One evening at dusk two men met under a portico near the North wall in Jerusalem. They greeted one another cordially and sat down on a stone bench. They were both Pharisees. One of the men appeared to be uncomfortable and kept looking around nervously.
The other said, “Don’t worry, Tobias, you are safe. Not very many even know yet. Next week that may change; but for now, I would think you are safe.”
Tobias said: “You may be right, but I’ve known or at least suspected for weeks, and if I know, others are likely to know very soon. If I could tell that you were breaking, David, well, who else might have noticed?”
David said, “But we have been good friends for a long time, Tobias. You know me better than most. And you, no doubt, could discern my inner turmoil these last few months.”
“Yes, that may be. . . . So, you attended one of their meetings today, I guess.”
“Yes, Toby, this morning. As you suspected I’ve been secretly meeting with them for some time. Today is the first day of the week, the day when we assemble.”
“Oh, so it is we now, huh? Are you now calling yourself a disciple too?”
“I am, Tobias. I am not ashamed of it. This morning I was baptized by James, the pastor of the Jerusalem church.”
Tobias started to get up, intending to leave, but David gently placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “Please, Toby, just for a moment. This may be one of the last times we are able to talk openly. Sit down for a few minutes.”
Tobias looked down at his old friend, then glanced once more around the pool. With an audible sigh he slumped back onto the bench.
David said, “You remember this place. So do I.”
“How could I forget, David. How could any of us forget? In some sense it all started here. For us Pharisees anyway. Our whole way of life is now jeopardized because of what he began here. How could you turn your back on us, David. All the training? The rich tradition of the elders? Our friendship?”
“I know, Toby. You deserve an explanation. That’s why I wanted to meet with you.”
“Yes, I do deserve an explanation. And so does the Sanhedrin. You know, of course, what you are now liable to? Well, I don’t have to tell you.”
“I know, Toby. I know.”
“But what about your wife, your children, not to mention the young men under your supervision and training, working to be Pharisees?”
“Well, my entire household was baptized this morning, Toby. They know what that means and are prepared—I hope.”
Tobias was visibly shaken. “What? Baptized? You’re serious?”
David explained, “Yes. We were all baptized. And two of my students, Nicolas and Procurus, as well.”
Tobias clenched his fists and then opened his hands to his friend, “What is it about this man Joshua of Nazareth? So many of our best men are going over. Everybody’s talking about Saul’s defection. Now you? What’s causing so many to join up with this new teaching, to follow this Joshua?”
“Eternal life, Toby. It’s as simple as that. The forgiveness of sins and the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
“David! You had those with Judaism. What in the Name of our Holy Temple are you talking about. Not only are you—I guess I should now say were you—a Jew, but you were—are—a Pharisee. Our disciplined way of life assured you a place with the resurrected dead in paradise. Our righteousness surpassed that of the common people. What is this about forgiveness? Have you renounced all that?”
“Yes. Reluctantly and very slowly, but I would be lying if I did not say gladly. Remember what happened at this pool, David. You and I were here. Joshua of Nazareth healed that paralyzed man right over there. You and I were part of the commission that was sent to keep an eye on him. You saw what happened. Or maybe you didn’t. We were all so intent on enforcing our own rules that we missed the point.”
“We did, huh? Well what was the point, David.”
“I’ll tell you, if you really want to know.”
“Well, we’re here and as you say, we may not be able to discuss these things openly for some time, if ever. You may as well make your speech.”
“I don’t want to make a speech, Toby. I want to remind you of the words of Joshua.”
“Oh, Joshua, the executed criminal, the blasphemer, the one cursed by God to die on a cross. That Joshua?”
“Yes, Toby. His death, particularly the way he died, was very important. But let me save that. First, back to Judaism, Pharisaism and what happened here at this pool. Keep an open mind, Toby. Just try to remember what he did and said here.”
Tobias seemed to relax. “Okay, I’ll try, but only because it obviously means a great deal to you, and you are my friend.”
“Yes, it truly does. And yes, we are friends, Toby. That hasn’t changed. What was the point?, you asked. Well. . . what have we as Pharisees been able to do for our people, Rabbi Tobias ben Caleb? Were we able to heal any the hundreds of lame sheep that flocked to this pool? No. The law, our Torah, has become impotent. Once it was a source of life and forgiveness. The Sabbath day was a gift to us, a gift from God to be a day of forgiveness, restoration, and life. But what has it become? A day of unbearable burdens. You can’t carry this, but you can carry that. You can do this, but not that. You can only exert this much energy and no more. You can walk to Sarah’s house, for example, but not to Ruth’s because it’s one cubit beyond what our oral law allows. Don’t you see? We became “enforcers,” “Sabbath police” rather than servants of God ministering his grace and forgiveness to his broken sheep. We missed the whole point of the Sabbath and with it the whole reason for our existence as leaders.”
Tobias thought for a minute. “Are you saying that the reason why these porticos are now empty and the pool is still is because this man Joshua has healed them all?”
David answered, “Well, yes and no. The stirring has stopped because the old has passed away. The work of the angels is giving way to something new, more glorious and powerful than anything we ever had in the old age, even in the glory days of Moses, Solomon, or the second temple.”
“Humph. And this man Joshua has brought this new age? Is that what you are saying?”
“Yes and no. He’s brought about this new age, but he was not merely a man, Toby. Remember what happened here. It was the first time he performed a sign in Jerusalem and the first time he solemnly addressed us as leaders. Remember what he said?”
Tobias said, “I remember that he blasphemed. And I remember that we initiated what would end in his prosecution and execution for making himself equal with God. You were right there with me at his trial before Pilate, David. And now you, Rabbi David ben Zuriah, of all people, have led your own family and your prized students to support this blasphemy.”
“But it wasn’t blasphemy, Toby. It was the truth. And he did not make himself equal with God. No one can do such a thing. He was sent by the Father. He was the Father’s only divine Son. He shared the divine life with his Father. And He was here to communicate that life, to give us the gift of that life. Look, Toby, knowing what you do about the Scriptures—leave aside, if you can for now, the tradition of the elders—knowing what you do, if the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who appeared to Moses, to David, who spoke through Elijah and the prophets, if our God were to come to us as a man, what would he say? What would he do? Would he say and do anything different than Joshua of Nazareth? Think about it, Toby. Just think about it, that’s all I’m asking.”
Tobias’s face was turning red. “If he were the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would he have allowed himself to be put to death, David? Huh? What about that?”
“Yes. It is exactly what he would have done, Toby, so self-less is his love for us. Yes, I believe that this is exactly what he did do. He said as much right here the first time he addressed us. The Son only does what he sees the Father doing. You see the Son and you see the Father. You see the Son die and you know not only his, but also the Father’s self-sacrificial love. He endured the curse for us. And accomplished what all our animal sacrifices could never do—accomplished atonement—brought together himself and us once and for all.”
Toby was no longer looking around. Maybe that’s because it was getting dark and the likelihood of being seen with David was decreasing. But it was evident that he was reflecting on what his friend was saying.
“I have another question, David. Back to the people that once sat around this pool—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. You’re not saying, are you, that they have all been healed by Joshua? Or that they are all now in your assembly worshiping this Messiah?”
David answered, “One question at a time. First of all, I don’t know about all of them. Clearly, as I began to say earlier, the reason why many are no longer here is that there is no angel to stir the waters anymore. But I do know this. Many of the common people, the men and women that we so miserably failed at shepherding, Toby—many, many of them have heard the voice of Joshua Messiah and have found life, eternal life. Yes, many of them have been baptized and were gathered this morning all around the city and all across Judea, worshiping him. I was with some of them.”
Toby still looked confused. “Do you mean that they have all been permanently healed?”
David said, “Oh, I see, healed? No not in the sense that you intend. Some have been, yes. But even they have not been physically healed permanently. Like the man from this pool that Joshua singled out for restoration. I actually know him now and have had a chance to speak with him. I asked his forgiveness, if you must know. We used him to get to Joshua. Anyway . . . he’s been sick once or twice since Joshua healed him. And he’s old and knows that he will die one day.”
Toby said, “Then why do he and the others follow Joshua, if not for the miracles he can do for them?”
“I think you know the answer, Toby. You are a teacher in Israel. Like me. You know that the miracles that were done of old by Moses or Elijah or Daniel, they were signs of greater gifts, assurances of God’s promises for eternal life. Right?”
“Yes, you’re right,” Toby said.
“Yes?” he replied.
“Doesn’t our own law teach us that we are all dead? That we are born in need of cleansing. We shed the blood of our eight-day old boys and wash our new born girls. That our sins against God’s law make us liable to God’s just judgment every day? Haven’t we, from the days of Abel the son of Adam, been laying our hands on animals and killing them?
“Yes, you are right.”
“That’s right, Toby, we are the walking dead. And may I remind you again what Joshua said to us right here? With a solemn oath he swore, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and trusts in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
“I remember. He also said that at his voice those in the graves would rise at the Last Day.”
“Yes. And do you know why we believe it, Toby?”
“I think I do. When he spoke to this paralytic, he rose up and walked. If he restored him to physical life, then he can forgive sins now and grant eternal life at the Last Judgment.”
“That’s exactly how I would have put it, Toby. I will only add that he himself was raised from the dead.”
The two of them sat silently for a while. Toby broke the silence.
“Your pastor. . . James?”
“The Sanhedrin is plotting with Herod to put him to death. I’m not in on the planning myself, but I’ve heard others talking.”
“I appreciate that, Toby. A great deal. I know it was not easy for you to tell me. You trust me not to say where I got the information, if I tell anyone else. But I don’t need to tell anyone. James is expecting it. He has said as much to the church on a few occasions.”
“They’re hoping to arrest Peter as well,” Toby said.
“Yes, they all know. All the leaders are ready to follow Joshua Messiah wherever he leads, especially if he asks them to die as he did. They say it will be an honor. I’m amazed at this, Toby, I must confess. I’m not sure I have it in me, but listening to them and hearing about Stephen, well, it’s evident that they have seen the risen Lord.”
Tobias fidgeted. “Can I ask you one more thing, David? Have you thought about what is likely to happen to you and your family?”
“Yes, I have.”
Then Toby said, “I would like to meet with you again next week. You’ve given me much to think about. How about right here, same time?”
“Are you sure?
“Then, I’ll be here. The Lord bless you, Toby.”
As they embraced, Toby whispered, “And you also, friend.”
As Toby walked away, David prayed silently: “Father, may this dear friend of mine be one of yours. Draw him to yourself, grant to him eternal life, and raise him up at the last day. Hear my prayer, Joshua Messiah. Amen.”
Jeff Meyers is pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.
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