Sunday, August 11, 2019

Come Follow Me - Romans 7-13

Come Follow Me - Romans 7-13


Paul's purpose in writing to the Romans
 
As noted before, in the Book of Romans, Paul sought to establish himself with the Roman Christian Church before arriving there, a key to his planned missionary trip to Spain. The Church in Rome was likely formed by Jewish converts, who brought the gospel with them. In doing so, they taught the Gentile converts to live the Law of Moses. Wanting to establish a fuller understanding of the gospel among the Roman saints, Paul wrote the epistle to clarify certain doctrines and teachings, as he understood them.

Paul would attempt to write a balanced letter between the Jewish and Gentile Christian lifestyles. The Jewish Christians were fully engaged in the Law of Moses, circumcision, animal sacrifice, clean/unclean.  The Gentile Christians came from environment of Roman debauchery. Many of the Caesars of the time (like Nero), would have night long orgies, celebrate the violence of war in the Colosseum, and worship a myriad of gods. Paul would seek a balance by focusing on Christ as the Messiah and liberator of both the Jew first, and then the Gentile.

Living Faith vs the Dead Works of the Law

In chapter 7, Paul begins by addressing the Jewish converts (those who know the law). He explains that God saves both Jew and Gentile, even though the Gentiles are ignorant of the law of Moses. He explained that a woman could not have two husbands while they are both alive, but could remarry after the first one died. Suggesting that the Law of Moses has been fulfilled and thus is dead, they are free to marry into Christ and the higher gospel.

He goes into a confusing discussion of him being without sin until he was taught the law, which is dead, and so it made him dead also. In this, he is explaining the Law of Moses is an outward law that does not give life. Sacrificing dead animals or not coveting will not bring you back to life after death - particularly if you are only living the law out of required obedience, and not from point of faith.

But through Christ, we are saved by faith, not by the works of obedience/requirement. Yet, Paul ensures us that we still need to keep the commandments. How does this work, then? The fourth Article of Faith and the "Doctrine of Christ" (2 Ne 31; 3 Ne 11) establish that the first principles of the gospel are Faith in Christ and Repentance. Then come ordinances and covenants through baptism/ordinances and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Paul discussed faith in Christ, repentance and baptism in the previous chapters of Romans (see especially chapter 6). Now he's explaining the impact these have on the Law of Moses. Nothing in the Law of Moses is going to save us. It can only point to the true source of salvation: Jesus Christ. However, once we obtain a spiritual witness of Christ, the gospel and its meaning become alive for us. The Spirit stirs within us to action, and we do so through covenants, ordinances and obedience to the things the Spirit witnesses to us. Suddenly, obedience gives us life, but only because the Holy Ghost sparked and then fanned the flame of faith in Christ.

Sin is not an issue to someone who believes in Christ and continually repents, relying on the merits of Christ for salvation. Yet, we deal with sin daily. For Paul, living the Law of Moses and failing to keep every little commandment and rule, meant he was a failure and unworthy of God's mercy and salvation. However, through Christ's perfection, he could be rescued from himself and his poor attempts to obedience of the law. Sadly, Paul did not write this very clearly, and so it often requires looking at several commentaries to begin to understand his intricate web of sin and being unable to escape it by himself.

Christ taught, "by their fruits ye shall know them (his true disciples)." (Matthew 7:16).  True discipleship engenders joy, peace, hope, and good works through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If we keep the commandments because we feel we "have to" or are afraid of God's wrath, then we have yet to become disciples born of the Spirit. We are living a dead law. This is the reason so many feel gospel burnout. They are focused on obedience to commandments, which is a dead end by itself. When one focuses on increasing faith and repentance, THEN the Holy Ghost can interact with our hearts, minds and spirits, creating a new person out of us. A new person who desires to follow Jesus joyfully. This is what true conversion is about, and this is what Paul is trying to explain.

Paul's Confusing Letter

Paul's letter IS confusing. Peter noted that Paul's writings could cause a person to wrest with the gospel, distorting it, unto condemnation/death (2 Peter 3:16).

And so it is. Over the centuries, many Bible scholars have developed dogma/theories that have changed the nature of the gospel message, because they did not properly understand what Paul was teaching.  Among the mistaken teachings that grew from the writings of Paul are:

  1. St Augustine was the first to teach "original sin" where we are all born evil because of Adam's fall. In his theory, there is no good in any of us, and so it requires us to rely solely on Christ's goodness to be saved. In this scenario, we are all worthy of eternal hell solely because we were born. Also, it suggests we are made of inferior material than the stuff God is made of, so while we can be saved by God, we cannot ever become exactly like He is.
  2. Martin Luther's rejection of any requirement towards obedience. He saw that Paul said we are "saved by grace alone, not of works." Having seen the tyranny of the early Catholic Church, with indulgences and a myriad of invented commandments to obey, Martin sought to remove all requirement from mankind beyond a basic belief. Though he hoped men would act according to their faith, he did not see it as necessary for salvation.
  3. John Calvin's TULIP was born out of Paul's teachings. Predestination of the souls of men is a major component, where God has already decided, possibly arbitrarily, who will and won't be saved. TULIP stands for: 
  • Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
  • Unconditional Election (you are either chosen or you are not, regardless of what you do or the faith in God you have)
  • Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement, most will not be saved, only those predestined by God for salvation. All others will go to hell, regardless of their personal attempts at being good)
  • Irresistible Grace (those who are predestined to salvation will be forced to desire/accept salvation. There is no free will.)
  • Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)
 An in depth study of these, compared with the full gospel taught by Jesus, clearly shows they are in error. John 3:16 alone denotes that there is no Limited Atonement as described by Calvin, but all those who believe in Christ will be saved. In fact, this is the main premise of Paul's writings. And in chapter 8 of Romans, Paul explains:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)



As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God will save the vast majority of his children. Only the sons of perdition will reject salvation, and so will not gain a kingdom of glory. Everyone else, though, will receive salvation by their level of faithfulness. Even many of the wicked will obtain the Telestial Kingdom, after a period of suffering for their sins (until they believe and repent), which kingdom was described by Joseph Smith as a wonderful place (D&C 76). It is hard for me to imagine God being a loving God, yet condemns most of his children to hell, simply because He chose to not give them free will, nor an opportunity to believe and repent.

For me, such a Being is not worthy of my worship. He is not a loving, forgiving, or caring being. Calvin's God does not care if one is saved or not, and therefore does not need a Christ to come to save mankind - especially if God has already decided to condemn most of them. For Calvin, God created all beings without free will, then condemns most of them to hell. A loving God that predestines souls, would bring all of them back to His presence. Calvin's view of God does not. Thankfully, God loves Calvinists as much as he does all his other children. Still, He desires all of us to have a correct understanding of who He is, what His attributes are, and our true relationship with Him.

And in desiring this, Paul clearly explains our relationship with God.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:14-17)

Paul is NOT discussing predestination, TULIP, original sin, or any other dogma. He is discussing our relationship with God. We literally are the children of God. The Holy Ghost testifies of this reality.  There are no exceptions noted by Paul. He does not say, "they are the sons of God, IF God predestines them." No, the only requirements given by Paul (in the previous chapters) to receive a fullness of Christ's blessings and to cement our relationship with God, are: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and receiving the Holy Ghost. 

What does it mean to be an heir of God? Joint-heir with Christ? Are we to take this literally, or is Paul just making stuff up?  For us to fully understand what Jesus does for us when we have faith in him and take upon us his name, we have to believe what Paul is telling us. We are literal children. We are made up of the stuff God is made of, and in being cleansed and justified through Christ and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, are made pure. We become pure, even as Christ is. In being pure, we are of the same holy matter Jesus is made of.  And in becoming part of the family with God, we can inherit everything Jesus inherits. Jesus gets everything. We get everything. Jesus will rule the universe. We will rule with him. Jesus will be glorified. We will be glorified in Christ. 

Welcome to the Family of God.





Sunday, August 04, 2019

Come Follow Me - Romans 1-6

Come Follow Me - Romans 1-6

The Scholarly Views on Paul's Epistles
 
Leaving the Acts of the Apostles, we now go into Paul's letters (epistles). In doing this, we should look at the overall view of scholars regarding Paul’s epistles. The epistles we currently have were gathered together around 380 AD by St Jerome as he wrote the Latin Vulgate Bible. Jerome went through many books and epistles that were available in his day, and tried to determine which ones were authentic, and which were not. Occasionally, politics entered into his decision making. To have the western portion of the Church accept his list of approved books meant he had to include Hebrews and Revelation, though he personally believed they were not originally from Paul and John.

Today, scholars have determined that only about half of the epistles of Paul were actually written by the apostle. The remainder were possibly written by some of his followers or others who created forgeries - a very common practice in the first few centuries of Christianity, as different Christian sects sought to impose their views upon all Christians.

The Pauline epistles are now separated into three groups by modern scholars: authentic Pauline epistles, those which are disputed to be authentic by various scholars, and those that are very likely or definitely not written by Paul.

The epistles that are generally undisputed are: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

Those that are disputed by scholars on authenticity: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians - these are known as the Deutero-Pauline epistles, as a second person(s) who may have

known Paul most likely wrote these.

Finally come the Pastoral-Pauline epistles, which were most likely written by someone else: 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Whether they were actually written by Paul or not, they are accepted by Christians as inspired writings that can help us understand concepts and teachings of the early Christian Church.

 The Epistle to the Romans

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is universally accepted as being authentic. It is thought to have been written by Paul around 57 AD. Paul wrote many of his epistles prior to this time, encouraging the Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians to provide for the poor. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul explains he is enroute to Jerusalem with the funds to deliver to the leadership there.

Paul repeats some discussions he has had in previous letters: justification, Abraham, Adam and Christ as the new Adam,

Romans’ topics have been the source for several key traditional Christian concepts, including Augustine’s original sin, Martin Luther’s justification by faith alone, John Calvin’s double predestination, and John Wesley on sanctification.

Paul had established several Christian churches around the Aegean Sea, and desired to preach where others had not yet established a church: Spain. His plan was to visit Rome on the way.

It is probable that the church in Rome was founded by Jewish Christians. Gentile Romans became interested and believed in Christ. The Jewish Christians in Rome taught the Roman converts to receive circumcision and obey the Law of Moses. In writing to Rome, Paul was explaining that the Gentile Christians were saved through faith, and not the law of Moses.

In 49 AD, the Roman leader Claudius expelled from Rome both Jews and Jewish Christians over their disruptive arguments over whether Jesus was the Messiah. His successor, Nero, allowed them to return in 54 AD, but would persecute them a decade later after the Great Fire, where tradition states he fiddled while Rome burnt.

It is during Nero’s reign that Paul wrote the Romans, in hopes of establishing his branch of Gentile Christianity among them.

  I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Romans 1:18-32

 Referencing the “Wisdom of Solomon”, an ancient Jewish document, Paul condemned the sexual and violent sins of Rome. Nero was famous for orgies which, according to the ancient historian Suetonius, often lasted "from noon until midnight." He built a 50 foot round dining room, which rotated to simulate the movements of the earth and planets. Entertainment in Rome included violent depictions of battles, and often included the deaths of captured enemies or rebels.

 Paul was not ashamed to preach the gospel of Christ against such evils, noting that God would someday punish the wicked for such great sins. A major portion of his epistle would point to two main issues: the intense focus by some on following the Mosaic Law on the one hand, and the licentiousness of the Roman pagan society. Paul would have to teach them a middle view of what salvation meant. In speaking about the sins of Rome, Paul explained,

“Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile... (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness)” (Romans 2:9-15).
God has given a basic law, which not all have officially received via commandment of God. Many Gentiles lived chaste and non-violent lives without a prophet to command them, but following their conscience. Paul speaks of justification here. Those who keep God’s commandments, whether commanded through prophets, or inspired by the Holy Spirit to the conscience of man, are blessed for it. But it requires us to do, and not just hear or know a law. Many of the Jewish Christians knew the law, but were not following it.

 Instead, the gospel became a point for them to contend with Jews, and some of the Jewish Christians picked and chose the laws to be obeyed. They were not justified in knowing, and not obeying God's natural laws. Paul then taught that the Mosaic Law is one method, as is the method for the Gentile Christians. All have sinned, and therefore none can save themselves (Romans 3:9-11), but there is a salvation offered for both those under the Mosaic Law and those not under the law:
“ Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ..Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 1:22-31)
So, Paul confusingly seems to be saying we both need and don’t need the law. In fact, he is teaching that the law is not an end in itself. One is not saved by being circumcised or offering animal sacrifices. Nor is one saved by making prayers and offerings. But the Jew or Gentile Christian who develops his faith, will follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance via his conscience, and such a person will want to live the laws of God as a normal outpouring of faith. In other words, we do not earn salvation by obeying, but we embrace Christ's offer of salvation by doing the things the Spirit calls upon us to do in faith. A person obeys because of faithfulness. As Jesus stated, “if ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). What the Lord meant is that if we love him, keeping the commandments will be a natural outcome of that love. Our faith and love of Christ will naturally have us desire to be like him.

 Obedience flows from faith, but not necessarily the other way around. Many Pharisees paid tithes and offerings and prayed, but their obedience did not bring them to believe in Christ. Of course, faith is more than just a belief. According to the Lecture on Faith, faith is a moving power for God (and us) in all things. The greater the faith, the greater the power of God that is with us and within us.

In chapter 4, we find that Paul discusses Abraham - a Jewish ancestor that Paul uses to inspire both the Jew and Roman believers. Abraham was blessed because he believed or had faith, not because he was circumcised. Yet his faith led him to do great works of obedience, including offering up Isaac, his son. As we learn from the Nephite King Benjamin, we cannot obey enough laws or do enough to ever pay back God for our sins and disobedience in life. First off, he gave us life, and then air, water,  food and other blessings along the way, for which we owe him. When we obey God, he blesses us, so we still are ever in his debt. Benjamin noted that we are not even worth the dust we are created from, because God created the dust (Mosiah 2-5). Nephi taught us that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23). But what exactly does that mean? The Lamanite king Anti-Nephi-Lehi encouraged his people to bury their weapons of war and violence. In doing so, he explained to the people:

“it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain” (Alma 24:11).
In essence, faith and repentance are all we can do. Jesus does the rest. The greater our faith and repentance, the more Jesus can do for us. We find from Alma’s Near Death Experience and his intense sufferings in hell for his sins that a very basic faith and repentance are required for us to be saved from hell and death:
“But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.... And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:12-20).
We find that Alma’s sins and disbelief cast him from God’s presence and into a darkness of his own making. All Alma could do was believe and repent. Only his repentance could save him from the eternal torment that was upon him. So it is with all of us. A basic faith and repentance save us from hell and death.

In chapter 5, Paul explained we are “justified by faith” through the blood of Christ. When we accept the atonement through faith and repentance, we are rescued from hell and death. Justification means we are  made guiltless for our sins, reconciled to God, and therefore made eligible for heaven (or in LDS teaching, one of the levels of heaven). Although Paul does not speak here of it, we can then seek to be sanctified by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which purifies us as we become more faithful and obedient. As with Christ, we can go from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace, until we receive a fullness (D&C 93). At each new level of grace, we are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, purifying us and making us worthy to a higher level of glory and heavenly reward. That is what Grace, Justification and Sanctification are all about for us:

We are Justified (made guiltless/sinless) through faith on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We are then eligible to receive the sanctification of the Holy Ghost, which leads us from grace to grace (divine power/holiness to a higher divine power/holiness), as we receive grace for grace.

This ties into Paul's discussion on baptism (ordinances). Faith in Christ and repentance are the first principles of the gospel. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost are the first ordinances of the gospel. They tie into the concepts of Grace, Justification and Sanctification.

Paul explains some of the symbolism of baptism. We are buried with Christ, and then resurrect with Christ, as we are submerged in the living waters. We are symbolically washed clean by the water, as we take upon ourselves Christ's perfection and holiness. While Paul also speaks later of the Sacrament/Communion, he does not mention other ordinances directly.These restored ordinances such as the endowment and sealing of families, are part of the going from grace to grace, and taking upon ourselves greater levels of Jesus' holiness and power. The ordinances reflect our faith and spiritual growth.

To summarize all of this:

We cannot save ourselves through obedience to laws. We are only saved through faith in Christ and repentance. In having faith, we begin the process of desiring to be more like Jesus, and the Spirit guides us towards the things we should do to obey His will. As we receive baptism and other ordinances, we grow in faith, repent more, and receive greater guidance from the Holy Ghost. This is the process of Grace, where God takes us from one level of holiness/grace to the next, as we continue to grow in our faith in Christ, repent, and receive of the ordinances and the Holy Ghost. The day will come when we receive a fullness of God's grace, divinity and power through Jesus Christ's Atonement and Resurrection.




Bibliography

Nero's rotating dining room: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1216986/Roman-Emperor-Neros-legendary-rotating-dining-room-uncovered-archaeologists.html





Sunday, July 28, 2019

Come Follow Me - Acts 22-28

Come Follow Me - Acts 22-28

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.



Bibliography

Harold Bloom, "The American Religion":
http://www.amazon.com/American-Religion-Emergence-Post-Christian-Nation/dp/0671867377/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316032226&sr=1-1

Come Follow Me - Acts 16-21

Come Follow Me - Acts 16-21


Jewish Christians began entering the Gentile mission field, insisting the Gentiles must be circumcised and live the Law of Moses. In chapter 15, it was determined by an apostolic council in Jerusalem, headed by Peter and James that the Gentiles would not have to live under such a yoke.

However, in Acts 16, we see that Paul takes a new convert, Timothy, under his wing as a fellow missionary in Greece. In taking the young lad with him, Paul first circumcised him. Why, do this if the Gentiles were not required to be circumcised? After all, we are told that Timothy’s father was a Greek, and therefore he was at least half-Gentile. The reason was on account of the Jews they would encounter in the cities they would come to. The Jews were commanded to not listen to the unclean Gentiles preach. This would severely limit Paul’s efforts to first preach to the Jews in those quarters. Gentiles would not be concerned as to whether the person preaching to them was circumcised, but the Jews would be. So Timothy, whose mother was Jewish, was circumcised in order to serve effectively as a missionary.

Paul goes to Macedonia

Paul and his missionary companions went to many cities and towns on their mission. In some areas, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to enter. It is possible that they were forbidden because the areas were not yet ready to hear, or would even be violently opposed and seek to kill them. Eventually, the Spirit told Paul to go to Macedonia where people were prepared to receive him.

Macedonia is a north-eastern state in Greece. Just 375 years earlier, Macedonia was an independent nation, ruled by Philip II of Macedonia. When Philip was assassinated, his son, Alexander II became king. This Alexander would continue his father’s dream of conquest and ruling the world. Alexander the Great would go on to conquer Greece, Persia, the Levant (where Israel is), Egypt and to the borders with India. With his conquest, Alexander brought with him the philosophy, education, and culture of Greece. Centuries later, even under the Roman Empire, people would still use Greek as the common language.

Having success in city after city, Paul eventually arrived in Thyatira, where a woman possessed of a “spirit of divination” cried out telling everyone that he and his companions were “servants of the Most High God” and told people to listen to them. Fearing that such a woman would harm his efforts more than help, he cast the demon from her, and she lost the gift of divination. Just as Jesus silenced demons who cried out at him, so Paul would also silence the possessed woman.

The owners of the woman, as she would have been a slave and misused to enrich her owners, were angry at the loss of income and riled the city up against the missionaries. Beaten and then imprisoned with their feet in stocks, a miracle occurred that night. An earthquake occurred, breaking down the prison doors and some walls. The jailer feared the prisoners had escaped, and readied to kill himself, as he would be tortured to death for their escape, when Paul calmed him and told him the prisoners remained in the prison. Such an example of faith amazed the guard, and he asked Paul how he too may be saved. The guard and his family were baptized that night.

In the morning, the centurion (leader of 100 Roman soldiers) ordered Paul and his friends released. But Paul insisted on an audience, refusing to be beaten in public and then released quietly. Learning that Paul was a Roman citizen, they feared retribution from Caesar, and so begged Paul’s forgiveness and that he would leave the area.

Paul had some success in Thessalonica, but false witnesses were brought forth to cause a riot. Paul had to leave town and went to Berea, where the missionaries had much success. For some reason, evil men cannot leave the gospel alone, even when it isn’t in their own town. Those Jewish Thessalonians who sought to destroy Paul came to Berea to try again. Paul fled again, this time to Athens.

Athens and Mars Hill

Athens was a cosmopolitan place, and the center of Greek philosophy, gods and culture. In the city were several schools of philosophy: from the Sophists and Cynics, to the followers of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. There were also found the temples and altars to many of the Greek and Roman gods, as well as other gods picked up along the way from other nations.

Paul saw the whole city caught up in idolatry. He even disputed in the synagogues with the Jews because of his concerns. The Jews of Athens were obviously worshiping the Greek gods along with their worship of Jehovah.

Mars Hill, or Areopagus, was a place where philosophers and religionists met to discuss ideas and faith and to hear new things. Paul was invited by some philosophers of the Epicurean and Stoic schools to preach on Mars Hill, for he brought with him concepts they had not considered before, such as a human god named Jesus and of resurrection.

Paul was not interested in being a circus side show attraction, by introducing his teachings as completely new to the Greeks, who prided themselves in the age-old beliefs and religions they espoused.


“22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”

Paul was going to teach them something they already should have known. The Unknown God was an ancient God of the Greeks that they simply knew nothing about. Paul was to teach them that this unknown God was the only real God, and was going to show them how they were mistaken in worshiping any others.
“ 24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;”

This unknown God has created all things. He does not need to be created by man’s hands or need to have people bring food sacrifices to him, as though he needs to eat. Temples are not needed for God to exist. He can be accessed anywhere, especially for Gentiles who did not have access to the Jerusalem temple, God could be personally reached through prayer and faith.

“26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:”

Here is an ancient Jewish concept that was lost during the Deuteronomic Reformation of the Jewish King Josiah. Ancient Jews believed that God was anthropomorphic - man like. He was not made by hand of any material, such as gold, silver, wood, stone, etc. Instead, Paul explained that the relationship is that of a literal father-child. God is the “Man in Heaven” and Jesus is the “Son of Man in Heaven” (John 3:13). Jesus and his apostles sought to restore this ancient concept of man’s true relationship with Heavenly Father, and here Paul clarifies it to the idolatrous Athenians.

God “winked at” the concept of God being something else besides our Father, but now with the coming of Christ and his apostles, this ancient belief was again restored. Sadly, the concept would again be lost for centuries among Christians. The early Christians from about 300 AD on would embrace Hellenist (Greek) beliefs that God is an unknown Spirit that is made of pure matter utterly different than the stuff we are made from. Somehow, with the exception of Jesus, God in this concept is unable to make something that is his literal offspring. For centuries the concept of the Trinity not being human-like and of a different substance than his greatest creation (mankind) has held many Christians from fully understanding our true nature and relationship with God. Yet Paul understood and taught it to the same Greeks who came up with the concept of a God that is the Unmoved Mover.

Thankfully God has chosen to restore this ancient teaching again in our day through modern prophets and apostles, such as Joseph Smith. We again know that God IS anthropomorphic, the “Man in Heaven” and we are his offspring. This will be a concept that Paul will discuss again in his epistles, emphasizing this great teaching that was long lost among the Jews.

Apollos and Paul - partial versus fullness of the Gospel
Acts 18:23-19:41

The work of preaching to both Jew and Gentile continued across the eastern section of the Roman Empire, primarily in Macedonia, Greece and in what now is modern Turkey. Paul and Barnabas were not the only missionaries actively preaching the gospel of Christ. Aquila and Priscilla were also engaged in sharing the gospel. In their travels, they found a young man named Apollos who was trying to preach the gospel from what he learned from John the Baptist or John’s followers. Aquila and Priscilla spent time teaching him the correct understanding of the scriptures regarding Jesus and the atonement. Once ready, Apollos was sent out with a letter of recommendation to preach the gospel.

Paul found himself traveling through Ephesus, a place where Apollos had previously preached the gospel according to John the Baptist. When Paul asked if they had received the Holy Ghost, the disciples noted they had never even heard concerning the Holy Ghost. When asked what baptism they had received, they answered: “unto John’s baptism”. They had received Apollos’ preaching of John the Baptist, but not the fullness of Christ’s gospel. Paul taught them, and then baptized them anew “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). He then laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

Paul continued preaching and performing miracles by the power of the apostolic priesthood he held. Others, particularly Jews, sought to use this same power to do exorcisms, saying “we adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (19:13). What they did not realize is it takes more than words to perform true miracles in God’s name. It requires faith, and often also requires the power of priesthood. In this instance, the demon inside the man responded, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” (19:15). The demon then trounced them exorcists, sending them fleeing into the street.

So amazed were the people that they took all of their pagan religious books and symbols and burnt them in the street, recognizing that Paul held the true priesthood.

This is a challenge that has occurred many times in scripture. Satan challenged Christ’s authority in the pre-mortal Divine Council (Moses 4:1-4). Abraham and Moses were challenged by Pharaoh. Elijah competed with the priests of Baal to show which God was real. In mortality, Jesus was challenged by both Pharisee and again by Satan. For Paul, he would be challenged by Jewish-Christian seeking to live the Law of Moses as well as pagans worshiping the Roman/Greek gods.

We can see from this example that a partial baptism is just that. Not only must a person be baptized, but they must be baptized in Christ’s name, be taught about the atonement of Christ, and all of it done by one with proper authority from God. Finally, the authorized priest must lay hands on the person’s head so the person may receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

In Ephesus, the craftsmen who built idols of the Roman goddess Diana (Greek: Artemis) were jealous of Paul’s missionary success. He was killing their craft and trade, and so they caused an uproar against him, saying he had blasphemed Diana’s name. Diana was the virgin goddess of the hunt, sister of the god Apollo and daughter of Jupiter (Zeus). Diana means “heavenly” or “divine” and was called the Queen of Heaven by her followers.

Paul soon left and preached in Macedonia and elsewhere.

Paul bores a man to death with his preaching....
Acts 20

  BYU professor Daniel C Peterson once noted he was involved in developing the Church curriculum for this chapter of the New Testament. In coming across the story of Paul preaching until midnight, and poor Eutychus falling asleep in the rafters, falling down dead, until Paul can restore him to life; Doctor Peterson decided to place in his comments a few funny questions. Basically he asked, “have you ever killed anyone with a talk you gave in Sacrament?” “If so, how did it make you feel?”

The questions actually went all the way through correlation, and he voluntarily pulled them out before publication.

However, the questions do have value. While I’d imagine most of us have not killed anyone with our Sacrament monologues, perhaps we have put many to sleep. Worse, maybe we’ve left many leaving uninspired or with nothing memorable to think about or to remember the talk.

Elder Jeffrey Holland spoke in General Conference on such an issue, saying,


“Now, at a time when our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition....
No eternal learning can take place without that quickening of the Spirit from heaven. So, parents, teachers, and leaders, we must face our tasks the way Moses faced the promised land. Knowing he could not succeed any other way, Moses said to Jehovah, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.”
I am just simple enough to think that if we continue to teach them—with the same Christlike spirit, conviction, doctrine, and personal interest the missionaries have shown them—new converts will not only stay with us but, quite literally, could not be kept away. “ (Elder Jeffrey Holland, “A Teacher Come From God”, May 1998 Ensign).

Several years ago at a stake conference I attended, Elder Holland noted that we need to “set our pulpits on fire” with the Spirit of God as the early prophets and apostles did.

While our uninspired and boring talks may not kill anyone in the congregation, it may be the thing that causes a weak member, convert or visitor to walk away disinterested, because we offered nothing heavenly and inspiring to them.

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