Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 38: “Thou Hast Testified of Me” Acts 21-28

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 38: “Thou Hast Testified of Me”
Acts 21-28

Paul is warned

Returning to the Book of Acts in this lesson and the continuing saga of Paul.  Paul has gathered together the offerings for the poor from among the Gentile converts and sets sail to Jerusalem.  In his letter to the Romans, he noted his intent to visit them after going to Jerusalem, probably as part of a plan Paul had to open up a new mission field in Spain.

As Paul goes on his journey, and is warned many times by disciples and the prophet Agabus that danger awaits him in Jerusalem.  In fact, Agabus trussed himself up in Paul’s girdle and stated that Paul would also be bound if he went there.  It seems that the Lord was giving Paul a choice, and several opportunities to back out of a sore trial and imprisonment.  Yet, Paul set his sights on his plan, and continued on it until there was only one option: imprisonment and being sent to Rome.

It would really be interesting to be able to get inside of Paul’s head to see why he made such a determined decision.  Did he think that being imprisoned would open doors that otherwise would remain closed?  Did he think there was no other way for him to go to Rome?  Or was he just a stubborn old fool that was going to do things his way, and disregard the counsel given him by others.  Think of it.  Had he stayed away from Jerusalem, he could have had many years of preaching.  He could have gone to Rome as a free citizen, rather than a prisoner.  He would have been able to continue on to Spain, France, and perhaps even England.  Why then, did he choose the route he did?

Paul’s Imprisonment

As expected, Paul returned to Jerusalem.  While there, the apostles asked him to be cleansed and serve in the Temple as a proper Jewish-Christian.  He agreed and went to the temple.  Some saw him and thought he brought into the temple a Gentile.  The action angered the crowd into being a mob, and they attempted to slay him.  The Roman centurions stopped him and allowed him to explain himself to them and the crowd.  Speaking in Hebrew, he explained his Jewish past at the feet of the great Jewish scholar Gamaliel, and his conversion by Jesus in vision.  

Again, the Jews were angered from hearing about his taking the gospel to the Gentiles and the soldiers had to take him in.  There, they chose to question him by flogging.  Flogging, a harsh form of torture, was often used upon individuals that resided within the Roman Empire.  It could not, however, be used on free citizens without Caesar’s approval.  Paul noted he was born a free citizen, unlike the centurion before him, who had purchased his freedom.  

Paul went before the Sanhedrin, where he put them fighting among themselves, asking questions that put Sadduccees against Pharisees.  He stated that he was a Pharisee and was in trouble because he taught about the resurrection of the dead.  Pharisees believed in resurrection, but Sadduccees did not believe there was life after mortality.  An argument ensued, and he was whisked away once again.

That evening, the Lord told him he would go to witness in Rome.  Paul had reached the point of no return when it came to having a choice of where he would go.  At any prior time, he could have decided another route: not go to Jerusalem, not go to the temple, not anger the crowds by telling them about preaching to the Gentiles, not angering half the Sanhedrin.  There were no other options for a free-born Roman citizen who had left his Jewish roots completely behind and embraced the Gentile order.  Jesus appeared to tell Paul where his choices had now led him.

A plot was planned against Paul’s life by radical Jews, so he was taken by armed guard out of Jerusalem and to Caesarea to be judged of the governor Felix.  Paul defends himself against the Jews who bring claims against him.  Not found guilty, Paul still is kept in house arrest for two years.

Festus, the governor of Jerusalem went to Caesarea to judge Paul, asking him to return to Jerusalem to be judged.  Paul insisted on going to Caesar to be judged instead.  Paul still was intent to follow his path to Rome in chains, even when other paths may have taken him there easier.  Paul was then heard by King Agrippa,  Felix and Festus were concerned about sending a prisoner up to Caesar, not knowing what to write regarding the case, as parts of it seemed frivolous, yet here were members of the Sanhedrin willing to testify against him.

So amazing was Paul’s conversion story that Festus told Paul, “thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26:24).  Just as with Joseph Smith, who claimed to see God and angels, Paul was considered crazy or possessed by demons.

Yet, King Agrippa, who was a student of Judaism since his childhood, understood the teachings of the prophets regarding the Messiah and resurrection: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (26:28).  Many of those who understand ancient Jewish/Christian things are amazed at what Joseph Smith brought forth in the Book of Mormon, and other ancient writings.  Harold Bloom, a well known scholar of Judaism, wrote highly of him and wondered how such a poorly schooled young man could successfully recreate ancient Judaism within the Book of Mormon.

The rulers agreed he was not guilty of death or bonds.  Yet, because Paul had asked to go before Caesar, they had no choice but to send him on to Rome.

Enroute to Rome, the ship was caught in a storm and shipwrecked on an island.  Through God’s providence and protection of Paul, all on-board were protected for following his counsel.   The crew and prisoners were well cared for by the island people until they were rescued.

And interesting event occurred during that time.  While putting firewood near the fire, a poisonous snake leaped out of the fire and bit him.  All watched to see Paul fall over dead.  To them, he obviously had done some heinous act that required punishment from the gods.  Instead, Paul shook the snake back into the fire and continued with no harm.  When he did not die or get sick, they decided he must be a god.

While Paul was not a god, he was a disciple of Christ.  In Paul’s writings we’ve read several passages that talk about our being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, able to receive all the blessings of God, which includes his sharing all his power and glory with the faithful.  While Paul was not divine, he had the power of the divine with him.  Such power amazed the natives, who had never seen a person survive such a deadly and dangerous attack before.  What kind of viper jumps out of a fire, except one sent from the gods?  Yet Paul paid it little heed.  Obviously, his magic was more powerful than that of any local god trying to harm him.

And such is the teaching of Christ we receive from Paul.  We may occasionally get bitten by fiery serpents in this life.  But through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, each of us can eternally shake off all the ills and pains of this life and become even as Jesus is, a divine child of God.

Paul did arrive in Rome, where he lived for two years in house arrest before he was brought before Caesar’s judgment.


Harold Bloom, "The American Religion":

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