August 12, 2007
I love the title of this lesson as last week’s lesson wrapped up the testimonies of the four gospel writers as they witnessed of Jesus’ life and mission. The segway from the early apostles being witnesses to OUR being witnesses, or commissioned to be witnesses based on our membership in the church, is powerful. As the Savior passed the torch to his apostles, we have likewise been given this torch. What will we do with it? For your entertainment, here’s a fun link to visit on the subject of being a witness of Jesus: Link.
I recently read about the Shroud of Turin in “Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament,” by Holszpfel, Huntsman & Wayment. The Shroud of Turin is purportedly the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth. Though the shroud is a true novelty and something I find very interesting, I wonder what it boils down to. The last line of the article regarding the shroud reads, “Unfortunately, unless further information comes forward, the authenticity of the shroud can be enither proven nor disproven.” It’s like all the efforts to prove & disprove the Book of Mormon: what does it all mean, if anything? What proofs does the world need to believe in the historocity of Jesus and the record of his life as found in the New Testament? If the shroud could be proven authentic, what difference would it make?
When the Prophet Joseph Smith visited President [Martin] Van Buren, president of the United States, he was asked by the President what difference there was between the Prophet’s church and the other churches of the world. The Prophet answered: “We have the correct mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.” Then he said: “We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost” (see History of the Church, 4:42).
With this in mind, the Holy Ghost trumps all other verifications of the truth of the gospel and the church, the reality of Jesus and the reality of his atonement and resurrection. This is why the discrepancies within the accounts of Jesus’ life found in the Gospels is inconsequential. This is why the apostles were powerful with the gift of the Holy Ghost but had been weak even in the presence of Jesus, their master, prior to receiving this gift or the continuous companionship of the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost is a focus of this week’s lesson.
During our previous class, I chose to focus most of our lesson time on the book of Luke and his testimony of Jesus’ resurrection. Although the author of Acts does not name himself, evidence outside the Scriptures and inferences from the book itself lead to the conclusion that the author was Luke. Tradition has it that Luke was a companion of Paul and also a physician. There are two possible dates for the writing of Acts: A.D. 63, soon after the last event recorded in the book, and 70 or even later. Theophilus is the recipient of Acts and Luke’s Gospel. The book of Acts provides a bridge for the writings of the New Testament. As a second volume to Luke’s Gospel, it joins what Jesus “began to do and to teach” as told in the Gospels with what he continued to do and teach through the apostles’ preaching and the establishment of the church. Additionally, it provides an account of the life of Paul from which we can learn the setting for his following letters. Geographically its story spans the lands between Jerusalem, where the church began, and Rome, the political center of the empire. Historically it recounts the first 30 years of the church. The theme of Acts can be summarized in 1:8. Elder Jeffrey Holland said that the book is about the acts “of the resurrected Christ given through the Holy Spirit by means of his ordained apostles.” In this way, it is similar to the Doctrine and Covenants and church history.
From Jim F.’s notes: “The Jerome Bible Commentary points out that the order of preaching commanded by Jesus in verse 8 corresponds to the parts of Acts: Jerusalem :: Acts 1-7; Judea and Samaria :: Acts 8-9; and the ends of the earth :: Acts 10-28, with Rome being the end of the earth. Does that teach us anything about the book of Acts?”
Due to the quantity of scripture for this lesson, my notes are only for the first chapter of Acts. You may find this Ancient Jewish Calendar helpful as we continue studying the New Testament:
Note that the Gospels belong to the same era as the Old Testament writings since people were still living the Law of Moses. It wasn’t until the baptism of fire that the new era was ushered in.
v. 1-2: Luke says that his gospel was a treatise of what Jesus “began” both to do and teach until he was taken up. What does this word “began” teach us? What does it mean that Jesus gave commandments THROUGH the Holy Ghost? Didn’t he simply instruct his apostles himself, in person? Didn’t Jesus give commandments to everyone, not just the apostles? Is giving the commandments specifically to the apostles instead of the population at large an issue here? Are commandments given today and, if so, are they given in the same way as Luke records?
v. 3: What does “passion” mean? What are “infallible proofs,” especially in contrast to the above note on the Shroud of Turin? Why did Jesus teach after his resurrection 40 days? What does it mean to speak of things “pertaining to the kingdom of God?”
v. 4: Does Jerusalem have symbolic meaning here? Consider what we learned about Jerusalem in the lesson on the Good Samaritan. Where are these people “assembled together?” Who is “them?” What is the promise of the Father? Who is the Father here, God or Abraham, Isaac & Jacob?
v. 5: Why does Luke bring up John’s mode of baptism and juxtipose it with the baptism of fire? How is one “baptized” with the Holy Ghost? This happens in 10 days from the chronological point from which Luke is writing. Is that number significant?
v. 6: What, exactly, are the early Saints asking Jesus?
v. 7: Why doesn’t Jesus simply say, “no”? How does his answer differ from “no?” Why is this thing (restoration of Israel) in God, the Father’s, power? Does this mean that Jesus doesn’t have power over this? What does Jesus have power over? Is the power referred to in verse 8 the same or different than the power referred to in verse 7?
v. 8: What does the power the apostles are to receive empower them to do? Note that these are the VERY last words of the Savior to his apostles in this account. See Luke 24. Why did Luke repeat these “last words” of the Savior to Theopholis?
v. 10-12: Who do you think the two men in white apparel are? Why does Luke end the account of Jesus’ earthly visit with the words of these men? Why are the people on the Mt. of Olivet, or Mount of Olives?
v. 13-14: Why an “upper room?” Where else in the scriptures do we see this term? Where is YOUR “upper room?” What happens in an “upper room?” Are there requirements for an “upper room?” Who is in this room? What does the word “continued” teach? What does “one accord” mean? What does “supplication” mean? Note that “brethren” here means a familial relationship.
v. 15-16: Why does Luke begin this account with “And in those days?” The word “disciples” here means men AND women. Why does Luke want us to know how many people were in this meeting? Consider again the dimensions of this “upper room.” The words “Men and brethren” here have a “male only” meaning. Why? What kind of meeting is Peter conducting? (See v. 21-22.) Why does Peter reference Psalm 41:9 here?
v. 17: How was Judas “numbered” with the group who is convened? What does it mean to “obtain a part of this ministry?”
v. 23-26: Note that “they” means singularly Peter here. It appears that Peter is suggesting two possible replacements for Judas Iscariot. Why are these men suggested? What does “casting lots” mean here? Was this method of choosing reliant on God? Was this method in keeping with the instruction of relying upon the Spirit? Is this the way we fill church possitions today? What does “lot” mean in other contexts? See Lev. 16:8-10; Num. 33:54; Jonah 1:7; 1 Ne. 3:11.
The practice of casting lots is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament and 7 times in the New Testament. In spite of the many references to casting lots in the Old Testament, nothing is known about the actual lots themselves. They could have been sticks of various lengths, flat stones like coins, or some kind of dice; but their exact nature is unknown. The closest modern practice to casting lots is likely flipping a coin.
The practice of casting lots occurs most often in connection with the division of the land under Joshua (Joshua chapter 14-21), a procedure that God instructed the Israelites on several times in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; 36:2). God allowed the Israelites to cast lots in order to determine His will for a given situation (Joshua 18:6-10; 1 Chronicles 24:5,31). Various offices and functions in the Temple were also determined by lot (1 Chronicles 24:5,31; 25:8-9; 26:13-14). The sailors on Jonah’s ship (Jonah 1:7) also cast lots to determine who had brought God’s wrath upon their ship. The 11 Apostles cast lots to determine who would replace Judas (Acts 1:26). Casting lots eventually became a game people played and made wagers on. This might be seen in how the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garments (Matthew 27:35).
What is YOUR “lot” in life? How is your “lot” in life determined? Is it coincidence or divinely directed?
Why doesn’t Peter just appoint a new apostle? How might this be a model for vacancies in church positions getting filled today? Do you recall stories, personal or from a well-known church leader, on how a particular church position was filled by themselves or others? What do these experiences teach you? How are they the same or different than the calling of Matthias in Acts? What do we know about Matthias? (See v. 21-22)
From Jim F.’s notes: “Verses 15-26: Since Matthias never again appears in Luke’s account, why was it important that he tell us about his election to the Twelve? Note that the word translated “bishoprick” in verse 20 means simply “office.” The literal meaning of the Greek word is “to have the duty of watching over others.” Why did the new apostle have to be chosen from among those who had been disciples from the time of Jesus’ baptism until the resurrection (verses 21-22)? To what is the new member of the Twelve specifically to be ordained (verse 22)? What do those things mean for us?”