Ananias of Damascus received a commission from the Lord Himself to go and give Saul of Taursus a blessing. He understandably questioned the Lord about Saul because of his reputation of doing the Saints harm wherever he went. The Lord said to Ananias: “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel…” (Acts 9:15) In this week’s lesson we find this prophecy of bearing witness of the Lord before Kings already being fulfilled. Paul’s testimony would reverberate throughout the world.
Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor of Meridian Magazine and this week’s lesson is called “A Minister and a Witness” and includes Acts Chapters 22 – 28. Thank you for sharing the Podcast this past week on Facebook. You know, we live in Alpine, Utah and this past week we went up to Sundance with some friends to enjoy a ride up the ski lift to see the beautiful scenery and two different couples going the opposite direction said, “Hey, we love your Podcast! Thank you for doing it!” That made our day.
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Speaking of spreading the word…aren’t you just so impressed with Paul the Apostle? And to think of the Lord telling Ananias that Paul was “a chosen vessel” unto Him! It makes me wonder what He thinks of each of us—the potential He sees in us; the context He sees with us—having known us for all time. A good prayer we could offer is to help each of us to see ourselves as He sees us.
You remember, of course, that wonderful story President Eyring told in priesthood meeting in April 2017:
Quote: “…a phone call came when I was a bishop—this time from the police. I was told that a drunk driver had crashed his car through the glass into the lobby of a bank. When the bewildered driver saw the security guard with his weapon brandished, he cried, “Don’t shoot! I’m a Mormon!”
The inebriated driver was discovered to be a member of my ward, baptized only recently. As I waited to speak to him in the bishop’s office, I planned what I would say to make him feel remorseful for the way he had broken his covenants and embarrassed the Church. But as I sat looking at him, I heard a voice in my mind say, just as clearly as if someone were speaking to me, “I’m going to let you see him as I see him.” And then, for a brief moment, his whole appearance changed to me. I saw not a dazed young man but a bright, noble son of God. I suddenly felt the Lord’s love for him. That vision changed our conversation. It also changed me.” (Henry B. Eyring, Walk With Me, April 2017)
That same experience had to have happened to Ananias about Paul that happened to President Eyring about the inebriated driver who crashed into the bank.
Do you ever have that kind of experience with your own children? Can you imagine whom we are holding in our arms as we raise these little ones? If you really knew who they were, well, it’s probably good that we don’t—we would not be able to handle it.
In our readings this week, Paul recounts his testimony of his vision on two different occasions. Each recounting has some new details and gives us further insight into his experience. In Chapter 22 we learn clearly that Paul saw the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ—not just a light or not just only hearing His voice.
In Acts 22: 14-16 we read from Ananias’s words in this account:
14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his awill, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.
15 For thou shalt be his awitness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.
16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be abaptized, and bwash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (emphasis added)
It seems like with that kind of powerful witness, Paul would just be able to go on his way rejoicing and be able to convert everyone he came in contact with. If we had such a vision it seems like it would just be ‘easy street’ for us. But Paul seemed to continue to face every kind of challenge throughout his life.
We like this insight from President Russell M. Nelson’s life. Author Sheri Dew writes:
“For the better part of five years, Elder Nelson traipsed back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean seeking meetings with government officials and trying to further the Church’s interests in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Turkey, Estonia, Ukraine, and the Soviet Union. And this didn’t count the trips to Washington DC, to meet with ambassadors and other dignitaries from the countries he supervised. [Proctors: Mind you this was all before the coming down of the Iron Curtain]
“He was never wanted and rarely welcome. Many government leaders wouldn’t even give appointments to a man who professed faith in God. Over time, he was both thwarted in his efforts and helped along the way; treated poorly in some circumstances and graciously in others; spied on by secret police and later greeted as friends by officials who got to know him; and treated suspiciously in some corners while being sought for medical consultation by others. Some trips seemed utterly futile, while on others, doors opened he could never have predicted or planned for…
“Each of these countries was different,” Elder Nelson later reflected. “But the message to me was the same: ‘Work you heart out, Russ. Take the risks. Then when you can’t go any further, I’ll help you.’…
“When later asked what he learned from the assignment to open the countries in Eastern Europe for the preaching of the gospel, particularly in light of the many stops and starts, failed meetings, and ups and downs, Elder Nelson replied simply: ‘The Lord likes effort. He could have said to Moses, ‘I’ll meet you halfway.’ But Moses had to go all the way to the top of Mount Sinai. He required effort from Moses and Joshua and Joseph Smith and from all of the subsequent Presidents of the Church. He requires effort from bishops and stake Relief Society presidents and elders quorum presidents. There is always a test. Are you willing to do really hard things? Once you’ve shown you’re willing to do your part, He will help you.” (Dew, Sheri L., Insights from a Prophet’s Life, Russell M. Nelson, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2019, pp. 191, 195, 197)
And isn’t that the truth? The Lord really does like effort and, in fact, He requires it of us. So it was with Paul and with Peter and with Adam and Eve and Alma and Nephi and Joseph Smith and a host of others—including each of us! And it is that effort and those challenges that truly make us strong.
What I love is that we are promised that He will stand by us in our difficulties and trials. We see that in the readings of this lesson:
In Acts 23:10-11 we read:
10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle. [This is the Antonia Fortress on the northwest end of the Temple mount]
11 And the night following the aLord bstood by him [oh—how that is so personal and tender], and said, Be of good ccheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at dRome.
We have to pay attention to the details of these stories—that is one of the most profound in scriptures as Jesus Christ Himself is standing by Paul in prison. And I love the commandment the Lord gives to Paul: Be of good cheer! We could all do well to keep that commandment.
President Thomas S. Monson said:
“How might we have joy in our lives, despite all that we may face? Again from the scriptures: “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you.”
What if we took that promise literally—that the Lord will stand by us, as He did by Paul in prison, in our trials, our difficulties, our challenges, our unforeseen misfortunes? Wouldn’t that make such a difference to know that He is with us?
During the latter part of my mission I was called out of Germany to go and serve in the Swiss Temple in Zollikofen. There were visa issues in those days and occasionally full-time missionaries were called to serve for three months, full-time, in the temple.
I had only been there for just under three weeks and I woke up one morning with a horrible pain in the lower right side of my abdominal area. Before I knew it, I was in the hospital with an emergency appendectomy and a painful recovery period. After about a week or so in the hospital I was released. My companion was assigned temporarily to another elder and the temple president, Percy K. Fetzer and his angel wife, Thelma Fetzer, asked me to come and stay with them in their basement guest room while I was recovering.
Every morning at 5:00 AM President and Sister Fetzer would leave for their walk to open the Temple. I was there to say goodbye and President Fetzer would always say to me, “Sei Guten Mutes!” which means, “Be of good cheer!” And he meant it and I took that seriously. I believe that following his counsel to be of good cheer was a key in my rapid, complete recovery and healing. It’s just plain good counsel for all of us: Be of good cheer!
We are told in the last verses of the allegory of Zenos in Jacob Chapter 5 that during this dispensation—this Dispensation of the Fulness of Times—that a special blessing would be extended to us:
72 And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.
There it is again—the Lord promises that He will labor with us, He will stand by us—He will be with us! His angelically given name was Emmanuel, which means God with us. And so He is!
We see that Paul was willing to share his testimony and witness boldly in whatever circumstances he found himself. Are we also willing to share our testimonies and witnesses of the Savior Jesus Christ boldly?
Edward Partridge bore a powerful and moving testimony just before being tarred and feathered by an enraged mob in Western Missouri:
“I was taken from my house by the Mob, George Simpson being their leader, who escorted me about half a mile, to the Court house on the public square in Independence and then and there, a few rods from said court house, surrounded by hundreds of the mob, I was stripped of my hat, coat and vest, and daubed with tar from head to foot, and then had a quantity of feathers put upon me; and all this because I [HC 1:390] would not agree to leave the county, <and> my home where I had lived two years.
“Before tarring and feathering me, I was permitted to speak. I told them that the saints had had to suffer persecution in all ages of the world. That I had done nothing which ought to offend any one. That if they abused me they would abuse an innocent person. That I was willing to suffer for the sake of Christ; but to leave the country I was not then willing to consent to it. By this time the multitude made so much noise
I that I could not be heard: some were cursing and swearing, saying call upon your Jesus, &c, &c; others were equally noisy in trying to still the rest, that they might be enabled to hear what I was saying.
“Until after I had spoken, I knew not what they intended to do with me, whether to kill me, to whip me, or what else I knew not. I bore my abuse with so much resignation and meekness, that it appeared to astound the multitude, who permitted me to retire in silence, many looking very solemn, their sympathies having been touched as I thought; and, as to myself, I was so filled with the Spirit and Love of God, that I had no hatred towards my persecutors, or anyone else.” (JS, History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1, created 11 June 1839–24 Aug. 1843; handwriting of James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, William W. Phelps, and Willard Richards; 553 pages, plus 16 pages of addenda; CHL, pp. 327-28)
Maurine, you should tell our listeners about your experience when we were living in Washington DC and you knew you needed to speak up.
I was a member of a very powerful, conservative Christian gathering of top leaders and influencers in the nation. These leaders and their groups influence untold millions of people. We had an emergency meeting one Sunday afternoon and it was during the time that Mitt Romney was running in the primaries for President of the United States.
The conversation turned from talking about Mitt Romney to talking about his faith, which many objected to, calling our Church a cult. They implied that no serious person could belong to our faith and said they thought that the only reason Mitt was a Latter-day Saint was out of loyalty to his parents and that he probably didn’t believe any of it himself. They said they had that on the best authority.
I listened, wondering if it were better to stay quiet or if I should stand up for our faith in this very intimidating situation. With my heart pounding in my throat I finally stood up and said, “I am member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon, and you do not know the facts about what you are saying. My faith is not a cult. The Savior Jesus Christ is at the center of our religion and is my personal Savior. Do you want to know what I was doing before I came to this meeting? I was teaching a Gospel Doctrine Class in our congregation on the book of Hebrews. We hold the Bible sacred and we love the Lord Jesus Christ as you do.” I sat down knowing that I had been blessed with courage and a measure of the Spirit.
The tone of the meeting changed. A couple of people stood up and apologized for the way they had talked about the Church. In the closing prayer that day, the focus of a main part of the prayer was to “forgive us for the way we have talked about our Mormon brothers and sisters and the way we have treated their Church.” I counted on the Lord standing by me that day!
I remember, Maurine, sitting in my junior year of high school English class in Ankara, Turkey. This was a very upscale school and we had top-notch teachers. On this particular day, our English teacher got off on a certain sermon she apparently had given before. In essence she said the following:
“Now students, I’ve had a lot of experience. I’ve been all over the world. And this life is very hard and you will be faced with great temptations. And the day will come that you WILL fall. You will succumb to temptation and that is just the way it is. You have to accept this fact. You will fall.” I think she was tying this to some piece of literature we were reading at the time and this was the tone of her personal sermon. My heart started pounding because I knew that what she was saying was not true. Now, this was not such a high-powered group as Maurine described, but, as a 16-year-old it felt like it to me. There were 30 of my friends in that class and I knew I had to speak up.
“Mrs. Davis,” I interjected, “I don’t think what you’re saying is true because I know that in the Bible, in First Corinthians, Chapter 10, verse 13 it says (and fortunately I had memorized this scripture), ‘There hath no temptation taken you but such is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted about that ye are able, but will with the temptation make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.’ That is what is true. I trust that God will help us all when we are faced with hard things and difficult temptations and we don’t have to fall.” Now, Mrs. Davis could have really slammed me, but, as I think back on that moment, I can see her face and there was a change in her countenance. She thanked me for my perspective and went on with the lesson. Towards the end of that school year she pulled me aside and told me that she will never forget what I said that day and that she would never again teach what she taught because she believed that what I said was true.
Should we be bold and bear our testimonies in difficult situations? Yes!
President Henry B. Eyring told us this story in conference:
“I was once invited to speak at graduation services at a university. The university president had wanted President Gordon B. Hinckley to be invited but found that he was unavailable. So by default I got the invitation. I was then a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“The person who invited me to speak became anxious as she learned more about my obligations as an Apostle. She called me on the phone and said that she now understood that my duty was to be a witness of Jesus Christ.
“In very firm tones she told me that I could not do that when I spoke there. She explained that the university respected people of all religious beliefs, including those who denied the existence of a God. She repeated, “You cannot fulfill your duty here.”
“I hung up the phone with serious questions in my mind. Should I tell the university that I would not keep my agreement to speak? It was only two weeks before the event. My appearance there had been announced. What effect would my failing to keep my agreement have on the good name of the Church?
He continued: “I prayed to know what God would have me do. The answer came in a surprising way to me. I realized that the examples of Nephi, Abinadi, Alma, Amulek, and the sons of Mosiah applied to what I was. They were bold witnesses of Jesus Christ in the face of deadly peril.
“So the only choice to be made was how to prepare. I dug into everything I could learn about the university. As the day of the talk grew closer, my anxiety rose and my prayers intensified.
“In a miracle like the Red Sea parting, I found a news article. That university had been honored for doing what the Church has learned to do in our humanitarian efforts across the world. And so in my talk I described what we and they had done to lift people in great need. I said that I knew that Jesus Christ was the source of the blessings that had come into the lives of those we and they had served.
“After the meeting the audience rose to applaud, which seemed a little unusual to me. I was amazed but still a little anxious. I remembered what happened to Abinadi. Only Alma had accepted his witness. But that night, at a large formal dinner, I heard the university president say that in my talk he heard the words of God.” (Eyring, Henry B. A Witness, October 2011)
The apostle Paul stayed in the city of Caesarea on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea for two years. It was here that he was given the opportunity to bear his witness before King Agrippa.
Now, let’s make sure you understand who this King Agrippa is. It gets a bit confusing and it’s worth making sure you have these down straight. This Agrippa is King Herod Agrippa the 2nd. He is the great Grandson of wicked Herod “the Great” that you all know. He reigned from A.D. 50 – 93. His father was Herod Agrippa the 1st and he came through Mariamne 1, the Hasmonean Princess—the one that Herod the Great loved so much he had her murdered. Bernice, who was with Agrippa at Paul’s defense, was his sister. Does that all make a bit more sense now?
Let’s turn to Acts 26 and look at this scene as Paul gives his bold witness of the Savior and recounts his vision to this king. Remember—Ananias of Damascus was told by the Lord that Paul would bear His name before kings. Here he was now.
In verse two we read:
2 I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:
I love how Paul is thrilled to be able to speak for himself and not have his accusers or others speak for or against him. He alone knows the truth of his own actions and his own thoughts.
3 Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
Paul uses a wonderful teaching technique here, acknowledging that his listener, King Agrippa, is an expert in knowledge about the Jews.
This certainly would have made Agrippa a more avid and careful listener.
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a aPharisee.
6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
Note how intelligent Paul is, to play off this idea of being a Pharisee before this Jew, and talk about resurrection. This is really a profoundly intelligent way to make his case.
This is a divisive doctrine—the doctrine of resurrection—as that the Sadducees did not believe in it but the Pharisees did—and here was Paul to testify that it not only is a true doctrine, but he was witness to one who actually had been resurrected—so he truly knew first hand that the doctrine was correct and true.
“8 Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should araise the dead?,” Paul continued.
9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things acontrary to the bname of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the asaints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to bdeath, I gave my cvoice against them.
11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto astrange cities.
12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
Paul let Agrippa understand his background, knowing full well that he is already familiar with Paul’s reputation and that he knew of his persecutions of the Christians.
Paul’s method of acknowledging what Agrippa knows is very effective. Now Paul will testify of his own vision of the Lord Jesus Christ.
13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a alight from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
Notice that his vision in all three accounts is at midday—the time of highest sun and brightest light. But the vision is even brighter than that noonday sun.
14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, aSaul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick bagainst the pricks.
15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have aappeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a bwitness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I asend thee,
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from adarkness to blight, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
See, in this version we learn more details than the first or the second accounting of the vision. We learn more about Paul’s specific mission—and I especially love his mission to turn the Gentiles from darkness to light—and from the power of Satan unto God. Agrippa is probably riveted to his seat now as he intently listens to Paul’s testimony.
By the way, aren’t we so blessed to have these three different accounts of Paul’s vision? We have four different primary source accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision and each one is for a different audience and given at a different time in Joseph’s life and experience.
I saw Dr. Larry Porter, Professor emeritus from Brigham Young University, the other day who was visiting our ward for a grandson’s farewell talk, and we were talking about the various First Vision accounts. We were remarking how blessed we are to have these four very different accounts. I said to him, “I know, and when people complain or question the fact that we have these four different accounts I always say that I’m so excited to someday have another account come forth from someone’s record or journal and give us even more details of this transcendent vision.” Larry said, “Won’t that be wonderful!”
In Joseph Smith’s 1838 account of the First Vision he says just 16 words at the end that have nearly driven me mad in my life:
“…and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” (See Joseph Smith History 1: 20) THAT is the main part of the vision!
And isn’t it great that we have four different testimonies and accounts of the Savior’s ministry—from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each account is a little different and each gives details and insights based on the audience the author was intended to write to.
And in Paul the Apostle’s case we know that we also have but a small part of the vision that he saw.
Now, back to Paul before the king:
Paul does not withhold himself or mince words before this King who would be the political monarch for 43 years in Israel.
24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee amad.
25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
Now watch again as Paul uses that same teaching method of acknowledging the context and knowledge of his chief listener:
26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou abelievest.
29 And Paul said, 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, except these bonds.
What a bold and wonderful scene! King Agrippa and his sister Bernice and Festus and the others who were there listening leave and they said amongst themselves:
This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
And Agrippa said, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had no appealed unto Caesar.” (Acts 26:31-32)
Don’t you wonder if King Agrippa didn’t think about this experience the rest of his life? If Paul had testified to you (which he has) would you also think about it all your life?
My Mom and Dad made this real for me when I was a 10-year-old and we were in Damascus, Syria and they told me the whole story as we were on the Street called Straight. I have thought about this my whole life.
So it is with the witnesses and testimonies of the living apostles today. Do we hear their witnesses and think about their testimonies and let them sink deep into our souls? We have that opportunity every day.
Yes, we will go through difficulties in our lives. We will be faced with challenges and trials. Our families will be besieged by the world—this IS the world we live in—and yet, we were saved for times such as these.
We’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and we’ve loved being with you this week. We ask you often and we’ll ask you again now: Please spread the word to your friends and family and ministering families about the Podcast—they can find it at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast or just go to their favorite Podcast platform and search for Meridian Magazine—Come Follow Me.
Thanks to Paul Cardall for the beautiful music that begins and ends each podcast.
Next week’s lesson is: The Power of God unto Salvation and includes Romans chapters 1-6.
Have a wonderful week and see you next time!