Does each person have their own star?

Q. Is it true that each and every person has their own star? If that is true, is it a star that they can see?

There’s nothing in the Bible that says or suggests that each person has their own star. However, there are a couple of ideas in the Bible that you could put together along those lines to realize something encouraging.

First, the Bible does say that God knows all of the stars. Isaiah says, for example:

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

Psalm 147 says similarly that God “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”

We can put that thought together with the Bible’s affirmation that God knows each person individually. Psalm 139 marvels about this, saying:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

So when you look up at the sky at night and see the stars, you can say to yourself, “God must be very great in knowledge, and he must care a great deal about His creation, to know all of the stars by name. And since there are many more people on earth than there are stars visible in the sky from the earth, God must be even greater in knowledge and love to know each person by name and care about them.”

You could even pick out one particular star in the sky, call it “your star” (or at least your “favorite star”), and when you see it, use it as a reminder of God’s love and care for you.

Nebuchadnezzar and Amytis

Q. At what age did King Nebuchadnezzar get married? And at what age was Amytis married?

The Bible gives us no information about the marriage of Nebuchadnezzar and Amytis. Legend says that he built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for her because she was homesick for the landscape and foliage of her native Media. But this is another case like the one I discuss in my post, “Why are the pyramids of Giza never mentioned in the Bible?” As I say there, “The Bible’s silence about ancient wonders doesn’t indicate that it actually lacks a firsthand perspective on the events it describes. Rather, the Bible wants us to ‘praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven,’ not any earthly ruler, whatever their achievements.” (And whatever Median princess they may have married.)

 

How can I obtain copies of the Luke-Acts study guide?

Q. Can I get your Luke-Acts study guide directly from you, since IVP no longer offers it? I want to offer a men’s Bible study at my church. I’d like either to purchase multiple copies or to obtain the rights to reproduce a digital version.

I have made all of the study guides in my Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series available for free download through this blog, since they are no longer in print. You can access them through the “Free Study Guides” link at the top of this page. The Luke-Acts guide specifically is available in PDF format at this link.

As I say on that page that makes all of the guides available, “In reading or downloading the guides, I ask only that you respect ‘fair use.’ The content of the guides may not be sold in any way (for example, by being incorporated into another published book). If you quote from the guides, please acknowledge the source. You may print out copies of individual lessons to distribute to participants in Bible studies, but I ask that you not charge anyone for their copy. Rather, I would like you or your church or other organization to pay even the printing costs. As you can tell, I’m eager for this resource to be made available truly free to everyone. Thank you.”

So you may distribute the Luke-Acts guide to the participants in your group either in printed or electronic form, at no cost. I hope you have a great study with the men in your church. And if any questions come up while you’re using the guide, please feel free to ask them here.

Saved by calling on the name of the Lord, but what about . . .?

Q. I have a question that troubles me from time to time that perhaps you can answer. We read in the book of Romans, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Great news, right? But then there seem to some other passages that put qualifying conditions on that. Here are a few cases that come to mind. “Whoever shall say ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.” “It is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (I’m certainly rich compared to the rest of the world.) “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” I am sure you are aware of even more statements that Jesus made that cause people like me to question their salvation, even though they follow Jesus. I love Jesus, but I realize that in my humanness I fail each day to be like him. I am so thankful for God’s love and grace. Sometimes I just worry that when I stand before God he will say, “Thanks for loving me, but you said ‘you fool’ one too many times.”

One thing I’d say right away in response to your question is that if you know that you love Jesus and you have a continual desire to become more like him, those are signs that you truly do belong to him. They are what the book of Hebrews calls “better things . . . that have to do with salvation.”

I would then encourage you to consider the context of each of the seemingly qualifying statements you’re concerned about. For example, the point of the statement, “Whoever shall say ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna,” is not that we need to avoid saying certain words in order not to go to hell. Rather, in that whole section of the Sermon on the Mount (the so-called “antitheses”), Jesus is stressing that fulfillment of the law is not an external or surface matter, but a matter of inward attitudes and intentions. His listeners were reassuring themselves in this case that only “anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” So long as they didn’t go that far, they thought, they were safe. Jesus warns them instead that the goal of this commandment in the law is not merely to prevent murder, but to promote love instead of hatred.

Our attitudes and words are indicators of our inner intentions, and so they show whether we are fulfilling this commandment by loving, or breaking it by hating. Using the characteristic form of Hebrew poetry, Jesus makes this point by presenting a series of parallels in which the judgment intensifies on a person who hates instead of loves:

Anyone who is angry with a brother or sister ~ will be subject to judgment.
Anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ ~ is answerable to the court.
Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ ~ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

So the takeaway for us isn’t, “I shouldn’t say those words if I want to escape hell.” The takeaway is, “If I’m truly a follower of Jesus, I need to cultivate love instead of hate.”

I won’t discuss all the passages you mention, but let me refer to another passage, in 1 Corinthians, that many people have similar concerns about. Paul says that people who do various kinds of things “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” But this doesn’t mean that if, for example, you’re greedy, or you say something bad about somebody, this will send you straight to hell. Paul isn’t saying that people won’t inherit the kingdom because they do such things; rather, he’s saying that people do such things because they won’t inherit the kingdom. That is, they’re currently outside the community of Jesus’ followers, and so they’re not being transformed by the influence of the Holy Spirit within.

Put another way, “progress in sanctification is necessary for assurance of salvation.” But the key word here is “progress.” So long as you can tell that the Holy Spirit is steadily transforming you as you love and follow Jesus, you don’t need to question whether you are truly saved.

God wants us to have this assurance and the peace that it brings. Scripture tells us in 1 John: “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

I hope this gives you encouragement and reassurance.

How old was Jesus at the presentation of the temple?

Q. How old was Jesus at the presentation of the temple?

Since Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph offered “a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons,'” we know that Mary was performing the ceremony for purification after childbirth, as described in Leviticus. There we read, “A woman who . . . gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days . . . On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified. . . . When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. . . But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.

So we know from this that Jesus was 7 + 33 = 40 days old at the time of this ceremony. (We know that the eighth day after birth is the first of the following 33 days because the account also says that after the birth of a daughter a mother waits twice as long, specifically 14 + 66 = 80 days.)

It’s interesting to compare Mary’s 40 days of waiting to dedicate Jesus, during which she no doubt continued to “treasure up” all the events surrounding his birth and “ponder them in her heart,” with Jesus’ 40 days of testing in the wilderness as he prepared to take on his role as the Messiah. In fact, for Jesus himself this time right after his birth was 40 initial days of waiting to assume a life dedicated to God.

Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, 12th century cloisonné enamel icon from Georgia.

 

Why did Jesus pray only that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail?

Q. According to Luke, at the Last Supper Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” What does “all of you” mean in this context? That Satan wanted “all of Simon,” or that he wanted to sift all twelve of the apostles? If the answer is that Satan wanted to sift all twelve of the apostles,  then why did Jesus tell only Simon that he had prayed that his faith would not fail? Why didn’t Jesus pray for all twelve of his disciples?

“All of you” means that Satan wants to sift all twelve of the apostles. The pronoun “you” is plural in the Greek, and the NIV, which you are quoting from, is using the expression “all of you” to reflect that. Other translations say “you apostles,” “you disciples,” or “you men.”

When Jesus addresses Simon specifically, the pronoun becomes singular in Greek. I think Jesus recognized the bravado that Peter in particular was likely displaying as the disciples, in response to Jesus’ warning that one of them would betray him, instead argued about which one of them was the greatest. Sure enough, Peter then boasted that he would never abandon Jesus, and Jesus had to tell him that he was actually going to deny him three times.

But Jesus had Peter in mind all along for a leadership role in the community of his followers after his death, and “strengthen your brothers” is a call to step into that role even after the denial. (It’s like “feed my sheep” at the end of the gospel of John.) As for why Jesus didn’t say that he was also praying that the faith of the other disciples wouldn’t fail, perhaps Peter was at the greatest risk because he was the most insistent that his faith would never fail.

“The Denial of St. Peter,” Flemish, early 1600s. Despite his bravado at the Last Supper, Peter denied Jesus that same evening. But later he did “return” and “strengthen his brothers,” as Jesus had prayed he would.