I had heard of this small group of trouble makers. As one of the seventy-one members of the ruling council here in Jerusalem, I hear about all the rabble. They had centered their ideologies around a man named Jesus, formerly a very pure, selfless Jewish man from the north of Israel. I still remember all the rumors my friends told me. I think he died something like two or three years ago. Though I had been out of town for several weeks during the the week of his death, I heard all the news; news of miracles, healings, and a significant amount of blasphemy. Evidently Jesus was quite a figure, claiming to be the Son of G-d.
I knew about everything through members of the court and friends. The incarceration, the trial, the torture, the crucifixion, the burial. Jesus even managed to maintain some kind of following even after his death. Supposedly he was raised by G-d from the dead. Everything seemed to make sense except that. I never even considered believing what the Pharisees preach about the resurrection of the Messiah.
Either way, I’ve definitely seen some zealous uprisings in my day; I’ve even partnered with the other side of the Sanhedrin council, the Pharisees, to stop some of them. I mean, good grief, the Sicarii literally assassinated other Jews in the night. Not that Jesus was anything like that rabble. These hearings would often culminate with fairly strong disciplinary action; it isn’t uncommon to put these troublemakers to death. After all, it is a great risk to the future of our culture.
Though I missed out on some of the gossip about Jesus’ death years back, it just so happened that I was around when some of Jesus’ most influential followers were brought in to the court. I think Peter and John were their names. I remember Peter saying some fairly inflammatory things; his views on Jesus were significantly different than mine. And yet, I could not find it in my heart to fully discredit him, or John for that matter. They were fairly uneducated men, but regardless they did perform a healing near the temple. I am still wondering about that. I know the guy they healed.
Fast forward. There I was at the temple, sitting in on a hearing for one of the Jesus-following leaders, Stephen. Near the end of his defense speech, he began speaking directly against me and my council members. He didn’t even specify Pharisee or Sadducee, he just launched in. I remember something about “stiff-necked,” something about “bullheaded,” something about the apparent failures of my ancestors. I remember looking over at a couple friends as Stephen continued. We became enraged, losing control of our emotions in those moments. The next thing I knew, two of my closest friends, Eliot and Jomar, got up and forcefully ordered our council guards to grab Stephen and take him away. Everyone knew Stephen had this coming.
We all got up and followed them to a little valley outside the city. By this point some other townspeople and leaders that weren’t a part of the Sanhedrin had joined our party. They were shouting insults as we scuttled through the dusty streets. I remember resonating with these shouts. My heart beat as one with them. On the way down I had a brief conversation with my friend Saul. Though we were on different sides of the political equation, we connected personally. I related to his position on eliminating the power and influence of the Jesus-following sect.
Previously he had walked into the back of the court just as all the yelling had started. “Can you believe these people?” I recall him whispering. I responded in full agreement. We had maintained a brief conversation on our way out of the city, and I had grabbed a couple stones. As we arrived to the circle, Stephen was standing, but seconds later someone placed a strong kick in the center of his back and he fell forward. He was already bleeding from his mouth at this point. But somehow he looked at peaceful. Then the rocks came. In the next few moments, I remember so vividly the expression on Stephen’s face. I also remember looking over at my friends, Eliot, Jomar, and Saul. The look on Stephen’s face was one of peace. My friends, on the other hand, certainly did not seem to be at peace; in fact, they seemed so utterly twisted with rage that I could barely recognize them as friends. I guess I didn’t feel at peace either for that matter. The look on my friends’ faces and the look on Stephen’s face contrasted; they contrasted each other disturbingly.
I remember I was just about to land a stone to Stephen’s temple when something stopped me. I simply could not throw it. I knew this guy had done something wrong. And yet, I couldn’t muster the fortitude to hurl the stone. It slipped out of my hand, my hood slipped over my head, and I slipped out of the crowd. That was a week ago. I just don’t know what to think. Everything I have ever believed in leads me toward skepticism, yet.. yet this experience has caused me to doubt everything. What did Stephen believe?Recently there have been several more executions. I am honestly feeling caught in the middle of all of this. Saul is really pushing this agenda, and as much as I used to agree with him, I have parted ways more and more in his thinking on these matters. I should probably let you go, I’ve talked your ear off. Also, I need to go to the court. Oh.. Why? Yea, well.. This is my letter of resignation. I’ve got some thinking to do and I’ve had some really interesting conversations with a newer friend, James, who was apparently related to Jesus. I want to hear what he has to say about Stephen, and maybe even Jesus for that matter.
Matthew 2:13-15; Acts 3-8