LESSONS OF FAITH FROM SELECT BIBLICAL FIGURES (Part 2)
DAVID, THE TRULY-BEGOTTEN KING
Far from being perfect, David succeeded in becoming the Israelites’ ideal king, as recognized in subsequent literature and prophetic scripture. Centuries of looking back by Hebrews and Jews, the telling and retelling of his exploits, have caused David’s image to become strangely muddled, so much so that even the pages of the Bible portraying his life story have lost their organization and composite theme. Somewhere, or some when, around 1000 BC, we believe, his kingship began.
By this time, Israel had spent hundreds of years in conflict with their Middle Eastern neighbors, and of course in fighting amongst themselves. One of the many episodes which testify to this latter point is to be found in Judges 12:4-6 when the Gileadites stood watch over all the fording places of the Jordan so as to prevent their brother Ephraimites from fleeing. They cleverly interrogated a crossing soldier by asking him to pronounce a certain Hebrew word. If the soldier pronounced the word incorrectly, they would kill him. Evidently the language had differentiated among the children of Israel to the extent that each tribe could be distinguished from the other by its peculiar dialect or accent, not unlike distinguishing ‘Yankees’ from true Southerners. If Cain could slay Abel, how much longer would it take for a brotherhood of tribes to murder each other? God’s holy nation, a nation of priests, had become wanton and defrocked. As an analgesic for those troubled times, the Lord would periodically raise up judges to guide and protect the people; but eventually the Israelites demanded a king, and Samuel, the last official judge, at the Lord’s behest, granted it.
Recall from the story of Samuel that Saul was anointed king first, but because of his disposition and greediness, the Lord came to ‘regret’ that decision; i.e. turn away his favors (1 Sam 15:11). Tormented by the loss of his anointing spirit, Saul may have met David for the first time as a noted harpist who was called into the king’s presence in order to bring comfort and solace (1 Sam 16:14-23); or may not have, instead when David was just a mere youth who amazed everyone by his brash offer to combat, then strike down the Philistine giant, Goliath, with just a slingshot and a stone (1 Sam 17:1-58). These two traditional but divergent accounts have now been spastically intertwined. Saul’s jealousy of David was soon aggravated into a psychological fixation when David began to demonstrate his military expertise on the battlefield, earning him great popularity with the people, even above the king. Over the next few years Saul alternately praised and loathed David to the point of intentional homicide. Twice Saul tried to run him through with a spear (1 Sam 18:10-12; 19:9-10). Hired assassins were sent to David’s house, but his wife Michal tricked them by placing a household idol under the bedspread where David should have been sleeping (1 Sam 19:11-17).
Inevitably their ongoing political contest would erupt into open battle. The king’s greater forces kept David on the run. Anyone found guilty of trying to help David by giving him food or assistance was condemned to death, no matter they be priests, women, children, or infants (1 Sam 22:11-19). David himself bore no great grudge against Saul, who (depending on which story you believe) had become like a second father to him. Saul’s son, Jonathan, was even closer to David, almost like a beloved brother. David continually sought to assure Saul that he had no designs on the throne, despite Samuel’s anointing of him, and he was in no way planning an overthrow of Saul’s reign. Twice David had the opportunity to kill Saul while he was quite vulnerable: once when Saul was in a cave relieving himself, but he just cut off a piece of his mantle as proof of his proximity (1 Sam 24:1-11); and the second time when David secretly crept into Saul’s camp and stole his spear and water jug as he slept (1 Sam 26:1-12). For all their animosity, David was nevertheless reluctant to ever kill the Lord’s anointed under any circumstances [1 Sam 24:7; (24:6 KJV); 26:9; 2 Sam 1:14-16]. And although Saul fiercely hunted him and continually sought his death, David would not repay ‘evil for evil’ by seeking to kill Saul in return (1 Sam 24:12-14; 2 Thes 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9). Their respective spiritual natures shall be eternally canonized in the contrast of the two times Saul tried to spear David when they were alone together versus the two times David would spare Saul.
After Saul and three of his sons died in a battle with the Philistines (1 Sam 31:1-6), another one of Saul’s sons, Ishbaal, became king of Gilead, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all the other (northern) tribes of Israel. The (southern) tribe of Judah had already declared David its king. Two years later Ishbaal was murdered; then the elders of Israel came to Hebron in Judah to ask David to be king of the entire nation of Israel (2 Sam 5:1-5). Subsequently David and his army captured Jerusalem, which was technically a part of the tribal land of Benjamin but unconquered since Joshua’s time. The City of David, as Jerusalem would henceforth be called, became his capital (2 Sam 5:6-12). The Lord continued to bless David on the battlefield, even intervening with windstorms on his behalf (2 Sam 5:17-25).
When alas everything in Jerusalem was peaceful and settled, David ordered that the Ark of the Covenant be brought up from Judah. Along the way a man died simply by touching the ark in an attempt to steady it (re: Samuel section comment). This caused the procession to hesitate for several months. When it seemed clear that the Lord’s anger had passed, the bearers of the ark started on again toward Jerusalem, with David, gird only in a priest’s apron, dancing and singing alongside. Upon reaching Zion on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the ark was placed in a tent (2 Sam 6:1-23). David’s wife, Michal, thought that his prancing before all the commoners was demeaning for a king. But David, as the first populist entertainer leader, believed that making merry before the Lord, even if raucously performed, could never be less than honorable.
Feeling somewhat guilty about living in a palatial house of cedar wood while the ark of God rested under a plain cloth in a tent, David asked Nathan the prophet if he should build the Lord a temple. The Lord’s response was curt, that in all the centuries of wanderings with the Israelites, “did I ever utter a word … to build me a house?” (2 Sam 7:1-7) Again, as he did for Moses (‘who am I’), the Lord turned the question around by saying in effect, ‘No, it is I who will build you a house, a kingdom forever. And your descendant shall sit on the throne; I will be a Father to him, and he shall be my son’ (2 Sam 7:11-16; Acts 2:29-36; Ps 132:11-13; 110:1; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44).
As a musician, dancer, military general, and a king, David’s emotional stability must have fluctuated from time to time. Perhaps the greatest infraction of his life was committing adultery with Bathsheba (whose story we all know from literature and from cinema). He compounded his sin much more gravely by then having her husband conveniently killed in battle so as to cover up her misbegotten pregnancy by David (2 Sam 11:1-27). Nathan confronted David with a parable about a rich man (David) with many flocks and herds (his wives and concubines) who steals a poor man’s one and only lamb (Bathsheba) just to make a meal for a visitor. David’s own judgement of death for the rich man was a roundabout play of guilt against David. The Lord’s sentence was to announce that “the sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Sam 12:1-12), presaging the rebellion of David’s son Absalom. The product of David’s and Bathsheba’s adulterous union, their son, would have to die (wherefore children suffer for the sins of their fathers). However, David and Bathsheba would have another son, Solomon, who would indeed build the physical temple of God on earth, while Jesus, another lineally son of David, became the foundation stone of the true heavenly temple (1 Kings 6:1-10; Rev 21:22).
Over his lifetime, David would father many children through his numerous wives and concubines. Some of his children’s atrocious behavior and many indiscretions are catalogued over the remaining chapters of Samuel. Amnon would rape his half-sister Tamar. Absalom would kill his half-brother Amnon, then become that rebellious son Nathan had prophesied about, endeavoring to take his father’s kingdom away from him (2 Sam 17:1-4). These events confirm a proverb that affluent parents tend to breed ‘poor’ children, but rich conspiracies. The soldiers of David crushed Absalom’s forces and killed Absalom in the process, angering David who had ordered them not to kill him (2 Sam 18:1-17). Such was the unwarranted mourning of David for his fallen son that his soldiers were taken aback and started to wonder if David would have preferred that the battle was lost and that all of his soldiers had died instead. His general, Joab, reproved David, noting, “by loving those who hate you and hating those who love you … you put all your servants to shame” (2 Sam 19:2-9). [Recall this, too, back in Samuel: ‘honor those who honor me’ rather than ‘love your enemies’ (Matt 5:43-44).] In his old age, another one of David’s sons, Adonijah, conspired to create a short-lived political rebellion.
After reigning in Judah for seven and a half years and thirty three years in Jerusalem as the king of all Israel, David died at the age of seventy (2 Sam 5:4-5; 1 Kings 2:10). His legacy heralded the King/Messianic Age, as Christians awaited their true king who was to sit at the right hand of God. From his much-acclaimed victory over the Philistine giant Goliath, a cardinal suggestion arose how a young person’s bravery, ingenuity, and strong belief in the power of the Lord can overcome great evil in the world. Christ’s own success at ‘overcoming the world’ would not involve a sword or a spear which stupefied many of his followers, including his disciples. Concerning David’s supposed defiling of the temple and breaking of the Sabbath laws by eating some of the altar bread in order to sustain his soldiers, Jesus recounted this history to dispel the notion that the Mosaic laws are staid and immutable, preferring instead to remark that, ‘rules are made for man, not man for the rules’ [1 Sam 21:2-7; (21:1-6 KJV); Matt 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5]. To be sure, priests were always allowed to work on the Sabbaths, offering the morning and evening holocausts, the special Sabbath sacrifices, setting up the show bread, and afterward eating the loaves. Even minor incidents have become lesson-laden or appointed with a significance beyond their actual measure. A simple census, for example, ordered by David (without its necessary fine) incurred God’s wrath against the Israelite nation. Given three possible alternatives of punishment, David selected the one administered directly by an angel, for he trusted that the Lord would be most merciful. He requested that the curse fall solely upon him, for ‘why punish the sheep for what the master has done?’ (2 Sam 24:10-17): a lesson governments have yet to recognize.
It was perhaps David’s straightforward, down-to-earth, pragmatic tack on life that made him worthy of kingship and true acclaim. An adulterer, yes; a murderer, yes; a vengeful person even on his deathbed, yes; but ever since his youth he was a poetic charmer. Many of the songs of Psalms are attributed to David. In one (Ps 17:8), he even claimed to have charmed the Lord, being as he was, now and forever, ‘the apple of God’s eye’.
ELIJAH. FIRE OF GOD
With Elijah was the spirit … and now the Spirit is with God. In the Northern Kingdom of Israel where Ahab, the king, ruled, Elijah suddenly appeared to condemn Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, for their veneration and worship of Baal. Ahab had erected an altar and a sacred pole to Baal in the Lord’s temple at Samaria, stirring his anger. So Elijah said to Ahab, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) Since these words infuriated the king, who then sought his death, Elijah fled off into the desert. He camped next to a wadi stream where ravens were commanded by God to bring him bread and meat every morning and evening (I Kings 17:2-6). Because the rain had not fallen for quite a while (at Elijah’s word), the stream eventually ran dry; therefore the Lord directed Elijah to move on to a widow’s house, who was in the process or preparing the last meal for herself and her son before dying from the famine and drought. But the Lord said through Elijah, “the jar of flour and the jug of oil shall not run dry until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 17:7-16). When the widow’s son fell ill and stopped breathing, Elijah carried the boy to an upper room, prayed, and stretched himself over the child beckoning God to restore the life breath to his body. Elijah’s prayers reached God’s hearing and the boy was brought back to life. The widow exclaimed, “Now I know you are a man of God” (1 Kings 17:17-24).
At this point we, too, like the widow might declare Elijah a prophet and a miracle worker. Yet it was only through the later writings of prophets and the rise of emulating figures that we could begin to grasp the portentousness of his life, or of events in semblance of things to come. The drought would last for three and a half years. Jesus began his calling at age thirty and ministered to the people for three and a half years: during which time there was no indwelling, no blessing of the Spirit except at Christ’s word or until his resurrection (John 7:39; 16: 7-11; Luke 4:25-26; James 5:16-18; Matt 11:12). The feeding of the widow’s family through an unending replenishment of flour and oil parallels Christ’s own feeding of the multitudes from just five loaves of bread and two fish (Matt 14:13-21). Breathing life back into the dead boy and giving him back to his mother would be mirrored in Jesus’ own raising of a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17); and going further, Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:39-44; Matt 9:23-26).
Ahab had sent search parties throughout the country and neighboring kingdoms endeavoring to find Elijah so as to end the drought or otherwise to kill him. But their searches were futile, for it was as though the Spirit of the Lord would always carry him off to some place safe (1 Kings 18:10-12). Upon his voluntary appearance before Ahab to announce the forthcoming rain, Elijah first condemned the king for abandoning the Lord and following Baal. He challenged the prophets of Baal, the prophets of Asherah, and all of Israel to a contest. At Mount Carmel the pagan prophets sacrificed one young bull, placed it on a mound of wood, and then called upon Baal to start a consuming fire. Despite the prophets’ loud shouts and also slashing themselves so that blood gushed over them, no fire came down from Baal all morning. At noon, the sacrificial hour, they ceased out of frustration. Elijah repaired the altar to the Lord, which had been destroyed, using twelve stones, one for each tribe of Israel, then stacked the wood and dug a trench around the entire altar. To make incineration more difficult, four full jars of water were poured over the wood and the holocaust animal several times until the trench itself was filled. Once Elijah prayed to the Lord, fire came down from heaven and consumed the holocaust, wood, stones, water and all. Seeing this, the people of Israel fell prostrate and proclaimed, “The Lord is God!” The false prophets were seized and Elijah slew them in the waters of the Kishon brook. Next, at his word, the heavy rains began to fall (1 Kings 18:16-46).
Personally, we may have all struggled against ourselves – striving to know which god to follow in life: the Lord or the god of this world. Our answers likely have not come so clearly or as effusively as it did for Elijah. The fire which came down from heaven for Elijah’s sacrifice was really a manifestation of the Spirit – for them and for us at Pentecost. Elijah’s restoration of the altar represented the restoration of Israel and of Judah in a spiritual sense (Acts 2:1-21). For although the Israelite people would still suffer many trials including subjugation and captivity, they would have, from Elijah forward, at least a faith to carry with them, and a Lord to bring them home. The covenant of the Law had been reestablished. If there were no Elijah, there would have been no more Israel, or a nation for our Lord Jesus to be born into. In modern terms, we can only guess what two ‘religions’ stand in contest with each other today. Some have said Christianity versus Science. Both religions share similar virtues like motivating people to create and to make more of their lives, and similar faults like sinful priests and the forced indoctrination of questionable theories and self-serving policies. They both lean towards not truth, but to what most benefits the ‘Church’.
When Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, learned that all of her prophets had been slain, she swore to do the same to Elijah; whereupon he had to ‘fly’ away again, this time into Judah. Depressed by his failed efforts and long journey, he asked the Lord to take his life, “for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:1-4). As he laid down to sleep, perhaps for the last time, an angel touched him and ordered him to eat the hearth cake and drink the water which suddenly appeared before him. Still tired after partaking, he fell back to sleep. Then the angel shook him again, saying, “Arise, Elijah, and eat”: my flesh is upon the coals. Thus did Elijah eat his fill and walked for 40 days and 40 nights all the way to Moses’ mountain, Horeb. There he gave his report to the Lord, “I have been zealous for the Lord, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I, I alone, am left, and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:5-10). It is then that the Lord chose to impart a crucial telling about himself to Elijah. While Elijah stood by waiting for a glimpse of the Most High, a strong and heavy wind rent the mountain and crushed the rocks; but the Lord was not in the wind. Then a strong earthquake followed the wind; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a blazing fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. Afterward the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, there was just a tiny whispering sound. Thus the force of God would come by way of a gentle voice, a voice crying in the wilderness, and a graceful spirit seeking baptism for our sins (1 Kings 19:11-12). Out of his despair, Elijah is told to anoint new kings over Israel and Aram, and a prophet to succeed him (Elisha). The Lord assured him that there is still a remnant in Israel who have not forsaken his name (1 Kings 19:15-21; Romans 11:2-5).
Witnessing all these things on Mount Horeb bespoke a deeper connection between Moses and Elijah. Moses established the covenant between God and Israel, and Elijah reaffirmed it. Moses tackled Pharaoh’s magicians, the false prophets of his day (Ex 7:10-12, 21-22; 8:2-7; 9:11). Moses gave some of his spirit to the elders (Num 11:17-25); Elijah gave Elisha his mantle and a double portion of his spirit. Elisha was to Elijah what Joshua was to Moses. They traveled together (2 Kings 2:1-8) and Elisha was amazed when Elijah struck the waters of the Jordan and they parted, as had the Red Sea for Moses and Joshua. Elijah would appear with Moses and Jesus in the transfiguration, thereby symbolizing that the Law, and the Prophets, and the Priesthood were all encapsulated within himself [also that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit must each be in attendance] (Matt 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-7; Luke 9:28-36).
Ahab and Jezebel would eventually meet their doom according to Elijah’s prediction. Ahaziah their son became king, who upon injuring himself, sent out a captain of fifty (soldiers) to find Elijah. He allowed himself to be seen sitting on a hilltop when the soldiers arrived below. The captain shouted “Man of God (phonetically sounding like ‘fire of God’), the king commands you to come down.” Divine fire then came down from heaven and consumed the captain and all fifty men. A second captain was dispatched, only to meet the same fate. A third captain of fifty pleaded with Elijah and was spared. Elijah told the king that he must die for the sin of serving Baal (2 Kings 1:9-17). Since Elisha, his companion and successor, sensed that the Lord would soon be coming to take his master, he insisted on always being with Elijah as he journeyed about the region. One day a whirlwind came to interrupt their travel and a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses swept Elijah up into heaven (2 Kings 2:9-12). From this miraculous exit, prophecies arose concerning Elijah’s necessary return before the coming of the Messiah [Mal 3:23; 4:5 (KJV); Is 40:3-5]. John the Baptist became the spiritual reincarnation of Elijah (in more ways than one). Jesus would speak of John with praise and respect – as the last prophet of the (old) Law. The dread that Elijah felt, being, “I, I alone am left” was premature, but prophetic. Elijah’s premonitions did not reach into our time; still he did foretell ‘Religion kills its prophets’ (John), whereas today physics denies the existence of physicists, insofar as there is no human spirit in their lexicon and everything in the universe must be a constituent of either matter or energy.
Elijah’s vision of the wind, earthquake, and fire at Horeb before the whispering sound of the Lord may yet have a bearing on the end-times. Must Elijah return again before Christ’s second coming? As happened to Elijah: from whence he came, most wondered; to thence he went, most never saw; no, not so much as to track where he last touched foot. Even after Elijah had been taken up in the whirlwind, they sent out searchers for Elijah, thinking that the Spirit had just wafted him away to some safe place like the times before (2 Kings 2:16-18). One foreboding thought rides the whirlwind of Elijah’s second coming. What did Elijah to the false prophets? He killed them all; he killed them all!
JOHN THE BAPTIST
Borne of reason … maybe, but was I born for a reason? That is a question many of us have agonized over for most of our lives. By sanction of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is not a question John the Baptist should have ever pondered in his mind – whether as a grown man or in his youth or in his childhood or even as a babe in his mother’s womb, wherein John leapt for joy just from Mary’s greeting and was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:39-44). Yet John’s nature seemed to be one prone to doubt, to doubt his readiness, to doubt his preparation of the way. His purpose of existence could only be justified by meeting the object of his search (Matt 11:2-6). God willing, the need in John was to find Jesus.
It is a sign of Biblical forthrightness that even a herald must be heralded. Isaiah 40:1-11 gives comfort to the exiles returning from Babylon, now, then, and in the future, speaking of a comforter still to come: ‘a voice crying in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord’ (Matt 3:3; John 1:23; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4-6). In Malachi 3:1, the messenger who is ‘to prepare the way before me’ is spoken of in the same time and manner as the Lord who suddenly ‘will come to the temple’. This confusion of the ‘messenger’ with the ‘Lord’ occurs frequently in the Bible as angels (messengers of God) were often taken to be God himself. Verse 23 (4:5 KJV) in Malachi specifies ‘Elijah the prophet’ as the one sent ‘before the day of the Lord’. Christ affirmed this line as being prescriptive of John the Baptist (Mat 11:9-15; Mark 9:11-13).
John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, had endured the sting of barrenness well into their senior years. Being born of very elderly parents, John probably spent much of his youth alone, growing up and living in the desert (Luke 1:80). John figuratively took on the mantle of his spiritual predecessor Elijah by wearing rough garments of camel hair with a simple leather belt (Matt 3:4; Mark 1:6), the significance of which was to mark the prophet as being under the cloak of penance and humility. His diet consisted of wild honey and locusts, and perhaps other cave-dwelling creatures that were permitted under Israelite law (Matt 3:4). From his birth John was almost surely a dedicated Nazarite (like Samson and Samuel), sworn by an angel never to drink wine or strong drink or partake of any produce of the grapevine (Luke 1:15). As a steadfast advocate of the law and of his service ministry, John (and later his disciples) regularly prayed and fasted as a salute to atonement, while notably Jesus and his disciples did not (Matt 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39).
Years before Christ would start his ministry, John went about the region of Jordan preaching ‘repentance’, meaning a re-thinking of each person’s life toward a knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3; 1:77). Part of that knowledge was understanding the covenant and abiding by its laws, even if that meant a subjugation of self in exchange for the redemption and salvation of others (Luke 3:7-18). Crowds of people would come to the river where he was sermonizing so that he could ritually ‘baptize’ them in water while they confessed their sins (Mark 1:5; Matt 3:6). His intense passion for the Law and strong desire to make ‘the rough ways smooth’ sometimes incited John to verbally reproach charlatans and false seekers after religious virtue, or those seeking quick amnesty for their many misdeeds (Matt 3:7-10; Luke 3:5-8). John felt it was his duty to expose vanity, reprove sin, and correct the errant. Characteristically, he even censured Herod the tetrarch for consorting with his brother’s wife and for other crimes. Herod would eventually be disturbed enough to arrest John, shut him up in prison, and execute him (Luke 3:19-20; Matt 14:1-12; Mark 6:17-29).
John was not one to exaggerate his own role in the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Mal 4:5). He indeed baptized people with water, but the ‘one who is coming after me is mightier than I, because he was before me’. Christ will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:15-16; John 1:15, 30; Matt 3:11; Mark 1:7-8). In this saga of celestial intervention and world cleansing, John declared his actions as no more than a brush with a soft winnowing fan compared to the Messiah who was a storm that would clear the threshing floor and burn the chaff with an unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17-18; Matt 3:12). Within his own personal reflection, John did not see himself as an Elijah, someone who performed miracles and raised people from the dead, who was swept up into heaven by a whirlwind (John 1:21). John did not perform signs and wonders (John 10:40-41). He merely prepared the temple for someone greater and more deserving to pronounce sentence upon the world (Jer 4:11-13). Jesus would think otherwise of his greatness: “no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist” (Matt 11:7-15; 17:10-13; Luke 7:24-28). When it came time for Jesus to be baptized, John saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove and rest on him, then a voice from the heavens said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; Is 11:2). In modern lingo we might say that this spiritual attraction to Jesus during baptism completed the electric circuit between heaven and earth. From that point forward, John would step back and let Jesus command the stage of public engagement. Some of John’s own disciples would leave him for the Christ (John 1:35-39); for he had given his testimonial speech and now the groom was here for the actual ceremony (John 3:22-30). From the other side, Jesus would be sufficiently bolstered by John’s baptism and by his temptation in the desert to minister with new-found power and glory (Luke 4:14).
During John’s ministry, he would bring many knowing sinners, including tax collectors and prostitutes, to a baptism for the remission of their sins, but none that were self-righteous (Matt 21:28-32; Luke 1:16; 7:29-30). Comparatively speaking, John was much more sober and traditional than Jesus who was rather progressive and free-wheeling. As competing ‘entertainers’, John first played a sad song to move your heart, followed by Jesus who played a dancing tune to move your feet. Neither would be accepted by Israel (Matt 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-35). John would be mystified nearly to the end of his life wondering why Jesus was not the avenging Sword of God bringing justice to Israel at last (Luke 7:18-23; Matt 11:2-6). For hundreds of years the Israelites believed in the message of ‘A Christ is coming! A Christ is coming!’ A long wait makes critical its coming; a longer wait makes moot its arrival. People began to think Christ could never actually arrive, nor then his herald Elijah. And now John agonized, especially in prison awaiting his death, over his failed expectations of himself and the Lord.
Quite a few of John’s lecture points and crowd urgings would be re-processed or refined by Jesus:
- Tree cut down – Luke 3:9; Matt 3:10 Matt 7:19
- Must be from on high – John 3:27 John 19:11
- Brood of vipers – Matt 3:7 Matt 12:34; 23:33
- Eternal life – John 3:36 John 5:24; 6:40, 54; 10:28; 17:2-3
- Abraham (not) your father – Luke 3:8; Matt 3:9 John 8:33, 37-41
- One He has sent – John 3:31-33 John 5:36-38
- Father loves the son – John 3:35 John 5:20
- Jesus as groom – John 3:29 Matt 9:15
- Give him your coat – Luke 3:10-11 Matt 5:40
Both John and Jesus were individually queried as to whether he was the Messiah. Both would experience horrible deaths at the hands of cruel authority. Jesus referred to John as a ‘lamp set aflame’ whereby ‘people exulted in his light’ (John 5:35); Jesus called himself in John 8:12 ‘I am the light of the world’. Perhaps their conjunctive relationship was best summarized in Psalms 85:12 (85:11 KJV): ‘Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven’.
We accept now in the luxury of hindsight that this man, John, whilst living alone in the desert, barely surviving on locusts and honey, was yet the voice of one ‘crying in the wilderness’. This ‘cry’ may have been a shout out for the people to come and stand with him in penance to the Lord. Or it might have been a real ‘cry’ for the death of the Law, the code by which he had lived his whole life. “The law and the prophets were in force until John.” Now free-for-allers and people who want to wear the mantle of grace without true repentance are trying to force their way into heaven (Luke 16:16-17). All the prophets of the Law ended with John (Matt 11:13).
As we conjectured earlier with Elijah, will the second coming of the Messiah be preceded this time by some character impersonation of John the Baptist? Jesus did promise to send us another Comforter/Paraclete (John 14:16). Isaiah’s prophecy in regard to ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’ begins with the line ‘Comfort, give comfort to my people’ (Is 40:1-5). The Comforter is supposed to be a witness (John 15:26), an instructor (14:26), and a spirit of truth (14:17), all three of which fall within the angel’s parameters set for John at his inception and birth (Luke 1:13-17, 76-77). The Pentecostal events dramatized in Acts and all the other inspirational incidents that have since transpired in the Christian era do not fully conform to the ancient prophecies of ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed to all mankind’ (Is 40:5), and ‘I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind’ (Joel 3:1; 2:28 KJV); nor Mal 4:5 (KJV) of ‘I will send you Elijah … before the great and dreadful day of the Lord’. That may be what puzzled John to the end of his days – stemming from prophecies with a dual vision of the future, of a Jesus they saw then and a Christ still coming at the end-times.
SIMON PETER, THE ROCK
According to the gospels, no other disciple conversed or interacted with Jesus more than Simon. On their first encounter, Jesus acted forwardly by getting into Simon’s boat and boldly urging him to venture out and cast his fishing nets into deeper water. Simon and his brother, Andrew, were tired from fishing all night with scarcely anything to show for it, but Simon said, “Master, if you say so.” Upon lowering their nets they caught so many fish the nets nearly broke. Simon said in amazement, “Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man,” for he was just a simple uneducated man. Jesus promptly responded, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately Simon and Andrew abandoned their boat and their livelihood to become Jesus’ first disciples (Luke 5:1-11; Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Acts 4:13). Luke’s version of this calling, both in his gospel and in the book of Acts, makes inferences of Simon as the first and primary disciple who would guide the Church into much deeper waters (beyond Jewish borders) to catch many formerly uncatchable fish (the Gentiles). Jesus had also made a great ‘catch’ that day on the lake in the person of a strong and stalwart fisherman.
During the years of ministry that followed, Jesus would come to rely on Peter’s leadership among his followers. For all of his faults and shortcomings, Simon was his ‘petros’ (Peter the rock), Simon Peter from henceforward, first to see in Jesus more than a prophet. He saw with sight and spiritual insight the scriptural fulfillment of the Messiah, as Christ could only be, the son of the living God. Therefore the Christ entrusted him with the keys of the kingdom: ‘Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matt 16:13-20; 18:18; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21). This echoed an earlier pronouncement of the word, as from the Word of God came forth creation of the universe itself. Now by the Word of a man (or Church), the standards of sin as well as the blessings of goodwill would be set through human perception, guided only by the wisdom of his God-given Spirit.
Just before this display of Peter’s enlightenment, his faith would be tested on the lake again when the boat he and some of the disciples were on was being dangerously tossed about by wind swells. Jesus sought to join them by walking across the water. The disciples were amazed and first thought it was a ghost. Jesus quickly assured them, “It is I, do not be afraid”; whereupon Peter yelled out, “If it is really you, Lord, bid me come across the water to you”. Jesus acquiesced, saying, “Come”; so Peter began his walk of faith initially with success, until the wind grew stronger and he became frightened and began to sink. Then Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus stretched out his saving hand (Matt 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-51; John 6:16-21). There is a metaphor to be examined here from this episode, previously addressed somewhat in regard to Moses. The letter of the law was predestined by the Lord to be supplanted by faithful conformity to the spirit of the law (whatever that meant). We shall be ruined to discover, like Peter was, that keeping the spirit of the law is about as easy as walking on water – nigh to impossible unless we reach out for Jesus’ gracious hand. Still, Peter knew enough to say, ‘Lord, save me’.
Not long after these events of enlightenment and walking on water, which should surely be listed as high points in Peter’s life, Jesus became upset with Peter for dis-affirming the need for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, the place of his inevitable passion and death: “Get out of my sight, you Satan! … You are not judging by God’s standards but by man’s” (Matt 16:21-23). The doctrine of the cross is a heavy burden, and not everyone can heed its mournful end (Matt 16:24-28; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26; 14:25-27). At another time Jesus became angry at all of his disciples for failing to cure a possessed boy, begrudging, “What an unbelieving and perverse lot you are … how long can I endure you?” (Matt 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43)
Peter may have been shortsighted in his comprehension of spiritual mysteries, but he was not averse to pleading for explanations. He bid Jesus to please explain the meaning of ‘What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him impure; it is what comes out of his mouth’ (Matt 15:1-20; Mark 7:5-23). Peter thoughtfully asked, “If my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive him?” (Matt 18:21-35; Luke 17:3-4) When Jesus endeavored to demonstrate the principle of doing all in the name of the Lord by becoming a servant and washing his disciples’ feet, Peter at first winced and demurely declined, but eventually accepted it as a form of service baptism for both. Acting probably as a spokesman for the group, Peter solemnly asked, “What can we (your devoted followers) expect after putting everything aside for you?” (Matt 19:27-30; Mark 10:28-31; Luke 18:28-30) Upon giving his discourse on “I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world”; Jesus was hardly surprised that some of his early, less-committed, followers deserted him. He then questioned his remaining twelve disciples, “Do you want to leave me too?” Almost like a child Simon Peter answered slowly, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:25-69). At the transfiguration where Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were re-formed into one, Peter was inspired to set up booths to commemorate this heavenly vision (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36)
Given all his steadfastness and model intentions, Peter was still want to be the master of his own physical presence. Only Peter, James, and John were permitted to witness the transfiguration. These three disciples would accompany Jesus as he often went to pray (Luke 9:28; Mark 14:32-33), or as he ministered to the sick and needy; for example, when Jesus raised a child from the dead (Mark 5:35-43). This same group of Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane for prayer; yet each time Jesus came back from his separated sessions, he found Peter and the rest asleep, causing him to remark, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46). They were only roused by the arrival of the priests’ servants and the temple guards, along with Judas the betrayer, come to arrest Jesus. Almost without thinking, Peter rose up from his slumber, drew his sword, and cut off the right ear of one of the servants. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword: “for all they who take up the sword shall perish by the sword,” and “Am I not to drink the (bitter) cup the Father has given me?” Then Jesus healed the servant’s ear before being taken away (John 18:1-12; Matt 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53).
The world finds its strength in its shield and spear, in its ability to defend and its ability to destroy. The man who was handed the keys to the kingdom, Peter, never forsook the sword while Jesus lived. On this rock, too, the Christian Church was founded – on human might and polarizing defensive strategy. Still, it was the sheepish who stayed awake at Gethsemane, the patient who forgave errant disciples, the merciful who restored the servant’s ear, and the defenseless who withheld legions of avenging angels from rescuing him. Inside the walls of our covenant churches, it is this humble mortar, not the mixing stones themselves, that is too often missing from the aggregate.
At the last supper Jesus hesitated to broadcast by name which one of his twelve disciples would betray him. Peter vehemently denied that it would be him, vowing, “Though all others’ faith may be shaken, mine shall never be shaken.” Jesus replied, “Simon, Simon … I have prayed for you … You in turn must strengthen your brothers,” thereby confirming his leadership; but “before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times” (Matt 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-34). Just as Jesus predicted, Peter did deny him out of personal fear. After Jesus’ crucifixion and entombment, Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb with oils to anoint the body. An angel told them he is not here; he has been raised up. They hurried back to report to Peter and the other disciples. Peter immediately ran to the tomb, hoping despite his doubt, to bring witness to the miracle of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-12; Matt 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; John 20:11-18). Only Jesus’ appearances afterward would solidify Peter’s faith and absolve him of his sin of denying the Christ (Matt 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-19; Luke 24:36-53).
The charge of shepherding the members of the new Christian flock was commissioned to Peter by Jesus himself during one of his resurrection appearances. He told Peter ‘to tend my sheep, and feed my lambs’ (John 21:15-19). Peter would assume prominent authority in the Church in and around Jerusalem. Missionaries would be sent out all over the Middle East and beyond. They would refer questionable matters of religious observance back to Jerusalem. Peter too would make numerous journeys. During one visit with a friend in Joppa, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray and fell into a trance. He saw the sky open and a large canvas descend filled with all kinds of four-legged creatures, reptiles, and beasty things. A stern voice ordered Peter to ‘slaughter and eat’. Peter refused because the animals were ritually unclean. The voice repeated the order a second time and a third time, owing “What God has purified you cannot call unclean!” Eventually Peter came to realize that, like food, no person should be declared automatically ‘unclean’ or ‘impure’; rather so for Gentile believers to become as much a part of spiritual community as the Jews (Acts 10:9-48).
Unto Peter were given the keys to a new Church. They unlocked in his mind a new understanding of what is meant by Jew and non-Jew, saved and unsaved. In Peter’s rooftop vision he was called to eat the proper serving, ordered by God. Now he was called to perform the proper service to any heart ordained by God. Also unlocked within Peter was his stuttering faith. Freed at last from doubt, he healed the crippled and the sick (Acts 3:7-10; 9:32-35), raised the dead (Acts 9:36-41), and was arrested numerous times (Acts 4:3; 5:17-18; 12:3). Angels that were stayed at Gethsemane and on the cross came to render Peter’s escape (Acts 5:17-21; 12:5-11). Peter was whipped, persecuted, and, tradition has it, martyred in Rome. While he lived in the spirit gifted by Jesus (Acts 2:33), many signs and wonders occurred in Jerusalem, and people would line the streets of his passing so that his healing shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:12-16). Peter could only thank God for the day the shadow of his Master crossed the bow of his boat and bid him venture out into deeper waters.
Real changes in life seldom come like a bolt of lightning from the blue, unless you were Saul, an inveterate offender and persecutor of the new faith. The deeper the roots of our emotional fixations and the more ingrained our beliefs, the greater the force needed to dislodge them. The three days of blindness which followed Saul being struck by the vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus were merely an external manifestation of his lack of sight and mercy toward people of different ethnicities and spiritual origins.
Nearly everything we know about Paul, or Saul, his Jewish birth name, comes from two sources: the gospel writer Luke in the book of Acts and from Paul himself in his numerous letters or epistles. Exactly how many of those letters Paul actually composed himself, rather than have dictated, passed on, or attributed to him, is not known with certainty. His mother was Jewish, reportedly of the tribe of Benjamin, hence the name Saul after the king (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5). His father was a Roman citizen, which made Paul a Roman citizen by birth, and not simply by grant or purchase (Acts 22:25, 28). His family resided in Tarsus in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and must have been fairly well-off considering Paul’s formal religious education primarily in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Trained as a Pharisee, Paul was conversant in Greek, the universal commercial tongue of that time and region (Acts 21:37), and in Aramaic, the Hebrew dialect of the first century (Acts 21:40).
Probably as a strategy to establish a human-interest tie with his audience, Paul was fond of repeating the story of his stubborn life before the conversion and after his ‘road to Damascus’ experience. Saul was present at the stoning of the martyr Stephen (Acts 7:58; 22:20). He relished the thought of destroying the Church of the ‘new way’ as it was first called (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:6). He obtained authority from the Jerusalem synagogues to harass new believers. He would force his way into people’s houses, drag men and women out, and throw them into jail or have them flogged (Acts 8:3; 22:4, 19). He even tortured holy people to make them blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11). His own assessment of himself was as a hypocrite, a persecutor, and a man filled with arrogance (1 Tim 1:13). One day, after getting written permission to go to Damascus and arrest anyone living in accordance with the ‘new way’ and bring them back to Jerusalem, a light from the sky suddenly flashed and knocked him to the ground. Saul heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Three days of blindness and fasting followed until a disciple named Ananias, at the command of the Lord, restored his sight (Acts 9:1-18). Instead of cursing and persecuting the people of Damascus, Paul would, after a while, return to bless and preach to them using proofs of Jesus’ Messiahship that amazed the entire Jewish community (Acts 9:20-22).
In time Paul began to realize, as Peter already had, that the message of the cross and salvation was intended for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. Paul was determined to be the instrument by which the Lord has chosen to bring his name to the Gentiles. Many of the Jews in the area of Jerusalem were too tied to Mosaic Law, to the temple, and to their traditional customs to accept Christ’s new way of salvation by faith. Later, the center of the growing religion would shift to Antioch in Syria where a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles began to call themselves ‘Christians’ for the first time (Acts 11:19-26). Jerusalem remained its heart, however, the home of the disciples. A special council was held there (circa year 50) to decide the matter of whether non-Jewish converts should conform to ancient Israelite law, and if so, to what extent. Peter astounded the council by announcing that yokes should not be placed on the shoulders of new converts, except that which they accepted for themselves: ‘All are saved by the favor of the Lord Jesus’. Paul was of the mind that ‘circumcision counts for nothing and its lack makes no difference either’ (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 6:15). The Council of Jerusalem decided that placing undue burdens like circumcision and other ancient requirements was unnecessary; but certain prohibitions against the eating of blood, illicit sexual relationships, and other violations of decency should remain (Acts 15:1-21).
Paul had already been a long-time advocate of open choice for converts, as long as it did not hinder or detract from their practice of righteous communal living (1 Cor 9:19-23). By the standards of many orthodox Jews, this view would tantamount to heresy; so they frequently hassled, even threatened, Paul in each town that he preached. Throughout his ministry career Paul would be beaten, assaulted, stoned, and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20; 16:19-24; 21:27-36). He was arrested and imprisoned sometimes for just a few days or up to two years or more. Paul’s Roman citizenship at least afforded him the opportunity of having a legal trial (Acts 16:36; 18:12-17; 25:26; 26:32). Within the Judaeo-Christian community itself, Paul encountered serious opposition. The Jews were offended by Paul’s seeming disregard of Israelite heritage (except as it referenced the coming of the Savior) and his open-stance attitude to the observance of Mosaic Law.
The crux of Paul’s beliefs has been preserved in his epistles. Many of his passages we all know by heart and have been rolled into Church dogma as virtual articles of ‘faith’. More particularly, what is that ‘faith’ and how does it relate to ‘works’, which, for the sake of argument, let us define here as a step-by-step, day-by-day compliance with holy law. And are these two very important religious concepts inclusive with one another or mutually exclusive? Some of Paul’s contributions to this controversy are shown below.
These must have been very inviting words for the Gentiles to hear – who had missed out on history, and were not the ‘chosen people’, and who had, for all intents and purposes, no clear pathway to sanctification and redemption. To these estranged ones from the covenant, fit only in Israelite history as human sacrifices, having their lives and land taken away, there was now a ‘ready salvation’ – simply by believing that Jesus existed and died for them, just by being baptized in his name, just by being justified; and not much more, since there was no longer subservience to the Law (the patterns and restrictions of which they had never known anyway). Indeed, what might ‘vain ears’ have heard and ‘vain eyes’ have seen (Ps 135:16-17)? Easy Faith, merely by confessing with their lips that Jesus is Lord; and Easy Rewards, when combined with the prospect of Parousia, a fairly common belief of that time in the imminent second coming of Christ, such that any conformity or impressing restrictions of this new way will be short-lived.
Let us now fast-forward to how ‘modern ears’ might interpret such a missionary message.
(1) Fine, let’s join this new religion. All we have to do is believe; there aren’t any club dues (i.e. circumcision) to pay; there aren’t any ancestors we have to pay homage to, and we don’t even have to support the church unless we want to give.
(2) Hey, it’s the Sabbath (or the day after); shouldn’t we go to the synagogue or church today? No, why would I want to do that? I can just pray at home. In fact, why even pray at all: I am living in the Spirit, and God already knows our needs and our wants even before we ask (Matt 6:8; John 14:13)?
(3) I swindled a business customer today – so what? God will forgive me. I passed by a man injured and in need of medical treatment on the side of the road, so what? I disrespected my parents again today; that’s it. I’m putting them in a nursing home, so what? There’s no longer any enforcement of the laws, remember!
(4) I thought I might ride down to the shelter on Saturday night and help serve some meals; but then I decided to just stay home, watch the game, and get drunk. Besides good works won’t earn you anything: by faith alone are you saved.
It is easy to see how such a moral philosophy, or lack thereof, could destroy someone’s suspected claim on salvation, not to mention the whole binding fabric of a cooperative ‘Christian’ society. Paul’s message of ‘freedom from the severity and punishment of the law’ could easily be twisted into meaning ‘I don’t need to obey the law at all’. His heart-felt message of the ‘law of faith’ over the ‘law of works’ could easily lead the naïve and the vain into thinking that no ‘deed’ of ownership comes contracted with their profession of a new work-life pursuant to the habits of Christ.
We can scarcely peer back with any fair judgement on Paul’s motives or what aspects of his preaching prompted many Gentiles to convert. To some degree, his new liturgy must have been conveniently soothing on their very dry tongues and cordially appetizing for their half-starved souls. But if Jesus could not turn the Samaritan woman at the well, what urgent evangelical call could the Apostle Paul entreat? None but the promise of living water (John 4:3-30), mis-taken in thought to allay her bodily thirst and unsensed by her in regards to spiritual quenching. Better to say, then, as did Peter in all honesty when asked, “What are we to do?” He answered, “You must reform and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37-38). Here is an almost instructional approach to salvation: (1) reform your life, (2) be baptized in water while confessing your sins (as John practiced), (3) accept in faith the grace of forgiveness, and (4) receive the Holy Spirit (the power to walk the straight and narrow way). An approach this may be, but hardly a practical formula.
‘Re-forming’ your life so as to be more in accord with the manners and teachings of Christ may be a tall order but at least a practical one. What then is acceptance by faith? True faith is more than the faith to believe; it is the faith to act, often in ways counter to your own human nature. Far deeper, it is the faith to despise the face you see every morning in the mirror; the faith to incise all the faults in your skin rather than cover them up with cosmetics; the faith, like Job, to expose your deepest lines of sin to blood-scraping and healing. Peter hinted that salvation is not automatic, merely faith’s impending goal (1 Peter 1:9). Beyond the question of acceptance, we must follow Jesus by performing the deeds he performed, inculcating virtuous works, helping others, and taking risks, to the end you are obliged to share in both his glory and his suffering:
These sufferings Peter mentions are not simply the aftereffects of having accepted Christ; they are part and parcel of the faith to act at all times and in all ways like Jesus, to make us worthy of the grace and the spirit he has bestowed on us.
The epistle of James submits an important perspective to faith and good works:
Obviously James was of the ‘old’ school, as in Deuteronomy 6:25, ‘Our justice before the Lord, our God, is to consist in carefully observing all these commandment he has enjoined on us’. Without laws and the works which brings them harmony, can the rebellious mind ever will itself ‘be moral’? Worse still, there is a generational effect. Only evil is inheritable, which makes life an oft-time repeated tragedy; goodness must track each generation anew.
Paul was first and foremost a proponent of Christ, his saving grace, his name being made known to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). Thus he was never in the ‘game’ of trying to mislead potential converts by emphasizing faith over works or grace before reform:
Here Paul reflects Peter’s message of ‘reforming’ your lives. In the book of Hebrews, widely attributed to Paul, though not without doubt, references are made to:
How much of this aspect did Paul express we can only guess.
The first epistle of John delves even deeper into the connection between sanctification, salvation, and obedience to the law:
Even the saved person is not free from sin, though blessed by the Spirit. For all but Jesus, there is still a fulfillment to be made, ever more down payments on the mortgage of grace.
We have our master’s own words to testify to the doctrines of faith and works and grace. “If anyone comes to me without turning his back on his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and his sisters, indeed his very self, he cannot be my follower” (Luke 14:25-27) “If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in my footsteps. Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will preserve it” (Mark 8:34-35; Matt 16:24-25). “He who will not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:38). What if Paul had fully told the Gentiles what it meant to be like Christ? To be a Christian means taking on the mantle of humility and servitude, helping the poor, the sick, and the hungry, standing up to oppression against fatal odds, enduring the thorns of persecution; in short, for some it may well mean climbing up there and being nailed to the cross like Jesus was. If Paul had lectured at length on true service of the cross, I doubt that he would have had as many enlistees in his Gentile army. Paul’s mission may have only been to make first-stage believers, which may help to explain his instructional letters endeavoring to quell their internal strife and educate them on the topic of community service.
Paul knew his ‘customers’, what they wanted to hear and what they would accept. His own ethnic background as a Roman and a Jew and his ability to speak at least two languages enabled him to become a perfect agent for ministering to the circumcised and the uncircumcised (Gal 2:7). Paul used the story of his own conversion and reformation to strike a sympathetic strain with his audience, and by extension, a feeling of divine eligibility and acceptability for themselves. Over time his fervor may have waned somewhat as he came to realize that his example of sudden transformation would not be emblematic of the world at large; but instead the Lord would effect his grand change in stages (just as it happens for most individuals). He began to fear that he would never live to see Christ’s second coming (Acts 20:24-27). His writings were extremely influential, eventually taking on an authority almost equal to Ancient Scriptures (2 Peter 3:14-16). Paul’s many miracles, from curing the sick to raising the dead (Acts 14:8-11; 19:11-12; 20:7-12; 28:8) testified to his true calling and wondrous belief in Christ. While on the road, Paul would often support himself through tent-making or other labor (Acts 18:1-3), forgoing the usual material assistance rightly due to missionary apostles (1 Cor 9:1-23). In one of his many roadside debates, he mocked the Athenians for having a shrine dedicated ‘To an unknown God’, thereby challenging their curiosity and bidding Paul to tell them who this God was.
The argument of faith versus works would rage for centuries and inevitably tear apart the ‘catholic’ world during the Protestant Reformation. Belief in the apostleship of Paul, however, was never shaken. Many Christians have come to revere him as the true 12th disciple in line to take the place of Judas the betrayer. That favored station is known only to God.
Dr. Walter Boswell