Sunday, July 28, 2019

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.

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