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”.