"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Upset The Jews?

In Acts chapter 22 we have the scene of Paul's last time of making a public statement before becoming a prisoner of Rome until his death.  His arrest was the result of the Roman military commander's fear that an insurrection or riot was breaking out.  It would be his head that would roll if order were not restored quickly.  What exactly caused the uproar?  It was assumed that Paul had brought uncircumcised gentiles into the area of the Temple forbidden to them by Torah.  Why was Paul there?  To prove that the rumors about him teaching against obeying Torah were unfounded and untrue.  Keep that firmly in mind.  A second thing you need to consider is the fact that the body of believers led by Peter and James and the other Apostles had stayed in Jerusalem and were enjoying much success bringing more and more fellow Jews into the congregation of believers in Messiah.  They wouldn't have been able to do that if they were preaching that Torah was no longer in effect.  Quite the opposite.  The Sanhedrin would have had the support of the people in dragging the Apostle out of the gates and stoning them to death.

Remember, it was Paul's missionary efforts to the Gentiles and the revelation of the Holy Spirit that adult male Gentiles did not have to be circumcised in order to be saved that had the die-hard Judaizers in an uproar.  Such men were insisting that, according to their interpretations and their dictates that salvation came according to what they considered the right way.  Stop and think.  If the Apostles in Jerusalem were teaching people that Torah had become void, all the Jewish leaders and the people would have been after them to destroy them.  Why did they only go after Paul?

Now that Paul has been arrested, he appeals to his Roman citizenship to have the commander of the Roman cohort to let him speak in his defense to the Jews who have attacked him.  Let us examine carefully this speech to the Jews and make sure we are clear about what it is that makes them angry.

"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you."  And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly  according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.  And I persecuted this Way [this Way being belief in the Messiah, the Pharisee from Nazareth] to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify.  From them I also received letters  to the brethren [Jews living outside the Israeli territory], and started off  for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.  And it came about that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'  And I answered, 'Who art Thou, Lord?' And He said to me, I am Yeshua the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.'

Anybody start screaming yet?  No.  Remember now, this crowd is full of men who were present to hear Yeshua of Nazareth with their own ears and beheld all the events regarding His death.  They no doubt knew about the miracles.  They no doubt knew all the reports by people who had seen the man after His resurrection.  Not a man in this crowd who was listening to Paul speak could shout out that he was lying.  Nobody in this crowd could accuse Paul of advocating belief in a false prophet, or a Torah breaker.  They remained silent.

Paul was relating to this crowd that several years back,  Yeshua [Jesus] appeared to Paul and struck him blind and made it abundantly clear that he was claiming Paul for His own.  I have to stop and marvel at this point.  If Yeshua's main point was about bringing about a whole new religious system and way of thinking, why in the world would he choose Paul to be the guy who pens most of the New Testament?  Paul: an intellectual Torah scholar and student of Gamaliel who was so influential with the Sanhedrin that they put him in charge of hunting down those who were preaching about this Yeshua the Nazarene.  Paul was a man who would end up writing his letters to the believers from prison, quoting Scripture because it was all in his head.

I want you to take special care to think about this next verse.  You don't get to just read over it and go, "well, isn't that nice."

Acts 22:12:  "And a certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there."

Ananias was a man who kept Torah.  He kept Torah so well that all of his friends and neighbors were willing and ready to say that, "Hey, that Ananias guy, he's the real thing.  He keeps the Torah.  He's a Holy man."  Paul was using Ananias as a known standard.  Paul could have as much as said the following:   "The way we know that he's a Holy man is not because he has some free-floating, amorphous concept of loving his neighbor. He keeps the knowable, measureable standard of Torah.  I know the Law and you know the Law and if anything I am saying isn't true, let someone come forward and prove me wrong."

Let's not just gloss over this point as if it has little weight in the story.  If every word of Scripture is supposed to be breathed out by the God of the universe, we should think about what makes the choice of words important.  Why did God decide that these particular details are important for us to know?  Paul defends himself before all of these Jews by making a point that he is just as zealous for Torah as those who are trying to find reason to kill him.  He makes the point that he has had an encounter with the very entity whom he was persecuting.  At this point in time, no one has been able to deny the events of just a few years earlier regarding the Nazarene, the only remaining sticking point for some of the Jews was whether or not followers of the one they proclaimed as Messiah were advocating breaking from Torah, because on that point alone they would put down any follower of Yeshua of Nazareth and it would give credence to the idea that Yeshua was a false prophet as described in Deuteronomy 13.

Keep in mind that Paul's whole purpose in going to the Temple was to disprove the rumor that he was advocating any departure from Torah.  He also makes the point that the man who was sent to restore his sight and instruct him on what to do next was also considered a righteous man based on keeping the Torah.  The problem arises because those who still didn't accept the proofs that Yeshua was the Messiah wanted any evidence they could that would discredit this "Way."  Also keep in mind that the detractors couldn't find any fault with the believers who remained in Jerusalem, and their really big problem was due to this idea that Paul was taking the message of conversion to the Gentiles.  In fact, that point was where things got ugly.

"And He [God, Messiah] said to me, 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!"  Acts 22:21-22

They listened to him "up to this statement, . . ."  Notice that they couldn't argue with anything else that he said.  Paul's "crime" in the eyes of these Jews was not that he was violating, nor was he advocating that anyone violate Torah, but that he was letting them know that if they didn't want to believe in God's one and only Messiah, then the Gentiles would be given the opportunity to repent, receive salvation and learn Torah.  Such a concept was outrageous to "The Chosen" ones.  Centuries of tradition was being turned on its head.  As long as anyone could remember, Gentiles who wanted to become followers of God needed to come to the devout Jews to learn the ways of God, be circumcised and then baptized.  But now Paul was correcting their bad assumptions, (which he also held until his Damascus road experience).  Just like the children of Abraham who walked out of Egypt, God would save His children from bondage first, and then out of gratitude, they would learn His ways (Torah).

Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus The Christ) is inseparable from His Word, the Torah.  John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God."  You can't have one without the other.  You can lift a verse out of one of Paul's letters to try and make it sound like believers don't have to keep Torah, but in so doing, you do violence to the rest of Scripture.  We do well to remember that we are very imperfect human beings, and that if our understanding of a passage doesn't harmonize with all the other passages, it is we who are in error.  There are not two Gods.  There is not a God of the Old Testament and then a different God of the New Testament.  Those who think so have merely a god of their own understanding, which is no god at all.

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