Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Paul 5

From last week
They were making such head way in the Synagogue of the Freedmen that the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, sent Saul to serve as a spy of sorts, to see if he could subvert the movement.

Everything about them made him seethe inside. While he was obsessed with getting more and more Jews to follow the Law the "right" way, his way, these Hellenists were preaching that the Messiah wanted to include all Jews in the kingdom, including those who were unclean! They told stories about Jesus eating with toll collectors and associating with prostitutes.

It infuriated Saul. He could hardly listen to it. Of course he missed the fact that Jesus did not condone prostitution or cheating people. All Saul could hear is that Jesus ate with those people.

Saul was not just any Pharisee. He had cast in his lot with the School of Shammai. Sure, he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel and the School of Hillel during his early training as a Pharisee. But in the end the more militant School of Shammai was much more to his liking. The Hillelites believed in waiting around and letting God take care of things. The Shammaites believed in working alongside God by taking action. God would support a righteous cause!

There was one of these Jesus-followers in the Synagogue of the Freedman that really got under his skin. His name was Stephen. It seemed like he got bolder and bolder each Sabbath. He condemned the Jerusalem leadership in stronger and stronger terms for their part in the death of the Messiah. "They thought they had beat God. But God raised Jesus from the dead and installed him as Lord at his right hand. He will come back soon and destroy these hypocrites," he said.

Obviously the Sandhedrin was infuriated and alarmed by such rhetoric. Meanwhile, Saul was engaged in a campaign of whispers. "Blasphemers are to be stoned," he would suggest. "Don't you remember the son of the Egyptian in Leviticus, whom God commanded Israel to stone?"

Finally, after one Sabbath, one when Stephen was particularly critical of the temple leadership, several leaders in the Sanhedrin gave a secret go ahead for Saul to incite a crowd of undesirables against Stephen. Stephen had been saying things like, "Don't trust in this temple. God destroyed it once before and he could let it get destroyed again. The Sadducees and Pharisees are stiff-necked hypocrites, whom God has rejected. They preach the Law but do not follow it!"

So Paul went to meet some of the rougher characters of the Synagogue of the Freedman. He knew where they met to eat and drink after the sun went down at the Sabbath's end. "Can you believe what that Stephen said this morning? It's blasphemy against the temple, I tell you. Reminds me of the sons of Korah, how they tried to usurp the authority of Moses and Aaron. And look what happened to them! I can tell you, the Sanhedrin would not do anything if this guy just happened to get stoned to death."

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