How do you stop a tsunami? That was the dilemma facing the ruling authorities in Jerusalem following the resurrection of Jesus. They assumed that the crucifixion death of Jesus would stop the growing tide. It didn’t. As a matter fact, their plan backfired. The movement grew.
Among the followers of Jesus were a couple of uneducated fishermen named Peter and John. When Peter preached during the Jewish Festival of Weeks, fifty days after Passover, the people went crazy (Acts 2:42-47). While great crowds were gathering, some even “sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds” (Acts 2:45) to others.
Later, when the fishermen entered the temple complex, a strange thing happened. At the Beautiful Gate, a forty-year-old paraplegic was reportedly healed. Someone overheard them tell the poor beggar that they didn’t have any money, but by the authority of Jesus, they told him to walk. He did! He walked and jumped and danced! (Acts 3:2-8). Saul was still trying to figure out the ruse, the scam, the trickery. How did they pull it off?
Finally, the Sanhedrin acted. “While (Peter and John) were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. So they seized them and took them into custody until the next day” (Acts 4:1–3).
The following day, the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one-member supreme court, met to discuss the continuing frustration. Though Saul wasn’t a member of the high court, as a young lawyer, he probably hoped to earn a seat. I suspect that he was present during their deliberations, watching and listening. Sadly, at least to Saul, the spineless court only gave the troublemakers a slap on the wrist. “They ... ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).
The Jesus-movement continued to grow as more “signs and wonders were being done among the people” and more “believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers” (Acts 5:12–14). Losing their patience, “the high priest rose up. He and all who were with him, who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. So they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail” (Acts 5:17-18). Again.
The following day, “they convened the Sanhedrin—the full council of the Israelites—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. But when the servants got there, they did not find them in the jail; so they returned and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ As the captain of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, wondering what would come of this’ ” (Acts 5:21-24).
“When (the Sanhedrin) heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin” (Acts 5:33-34). The presence of Gamaliel, Saul’s teacher and mentor, leads me to believe that Saul was present. He was there when “they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them (again) not to speak in the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40). Saul had a growing hatred for the ignorant fishermen and the other Jesus-freaks!
Years later, Saul (Paul) described himself, saying, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13, NIV). He testified before king Agrippa, “I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I was in agreement against them. In all the synagogues I often punished them and tried to make them blaspheme. Since I was terribly enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:10–11).
Marvelously, miraculously, Paul came to understand the magnitude and meaning of God’s amazing grace... grace, that like a tsunami, can’t be stopped.