Several weeks after Pentecost, the two disciples that seemed to have gathered the most attention, Peter and John, were arrested by the priests and the Sadducees.
“Saul, have you seen the men that were arrested yesterday in the temple?” asked Gamaliel, “They are the students of Jesus.”
“Yes, I saw the fishermen. Who would take fishermen as followers? I believe their names are Peter and John. Peter seems to be the loudest. He was the one that turned my fathers head during the Pentecost ordeal. Remember the crowds on that day?”
Gamaliel nodded in acknowledgement.
“Actually, I was close by for some of their stunts yesterday in the temple. They put on a good show. Jesus at least taught them how to gather a crowd”, Saul finished.
“Yes, I know. That is what concerns me. They are speaking the exact same message in public that Jesus was speaking 3 months ago. They carry his message forward after his death. Yesterday, they healed one of the lame men that wait by the door”.
Saul’s face grew a little darker. His sharp eyes seemed to narrow and focus on some object in the distance. He spoke in a determined tone, “I thought we were done with the Nazarene and his tricks. Men that proclaim that the Holy One came to earth and walked among us should share the same punishment as the one that claimed himself to be God”, he said.
“They have been stopped. The Sadducees grabbed the two men and threw them into prison for the night.”
“What will Annas do with them?”
“Annas has sent for the man that was healed, to ask him some questions. Peter and John will be questioned later this morning. I would like you to attend with me”.
Annas stood and addressed Peter and John.
“By whose power, or in whose name have you done these things”?
Peter defiantly looked up, without hesitation, and answered,
“Rulers of the people, if you are asking how we have done something for the lame man, that he has waited for all of his life, that answer is simple, and I would be glad to tell you,” He hesitated, and grinned, “but remember, you asked.”
Saul held his breath. Surely these men would not claim Jesus. Not here. Not in front of these men of God. Have they no respect? Do they not understand who they are speaking to? They must have learned from the punishment Jesus had already suffered…but no.
Peter’s volume grew. “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the very same one that you crucified, and God raised from the dead, by His power is how this lame man is standing before you today…
“…AND”, punctuating the words “there is NO salvation any other way. There is no other name, under heaven, given to men that can save us”.
Saul was in rage. These men had done it again. All of the hate and anger that he had felt toward Jesus was returning. We should be done with people proclaiming that Jesus was savior. Dishonoring the title of Messiah by bestowing it on this uneducated carpenter…this dog! A savior delivers people. He didn’t deliver anyone from anything. If he had, there would be a change. I watched him die. No more. This will stop.
And with that thought, Saul’s rage transformed into a slow steady burn.
The priests were not sure how to handle Peter and John. They were growing more popular each day. A punishment would not be accepted well by the Jewish people. A warning was given to “not preach Jesus”, and the fisherman were released.
Gamaliel left with Saul. As they exited onto the street, the teacher set his gaze on the student and asked carefully “Saul, what are your thoughts?”
Quietly, without making eye contact, he replied, “Cowards.”
Saul quickened his pace and moved away from Gamaliel.
Their followers continue to grow in number and our leaders do nothing. The strength of the blasphemy that they speak is misleading our people and will drive a wedge through the authority of the law. They must be put down like the dogs that they are.
It didn’t take Peter and John very long to go back to doing the one thing that they had been commanded not to do. They seemed to be everywhere at once, constantly preaching. The people of the city of Jerusalem were bringing their sick and lame.
There was such a stir among the population that the Priests of the temple had no choice but to arrest the followers of Jesus, and again put them in prison.
Things were different this time.
The last order of the evening for the guards was to confirm that the disciples were in jail. Everything seemed to be in order. Peter and John seemed strangely content, patiently waiting for the morning.
The first order of the day, the priests sent for the disciples, only to find that they were preaching, again. They were once again arrested, and brought before the high priest.
Saul found the antics amusing. Repeatedly, the High Priest was made to look foolish by fishermen and tax collectors. He could not help but chuckle at their weakness.
“Didn’t we ask you, NO, didn’t we command you to stop teaching in that name? Now we have the entire city of Jerusalem listening to you, and you are trying to bring this mans blood upon our hands!” The accusing priest screamed at the two defiant faces standing in chains in the middle of the room.
Peter again gave a determined reply, “We have to obey God, not men. We must obey the God of our fathers that raised Jesus from the grave, the very same Jesus that you men whipped and beat and hung on a cross.” Peter paused only long enough for a quick breath. Momentum was growing.
“It is He that God lifted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and forgive us from our sins. We are witnesses of these things, and we prove it by a Holy Ghost that God has given to them that obey him.”
Screams filled the room. Priests fell on the ground and tore at their clothes.
One older priest wept and cried “Blasphemy, blasphemy. They do not deserve to live.”
Annas was calm and in control. Saul could see that he enjoyed the drama. All of their screaming and wailing, their tearing and swearing; and yet they will do nothing.
Saul was surprised when Gamaliel stepped forward. He approached the center of the room and raised his hand to still the commotion. The voices fell silent. “Take them away,” with a wave of the hand he motioned toward the troublemakers, “So that we may stop the drama and reason together like men.”
He let the silence linger for a few moments. Then he made eye contact with the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, slowly scanning the room.
“Respected men of Israel, please listen to me, before you carry out your intentions regarding these men.
“Think about Theudas, who gathered together four hundred men to follow him, but was shortly killed afterward, and the men that followed were scattered? We remained calm, and they caused no more trouble.”
Heads began to nod in agreement.
“And do you remember the one from Galilee named Judas that led the riot against paying Caesars taxes? As soon as he died, his followers disappeared as well.”
Saul wanted to leave. He wanted to turn and run from this room. Even my teacher wants us to calmly sit by while these men spread this poison.
Gamaliel continued, “Stop spending time with these men, and leave them alone: if these men and effort is made of ideas from the mind of men, it will end itself soon enough, but…
“If it really is from God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and worse yet, you will be fighting against God.”
Annas looked at the old priest. “You are a wise and patient voice, old friend,” he affirmed.
Could Gamaliel not see? Saul thought through these words. These men are different. Their leader is gone, and they grow in popularity.
The tempers in the room cooled. Saul’s temper just burned hotter.
Annas declared to the guard, “Have them beaten and tell them again to stop preaching in that name.”
Daily, Saul watched the new collection of believers. He studied them. Their growth, while nothing compared to the one day at Pentecost, was still on a steady increase. With the growth of such large numbers being added to the church, unforeseen problems began to crop up, as Saul knew they would. He waited to see how long it would take for the sprouting group of followers to turn on their own people. This dysfunctional uneducated flock would suffer from the same challenges that any other group of people would face.
Some of the Greek born Jews (people of the Jewish race born in countries other that Israel), were complaining that the apostles were not spending enough time ministering to the elderly. The leaders of the church chose seven men that they called “deacons” from among those at the church to assist in the ministry. It was clear to Saul that this was done so that the leaders of the church could continue preaching, and at the same time the members of the church would not be neglected.
One of the new deacons of the church was creating quite a stir.
It was his old friend Stephen.
Saul would have to watch him closely…he had a feeling this would not end well.