Thursday, September 29, 2016

The New Community, Part 6

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

The New Community, Part 1
The New Community, Part 2
The New Community, Part 3
The New Community, Part 4
The New Community, Part 5

Stephen’s stoning emboldened Saul and the Sanhedrin, who began systematic persecution, especially of the Hellenistic Christians. The Hellenists fled, and Saul, with official backing of the Sanhedrin (letters from the High Priest Caiaphas, whose authority was respected by the Roman overseers), set out for the outlying synagogues to capture the Nazarenes and return them to the Sanhedrin for trial. Note the bigotry at work here: the Hebrew Nazarenes, especially the apostles, were in Jerusalem, but Saul did not raise a hand toward them. He went after the Hellenists.
Saul left for Damascus, and as he neared the city he saw a blinding light, and the risen Lord stood before him. In a conversion that we Calvinists can only view as the archetype of all conversions, we read:

4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. 6"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:4-6)

Paul, blinded, was assisted by his companions into Damascus. Meanwhile, instructed through visions, a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, who had been at risk from Saul’s aborted mission, served as the Lord’s messenger. On Paul's third day in Damascus, Ananias found him, Paul’s sight was restored, and he was baptized.
Then Paul’s amazing journey began. Using his reputation and official letters of travel and access, he toured the very synagogues he had intended to purge. Those in attendance would not have heard what they expected. Instead, Paul boldly proclaimed what just a short time before he had held as dangerous blasphemy: Jesus, the very one who died on a tree, was the Messiah.
Those who had seen the resurrected Lord had been proven correct. Paul himself had seen him. He had been so very wrong about the tree. It is not clear how quickly he arrived at a true understanding, but he did: The Messiah was accursed, Deut. 21:23, was not contradicted. The radical insight was that the Messiah had to become a curse in order to redeem those who couldn’t keep the law from suffering their just curse (Gal 3:13).

Paul’s preaching of Christ in Damascus and the surrounding area eventually incurred the wrath of the local Jewish authorities, who conspired to kill him. (Now many of different stripes wanted to kill Paul!) Paul escaped by being lowered to safety in a basket, through a window in the city wall.
In the third year since he left for Damascus, Paul returned to Jerusalem, trying to contact the disciples. But they avoided him, afraid that his conversion was in reality a trick. Eventually Barnabas interceded on his behalf, testifying to the truthfulness of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord, and finally Paul came face-to-face with the apostles.


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