This lesson isn’t so much doctrinal as it is a demonstration of Paul’s faithfulness and a testimony to us that faithfulness to our everyday testimonies can lead to extraordinary events. As you read these chapters in Acts it is helpful to note that Paul did not do anything that was, of itself amazing or remarkable. Everything he did was completely in line with his usual character and behavior. He just acted normally in unusual events. The title of this lesson is “Thou has testified of me.” Can the Savior say the same of us?
Reading Assignment: Act 21 – 28
The return to report
Paul had been on multiple missions and felt a need to return to the Brethren in Jerusalem to report on his work. Returning to those who have given us assignments and reporting on our work is an integral part of how the gospel works. Paul was accountable to the Brethren in Jerusalem for the work he was accomplishing out in the mission field. He was warned by his companions that returning to Jerusalem would be dangerous, but he needed to report his mission to the other apostles.
Returning to Jerusalem created some interesting problems for the leadership of the Church. As long as Paul was “away” the apostles didn’t need to deal with the fact that Paul was teaching the gentiles who were converting to the Church that the Law of Moses had been fulfilled so they no longer needed to live “the law.” But in Jerusalem, filled with Jews who had converted to the Church, but who still felt everyone needed to continue to live the Law of Moses the Brethren still needed to be a little soft on insisting that the Law had been fulfilled and no longer needed to be practiced. This was a practice and expectation that would take a while to die out.
Paul returned and reported to the Brethren, and they made a special request of Paul. In order to help the members of the Church in Jerusalem accept Paul, they asked that Paul go to the temple and perform the ritual of purification according to the Law of Moses. The leadership of the Church understood that this was no longer needed, but it would help the membership feel like Paul was still on board with their expectations that he adhere to the requirements of the law. So Paul went off to the temple to get purified.
The ritual of purification took a number of days to complete, and those who went with Paul to the temple had sworn vows, so the Brethren asked Paul to pay their expenses (“be at charges with them”) so they could get their heads shaved and perform their vows. The Jews would see this and feel like Paul was not the renegade they feared him to be. Acts 21:23 – 24:
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
All went well during most of the seven days required for purification, until some Jews who had spent time out in Asia saw Paul and raised the warning cry that this was the apostate Jew who taught everyone not to live the Law of Moses. They also accused him of bringing a non-Jew into the temple because they had seen him earlier, outside the temple, with an Ephesian. Paul had not brought the Ephesian into the temple, but they accused him of polluting the temple by bringing in an outsider. Act 21:27 – 28:
27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
This false accusation caused a mob to form, causing someone to run and get the chief captain to rescue this man the mob wanted to kill for desecrating the temple. This is what started all the fuss and chaos. There were many in Jerusalem that would have loved to have seen Paul die, and using this opportunity to accomplish that was fine with them. They encouraged the mob. The captain rescued Paul and was taking him to the castle, away from the mob. But Paul stopped him and got permission to speak to the people while on a set of stairs which put him above the mob so everyone could see him.
Paul bore his conversion story and his testimony to the people. When we finished, they went into a frenzy, stripping off their clothing and throwing dirt into the air screaming for his life. The captain, quickly whisked Paul away from the dangerous crowd. Acts 22:22 – 24:
22 And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.
23 And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,
24 The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.
If Paul had been just a Jew, being bound and scourged would have been the thing to do, but Paul was also a Roman citizen, which carried benefits. It was illegal to bind a citizen, and you couldn’t scourge them or crucify them unless they were convicted by proper trial for treason. Paul now played his citizen card, and the captain found there was nothing much he could do except to treat him as a proper citizen. He got no interrogation, no bindings, and the next day the Captain called his accusers to a council so he could see precisely what the accusations were against this man.
The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews comprised both Pharisees and Sadducees. None of them could come up with a provable offense against Paul, but they weren’t about to let him just walk away either. When Paul saw that some were Sadducees, he divided the group by telling the people that he had been trained as a Pharisee and that he believed in the resurrection, which the Sadducees didn’t believe in. This divided the whole group, and once again the Captain had to drag Paul out before the crowd tore him apart in their own fight over the question about the resurrection.
Notice that Paul is not doing anything extraordinary here. He is bearing honest testimony, and the crowds and mobs are doing what crowds and mobs do best, act irrationally. Paul was just doing whatever was needed to keep ahead of his accusers.
In Acts 23:11, the night after being saved from the second mobbing, the Lord appeared to Paul with instructions.
11 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.
It is typical for the Lord to remind those in trouble to be of good cheer. He said the same thing to Joseph Smith when he was in Liberty Jail. The Lord has already won the battle with Satan, so we just need to keep our eye on the prize, so to speak. The Lord will take care of the rest. So Paul was told he needed to go to Rome to preach the gospel, but he was being held prisoner in Jerusalem. When the Lord commands us to do something, a way always opens up for us to accomplish His will.
Paul was offered to go before his accusers to be tried, but Paul knew he wouldn’t get a fair trial, so he pulled the ultimate act of citizenship, he appealed to Caesar himself for a trial. Every Roman citizen, if they thought they were not being treated fairly had the right to appeal all the way up to Caesar. The governor of the land had no choice, since he had claimed his right to an audience with Caesar, but to send him to Rome. Here is an excerpt from the manual.
Paul was sent to Felix, the governor, and testified boldly before him. Paul remained a prisoner for two years while Felix hoped to receive money to free him. When Felix was succeeded as governor by Festus, the Jews asked Festus to send Paul to Jerusalem for trial. Paul refused to go, knowing he would not get a fair trial there. Instead, Paul appealed to Caesar, as was his right as a Roman citizen. Festus agreed to send Paul to Rome, but Paul first had to appear before Herod Agrippa, the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea.
The final chapters in this lesson tell about Paul’s journey and shipwreck as he traveled to Rome. Once there he was able to live in a private residence and preached the gospel to all who would come to talk to him.
We often find ourselves doing ordinary things in the middle of extraordinary circumstances. We perform acts of kindness during times of tragedy, give blessings in times of crisis, or give service during times of great hardship for everyone. Paul had lived a life devoid of offense to anyone. In Acts 23:1 he says this:
1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
There is power in a life that is unaffected by offense to God or man. Paul could look anyone in the eye and bear an honest and heartfelt testimony, knowing that he had no grounds or reasons for being embarrassed by his personal actions. He was able to face his accusing mobs on the steps and give them his conversion story and bear his testimony without fearing the mob who wanted him dead. He was able to bear pure testimony before governors and magistrates, and eventually before Caesar himself with a clear head and clean heart.
The goal is that when we are finished here in mortality the Lord can say of each of us that we have “testified of me.” Sometimes we are called upon to bear our humble, simple testimony in times of extraordinary events. The Lord doesn’t care how big our testimony is during these times, He only cares about whether we are willing to bear the testimony we have.