“We have denied this sect’s ability to meet publicly by revoking its access to the Synagogues. So why do I hear that it continues to grow in size!” demanded the High Priest as he glared at the other seventy members of the Sanhedrin, who were arrayed about him in a semi-circle.
“It is because we erred in our haste to destroy it,” spoke the youngest Pharisee in attendance. His fanatical adherence to the precepts of his order had accelerated his posting to the assembly.
The High Priest fumed, “Explain!”
“We presumed that by stopping the public gatherings of these followers of Jesus of Nazareth that their sect would wither and die.”
“And yet the opposite has transpired!” the High Priest fired back.
“Quite so,” answered the young Pharisee. “My own investigations have revealed that this sect’s foundation was not its weekly Synagogue meetings, but smaller groups that meet during the week in members’ homes. These groups form the basis of their movement. It is these groups that must be destroyed.”
“And you have a proposal to achieve this end?” mocked an elderly Pharisee seated.
The young man stood, “I am aware of such a group meeting in the home of Ethan the Tanner at this very moment. The house is only several blocks from here. Give me ten Temple Guards and I will arrest them immediately! Let this be the first step of many!”
The High Priest summoned the captain of the Temple Guard. “Take a detachment and accompany our brother. Do not fail me!”
Tears streamed down Rachel’s face. Oblivious to her inner pain, one of her twin toddlers clung to her leg while his brother was trying to use her shoulder as a stepping stone to climb onto her head. “What ever are we to do, Ethan? Stephen was the cousin of my aunt’s husband. He was family!”
Acknowledging the sombre expressions of the twenty believers gathered in his home, Ethan opened his arms, “This is a difficult time, but the Lord is in control. Although this situation seems beyond our comprehension, He has permitted it for a reason.”
“Images of Stephen’s broken, bloodied body haunt my every thought. Who will be next - me?” wailed deacon Kenaniah.
“Who did Jesus of Nazareth think he was? Prophesying the destruction of our Temple and the end of the holy customs given us by Moses!” snarled the Pharisee indignantly as he mercilessly drove a merchant’s flock of clucking chickens from his path.
The Temple Guards, encumbered with weapons, struggled to keep up with his unrelenting pace.
“Brethren, the murder of one so full of the Spirit, as was Stephen, is a tragedy. Nevertheless, let us remember the Saviour’s words. ‘Let not our hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in Him.’ ”
Hands resting upon the unborn baby in her womb, Ruth sighed, “Ethan, you speak the truth. Worrying will not add even one hour to our lives. He will see us through these times.”
“I want more than that!” snapped her young husband. “We need to know what to do right here and now!”
Her face aglow with the Spirit’s touch, Ruth began to speak. “Imasugu Yudaya to Samariya ni nigenasai.”
Sensing the message’s urgency, Ethan asked, “Does anyone have the interpretation of this message?”
“I do,” said Rachel as she pried her son from her neck.
The Pharisee and Guards forced their way through a crowded street and reached Ethan’s house. They kicked down the door and rushed inside. But when they found an empty house that had been abandoned in great haste the Pharisee dashed a vase against the nearest wall in exasperation.
“Captain, go and ask the neighbours when exactly these people left. Also ask if anyone arrived recently to tip them off!"
“At once, Saul,” replied the captain.
The captain returned five minutes later. “Saul, the neighbours have informed us that thirty minutes ago Ethan, his entire household, and over a dozen guests, emerged suddenly from the house and fled in great haste in that direction. They took with them bedrolls, clothing, food, and water. No visitor was observed coming to the house since the believers met together over two hours ago.”
“Then how did they know we were coming!” Saul spat in frustration.
On the day of Stephen’s death, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem. Saul went from house to house, making arrests. As Christians fled throughout Judea and Samaria, they made new disciples and planted new house groups. Consequently, the believers increased in number. (Acts 8:1-3)
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