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How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 30: “God Is No Respecter of Persons”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 31, 2011

Again a pair of lessons from the 1942 New Testament children’s lessons parallel in large measure the lesson from the current manual, which has the purpose of helping “class members recognize that the gospel is for all people and that the Church is guided by continuing revelation.”

GENTILES GIVEN THE RIGHT HAND OF FELLOWSHIP

The Jewish Position

The Jews who had become disciples of Christ in Palestine remained good Jews very much as they had been before they were converted. In fact, they saw little difference between being a Jew and being a Christian. Both lived in much the same way, the main difference being that one believed in Jesus as the Messiah, and the other did not.

And we must remember that there was much in common between Jesus and the Jews. The Savior himself was a Jew. He too believed in the prophets of old and was fond of quoting their words to the people. Like His compatriots, He too believed in a just and universal God who was interested in the affairs of men. Like the prophets He taught men to be truthful and honest and chaste.

Although Jesus shared many ideas in common with the Jews, yet on some points He differed radically from them. This is well illustrated in His attitude toward keeping the Sabbath day holy. The Jewish scribes and Pharisees had laid down hundreds of rules about what a man should and should not do on the Sabbath. You will be amused as you read the following rules of Sabbath day living in force among the Jews in Jesus’ day.

“Whoever hunts a bird into a cage, or a deer into a house is guilty. The rule is that when the capture is not complete, the man is not guilty; but when the capture is complete, the man is guilty.”

“If a stag enter a yard and one man shuts him in, he is guilty; if two men shut him in, they are not guilty.”

“If a barrel or cask breaks, enough may be saved to serve three meals. The owner may also invite others to save for themselves. Men must not squeeze fruits so as to extract the juice; and if the juice oozes out of itself, it is not permissible to use it.”

“A knot which a man can untie with one hand only does not render him guilty.” – Quoted by Robinson, Sayings of Jesus, pp. 78 ff.

Jesus objected to this shallow interpretation of keeping the Sabbath day holy. One day when the Jews were accusing Him of breaking the Sabbath by healing people, He turned to them and said:

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? … and He took him (the sick man), and healed him, and let him go; and answered them, saying, which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:3-5)

According to the Savior, Sunday is not a day to do nothing, a day on which we are afraid to move; but rather a day when we should go about doing good and healing people. Christ set the example Himself – blessing, healing, and comforting people on the Lord’s day.

The Gentile Position

Paul followed Jesus in believing that some of the Jewish rites and ceremonies such as sacrifice and circumcision were no longer necessary. These ceremonies had prepared the Jews to live the higher law of Christ, and now that He had come, the old laws which conflicted with what He taught were to be abandoned. What was needed now was faith which would lead men to repent of their sins and live a good, clean, generous Christian life.

So Paul continued with his work among the Gentiles, asking them to have faith in Christ, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, live the good life, and be saved. To him the Christian life was something very different from the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion with its complicated system of rules such as those regarding the Sabbath.

When word came to the Jewish Saints in Jerusalem that Paul was baptizing hundreds of Gentiles, some of them took the highway for Antioch. they wanted to be sure that these Gentiles were becoming Jews as well as Christians, or better, Jewish Christians. Arriving in Antioch they began to preach to the Gentiles that they must accept Moses and his law, eat nothing unclean, go through ceremonial washings, and be circumcised or they could not become Christians.

Paul and Barnabas disagreed with the brethren from Jerusalem and disputed with them. it was then decided that Paul and Barnabas should return to Jerusalem and present their case to Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and the other Apostles. So off they went toward Jerusalem greeting the saints in Phenice and Samaria as they went.

The Jerusalem Conference

Questions:

1. What was the issue at stake?
2. What was Paul’s position?
3. what was the view of the Pharisaic Jews?
4. Who won out?
5. What was Paul’s technique?

Reading:

Acts, chapter 15.

The Issue:

Must Gentiles become Jews in order to become Christians?

1. Peter’s Answer:

Men and brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. and god, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. No 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 15:7-11)

2. James agrees with Peter and announces a decision:

“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 … from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.” (Acts 15:19, 20, 29)

3. Results of the Conference:

Paul’s side of the argument was declared right by the Apostles at Jerusalem. Gentiles need not become Jews in order to become Christians. Nor would there be two Christian churches – a Jewish and a Gentile. No, both Jews and Gentiles henceforth would be Christians. this was a great victory for Paul and also for the Christian Church. the religion of Jesus was not to be a small Jewish sect, but henceforth the religion of mankind.

Questions:

1. What was Peter referring to in: (a) Acts 15:7, 8 (b) Acts 15:10, 11.
2. How do you explain the prominence of James the brother of Jesus, at Jerusalem?
3. How was peace restored between the disciples in Jerusalem and those of Antioch?

The Book of Mormon Explanation:

There has never been any question about the relationship of Jew and Gentile in the restored Church of Christ. One reason for this fact lies in the beautiful and clear explanation we find in the Book of Mormon about the Law of Moses and Christ:

And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name; for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled. I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost; even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved. – III Nephi 9:17-22

In the Church of Christ today, even as Paul proclaimed in his day, we are all one great brotherhood in Jesus Christ. All enter His Church through the same door – faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

PAUL IN MACEDONIA AND GREECE

The dispute between the Christians in Jerusalem and those in Antioch had threatened to divide the Church of Christ at its very beginning.

But the decision of the Apostles and James, the brother of Jesus, was accepted and peace was restored. This decision had approved Paul’s point of view. Gentiles could now become Christians without first having to accept all the old beliefs and practices that the Jews had held dear before Jesus came. Paul could continue his mission to the Gentiles as he had begun it.

The spirit of Jesus filled Paul’s heart and soul. He knew the teachings of Jesus were the greatest thing that had ever come to man, and he was eager to tell others about them – to share them with the whole world.

Questions:

1. To whom did Paul go next?
2. Who went with him?
3. What happened to him on his second missionary journey?

Paul turned to Barnabas, the old friend of his first journey and said, “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark (his cousin). But Paul thought it not good to take him with them who had departed from them from Pamphylia and went not with them to the work.” (acts 15:36-38)

Apparently Paul had lost patience with Mark for not completing the first missionary journey with him, so he chose Silas, a good man who had come up from Jerusalem, to be his companion and fellow missionary. And Barnabas took John Mark with him to Cyprus.

Paul’s Route

Two or three years had passed since Paul had seen his converts made on his first mission. He wanted to renew old friendships, and to learn if these young Christian branches of the Church were still true to the faith. So he and Silas passed through Tarsus to revisit the cities of Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. In Derbe or Lystra he found Timothy, a noble and virtuous youth, whom Paul asked to join their company.

In choosing a new field of labor Paul felt inspired to cross over into Macedonia, the Kingdom of Philip, and birthplace of Alexander the Great. Three hundred years before, Alexander had marched over many of the same roads that Paul now traveled – first Alexander with his armies, and later Paul with the “good News” of the resurrection of Jesus. In Macedonia Paul had success at Phillipi, Thessalonica, and Boroea. However, angered Jews made things so dangerous for him at times that he was forced to hurry on to the next city.

From Boroea Paul traveled down the Aegean coast of Greece to one of the most famous of ancient cities, Athens. Here had lived great minds in the persons of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. Some of the most beautiful and harmonious architecture and sculpture ever created adorned the fair city. Olympic games were played in a stadium after which our own football stadiums in America were modeled. To what had been recently the greatest city of Greece, Paul came with his message of faith in Jesus. While Athens was a famous and beautiful city, its inhabitants were not interested in the Christian message. So it was not in Athens, but in Corinth, a large and prosperous city nearby, that Paul spent most of his time – some eighteen months. From Corinth, Paul hurried home through Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, and Antioch.

He had traveled over 2,000 miles in three years, and established strong Christian centers in Phillipi, Thessalonica, and Corinth.

Let us go back and consider two happenings along the way, one at Phllipi, and the other at Athens.

Paul in Jail

In Phillipi Paul and Silas were attacked by a crowd and brought before the chief officers of the city. These tore off the clothes of the missionaries and commanded others to beat them.

And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

Such cruel treatment to one who was serving the Lord would discourage many men, but not Paul. What do you suppose he did, together with Silas?

At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s hands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he came for a light and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? – Acts 16:23-30

Paul and Silas told the jailer to believe in Jesus Christ and when he accepted what they taught they baptized him. He, in turn, washed the wounds from the stripes they had received.

When the magistrates of Phillipi learned of the events of the night they feared the Christian God, and sent “sergeants” to free the missionaries. But Paul knew that Rome governed Phillipi. Conscious of his own roman citizenship, he demanded that the local magistrates themselves come and pronounce them free. This they did, and with due apology we can be certain.

Questions:

1. What qualities of Paul’s character are revealed in his behavior in the prison at Phillipi?
2. What satisfactions came to him through this trying experience?

A Great Sermon

When Paul arrived at Athens he was greatly disappointed, not in the external beauty of the fair and noble city, but in the people; “for all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” (Acts 17:21)

Paul loved the everlasting truths he had learned from his Jewish forebears and from Jesus Christ. he was serious-minded and conscientious. The Athenians seemed to have less character. They were fickle-minded. Many of them still worshiped the may Greek gods such as Zeus and Apollo. Beyond these gods they looked for even a greater God, whom they often addressed as the Unknown God.

When Paul saw them bowing down to an altar with the inscription, To the Unknown God, he took the occasion to tell them about the true God whom they were seeking in their hearts, but had not found. His words are among the most beautiful and meaningful of anything ever written about our Father in Heaven.

Ye men of Athens … 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. 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; neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath and all things; 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; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be no far from everyone of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we also are his offspring. – Acts 17:22-29

Questions:

1. Which of the Greek ideas about God did Paul reject?
2. What things did Paul say were true of our Father in Heaven?
3. What parts of this sermon do you think are most beautiful?

Paul’s Knowledge of God

Paul understood the nature of our Father in Heaven because he believed the words of the ancient prophets of his own people – Moses, Isaiah, Amos. To these men the Lord had revealed Himself, even as Jesus did to Paul on the road to Damascus.

We, in the Restored Church of Christ, also understand our Father in Heaven because He revealed Himself, together with Jesus, to the boy Joseph in the Sacred Grove. Whenever the true Church of Christ is on the earth, there is revelation from God; and men have faith in a true and living Heavenly Father.



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