By Cory Barnett
This book is historical fiction. Maybe I should be more specific and say that this book (this series of short stories) are fiction, loosely based on some historical facts.
I am sure that the studied scholars will find things in the book that they disagree with. So let me repeat.
This book is historical fiction.
I love the story of Paul. More than because it is a Bible story. Because it is a really great story, with heroes, villains, and villains turned into heroes.
And most commonly all we ever hear are the cold facts. He went here, he did this, and then this happened to him.
And I tired of reading facts about him.
I wanted to imagine what it must have been like to be a devout Jew turned follower of Christ. What would make someone like him change direction so dramatically?
We detach ourselves from the events because we are reading cold dead history.
We lose the impact of what it may have been like to be executed by people throwing rocks and boulders at you. What thoughts go through a person experiencing ship wrecks, demonic people, being arrested, making and losing great friendships, etc.
I wrote this book for anyone that wants to visualize the life of Paul in a third dimension.
And then I encourage you to not stop with this book. See for yourself. Dig into the Bible and read the story of Paul. I hope reading it causes you to be amazed by him as much as I am.
Read it and enjoy it. Remember…historical FICTION.
I hope this book helps you fall in love with Paul and the story of his life like I have.
Hmm, hmm, hmm.
Tap tap tap. Hmm hmm hmm.
“Bum ba bum, they were singin’ my deliverer is coming…my hmm hmm bum is standing by.”
“Old Man!” came the shout.
“Stop it! Stop!”
“I’m sorry”, whispered the old man, “I thought everyone was asleep.”
“How would that be possible, with you making so much noise?”
It was an uncommonly cool evening for mid-summer. The sky was cloudless and speckled with stars. Shadows formed by the shining light of the full moon gave the landscape a surreal appearance. Every tree and hill side stood out with clarity, while the blackness of the night formed a dark backdrop.
The air was still. No animals could be heard. No footsteps. Even the wind was still. No sounds interrupted the moment. It was the most peaceful time of the day.
For the five men tucked away in the corners of a small dark room, the beauty of the night outside didn’t matter. The only window was too high and too small for the scenery to be enjoyed, and the peaceful silence was broken by a steady slow hum, and a persistent tapping coming from an old man sitting with his back to the wall.
Another man spoke in the slow dreamy speech that people have when they aren’t completely awake. “What’s going on? I was in the middle of a dream. Hope I can get back. I was just about to sit down to a table full food and eat until I was sick”. Then making a soft smacking noise with his mouth, he curled his large form back into his corner of the room and went silent again. With his rumpled yet expensive clothes that a business man would wear, his presence here did not fit the picture.
“The new guy in the corner won’t stop singin’ and thumping his foot and I’ve had enough”. This man, the one that had spoken at first, struck a very imposing silhouette. Although he was leaning against the wall in the corner, his outline showed a roughened well-built man that would be taller than most others when standing. Not the kind of man to be crossed lightly.
The old man responded again, speaking quietly. “It wasn’t my intention to wake anyone. I can’t sit still. I don’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time…and, umm…I love to sing”.
“So, are we all done now? Can we go back to sleep?” said a third voice that came from the last corner, shared by two men with matching silhouettes.
“Can everyone stop yelling!” yelled the other voice from the same corner. No one was yelling, but inside the jail cell, even the mice that picked their way through cracks in the wall seemed to be noisy and irritating during the still of the night.
“I won’t be able to get back to sleep”, the muscle bound one sighed in a low rumble.
Then there was silence for at least two minutes.
Muscles let out a deep sigh, and said, “So, old man, I know everyone else’s story, so tell me what brings you to our humble dwelling. What did a shrimp of a Jew like you do to upset the mighty Nero and his all-powerful military machine enough to stick you in this nasty place? You don’t look dangerous. You won’t last a week in here…
“So tell me, what have you done to land you in this rat infested hole?”
While he was fairly short, at five and one half feet tall, the description of Paul made by the big man didn’t exactly apply. The “old man” really wasn’t as old as his face showed. Physically he was in better shape than most men 10 years younger. He was, however, a Jew. The brute had at least been correct about that.
“Nero is just one man at the end of a long list of men that would love to make my journey through this world shorter.”
The business man, his voice still filled with a far away, sleepy quality said “That doesn’t really answer the question.” He opened his mouth wider that seemed possible, and said through the middle of a yawn, “and can’t this wait until later?”
The big man growled, “Go back to sleep. I ain’t making that much noise and I can’t sleep. If I want to talk, I’m gonna talk. Old man isn’t tired either. You guys can all go back to sleep.
“So why are you here? You definitely aren’t the violent type, and you don’t look like a rebel, but you might be one of this instgators.”
“You definitely aren’t an enemy of Rome, or the soldiers wouldn’t have let you live this long. Are you one of those Jews causing trouble in Jerusalem, part of that revolt? Is that why you are here?” mumbled the business man.
“No, no. Not recently, anyway,” said the old man, with a grin barely visible in the darkness. “I‘m not going out of my way to bother anyone. In fact, I try really hard to be a friend to everyone that I meet…but it doesn’t usually seem to work out like I plan.
“When I start talking about… the way” he paused, “it offends people.”
“The way what?” asked the business man.
“Not the way, like how we do something. The Way refers to a group of people that live a life a different way, and there are a lot of people living The Way. So many that it is making the empire very uncomfortable. It seems that they would rather see the leaders dead, than have them out, travelling around, speaking to others, spreading the ‘foolishness’ as they like to call it.
“Funny, though, they can’t seem to slow us down. Even by putting me in here, they have introduced me to you, and have provided me with four new friends to share my foolishness with.”
“Maybe I’m still asleep, although I don’t think so, but you are not making a bit of sense.” said business man.
The twins were snickering in the corner like two five year olds laughing at a gross joke. One of them whispered something about “crazy old men”, and then seemed to fade away into the distance, probably already back to sleep again. The business man heaved a long sigh, and mumbled something incomprehensible that sounded a little like “too much for the middle of the night”. Within seconds a slow deep breathing was heard from his corner of the room, showing that he had dropped off to sleep again, and was back in dream land; where he was just sitting down to begin a feast like no other.
Exactly the opposite was happening in the corner where the giant rested. He was constantly moving, fidgeting and squirming, and definitely wide awake. He shuffled away from his end of the room, closer to where the old man was sitting, making a scraping sliding noise, and looking like a lame crab, half crawling with his right leg, and half walking like a duck with his left. For a minute, he just sat there looking at the old man. The humming had resumed, and every so often a word or two could be heard, along with the tapping of his hand on his knee (not exactly matching the rhythm of whatever song he was humming).
“Hey old man” he said, in a low whisper.
“My name isn’t Bruno”.
“And my name isn’t old man.”
Bruno snickered, “Do you talk like that to everyone that you have just met? You know that I could do whatever I wanted to you, and no one would ever say a word. If you are in here, then no one cares about you.”
“I am sure you’re right. And if I die anywhere, I suppose that Rome would be the most logical place. But I don’t think it will be you that kills me.”
“Maybe not, but it won’t be because I can’t,” he said, mumbling under his breath.
A pause. Silence again. Then after taking a deep breath, old man looked again toward the large man sitting across from him, “So, what’s your name?”
“Why does it matter to you?”
“A lot can be learned from someone’s name. Usually people are connected in ways that they don’t even realize”
“My name is Mark.”
“Were you named after anyone? Your father, maybe?”
“No, after Mark Antony, my mother and father’s favorite general. They wanted me to become like him and serve in the army. What is your name”?
“My name is Paul.”
“Where are you from?”
“I am from Tarsus of Cilicia in Asia,” Paul continued without stopping for a breath, “see, we are connected. About 100 years ago, the General Mark Antony granted my home town of Tarsus the freedom to operate as a Roman city without much of the Roman control.
“Where are you from, Mark”?
“I was born on the island of Malta (the island of Melita is now called Malta). My parents still live there”.
“What a beautiful island. I was there several years ago. Do you know Publius?”
“Of course, everyone on Melita knows Publius. How do you know him”?
“Oh, we were on a boat that was going to sink. He helped us weather out the storm”.
“What were you doing down there? That’s a little out of the way.”
“I was on a boat heading to Rome from back east. We were trying to avoid the bad weather and ended heading toward Malta.”
“You weren’t going to Rome for a visit; you were being delivered…weren’t ya?”
Shhhh”! The sound came from the corner of the room where the twins were trying to sleep.
Again in a whisper, “Hey, Old Man” Mark paused, and Paul could tell that he was grinning in the dark, “sorry, Paul, tell me your story, how did you get stuck on a visit Melita? You may know my parents”.
“Let’s talk more in the morning. These guys need their sleep”.
Mark slid back to his own corner of the cell, and could be heard snoring within a few minutes. And when Paul was sure that everyone was asleep, he began to sing to himself, humming sometimes, and tapping his hand on his knee.
Jeremiah the tent maker was yelling to be heard over the noise and commotion pouring through the door of his small shop. The street outside was congested with merchants, customers and soldiers pressing past one another.
He was a slender man with a thick beard. His eyes were dark, and carried the weight of wisdom and the exhaustion of a father who had worked entirely too hard to give everything he could to his family. His hands were calloused and felt as leathery as the tents he repaired.
Unlike most others, Jeremiah found the increasing number of soldiers in the crowd was a very good thing. Soldiers brought tents with them, tents that needed mending; tents that needed mending put food on Jeremiah’s table.
It had already been a great day of business for Jeremiah, and right now, at the end of the day, his main focus was to keep the incessant stream of noisy customers moving along.
His 12 year old son Paul was learning the family’s business, and communication between he and his father was becoming more difficult as the crowd in the store front grew.
“One minute, Paul.”
“Dad!” the boy yelled in a panic, and pointed wildly behind him, “He is in a hurry, and I don’t understand what he wants!”
Jeremiah turned, and saw a soldier towering above the others in the crowd. The bristled crest on his helmet ran from side to side, instead of back to front, indicating that he was a Centurion.
Jeremiah quickly excused himself from the conversation he had been engaged in, and motioned by pointing with his hands for Paul to switch customers with him.
Centurions frequently passed through Jeremiah’s store. He would stop everything he was doing to service them. Every centurion represented at least one hundred soldiers. Taking an order from one meant taking many orders.
Business like this was the very thing that kept Jeremiah and his family in Tarsus. Jeremiah longed for Jerusalem. He missed living in the Promised Land, knowing that he was walking the same streets King David once walked. More than that, he missed living and working along side people that truly understood him and his customs.
But it was tents that put food on the table, and the people passing through Tarsus were always in need of tents and tent repairs.
Staying in Tarsus had turned out to be very prosperous.
From the earliest that Paul could remember he was captivated with the city. If a person wanted to be social, this was the perfect place. People moving everywhere, constantly, and yet it seemed as if everyone knew each other.
Although he was still young, Paul also recognized why his father had decided to stay in Tarsus, even after being allowed to return to Jerusalem.
Tarsus had become a prominent city in the corner of Asia Minor. It was located about 10 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea on the Cydnus River. The river ran out of the snowy Tarsus Mountains, directly through the center of Tarsus, and out into the Mediterranean Ocean. This made Tarsus an ideal area for trade and culture to flourish.
As business men, travelers, and armies would move from the west or the east, Tarsus served as a main crossroads. Anyone traveling by land would load wares onto ships at Tarsus, and continue on to points west located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Anyone arriving from the sea, moving to the east would dock their boats at Tarsus and continue by land.
All of these attributes also made Tarsus a crucial city to the Roman Empire, and served as a focal point for the armies as they moved to the East.
For all of these reasons, in 42 B.C., the Roman general Mark Antony had granted the city with libera civitas, or the status of free city. This allowed the inhabitants to govern themselves without owing taxes to Rome, return to their home lands if the chose, and at the same time, have all of the benefits of being a Roman citizen.
This was Paul’s home because it was Jeremiah’s way to provide for his family. Paul didn’t mind helping out with his father’s tent making. On busy days like this one, it interested him more, because he had the chance to interact with the customers, and see his father at his best.
A few hours later Paul found himself walking next to his father down an unpaved road. Once each week, Jeremiah would close his shop early, and he and Paul would take a short journey to the outskirts of town, where he would buy the goat hair from local shepherds that would be used for tent making.
Paul enjoyed this time. It was his time with his father. This was where he felt like a grown up. It helped him understand the larger picture of how communities interacted with the world around them, and the necessity of those who had made a life outside the city.
As they left the bustle of the streets, the countryside was scattered with the types of trades that were necessary to support a large city like Tarsus. There were mills for grinding flour, flocks of sheep and goats, dairy farms as well as farms that grew grains, vegetables and fruits.
“Paul, that soldier that came to the shop today was a very important man.”
“He was a centurion, wasn’t he? I saw you talking to him for a long time.”
“Yes, he wants me to make several large tents. So large that I’m not even sure that goat’s hair will be suitable for the fabric. We’ll have to order something more rugged or try a different weave. We will ask Felix when we get to his goat farm and see if he has any ideas.”
From the weekly walk across the rolling green hills of Cilician country side, Jeremiah and Paul had become familiar not only with the farmers along the road, but with several of the travelers that also made weekly journeys.
As Jeremiah was talking, he watched the way Paul’s eyes shifted constantly to take in as much as he could of the surroundings and the people walking by. He specifically noticed the way that Paul gazed with admiration at some Jews from the synagogue walking along the path heading back into the city to prepare for the upcoming Sabbath.
Paul was also particularly interested in Jason, a farmer that they had formed a friendship with from their weekly walks.
Today, is seemed that Jason was struggling with his ox. From the moment that he came into view until the point that he dropped out of sight as they crested the next hill, he struggled to make the ox move in a straight line.
Paul could almost see the defiance on the face of the stubborn animal. At one point, the ox stopped completely. Paul turned to his father to ask why the farmer was having so much trouble.
“Old Jason has had trouble with animals from the day that we first met. I can’t figure out why. He always treats them kind, but they just don’t seem to want to work for him.”
“Then why does he keep them?” asked Paul.
“Because, once he gets them working with him instead of against him, they are the best work animals anywhere”.
Paul looked back thoughtfully, and watched the farmer continue to struggle.
The time at the goat farm went as planned.
Felix seemed pleased with Jeremiah’s order. Business had been good, so the order for the goat’s hair to make the tent fabric was a little larger than normal.
They briefly discussed the concerns with the heavy tents that the centurion requested, and Felix believed that he could provide heavier material to suit Jeremiah’s needs.
They were on their way back to the city within an hour. As they crossed the hill that bordered Jason’s land, Paul started gazing across the field, amazed at the straight lines that were laid in the soil for planting the rows of wheat.
Then Paul’s eyes found Jason and the ox half way across the field, and then he watched the strangest thing. The ox was still fighting to pull the plow. Jason was using his right hand to hold the plow, but he was holding on to what looked like a long metal bar in his left hand.
The bar was attached to two thick leather straps that hung from the frame of the plow.
Every so often, Jason would pull back on the metal rod and let go of it. As it swung forward, it would ram into the ox’s rear flank and the ox would jump forward for several steps and begin to move along steady.
After doing this several times, the ox threw a strong kick backward toward the rod. When the rear hoof connected with the prod the ox let out a low rumbling sound, then jumped forward and begin moving along again.
And then the whole process would repeat itself over and over.
Paul thought to himself, “Why does the ox keep kicking that thing? If it hurts, doesn’t he know to stop?”
“Dad, how does that pole hurt the ox, and why does he kick at it?”
“That metal pole is sharpened on the business end. When Jason lets go of it, it swings forward it pokes the ox. It punishes him and straightens him out. Every time he uses it to prick the ox, the ox stops fighting and obeys.”
“I know that is the way it is supposed to work, but look at the ox now, he keeps kicking at it”.
“Well, that is the ox’s choice. He’ll learn”.
They walked along in silence for some time.
“Would you be angry, if I didn’t want be a tent maker when I grow up. I mean, I really like tent making, and I would love to become like you some day, but, well…”
“I know Paul. I also know that you like your Jewish name Saul. I know that you find the law fascinating. You would make a great student of the law and a wonderful teacher of it as well”.
Jeremiah knew that his own loyalty to the Jewish Law had created a desire in Paul to learn more of the scriptures.
“How did you know”?
“Every time we leave the temple, it shows on your face. The way you always ask questions, trying to understand the law and the prophecies from the scriptures. Since you were five your mother and I have known.
“And to answer your question, no, I could never be angry with you for desiring to serve Yaweh. You would make the tribe of Benjamin proud. Who do you think arranged your sister’s marriage with Levi, knowing that they would live in Jerusalem to stay close to the temple?
“Anyhow, Paul, you are almost 13, do you know what happens when you turn 13?
“Yes, Sir, I become responsible for myself, for my obedience to the Law”.
“That is right. It is more your choice than mine. There is also another choice that you will have to make next year when you are 13”.
“I have been writing to your sister and Levi. There is a priest that is a friend named Gamaliel that has agreed to let you study under him if you wish. If you are interested, the choice is yours. You can stay here in Tarsus, or you can live with her and begin to study with the priests and rabbi”.
“If that is what you chose.”
“…And with that, a very simple decision had been made that would start me down this crazy path.”
Paul paused and drew a deep breath. He seemed to have lost his thoughts.
After a moment he resumed, “At age 13, I became known to others by my Hebrew name of Saul and…”
Dominic, the younger of the twins, interrupted “You mean you left home at 13?”
“Yes. And for the next 20 years I studied.”
“You studied for 20 years? That’s crazy.” Again, this was Dominic.
“Yes. I studied the Jewish Law. I poured over the text that explained our history, our customs, the Holy Scriptures that gave us the rules of life in the Hebrew and Aramaic language of my people. I worked hard to become a Pharisee.”
“A Pharisee, you are a Pharisee?” exclaimed Dominic.
“Oh come on! Let the man talk!” yelled Darius.
“Stop telling me what to do, Darius! You aren’t my boss, you idiot! You are the one that got us into this mess”. Then he stood up, and with a dramatic swagger, and dropping his voice to mimic his brother, “Oh, I feel faint, help me!”
“Don’t you dare blame this on me!” Darius replied, “’The Lame Goat always works’, you said. ‘It’s idiot proof’, you said. Guess nothing is idiot proof for you, huh, Moron?”
“You’re the idiot that can’t dodge a rock. You’re so lame!”
Darius was the older of the twins, by thirty minutes, and was usually the one in control, but he was not the bigger one. Similar facial features identified them as brothers, but that is where the similarities stopped. Dominic outweighed Darius by thirty pounds, and stood 3 inches taller. With these two, being the bigger brother wasn’t most important, but being thirty minutes older made all of the difference. Darius was the quieter, thinking part of the duo, and Dominic was the hyper active part.
Like many twins, they could almost read each other’s minds. Over the years of doing everything together, Dominic and Darius developed the gift for sharing thoughts into a talent that placed them among the most successful con artists in Italy. Together, they had worked so many scams on unlucky individuals that neither one could recall them all.
The scam that had landed them in jail always worked.
Her name was Poppaea Sabina. Poppaea had gathered wealth and status throughout the past years by traveling in affluent circles, and marrying very wealthy, very powerful men.
Her first husband was named Rufrius Crispinus. He had been the leader of the Praetorian Guard, a group of special forces bodyguards that surrounded the Roman emperors.
It would have done the brothers well to pay attention to this fact; and to know that the Guard often continued to protect influential individuals like the wives of their leaders (Poppaea), even after her husband’s death.
Rufrius had been executed for his loyalty to the wrong politicians, but Poppaea remained strong and proven herself loyal to the leaders in Rome.
Her second husband was Otho. At the time of the marriage, Otho was a reckless, extravagant, young nobleman that was an acquaintance of the young emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, usually known just as Nero.
After a short time, and after using Otho to get to know Nero on a personal level, she divorced herself from Otho.
This is where the twins entered the story.
They had noticed her to be a wealthy person who traveled in the right circles, and also identified her as a resource to afford the twins some quick wealth. This was the “score” that they had been waiting for. If what they had seen was true, this one scam would provide them enough wealth to support themselves for several years.
One of the brothers, usually Darius, would study their victims enough to become familiar with the daily routines of arriving and leaving their homes. Poppaea would leave her house after mid-day and proceed to the palace. She would remain there throughout the afternoon and evening, returning late into the night when people on the streets were few and far between.
While Darius was scoping their target, Dominic would make his way around the area, becoming friends with the neighbors. He told them that he was a new laborer doing work on the Sabina house. Most of the time, nobody seemed to care, but Dom would make note of the individuals that shared facts that didn’t put Poppea in the kindest light.
“Oh, her. She never talks to anyone.”
“Poppea is stuck up, just because she has married well.”
“Make sure you get paid for the work you are doing.”
All of these comments marked them as disgruntled neighbors and would work perfectly with their plan.
Every so often, monetary tips to different individuals were also required to create a stir at a particular time of the day. When the plan worked well, the commotion was created at the exact time the individual was leaving their house, causing the perfect distraction, allowing the twins several minutes to run through the house, grabbing all of the valuables they could find. If the plan worked perfect, the victim was so distracted that the boys could take their time, picking through the valuables, only taking what they knew could be resold at a high price.
“The Lame Goat”, as they called it, had always worked perfect for them. During the distraction, which usually amounted to an all out riot, Darius would pull the victim away from the ruckus, which always led them away from the house, then disappear into the crowd. In theory, with Poppaea, it would also lead any guards posted at the door away from the house to watch over her.
Meanwhile, Dominic would slide into the house, picking his way through it, taking anything of value that would fit in the sack that he carried over his shoulder.
As the commotion would die down, Darius would stay between the home owner and the house and make sure that no one entered the house until Dominic was finished picking through it.
Afterward, neither Dominic nor Darius had made a visible impression on anyone enough to remember them at the time and link them to the theft.
This time, “The Lame Goat” could not have gone smoother.
The crowds in the area were heavy, and Dominic had stumbled on several particularly nasty individuals that needed very little prompting to pick a fight with some of the local soldiers.
The commotion immediately rose to a full blown riot. Any soldiers in the area had been drawn into the center of a major scuffle to restore order.
As Poppaea exited from her house, Darius ran forward from the fray, and confronted her.
As he gently held her elbow, he said, “Miss, please move away from this mess, I couldn’t bear to see you get hurt”.
Poppaea replied “I assure you that I will be fine, please let me…”
A piece of shattered pottery struck her arm opposite from where Darius held her. With a quick glance at her, he nodded toward one of the side streets and she quickly followed. As they entered the side street, Darius quickly threw himself back into the throng of people, but never lost sight of Poppaea. From time to time, she would begin to move back toward her house, and he would shift the crowd a little closer until they stood in the way of her reaching her house.
Unseen by anyone, Dominic slid into the house, and began to gather valuable items, quickly filling his bag.
At the point where the mass of people were closest to the house, Dominic quickly stepped from the front of the house. He was amazed that the commotion outside had grown, instead of dwindled, over the last few minutes.
Seeing his brother sneak out the front door still un-noticed by the mass of people, Darius started to slide his way through the crowd and out the far side of the fray, away from Poppaea and her house.
Dominic rounded the first corner and spun around, waiting for his brother to follow. As Darius started around the corner a small rock hurled from the riotous mob struck him in the back of the head. Dominic saw that the color had drained from his face.
The words barely slipped from his lips, “I feel faint. Help m…” Two steps later, he collapsed into Dominic’s arms, and then fell to the ground.
Dominic dropped his bag and laid his brother down on the ground. Then as panic struck, he began shouting his brothers name. As he cradled Darius’s head in one hand, the back of his head was sticky. He turned his head over to see a welt starting to form on the back of his head where blood was slowly seeping down the back of his neck.
At the same time, Poppaea had re-entered her house to change her clothes from the dirt and grime that had collected from the scuffle in the street. She immediately noticed that some valuable jewelry and other items were missing and yelled for her guards.
“Guards! Someone has stolen from me. Find them, and take them to Nero! No one steals from me!”
Four men arrived immediately at the door, dressed in battle armor, two of them with a spear, and the other two with a short sword.
“Yes maam, right away” replied the leader.
This is where the Praetorian Guards excel in their job. Without a further word, three of them left the house and headed in separate directions. The remaining guard stood by the door to the house, with sword drawn, watching the crowd as if waiting for someone to come running out swinging a club.
When the guard turned the corner, there was Dominic, bandaging his brother’s head with one of Poppea’s most expensive Egyptian scarves.
The guard let out a short laugh and said “You guys picked the wrong person.”
“How was I supposed to know that Poppaea was foolin’ around with Nero, or that she has Praetorian’s around?”
“That is your job, Dominic, to check out the people around the area.”
Mark rolled his eyes. “You both are morons. Shut it.”
A pause. One of those moments when it seems all topics for discussion have been exhausted.
Dominic asked, “Paul, you said you are a Pharisee?”
“No, I was a Pharisee. I was drawn away from all of that after some time”.
The business man in the other corner chimed in for the first time since waking up. “What’s the difference? You’re a Jew.”
“Oh, Alex, nice to see you finally awake, and the first words you have to say are stupid” said Mark.
Alex, which is short for Alexander, made a face showing his disapproval of Mark’s comment, but remained silent.
Paul answered Alex without seeming to notice any exchange had occurred. “Some things have changed, but in year 30 after the census, there were only four major religious groups in Israel, other than the priests, and they all held sway over the direction and decisions of the ruling body of the Jews, called the Sanhedrin. They are the Sadducees, the Scribes or Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Essenes.
“The Sadducees were heavily connected with the Priests and held considerable sway over the Sanhedrin. Even though they lost most of their power when Rome came through Israel and overthrew the Hasmonean Dynasty, they still act like royalty. They believed themselves to be generally smarter than the rest of the people around them, and they had tons of money.
“When it came to Jewish law, they were so strict and literal, that they would only accept the Law of Moses, and would reject any other teaching. They would often lack the support of the people because of their hard and uncompromising stand on belief and practice. What a sad group of people.
“They were often forced to join hands with us, the Pharisees, and tolerate their differences in politics to remain a strong influence over the Jewish people…
“…So sad.” Paul drifted off in thought. “They have the Law, but without grace only kills, it never grows…”
Snapping back to the conversation he said, “Then there were the Essenes. They were a group that believed that they were the only real ‘expression’ of God. They gave up on the temple, and almost Judaism altogether. They were always at odds with the Sanhedrin. There are still pockets of them scattered around, living out in the desert in little communities.
“Now we all hated the Romans, but the Zealots took that hatred to an art form. You know they actually believed that God would not save them from oppression until they began a revolution with violence, and literally with a sword. Lots of passion, but they were so far from God’s heart. When they got riled up I was scared to walk through the market place. There was no telling who they were going to knife in the back. If you showed any love to Rome at all you were a target.
“Always calling for revolution. Always believing that the next big thug that could wield a sword was God’s anointed leader.
“Always calling for blood.” Paul paused, smirked, and glanced at Mark. “Seriously, scary bunch…you would have fit right in.”
Mark replied with a grin, “Sounds like my type of people.”
Paul jumped right back in. He seemed to be enjoying this conversation, which consisted of him talking while everyone was waiting for him to speak. “The Pharisees, my family, we were comprised mostly of religious students that came from the middle of the social class. That made us really popular with the people. We were just like them, but religiously, we held strictly to the interpretation of the law. But not like the Sadducees. We believed some things that were not specifically talked about in the law. For example, we believed that the human spirit was eternal, that there had to be more after this life that would continue on after death. It isn’t talked about in the scriptures specifically, so the Sadducees didn’t even think about what happens after this life. The fact that we did talk about it was a point of argument with the Sadducees.
“But our big deal, our most defining thing, was our hope for a savior. We were so convinced that if we could all just live one day with out sinning, just one day with out screwing up, the savior would come.
“We were so obsessed with getting everyone to follow every little rule; so concerned with how people behaved on the Sabbath, how they washed their hands, how often they prayed…oh and the disciplines, the fasting, the sacrifices, the obsession with the temple…don’t even get me started.
“It all seems so silly now. Men creating the illusion that we could control the arrival of a messiah…and in the end, all of our pride still just led to his death.”
Paul again drifted off into a world of his own. “If only I could go back…if only I understood then…so many lost…so many I led astray…”
He face changed. He dropped his head as if disgusted with himself. The other men in the cell thought they saw tears form; but then again, like a flash, he was back and looking them in the eyes.
“I was identified early on by the elders as ‘a zealous young man’ that pursued the true meaning of the scriptures and understanding of the law.” The word “true” rolled off his tongue with deep sarcasm. “I was even elected to become a member of the Sanhedrin…” At this he smiled.
SAUL THE PHARISEE
He was a man of small stature, barely five and one half feet tall. But what he lacked in physical prowess was more than compensated for by his boundless energy, which suited his small frame. When he really got moving, he more resembled a jack rabbit or squirrel, darting from one place to the other, but always heading toward the next thing. And his eyes were dark and piercing. Most people remembered meeting Saul, because the intensity in his eyes seemed to bore through them. One could not help but feel like Saul knew their true thoughts and intents. Like all of their secrets were open books to him. Saul had become a politically active young man with surprising authority. He was a newly elected member of the Sanhedrin, and gaining political clout quickly. He was spurred on by his mentor Gamaliel. Because of his forceful energy few would dare to challenge him publically. Respect for Saul grew as others observed his drive for purity and his genius concerning The Law. Saul’s fervor was even clearer when people had the audacity to openly challenge the proven, established beliefs. There was a man named Jesus of Nazareth. For the last 3 years, he had been walking the hills of Galilee, preaching and teaching to anyone that would listen. Many say that He had performed several miracles of healing. The puzzling thing was that Jesus did not seem to have any personal ambition. Saul hadn’t really paid this Jesus much attention. Nothing worth talking about ever came from Nazareth but half-breed Samaritan dogs, common folk, and criminals. Life was in Jerusalem. Life was the temple, the law. Groups of people would gather to follow Jesus around for a while, until they grew bored. Then they would return to the synagogue to continue in the ways that they had been taught. The Sanhedrin had heard stories like this before, and were not impressed by rumors that floated in from the countryside. Until recently, he seemed to be just another roaming preacher…until he had the backing of John the Baptizer. That one…that one was dangerous. A wild man living on the edge of the city. So bold. He had no fear confronting Paul and his friends face to face. John had said “the axe is at the root of the tree.” The only thing he could mean was that something was going to take down the entire established system that had existed for so long. When Saul heard those words and saw the angry look in the wild man’s eyes, even he was a little afraid; but Herod, useless Herod, had taken care of that problem. Saul was no fan of Herod, the Roman puppet Jewish king. He thought Herod was a disgrace, maybe the primary reason the messiah had not come; but even Saul knew better than to cross him publically. The false king took care of that problem sure enough, took John’s head right off. Got the axe right, just the wrong root” Saul said to himself. And so just like John, Saul was sure that groups of people would gather to follow this Jesus around for a while. He was the newest flashy thing and hope for the messiah was so thick you could taste it in the air; but they would grow bored. Then they would return to the synagogue, the temple, and the Law. They would come back… They always did. Saul and the rest of the Sanhedrin were sure of this until a few weeks before the Passover.
Saul quietly observed the others as he reclined around a table with seven other men from the Sanhedrin. As he broke some bread from a larger loaf, he listened to the other men of the Sanhedrin that were seated discuss Jesus.
“He what?” a voice rose from one of the older man at the other end of the table.
“He raised Lazarus. You know, the rich guy that lives with his sisters in Bethel by the olive garden,” said Aaron, a fat, wealthy undisciplined man. Saul didn’t value his opinion much because he was prone to over exaggerate.
“He was dead,” Aaron continued, “Everyone knew that he was dead. He died before Jesus even showed up in town. My cousin saw them wrap him up. Everything was done right…this wasn’t a fake!” Aaron flailed his arms wildly for emphasis.
“This was just a trick,” said another as he stuffed a fig into his mouth, “how long was he in the grave?”
“Four days. But I am telling you, it was no fake!” Aaron was getting so worked up that his voice was cracking. “There are men here in Jerusalem that saw him do it! Four days buried, and out he walks, stinking of death, wrapped in his grave cloths! Now he is back home with his sisters, running the family business as if nothing happened! He even has a following now. People coming from all over to ask him what it was like.”
The older man that spoke first shifted in his seat, and began again with calm, cold, frustrated indignation. “First this Jesus claims to be God himself. Blasphemer! Then he has started to gather a following. Now this insanity!
“I have heard these crazy stories of turning water into wine or making blind men see. The people love a side show, and they will follow him where ever he goes and they will worship him.”
“Maybe he is a Zealot,” interrupted one of the younger men, “this could be another civil war.”
“And he is not a Zealot,” the old man continued, responding with indignation. “The Zealots don’t do this sort of thing!” He rose from his position and stood, hands gesturing firmly to his listeners, “This could really cause problems. They are following this Jesus, and he isn’t pushing for violence or victory over Rome, he is turning the people against us! If we leave him alone, everyone will start to believe him, and he will sway their minds, just like John. He will turn them against us. Uprisings will begin, Rome will step in and take over, and the people will lay down everything we have. Without us to lead the people, Pilot will take our land and our nation and make us slaves without a fight.”
Saul kept his thoughts to himself. How can this be? These fat spoiled fools. They are worried about the Romans and their own power and wealth and position. The real problem is blasphemy. We can’t just let this Jesus claim to be God. That can not be allowed. We must uphold the law. This heresy must be stopped.
Caiaphas the High Priest leaned across the table and tore off a corner of the loaf. He heaved a long sigh that cut off the old man’s rant and said with arrogant disgust, “You don’t know anything, you are fools. You speak without thinking. Let them follow him and call him king and savior and Messiah. Will Ceaser stand for this? Will Pilot, or even Herod?”
Caiaphas spoke with authority. He was a powerful, terrifying man, from a family that had held power for more than two generations. He understood, better than anyone else in this room, how the game of power was played among the Romans. They both shared the same desire for control.
He continued, “He speaks of giving his life for his friends, and that is why they love him. So let him die. Let him have his cross. Rome will not stand for competition. We are better off to let him die as an enemy of Rome. He will die, and we will have lost nothing.
Saul was not content with this. Anyone who would claim to be God should be tried under Jewish law and put to death. This is not for the Romans to decide. Cowards. All of them. Unfaithful cowards, afraid to make a move, because Jesus is so popular among the people. I will not be the same, I will not hesitate to defend your name, God.
Stephen was fighting to move through the mass of people like a boat trying to fight the waves during a storm. The crowd pressed against him whichever way he tried to move. He was trying to follow Jesus, but wasn’t able to get closer than the faint sound of His voice. He was taller than most and this worked to his benefit. If he was a shorter man he would have been swept away by the tide of people; but instead he could glimpse above the peoples heads the movement of Jesus. Of course, he was getting used to this type of struggle. The throng of followers had been growing since earlier in the day, after the raising of Lazarus.
Stephen had not known Lazarus, but he was there, at the tomb, and had seen him walk out from the mouth of the cave with his own eyes.
For almost a year now, Stephen had been following Jesus from a distance, but had never tried to approach Jesus or the twelve men at the forefront of His followers.
Now he was trailing behind, close enough to catch a glimpse of his actions, always at the very edge of hearing what He was saying. There were several things that kept Stephen from stepping in close to the crowd.
First of all, Stephen was a Hellenist Jew. As a Hellenist, he was a man caught between traditional laws and modern ways of thinking and between what was easy to believe and what was very unpopular to live. He believed that the Law contained the key to living, but logic and philosophy provided keys to understanding it.
At times, Jesus seemed very logical, and at times overly practical. That was what Stephen loved about Jesus. Other times, Jesus’ stories were bizarre and flew directly in the face of logic. One thing Stephen was sure of, no one spoke of the Law and life with God like Jesus did.
His second reason for not stepping closer was his appearance. As a Hellenist, instead of letting his hair grow long and curl like the majority of the Jewish males, he kept his hair short. This was his way of making a statement to the world, to show that he was Greek in life and thought. He was different from the standard Jew.
The recent years that he had spent abroad in places like Alexandria and Rome had opened his eyes to a broader view of the world. For Stephen to approach the man and the crowd that followed Him, would place Jesus and Stephen in a very awkward place.
The third reason for Stephen to keep his distance was the direction that Jesus was headed with his teaching. It was new and fresh, and strongly resembled a new thought in the Jewish religion. Stephen was a strong man in belief, but would not take a stand until he knew that Jesus was really the man that he claimed to be. In the past, he could not be sure of Jesus of Nazareth and the words that he proclaimed, but the miracles that He had recently performed had created a confidence in Stephen that he had never felt before.
Now he wondered what someone like Philo would say. Philo was a Jewish philosophical thinker from Egypt that brought Hellenistic ideas and related them to the Hebrew Scriptures. Stephen was an admirer of him, but always felt like Philo was missing something…something that Jesus seemed to have.
In talks with his friend Saul, a Greek born Jewish man that was studying to become a Pharisee, they would argue the significance of the Scriptures in today’s life and culture. Saul loved to engage in long debates with Stephen where he used the law to defend against anything new.
Every discussion with Saul left Stephen feeling like the rules of the “old ways”, as he like to call it to upset Saul, were just that – “old”.
He could also feel the relationship that he had with Saul beginning to separate. The more their talks ended with each man “agreeing to disagree”, the less they seemed to have in common.
And the closer Stephen believed what Jesus was teaching, the less he wanted to stay the same.
Stephen felt like a man looking over the edge of a cliff, wondering if it was safe to jump. He was about ready to publicly follow Jesus, but needed just a little more. So here he was, trying to get a moment close enough to pose a few questions to Jesus, navigating through the crowd, trying to cut in closer, but terrified at the same time.
Suddenly, the crowd broke free. Stephen found himself standing alone, in the middle of the street. He chased after one of the men that had also been in the throng.
“Excuse me, Sir!” he yelled.
The man turned slowly, like people do when they hear a voice but question whose attention the caller was trying to gain.
Then they made eye contact and the man raised his bushy eyebrows, but didn’t speak.
Again Stephen called, “Sir, please, can you tell me which way Jesus went?”
“No one knows”, the man replied as he shrugged his shoulders. “I asked a few people closer to him than I was. All I got from the others was that he said that he needed to move on. Then he moved into the crowd, and was gone. Weird.”
Stephen walked along the street slowly, taking a circuitous route to the house that he and his wife had been renting for the past several months.
“Stephen?” called Ruth.
“Yeah, it’s me”, he replied; “now I’ve really lost him. He has gone, and no one knows where. Even those twelve men that seem to stick by his side are gone.”
“You’ll find Him. Men like that don’t disappear easily”.
For several days after the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus seemed to disappear from the public eye. He was not seen walking openly among the people, nor teaching in public as had become his habit.
The chief priests and Pharisees made it public that if any one knew where Jesus was, to come forward, so that they could take him and question him.
About a week before Passover, throngs of Jews from all parts of the world flooded the temple in Jerusalem to gather for a feast and celebrate the anniversary of their freedom from the bondage of Egypt. The town was pulsing with activity, but not as intense as in previous years.
Saul sat quietly in the shadows of the temple, listening as Caiaphas, the High Priest, and Annas, Caiaphas’s father-in-law, discussed the latest news.
“Do the crowds seem to be smaller than normal, this close to Passover?”, Caiaphas asked, leaving the last words hanging as if he already knew the answer to his question.
“I suppose. Why do you ask?” replied Annas.
“They are a few miles from here in Bethany. Do you know why they are there?”
Then after a short pause, he continued, “That is where the man Lazarus lives. Many of the Jews are leaving Jerusalem to go and see him”.
“So, let them, they will all return disappointed. What will they see? They will go, and they will see a man. Lazarus is no different than you or I. He gets this attention because some people say that he was dead and is alive again. It will pass.”
The Nazarene is with them.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Our problems would greatly diminish if the Romans were to try him for treason sooner than later. His death would end this. If only the Romans were aware of how surreptitious He has been…” Caiaphas hesitated.
“The people also go to see Lazarus; do we have the Romans kill him too? Do you really think that putting people to death will stop this nonsense?”
“Maybe. That may be too much. He is very wealthy,” Caiaphas paused to ponder, “His fame will disappear if the Nazarene is dismissed. No reason to go overboard.”
The next day, amid the growing excitement that accompanied the week before Passover, Saul felt a hollow ache in his chest that grew stronger every time someone would mention the name of Jesus. It seemed that every hour, another young Pharisee was reporting on the heretic’s recent activity.
Last reports had placed him just inside the gate of Jerusalem.
The last one has burst into the room and exclaimed with fear in his voice, “People are all crowded along the road, calling his name, and then calling him ‘King of Israel’.
“Things are getting crazy out there! Then they were waving palm branches and laying them on the road. They were quoting Zechariah about the prophecy of a king that would come riding on a donkey’s colt. I’m telling you, this can’t end well.”
Saul wondered about these things.
Why would He do this? Why come riding to Jerusalem on a donkey? He must know what he is doing, claiming to be God and God’s Son, and then feigning humility by riding on a colt. He must know the prophecies. The people have such a simple way about them. One smooth talker comes along, and they are so easily swept aside. Jesus’ teaching is new to their ears, but they don’t really listen. All they want is more show…more miracles. He spews blasphemy, and turns them away from the Law. Even claims to give eternal life and forgive sin! He is taking advantage of their lack of education. They can’t sort the truth from the lies, and he continues to move the masses toward himself, and away from those of us who have devoted our lives to understanding the scriptures.
Abruptly, another one of the Pharisees came running into the room, ripping Saul from his moment of contemplation. “Saul, what do you think could top Jesus riding to Jerusalem on a donkey, on the Sabbath before Passover, while everyone calls Him the King and waves these stupid palm branches at him?”
Sarcastically he replied, “He walked into the temple and proclaimed himself Messiah. I can only imagine. What?”
“You are close. He walked into the temple, and grabbed a whip, and chased out the bankers and the merchants. He literally drove them out. He kicked over their tables, sending coins flying all over the place. He yelled at all of them and said ‘My house is a house of prayer, and you have made it a den of thieves!’ Do you believe it? He actually called the temple His house!”
“Who does he think he is!” Saul rose from his seat. “Who gave him the authority? The people will have his head for this.”
“No. The people loved it! They came from all over to listen to what he was saying. He even started healing people in the temple. Right now there are people crying everywhere and saying ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ because they are starting to believe that he is our promised king. Caiaphas, Gamaliel, Nicodemus, all of the Pharisees and Sadducees are there.
“But you haven’t heard the best part. Caiaphas looked at Jesus and asked him if he realized what the people were saying. Jesus looked at the people, and then back at Caiaphas and said ‘haven’t you read, Out of the mouth of babies comes perfect praise?’ He used prophesy and scripture to refer to himself as God, right in front of all of them! To Caiaphas’ face!”
Saul’s mind wandered to his friend Stephen. He knew that this was the type of controversy that Stephen loved.
The ache in Saul’s stomach had returned.
Though the next few days, the Pharisees continued to pursue Jesus, constantly bombarding him with questions, trying to trap Him and trick Him into openly speaking out against Caesar and Rome. Nothing worked so far.
Saul walked quickly to the temple. Jesus was teaching again. Several of the scribes and priests thought that they had figured out the magic words that would beat the Nazarene at his own gave. Saul was curious.
“By what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this power?” called out one of the priests.
“You heal people. You claim to be God!” cried out another.
Quickly a third one yelled, “You even let the people worship you!”.
Jesus patiently listened to each one individually, looking into their eyes as they spoke, and then replied, “I will ask all of you one question. You give me an answer, and I will tell you where my authority comes from.”
The men nodded, excited and expectant for the challenge.
“The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?
The men stood dumb founded. Saul was frustrated and could not help but show it with his knit eyebrows and furrowed brow.
“Answer me,” Jesus said calmly with a smirk.
Now Stephen and two of his friends stood and watched in amazement at the way Jesus handled the questions. Stephen had met Timon and Nicanor at the synagogue he and Ruth had recently began attending. They were Hellenists as well. Stephen loved their company. Conversation was never a problem because they were as taken with Jesus as Stephen was. The three of them could sit for hours on Stephen’s roof, talking about the inspiring man from Nazareth, swapping stories they had heard in the market place, and just hanging out. They were the closest friends Stephen had ever had. He loved them both dearly.
Timon, a spunky small man full of life that loved to laugh, whispered to the other two, “The Pharisees look like there out for blood today. They’re not playing around any more. Look at how serious they are.”
The three friends had become so familiar with the process that he began to recognize several of the priests and Pharisees that regularly approached Jesus.
Nicanor, a balding thin man with boyish looks added, “It was almost as if they’re taking shifts. I saw the fat one question him yesterday and the old one earlier this morning.”
Stephen gasped. “There’s Saul!” he whispered to the other two with surprise.
Timon replied with a half laugh on his lips, “Oh if he gets in the mix things will get fun.”
Stephen was surprised to see Saul there. Saul had recently started helping at the synagogue of Freedmen the three friends attended; probably because of the talks that he and Stephen had been having recently.
Stephen loved hearing him read and interpret the Torah. When Saul read it, it seemed to come alive. The three friends had unanimously agreed one night on the roof that Saul was different; some kind of prodigy. He had an amazing mind and intense passion for the Law.
Recently Saul had read from Exodus and then given a short speech entitled, “The Law Gives Life.” Amazing stuff. Stephen had been blown away at Saul’s ability to tie so much of the Torah together into digestible pieces. Timon’s only comment about the speech had been that it hurt his head; and Timon was never short for words.
Stephen knew Saul was becoming a well respected Pharisee, but he had not noticed him hanging around Jesus before. This would have come up on conversation.
No way he’s a follower, Stephen thought to himself.
Stephen maneuvered to his left a little to get a better look at Saul’s face. Sure enough, Saul’s expression was not one of interest, or even curiosity. It was pure frustration.
With each failed attempt to trick Jesus, Saul became more and more angry; angry at Jesus and angry at his fellow Pharisees. Stephen wished he could see in Saul’s head and read his mind. What was he thinking?
The priests stepped away from Jesus, and spoke in hushed tones to each other.
“If we say that John was of God, then we’ll look like idiots, because we did not believe him”.
“We even let Herod kill him”, added another.
“Let Herod? We prayed for it openly…but if we say that John was doing his own thing, the people will hate us, because they all think that he was a prophet”.
With a grim look on their faces, they returned to Jesus, and replied “We can not tell. We can not tell if John was of men or of heaven”.
Jesus looked at crowd, then at the priests and replied with a smile, “then I can not tell you under whose authority I do what I do”.
Then he calmly stood and walked away.
JESUS 2, LEADERS 0
In the quiet jail cell, Paul paused in reflection.
“I wish that I had taken more time with Stephen, to try to understand him…well…I mean, with a mind that was open. I only thought of him as a confused young man. Good, but confused.
Again Paul drifted off into another place. Mark couldn’t help but wonder where he went. What was he remembering?
Still in a daze Paul said, “I regret so much from then…If only things had been different…If only I hadn’t off been so blind…to have spoken to him…He was right there…right under my nose…but I was so blind.”
Paul eyes seemed to mist over, as if he would cry.
Mark had to break the silence. “Stephen you mean? You wish you had spoken to Stephen?”
Again, the old man snapped back to reality. His eyes filled with energy and his voice filled with spunk “Stephen! Yes, we were talking about Stephen!”
Timon was struggling not to burst into outright laughter. He whispered to Nicanor emphasizing each word, “That whole John the Baptizer thing was AWESOME!”
Stephen grabbed Nicanor by the arm and motioned to Timon. “Common,” Stephen said, “This is our chance.” The three quickly followed Jesus and his twelve guard dogs down a back street he left the Pharisees and the crowd stunned.
Stephen had learned enough about Jesus’ disciples to know that recently they had served more as crowd control for Jesus than disciples. Several times, Stephen had watched as these Galilean men turned away other Hellenists when they tried to approach Jesus with questions. This time Stephen would not be deterred. He had to know. He had to speak with Jesus, even if just for a moment.
Stephen hastened his pace until he was directly behind the disciple he had heard called Phillip.
“Phillip!” yelled Stephen.
Phillip slowly turned and recognized Stephen and his cohorts for what they were. The disciples had no time for these Greek Jews.
“Yes” Philip replied shortly.
Stephen stood up straighter and said with force “We want to see Jesus.” As he did this, he gestured around him to indicate that he was with the others.
Philip hesitated one moment, and then moved around to where Andrew, one of the other disciples, was standing. Philip gave his head a quick nod in Stephens’s direction, and spoke softly. Andrew and Philip both turned to look at Jesus, who was patiently waiting for them to finish speaking.
Jesus spoke to Philip and Andrew, but looked past them and locked eyes with Stephen. He said with determination in his voice Stephen had not heard before, “The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified. If any man will serve me, let him follow me, and be where I am. That is where my servant will be, and my Father will honor him.”
Stephen had chills. All his doubts disappeared. He was sure. This was the Son of God.
The priests were furious. No one ever humiliated them like that. This would not, could not go unpunished.
They knew that their time was running out. Jesus was growing more popular by the minute.
Caiaphas, who had been watching secretly from a distance, came forward from the shadows with a terrifying look in his eye. He spoke first to the fat priest, “Aaron, gather the men and the guard together. Go and wait for my command. We take him tonight. I don’t care where He is or what he is doing.”
Turning to another priest Caiaphas barked sharply, “John, follow him. As soon as he says something we can use, anything, I don’t care what it is, you send word to me. You understand?”
John nodded sheepishly and ran down the road after Jesus.
Caiaphas turned to the rest of the group and with venom demanded, “Find him and trap him! Trick him into saying something against Caesar. I am tired of this foolishness. He dares to call us clumsy ones that will fall on stones and die! I suppose he thinks he is a stone? Let us watch this pebble disappear in the ocean of Rome. This ends now!”
Stephen, Timon, and Nicanor watched from a distance as the familiar scene began to replay. Jesus, as calm as a mountain stood with the twelve behind him. The priests and Pharisees gathered around him. But this time something was different. The accusers were desperate; more determined than before. There was a wild look in their eyes.
With fear in his voice Nicanor whispered to the other two, “I think you were right Timon. They are out for blood.”
“Master” one of the priests began with think sarcasm in his voice, “We know that your teaching is right and true, and you don’t change your answers, no matter who is asking the questions.
“Could you tell us, is it lawful for us to give taxes to Caesar, or not?”
Jesus stopped and considered, as always.
Saul became nervous. This was a rhetorical trick he used often. He knew Jesus was not pondering an answer but rather waiting for the wind in his opponent’s sails to calm, waiting before he again ended the discussion with a simple return that left them sorry they had asked.
“Why do you tease me and trick me?” Jesus asked. He paused for a moment, studying their eyes. “Show me a penny”.
Several of the men began fumbling around to produce a coin. A priest in the front finally held one up high.
“Whose image is on the penny?”
They all answered in a strange unison, “Caesar’s”.
He paused again, and then said “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”
The priests stopped breathing for a moment. The men that were waiting to take hold of Jesus were staring, caught in the wonder of the answer that Jesus had given, not sure how they were to respond.
It didn’t end there. Stephen, Timon, and Nicanor watch as over and over for the next several days, Sadducees and Pharisees and priests tried to find a flaw that would allow them to take Jesus and try him for treason.
A few nights later the three men reclined in Stephen’s house and talked about the events of the day.
“They are so angry,” commented Nicanor. “I fear what happens if he slips and they catch him in a twist. The mob is so energized by him. There will be a riot like this city has never seen.”
Ruth entered with more wine. As she poured Stephen a new cup she said, “At this point they must know that. They must know that they need to get him away from the crowd. They will take him when he is alone. When no one is around.”
“How did I marry such a smart woman?” Stephen said with a smile.
“The Lord knows you don’t deserve me.” Ruth laughed as she left the room. “Good thing for you your father was smarted than you are.”
“I guess you finally caught Jesus. Everyone knows that story” replied Alex.
“Yeah, we caught Him”, and again, Paul’s gaze drifted away into the distance. Then Paul shook his head as if snapping himself back to reality. “I can still remember how elated I was that we had finally put an end to it all. At least I thought it would all end there.”
“How did you catch Him?” asked Dominic as he leaned forward, his dark eye brows raised in curiosity.
“Just one day before the Passover, one of Jesus disciples approached the Sanhedrin. His name was Judas. Judas Iscariot. He was a Zealot before he joined Jesus’ crew. He provided us the information regarding the location of Jesus; when he would be alone, how to approach Him, everything. Together, we devised a plan to arrest Jesus.
“I followed the actions of the Sanhedrin, but never stepped forward to take part in the planning. At several points, I even wanted to question their motives…they were so desperate to hold on to their power. I even heard that the priests had paid off several elders to testify that Jesus was speaking out against Rome, and forbidding others to give taxes to Caesar. I was disgusted by their corruption. It was enough for me that Jesus would claim to be the “King” from David’s line of succession. When he also claimed to be God Jehovah himself, that was all I needed to see him destroyed.
“The High Priest seemed more concerned with his political standing and the threat to his power. He wanted to use this event to steal more power from Pilate.
Paul looked away and continued, “…No, it was too much for me to comprehend. My confusion led to anger.”
He looked back. “They arrested Jesus in a garden, and for the next 24 hours, he stood trial on his testimony that he was a king. In fact, He agreed when the Romans asked him if he was, in fact, the ‘King of the Jews’.
“I thought that would have finished it…but no, they tossed him back and forth between the Jews and the Romans. The Son of God became a pawn in the political games of men.
Anger flared in his voice, “How much more blind could I have been!”
Another pause while Paul collected his thoughts. He took a few more deep breaths.
“It does me good to remember my foolishness.
“The Romans, still decided that he was not a danger to Caesar, turned Him over to the Sanhedrin and the people of Jerusalem to determine his punishment.”
“Why did the Jews take him to the Romans in the first place? Why not execute him on their own?” asked Darius.
“The Jews could hold trials and punish offenses, but they couldn’t issue the death penalty. The Romans wouldn’t let them. They needed Rome to convict him.
“Pilate had his own agenda. He wasn’t about to hand us what we needed, he hated the Jews like the Jews hated the Romans, but, he also had a political prisoner on his hands that could not go unpunished.
”He had the legion beat and whip him more than I have seen any man endure, and then sent him back to us.
“We, in turn, provoked the mobs to ask for the death of Jesus by crucifixion. With all of the talk of revolution in the air it wasn’t difficult to get the people to kill a man that was caught in the middle.
“I am ashamed to say that even I, a devout Pharisee that loved the Jewish law and would never swear allegiance to any earthly king, found myself standing at Pilate’s gate screaming, ‘No King but Ceaser!’.
”Within the next day, Jesus died the slow painful death of hanging on the cross.”
Paul paused in his story for a long time, staring into his lap. The others in the cell thought that he had fallen asleep, he sat so still.
“Paul” spoke Alex, in a soft voice.
“I’m sorry, I was just thinking. I remember being so sure of what we were doing, it overwhelms me. I remember feeling like Jesus couldn’t be put to death soon enough. I couldn’t stand the sight of Him. He had turned everything upside down.
“When he was finally off the cross, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.”
“Did you ever hear of the stories about Jesus being seen after he had died? They were all over the place” commented Alex.
Paul’s face brightened. “Oh yeah, we called them ‘the Jesus sightings’.
“You are right, there were many of them. My favorite one was…”
Early afternoon on Sunday after Jesus died, two of His disciples were leaving Jerusalem to head toward a small town called Emmaus.
With clearly marked roads and fairly level ground, the seven and a half mile journey would normally two young men three hours at the most. Today, at the pace that they were plodding along, it was shaping up to be a four hour walk.
The events of the past week had been an emotional roller coaster. Exactly one week ago, they had thrown palm on the street as Jesus of Nazareth rode across them into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. It has seemed that every Jew in the city had come out to welcome Him.
Then so quickly the mood had changed. Four days later, they found themselves staring up to the top of a hill, where three men were hung on a cross. The middle one was Jesus.
That was three days ago. Now the two men were walking along at a solemn pace to visit some friends, other former followers of Jesus who were also unsure of the direction that their life should now take.
Both of them looked emotionally spent, heads hung low, shoulders slumped, eyes always staring down at the road in front of them.
“Cleopas, do you believe how quickly everyone turned on him?” mused the first.
“How many times are you going to ask me that?” replied Cleopas.
“Until you give me an answer, I guess. What do you suppose went wrong? He was supposed to free us, not die. And what of this empty tomb? Cleopas, how do you explain that?”
Cleopas sighed, “I don’t know. I was as surprised as you when Peter told us that the body was missing.”
“I wish this was all different. It feels like we are walking in a dream”.
The pace never changed. Each of them walked side by side on the dusty road. Unconsciously matching strides, their gaze focused somewhere about 2 feet in front of where their feet landed with every step. Neither one noticing that there was a third traveler falling into pace behind them.
“He said that he would not leave us. He said he was Messiah.”
“I know”, answered Cleopas, with a little bit of edge in his voice. Obviously, this conversation was starting to bother him, but neither Cleopas or his companion knew if it was because they were disappointed with the violent end of the man that they had followed and trusted, of because of all of the unanswered questions.
A voice from directly behind them startled them. “Why are you both so sad? What are you talking about?”
Anger rose in Cleopas’ stomach. Who would follow someone, listen in on a conversation, uninvited, and ask such a stupid question.
As the events of the past week passed through his mind, emotions broke upon him like waves crashing to shore one after another.
Cleopas gradually slowed the pace.
Grief, frustration, irritation, sadness, and the anger that boiled beneath the surface…it was all too overwhelming.
Cleopas stopped. He completely stopped. He stared forward. His face showed every feeling as they passed through his mind.
He took several deep breaths and paused before turning to face the stranger.
His body slowly turned to face backward, but his head and eyes stared at the stony road.
No words were required to portray his emotions, but still he couldn’t contain has feelings.
“Are you a stranger, so new to Jerusalem, that you don’t even have any idea of all the things that have happened here in the past three days?” he snapped.
“What things?” the visitor replied in the most innocent of voices.
Cleopas lifted his gaze and locked stares with third man…but then as he met the stranger’s eyes he saw innocence in them and realized that the entire world could not share in the amount of grief that he felt.
Those simple, honest eyes shifted from one disciple to the other, and the new comer asked again, “What’s been going on?”
Overwhelmed by the immensity of the story that they were being asked to share, the two disciples turned toward Emmaus and began moving again.
Not knowing where to begin, not able to keep the story contained any longer, they began spewing facts and half finished thoughts at the new comer…
“About Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet. You don’t know?”
“He did the most amazing things.”
“And spoke with authority and made everyone stop and listen…”
As each man took turns speaking, their heads half spun to look at the guest who had fallen in step between them.
One man would barely wait for the other to finish before cutting in.
“Like no one has before. He stood proud before priests, Pharisees…everyone…”
“…He had nothing to be ashamed of…”
“He didn’t deserve it! What they did.”
“How the chief priests and our own rulers took him to condemn him to death, and then crucified him.”
“And we trusted in Him. He said he would deliver us. We gave up everything for him…”
“It’s only been three days since they murdered him…on the cross.”
“Yes, and this morning some of the women went to the tomb where he was buried, and then came running back, saying that there were angels around the tomb telling them that He was alive.”
“Then some of the others went to look too…”
“…and they didn’t see Him either.”
“And we didn’t know what to think…”
“…or where to go”, finally a pause, and then a sigh, “So we are going to Emmaus, to see friends.”
That final pause seemed to sap the energy from the two speakers. Now that this burst of information had been delivered, their stride fell back into the sad stupor from before.
Seeming totally oblivious to the fact that the three men were already moving in the same direction, Cleopas faced him again and said “You are welcome to walk with us if you like”.
“Thank you, I would like that.” The stranger flashed a friendly smile and let the silence hang in the air.
Several minutes passed, and the visitor broke the silence. “It still amazes me,” he paused, “How foolish can you both be?”
Both men stopped moving. Cleopas snapped his head in angered amazement looking back.
The stranger locked eyes with Cleopas and quickly continued, “Why are you so slow to get it? Don’t you remember anything that the prophets said? Didn’t they say that Christ had to suffer these things so that He could enter into His glory?
“In the books of the Law, in Deuteronomy, didn’t Moses write that God would raise up a prophet? Didn’t Jeremiah tell us that God would bring forward a King from David’s line?”
Then, without pause, the stranger started walking again, this time taking the lead but still at a normal pace. The other two looked blankly at each other for a moment, then walked quickly forward to catch up, not exactly sure what to think of the boldness of the unfamiliar man.
For the final hours of this journey, he walked the two friends through the story of the Scripture. He spoke to them of prophecy after prophecy that had fulfilled by Jesus.
He comforted them with assurances that all was still going according to God’s plan. With each word, the friend’s sadness began to fade, and seeds of hope began to take root.
As they neared the village they approached a fork in the road. To the left the road continued on towards the coastal towns, the other entered the city of Emmaus.
The friends moved to the right, toward their friend’s house, but the visitor had stopped to continue past the city. “It’s has been good to walk with you both.”
Desperate not to loose this incredible man who seemed to have all the answers, Cleopas stumbled over his words, “Do you have to go that way? I mean…please stay. It will be dark before you go much farther, the day is almost over.”
Quietly the man nodded his head, gently smiled, and followed them into the city.
As they sat down to eat dinner, Cleopas had a feeling that things would be okay. Strangely, everything felt right, in a familiar way. The two travelling disciples sat on either side of their travel companion.
The conversation flowed freely around the table. They shared stories and shared laughter.
As he was taking a drink, Cleopas looked up from his cup to watch their new friend reach across the table and take both loaves of bread into his hands. Something was nagging in the back of his mind. Cleopas paused; his wine paused half way between his mouth and the table. He was thinking to himself how this was all so familiar.
After grabbing the bread, he bowed his head and raised to two loaves of bread. He thanked his father for once again providing nourishment, never forsaking his children.
Setting one loaf of bread back on the table, the man, no longer a stranger, kissed the other loaf, broke it, and passed it to the two disciples on either side of him.
As he and handed each of the disciples a piece of bread, he was careful to make eye contact with them
The one on the left jumped up from the table!
“Cleopas! It’s Jesus!”
Cleopas eyes wide, he looked from his friend to Jesus and started to rise, bumping the table, spilling his wine.
And at that moment Jesus was gone.
Cleopas grinned as he wiped up the spilled wine with an old rag.
His friend was babbling in the corner, “Man, we should have known. Who else could have made us feel the way we did on the road?”, gasping for air, “All of the things that he said, the way that he spoke. His explanation of all of the things that we should have already known? The aching of our hearts, longing to see him again, and he was with us all along.”
Cleopas sighed, wishing that he could reclaim this lost opportunity.
Before they rested that night, the two travelers returned to Jerusalem, to find the remaining eleven disciples and the others that were gathered with them, to tell them that Peter had been right, and Jesus was definitely alive!
“So, what happened then, Paul?” asked Mark, who had been silent for some time. He seemed to be annoyed, wanting to reach the end of the story. “What does all of this have to do with you being here in prison?”
“About 50 days after all of that stuff happened with Jesus came Pentecost. I love Pentecost. We call it the Feast of the First Fruits. It is a huge party to commemorate the corn harvest, the last crop to be harvested in each season. Jews from every corner of the world gathered together for this feast, and that included my mom and dad. Every Pentecost, we would get together at my sister’s house.”
Saul’s mother danced around the room preparing the meal, weaving in and out of family members standing in the small kitchen and sitting at the table. The flow of words was constant, speaking non stop to anyone that would listen.
“The Pharisee of the Pharisees you know. They say nothing but excellent things.” She stopped behind where he was sitting to straighten his hair from behind.
“Cut it out, Mom. I’m not four”, as he swatted her hand away.
Ignoring him completely as if he wasn’t in the room, she started moving about the room again. “Such a book worm he is, though. They say he is always about studying and learning. Wanting to know the truth.”
Dropping her voice a little, “If only he would meet a nice girl…start a family…have a son. But no. Not my boy. Too busy reading. Well, at least he isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in.”
“Saying what you think isn’t always a good thing, Mom. Sometimes it can get you in trouble. I’ve made some enemies.
“They think that I take myself too seriously”, Saul continued. “Some of the older priests have been telling me to ease up some. They tell me that I am “over” zealous,” at he word “over” he held two fingers in each hand up in the air, making quotation marks in the air, “if that is possible.”
“Nonsense. You are a Pharisee. That is your place. Excitement for the Law is what makes it real, what makes people believe in you. We look to men like you to teach us”, answered Jeremiah, Saul’s father.
“But I find it exceedingly difficult to tolerate others, Father, that don’t understand the Law and the Prophets, and it infuriates me. When some take the words of the Law and twist them to fit their own interpretation…I can’t stand it! This is not some mere book. This is the Word of God.”
“Saul, trust the Lord. He will be faithful to give you the wisdom that you need, to make the changes that He wants you to make.”
“Twenty years into my studies, and still my Father passes to me wisdom from “on high.”
“What’s the commotion outside?” The noise of the foot traffic outside had risen to the point that the conversation inside the house was almost impossible. Even still, there were voices that rang clear in the distance. Paul’s sister had jumped up from the table, and was looking out the window.
People were streaming down the street, gathering in an open area at the end. Several men were motioning everyone in the area to come closer.
Saul didn’t seem impressed. Public speaking wasn’t so rare. His father and mother jumped up in excitement and headed toward the door, drawn to the commotion.
Jeremiah pushed his way through the crowd, trying to hear what the men at the center were saying.
As he passed people, he overheard one man say to his friend “What kind of sign is this? How is it that these fishermen from Galilee, of all places, speak so many languages?”
His friend replied with loud slurred speech, “ne wors in Arabic, but shews from Spain hearin’ same shtuff. The’re drunk! I love Pentecosh.”
“No, you are,” replied the friend as he pushed forward.
Jeremiah could almost hear the words from the man speaking at the front…
“…listen to my words. We are not drunk, as some of you are saying. How could we be drunk so early in the morning? Listen to the prophet Jos…”
As he excused himself to work his way forward, he noticed the differences of the people in the crowd. Some were local to the area. Some wore the dress of Egypt, and some of Greece. To the right were several Ethiopians, conversing in a language unknown to him. He continued to gaze in every direction. There were small pockets of Parthians, Medes and Elamites in front of him. Scattered here and there were groups of men from Mesopotamia, local Judeans, and Jewish Asians like himself. Libyans, Cretes, Arabians. He couldn’t ever remember seeing a crowd like this gathered together at one time.
He had to focus to hear what was being said. There was still a tight pack of people between himself and the front of the crowd. The words drifted his way above the commotion…
“…of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders…,” spoke one of the men. His voice seemed to be growing in confidence and strength. Jeremiah no longer needed to strain to make out what was being said.
“…ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death…”
Gasps erupted from the whole crowd. Everyone was drawn to this man, hanging on every word.
Jeremiah was struck in amazement. He spun to the right, and saw the way that the Ethiopians were also amazed by what was being said. He asked one of them,
“How can you understand? Do you know what he is saying?”
“Yes”, several of them replied excitedly. “But we speak Aramaic as well as you. He is not speaking in Aramaic. We hear him in our own language.”
“But that is not possible. He is speaking perfect Aramaic.”
“No sir”, they argued.
Jeremiah turned around to face some men of Mesopotamia behind him.
“Do you understand him clearly”?
“Of course, he is speaking in a clear Roman dialect.”
Jeremiah slowly turned to face the speaker again, absorbing every word.
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.
Stephen lost focus on the conversation he was having with a tall elderly woman and shifted his eyes to glance over her shoulder.
They were there, and still coming on strong. He had watched them for several blocks.
Saul was leading the way, his short legs pumping at full speed, his small, dark, piercing eyes boring through the crowds, staring directly at him. There was a hoard of temple guards following in Saul’s wake.
Stephen knew that Saul would be coming for him sooner or later. He could only hope that their friendship held enough value to outweigh their differences…but knowing Saul’s stubbornness, there was slim chance.
Steven looked back at Deborah. “Um, I’m sorry. I was distracted for a moment. What were you saying Deborah?”
“I was saying,” the elderly woman said slowly and softly as if each word were a strain, “my roof is leaking again.”
He grinned, “Isn’t that an easy way to collect water?” She smiled back.
“We will absolutely take care of it.” Then he turned his head to look over his shoulder. “Look over there,” Stephen stretched his arm to point through the crowd. “You see the tall man there? That is Thaddeus. Tell him I sent you. He is one of us. He will make sure you are taken care of.”
“Oh? Can you not come help me this time? I enjoy our chats. I like it when you bring your boys along,” Deborah said with ring sweet disappointment in her voice.
“I would love to. And the boys would love the honey you give them,” Stephen said with a smile; and then looking at the men closing in like wolves, “But I think I’m about to be indisposed for a while. Make sure you go catch Thaddeus before he leaves.”
Deborah thanked him and took a few steps toward Thaddeus. She was gone just as Saul arrived.
The tall scholar looked down but stood toe to toe with the tall Greek. They looked one another in the eye in silence for a moment. He was so close Stephen could feel the Pharisee’s breath on his neck. Stephen was a rock, motionless.
Saul smiled a brief forced smile.
“Hello, my friend”, Stephen said somberly.
“Stephen, you knew that I would come.”
“Yes, I assumed. Is this necessary?”
“Are you going to stop?”
“Saul, you know that I can’t.”
Saul breathed a long sigh.
Looked at the ground between his feet.
Slowly moved his head back to look up at Stephen, then to the nearest guard. “Take him.”
Two guards grabbed Stephen by his elbows and followed Saul as he made his way back to the council.
Stephen was catapulted through the doors of the hall and into the street by two temple guards. His nose was bleeding, probably broken. His left eye was puffy and swollen.
Following behind him were screaming Pharisees, faces red as scarlet, arms waving wildly, pointing at Stephen. The words that they yelled were so mingled with spit and hatred, they were garbled beyond recognition.
Throngs of curious onlookers began to gather from every direction.
Still disoriented from being hit and then thrown out of the building, Stephen couldn’t keep his footing. The soldiers simply dragged him along while he tried to catch up with his own legs, stumbling and bruised from scraping against the dirt and stones.
The crowded streets parted as they passed through and then rejoined to follow, like water around the hulk of a ship. As the procession moved forward, more and more people joined to see the spectacle. A merchant leading two camels reacted a moment too slow, and was pushed to the ground by the end of a guards spear and trampled by the crowd.
Stephen heard a scream.
He stretched his head to the side and caught a glimpse of Ruth. His heart broke. She must have been worried and come to look for him. Now she was weeping and screaming, clawing her way through people, trying to reach for him. He had never seen her in so much pain. The look on her face was more than he could bear. He began to sob. Each tear hurt as is slipped from his eyes and dropped to the dust.
Nicanor and Stephen’s new friend John were near by and ran both with her, restraining her, keeping her from being trampled by the mob. The two strong men wept as well.
Stephen was drug by them and did his best to focus his mind. “Please Lord. Please.” was all he could manage to think.
Nicanor watched as his dear friend’s feet dragged along the ground, leaving a trail of blood in the dirt.
A guard tripped and fell, and Stephen fell with him. The other guard hit Stephen on the back as he yelled “Get up and walk!”
Nicanor erupted with rage. He let go of Ruth and she fell to the ground. John, perceiving Nicanor’s next moves, dropped Ruth as well and sprang behind Nicanor wrapping both arms around his waist to keep him from attacking the mob. Nicanor strained against John tight grip struggling to get to his dying friend.
A large hand rested on Nicanor’s shoulder with enough weight to bring stillness. Nicanor was immediately calmed and began to weep. His legs gave out and he was supported by two men.
Peter leaned over and quietly whispered in his ear, “There is nothing you can do for him now. He has chosen this. Take Ruth away from here. She doesn’t need to see this.”
Nicanor looked down to where Ruth was kneeling, rocking back and forth, gripping her stomach in pain.
“Take…her…home,” Peter emphasized again. “Others are already on their way to meet you.”
Nicanor gave one last longing tearful look at the mob. His friend was already out of sight. His strength began to return. He took a deep breath, gained his composure, bent down, and scooped up the soon to be widow.
She went limp in his arms. John placed his hands on either side of Nicanor’s face and gently brought their foreheads together. “We will meet you there soon brother.”
Tears were streaming down his face as well.
Once they had cleared the crowd, Ruth began to mutter to herself between sobs, “Oh God…Oh God…why couldn’t he have just kept his mouth shut.”
This scene was not necessarily abnormal in the city. With local law and the increasing oppression of the Romans, public scourging was fairly frequent.
What demanded the attention of onlookers were the men that dragged Stephen through the streets. They were not the normal population of the city. These were the upright and holy men of the temple. Priests. Pharisees. Members of the Sanhedrin. The protectors of the Law of Moses. The leaders of the Jewish faith. The serene and calm.
Not today…these men were anything but calm.
Just moments ago, with just a few words, Stephen had transformed them all into raging beasts.
Stephen’s popularity and influence over the local church at Jerusalem skyrocketed after Jesus’ death. His easy manner attracted the Hellenistic Jews like himself, the Jews that resided in the city, as well as the foreigners that had moved in from other countries. His position as deacon allowed him to become familiar with a large number of followers of Christ.
He took his job very seriously. He was full of faith and power, preaching often and performing many miracles.
He also became very outspoken.
On many occasions, Stephen would find himself in disagreements with other Jews. Because of his approachable nature, they felt comfortable to ask him questions regarding this new religion. Then they would try to refute Stephens teaching, but they were not able to resist his wisdom or spirit.
After some time, a group of the Jews that had a recurring dispute with him decided to stop his preaching. They fabricated lies about the message that Stephen was spreading.
Rumors were spread that he was teaching against the Law of Moses and against God.
The people were stirred against him.
This was the event that men like Saul had been waiting for in anticipation. Any chance to persuade a follower of Jesus to stop their nonsense.
The Elders and Pharisees all agreed that it was necessary to make an example of someone. They feared Peter because he had such a strong following. They were afraid that they couldn’t control the fallout.
Stephen was the perfect person. A Hellenist Jew would never be respected enough to create unrest. After all, they were almost crazy in the way they accepted anyone without regard for culture or religious heritage.
Saul agreed that Stephen was the right person at the right time. He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he understood the importance of bringing others into alignment.
Shortly after, Stephen was arrested by Saul and brought before the Sanhedrin to hear his defense.
They led Stephen to the temple and had him stand in front of the Sanhedrin.
Saul sat to the side, looking at his friend.
The guards standing to either side of Stephen were ready to pounce as if Stephen were going to attempt to run.
The Sanhedrin looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak.
Stephen just stood calm…
Tears still drying on his cheeks…
He moved his calm eyes from one to the next, looking each member of the chamber, one at a time.
Every time he made eye contact, there was as stir of discomfort.
“Are these things true?” Annas, the new the High Priest, asked.
Stephen shifted his feet, looked at Saul, looked back at Annas.
“The truth, to me, will not be something that you want me to speak of.”
“Are these things that you have been saying and doing true?” Annas asked again, with a little impatience.
“My actions bear witness of what is true, and what is true does not depend on who believes. True is true.”
Annas sighed, “Stephen, please, we want to reason with you. Won’t you share with us why you believe the way you do.”
Stephen paused…well, they asked for it.
“Men… (a pause while looking at most of the council)
“Brethren…” (a glance at Saul, a sideways nod of the head)
…”and fathers” (now looking directly at Annas)
“…please, please listen to me.
“God appeared to our father Abraham, and commanded him to leave his home country, and move to a new place, where He could create a nation that would serve Him…”, and as Stephen began to teach, the men of the council couldn’t remove their eyes from him. Stephens face glowed more as he grew in excitement.
Stephen slowly explained to these men the significance of Jewish history. As he spoke, it seemed that an invisible wave of emotion was building behind his words.
Saul felt himself constantly nodding his head in silent agreement. So far, Stephen had remained true to the history and beliefs of the Jewish scripture.
Stephen was not speaking as a man defending himself. To Saul, he seemed to be using this opportunity to tell others of his message, but this was a message that everyone here knew well.
The conviction in Stephens’s voice and manner burned deeper. The emotion was building in his words. He started to explain the scripture that foretold the coming of the Messiah.
He quoted sacred scripture reverently and clearly, and Saul silently mouthed each word along with him. Still, there was a churning undercurrent of feelings that Stephen was resisting. Saul could tell that Stephen really believed that he could draw these men closer to the truth.
Saul was proud of his friend for doing so well, for speaking so clearly the truth.
…and then he spoke of how many times God had tried to draw close to his people…
Oh no…please no. Saul thought to himself. He looked to the others and noticed the tension was building…
Stephen continued “…and how many times have we, his people, turned Him away.”
Saul now held his breath.
“- as they have now.”
Stephen had been walking a very fine line.
Until this point…
…and the churning wave of emotion that had been restrained broke free through his words.
Stephen began to cry, to weep, and through his tears he spoke softly but firmly…
“You stubborn men, you have done it again, you have not listened to His Spirit, and you have turned him away!”
Saul froze. He couldn’t move. This man had just accused the men that were closer to God than any other men of turning their backs on God.
Still a quiet reprimand, “You are clean and holy on the outside, but you are filthy on the inside, just like your fathers before you!”
Saul knew these men. They were the standard by which cleanliness and holiness were measured.
Now, raising his voice, growing more authoritative…”And just like your fathers before you, YOU have persecuted, betrayed, and MURDERED the Just One!”
He had gone too far!
“Ugh!” Saul let out a wail of anger and frustration. He looked at the others in the room.
Anger ran unchecked. The tension and frustration they had held in check for the past few months ran free. They were pulling at their robes until they tore. They gritted their teeth and snarled at Stephen like rabid dogs.
Stephen stopped talking.
Slowly his head lifted up toward the ceiling. His eyes were wide with wonder. His face was glowing.
The priests and Rabbi stopped and waited, filled with hate and anger.
He opened his mouth, and spoke to the Sanhedrin reverently with awe,
“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God”.
Saul’s disappointment in his friend, and it was replaced with hatred that could not be contained.
This man has just committed heresy. He screamed an unintelligible sound, then realized that they all had screamed.
These proper, just, upright men yelled with all of their breath. Then they lifted their hands to cover their ears.
Saul rose from his seat to grab Stephen himself, and remove him from this room. He looked up and saw that the others were already starting towards Stephen.
They ran. All of them, at once, at him.
Stephen flew backward from the force, and sailed through the doorway, out into the street.
All of the priests ran through the streets toward the nearest exit while Saul followed, still in shock over the speed that the events had turned him to begin to hate his friend.
It took five of them to carry Stephen. Not because he was trashing and kicking, like any normal criminal would.
It took five men because he remained still.
He refused to stop speaking to the men. As they carried him, he was pleading with them to listen.
They cleared the temple gate and turned right down a small street.
He was proclaiming that Jesus had risen, as He had said that He would.
They dragged him to the left, and forced their way through the crowds along the wide street called “Via Dolorosa”, moving past several Roman soldiers as they looked on.
Normally, this type of public form of punishment would not be accepted without prior approval of the local Roman procurator, but none of the soldiers were willing to stand in the way of these men, and risk starting a riot.
Stephen was serene and calm, in spite of being carried awkwardly by the men.
He factually explained that Jesus would return to establish his kingdom, as they carried him toward the edge of Jerusalem, past an unfinished section of the wall around the city that would later be called the Lions Gate.
Stones are plentiful on the fields of Palestine. By the time Stephen was carted out of the city, many of the Pharisees and Sadducees had already collected rocks and formed several piles of small boulders.
They brought Stephen to the edge of a small hill and tossed him over the side.
He fell awkwardly down the slope, tumbling several times head over foot, finally stopping against a large mound of dirt and stone at the bottom.
Saul was running and pushing his way through the mob. Saul had just emerged through the last group of spectators stepped into a small clearing. The men waiting to throw the stones removed their outer robes, and tossed them at the feet of young Saul. The significance of this was not lost on Saul. They all held him responsible for instigating this event with Stephen.
Saul stood by, his eyes wide with wonder. A mixture of sorrow and regret slowly gave way to contempt for his friend.
He completely agreed with what was happening here.
In fact, not only did he agree, he made a decision that his time to make a difference has come. He would no longer stand idle. He would not tolerate anyone that stood in the way of truth, or blasphemed the God that he knew.
The crowds looked on, as these upright, peaceful, priests of the Lord were driven to pick up rocks and boulders.
The priests began their assault.
Saul watched as the event unfolded.
Every movement was exaggerated.
A swirl of robe, arms extended backward. Long hair and curls spinning with the motion.
One man holding a boulder so large that it was raised over his head with both hands.
Anger flowed from their eyes as they glared at Stephen. Their lips pulled apart to show their grinding teeth full of hate.
One at a time they shifted their weight forward to their front legs, and followed through with every ounce of strength in their arms and chest that they could muster.
In a blur the stones left hands and flew in a calculated arc.
All eyes focused on one target, with one goal in mind. Death.
…the rocks began their decent on Stephen.
He was still speaking clearly, asking the Lord to receive his spirit…
…the first rock whistled by Stephens ear. He didn’t move, but as the rock slammed against the ground it created a loud thud. Saul cringed.
The next rock made contact with his leg. It was about the size of a man’s fist and left a gash.
Then two more, both larger than the first hit him in the chest at the same time.
Stephen flew off his feet and landed on his back.
Another hit his ankle, his wrist, his thigh.
He started to rise, up onto one knee.
The largest boulder yet, thrown by two men, smashed Stephens left shoulder, spinning his torso sideways. He collapsed again, face landing in the dirt.
He yelled “Lord, don’t lay this sin to their charge”…
…several more rocks and sharp stones cut at Stephens’s neck and arms.
The same two men hefted another boulder. They swung it back and forth to create the momentum it would take to reach Stephen when they released it.
This one stone was the size of a man’s chest in itself. As they released it, it rose slowly and reached the top of its arc. It turned over slowly and seemed to hang in the air before it began its decent. Then as if gravity had reached up and pulled on the boulder it dropped with amazing speed.
Stephen still lay on the ground, head turned sideways, mouth uttering words of forgiveness for the men above him.
The massive rock landed directly on Stephens head and his world went black.
Rocks continued to rain down upon his body, until all that could be seen was the hem of his robe, barely visible beneath an pile of grey and brown stones at the bottom of a hill.
The crowds dispersed.
Their job being finished, the priests returned to the meeting hall of the Sanhedrin. Everyone but Saul.
Saul stood and pondered what drove his friend, and these men, to be so fiercely loyal to this Jesus of Nazareth. He had just lost a good friend to foolishness.
He could only understand one thing. That they honestly believed that they were right.
“How can he sleep like that?” Dominic interrupted Paul.
Everyone looked Alexander, the business man.
The blinding sun was beaming through the small window above them, and was shining directly into Alex’s face. He didn’t stir.
“Well, he seems content.” Paul replied.
Dominic replied, “He may look it, but I don’t think that is the case. He told me yesterday that he didn’t think he would be here for long. His trial is due.”
There was a quiet moment that passed, and then Mark looked at Paul.
“So what happened after you saw Stephen stoned? Did the Romans arrest you all for executing someone without their permission?”
“No”, replied Paul. “Actually, they just seemed to ignore it. The Romans have always hated to deal with the priests and religious leaders. It was easier for them to turn the other way.”
“So, what did you do then?” asked Darius. The larger of the twin’s deep voice resounded inside the cell even though he seemed to whisper.
All eyes shifted to Alex as he stirred.
“Yeah, what happened to the rest of them? Stephen wasn’t the only one causing trouble,” added Dominic, “there is this guy Peter here in Rome that sounds a lot like the Peter in your story. Is he the same guy?”
“Oh, yes! He is an interesting one. We have had our moments…”
“From the time we stoned Stephen I was different. I think that the depth of the decision I made, to watch a friend put to death because he refused to see the truth, made me determine to be committed to the cause. My one purpose was to shut the mouths of these disciples of Jesus as quickly as possible.
“I was moving through the city of Jerusalem like a fire moving through a dry forest. Every time I identified someone as a disciple, I would enter their homes and drag them into the street and demand that they recant their beliefs. If they still resisted, then they would be dragged to prison and held until they changed their minds.
“No way. With the Romans and their rules, how could you do that? Just go into peoples houses like that?” asked Dominic.
“Oh, Rome didn’t care…this was our issue; and the High Priest didn’t care how it happened, but he wanted them stopped. That is what I was doing.
“I don’t think he realized how much power he had given to a 32 year old Pharisee with a giant chip on his shoulder.”
“Wait, you were only 32 then?” asked Daruis.
“Oh yes, young and full of energy. I don’t think I had a good nights sleep for weeks.
“But it didn’t take long for the disciples to scatter. Within a few days, most of the homes I entered were empty. I had driven the church to move underground, or to completely leave Jerusalem, and that bothered me. My intention was to contain the young church, not cause it to spread.”
“It didn’t work” yawned Alex. No one had noticed that he was awake.
“No, you are right. Quickly, news began to arrive of new congregations appearing in other cities. Reports from the synagogues at Damascus gave description of people behaving just like the ones we were chasing in Jerusalem. They were disturbed by the number of the people that referred to themselves as ‘The Way’. And it wasn’t just the people leaving and moving, they were growing incredibly fast.
“As soon as I was aware of this, I ran to the High Priest and requested letters to the synagogues in Damascus stating that he gave me the authority to arrest any men or women that claimed to be followers of Jesus and bring them home.
Of course he obliged.
“I quickly assembled a small group of men together, and prepared to take the 5 day trip starting on the North Road to where it intersects the Via Maris heading west to Damascus.
The Romans had perfected the roads in this region. They were smooth and were able to handle heavy traffic.
As soon as the group had cleared the gates of Jerusalem, Saul set off at an unrelenting speed, his short legs sweeping forward, sandals barely touching the packed dirt.
The men in the group that accompanied Saul consisted of a few former military men and some younger religious zealots. The older ones were brought along for strength, and the younger ones were chosen for their enthusiastic religious beliefs.
But young or old, the travelers found themselves staring at the back of Saul’s balding head. His legs seemed to pump along with boundless energy.
At one point, Jonathan, the youngest of the travelers at 22 years old, shuffled ahead of the others to talk to Saul.
“Yes” replied Saul in a monotone voice.
“I understand that we are trying to hurry, but could we slow down just a little?”
“No, we can’t slow down.”
He didn’t turn his head from the road.
“Do you understand what is happening? They are moving faster than we are. They blaspheme, they turn from their past, and their teachers, and follow a dead man. These men are foolish. They cause me such grief, and there is no end in sight.”
So the course and the pace remained the same until they reached Joppa, where the North Road intersected a heavily travelled highway known as the Via Maris. The Romans had constructed this smooth stone road for the heavy travel of the army from the sea to the west. The name was usually called the “Coastal Route” or “The Way of the Sea”.
The Coastal Route served as the major travel road for soldiers, traders, caravans and any other type of business that would require a network of large cities.
The road originated at the mouth of the Nile River, and ran North East through the desert until reaching the green oasis town of Gaza. After leaving Gaza the road turned due north, continuing along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to the large port town of Caesera. From there it struck a westerly route through Joppa, ending at the front gate of the town of Damascus.
Three days into the trip they passed through Joppa, and Saul’s pace seemed to find itself at a reasonable stride, mostly due to the extra traffic of the main road that they were now on It was a relief for everyone to settle into a common rhythm for travel.
On day four, they continued inland toward the new city of Tiberias on the Southwestern tip of the Sea of Galilee.
Traffic increased, and it became obvious that every road that headed to Damascus funneled into the Via Maris at the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. There was a long open plateau that allowed passage into Damascus without having to pass over the rocky mountain range and through the heavily forested region to the south.
At night fall, they stopped at the base of the mountains and tried to sleep to pass the final night of the trip.
The last day of the trip to Damascus.
Saul had slowly dropped to the back of the group, and seemed distant.
At first the others just ignored him to let him sort out whatever it was that kept him preoccupied. After a time, they tried to find topics that would get Saul to open up, but he remained distant.
Saul’s brain wouldn’t stop churning…
Why am I wasting days, walking miles and miles, to pursue this nonsense?
They have to know that I am coming. I have chased them from one side of Jerusalem to the other.
Are these people foolish, crazy or dumb?
The point of running and hiding is to avoid being caught.
When these people from “The Way”, run away from me to different cities, the last thing they are doing is hiding. They don’t stay behind closed doors. They stir up the people where ever they land. Within days of arrival, they upset the priests in the synagogue, and almost start a riot.
Then the Pharisees come looking for me.
“Saul”, they say, “now they infect the ears of our people in Damascus. You must go. Talk to the high priest and hurry.”
The high priest was in agreement immediately. “Go and find these, these, people from “The Way” and bring them back to Jerusalem where they belong. We will see to them here. You must stop them, Saul.”
Yes, of course I must. But why are they so persistent? What am I missing?
I am going to go to Damascus, to chase people that want to be found.
They have already gone through Samaria, west to Caesarea and now north to Damascus. They aren’t ashamed or embarrassed…they purposely leave a trail of followers everywhere they go.
I could understand if Jesus was the catalyst to this movement, but he died. I saw him die with my own eyes.
Up on that hill between those thieves.
I witnessed it. And not my eyes only, but just about everyone in Jerusalem.
So many prophecies could have come to pass in Jesus. He fit perfectly into so many promises in the Scripture, from his birth to his following. Even I was interested to hear him speak. He seemed to speak with such deep meaning, always leaving the listener yearning for more. We all listened until he began to shun us publicly. That was when we knew that his message was tainted and he had to be proven to be a fake quickly.
I was watching with great interest, because this would be the test. If a man claimed to be the “Son of God”, then what power would a group of priests have over him?
He didn’t pass the test.
So why am I on this long dusty road to a Gentile city, to bring these people back home? What can’t they understand…?
“Can’t you see it now?” said Jonathan. He was holding his hand flat across his forehead to shade his eyes from the mid-morning sun.
“I think it is your imagination. How can you see anything with the sun light shining directly into your eyes”, replied Saul.
“Just squeeze your eyes together, like this”. Jonathan was squinting his eyes into little slits, creating creases in the skin on the side of his face like crows feet. “It helps you focus on things farther away, try it”. Since leaving Jerusalem, scanning the horizon had become Jonathan’s favorite method of passing time.
From the moment they had crested Mount Hermon yesterday, they had all been looking expectantly to the east for the city of Damascus. Finally it had come into sight.
“Not much to look at, though,” said Jonas.
“Wait until you have visited. Your opinion will change.”
“Saul, how many time have you visited Damascus?” asked Jonas.
“What is it like?”
“It’s an incredible city. Thousands of years ago, the city was founded by Uz, the grandson of Shem, the son of Noah. That makes it one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
Since then it has been prominent, and highly fought over. It lies at the perfect location to form a cross roads for three major lands; Asia, Syria, and Persia.
“You can find almost anything in Damascus. Traders come from all directions to sell in Damascus, and people come from everywhere to buy. It lies on the southern bank of the Barada River, which makes it easily accessible from anywhere.
It is one of the most modern city, with a lot of contributions by the Romans. They just finished a new the water system to make maximum use of the river. You will see.
“It also is a place where most anything can flourish. Any new idea or way of life can thrive in the diversity of a city like Damascus.
Which is what brings us here. Religions of many different types have found Damascus as a welcome place to establish themselves. Thankfully, the synagogue here is well established. That is where we will go first.
“Then we will go and find the followers of Jesus, and one way or another, persuade them to stop…”
The words ceased, leaving the statement hanging in midair. The sound of Saul’s shuffling feet also stopped.
Everyone in the group turned to look back at him, thinking that someone had slapped their hand over his mouth to stop him from speaking.
They saw Saul on his knees, staring at the ground.
Then Saul fell forward the rest of the way, his chest dropping onto the rocky path.
Jonas called him, “Saul, what’s wrong?”
He seemed confused, lifting his head and turning from side to side, looking up at them, gazing directly at each of them in turn but never actually acknowledging their presence.
Saul was shining.
Like the way a new Roman shield would shine when reflecting the sun at noon.
In the stir of a warm breeze they could hear a low hum, like the sound of a voice carried on the wind across an open field.
Saul had stopped his words, because suddenly they didn’t seem so important.
A heavy bright hot light had replaced the sun.
Saul fell to his knees under a surge of power that was pressing down on him.
Under the force of the light, he fell forward, totally out of control. It was a feeling similar to being trapped under a crashing wave of water, tossing and turning, completely immersed in the flow.
Saul tried to focus on his surroundings. He thought he heard voices, but they seemed distant. He lifted his head to find his companions, but all that remained was the light from the force that surrounded him.
Then, cutting through the confusion, a voice flowed out from the light. It didn’t come from any one direction. It seemed that the voice was just with him, in the light.
The sound of it was somehow familiar.
He knew it. He recognized its tone.
It wasn’t from any one of his traveling companions.
Then he saw Him.
Not really standing in front of him, but in the light all around him.
Jesus was there, looking at him. In a face that Saul knew all too well, with the very same expression of love and patience that had always been there.
“Saul”, He said, in firm voice to gain attention, like waking someone up from a dream.
At first His head had been slightly tilted to the side with concern. Now that He had Saul’s attention, it was held high with pride, demanding respect.
Then in a louder tone “SAUL!” like trying to wake someone from a deep sleep.
Lastly in more of a gentle pleading tone, the voice softly asked “Why are you persecuting me?”
This can not be. He died.
This would change everything, if he hadn’t died. But I know that voice., and that face. I am sure of it.
What is happening to me? Heat stroke…no, I am feeling fine.
This is a vision, a message from the Lord. He is speaking to me but has chosen the form of Jesus.
Why would he do that? Jesus was just a man. One that contradicted the Lord, himself.
“Who are you, Lord?”
“I AM JESUS, THE ONE THAT YOU HAVE BEEN PERSECUTING!”. Then more, in a smoother voice, “isn’t it hard for you to kick against the pricks?”
Saul’s mind began to race. Hundreds of thoughts began to collide in his mind at once…
Lord! I would never persecute the Lord.
But Jesus?! That voice. But this can not be! He is dead!
If He is here now, speaking to me, then He is not dead.
He is here, and continues on, but not on this earth.
If he continues on, then could he be a spiritual messiah, not a physical one. Not a political leader?
That would mean that everything he said was true, if spiritual and not physical.
We have been waiting for the wrong one. It means that He really is our “Messiah”.
He is here, now.
He is this light.
How can I be here? What does he want?
Saul felt frustration and anger at himself.
This changes everything.
What is he saying? The pricks. Like the ox on a farm. The ox refuses to obey, refuses to learn. He is stubborn and continues to fight back and feel pain until finally he becomes useful for use.
Yes, it is hard to fight.
Saul asked out loud, “What do you want me to do?”
“Get up, go into the city, and you will be told what to do”.
The travelers all stood staring at Saul. No one said a word. They all waited until the current of air that had carried that low rumble had ceased, and Saul was no longer glowing.
Jonathan swallowed, then looked at Jonas and gestured, as if appointing him the official spokesman for the group.
Jonas stepped forward to Saul and whispered close to his ear.
“Saul, what was that?”
He didn’t respond. He looked in the direction of the voice, but not exactly focusing on Jonas.
“Saul, are you okay? What was that sound? Who were you talking to?” Jonas asked again.
Saul rose to his feet, stumbling a little, with his arms stretched out at his side.
“Jonas, you will have to guide me the rest of the way. I can’t see.”
“What just happened”?
“Didn’t you see? Didn’t you hear?”
Jonathan replied, “You were glowing, Saul! You looked like you were actually part of the sun itself!”
“We heard the wind pick up, and there was a strange moaning sound, but that was all.” Then he looked around to make sure everyone had heard and felt the same. Looking around, everyone nodded in agreement.
Almost afraid of the answer, Jonas asked, “What did you hear?”
They don’t know what happened! They didn’t understand the voice.
“I heard the Lord. He told me to go on to Damascus.”
“Where should we take you, Saul, we don’t know the city?”
“Take me to the entrance of the city, God will send someone to lead us on from there.”
Judas waited at the end of Straight Street, leaning against the gate to the city of Damascus, and watched Saul and his companions cross the long valley that ended at the entrance to the city.
A messenger had arrived a couple of days earlier, sent from the Chief Priest in Jerusalem to prepare the Jews in Damascus for Saul’s arrival.
Judas was chosen to meet Saul and the other travelers, and had been waiting for several hours, and it was hot. As a devout Jew, Judas wore the standard black hat and robes that were long enough to rest on the top of his sandals. Not the ideal garb to stand in the sun and stare into the distance.
To his relief, the description of Saul that he had been given exactly matched the man heading to the city.
The messenger had said “He will be with several others. Saul is a short man, balding, with dark, curly hair and small piercing eyes. His stature does not diminish his presence at all. He will most likely be the shortest in the group, but you will be able to tell that he is the leader. He always seems to command attention when anyone is near. Oh, and if there remains any question of which one he is, just look for the one that is always moving. He never stands still.”
Judas could tell that something was not right. There was definitely a traveler that matched Saul’s description, but he didn’t seem to be leading the group. In fact, it seemed like he was being led.
Several minutes later, Judas walked from the gate out to meet the group of men where they were, and then he realized what was wrong.
“Welcome to Damascus, my friends. I am Judas. I was sent to welcome you to the city. We received word of your journey here two days ago. I have been sent by the synagogue to escort you. Pardon my ignorance, but I did not know that Saul was a blind man.”
Jonas spun out his reply so fast that Judas had a hard time understanding him, “He isn’t, I mean he wasn’t. We were walking along, and he stopped and stared at the sun, and now he can’t see! He needs help. Are you with the synagogue? Yes, you said you were, what are we supposed to…?”
Jonathan stepped forward, holding a hand out to Jonas to stop his rambling speech, and spoke up, in a slower, more controlled tone, “Sir Judas, we left Jerusalem three days ago, and Saul was as healthy as the rest of us here. Several hours ago, Saul fell along the road, and it seems that he has lost his sight”, then with a slight shrug he added, “He claims that the Lord took it from him”
Saul spoke with the calm confidence that fit the description given to Judas by the messenger. “Judas, thank you for meeting us here. Pardon the impropriety of my companions. While the situation that we are placing you in seems strange, I can assure you of two things. We are meant to be here, God has made that very clear, and right now, we are all in need of rest after our journey”.
Judas answered, “I too am sure that everything will make itself right in time. Follow me, and I will show you where each of you will be staying during your tenure”.
Judas owned a small two story home in a row of connected houses directly on Straight Street.
Straight Street was just that. It was a wide, straight street that ran for several miles, dissecting the city right down the center. Lanes running in both directions were separated by a median that overflowed with colorful flowers and small groomed trees. Each side was spacious enough to support any type of commercial business along its edges. While owning a business directly on the busy street was a guarantee of success, owning a residence along Straight Street was an even greater sign of wealth. To have a home with a front door that opened to the street brought with it the expectation of a level of décor above any other place in the city. The homes here were all spacious, decorated with bright colors, and worthy of the attention that they attracted.
This is where Saul spent his first three days in Damascus. Sitting inside Judas’ house, on several blankets laid on the floor, sometimes kneeling, sometimes lying down, constantly murmuring.
He refused to eat, explaining that he would fast until God gave further direction.
Judas tried to offer the explanation to members of the synagogue that Saul’s trip had left him tired and weary. After the second day the constant requests to visit Saul became unbearable.
Damascus sponsored an atmosphere that attracted new ideas, and allowed those new ideas an environment to flourish uninhibited. The religions in most cities are regulated by one standard of belief that has been set forth the local governing rulers, but Damascus was different. Almost any line of thought was allowed freedom to grow. Of course, other than the Jewish synagogue, none had ever really grown beyond a general curiosity. None until now.
Originally started by some followers of John “The Baptist”, The Way was growing by offering a belief of freedom that did not require a lifetime of study or a list of rules to attend to; and it was open to everyone.
As the church grew, individuals naturally rose to take on responsibility, provide leadership, set standards, and organize support. Ananias was one of the men that was willing to do just that.
Attendance was increasing on a daily basis because people were finding in The Way what so many other religions had been lacking; openness, community, and fellowship. They supported each other and encouraged open worship. Money was donated by everyone in The Way to support the men, like Ananias, that had volunteered to minister to the new congregation; and that money had to be managed. In
But like everyone does, Ananias was having “one of those days”. People everywhere were reaching out for answers and assistance.
There was work to be completed on several houses in order to provide shelter for families that were homeless.
Food needed to be purchased from the market.
Money needed to be collected to purchase the food.
People wanted teachers, they were eager to learn.
In addition to all of that, this was the fourth day of clear skies and burning heat.
All of these things made it that more difficult for Ananias to focus on his daily tasks of caring for the church.
Spiritually, he was a very strong and reliable man of God. Physically he was tall and well built; he was willing and able to do anything for anyone. Emotionally, he could reach everyone that he talked to at the level where they were, and meet their needs them in a very unique way. Because of this, he was a very busy man. Sometimes, everybody needed everything at this very moment, and that moment was today.
Ananias arrived home in the afternoon just before dinner. He had walked in the door of his house and sat down for the first time since he had awakened that morning. Slowly, he let his eyes drift shut, and breathed out a slow, long sigh.
The stillness of the long day began to settle. “Ananias”, the voice called with a deep, resonating, smooth sound.
He let his eyes remain closed. I know that voice, but I must be dreaming. I saw him ascend into heaven.
Calmly Ananias answered, “Yes, I am here, Lord”.
“Get up and go to Straight Street, to Judas’ house, and ask for Saul of Tarsus: I have touched Saul. He is praying right now, and has seen you in a vision. He has seen you entering Judas’ house, and putting you hands on his eyes, so that he could see again.”
“But Lord”, Ananias replied, “I have heard a lot about this man, from a lot of people, about the evil that he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem: I know that he is here with the authority of the chief priest to bind all of us that have called on your name and take us back to Jerusalem with him.”
The Lord said, “Go: I have chosen Saul as vessel for my use, to carry my name to the Gentiles, and the rulers, as well as the children of Israel: I am going to show him the many great things that he will endure for me, to bring glory to my name.”
Ananias opened his eyes, groaned, and left.
“What is it now?” Judas yelled from where he sat.
After waiting a few moments for a reply, and there was none, he stood up and walked over to answer the knock on his door. I am sure that I have done this fifty times today. Every time it’s the same thing over and over; “Can we talk to Saul?”, “Is he here?”, “Why isn’t he coming out?”, and the best one of all, “What have you done with him?” Huh, why would they think that I had done something to Saul.
Judas grabbed the handle of the door and threw it open. Ananias jumped backward, caught by surprise. Judas glared out the doorway, staring at the stranger with the shocked look in his face. Obviously, Ananias had heard Judas yelling.
“Well, what is it?”
“Well, Judas, I would like to speak to Saul of Tarsus”.
Judas opened his mouth to reply, as he had the fifty other time that day, with some sort of answer like “when he is ready, he will come out, so be patient”, or “go back to your home, and we will let you know when it is time”.
But before those words could come out, Judas heard Saul’s voice from the other room, “Judas, please let this man enter.”
Judas stepped aside, waving his arm in a wide arc toward the inside of the house as if to say “be my guest”.
Ananias stepped inside, and waited for his eyes to adjust from the bright midday sun. Then after looking around and not finding anyone in the main room, he proceeded through the house to a small bedroom at the back of the house. Saul was on his knees, facing the general direction of the door.
Ananias moved toward Saul, and rested his hands on Saul’s eyes. “Saul, the Lord, Jesus, the same one that appeared to you on your journey here, has sent me, so that you could receive your sight, and be filled with His Holy Ghost”.
Ananias and Judas stood still, waiting for a change.
Saul slowly opened his eyes.
Small pricks of light began to poke through. Tiny points of light, like stars suddenly appearing in a dark sky. Each point grew in size and began to join with the other points, until he could see everything: the inside of Judas’s house; Ananias staring at him with an expectant look on his face; and Judas, standing completely still, wondering how he would explain this to the men at the synagogue.
He turned and faced Judas, and embraced him in a deep hug. Then pulling him away with a sudden urgency, holding him at arms length, Saul’s dark piercing eyes looked directly into Judas’ eyes and he said “Thank you Judas, for all of your care and concern. I could not have asked for a better host. We will see each other again soon. God has told me that I must go with Ananias, so I must go.”
He abruptly turned, and motioned for Ananias to lead the way out the front door of the house, and out into the street.
Saul paused in the middle of Straight Street, people and carts parting to walk around where he was standing.
Judas waited in the doorway, completely unsure of how to handle the circumstances
“Really, thank you Judas. I hope you understand that I have much to do and much to learn. Please tell my companions to return to Jerusalem without me. I will be staying in Damascus for some time”. And then Saul glanced at Ananias, nodded his head to indicate for Ananias to lead the way, and moved off without another glance back.
SHOULD WE TRUST HIM?
“What made you change your belief? You saw a light, and now you are a different man?”
It was the next day after Saul had arrived at Ananias’ home. He was sitting in the middle of the living room, circled about by members of the church in Damascus. He had been answering questions like this all day.
Some of the Damascus church members were excited to have Saul on their side, many others still believed that he was trying to act the part of a believer, so that he could identify the members of the church, to arrest them all later.
Several in the group were whispering at the back, “I don’t trust this. He destroyed the church in Jerusalem, and he just said that he was coming here for the same purpose, to bring us back to Jerusalem for punishment. Do we really believe he changed, just like that?”
Ananias stepped in with his hands held up in front of him, motioning for everyone to stop talking for a few minutes.
“Please stop. Saul has been through a lot in the last few days. I am sure that he has some things to figure out for…”
Ichabod, a tall lanky member of the group interrupted, “Ananias, why are you sticking up for him?” His narrow eyes showed his scrutiny.
Ananias breathed deep. This was hard for him to accept logically, much less explain.
“I…I was sitting still. I heard a voice…His voice.”
“Yeah, right.” Ichabod again.
“I am completely serious. As I tell you this, I question my own sanity.
“Jesus’ voice very clearly said for me to go to Ananias’ house, and that I would find Saul there. He said that he had plans for him.” He ended by pointing at Saul.
“And you went there, and poof, there was Saul?”
“Ichabod, I am going to ask you to give this a chance, give him a chance. I’m not asking for blind trust, just some time to let him prove himself.”
Ichabod shifted uncomfortably. Head cocked to one side, smug smile on his face. “So Saul, what are your plans now?”
With appropriate authority, Ananias continued where he had been interrupted a bit ago. “Saul has many things to figure out for himself. There is no hurry. We are done for the day. We can continue discussions tomorrow after our gathering.”
Saul cleared his throat, and stopped to compose himself with the confidence that he would have had one week ago in Jerusalem.
He looked directly at Ichabod. “I don’t know.” Then to the rest of the group, “Just to let you all know…I…don’t…know.”
Everyone paused to listen, because clearly Saul was going to say more but had paused to think.
“But when I do know, everyone will know.
“All I know right now, for sure, is that I am the same that I have been all along, but I understand so much more, and that is the difference.
“Everything that I have always believed was completely correct…” a pause for impact.
And it worked. Several of the people moved for the door. Others started to approach him, angry looks on their faces.
“Wait, wait!” Saul tried to regain control, now that he had their attention.
“But it wasn’t enough. As much as I thought I had it all figured out…I only knew and understood the half of it.
He told us all about himself, and we ignored it, because it was too incredible. We ignored what the scriptures said about Him, and ignored what he said about himself because we wanted something bigger, something more spectacular.
“He was plain. Wore plain clothes, looked like a Jew…nothing special. He talked mild, never raised his voice, never argued. It was very hard to accept.”
There were no replies from the crowd, but there were several groans of disgust.
“Before you accuse me, how many of you have not changed your thoughts about the Son of God in the past year?”
He scanned the crowd slowly.
“Yes, I can tell by your faces that I am right.
“He is in all, and above all, and superior to all, and when I consider that, I realize that I have been short sighted…much to my regret.
“When the scriptures have not been taken into consideration…”
After a moment of silence where he could collect his thoughts, and convince himself that what he wanted to say was really what should say.
“The Jesus that I knew and saw was a fake, a blasphemer, a misleading corrupt imposter. He was a trouble maker, driving a wedge. He was the man holding the axe at the base of the tree, and that tree was everything we believed. Such audacity was worthy of death…for simply claiming to be God.”
Now everyone turned, glaring at Saul, and several of the men looked to Ananias.
A man the same height as Ananias pushed his way through the crowd to face Ananias and Paul. He brushed dark curly hair aside, and focused dark eyes directly at Paul’s own. Everyone knew Crispin. He an attractive persuasive man that had gained the respect of The Way.
“Please. We trust you with everything within us, but right now this man cannot continue with us. Even now, we need to relocate because he knows where we live and meet. His words still make me question his position.”
Feeling the weight of all the eyes in the room focused on him, Ananias closed his eyes slowly, and then opened them again. The crowd waited for him to speak. He had introduced Saul in to the gathering, and now bore the responsibility.
He risked a glance at Saul. What is wrong with him, why is he grinning at me like that?
Saul nodded his head, to indicate that Ananias should continue. Ananias shook his head to say no.
He is nuts…he is actually enjoying this.
Saul moved closer to Ananias and whispered, “Then let me talk, trust me.”
Trust him?! I don’t even know him…
But I believe that I was sent to get him, and I believe that Jesus himself has appointed Saul.
Ananias nodded at Saul to continue.
Saul held both hands up in front of him defensively. “As I said, without considering what has been written in the past, then he is guilty without question…”
Then he started speaking very fast.
“But when considering all that that has been written, that we all have heard and seen, when that is compared to the His actions and words, he can be no other than Messiah.
“And now…my new friends…my burden to bear, as shown be by the Lord himself, is to find a way to convince others of that truth. Me. Who else in the world could possibly carry that burden? I’m am the one most respected by the church for standing up for what we believe. And now I am going to be the one that tells them that we all were wrong…that they are wrong.
“It is my place to tell everyone…not just the Jews that I know, but the Gentiles that I do not know.
“I will need your support, because the task before me will not be easy.”
Oddly, there was not much comment from the group. They seemed unsure of what to make of this man.
Crispin turned to face everyone but Saul and Ananias. “We can continue this conversation at my house. We can meet there tomorrow morning. Except for you, Thomas and James, because you have promised to repair Claire’s steps in her front doorway. Otherwise, I will see you all tomorrow.
“Saul, I think it best if you don’t attend.”
The crowd dispersed, and Saul looked at Ananias and shrugged.
“That went well,” Saul commented with a slight smile.
“Do you think so? Saul, a gentle approach might suit you better in the future.”
“Saul, did you hear me?”
“I would like to visit the synagogue, and tell them what has happened, and how I have changed.
“Uh, I don’t know if that is a great idea…”
“At the same time, I don’t feel ready to confront them. I fell that I need time to sort this out before trying to talk to others.”
“Saul”, Ananias replied, “I have many things to figure out for myself, I don’t know how much help I will be to you. I don’t do this every day. We are still trying to figure out what life in The Way looks like, much less take our beliefs to the religious leaders. Although starting from completely different backgrounds, it looks like in some ways, we find ourselves in similar situations.”
“Yes, I think you are right.”
After breakfast, which didn’t amount to anything more than what was absolutely necessary to keep prisoners alive, everyone sat quietly in their respective corners.
Mark’s frame filled his corner. He rested against the outside wall, and the sunlight that poked through the high window cast him in a shadow. Dark complexion, broad chest, black curly hair, massive arms folded across his chest. He was an imposing figure.
“So the Jews in Damascus just let you go? I can’t imagine the priests in the synagogue of Damascus were okay with you leaving them, just like that, especially after you had become their greatest weapon to stop the Christians.”
Alexander, now wide awake, started to speak. “I have heard of you, Paul. You have been all over the place. Now that I know who you are, I know all about you.”
“Really. I’m curious what you know,” replied Paul
“Well, there must be a lot more to your story, because some friends of mine claim that you leave a wake of unrest everywhere you visit. Even to the point of causing riots.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Well, I have been listening, and your stories have kept me wondering. Although in your story, there is nothing to account for the rumors, I am sure there is more to come. Right now, we are what? Still at 30 years ago. I’m sure you have caused some trouble in those years.”
“Unfortunately, I wasted so many years before I got started.”
“Well, I have a feeling you are the guy. Some of my friends on the south coast have businesses that thrive on people being able to do whatever they want.”
“And why do I affect them?”
“Every time you sail through a town, you leave in your wake a crowd of people that stop going temples, they start to share their money, and they lose their desire to spend.
“My friends thrive on consumers. When you leave a town, the business of selling to those seeking people drops off.
“Not that I buy into any of it at all. I don’t see why what you say would make a difference. Everyone does his thing. We make it too complicated. People do what they do.” He finished this last part definitively, begging for a rebuttal.
The room was silent for a moment. No one interrupted, because it was obvious that Paul was working on something to say. He looked and cocked his head sideways, his bald head shining in the sun light. His eyes shifted up toward the ceiling, and he held one finger extended to show that he wanted everyone to listen to something.
“Alex, have you noticed that the wind will shift every so often, and we can feel a gentle breeze pass through that tiny window?
“Have you ever thought about what made that breeze drift one way one moment, then another way the next moment, moving through that hole in the wall, into our little piece of the world?”
“Not really. It just happens.”
“Nothing ‘just happens’. Not you, or me or even that breeze. We are here for a reason. Whether you chose to believe it or not, does not change its truth. That breeze is the result of a long chain of events that were put into motion for a purpose. The wind moves the waves in the ocean, and spreads the clouds across the sky, changes the temperatures and the seasons, and moves the air. It all has a purpose. Look inside your head and you know what I am saying is true.”
Another long pause. This time it was Alex who was doing the thinking. There were many arguments rolling around in his head, but none seemed like a good defense.
Finally he replied, “And what makes you an expert on the subject?”
Paul smiled. “Well, I guess because I know the answer.”
Alex shot back “So you are smarter than anyone else? I don’t think so”
“No. I am not any smarter than anyone. In fact, I’m a pretty simple old man. I just think that I understand some things, lessons that I’ve had to learn the hard way.
“Why does my talking here make you think I am the one your friends speak of?”
“Because, I can see where this is going. Freedom to talk and question what people have known for so long.”
Saul continued to live in and around Damascus, staying mostly with Ananias and Judith his wife.
On purpose, he maintained a pretty low profile, sometimes out in the desert for days thinking and meditating on new found truths and freedom. Other times wandering through the temple listening to what the teachers were saying.
He cut his beard short, and kept his hair trimmed to resemble the Greeks in the town. Hats were no longer a part of his wardrobe, and his thinning hair became more noticeable but also helped to change his appearance.
It didn’t take much time for his popularity with the synagogue to wane. The Jews in Damascus realized that whatever had happened to him, the lion that the temple had sent to devour The Way was now just a tame cat. He wasn’t going to be their cure to the trouble makers.
Saul would pace along the base of the massive temple steps that led to the synagogue. This is where the men that were studying would stand to teach other what they had learned. It was their moment to show off.
Oh, there’s Ben…Benjamin, excuse me. He has been saying the same thing for the past two months. Time for some new material.
And then he would move within hearing distance of the next teacher. He is new…looks like he came from Jerusalem. What’s he saying? Oh, more about the commandments. How long will they continue to say the same thing?
On and on.
Week after week.
Talkers talking and saying nothing at all.
But it seemed to keep the priests happy. They liked the constant reinforcement of their teachings.
Oh…here is an interesting one. He is talking about the next prophesy to be fulfilled…
…yes, the messiah must come…yes, yes.
“What if Messiah has come, and we missed him?”
Great, now I sound like Peter did.
“That wouldn’t have happened.” The teacher replied with a smug tone.
A firm grip latched onto Saul’s arm and a voice whispered in his ear, “What are you doing?”
“Just asking a question. Judas, what are you so afraid of?”
“I am afraid of you. You seem to me to be rock, perched on the edge of a cliff, waiting for one small push to send you over, and the damage you cause as you come rolling down will be irreparable.”
Judas pulled Saul away from the temple steps and walked for several blocks before speaking again.
“Saul, I like you and respect you. You have only grown wiser over the past years…”
“Yes, but you are going to draw attention, and when they realize that their tame lion is starting to think like the ones he was sent to destroy…they will not stand for it.”
“Judas, you worry too much.” A brief smile passed his face. “Ok, I hear you. I can’t pretend to sit by and be silent, but I will try to be more careful.”
Judas turned and walked away. “Saul, why don’t I believe you.”
Saul made an effort to keep his interactions with the Pharisees and priests focused on understanding the law, and he spent most of his time asking questions and listening.
At several occasions, he tried to explain what he believed was different, but they quickly dismissed him as a misguided young man.
This continued for three years after his encounter on the road. He quietly observed the actions of the Jews and Gentiles, the priests and The Way. All of them.
Frustration began to grow.
He believed that he understood enough that he could share with other Pharisees, and they would understand.
Instead of just listening, he was beginning to ask questions that the priests and scribes did not have answers for.
He was doing it on purpose, and they knew it.
Saul and Judas remained close, and Judas often warned him of the frustration that the temple was expressing with Saul.
Surprisingly, no one associated Saul with the man that had been sent to Damascus three years earlier.
Then, as suddenly as lightning flashes, but the thunder follows shortly after, Saul’s time in Damascus came to an end.
“…laws put us in chains. We don’t need these chains. He has already set us free, paid the price, become the sacrifice.
A priest looked at Saul, “What do you think you are doing!?”
Then turning to face the crowd, “What does he think he is doing!?”
“I’ve been doing this for a couple of days now.” Saul replied.
Addressing the gathered crowd, “He isn’t a teacher, he isn’t a Priest. Why is he teaching on the temple steps?” said the priest.
“Isn’t this allowed? For a citizen, a Jew, and a Pharisee to speak publically?”
“Not when I don’t like where you are headed with your teaching.” Replied the priest.
“If I could finish, I am sure you would understand.”
“I do not need to understand. I understand what I am meant to understand, as God reveals it to me.”
“But maybe God has invited me to share what I have learned, so that others can learn also?”
“He has. Please, give me a short amount of time to explain.”
“No, I have heard enough. Leave now, or the guards will escort you out.”
Saul walked down the ten steps to the street and began to yell. “You should know, Jewish men and women, that there is much more than what these men tell you. So much more. We know only a part of it.
The scriptures foretold of a messiah that would come. He has already come, Messiah has fulfilled His promise. We are free to…”
“He sounds like one of those Jews from The Way.” A voice yelled from the crowd.
“Yes, I know. Isn’t this Saul?” the priest of the synagogue walked closer to Saul, pointing at him, but not really expecting an answer.
Saul didn’t even notice, or at least didn’t indicate that he recognized that he was aware of anyone interrupting him.
He was speaking fast, barely stopping to take a breath, like he was afraid that his time to speak was running out, and he had so much to say. His voice was clear, with a pitch that cut though the noise and commotion of the synagogue, but resonant enough to bring a certain amount of authority.
The priest, still with his finger pointing toward Saul, walked down to the street and continued to speak to no one in particular. “I know it is. I saw him in Jerusalem so many years ago. He is the one that was on his way to Damascus to continue what he started there. I saw what he did to the Jews in Jerusalem that followed Jesus.”
He spun on his heels to address Saul directly. “So tell us, Saul, what happened to you, where have you been all of this time?”
Of the Jews in the surrounding area, there were two distinct groups of listeners.
The first was made up of interested Damascus Jews, wondering what this man was talking about. They were easy to spot, because of their scowl and aggressive stance.
The second group was a growing crowd of skeptical listeners that could not believe what they were hearing.
They now were all snapped to attention, like being startled awake after a short nap. “How can you all sit here and listen to this man!?” Now the priest was looking directly at them, pointing and yelling with the most volume he could muster.
“Oh boy” Ananias muttered to himself. He had been following Saul to the synagogue day after day for the past week. He had seen the change in Saul, and knew that if Saul was going to continue to speak as he had been, he wouldn’t go unnoticed for long.
Ananias had been following the crowds, hiding from Saul’s line of sight, waiting for a sign that Saul overstepping his boundaries.
It was definitely happening now.
Ananias was waiting for a chance when Saul was slowing down and talking less, but there was none. Saul seemed to get energized when new listeners passed within the hearing distance of his voice, and his voice seemed to carry to everyone within sight.
Now the priest’s voice was matching the intensity and volume of Saul’s. He was slowly turning the attention of the closer listeners, mostly priests and Pharisees, toward himself.
“Excuse me…uh, pardon me…please, yes…thank you, excuse me, could I squeeze through please?” Ananias pushed and slid his way closer to Saul through the ever growing crowd. His mind was spinning the whole time. He was trying to think of what he could say to Saul that would convince him to finish his teaching for the day.
Saul’s attention snapped toward Ananias as soon as he came in to view. Abruptly he discontinued his speech, bid the crowd farewell, and joined Ananias, who was already boring a hole through the sea of people toward the nearest exit.
They didn’t pause from walking until arriving at Ananias’ house.
Ananias waited for Saul to enter and then slammed the door behind him. “I didn’t think I was going to get you out of there.”
Saul paused for a minute. “I must admit, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have complied so quickly. I am enjoying the way that I seem to be filled with the words to speak. And then, the moment I saw you, the source of the words ceased, almost like when a break in the clouds stops the rain from falling. So, with nothing more to say, it seemed foolish for me to stand in front of all of those people and ramble on.”
“Well, they have noticed you now. As we were walking away, the priests were gathering together and pointing at you, directly. From the way they were gesturing, I don’t think they are going to ask you back to discuss things.
“So, you think that I have gone too far?”
“Yes…I am afraid so. Now that they know you, and have heard your message, I don’t think they will tolerate you any further.
“I don’t want to do this, but both Judith and I agree, we need to talk about your return to Jerusalem. I think the time is drawing near.”
“I know that time is coming, but I don’t feel ready. Yes, the church in Jerusalem are due an explanation to the changes in me. I don’t imagine that they will be eager to believe me.
“And if today is a sign of things to come, the priests will not put up with me for much longer.” Saul finished.
Throughout the afternoon, members of The Way began to gather for the evening meal. They tried to meet once each day in a member’s house, to share and stay connected.
As dinner grew near, knocking on the door for people to enter was almost consistent.
Then there was a knock with an urgent tone.
The door swung open, and Judas stepped in and scanned the crowd. Seeing Saul standing in the kitchen he yelled, “Saul! We need to talk.”
Then focusing on the person that had opened the door…“oh, hello, Ananias.”
“Judas, why are you here?” Ananias asked.
Saul can through the group and said quietly to Judas, “We can talk later.”
“No, actually we cannot.”
Saul reached around Judas and closed the door behind him.
“What is it, Judas?” Ananias asked.
“The Jews have stirred up a crowd and involved the army. They want to put pressure on Saul, hoping that he will leave the city. They will wait for him at the gates. When he leaves, they can overtake him outside the city, and no one will be responsible for what happens”, he answered.
“Saul, I know you want to stay and defend your new belief, but you cannot. You have stirred up enough trouble with the temple that I am sure you must leave.
“And not by the gate.”
Saul looked at Judas. “I have experienced so much since my walk from Jerusalem. I am convinced that God has charged me with spreading his word. I do not think that He will allow me to be stopped so easily.”
Judith had stepped forward and stood at Ananias’ side, “No, but that doesn’t mean that we should all act foolishly and run out there among them.”
Judas looked at Judith and Ananias, then at Saul. “Forgive me for being so forward, but Saul, we have already arranged for your escape from the city.”
“Judas! We can’t have Saul escape from the city! How would that look? He is not a fugitive.” yelled Ananias.
Still calm and reserved, Saul responded, “Well, actually I am. I don’t like to feel that way, but I am not sure that I have a choice. The people that I came to see here don’t want me here. The people that I need to go to see probably won’t want me there either.
Judith spoke again, mostly to her husband, “Judas has proven that he is a friend, and has Saul’s best fortune at heart. If what he is saying is true, we have no choice.”
“Ananias, I believe that she is showing wisdom.” Saul replied, “Judas, what are your plans.”
“My sister has offered to help”, he said. “She was with me when I was told that the Jews have planning to drive you from the city, and overtake you outside the gate. She likes you, but then she has always wanted something different from religion. Apparently your time with us has changed both of us and begun to open our hearts.
“We will dine at her house tonight near the northern section of the city wall.”
Judas looked at Ananias and Judith, “I have an idea, but we need to work out the details. We will need a few others to help.”