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In Acts 22-28 we read about the last years of the Apostle Paul as he brings offerings to the poor saints in Jerusalem, gets arrested for allegedly defiling the temple, is tried several times for his faith, and finally goes to Rome under guard to be tried before Caesar.
Enraged that he might have brought a Gentile into the inner court of the temple (a false assumption), an angry crowd menaced Paul at Jerusalem. The Roman official who intervened permitted Paul to speak to the crowd.
“Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now I unto you” (22:1), Paul greets the crowd politely and in their own Hebrew language. In the speech that follows, and in the four other speeches he gives to various officials while being held captive, Paul always maintains a civil tone of voice. He does not rail against his persecutors; he merely tells his story and testifies that Jesus is the Savior of the world. His humble, plain, loving example shows us how to witness to others.
His testimony is simple. “I am verily a man which am a Jew . . . brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (22:3). He wants his hearers to know he is one of them, that he acknowledges their “zeal toward God.” His identification with the people is not a rhetorical ploy to “get them on his side,” but a genuine sign of his brotherly regard for them.
“I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (22:4). They need to hear that he was once just as alarmed as they are by this new “way,” his term for the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Greek term hodos can mean “way, journey, road, or path).
“In Acts, the term ‘the way’ is often used to refer to Christianity; it denotes the path or course of Christians (see also Acts 9:1–2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22). Central to Christian belief is the doctrine that Jesus Christ is ‘the way’ of salvation (John 14:6) and that through Him all will be resurrected (see John 5:28–29; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22)” (New Testament Student Manual, Acts 21-28).
In speaking of “this way,” Paul surely has in mind the “covenant path,” the “commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants,” as President Russell M. Nelson has defined it. Staying in the “way,” President Nelson says, “will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere” (“As We Go Forward Together,” General Conference, April 2018).
Ironically, Paul had once locked up “both men and women” for following the covenant path; now he pleads with his hearers to take that path forward and receive every spiritual blessing available to men, women, and children everywhere. The question for each of us is, are we “in the way”? Are we firmly on the path as our prophet asks of us?
Now he explains why he made such an abrupt turn in his life path. “As I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest” (22:6-8).
How many of “as we make our journey” through life have experienced such a transforming moment? Have we encountered Jesus Christ on our path? Have we asked the question “Who art thou, Lord?” and received the answer we seek? Paul did not seek that experience, but we have the privilege of seeking it for ourselves. We may not see the blinding light that he saw, but we can receive the same witness in other penetrating ways.
Take note of Paul’s response to this vision: “And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus, and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do” (22:10). What do we learn here? That everyone who asks the Lord, “What shall I do?” will receive the Lord’s call. He will tell us “all things which are appointed for us to do.” What things are appointed for you to do? There is a plan and a mission for you, if you will ask.
Take note also that Paul immediately complies with the Lord’s call. He never turns back again but stays on the covenant path doing the “things appointed for him to do.”
At Damascus, Paul finds out his mission from the Lord, as the faithful Ananias reveals it to him: “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (22:14-15).
Paul’s unique experience may not be ours, but each of us has a similar calling: to be a “witness unto all” of what we have experienced. What has your experience been? What have you seen and heard? What can you witness to?
Then Paul tells the crowd that the Lord gave him an even more specific assignment: “Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles” (22:21). The people “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” (2:22).
Intriguingly, the people were willing to hear Paul right up to his use of the word “Gentiles” (ethnoi in Greek). Their pride, their prejudice, their contempt for all nations and ethnicities but their own exploded in violence against Paul. Paul has been in this situation before, when he held the raiment of the people who stoned Stephen. Now the tables are turned and the mob is calling for his death.
Tragically, the overwhelming pride of the people deafens and blinds them to the witness of the risen Savior and the miracle of the Atonement and Resurrection. They angrily reject the gospel of Christ that can bring them peace and happiness because they cannot bear that “lesser” peoples might share those blessings with them. We can’t believe how blind they could be, but how much bigotry and conceit do we hear of in the world today? How much hatred? How much contempt for people who are different from ourselves? How guilty are we of these same sins?
There is no further reasoning with those people, so the chief captain takes Paul before the Sanhedrin, the religious court of the Jews. When he tries to testify of the resurrection, a violent argument breaks out between those who believe in the resurrection and those who don’t; again, they are not interested in hearing from one who has actually seen the resurrected Lord—only their partisan disputes over doctrine interest them. In their fury, they nearly pull Paul to pieces! (23:6-10).
After two years in captivity, Paul at last gets to trial before Herod Agrippa II, the Roman client king of Judea, in fulfillment of the prophecy that he would bear witness of Christ before kings and rulers (see Acts 9:15). “I think myself happy, king Agrippa,” Paul begins, “because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customers and questions which are among the Jews.
“I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers . . . for which hope’s sake I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (26:2-8)
Paul appeals to Agrippa as a fellow Israelite, as one well aware of the words of the prophets and their promise of a Savior. Once again, he tells plainly the story of his encounter with the Savior, noting that he was “not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” “I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (26:22-23).
At this point, the Roman governor Festus mocks Paul: “Thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” Paul responds civilly: “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things. . . . I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” (26:24-27).
The spirit touches King Agrippa, who responds: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf observes, “The Apostle Paul testified that the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus and made Paul one of His great missionaries. Hearing Paul’s witness of his heavenly vision during the trial at Caesarea, the powerful King Agrippa admitted, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.’” (General Conference, April 2005).
Almost persuaded, Agrippa shrinks from making the commitment to Christ. Paul knows that the king is a believer, but Agrippa has too much to lose in worldly status and wealth.
Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles once reflected on Agrippa’s answer and applied it to some members of the Church: “In response to the Master, ‘Come, follow me,’ some members almost, but not quite, say, ‘thou persuadest me almost to be honest but I need extra help to pass a test. . . . Almost thou persuadest me to keep the Sabbath day holy, but it’s fun to play ball on Sunday.
“’Almost thou persuadest me to love my neighbor, but he is a rascal; to be tolerant of others’ views, but they are dead wrong; . . . to go home teaching [ministering], but it’s so cold and damp outside tonight; to pay tithes and offerings, but we do need a new TV. . . . Almost! Almost! Almost!’” (Conference Report, April 1964, 23–24).
Simply put, are we “almost” the committed Latter-day Saints we should be? Are we “almost, but not quite” on the covenant path?
Paul answers the king: “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am” (26:29).
How far must we go to be “altogether” such as Paul was? What are we doing about our witness of the Savior? How can we be altogether—thoroughly, completely, totally—on the covenant path? That is the challenge that faces everyone: We put the revelation of Jesus Christ to the test or we don’t. We covenant to follow Him and keep His commandments or we don’t. We do what it takes to become witnesses of Jesus Christ or we don’t. Although we can’t do so perfectly, we can commit to try our best as Paul did. There is no “almost.”
A witness of Jesus Christ is the most precious gift we can receive from God. To receive it means putting away pride and prejudice. It also means getting past “almost” and stepping up on the covenant path—to be baptized and receive all the ordinances of salvation. Are we willing to try?
After his vision of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, the Prophet Joseph Smith compared his situation to that of Paul before Agrippa. Like Paul, Joseph was also mocked and threatened:
“However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
“So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true” (Joseph Smith History 1:24-25).
Once you have the witness of Jesus Christ, you may find yourself “ridiculed and reviled” as the great apostles were. How will you deal with it? Your witness may not come as dramatically as it came to Paul and Joseph Smith. How can you be sure of it?
Faith is the answer. “Prove me now herewith,” He invites us (Mal. 3:10). To paraphrase, “Do as I command and see what happens. Test the words of the prophets.”
When Paul is transported to Rome, the cargo ship carrying him is about to leave a port on the island of Crete. Paul gives the crew an apostolic warning: “Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage,” but the officer in charge “believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul” (27:10-11).
Now, it’s only natural to have confidence in the experts, but when the apostle of Jesus Christ “perceives” and shares knowledge by revelation, we must ask ourselves which way we face. Do we face in the direction of the wisdom of men, or in the direction of the knowledge of God? Which way do you face?
Because the ship’s officers rejected the counsel of the apostle and sailed anyway, they soon found themselves at the mercy of the “Euroclydon,” a hurricane-force storm that periodically appears in the Mediterranean Sea in the winter months. Driven nearly six-hundred miles over raging water before wrecking the ship on the coast of Malta, they found out what it means to ignore apostolic advice. “Sirs,” said Paul, “ye should have hearkened unto me” (27:21). We can choose to turn our backs on the revelations of God and get lost in our own paths, or we can stay on the covenant path and continue to exercise faith in Jesus Christ. My testimony is this: As I continue to test the promises of the Lord, as I try to keep a firm footing on the path, my witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ grows and my peace and happiness increase.