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.
The following story is part of an ongoing series. To read the rest click here.