A HORNETS' NEST!
"'And that's when I met Ananias, a man with a sterling reputation in observing our laws -- the Jewish community in Damascus is unanimous on that score. He came and put his arm on my shoulder. 'Look up,' he said. I looked, and found myself looking right into his eyes -- I could see again!
"Then he said, 'The God of our ancestors has hand-picked you to be briefed on His plan of action. You've actually seen the Righteous Innocent and heard Him speak. You are to be a key witness to everyone you meet of what you've seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptised, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God.'" Acts 22:12-16 (The Message).
Mmm! Paul was very careful to emphasize Ananias' credentials, a Jew from Damascus who had good standing in the Jewish community there; but that did not take away from the fact that he was also one of those who followed Jesus in the "sect" they called "the Way". Just as Paul was looking for every way to defuse the situation, the crowd was waiting for him to indict himself by his own words. Up to this point there was nothing in his story to condemn him, so they allowed him to continue.
"Well it happened just as Ananias had said. After I was back in Jerusalemand praying one day in the Temple, lost in the presence of God, I saw Him, saw God's Righteous Innocent, and heard Him say to me, 'Hurry up! Get out of here as quickly as you can. None of the Jews here in Jerusalem are going to accept what you say about me.'
"At first I objected: 'Who has better credentials? They all know how obsessed I was with hunting out those who believed in you, beating them up in the meeting places and throwing them in jail. And when your witness, Stephen, was murdered, I was right there, holding the clothes of the murderers and cheering them on. And now they see me totally converted. What better qualifications could I have?'
"But He said, 'Don't argue. Go. I'm sending you on a long journey to outsider Gentiles.'" Acts 22:18-21 (The Message).
Paul's credentials in his old, pre-Christ life were also impeccable. He was so zealous for the law that he was willing to kill those whom he considered traitors to Moses. Strange, isn't it, that he was murderously defending the law that said, "Do not commit murder"! He was oppressing those whom the law defended against oppression! He was making decisions for those to whom God had given the right to make their own! Isn't this how religion works?
He had turned his religion into an idol which he worshipped with such fanatical zeal that it had turned him into a heartless monster and as blind as a bat to the truth. He had long since lost the understanding of the true God -- the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who established a covenant of love with them and taught them, through the provisions of that covenant, to care about people and to protect them, not to destroy them because they had believed in their Messiah about whom his Scriptures had spoken.
It had taken nothing less than a face-to-face confrontation with Jesus to convince Paul that he was dead wrong about Him. Now Paul was trying to convince people who were as equally blind and stubborn as he had been, that Jesus was their Messiah! His journeys through Asia and Europe had not yielded much fruit among the Jews. It was not likely that it would be any different here in Jerusalem.
Paul was standing next to a hornets' nest and at any moment they would break loose and strike!
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