A story based (loosely) on Acts 5:27-40, Mark 10:46-52, and Acts 3:1-10.
My name is Eleazer. I was there when Jesus the ‘Messiah’ came to Jerusalem; that is to say, the most recent in a long line of so-called ‘messiahs.’ When I heard he was in town I spit on the ground. That is what I had always done for the last twenty-five years whenever I heard the word ‘messiah;’ I would spit to show my disgust at the very idea. Given the chance, I would have spit on the Messiah himself. Messiahs were a dime a dozen when I was a young man, and they all meant trouble, and none of them did us any good. But I did not learn that until it was too late.
The powerful King Herod the Great died when I was ten years old, and many proud young men thought that there was now a chance to overthrow the power of Rome and gain independence. We always heard about the glory of old Israel when the great King David ruled. Everyone feared us in those days, and we were not under any other nation’s rule. But then our people began fighting among themselves. They were divided by civil war and they abandoned their faith in God, and for centuries thereafter we faced defeat and humiliation. But we always believed we would rise again. That is what we were taught. We believed in the words of the old prophets that a Messiah would come; the word ‘messiah’ means ‘anointed one,’ just like David was anointed. This new Messiah would, like David, defeat our enemies, and break the chains of Roman oppression. I grew up hearing stories of how we would one day be free. But like the men of old, we had to be ready to die for our freedom.
So I was ready to die. I would follow whoever had the courage to lead us into battle against the Romans. Finally, when I was twenty years old the ‘messiah’ came (but not the one you’ve heard about). This one’s name was Theudas, and what a man he was! For ten years already, starting when he was only 17, Theudas was leading raids on Roman patrols and killing many soldiers. In your day you would call him a guerrilla fighter. He put the fear of God in the Romans, and I couldn’t wait to join him. But I did not know how to reach him. He was always on the run and always hiding. The Romans never knew where he was, but neither did anyone else.
Finally, one of his men came to me. He was an old friend of our family. He had heard I wanted to fight, so he came and asked me if I was ready. I left home immediately, without even telling my parents, who would have objected. I was excited when I arrived at the secret camp, given my weapons, and trained to fight. I was a proud member of Theudas’s 400 man army. Think of it– 400 men, the exact same number of men David had in his wilderness army. That in itself was a sign to us that we would succeed.
We had big plans, but we were foolish to think we could defeat Rome, the nation that ruled the world. I will tell you what made us so crazy. It was our faith in God that turned us into fools. We had faith that God would deliver us.
Well, we were delivered– right into the hands of our enemies. One of our own men betrayed us, and for a bag of silver told the Romans where we were staying. The soldiers charged into camp one night and surprised us while we were sleeping. Some of our men put up a bit of a fight, but it was no use. Many of us were killed, and most of the rest ran off into the darkness. Theudas, the so-called messiah, was one of the first to get a sword through his neck. I stepped out of my tent only to be run over by a Roman chariot. That was the end of me for that fight, and, the end of me as a man. I was knocked unconscious and my legs were crushed. I was unable to run away with the others, and the Romans left me for dead.
Two days later, I woke up in the tent of some shepherds, and they said they would care for me until I died or got well. Well, I lived, but would never walk again. One day, they loaded me into a wagon and hauled me to Jerusalem. They set me down at the temple gate with all the blind and disabled beggars. That was where I would have to live out my days. I got enough money begging to get a room and my meals, and that was my life from then on.
Now you know why I would spit whenever I heard the word messiah. There were other messiahs like Theudas over the years, and they all ended up the same way. And for 25 years at the gate, if anybody wanted my opinion, I would give it. I would say God has forgotten us, and every messiah is a liar and a deceiver. (continued…)
Acts 5:27-40 — The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name (Jesus),” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead— whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, grant that the spirit of wisdom may guide me away from all false choices, and that walking in your straight path, I may not stumble or fall. Amen.
–William Bright, British historian (1824-1901)