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Paul and the Judaizers

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This is a book I am working on to challenge the reemergence of the Judaizers in our time. Chapter One Now Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem1 It was not unusual to see him scurrying around the Temple on his way to the Lishkat ha-Gazith, the Hall of Hewn Stones, the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council. He had developed quite a reputation this Benjamite a native of Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia. What is known today as Cumhuriyet Alani a city on the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. He was one of master Gamaliel’s brightest students who had excelled all his peers in his knowledge not only of Torah and the Prophets but also of the Greek poets and philosophers2. No small feat for a Pharisee. For theirs was a sect made up of the brightest and most learned men in all of Judaism. He had a very bright future this Saul. What with his zeal and passion for the God of Israel and His Law together with his unrivalled intellect, perhaps one day he too might be high priest. Bursting into the hall, oblivious to the proceedings taking place he addresses the nasi, translated as prince a title given to the high priest. The young Pharisee earnestly declares, “Rabboni3, these heretics must be silenced before they infect more of our people, no, all of Ha-Shem’s4 chosen people with this blasphemous heresy. See how many have already believed their wicked lies,” he continues. “They prey on the simple and the ignorant as they spew forth their diabolical sacrilege. How can anyone in their right mind ever believe that that false prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, that Jesus the son of Joseph, could ever have been the beloved messiah that our prophets have spoken so much of? Such foolishness! Blind fools! Where is the promised deliverance from our enemies that the prophets declare messiah would bring? The gentiles still occupy Ha-Shem’s holy city our precious Jerusalem. Where is our deliverance, or Israel’s glory or any of the prophecies that messiah must fulfil. Their Jesus died on a cross, on a tree. A fitting end to one so accursed5 by the one and only God. A dead messiah? Outrages! Preposterous! Grant me an edict to the synagogues of Damascus authorizing me to purge out any among them who dare to believe in that dead impostor and defile our holy Law. Allow me to drag their worthless souls back to Jerusalem were the Sanhedrin6 can deal with them as they deserve according to the penalties of the Law of Moses7. Just like we dealt with their pathetic heretic Stephen8.” Leaving the chambers of the high priest with edict in hand, Saul vows that he will hunt down every last one of his own people, the Jews, who have forsaken the pure traditions of the fathers and embraced as God’s son, this man y’eshu9. His keen mind recalls the exploits of Jehu king of Israel10 whom the great prophet Elisha had ordained as the man who would bring to an end the Baal worshipping, idolatrous, wicked house of Ahab. With zealous excitement building up inside him, Saul believes that the Lord has given him a similar mandate. Like King Jehu of old he will bring to an end this diabolical new sect that is turning the chosen people away from their God. Round them up, all of them, let none escape and send them to the depth of the pit to be with their Jesus, cut of from God for eternity, where they all belong. “Dear Lord forgive your people.” Saul quietly prays as he hurries off to his lodgings to make ready for the long journey to Damascus. “From the days of our fathers we have sinned against you,” he continues. “Forcing Aaron, the brother of Your servant Moses, to make a golden calf so they could worship an idol instead of You their God and deliverer. Forty years they paid the price for their rebellion and wickedness in that cruel and unforgiving desert. Until all but Joshua and Caleb had perished. Did we learn from our disobedience? Forgive us Lord, no we did not. Throughout our history we have gone after foreign gods and turned our back on You, our Father, our God, the lover of our souls. The zeal for You has possessed my soul I cannot stand-bye passively and watch Your holy name blasphemed by these deceivers. Dear Lord, grant me success on this journey I pray. Let me be as your servant Jehu and put an end to this heresy, to this canker worm amongst Your people. To this Jesus of Nazareth!” Chapter Two And as he journeyed he came near Damascus and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads” 1 “They had made good time,” Saul thought to himself as they prepared to set of on the last day of their journey. They had averaged about fifteen stadia2(1,480 km) a day over the last nine days. This was the tenth day and they were almost at Damascus. They should be within the city gates well before nightfall. He had had nine full days to think through and then finally perfect his strategy of how to round up the Jewish dissidents in Damascus without having the authorities interfere with his divine commission. He would firstly... That Light! That voice! Fear suddenly gripped his whole body as a blinding light exploded all around him. Instantly he was pummelled to the ground like a rag doll as all his strength and vigor were sucked from his entire body. Dazed, bewildered and trembling, unable to move a muscle, his whole being was being assaulted by a voice and the words it spoke, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” His thoughts were racing as fear and awe engulfed him. Who is this, what is this? Where are you Lord? How can this, what can this be he sort to reason through his paralyzed mind. I know, although I do not know how I know but I know that this is the voice of the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob who is speaking to me. Quivering in fear he is barely able to breathe out the words as in a whisper he timidly asks, “who are you Lord?” The divine response cuts deep into his heart like an assassin’s dagger driving Saul’s mind deeper into awe and confusion, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” The light. The glory. The voice. The sudden and terrifying revelation that he had made God, this God, his God an enemy and that he had vowed to destroy those who served this glorious being who was now speaking to him tore into the very depths of his spirit. His mind was swirling with questions, with confusion. “How can this Jesus be God? No, rather how can God be this Jesus? How can God become a man? How can messiah be God?” The thoughts flashed like bludgeons though his dazed mind assaulting all that he thought he knew about Ha’shem the God of Israel. Yet in that instant, despite the turmoil of his mind, Saul of Tarsus, knew deep within himself, in a part of him that he never knew existed, in a part of him that had suddenly and gloriously come to life, in the very deepest recesses of his heart. He knew that this Jesus was Jehovah, the Lord God of his people Israel. He would forever become his Lord, his Saviour, his Master. So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord what do You want me to do?” And the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.3 What other words could he have spoken at that moment? His mind was desperately trying to catch up to his spirit, so long stilled through sin and pride that had separated him from God but was now alive. Oh yeas, so very much alive! He had never felt more confused, more joyous, more full of life, more terrified than he did at that moment. So many conflicting and glorious emotions erupting from his inner being. His entire understanding of God had been turned upside down, exposed as flawed, shallow, a lie? Saul the Pharisee of Pharisees lying in the baking dust on the Damascus road had to concede to himself that he had never really known nor understood the fullness of His God, this Lord, this glorious God of Israel, Jesus the Lord. Without thinking, the words burst from his heart, “Lord, what would you have me do?” The Lord’s voice was now gentler than before, although it still carried the same air of supreme authority that had reverberated through his whole being. “Arise, go into the city and you will be told what to do.” With his strength slowly returning, Saul disorientated struggled to his feet and fought to keep his balance on unsteady legs that were as uncooperative as a new born foal. The blinding light was gone now but as Saul tried to open his eyes, instead of daylight all he could see was darkness. “My sight will return in a moment,” he thought, “Did the others hear what I just heard?” Calling out to his travelling companions to enquire if they too heard the voice of Jesus, he is stunned by their reply. No!
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Guest Sunday, 19 November 2017