Murder, A Step Away

Posted: November 17, 2019 in Meditations
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Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul”  Acts 7:58

Thus begins the story of the most influential man in church history, The Apostle Paul. Saul was no innocent bystander at Stephen’s execution. He stood as an observer for the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, the highest religious authority for the Jews. Saul hated Stephen, a follower of The Way, a cult following the teachings of a man named Jesus executed two years earlier. This was just the beginning. Saul envisioned stamping out this blasphemy by any means available. In his own words, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.” Acts 26:9-12  How did faith in God come to this? Why?

Saul grew up in Tarsus, a city of a half million people on the Mediterranean Sea at the base of the Taurus Mountains. A center of international trade, Saul grew up in a prosperous Jewish family. He spoke Aramaic in his home, spoke Greek in the marketplace,  and studied Hebrew in his religious training. His father sent Saul to Jerusalem as a young teenager to study under the great rabbi Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel. Saul excelled at everything he put his mind to, he was fast tracking to a position of high leadership in the Jewish community. Mom and Dad had to be proud and deeply satisfied.

Identity shapes men and women. Who am I? What is most important to my life, the lives of others? Saul knew the Scriptures better than I ever will. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.” Proverbs 3:5,6  He knew this verse by heart, yet Saul stepped over a line too many of us cross, his belief system overwhelmed the personal relationship with God. His voice replaced God’s voice, all in the name of God. The Jew pursued an identity in God. Too often, especially for a Pharisee, their identity was found in the keeping of the law of Moses. Paul recalled, “I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault.” Philippians 3:5,6  Purity of faith trumped life itself.

We commit these same sins today. Politics in America fights a zero sum war. The opposition must be destroyed. You must be good or evil – God forbid you have elements of both. Christians bicker over doctrine, question the salvation of sinners, and forget to love their neighbor. “The written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 2:6  Who and what reigns in our hearts? Do we denigrate others? Do we elevate ourselves as Christians at the expense of others? We love truth, we pursue it with a whole heart. But objective truth without God kills our ability to love with the love of God. In Saul’s case, it led to murder.

 

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