Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Testament Lesson #38 "Thou Hast Testified of Me"

Acts 21-28

VIDEO SEGMENT

You may want to show the class the excellent Church video, "Paul: A Chosen Vessel," from "New Testament Video Presentations."  It is available in most church libraries, and at this link.  Begin class by showing the first 2-3 minutes, ending at the words "...bear His name before kings and rulers." 

Our reading assignment begins by telling of Paul journeying to Jerusalem, amid warnings of threats to his life there.  Remember that Luke is narrating the story. 

"Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.  And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem..."  (21:3-4). 

Then they wandered around a bit, and met a prophet named Agabus, who "when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. 

"And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not go up to Jerusalem" (21:10-12).

Nevertheless, he was determined to go:  "Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus"  (21:13).

A FINAL FAREWELL

Why was Paul so insistent that he go to Jerusalem?  To find the answer, we need to backtrack in the story.

This is a long passage, but it tells us so much about Paul and his faithful resolve, it is worth reading in its entirety.  Imagine yourself being there with Paul and the Saints and witnessing this scene, as did Luke.

Acts 20:16-38:  "For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. 

"And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.  And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all season, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 

"And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.  But none of these things move me [scare me away from my purpose], so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

"Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.  For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

"And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

"I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.  Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.  I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring yet ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

"And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.  And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more.  And they accompanied him unto the ship."

Paul went to Jerusalem "bound in the spirit...not knowing" what would happen--although he had a pretty good idea, thanks to the witness of the Holy Ghost "in every city" that it was not going to be pleasant.

Ask: Have you ever had to do something without knowing why, in order to follow the promptings of the Spirit?

THE LAST TESTIMONY IN JERUSALEM

Paul's testimony in Jerusalem was the last recorded apostolic witness there until 1800 years later when Orson hyde dedicated Jerusalem, also at peril of his life.  (Please see "Orson Hyde's 1841 Mission to the Holy Land," from the October 1991 Ensign.)

How did Paul have the courage to do this?  Because of his faith in the blessings he would receive for so doing:  "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us"  (Rom. 8:18).

Ask: Has anyone here ever had to testify in a scary situation?

Paul was a truly great example of what a Christian should be.  "By learning more about Paul, we become more intimately acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ and with those men whom the Savior has called to be his prophets and apostles" (Michael W. Middleton, "Paul Among the Prophets: Obtaining a Crown," The Apostle Paul: His Life and His Testimony, p. 112). 

"Paul endured many persecutions as he approached the time of his martyrdom; there are a number of notable parallels between his life and the Savior's.  Like the Savior, Paul was smitten by the Jews with the high priest present (John 18:22; Acts 23:2).  Like Christ, Paul was arraigned before both Jewish and Roman tribunals; both the Savior and his apostle were arraigned three times before Roman rulers as the Jews sought the death sentence their own jurisdictions could not provide.  The absence of credible witnesses against them during their trials showed both Christ and Paul to have been falsely accused (Mark 14:55-56; Acts 25:7).  And, like Pilate, Agrippa was 'almost persuaded' (Acts 26:28) and would have freed Paul had it not been for the Jews and his consideration of Caesar (John 19:12; Acts 26:32).  Although Paul was not crucified, he was stoned and left for dead outside the city.  Like Christ, who was slain outside the city gate and, though placed in a tomb, did not see corruption (Psalm 16:10), Paul also arose and continued his minstery (Acts 14:19-2)"  (Middleton, p. 127).

We can briefly tell the storyline of Paul's final experience in Jerusalem by reading the chapter headings to Acts 21-25:

"Paul journeys to Jerusalem.  He is persecuted, arrested, and bound.  Paul recounts the story of his conversion and also tells of seeing Jesus in a vision.  He is accorded some privileges as a Roman citizen.  Paul [is] smitten at Ananias' order.  The Lord again appears to Paul.  Forty* Jews plot his death.  He is delivered over to Felix.  Paul is accused of sedition.  He answers in defense of his life and doctrine.  He teaches Felix of righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come.  Paul, before Festus, appeals unto Caesar.  Agrippa desires to hear Paul."  (*For the symbolic meaning of the number forty, see a previous post.)

VIDEO SEGMENT:

Show the next part of the video, which depicts Acts 26:1-29.  Stop at "...except these bonds."  This is about 7 minutes long.

This video does not well depict what Paul actually looked and sounded like, according to what Joseph Smith described (he was short, beady-eyed, dark, and had a high-pitched voice) but his spirit is well-depicted. 

If you are concerned about your class's attention wandering during the video, bring treats and ask the class to pay close attention, because you will be giving a prize for answering the trivia question at the end.  Watch the video ahead of time and choose something (or more than one thing) to be the trivia question(s).  In the end, those who answer correctly get treats.

THE JOURNEY TO ROME

Because of his appeal to Caesar, Paul was sent with an armed entourage to Rome.  He could have been freed had he not made this appeal (Acts 26:32), so why did he do it?  To obey his Savior, Jesus Christ, who had appeared to him as he was in prison.  "And the night following, the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11). 

Have you ever noticed how the Lord issues the command to "be of good cheer" just at that point when life seems most difficult?  If it's a commandment, it must be possible to obey it, but often we discard the great blessings available to us through cheerfulness and hopefulness. 

"Your level of spirituality is...directly related to how well you fill the Lord’s commandments to 'Be of good cheer' and 'Lift up your heart and rejoice' (D&C 31:3). How many times in the scriptures did the Lord command us to be of good cheer? He didn’t say, 'Be of good cheer if everything is going well, if you have enough money to pay all your bills, if your biorhythms are up,' or whatever. No. For us to be of good cheer is a commandment and not merely a suggestion" (Joe. J. Christensen, "Ten Ideas to Increase Your Spirituality," Ensign, March 1999.)  (See also Marvin J. Ashton, "Be of Good Cheer," April 1986 General Conference;  Jeffrey R. Holland, "This, The Greatest of All Dispensations," Liahona, July 2007; Neal A. Maxwell, "Be of Good Cheer," October 1982 General Conference; ).

Ask: If Paul could be of good cheer, headed for a mission that was mostly going to be a failure, and which he knew would end in his execution, could we try a little harder to be of good cheer through our challenges?

"Paul, in a perilous voyage, travels toward Rome.  An angel comforts him.  He uses the gift of seership.  He is shipwrecked" (Acts 27 chapter heading).

Luke had been among those who begged Paul not to go, but as a faithful servant of the Lord and friend of Paul's, he traveled with him through the perilous circumstances, including the shipwreck (Ogden/Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 109).  Of course, the Lord would have needed a witness to testify of Paul's last days, and Luke, as we know, fulfilled his calling as a witness for generations to come, still witnessing now, over two thousand years later.  He writes

"And so it came to pass, that they [the crew of the ship] escaped all safe to land.  And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.  And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.  And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.  And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.  And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.

"Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.

"In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.  And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux [dysentery]: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.  So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed: who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary" (Acts 28:1-10).

THE FINAL TESTIMONY IN ROME

The journey eventually continued to Rome, where Paul testified to the Jewish leaders as commanded (Acts 28:16-23), fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy that only those who desired would hear and understand (Acts 28:24-28), and where he testified for two years while living under house arrest (Acts 28:29-31).

The rest of the story is not found in the Bible, however early historical documents, such as the Acts of Paul, report that Paul was released by Caesar, allowed to do more missionary work, then arrested and imprisoned again, and finally beheaded in Rome under the hand of Nero around 65-67 A.D.  Eusebius, another early historian, reported that Peter was crucified by Nero during the same time period (Ogden/Skinner, p. 224).

VIDEO SEGMENT

Show the final part of the video, which is under 2 minutes long.  If you prepared trivia questions, ask them now and reward those who answer correctly.

CONCLUSION

"Just before the end of his ministry, Paul wrote a letter to Timothy...After exhorting Timothy to the utmost of diligence, he expressed the realization that his own mission had been completed.  He said, 'For I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith' (2 Tim. 4:6-7).

"How inspiring are these words when they come at the end of such a life of outstanding devotion and constancy.  He was soon to go to Rome to be beheaded.  But even in his death, his determination never faltered, and the fervor of his faith shows no sign of any decrease from that first day when blinded and stunned, he said, 'Lord what wilt thou have me do?'  And I like to think of Paul on that day, when the ax of the executioner granted him the final release from his earthly labors when he should go to stand a second time before Jesus of Nazareth and I imagine that there will be very few, if any, men who will ever stand before their Maker with greater cause to rejoice than he.  And when we come to that point in our lives, and have cause to reflect on the fight we have fought and the course we have run, how insignificant will be the money we have made or the ease we have enjoyed or the affluence we have attained.

"Life was never intended to be only a pleasure trip.  It is also a mission, a conquest, a testing, and how bitter must be the final remorse of any wasted life.  May God help us to develop the courage, the industry and dedication to live his answers to the great Apostle's question 'Lord what wilt thou have me do?'"  (Sterling W. Sill, "Dedication," Church News, April 22, 1967).

Ask the class to think of one way in which they can show just a little more dedication to the Lord this week.  Remind everyone that they never know when their turn will come to stand before the Savior and declare whether they have "fought a good fight" and "kept the faith."

9 comments:

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks for this. I needed it today.

melissa said...

excellent lesson!

KaysCourage said...

This is an awesome blog...thank you so much.

Taylor said...

Thank you. What a wonderful resource of inspirational material for me to weave into my weekly teaching.

Shawn said...

Thank you Sister Jensen! Your lessons touch my heart and life, as well as those in my ward. I'm so grateful for your work, and for having access to the Spirit through your lessons.

Jeff said...

Thanks :)

MIMIG said...

I have been using your blog in my gospel study for some time now. I have found it to be incredibly insightful and full of spiritual insight. Thank you for your faithful service.

katharine said...

thanks for your help -- i love the final quote by sterling w. sill. i'm really big on practical applications and you always seem to hit the nail on the head. katharine.

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