Sunday, July 14, 2019

Come Follow Me - Acts 10-15

Come Follow Me - Acts 10-15

Last week's lesson on Saul's conversion prepares us for the opening of the missionary work to the Gentiles.

Clean and Unclean: Gospel to the Gentiles

Christ had specifically told the apostles to not go among the Gentiles, but only to the House of Israel (Matthew 10:5). This issue was so specific that the Lord also denied them preaching to the Samaritans, a nation of mixed Israelite and Gentile blood. While Jesus did heal a couple Gentiles in his ministry, it was uncommon and due to their great faith. Still, the gospel was not preached to them even after the healing.

Israel had always viewed itself as separate from the world. The Law of Moses gave physical laws to remind them of spiritual concepts. The special Israelite diet that separated animals out between clean and unclean was meant to help Israel keep themselves apart from the rest of the world. Lepers were unclean and were not allowed into cities. People who had sinned, or women who had her menstrual period were also unclean, and were to remain without until cleansed once again. The whole society was based upon clean and unclean.

Peter received a vision where the Lord showed him a blanket full of unclean animals. Commanded to eat, Peter insisted that he was not supposed to touch unclean things. Three times, the food was shown to him, with a heavenly voice explaining that which the Lord has made clean is no longer unclean.

Commanded to follow the servants of Cornelius who sought him, Peter went with them. This would be a learning experience for both Gentile and apostle:


“And he (Peter) said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).

Peter could be stoned to death by the Jews for being entertained in the house of a Gentile, in this case, Cornelius the Roman centurion. Peter taught the gospel, particularly concerning the Messiah, Jesus Christ. As he taught them, the Holy Ghost fell upon all in the house. All of the Jewish Christians were amazed that the Holy Ghost would fall upon Gentiles. Peter saw this as God’s sign that Cornelius’ household had been cleansed. They were no longer “common or unclean.” He insisted they be baptized into the Church.

This moment creates a major change in the early Jewish-Christian Church. From this moment forward, it is no longer a Jewish sect, but will become a separate religion of its own. From Cornelius’ conversion onward, key decisions would be made in the Church that would cause an ever widening gulf between it and its Jewish roots.

Such a division can be compared to the break between Catholicism and Protestantism, or comparing traditional Christianity with the Mormon restoration movement. While each has similar roots, major changes and differences developed that cause a separation.

Circumcision and Gentile Converts
Acts 11

So huge of a change was this in the Church, that upon his return, the circumcised Jewish Christians demanded to know from Peter if he had eaten with uncircumcised people. Peter rigorously defended the change. Describing how the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius, they conceded that God had allowed the Gentiles to repent and receive of Christ’s atonement.

From there, the gospel went beyond the borders of the nation of Judah to other regions. Still, the work would begin among the synagogues in those areas prior to being taken to the Gentiles. In Antioch, the preaching would convert many Greeks. It would be in Antioch where the main split from Judaism would occur, with the converts taking upon themselves the name of Christian. These would be neither Gentiles nor Jews, but an entirely separate division: Christians who were baptized into a quasi-Jewish/Gentile-based religion.




While many members living in Jerusalem still worshiped  in the temple, lived the Mosaic law, and circumcised - basically a Jewish sect with a Messiah; the Gentile churches were forming a very different form of religion, based solely on the teachings of Jesus. Eventually, the Gentile Church would grow so large that the Jewish portion would be subsumed by the expanding Gentile Christian church.

Barnabas took the new convert Saul to be his missionary companion. Antioch was their first stop and they established a strong foundation for the Church there. Among their works would be to gather offerings to help the poor and struggling Christians in Jerusalem. How did the Church handle Saul the former persecutor of the saints in Judea? They sent him to be a missionary to the Gentiles, far, far away.

Saul becomes Paul
Acts 13

Paul and Barnabas are called by the church leaders in Antioch (in Syria near the border with Turkey) to serve a mission.


“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2-3).

Again we can see the importance of inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and of laying on of hands to set someone apart in a specific work of God by those with His authority was required for this important mission. This laying on of hands gave him priesthood authority and power to preach and work in God’s name. Paul will display his priesthood authority and power many times in the Book of Acts, as he meets adversaries that claim to have the real power or knowledge.

Going to Cyprus and the Greek islands, the two preached with great power and fervor. They had the opportunity to preach to the deputy prefect of the country. However, a Jewish sorcerer in the area sought to prevent them from preaching to the deputy. This sorcerer’s name was Bar-Jesus, literally “Son of the Anointed” in Aramaic. He was also called Elymas (“Wise” in Arabic).

As Moses before Pharaoh’s magicians, or as Jesus once was compared/contrasted with Barabbas (Son of God) at his trial before Pilate, now we see that Paul will contrast the power of the priesthood he holds to that of the sorcerer’s power.

“And (Paul) said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.
Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:10-12).

Neither the wisdom (Elymas), nor claimed power and authority (Bar Jesus) of the sorcerer were greater than the true wisdom, power and authority of God through Paul.

Interestingly, many of the Jews in the area initially believed on the words of Paul and Barnabas, until they saw that the Gentiles were also converting. The Jews did not want to share salvation with Gentiles, as it went against their understanding of the Mosaic Law. The Gentiles were not circumcised, and therefore were not in compliance; they were unclean.

Paul as Divine Being
Acts 14

When Peter first arrived at Cornelius’ door, the Roman centurion fell at his feet and worshipped him as a god. Now, when Paul and Barnabas healed a crippled man at Lystra, they were also worshiped. The Greeks believed that the gods had come down to bless them. Barnabas was believed to be Jupiter, and Paul to be Mercury. The priest of Jupiter’s temple brought oxen to be sacrificed as well. Paul and Barnabas barely restrained them.

For the Roman Empire, the concept of God being anthropomorphic (in human form) or even that humans could be gods (such as in the case of Caesar), was not out of the ordinary. By this time, however, the Jewish faith had changed from a belief in many divine beings to the belief in just Yahweh set the Jews apart from the rest of the world. As noted in previous lessons here, Jesus tried to restore the concept of man becoming divine. This concept caused the Jews to seek his death on many occasions for blasphemy.

Paul’s concern was that he was not a divine being, but mortal. Even if he were divine, he was not worthy of worship. Only God the Father and Jesus Christ were to be worshiped.

Jews came to Lystra and convinced the people that Paul was bad, and so he was stoned. Believing him dead, they took him out of the city for the wild animals to consume. However, Paul rose up and departed for another city. In this event, we are not certain whether he was actually killed and brought back to life or not. It seems that if he were not killed, the injuries sustained would have left him incapable to standing up later and leaving. If he were killed, then he was also brought back to life. Either way, it is apparent that a miracle occurred here, which was greater than the healing of the crippled man. In this moment, however, because the people did not believe, but rejected him, they were not present for such a miracle.

Returning to Antioch from their mission, they rejoiced in the number of converts and success they had. And they rested.

The Law of Moses and Circumcision - Jewish Christian vs Gentile Christian
Acts 15

In this chapter, we begin to see an ever widening divide between the Jewish and Gentile converts, as well as between Judaism and Christianity. Some Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch. They began to preach in the Christian church, saying that in order to be saved, the Gentile converts would have to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas argued that salvation for the Gentiles did not come through the Mosaic Law and circumcision, but could not come to an agreement.

A delegation, including Paul and Barnabas, went to Jerusalem to have the apostles determine the correct doctrine. Some Pharisee converts stepped into the expanded conversation, insisting that the Gentile converts would have to follow the law of Moses and circumcision. In their view, Christianity was still a sect of Judaism, and so the Gentile members would have to not only be baptized into Christianity, but also circumcised into Judaism.

Peter finally stood up and shared his viewpoint as chief apostle and the servant through whom the Lord initially took the gospel to the Gentiles.

“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them (the Gentiles) the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:8-11).

The Gentiles received the Holy Ghost without being circumcised. The yoke of the Mosaic Law, including circumcision, was no longer needed as Christ fulfilled the law. Instead, they would be saved by faith through the grace of Christ.

What does this mean? Does it mean we do not have to obey commandments or be baptized to be saved in Christ? Of course not. Many of the epistles of Peter, Paul and others will continue to emphasize obedience to the commandments of God. What is different is that we are not directly saved by those works. Instead, as we believe and repent, we will naturally desire to obey the commandments. They become a natural outgrowth of our faith. Unlike the Pharisees, who believed that circumcision and outward works saved men from hell, Christianity teaches that true faith and conversion saves us through Christ’s grace. We grow from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace (D&C 93).

If man could keep all the laws of God, could he resurrect himself? If he has but one sin, can he stand in God’s presence with that sin? No to both questions. Christ’s grace gives us free gifts. We must be willing and able to receive them. Resurrection is a totally free gift to all born on earth. Salvation from hell only requires us to believe and repent of our sins (see Alma 36).

Nephi taught that we are “saved by grace after all we can do” (2 Ne 25). What does that mean? When the righteous Lamanites buried their weapons of war, the Lamanite king told his people that it was “all that we could do to repent” (Alma 24:11). As we can see, for our salvation, all we can do is believe and repent. The rest is entirely through the grace of Christ.

Now, the level of salvation we receive is clearly based upon what we become. D&C 76 and 88 teach us that to be celestial requires us to become a celestial-like being. Even receiving a portion of the celestial allows us to be eligible for the fullness of the celestial glory. The same goes for the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms. In this instance, Christ’s grace continues to work with us. He takes us where we currently are guides us through the Holy Ghost from one level of grace/righteousness to the next.

Unlike the Pharisees, we will not be weighed by how many prayers or alms we’ve given, but the quality of our prayers and alms. Christ taught that the inner cup must be cleansed, not just the outside. Quality is something God can measure easier than we can, for we often cannot determine anything beyond outward behaviors of people. For this reason baptism and temple interviews ask about basic beliefs, Word of Wisdom, tithing, etc. Such are easier for men to measure than the intensity of a testimony. God, on the other hand, can measure the full worth of a testimony, and will do so in the final judgment. Commandments are important only so far as they are a sincere expression of the internal conversion.

We will return to this concept frequently in Paul’s writings, as he seeks to balance grace with the importance of keeping commandments, and putting them all in their proper perspective.

The apostles proclaimed that the Gentiles did not require circumcision, nor to live the Law of Moses. They were required to be obedient to guidance given by the apostles and other ordained leaders. They were required to repent, and live just lives.

Could a Gentile voluntarily accept circumcision and to live the Law of Moses? Of course. It was not prohibited of them. To this day, most American Christians still get circumcised for tradition’s sake, not for religious reasons. It just was not necessary for salvation.

James, Bishop of Jerusalem and brother of Jesus, stood forth and said,

“Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren” (Acts 15:19-22).

So, while the specifics of circumcision and the Law of Moses were not required of the Gentile Christians, there were still commandments expected of them.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Come Follow Me - Acts 6-9

The Calling of the Seven
Acts 6

The apostolic work became so intense that the work of providing for the poor and needy had to be delegated to others. Their concern was that to focus too much on the poor was to “leave the word of God and serve tables.” While caring for the poor was important, preaching the gospel was more important as the special witnesses of the resurrected Christ.

So seven holy men were called to a special purpose. These, in fact, would be similar to our bishops today. Later, in fact, the New Testament church would establish the position of bishop, as the Church spread outside of Jerusalem and was established in many Jewish and Gentile communities. Not only did they provide for the poor, but also were responsible for preaching the gospel in their areas of responsibility. For example, it seems that Stephen’s work was primarily in the area of Jerusalem, while Philip would travel to Samaria to perform much of his early labors.

In fact, while they were called to care for the poor, it seems that they spent much of their time preaching the gospel. In this sense, they would also be like the seven presidents of Seventy which we have today. They assist the twelve apostles in all of the work, as needed.

So, what was the proper form to set these men apart in their position?


“Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6).

We shall see as we continue through Luke’s Book of the Acts of the Apostles that the proper practice in performing any ordinance: setting someone apart in a calling, giving the gift of the Holy Ghost, or performing a healing, all required a person with the proper authority laying hands upon the individual.

Stephen
Acts 6-7

NGƯỜI LỮ HÀNH HY VỌNG: DECEMBER 26, 2012 : FEAST OF SAINT ...

“...Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). Stephen had been imbued with the power and authority of God. We are not told what these miracles were, but they obviously caught the attention of the Jewish leaders. He was brought before them, accused of blasphemy. They said Stephen claimed the temple would be destroyed, and Jesus came to change the law of Moses. Amazingly, both of these came to pass. While the temple was not yet destroyed, it would be in 70 AD.  Christ replaced the Passover Lamb with the Sacramental bread and cup. In the Sermon on the Mount, he noted key points of the Mosaic Law and then his higher law which would supplant it.

For the Jews, making such changes would be like someone speaking against Mohammed, the Quran, and Allah, while living in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Such blasphemy would merit a fatwah of death. Such was the place in which Stephen found himself. Israel at this time was full of radicals. An ever growing and powerful sect of Judaism was the Zealots. Such would push for war against the Romans, believing that Israel was righteous and able to throw off the yoke placed upon them by Caesar. Among the Zealots were many who claimed to be Messiahs, those who would deliver Israel from Rome. With this zealous impetus for overthrow, came an intense dislike to anything that questioned the Jewish stance that Moses was God’s supreme prophet, the temple would stand forever as God’s sanctuary, and the Law of Moses would be an eternal and unchanging law. To claim that a Messiah Jesus would come and change that law was an insult to Moses, the Law, and to God himself.

When asked by the high priest if the charges were true, Stephen gave the Sanhedrin (Jewish high council) a history lesson, beginning with Abraham. He said that Abraham began in a foreign land, where God came to him and chose him to start a new people in a new land. This promise would not be fulfilled in Abraham’s day, but over time his children would be sent away captive and then rescued when they were large enough to be a people themselves.

Moses was brought forth to rescue the Israel from Egyptian bondage. This same Moses prophesied that a future prophet would come, which the people must listen to and obey, if they wish to be saved. This future prophet is Jesus the true Messiah.

Later, Solomon would build the temple of God. The problem here is that God desires to dwell in the heart, not just in a building. The people focused on the temple sacrifices, and not on the God who created them.

51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers

The Jewish history showed that the people rejected and killed many of the prophets. Their fathers sought to kill Elijah and Elisha. They slew Isaiah, and cast Jeremiah into prison. Now those present were accused of slaying the Just (Holy or Anointed) One, the Messiah, the Angel of the Lord’s Presence, even Jesus Christ.

Instead of repenting when hearing of this claim that the people were still guilty of murdering the prophets, they “were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54).

Stephen was stoned to death. But as he was stoned, Luke tells us:
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Stephen had his theophany. A theophany is when mortal man meets deity. Often this event occurs in a vision or dream, and in it God is often seen exalted on his throne (see also Isaiah 6:1-6, Genesis 28:12-13, Revelation 4, 1 Nephi 1:8).

In Stephen’s vision, he also saw the Lord Jesus Christ standing on God’s right hand. This shows us what Jesus taught: that the Lord is the way to the Father. It also teaches us that early Christians saw the Father and Son as actual anthropomorphic beings. Stephen didn’t see a nebulous spirit that represented both Father and Son, but saw the two separate beings: the first on the throne and the other beside him. Why God would seek to misrepresent himself to one who would momentarily be dead and again in God’s presence? It does seem that the living God showed his real self and the resurrected Jesus Christ to Stephen.

Saul of Tarsus
Acts 6-7

We learn that Saul, who would later change his Hebrew name for a Gentile name: Paul, was at the death of Stephen, consenting to it and holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. Was Saul guilty of murder? According to Jewish law, he was not. He was a Pharisee, trained at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was a scholar of the law of Moses. He was very zealous and walked closely in his understanding of the Mosaic Law, which required a person to be stoned to death for blasphemy against God.

Saul believed he was doing God a favor by slaying the enemies of the Law of Moses. Here was this new sect of Judaism that was quickly moving away from many of the tenets of faith. In this time, Judaism had become very monotheistic, very unlike how it was previous to the destruction of Solomon’s temple by Babylon. Much of the ancient Middle East and Israel believed in a divine council of Gods, headed up by Elohim. When he created the Table of Nations, Elohim divided the land in the days of Peleg, giving kingdoms to each of his 70 divine sons (Genesis 10:25). Israel was given to Yahweh/Jehovah, the greatest of the sons of Elohim.

But this knowledge was long lost to Israel, who had manipulated the scriptures over the centuries, and changed the temple rites between the First and Second Temples. Solomon’s temple included angels, the Tree of Life, and much symbolism. The Second Temple did away with this, and focused all on Yahweh worship via sacrifice.

According to Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker, the early Christians sought to restore the original temple liturgy and belief, which included Elohim and his divine Son, Yahweh.

The Jews were in apostasy. They rejected Christ, and now began stoning the leaders of the Christian sect of Judaism. This was a long established pattern in the teaching of Judaism. For Saul to convert, it would require an earth-shaking event to cause him to reject his old beliefs, and accept this new faith.

Philip, Peter, Simon and the Gift of the Holy Ghost
Acts 8

Philip, one of the chosen Seven, was sent to Samaria. While there he preached and baptized and healed many from their diseases and infirmities. Here enters Simon Magus, a magician, who would later be known as the first major apostate of the Christian church. Simon performed magic tricks in order to convince the people he was a god, so they would give him tribute.

Simon supposedly also came to believe and was baptized. In a recent lesson, we discussed how Peter had received a testimony, but was not yet converted by the gift of the Holy Ghost. It seems Simon had a testimony or at least a witness of Philips miracles, and believed on what he saw. But he was not truly converted. He was one who sought power to suit his own purposes.

While Philip was able to baptize by water, the apostle Peter was sent to Samaria to give the people the gift of the Holy Ghost. Obviously, Philip did not have the authority to give the Holy Ghost to the new members. This suggests levels of priesthood authority, wherein the Seven could baptize, but did not have the power to give the Holy Ghost.

How did Peter give the Holy Ghost to the people? First, he prayed. “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:17).

18 And when Simon (Magus) saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

Here we have two Simons: the one called Peter, and the one called Magus. Peter was the leader of the Christians, chosen of Christ and ordained to the holy apostleship (John 15:16). His was the responsibility to direct the Church via revelation.

Simon Magus was the ultimate usurper and false prophet. According to the early Church historian Eusebius:

“We have understood that Simon was the author of all heresy. From his time down to the present those who have followed his heresy have feigned the sober philosophy of the Christians, which is celebrated among all on account of its purity of life. But they nevertheless have embraced again the superstitions of idols, which they seemed to have renounced; and they fall down before pictures and images of Simon himself and of the above-mentioned Helena who was with him; and they venture to worship them with incense and sacrifices and libations.”

Peter saw that Simon had not become a Christian through faith and repentance, but because he desired the power that the apostles had. And he couldn't have it for money.

Acts 9 - Saul's Conversion

For Saul, persecuting the saints, was serving God. As a Pharisee, he saw any radical Jewish sect (including the Zealots) as a group falling away from the true worship. Yes, there would be a Messiah, one that would deliver them from foreign powers. Yes, there would be a day of resurrection for all the righteous. However, to imagine that both these things would be gathered into one dead man, claimed to be the first of the resurrection, was nonsense. In his thinking, to stem this growing menace early on, would please God and bring an end to another group of apostates.






As noted above, many concepts of Judaism changed over time. The ideas of angels still visiting people or miracles occurring were ridiculous for the Jewish leaders. Such things had been done away with. And yet, Peter, Stephen, Philip and others were performing miracles and seeing angels. Now, Saul would experience both. In seeing Christ, and having Ananias heal him, he would become Christ's greatest tool for conversion: an enemy of Christianity being converted through miracles.

Today, many Christians dislike Mormonism, because of these exact same claims. No wonder there are such persecutions of the Restored Church by those who no longer experience healings, angels and other miracles.

Comments

Here we see the reactions of many people to this new sect of Judaism, called Christianity. At this point, it is still a Jewish sect. However, the field was already crowded with Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, and Zealots. For many, it was easier to crush this small sect now than to wait until it grew too big to stop.

Some, such as Saul, would soon come to a huge awakening that would ever change his life. Others, like Simon Magus, saw the miracles and believed there was power to be had and used for personal gain.

We’ve learned that no one can have the authority of the priesthood, unless chosen of Christ and ordained by the proper method, as we have seen with the ordination of Mathias to the apostleship (Acts 1), the performance of miracles by the laying on of hands, and also the Gift of the Holy Ghost by that same method from those with the proper authority. In the early Church, authority was not only important, it was necessary.

Many Christians today see the authority as having changed. They believe in a “priesthood of all believers.” Others, such as in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches believe in a specific priesthood lineage. LDS believe in both lines of personal and church guidance. We have prophets and apostles and others with specific priesthood authority to perform ordinances and guide via revelation the general points of the Lord’s Church. We also believe that the members may be guided by the Holy Ghost to guide and direct them in their personal lives, regardless of whether they hold the actual priesthood authority or not.

The ancient beliefs of Israel had been changed. No longer did they understand the role of the Messiah or even of His temple. Jesus came to restore those concepts and continue them through the apostles and other ordained leaders. Yet from the beginning of the early Christian Church, there have been those like Simon Magus seeking to again twist and contort the beauty of the Lord’s gospel to fit their own agenda.

Bibliography

Table of Nations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sons_of_Noah

Divine Council and division of the nations: http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/DT32BibSac.pdf

Margaret Barker on the Temple and Christians: http://www.thinlyveiled.com/barker.htm

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History on Simon Magus: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vii.xiv.html

Dallin Oaks, the two priesthood channels of communication: http://lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/two-lines-of-communication?lang=eng&noLang=true&path=/general-conference/2010/10/two-lines-of-communication

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Come Follow Me - Acts 1-5

Come Follow Me - Acts 1-5

Book of Acts

The Book of Acts is said to be written by the disciple Luke, who also wrote the gospel. This book follows Jesus’ life with stories of the apostles. Luke notes at the beginning of his epistle to Theophilus that there were many who witnessed the resurrected Messiah.

They were not yet to go out and minister, but wait until the Lord prepared them by sending them the first Comforter promised them. This will be seen in the second chapter.

The Ascension
Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1

After the resurrected Savior’s forty day ministry amongst his disciples, he was ready to move on to other responsibilities in the heavens. In front of 500 witnesses, he ascended into the clouds. Those watching were amazed and incredulous. Two angels described as “men in white apparel” appeared and told them that Jesus would come again, but this time in the manner he has just ascended. For the Lord’s Second Coming, he would descend in glory and power. He would be a resurrected and glorified being, even as his apostles witnessed as they touched and felt his body that he was not just a spirit/ghost, but was actually resurrected - a spirit clothed in a glorious body of flesh (Luke 24).

Restoring the Twelve: a Pattern

Returning to their homes to await further instructions of the Lord, the eleven apostles began restructuring the leadership. It was apparent that there had to be twelve apostles to be a full quorum, and so they discussed the matter. Their discussion led them to two righteous men, who had both seen the resurrected Jesus. It was necessary that they not call just any person, but “must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Reducing their choices to two, the apostles then prayed that the Lord would select the appropriate person. They then used the ancient Israelite method of choosing by lots.

According to the Septuagint Bible, the ancient Israelite high priest used the stones on the Urim and Thummim on his breastplate to deliver an answer from God. Other groups, which would include the apostles in this occasion, would throw sticks or dice and allow the Lord to affect the randomness of the event. This prevented politics or bribes to affect the outcome.

In this instance, the Lord chose Matthias, and he was then numbered with them as one of the apostles.

Day of Pentecost - conversion vs testimony
Acts 2

The Day of Pentecost was part of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, celebrating Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, it occurred 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, and ten days after his ascension into heaven.

Many were gathered to Jerusalem and the surrounding area for the celebration. The apostles had gathered to join in the celebration. Their original goal was not to preach, but to observe the feast. However, the Holy Spirit fell down upon them and the apostles began to speak in tongues, being understood by those Jews who had come from foreign lands to celebrate the events at hand. It is traditionally believed that they gathered in the same upper room where the Last Supper was held. Many people of the Jewish faith who traveled from elsewhere would have rented a seat at the Pentecostal feast. Seeing the Galilean fishermen speaking in many tongues at the same time would have been astonishing.

Peter had previously received a testimony of Jesus Christ from God: “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16-17). Though he had a testimony, it was not the same as being truly converted. At Jesus’ trial, his faith and testimony temporarily failed Peter, and he denied knowing Jesus. Just before that event, Savior would tell Peter in the same upper room during the Last Supper, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

Peter was not yet converted. Not until this moment at Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost provided more than just a testimony. The converted Peter became a lion for Christ. Standing up before the others at the table, he explained that the apostles were not drunk, but filled with the Spirit of God. He noted the prophecy of Joel, wherein people would have visions and dreams from God as support that it was partially fulfilled in that moment.

Not only were the apostles moved, but the listeners were “pricked in their hearts” and moved upon to also believe. “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).


38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

They believed. Now they had to repent, receive the necessary ordinance of baptism in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15, John 3:5), and then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost had previously witnessed to Peter of Christ’s divinity. Now, he received the entire Gift, which was turning on the floodlights of spiritual power to this once lowly fisherman.

From this point on, “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” as they found the true power that comes through conversion.

Restoration of All Things
Acts 3

Peter has the opportunity to preach to others, including Jewish leaders. His approach to them was very different than to those in the upper room at Pentecost. He did not call them to faith, repentance or to be baptized by water and the Holy Ghost.

Instead, he noted:
14 But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you;
15 And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.

Because they knowingly murdered Jesus Christ and rejected him as their Savior, they would not be called to baptism and faith at this time. They would have to await a future time, just before the Second Coming of Christ. Peter was telling the Jews at Jerusalem who had a part in slaying Jesus two things. First, their rescue from the trials of this world would only come in the last days before Jesus’ glorious return, and Second, that their own salvation could come later.

Peter wished they had been ignorant of their choice in slaying Jesus. But the Jewish leaders had studied the prophets of old: Moses, Samuel and all the other prophets had foreseen Jesus’ coming. The Jewish leaders would not be eligible for baptism at that time:

19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

We see that there would be a “times of refreshing” and the “restitution of all things”. This epoch would not occur until just before Christ would be prepared to come down in glory for his Second Coming. Not only had the prophets foreseen the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ, but also his Second Coming. And they foresaw the “times of refreshing” when all things would be restored, preparatory for Jesus’ return.

Peter foresaw the restoration of the Lord’s gospel and order upon the earth occurring prior to the 2nd Coming. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes and teaches that this restoration is now occurring, as God has called modern apostles and prophets as living witnesses of the resurrected Jesus Christ. These holy men receive revelation from God, even as Joel prophesied would happen. Joel foresaw the complete fulfillment of his prophesy would occur in a day when the sun would be darkened and the moon would turn into blood on “that great and notable day.” These modern prophets and apostles prepare the world for the Lord’s triumphant return and the end of this world.

One of the things restored in this day through modern prophets is the concept of vicarious baptism for the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This is one way in which those of old who would have to await the “day of refreshing” could not only repent, but receive the saving ordinances of the gospel. This is what Peter taught to the Jews that day long ago.

Today, the Church proclaims as did Peter did on Pentecost:
38 ...Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Jesus’ call of salvation is still sent to all the world through apostles of God.







Acts 4


Peter healed a lame man. In doing so, he was now replicating the power that Jesus displayed in his own ministry. Miracles were a troubling thing to the Jewish rulers. For them, the troublesome Jesus had been dead for over a month, and they no longer had to deal with such rabble rousers.


However, now they had to deal with someone new, who had the ability to heal. Was this a new Messiah claimant? They brought Peter and John in for questioning. They were surprised that these were two fishermen, unschooled, yet speaking boldly. Peter told them that only in Christ/Messiah's name, could people be saved.


So, the Jewish rulers were facing a new problem. They weren't dealing with another false (or real) Messiah. They were dealing with men who were claiming the crucified Jesus IS the Messiah, working from beyond the grave!


Their only recourse was to warn Peter against preaching about Jesus, and sending him on his way. Little did they know that from this small moment, the religion of Jesus was going to spread throughout the world, garnering billions of converts over time.


Charity and Consecration (Acts 4-5)

The new members began selling all they had (as Jesus once taught), and laying the money at the feet of the apostles. No longer were they giving their alms to the temple, nor was this managed by government taxation. Instead, the apostles would use the funds to help the poor. These were free will offerings, where the people learned about true consecration and charity.


In chapter 5, we read of Ananias and his wife, who sold some property, but only delivered a portion of the money's to Peter, keeping the rest for themselves. In doing so, they lied to God's prophet, and thus lost their lives as a warning to all others. Consecration is an important concept. Either you are fully consecrated, or you are not. A partial tithe is not a full tithe.


As Latter-day Saints, we seek to consecrate ourselves, making covenants of tithing at baptism, and of consecration in the temple. This must be a free will offering, not something done out of a feeling of duty or fear of punishment. We should rejoice at the opportunity to give of our funds, time and talents to bless the lives of others. Joseph Smith once noted that the convert finds that after he has been blessed with the gospel, will then desire to travel everywhere sharing the joy he has found.


No Other Name

There are many good religions and programs in the world. But none can save mankind in the eternities. Only in Christ can we be saved from death and hell. He IS the Savior and Messiah. We cannot save ourselves. We can only follow Jesus, believe and repent. In following Him, we become like Him and will find joy in His presence.  The promises of the gospel are offered to all people, who will embrace the Savior and receive the ordinances and covenants of his work.




Bibliography

Casting Lots: http://www.biblestudy.org/question/what-is-casting-lots.html

Pentecost: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentecost

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Come Follow Me - The Resurrection - Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20–21

Come Follow Me - Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20–21

Resurrection

“...there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.
Yea, this bringeth about the restoration of those things of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets.
The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame” (.Alma 40:21-23)

With the Fall of Adam, all people physically die. With the Fall, we are all driven out of God's presence. Only the Infinite Sacrifice, Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ could reverse this tragedy. As the world began in chaos, only to be organized by the power of Christ, so the Fall brought chaos back into the world. Only the greatest sacrificial offering could restore order from the chaos of death and hell.
 
Resurrection, the reuniting of body and soul, leads to the final Judgment, where we are judged on our works.  This determines the Restoration of all things, not just restoring the body, but also the soul.  This restoration also is a restoring of eternal relationships, with God and family.  

In believing and repenting, we are restored back into God’s presence, even if at a distance as Alma experienced in his conversion (Alma 36).  This is where Justification comes in, where we are washed clean in the blood of Christ.  We are guiltless, sinless, without spot.  We are able to enter into the kingdom of God, or in modern LDS terminology, the kingdoms of God. We are returned to the presence of the Godhead.

In the judgment, however, we are also judged according to our works.  Our seeking to be holy is part of the sanctification process, sealed by the Holy Ghost.  This determines the level of reward we receive in the heavens.

For those who never believe in Christ and refuse to repent, they are given a kingdom without glory or light.  They have chosen to be vessels of wrath, eternal enemies of God and Christ.  They will return to Outer Darkness,

“But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup” (Alma 40:26).

Only those who refuse to ever repent are unclean.  They are left with what they have become - evil.  There is only the dregs of a bitter cup for them to drink, because they have forever refused to accept the cup of Christ’s blood.

The Disciples

For the disciples, with many Jews of the time, resurrection was something they believed in. However, the general belief was that all righteous would rise at the last day, at the same time. In other words, they did believe Jesus would resurrect some day, just not three days later on the first day of the week!

Why didn't the apostles believe the women, when they returned with the angelic news that "he is risen?" Because the end had not happened and people still were mortals, not ready for a resurrection. No wonder Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus at first. He wasn't expected to come back to life so suddenly.

You will notice that there are differences in the gospels regarding the resurrection story. Different women gather around the tomb. In one scene, an angel sitting on the rolled stone speaks to them. In another, two angels speak with them from within the tomb. In John, the angel only appears to Mary Magdalene, after the others have left, and only moments before Jesus appears to her. 

In the synoptic gospels, the disciples are told to go to Galilee, where they'll see the Savior. In John, they see him in Jerusalem, and celebrate in the temple because of their joy of the resurrection.

The gospels were written decades after the resurrection. Obviously memories of events changed over time, allowing for the differences. We often see differences in the histories that occur anciently and even more modern. Just as the First Vision stories differ somewhat, the key points remain. The key point is they (the disciples and Joseph Smith) saw the resurrected Jesus Christ.

From Fishers to Shepherds
 
An interesting event occurs with Peter and several of the Eleven in John 21. According to John, the disciples saw Jesus twice in Jerusalem, and spent several days rejoicing in the temple. Several then go to Galilee. Why? Well, the resurrection has happened, Jesus lives, and the disciples have already offered sacrifice, probably a Thanksgiving Offering. There was nothing left to do, but return back to their previous profession: fishing.

In fishing all night, they caught nothing. In the early morning, Jesus appeared on shore and called to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Upon doing this, their nets quickly filled up. John recognized the Savior from this action. Why? Because at the beginning of Jesus' mission, he performed the exact same miracle.

As Jesus fed the apostles, he turned to Peter and asked him three times, if he loved him. Peter answered yes, all three times. This clearly ties into the three times Peter denied Jesus, now ensuring Peter is all in.

Jesus' response to Peter's love? Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.  Peter was not to return to being a fisherman. Nor was he to be a fisher of men, as Jesus called them at the beginning of his ministry. Now, Peter and his fellow apostles would be shepherds, even as Christ is the Great Shepherd. They wouldn't just catch people, baptize them and go on their way. Instead, they would care for them, nurture them, and protect them from harm. Such is the difference between a fisher of men and a shepherd of lambs.

Justification and Sanctification
Plan of Restoration

Alma explains more regarding the restoration, which includes the resurrection.  All mankind will resurrect, because that is part of the plan of God.  

“the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2).

God’s justice could not come to pass without the restoration of all things.  This connects to the ancient belief that in the Creation, God brought forth order out of chaos.  Physical and spiritual death have disrupted the order in the universe. The law of entropy requires that all things lose energy and eventually fall into a state of chaos.  This is the natural order of the universe, but does not square with the God’s justice.  God is just, and his plan is one of restoring all things to a place of order. Resurrection deals with the physical death of all things, bringing order to the chaos of entropy.  The atonement brings order forth from spiritual death’s chaos.

Yet, some will refuse the order and justice of God.  Instead, they will insist upon the natural order to come upon them, and will dwell in chaos and entropy, with no chance for eternal progression or growth, no happiness because there is only the misery of chaos.

“The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness
These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil” (vv 5-7).

Justice requires all things to be restored to a proper order, happiness to happiness, misery to misery.  Light to light and darkness to darkness.  Justification means Christ’s atonement makes us sinless, and worthy to enter into the kingdom of God.  It is where our desires are centered.  If we desire to be rescued, we will be through faith on Christ. Those who go to Spirit Prison, the “endless night of darkness” and choose to repent, will be rescued according to their desire and belief.

“And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame” (vv 3-4).

Sanctification through the purifying power of the Holy Ghost makes us holy enough to dwell in a higher level of God’s kingdom.  For this, we are judged by our works, which are an outward image of what we are inside.  We must not only desire righteous and holy things, but we must become righteous  and be holy in order for our works to show us as being holy.

“Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all” (vv 14-15).

Our works will be restored to us, whether good or evil.  If we wish to receive mercy, then we need to first be merciful.  That which we sow, we shall reap, for such is the law of the harvest and restoration.


 Previous thoughts from my blog 


Ancient Jewish days started at sundown, not at midnight as we now practice it. Jesus was crucified on Friday, but the next official Jewish day and the holy day of Passover would begin at dusk (about 6pm) on Friday. Jewish law forbade executions to occur on Passover, and so the death of Jesus and the two thieves had to be expedited. The Roman soldiers crushed the legs of the two thieves, causing intense pain and the weight of the body to be no more supported on the legs, but only on the arms, causing suffocation to occur.

But Jesus had already died. To ensure he was dead, a soldier pierced his side with a spear, stabbing directly into his heart. On dying, the fluids in the heart and blood stream begin to separate, and so both blood and water burst from the wound. It was necessary for Jesus to die without having his legs broken. The Paschal lamb was required to be perfect, without blemish and no broken bones.

The wealthy Joseph of Arimathea requested his body and quickly prepared the body to be laid in his own stately tomb. Jesus was not buried a full three days, but only parts of the first and third day. Truly we see:


“7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
“8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
“9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53).

Three Days Dead and Alive

While his body slept, his spirit had things to accomplish. In LDS teaching, President Joseph Fielding Smith (nephew of Joseph Smith) received a vision (D&C 128) in regards to what Jesus did during his three days:

“6 I opened the Bible and read the third and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly impressed, more than I had ever been before, with the following passages:
7 “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
8 “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
9 “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:18–20.)
10 “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6.)

In the vision, he saw the Spirit World, a place in between earth and heaven, wherein the spirits of men and women await the Resurrection and prepare for the Final Judgment. The Spirit World is divided into two sections: Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison/hell. The believing thief next to Christ was told he would be with Jesus that very day in Paradise. The disbelieving and mocking thief, on the other hand, would find himself suffering for his sins in hell.

Jesus’ purpose, according the Bible verses read by President Smith were to show that Jesus preached the gospel to the dead, including those who died at the Great Flood. President Smith pondered on how Jesus could preach the gospel to millions of the dead within such a short amount of time. As he pondered this, a vision of the Spirit World opened up to him. He first saw the righteous and the state of happiness and joy they were in. Then he saw those in Spirit Prison, and how Jesus was able to preach to them.
18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
19 And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
20 But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised;
21 Neither did the rebellious who rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets behold his presence, nor look upon his face.
22 Where these were, darkness reigned, but among the righteous there was peace;
....
29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
31 And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.

So the Lord preached to the repentant and righteous in Paradise, while the wicked remained in hell or Spirit Prison until they learned the gospel from missionaries sent from Paradise and repented of their sins.

Gospel of Nicodemus

Interestingly, an early Christian book also talks of the Spirit World where Christ went. The Gospel of Nicodemus begins with several people arising from the grave and entering into the towns. Two of these were the dead sons of the high priest Simeon. The Sanhedrin questioned these two and asked what occurred with them.

They were in prison, when their father Simeon came to them and told them to glorify Jesus, for he held Jesus when the Lord was but a babe, and Simeon an old man, and prophesied what would occur to the child and the world would be blessed.

Then they saw John the Baptist, Adam, Seth, and all the patriarchs and prophets. Each of these testified to the two young men concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, the full gospel of Christ was preached to those who had not received it.

There is then a discussion between Satan and the angel over Hell. Satan told Hell to prepare to receive Jesus, as he had just slain the Lord.

“Hell answered and said: Thou hast told me that it is he that hath taken away dead men from me. For there be many which while they lived on the earth have taken dead men from me, yet not by their own power but by prayer to God, and their almighty God hath taken them from me. Who is this Jesus which by his own word without prayer hath drawn dead men from me? Perchance it is he which by the word of his command did restore to life Lazarus which was four days dead and stank and was corrupt, whom I held here dead. Satan the prince of death answered and said: It is that same Jesus. When Hell heard that he said unto him: I adjure thee by thy strength and mine own that thou bring him not unto me. For at that time I, when I heard the command of his word, did quake and was overwhelmed with fear, and all my ministries with me were troubled. Neither could we keep Lazarus, but he like an eagle shaking himself leaped forth with all agility and swiftness, and departed from us, and the earth also which held the dead body of Lazarus straightway gave him up alive. Wherefore now I know that that man which was able to do these things is a God strong in command and mighty in manhood, and that he is the saviour of mankind. And if thou bring him unto me he will set free all that are here shut up in the hard prison and bound in the chains of their sins that cannot be broken, and will bring them unto the life of his god head for ever.”

Jesus enters and breaks down the doors of hell, releasing the righteous. Jesus embraced the righteous.

“And the Lord stretching forth his hand, said: Come unto me, all ye my saints which bear mine image and my likeness. Ye that by the tree and the devil and death were condemned, behold now the devil and death condemned by the tree. And forthwith all the saints were gathered in one under the hand of the Lord. And the Lord holding the right hand of Adam, said unto him: Peace be unto thee with all thy children that are my righteous ones.“

Isaiah, Habbakuk, David, and many other prophets quoted their inspired prophecies of Jesus, as the saints all knelt and pledged their hearts to their true King.

“But the Lord holding the hand of Adam delivered him unto Michael the archangel, and all the saints followed Michael the archangel, and he brought them all into the glory and beauty (grace) of paradise.“

So the righteous were taken to paradise, a place of rest and peace. Meanwhile the wicked remained in Spirit Prison/hell. In LDS teaching, they would also be taught the gospel, even as the sons of Simeon were taught. Those who repented and believed would also be brought into paradise, where they could be at rest and await their glorious resurrection at the 2nd Coming.

The final witness of Christ in the Gospel of Nicodemus then came forth.

“And as Enoch and Elias (Elijah) spake thus with the saints, behold there came another man of vile habit, bearing upon his shoulders the sign of the cross; whom when they beheld, all the saints said unto him: Who art thou? for thine appearance is as of a robber; and wherefore is it that thou bearest a sign upon thy shoulders? And he answered them and said: Ye have rightly said: for I was a robber, doing all manner of evil upon the earth. And the Jews crucified me with Jesus, and I beheld the wonders in the creation which came to pass through the cross of Jesus when he was crucified, and I believed that he was the maker of all creatures and the almighty king, and I besought him, saying: Remember me, Lord, when thou comest into thy kingdom. And forthwith he received my prayer, and said unto me: Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with me in paradise: and he gave me the sign of the cross, saying: Bear this and go unto paradise, and if the angel that keepeth paradise suffer thee not to enter in, show him the sign of the cross; and thou shalt say unto him: Jesus Christ the Son of God who now is crucified hath sent me. And when I had so done, I spake all these things unto the angel that keepeth paradise; and when he heard this of me, forthwith he opened the door and brought me in and set me at the right hand of paradise, saying: Lo now, tarry a little, and Adam the father of all mankind will enter in with all his children that are holy and righteous, after the triumph and glory of the ascending up of Christ the Lord that is crucified. When they heard all these words of the robber, all the holy patriarchs and prophets said with one voice: Blessed be the Lord Almighty, the Father of eternal good things, the Father of mercies, thou that hast given such grace unto thy sinners and hast brought them again into the beauty of paradise and into thy good pastures: for this is the most holy life of the spirit. Amen, Amen.”

So, even those who have led wicked lives can be saved from hell, if they but repent and believe on Christ (see Alma 36 for more).

Women witnesses

In the gospels, it is important to note that Jesus did not first appear to Peter and the other apostles, but to the women. Why would he go to them first?

First, it seems they expressed a greater faith at the time. While Peter denied Christ and the others fled, the women remained at the cross, and then carefully wrapped his body in the tomb. They were the first to his tomb that Sunday morning. It seems only natural that when Jesus was upon the cross he would ensure his mother would be cared for, and so he would also appear to those faithful women first.

Another possible reason comes to us from the ancient Gospel of Philip:

“There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary....
“Mary Magdalene. [...] (Jesus?) loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them,"Why do I not love you like her?“

It is possible that Jesus had a special relationship with his mother Mary, his aunt, and Mary Magdalene, his companion. This would be another way of suggesting that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene. If that is the case, then it would make sense for him to first appear to his wife, and those women who raised him from a child.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19

 Come Follow Me - Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19

 The Crucifixion

The lesson discusses the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Each event is a tragic comedy of errors as the ensuing events represent not only Jesus being betrayed, but all things good.

First, as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane in one of his most difficult times, he asked his disciples to pray with him. Yet they slept.

Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, which is a key symbol of love, devotion and trust.

Trial by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, was supposed to be done in the day time, as a public event. The importance of a fair trial was set in stone as part and parcel of the law set down by Moses. The accused was not to be mocked nor hit, nor was the high priest to rent or rip his clothing. No one asked Jesus if there were any witnesses for him. False witnesses were supposed to be rigorously questioned to ensure their charges were not drummed up.

Jesus, the literal Son of God, was found guilty of blasphemy. Since the Jews were not allowed by the Romans to pass the death sentence, they sent him to Pontius Pilate. In bringing Jesus to the Roman procurator, they changed the charge from blasphemy (not against Roman law) to treason. Yet Jesus had not been tried originally for treason.

Pilate ruled an unruly people. In normal times they were difficult to control with his small Roman contingency. This occurred in the middle of Passover, when perhaps a million or more people were in Jerusalem. His troops were already overwhelmed trying to keep the peace.

In questioning Jesus, he found that Jesus was not seeking to topple Caesar, but called himself the king of an other worldly realm: not a treasonous offense. To prevent the Jewish mobs from erupting into violence, he sent Jesus to his neighbor, King Herod Antipas.

Herod was not only Jewish, but also reigned over Galilee, where Jesus was from. Previously, Herod was responsible for John the Baptist’s death, even though Herod feared and believed John’s prophetic call. He had heard much concerning Jesus and his miracles, and now hoped to see a miracle performed. Rather than finding a bold and outspoken prophet like John, Herod found Jesus to be quiet, timid, and less than inspiring. Herod mocked him and returned him back to Pilate for trial.

Pilate tried to convince the mobs to release Jesus. Traditionally, the Roman procurator would release one prisoner to the people on Passover. He offered a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas was on trial for treason. As a member of the Zealot sect, he sought to violently overthrow the Roman occupation using murder and mayhem as his weapons. Bar Abbas was a terrorist. It is possible he was viewed as a militant messiah, as many Jews believed the coming Messiah would free them from Roman bondage. Meanwhile, Jesus was the Prince of Peace, the true Messiah. Instead of leading uprisings and rebellions with murder, he healed the sick and preached love and repentance.

The name Barabbas can be read as Bar Abba, or "Son of Father" (God). So, Pilate offered the Jews a choice between the Son of God and the literal Son of God. The Jewish mobs chose the imitation Savior.

Jesus was led away to be brutally whipped, mocked and tortured by the Roman soldiers, prior to crucifixion. The soldiers beat him, placed a crown of skin-piercing thorns on Jesus’ head, and placed a purple robe of royalty upon him. They mockingly bowed before him, then slapped him many times. Little did they know that the day would come when every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord.

In being crucified, the perfectly harmless and innocent Son of God was given the capitol punishment reserved for the most wicked and evil. Crucifixion was not the only form of death given by the Romans. It was the most severe and public, so as to show the people what happened to those who committed heinous crimes. Crucifixion was first invented by the Persians about 300-400 years before Christ. The Romans perfected it.

On the cross, a person slowly and painfully died of asphyxiation and organ failure, the heart and lungs failing as blood drained from the wounds and difficulty breathing failed to provide sufficient oxygen to the body. Those accused of robbery often had their arms tied to the cross, allowing them to struggle for several days. One nailed with his arms straight out, as was Jesus, would not be expected to live more than 24 hours. The legs were nailed to the sides of the cross, through the ankle bones, with the knees bent at a 45 degree angle. This forced the person to hang from his arms most of the time, intensifying the pain and increasing the difficulty of breathing.






While soldiers selfishly divided his clothes at his nailed feet, he focused his attentions elsewhere: “Mother, behold thy son”, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The two thieves on either side of Jesus seemed to magnify the disparity between good and evil occurring on that fateful day. One thief mocking him and demanding to be saved, not understanding that Jesus was virtually saving him as he cursed. The other thief recognizing his own sins and that through faith he would be saved. Even as with the young Alma, this thief had experienced hell, but through repentance and faith would escape torment and hell, being saved in Jesus Christ (Alma 36).

Finally, after hours of pain, thirst and suffering, Jesus would meet his most difficult moment. Throughout his ministry, Jesus had God’s strength and power with him. God pronounced his Son at Jesus’ baptism, and again on the Mount of Transfiguration. Even while praying in agony at Gethsemane, God sent Jesus an angel to strengthen him. While Jesus was always there for his apostles, and is always there for us, he would not be given the same in return.

His apostles having deserted him and his mother sent away, only the disbelieving Romans and the apostate Jews remained to watch him on the cross. Still, God remained with him up to the last moments.

But now, he would be absolutely alone. “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” A necessary step in bringing to pass the atonement was for Jesus to face the pains and sins of this world all alone, and without the spiritual guidance or strength of Heavenly Father. God fully withdrew his presence.

No longer protected by his Father’s love and strength, the utter most depths of hell roared up to meet Jesus. But for a few moments he needed to endure this. To rise above all, he first had to descend below all things. In order to save any of us from the blackest of eternal nights, he first had to go there. Alone.
Moments of agony passed. He endured and triumphed. Reaching the climax of his mission, he simply said, “Father, it is finished. Thy will be done.”

And he died.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18

Come Follow Me - Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 18

Gethsemane

We now go with Jesus to the place where the Lord began his atoning sacrifice, Gethsemane. Why did he go to Gethsemane to pray? He was in the city of Jerusalem, with a million people in attendance for Passover. The place should have been crowded, perhaps with individuals camping out on the hillsides. Gethsemane was a garden, or better said, an olive tree orchard. In the orchard is found at least one olive press. Gethsemane means “olive press”. This press is within a cave located in the middle of the orchard. Outside of harvest time it would have been used, especially during the major festivals, as a place for travelers to stay. It is quite likely that Christ entered the cave, asked his disciples to remain nearby while he prayed privately inside. This poetically ties Jesus’ birth in a cave/manger to his atoning sacrifice in cave/Gethsemane and ultimately to the cave where his body laid interred until his resurrection.

The cave would also symbolize a Holy of Holies, where the greatest offerings by the high priest were offered to God. Being in a Garden, we see a tie with the Garden of Eden, where mankind began in innocence and lost that innocence, introducing death and sin into the world.






The Beginning of the Atonement

For Catholics and some other Christians, Jesus’ great work was done solely on the cross. However, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus’ atonement began in Gethsemane and culminated on the cross (to be discussed next lesson). Jesus had to overcome both physical and spiritual death. The physical death of the cross would be trumped by resurrection. The spiritual death, or mankind cast out from God’s presence, would be healed by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice that began in Gethsemane and continues to this day for each of us.

In Gethsemane, we know that “he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11)

Or, as Nephi explained,
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:21).

Of the connection between Adam and Christ, the apostle Paul noted, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). We will not only all resurrect, but we will all be made spiritually alive in Christ, brought back into the presence of God, upon the condition of faith and repentance.

We understand little of the spiritual atonement. We know that it was a dreadful experience, even for Jesus.

“41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22).

He had begun the process of taking upon himself all the sins of the world. So spiritually painful was this that it caused the blood vessels around his sweat glands to dilate and burst. Then, as he sweat, it mixed with the blood, coming out of his pores in drops.

As noted, we do not really know how the spiritual atonement works. There are various theories available, some are indirectly noted by modern apostles of the Church. The theories include, Ransom, Substitution, Satisfaction, Punitive theories of atonement (see below for links).

LDS Christians have also provided other theories of atonement. My two favorites are Jacob Morgan’s Divine Infusion Theory (again, see below), and Blake Ostler’s Compassion Theory.

In Ostler’s theory, Christ is not punished nor ransomed directly for our sins. Instead, we have fallen from God’s presence and there is no way we can return by ourselves. When we exhibit faith and truly repent of our sins, the Savior embraces us in his love and forgiveness. As he accepts us into his compassionate embrace, we are filled with His love, compassion, and light. Yet, while he embraces us, Jesus takes into himself our pains and sorrows brought on not only by our sins, but by the hardships of life. In Gethsemane, he felt the pains and sorrows of all those who to that point had sinned or sorrowed, but then sought deliverance from God. Today, he continues feeling momentary pain as he embraces us in his love, engulfing our hurts within that love. So, in this theory, the atonement is ongoing. Every time a person reaches to Christ because of spiritual or physical pain, the person is healed through the atoning and loving embrace of our compassionate God and Savior.

As we ponder just how much pain each of us suffers, whether from sin, fear, mental anguish, or physical pain, we can truly “stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.”

Odds and Ends

In an interesting twist in the story in Mark 14:51-52, a young man in a linen cloth is caught by the Roman guards. The young man is able to slip away naked. Why add such an odd story?

Some scholars believe Mark was speaking of himself. It is possible that he was literally asleep when these events occurred. However, for LDS members, it is also possible that the cave was being used by the Christian-Jewish sect to perform temple ordinances. The cave may have been used as a makeshift temporary location to perform ordinances, such as initiatory and endowments.

In the initiatory, the person is washed and anointed with water and oil, as a symbolic cleansing prior to receiving the other ordinances of the temple. It could be possible that the young man was receiving this ordinance when the soldiers showed up.

This concept is strengthened by the controversial Secret Book of Mark. Scholar Morton Smith claimed to have found an old letter attached to the back of a medieval book. The letter was supposedly from Clement of Alexandria, who described a portion of a Secret Book of Mark, wherein a young man (Mark?) receives a secret ordinance at night from Jesus, while wearing nothing but a linen cloth.

There is lots of scholarly controversy surrounding this letter. Some claim Morton Smith created it to fool the scholarly community. Others think it might be a medieval forgery. Still there are some who think it to be authentic.

Christ Does Not "Make up the difference."

In a recent discussion I had with a friend, he mentioned how wonderful the atonement is, and that Jesus "made up the difference" for our failures and sins. In thinking about that statement, one I've heard many Latter-day Saints use, I realize how wrong the concept it suggests is.  For Christ to make up the difference, suggests we are doing the lion's share for our salvation.

But he is not the God of the gaps. Just like the resurrection provides immortality and resurrection for ALL people, regardless of their circumstances or choices, the atonement pays entirely for all of the events of mortality. He has already paid for all of the sins we do, and even the potential sins we could do. He isn't making up the difference. He IS the difference. My sins? Already paid for in full. Your sins? Already paid for in full. Salvation is free.

So what is our part in salvation, if salvation is free? It is to embrace Christ and the atonement. To the level and extent we embrace Jesus' act of love  and grace, we receive that level of  salvation. Why is it that even murderers (including Hitler) can obtain at least to the Telestial Kingdom (described in D&C 76 as a glorious place beyond description)? Because Hitler isn't paying for his sins. Christ has done it. Once Hitler begins to believe and repent, the atonement snatches him from spiritual death and plants him within the power of God's glory. As with Alma's conversion, while in a coma (Near Death Experience?), he was in complete darkness (Spirit Prison). There was nothing he could do to rescue himself. Only in thinking on Christ, and praying for salvation and forgiveness, was he rescued. And that in an instance. Note that he was in light and it was exceedingly joyful, and while in God's presence, he was afar off wishing he could be closer.

For Alma, he would get closer. Not because he was checking off check lists of commandments, but because he sought after Christ and became as Christ. He increased his ability to stand in God's presence, because he was more like God. He loved the light. He loved the commandments. He loved having the companionship of the Holy Ghost and the ministering of angels. He loved to talk to God in prayer. He loved to meditate on the things of God. Alma was totally saved by Christ, not of any works he did. Alma just had to embrace that free gift of grace.

As Christ loves us and seeks to approach us,and as we lovingly and eagerly approach Him, we are totally saved from death and hell through the eternal event that occurred in the Meridian of Time: the Atonement of Jesus Christ.



Bibliography

The olive press cave of Gethsemane: https://www.bib-arch.org/online-exclusives/easter-03.asp

also: http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=21&Issue=4&ArticleID=14

Sweating blood, or hematohidrosis: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t018.html

Ransom theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_%28Ransom_view%29

Satisfaction theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfaction_theory_of_atonement

Substitutionary theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substitutionary_atonement

Punitive theory of atonement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penal_substitution

Jacob Morgan’s Divine Infusion theory of atonement: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2006/08/jacob-morgans-divine-infusion-theory.html

Secret Book of Mark: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2009/10/clement-of-alexandria-and-secret-book.html