, but he receives little credit. Are we willing to do the same?

[Discover more about Luke in Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 1:24.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: Nicodemus

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Council, appears in three passages in the Bible. John writes all three. Clearly John wants us to know about Nicodemus. This is the only book that Nicodemus shows up in.

We first hear about Nicodemus when he comes to Jesus at night. This suggests he doesn’t want his Pharisee friends and fellow Council members to know he’s talking to a man that most religious leaders despise. They view Jesus as a heretic, an irritant, and a threat to their religion.

Though Nicodemus desperately wants to talk to Jesus, he’s afraid of the repercussions if the religious hierarchy finds out. That’s why he sneaks through the dark to find Jesus.

After Nicodemus commends Jesus for who he is and what he does, Jesus answers a question Nicodemus hasn’t asked. Jesus says, “You must be born again if you hope to see the kingdom of God.”

“What! How can a person be born a second time? Impossible.”

Jesus launches into an intriguing explanation about being born of water and the spirit, about flesh birthing flesh and spirit birthing spirit. He talks about earthly things and heavenly things, about Moses lifting the bronze snake in the wilderness to save the people, and the Son of Man (Jesus) being lifted as well. “Everyone who believes in me will have eternal life.” 

Jesus ends by talking about truth and light, implying that Nicodemus needs to stop sneaking around in the dark. John doesn’t record Nicodemus’s response.

Later Jesus is arrested and brought before the Council. Nicodemus suggests that Jesus deserves a fair trial. Instead of following Nicodemus’s wise advice, they verbally attack him. 

A few days later, we see Nicodemus going with Joseph (from Arimathea) to give Jesus’s body a proper burial. 

These actions present risk for Nicodemus, physically and vocationally. Surely this suggests that Nicodemus supports Jesus and embraces his teaching.

What risks are we willing to take for Jesus?

[Discover more about Nicodemus in John 3:1–21, John 7:45–52, and John 19:38–42. Learn about the bronze snake in Numbers 21:9.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: Bartimaeus

Jesus heals many people who can’t see, but we usually don’t know their names. Bartimaeus is one exception. He lives in Jericho and is the son of Timaeus. That’s all we know about him, except for the story of Jesus healing him.

Bartimaeus sits by the road begging for money, so he can get something to eat, else he might starve. Jesus and his entourage approach. Someone tells Bartimaeus who it is. “Jesus,” Bartimaeus yells. “Help me!”

The crowd tries to hush him. He’s annoying them.

But he just yells louder. “Jesus!”

Jesus stops and tells the crowd to fetch this blind beggar.

“It’s your lucky day,” they tell Bartimaeus. “Jesus is asking for you.” Bartimaeus jumps up and comes to Jesus.

“What do you want?” 

Bartimaeus states the obvious. “I want to see.”

“Okay,” Jesus says. “By your faith you are healed.”

Then Bartimaeus can see. He follows Jesus down the road.

We don’t hear of Bartimaeus again, so we don’t know if he continues following Jesus for real. But we can revere God for the miracle Jesus performs for this once blind man.

Do we follow Jesus now like we once did? Do we still revere him? 

[Discover more about Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46–52.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: James (3), the Brother of Jesus

We know Jesus has several brothers and sisters—half-brothers and sisters, sharing Mary as their mother. Remember, Jesus is the son of Mary and the Holy Spirit—God is his father—while his siblings are the offspring of Mary and Joseph.

One of Jesus’s half-brothers is James. We don’t read much about James during Jesus’s lifetime, but a couple of accounts incriminate James.

First, John writes that even Jesus’s own brothers don’t believe him. That would include James.

Another time, the crowd keeps Jesus so busy that he can’t even eat. His family hears about it and comes to get him. They think he’s out of his mind, and they seek an intervention.

Though Jesus’s family, including James, is well-intended, they’re also misguided. They see things from a human perspective, while Jesus holds a spiritual understanding. 

So, James, as part of Jesus’s family, doesn’t believe him and tries to pull him away from his mission.

However, we later see Paul affirming Jesus’s brother James as an apostle. And in Acts we see James leading the discussion about Gentile believers and determining how the church should move forward. That’s quite a transformation.

James starts out doubting his brother Jesus and ends up leading his followers.

Do we accept that others can change, or do we view them according to their past?

[Discover more about James in Matthew 13:55, Mark 3:21, Mark 6:3, John 7:2–5, Acts 15:12–21, and Galatians 1:19.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: The Rich Young Ruler

A young man, a rich ruler, rushes up to Jesus. The man asks what he must do to get into heaven. He’s looking for the one step he’s missing. 

“Keep the commandments,” Jesus says.

“Which ones?”

Jesus starts reeling off the Ten Commandments.

“Yep, I’ve kept every one of them since I was little,” the man insists.

Then Jesus gets to the heart of the man’s issues. “Only one thing remains,” Jesus says. “Liquidate your assets and give away everything. Only then will heaven be what you value most. Then follow me.”

The man’s devastated. He expected Jesus would affirm him for his diligent obedience to the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments. 

That’s not how Jesus sees it. Jesus sees a man who values his wealth, but his money is getting in the way of eternity. Jesus doesn’t want people who rely on their money to follow him. He wants people who will rely on him more than anything else.

What this man seeks is confirmation that he’s doing everything required. Instead Jesus offers correction. 

What corrections is Jesus giving us? Which of our priorities is wrong and getting in our way of following Jesus?

[Discover more about this young man in Matthew 19:16–22, Mark 10:17–31, and Luke 18:18–30.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus is a tax collector in Jericho. But he’s not just a tax collector. Luke says Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector. This likely means he’s the manager of tax collectors or their leader, possibly skimming off the taxes they take in.

Lest there be any doubt, Luke adds that he’s wealthy. Oh, there’s one more detail about Zacchaeus. He’s short.

Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, but he can’t push his way through the crowd or see over all the taller people in front of him. Desperate to get a glimpse of Jesus, he has an idea. He runs down the road and scampers up a tree, a sycamore-fig tree.

Jesus approaches, and when he gets to the tree, he looks up. “Quick! Come down, Zacchaeus. I’m going to hang out with you at your house—today.”

Zacchaeus climbs down and meets Jesus, welcoming him with gladness.

Though Zacchaeus is happy, the people aren’t. Maybe they’re jealous. They complain about Jesus planning to visit the home of a notorious man, a “sinner.”

To prove that he’s a changed man, Zacchaeus makes a bold pledge. “I’m going to give away half of everything I own to help poor people. And if I cheated anyone on their taxes, I’ll reimburse them fourfold.”

Jesus responds with the most astonishing promise, that Zacchaeus and his whole family are now saved.

What are we willing to do to show Jesus how much we love him? Though this may involve money, it could involve our time, priorities, or future.

[Discover more about Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1–10.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

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Biblical People

Biblical People: Jairus

Jairus is a leader at the local synagogue. His twelve-year-old daughter is dying. He comes to Jesus and begs him to heal his little girl. Jesus agrees. However, he’s delayed along the way when he stops to heal a woman with chronic bleeding. 

Then word comes to Jairus that it’s too late. His daughter is dead.

Jesus ignores their words and tells Jairus to just believe. Apparently Jairus does.

When Jesus arrives at Jairus’s house, the mourning for his daughter’s passing is already under way. Dismissing the crowd, he leads her parents and three disciples to her body.

He takes the dead girl’s hand and tells her to get up. Much to everyone’s shock, she does. Then she walks around, very much alive.

We don’t know what this girl experienced in the spiritual realm when she was dead or what her life in the physical realm was like afterwards.

But she must certainly have lived with an appreciation for her father’s strong faith and the knowledge that her second chance at life is because of Jesus’s power over death.

The deep, unwavering faith of Jairus believes Jesus can heal his daughter. But Jesus does more. He provides the ultimate healing when he restores life into her lifeless body. 

Do we have the kind of faith that raises the dead?

[Discover more about Jairus in Mark 5:22–42 and Luke 8:40–56.]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.