Saul – Good Heart Wrong Head
Lesson 46
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Dealing with Dissidence

Every group of people, whether it is religious or political, faces dissidence at some point in time. If the group does not remove defiant dissidents, divisions and dissipation will ultimately occur. Because Christians chose to defy the demands of the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin was forced to punish Christians. They had no option but to destroy the apostles and their followers to protect their religion and their city! There is a powerful end time parallel here. During the Great Tribulation, religious and political leaders will unite and attempt to destroy the opposition created by God’s servants

Divine Authority

Deuteronomy 13 contains the directions God gave Moses for dealing with dissident behavior. The chapter is divided into two parts. The first part concerns false prophets and the second part concerns misguided leaders or laymen. The Sanhedrin used Deuteronomy 13 to justify their execution of Jesus and later, they justified their persecution of the apostles with the same chapter. There is an end time parallel here. During the Great Tribulation, God will confront the great religions of the world with His truth. These institutions will not be able to accept His truth, without destroying what they stand for, any more than the Pharisees were able to accept the teachings of Jesus. Further, God will confront the governments of the world with His laws and the governments of the world will not be able to deal with the Almighty within the limits of their constitutions. Confrontation and consternation will face everyone. When Jesus came to Earth the first time, He came to confront the best religion and the strongest government the world had ever seen with His truth. (Matthew 10:34) Neither could accommodate Jesus, but there were individuals within these entities who received Him as their Savior. To these believers, He gave the privilege of being called “children of God.” (John 1:12) Just before Jesus appears the second time, the same will be true again. This world and its organizations cannot receive Christ. He is alien. His gospel and His ways are different. His truth and His law stand in opposition to the religions and governments of men. For Jesus to have complete dominion men must let go of their power and this loss will not come without a great struggle. However, people who do choose to receive Him will be called “children of God.”

Deuteronomy 13 – Part I – Prophets

Notice God’s instruction to Moses in Deuteronomy 13: “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.  If your very own brother, or you son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closet friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the people around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such a evil thing again. (Deuteronomy 13:1-11)

Deuteronomy 13 – Part II – Any rise of New doctrine

“If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods you have not known, (then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. Gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a burnt offering to the Lord your God. It is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt. None of those condemned things shall be found in your hands, so that the Lord will turn from his fierce anger; he will show you mercy, have compassion on you, and increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your forefathers, because you obey the Lord your God, keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.” (Deuteronomy 13:12-18)

Some people today read these and other verses within the Old Testament and conclude that the God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New Testament! In fact, people often present verses like these to demonstrate that the Old Testament had to be nailed to the cross. However, it is important to remember that these words were given and meant to be applied with the context of a theocracy – that is, during the time when God Himself ruled over Israel. God gave these instructions to Moses because no other gods would be tolerated as long as He ruled over Israel! Therefore, any deviation or allegiance to another god was an act of defiance against Jehovah. In this setting, it is understandable that total destruction was the only solution for open defiance against God. Unfortunately, the Pharisees in Saul’s day presumed they were operating under the principles of a theocracy and they justified their actions toward the Christians with Scripture! The Jews thought they were doing God a service when they persecuted the Christians! (John 16:1-3)

Summary of Saul’s Environment

This was the world Saul knew as a young man. The explosive growth of Christianity in Jerusalem became the focal point for increasing frustration of the Sanhedrin. Consequently, the Sanhedrin used Deuteronomy 13 as a basis for divine authority  (or so they thought) when dealing with dissident Christians. As the drama unfolds, keep in mind the year is a. A.D. 34 and Saul just graduated from the school of the Pharisees….

Stephen Condemned and Stoned

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith [and disobedient to the teachings of the Pharisees]. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from the members of the Synagogue of the Freedman (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.’ So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law  [the Pharisees], They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  They produced false witnesses, who testified. ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place [Matthew 24:2] and change the customs [the ceremonial system which] Moses handed down to us.’ All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Then the high priest asked him, ‘Are these charges true?’” (Acts 6:7; 7:1, insertion mine)

The members of the Sanhedrin were well acquainted with the disciples of Jesus, but Stephen was a new face. I believe this incident occurred in the Spring of A.D. 34 during the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jews from distant places like Cyrene, Alexandria Egypt, the province of Cilicia and various places in Asia had gathered in Jerusalem because of the required attendance for all the Jews during Passover. (Exodus 34:24) In addition to this, the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 ended just 15 days earlier with the close of A.D. 33.

Somehow, Stephen and some of the visiting Jews became engaged in an aggressive religious discussion. When the Jews could not defeat the logic Stephen used from the Old Testament prophecies, they secretly schemed to have him arrested for dissension. When called before the Sanhedrin, Stephen was anxious to present Jesus to the leaders of Israel. Stephen explained why Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple by reviewing why the temple was necessary in the first place. He started with the call of Abraham, then the call of Moses and then the building of the temple by Solomon. (Acts 7:2-50) I believe Stephen was leading up to the point that Solomon’s temple was only a temporary edifice until Messiah appeared. At that point, Messiah would be the temple and the focus of worship, instead of a physical edifice. (See Revelation 21:22) Therefore, the destruction of the temple was appropriate because (a) bricks and mortar cannot house a God as great and majestic as Jehovah, and (b) Messiah had appeared. To understand his point, Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1,2, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? Says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:49,50)

Suddenly, Stephen stopped. He looked around at the 71 members of the Sanhedrin as the power and presence of the Holy Spirit came over him. Stephen was shown that his argument was useless, falling on deaf ears. He knew that his death was imminent. The Holy Spirit gave Stephen words and the Spirit pronounced bloodguilt upon Israel. “’You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.’ When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look, ‘he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:51-58)

Saul Persecutes the Church

Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He was the first victim of an earlier decision the Sanhedrin had made to destroy all the members of “The Way.”  Saul was an observer in the courtroom when Stephen was tried. No doubt Saul was gratified to see Stephen die, because he agreed with the Sanhedrin that all Christians had to be destroyed or they would destroy Judaism. AS the members began to shed their cloaks to stone Stephen, young Saul saw an opportunity to be of service. He volunteered to hold the garments of the executioners – as I am sure he relished the excitement of killing a Christian dissident.

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” (Acts 7:59-8:2)

It is understandable that at that moment, Saul’s heart was not touched by the death of Stephen. Saul regarded Stephen as a defiant dissident. For just such occasions, Jesus warned His disciples about the blindness of religion, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.” (John 16:2-4) Yet in Saul’s mind, Deuteronomy 13 left no doubt that the Sanhedrin was doing the will of God. The stoning of Stephen was the fulfillment of what God required.

Saul seized the moment and used the destruction of Christians as a way to quickly advance himself within the Pharisee party. He volunteered to ferret out Christians and bring them before the Sanhedrin. The authorities were quite pleased that this young man was so willing to do the “dirty work.” Saul was an ideologue (a person who follows an ideology in a dogmatic way without compromise), and was perfectly suited to implement Deuteronomy 13 to the letter of the law. The religious leaders gave Saul the necessary permits (to satisfy the Romans if anyone should care to ask) and the bible says, “… Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:3,4)

As a person might expect, the name, “Saul of Tarsus,” quickly became infamous among Christians. Saul was fresh out of graduate school. He was bright and on a fast track as far as his career in the party was concerned. He was devoted to legalism – always observing the letter of the law. He was so motivated that the suffering he inflicted on Christians did not bother him. He was willing to do what it took to save Judaism and his tireless actions made him the perfect for the job.

Here is another end time parallel. During the Great tribulation, many good people will commit the same kind of atrocities that Saul did, thinking they are doing a service to God. The parallel is important to understand, because when Stephen fell to his knees, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” I find it interesting that these are among the final words of Jesus! “…Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Why did Jesus and Stephen say these words when confronting death? I find only one answer. When God steps into the affairs of man, there is confrontation. Truth meets blindness, but blindness does not know that it has confronted truth. Human ignorance and arrogance are such that a person with a good heart can do things that are offensive to God.  “Good heart, wrong head.” Both Jesus and Stephen knew there were a few good people who were sitting in judgment against them. They also knew that if people, like Gamaliel, who had honest hearts, could understand God’s truth as they understood it, they would no be assaulting them. Instead, they would be standing with them. Instead, they would be standing with them. Therefore, both men expressed love for their enemies. They asked God to overlook the ignorance of their enemies because among their enemies they knew there were people with good hearts. Bible history proves that Saul was one such person!

Saul Meets Jesus

The more Saul chased the Christians throughout Jerusalem, the more the gospel spread as they fled for their lives! Eventually, Saul heard there were a significant number of Christians causing the same kind of problems in Damascus, so “…He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to The Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, who you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and he did not eat or drink anything.” (Acts 9:1-9)

Saul was traveling to Damascus, intent on persecuting more Christians, when Jesus intercepted the young man by knocking him to the ground with a brilliant flash of light. After that brief encounter Saul was left in a state of shock and totally blind. He did not know what to think or do. For the first time in his short but intense life, everything that Saul believed in, everything that he had studied, everything that he loved was suspect. Instead of the bright, self-directing, self important and self-assured young Pharisee with a bright future, Saul was blind and totally confused. All he could think as he stumbled toward Damascus was “so, Jesus Christ is God!” Saul arrived in Damascus in a very humble state, humiliated beyond words, and confused. Saul had come to Damascus to take Christians captive, but he arrived a prisoner of blindness. Saul was blind in more ways than one for the first time in his life; he saw his blindness – a rare experience for anyone.

The Lights Come On

“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias! ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’ ‘Lord, ‘Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with the authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” (Acts 9:10-19)

The sincere words of Ananias touch my heart. He approached the young man and said kindly, “Brother Saul.” Let me ask you a straightforward question. “What do you call your enemy? How do you address those who want to hurt you? Yet, Ananias said, “Brother Saul.” The most amazing feature of true Christianity is the principles of “love your enemies.” Nothing reveals the presence and power of God within a human being like the spirit of forgiveness. When a Christian holds no malice or hardness toward an adversary, the love of God radiates from the life. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

Saul had spent most of his life in school, preparing himself to be a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Now that he was in Damascus, Saul entered the first grade for a second time. This time he was studying Jesus instead of religion. Once his eyes were opened and his ears able to hear, Saul’s new teachers were the ridiculed and uneducated disciples of Jesus.

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