By Patrick Schwab
Since the beginning of time we have searched the heavens and within ourselves for answers to that which surrounds us. The mysteriousness of it all draws us to seek out answers that seem to be just out of our gasp as we attempt to understand the dawning of our existent. Some of us have come to the belief that religion, as we know it today is of man and in no way that of a God or gods. However from time to time there are those who come forth with an inner knowledge. People who we know as priests, ministers, Shamans, or Holy men and women who have been instrumental in aiding us in finding our way as we journey on our path of trying to understand this thing we call faith. Some of these men and women have touched the world with their beliefs and their understanding of religion. One such man steps out of the pages of our Christian Bible. We will explore Judaism through his eyes within the Laws Of Moses.
His name is Saul as we entry his story. He is a Jew of the Roman colony of Israel. He was known as Saul of Tarsus chief persecutor of the early Christians.
Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his resurrection those who live the Laws of Moses declared war on those who profess Jesus as the messiah. Saul was an enthusiastic member of the Pharisees. A sect within the Jewish faith that promoted purity and fidelity to the Laws of Moses. He meant his means as a tent maker. Saul entries the biblical account as a silent witness to the stoning of Stephen and his blasphemy to the Law. Those who stoned Stephen laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 8:1) According to Luke, Saul was not actual member of the Sanhedrin that condemned Stephen. But as a member of the Synagogue he may of taken part in the original dispute, and Luke suggest he gave moral consent to the execution which carried as much as the actual deed itself. After this incident Saul begins to participate in the campaign against Christians. Strange as it may sound the wakes of Moses, of Buddha, of Confucius, gave a greater influences over humanity today, than when these men were pondering over faith and happiness.
After Stephen’s stoning those of the Christians sect of Judaism were dispersed throughout the land. They were homeless and driven from Jerusalem. One of the cities where the Christians came was Damascus. A city today consider to be the oldest in existence as well as the oldest continued inhabited and now the capital of Syria. It was a main trade route between the east and west.
Saul knowing this as his reputation grew, as persecutor of Christians, went to the leaders of the synagogue the Sanhedrin and made a case to go to Damascus and bring the Christians bound to Jerusalem.
Now the Apostles (Greek apostolos [person sent]) were in Damascus. These were who Saul sought as he prepared to go.
Now most likely he was given about 20 men from the synagogue guard and they set off for Damascus. Set in their mission they had no idea what laid ahead. As they came upon a rise overlooking the city a bright light appeared. Saul was knocked down and from the light which none had saw brighter a voice came
(Acts 9: 4-9 KJV) 4. and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul why persecute thou me.
5. and he said who art thou Lord? And the Lord said I am Jesus who thou persecuted; it is hard for thee to kick against the picks.
6. and he trembling and astonished said Lord, what wilt thou have me do? And the Lord said unto him, arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7. and the men, which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.
8. and Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were open he saw no man; but they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
9. and he was three days without sight and neither did eat or drink.
Within Damascus was a certain follower of Christ named Ananias. Ananias was a common man and when the Lord in a vision called Ananias, Behold I am the Lord (acts 9:10)
(Acts 9:11-15) [Paraphrased] arise and go to the street, which is called Straight. Now this street was like any street in our cities of the world today where the wine women and desires were plenty. One of those streets where if you wanted it and asked no question for a price it was yours. Ananias wasn’t sure of what he heard let alone of what was to come. The Lord spoke saying Ananias I want you to go to the house of Judas for one called Saul, of tarsus; for behold he prays. He knows from a vision you are coming and you shall lay hands on him and restore his sight.
Ananias wasn’t sure of what he heard. “Lord I have heard of this man how must evil he has brought against the saints in Jerusalem. I know that he has authority to bound all who call upon your name.”
The Lord spoke again to him: Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings; and the children of Israel.
Now in the story of Saul, Ananias is overlooked and cast aside in Paul’s shadow. Yet he played a very important part in what was to become the beginning of the church and spread of Christianity. Ananias was the link from the bright light on the road overlooking Damascus and the journeys to Asia Minor, Greece and into Rome.
Ananias interpreter the experience Saul had happen to him. It was he who translated the blinding light and the directions and duties, which were to come to Saul. He was far a lesser man in terms of worldwide happing but throughout our history a lesser one has launched the greater one. Who in the long run can actually say who is the lesser or the greater?
So reluctantly Ananias went to Straight Street and found the house of Judas. As the story goes he laid hands on Saul and scales fill from his eyes (Acts 9: 18). Then Saul arose and Ananias baptized him. As Saul received food and gained strength he spent days with the disciples.
The other disciples were persecuted men by the Jewish faith. Considered a sect to be destroyed. For they preached this new Messiah message of forgiveness and faith. Interesting is the fact that the Jews believed that Jesus wasn’t the messiah for they expected a warrior like god to lead them out of the roman rule. Now from the very seem ones, who persecuted them, comes into their life a man they all knew to be an enemy of their faith let alone each of them.
So Ananias introduction to them and Saul’s story of his conversion fell on deaf ears. Plus there is some conflict in Saul’s account and that of Luke in Acts.
First lets look at how Saul became Paul. Most likely Saul was his Jewish name and Paul was the name of his Roman citizenship. His Roman citizenship most likely came by mercenary services of his family within the roman army in one or more wars of the empire.
So for his own protection of the persecution he was under with the Jews as well as those of the Christian faith he took on his Roman name for it offered him protection under Roman law.
Paul in Gal. 1:17 claims that right after his conversion he went away to Arabia. But Luke’s account in Acts is historically interesting that he went to the synagogues and immediately proclaimed Jesus. Even tho if the authorities in Damascus had authority to hand over Christians to an emissary from Jerusalem most likely they would of not let him preach the faith they persecuted.
Paul as well had physical handicaps and spiritual weakness. It is not the vessel that counts but the contents, which it holds. The vessels may crack; leak, and sometimes breaks and Paul’s handicaps seem to work against him in his new ministry. Paul as well wasn’t an eloquent speaker either as he struggled to proclaim his message. Yet these very things became his greatest strength.
Of course the first obstacle he had to overcome was his past. All those who knew him or of him held this against him. Just like today when we do wrong no one forgets and when we do right no one remembers. Just a few days before he was the Christians greatest enemy. Then as now it was know a leopard does not change his spots. Nor does a man or women change overnight.
Because of all this the Jews of Damascus plotted to do away with him. Paul having a few faithful friends among the disciples in Damascus and know this managed to get him safely out of the city. His first attempt to preach was a total failure. No one believed him because they knew his past. From Damascus he went to Jerusalem. He found that Jesus new vessel when he found the disciples there did not open their arms for him. For they had not forgotten Stephen and Paul’s part in his stoning for they believed him to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Paul knew all of this, and the Jews watched the gates of Damascus day and night waiting to kill him. So with a few faithful follows they lower him over the wall in a basket and he escaped their gasp and went to Jerusalem. Acts 9:25
We will end here and pick up the story in Jerusalem.
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