Chapter 14 - He Causes Men to Stumble
Thoughts churned within Ezra as he pondered all the intriguing things he had seen of Jesus in just the few days He had been in Capernaum. What will Jesus do next? So much conviction seems to ring in His every word and action—and yet He is not what we expected. Jesus, His mother and brothers, Simon, and several others had left for the Passover celebration in Jerusalem a few days before. Ezra’s father, Jesse, had insisted that Ezra go this year, as well. Ezra had decided to remain for just one more night of fishing before leaving. He wanted to be sure his father and sister were well provided for during his absence. Finally, his father’s urgings had ushered him out the door and toward Jerusalem in the company of Jairus, a trusted friend and synagogue ruler. “You must go, Son!” his father had said. “See if the leaders of our nation confirm this Jesus as the true Messiah.”
Suddenly, loud shouts coming from behind interrupted Ezra’s thoughts.
“Move to the left!”
“Watch out!” barked another.
“Ezra! Quickly! Over here!” Jairus urgently motioned Ezra to the side of the road. Then Jairus ran ahead to help an older man move out of harm’s way.
With protest and irritation, the whole caravan of people, beasts, and supplies bent to the left. Ezra looked to see what was causing the commotion. It was just what he expected. Roman legionaries on horseback rode by, stirring up clouds of dust and disappearing in the distance.
“How long, O Lord, until you deliver us from these arrogant pagans?” someone near Ezra cried out.
“Maybe the man Jesus will be the one to save us from these vile invaders and oppressors,” chimed another.
A voice farther into the crowd cried out, “From what I’ve seen and heard, he’s all words. One ‘miracle’ of water to wine—but what help is that to us? Doesn’t look like he’s going to move a finger to save us from Rome. He says we should treat those pagans as friends!”
Something sparked in Ezra. He wanted to defend Jesus somehow, but he held his tongue. I know that voice. He jerked his head up when he suddenly saw the speaker. Why, that is our rabbi from the synagogue in Capernaum! He shuddered at the thought of himself standing against one of his own leaders.
Rumblings continued to filter through the crowd and groups started moving again towards Jerusalem. It was then that Ezra found himself face to face with the rabbi.
“Ezra, my boy! Son of Jesse!”
“Hello, sir!” Ezra responded as strongly as possible, swallowing the lump in his throat.
“I’m glad to see you making this journey. Who are you traveling with, young man?”
“I travel with Jairus, Rabbi. He’s up ahead.”
The rabbi’s sculptured face wrinkled in concern. Pulling Ezra aside, he spoke intently, “Ezra, it is my responsibility as your elder to make you aware of something. Jairus may be a synagogue ruler, but be warned. He has alienated himself from many other leaders by his radical thoughts. Many think him extreme and fanatical. And rather negative, I might add. You would be wise to mark my words.”
Then, without even a word of parting, the rabbi turned towards another young man. “Micah! Good to see you!” And with that, he was off to his next conversation.
Ezra was stunned. I have never heard words spoken against Jairus. Father said he is one of the most God-fearing, God-loving people he has ever known! Hardly knowing what to think, Ezra hurried to catch up with Jairus. Oh, these are confusing days.
They traveled alongside neighbors and friends over the next few days. Daily, the crowd grew larger and larger as many other pilgrims joined the caravan. The words spoken by the rabbi troubled Ezra at first, but soon they faded as he, Jairus, and others had many engaging conversations about God’s promises to Israel.
“Oh, Ezra,” Jairus exclaimed after one particularly stimulating conversation. “It certainly isn’t popular to speak of sin, rather than merely discussing ideas. But, if we will be faithful to do God’s work in His way, if we see sin clearly enough to grieve and speak out as did the prophets of old, if we devote ourselves to prayer, our God will in turn be faithful to us. He will show us the way He has prepared. And He will raise up the great and mighty nation that He has proclaimed!”
There is nothing negative about this man, Ezra thought to himself. Nothing negative besides his hatred for compromise and complacency. What I do see is a clear hunger for holiness and truth!
The journey continued. They had walked with the long line of travelers around the Roman cities along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Next, they traveled down a road that roughly followed the course of the Jordan River. Finally, having veered southward, they turned west, making their way uphill through the wilderness areas, toward the City of David. There they would celebrate the Passover. Ezra reveled at the thought. Jerusalem! A city set upon a hill. The prophets of old said that one day a Kingdom of God would be established that would last forever. The Kingdom of God. What is this Kingdom?
Ezra often looked ahead, hoping to find Jesus, Simon, or Andrew in the crowd of pilgrims, but they were nowhere to be seen. The brown dust and sweltering heat of the wasteland enveloped the line of travelers. A gray band of mountains stretched along the horizon ahead of them as the sun highlighted brilliant purple, pink, orange, and red across the distant hills and darkening sky.
By sundown of the sixth day of the journey, travelers settled down once again and camped on the side of the dusty road. Ezra joined Jairus at a campfire for the evening meal. It was good to be with his friend.
“Do you know, Jairus, that it’s been seven years since my last journey to Jerusalem? I was twelve. I was with father. It ended up being the last Passover he was able to go to, because the accident happened soon afterward. But the time in Jerusalem is a time we will never forget.”
“Your father has a good heart, Ezra. I know how much he has longed to see you make this journey again,” Jairus responded quietly.
Ezra sighed, “I do wish father could have come. We both have yearned to see and worship at the temple again,” Ezra paused as he stared into the crackling fire, “and to sit under the teaching and guidance of the scribes and Pharisees.” He leaned back on his hands and looked up into the stars. “Jairus, my father specifically asked me to see what the leaders in Jerusalem say about Jesus—whether He is the Messiah or not. The teachers of the law know the Scriptures well. Surely when they meet and hear Jesus, they will listen to and acknowledge the words He speaks. Don’t you think?”
In a clear, serious tone Jairus spoke, “Oh, Ezra, I’ve heard our leaders speak many times in the temple. I’ve seen them worship and carry out their duties. Some do seem to have a heart for God, and yes, some may listen. But many live only external lives, desiring mainly to be seen of men. Some do care about the law and about doing everything right, but they seem to never yield their hearts. They hold that our traditions are equally as important as God’s commands. In fact, I don’t think some can tell the difference anymore!” Jairus shook his head and gazed into the flames.
Startled by what Jairus was saying, Ezra asked, “You don’t think some can tell what difference anymore?”
“The difference between the traditions established by our fathers and God’s own commands,” Jairus repeated carefully.
“Give me an example.” Ezra could feel a slight apprehension rising in his heart.
Jairus waited a moment before he responded. “All right, Ezra. We could talk about the thousands of ‘extra’ interpretations and explanations by mere men. We could discuss the mighty grand Sanhedrin and how an invention of man has become ‘Yehweh’s Voice’—or men wish it so. We could discuss Saul and the King’s administrative positions and rule versus Samuel’s God-given rule of anointing—man wants impressive stature and postion while God wants heart and spirit. There are hundreds of examples that few today ever question. It seems we are drunk on our traditions and too fearful to ask, ‘Why?’! But now, shall we consider the synagogues?”
In spite of Ezra’s reluctant nod, he continued. “Has it ever occurred to you that the synagogue was actually never God’s idea in the first place? All along it was God’s intention that men worship in the temple in Jerusalem! But when Israel sinned, and we were scattered and no longer had a temple, it was our forefathers’ idea to build synagogues in which to meet, pray, and read Scripture.”
“What is so wrong with that?” Ezra questioned, furrowing his brow.
“Oh, nothing is wrong with the idea itself. The problem is that, now, after many generations, worshipping in the synagogue is so established that many leaders consider it GOD’S PLAN rather than MAN’S OWN IDEA. Don’t you remember, Ezra, the ‘alternate worship places’ called High Places and what God thought of those? Now we’ve justified and colored over our own attempts to make Yahweh more convenient. THAT is the PROBLEM.” As Jairus spoke, fresh examples flooded his mind. “Like the Philistine ox-cart, we justify facilitating our convenience and ease with our own traditions. Did not Nadab and Abihu, Uzzuh, Jannes and Jambres all find out what God thinks of our great ideas?” Jairus’ eyes narrowed with deep conviction. His voice grew stronger, “One must distinguish between man’s traditions and God’s Holy Thoughts. That is not happening in recent generations, Ezra. The synagogue now is such an accepted tradition that a Jew is considered a rebel and unholy if he doesn’t attend the ‘right way.’”
Ezra was startled. He felt as if something very foundational to his Jewish beliefs was being pulled out from under him. He didn’t know whether to continue to listen or give in to the anger he felt rising up in him. Is Jairus actually questioning the validity of the synagogue—the very institution he is himself a ruler of? If God’s people didn’t have a place to meet, where could we read and listen to the scrolls being read? Where would the people of God gather? Suddenly it occurred to him that he had been warned about Jairus. Hadn’t he been branded a troublemaker? Ezra kept his thoughts to himself.
“Jairus,” he said, shaken, “if we can’t trust our leaders, who can we trust?”
Jairus’ voice was still quiet, but firm. “Trust one who, like the prophets, fears no man. One who is not afraid to seek, follow, and respond to God, no matter how it hurts. One who has no earthly ambitions or personal motives. Trust Him who cares more about truth, God’s honor and fruit than He does about His own welfare and reputation.” Jairus sighed. “I, for one, am turning my eyes in hope to a man the Prophet in the wilderness called the ‘Lamb of God.’ To one who draws a crowd, but does not cater to them. One who loves men, but whose words and actions are not affected by those men who like Him and those who do not. A man such as this must be in touch with God. A man who can turn water into wine.”
“Jesus!” Ezra declared, softening at the remembrance of Him.
After a moment of silence, Jairus spoke quietly, “Yes, Yesu, Jesus.”
“And you do not think our leaders will confirm Jesus as the Messiah?” asked Ezra.
“As the one responsible for the scrolls in the synagogue, I have had much opportunity to read and consider God’s word. Do you know what Isaiah says of the coming Messiah?
‘He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem, He will be a trap and a snare.’”
Ezra felt miserable. The fire no longer seemed warm or comforting. The stars seemed to have lost their sparkle. He had looked forward to going to Jerusalem, and now he felt out of sorts. Something within Ezra told him that this was the truth, yet everything else inside of him couldn’t accept it.
His stomach in a knot, Ezra hunkered down into his bedroll. Voices around them were fading into the darkness as travelers settled down for the night. He gazed into the heavens above.
“Adonai, help me to make sense of all these things. Help me to recognize what You say is true.” He lay awake most of the night. But after many hours, Ezra’s troubled thoughts were overwhelmed by the sleep that cloaked all of the weary travelers.
Ezra awoke the next morning with a lingering soberness. But with anticipation of seeing Jesus in Jerusalem, he also felt hope. He stood up and stretched his arms out in the sun’s early morning rays. What will today hold? We should arrive in Jerusalem by late afternoon, and maybe we’ll be able to hear Jesus teach again soon. I really want to hear more of what He has to say. I need to hear more of what He has to say!
Jairus, who was lying next to him, let out a long, drawn-out yawn and said, “Tovo safro! Good morning, Ezra.” Jairus rearranged his folded mantle, which had served as his makeshift pillow, and stretched out his long legs. “Ahhh—these old limbs aren’t what they used to be. Give me a minute, young man. I’ll get up soon.”
Suddenly Jairus’ eyes popped open as he spotted something the size of a large fig creeping up the arm of his cloak. In an instant he was on his feet furiously brushing his sleeve. “Then again, these limbs serve me just fine when my life is threatened! Aaugh! Spiders!” He shuddered as his face contorted, and he swatted his sleeve again. “Desert spiders are the worst!”
“I’m fine,” Jairus muttered quite unconvincingly. “Let’s get going.” He turned around and began rolling up his bedroll, talking under his breath as he shook, hit, and smothered every crevice and fold. “That thing probably laid a hundred eggs in here. By tonight we’ll both be covered with…”
By now Ezra was laughing. “Ahhh, forget about it. You’re right. We’re going to be fine.”
Jairus relinquished a grin and then went back to shaking out his mantle.
Ezra looked at the older man with returning affection. Yeah, we’re going to be all right. I can’t fault Jairus for what he said last night. He’s just an ordinary man who is willing to question everything that does not seem to line up with Yahweh’s heart. Ezra recalled how he had shuddered at the thought of standing against his own rabbi when he spoke disparagingly of Jesus. Who knows, maybe I’m actually the one with a problem.
By the time the sun had fully risen, Ezra, Jairus, and groups of travelers were well on their way to Jerusalem once again. They found themselves surrounded by throngs of people when they entered the Great City’s gates by late afternoon. Then familiar voices suddenly caught Ezra’s attention as they milled about.
“Hey! I would recognize Simon son of John’s voice anywhere!” Ezra cried out eagerly. “Come on, Jairus!” He craned his neck, trying to see above the crowd to find Simon.
And then, there they were: Simon, Andrew, John, James, Philip, and the others. And, yes—there was Jesus, too. It did Ezra’s heart good to see the familiar faces of those he loved!
Jairus was clearly pleased as well.
“Simon! Andrew!” Ezra shouted over the din.
Simon turned and his face brightened. “Andrew! James! Look who I found!” The reunion was a joyous one, full of backslapping, brawny hugs, and hooting and hollering.
Jesus laughed with them all. “Ezra, Jairus, we’re on our way to the temple. Would you join us?”
Ezra and Jairus then accompanied the ragtag group as they all made their way along. Finally, after walking through many dusty, winding streets, they reached the temple.
The temple! The grandeur and majesty, the huge stone columns and walls—all of it filled Ezra with a great sense of awe and reverence.
The priests, Pharisees, and scribes were easily recognized by their fine robes and phylacteries. These are men who have given their whole lives to God and to His Law, Ezra thought. He yearned once again to sit at their feet—to have the time and opportunity to study God’s Word.
Ezra looked up at the stately temple guards standing on the huge courtyard walls. At last, his gaze rested upon the sanctuary itself. And this is where GOD dwells; all was built to the specifications that God Himself laid out for His people through Moses! This is where His greatness lies!
A merchant’s shouts rudely interrupted his thoughts.
“Have you bought your offering yet? You’ll need proper coins, young man! If you need your money changed, I can give you the best rates in the temple!” Ezra was shocked as a short, squatty man in pretentious finery tried to pull him over to his business table. Jerking his arm out of the man’s grubby hand, Ezra trotted to catch up with Jesus, Jairus, and the others.
Peddlers called out from little booths set up throughout the courtyard. Animals in pens, doves in cages—all were for sale for the highest offer. Silver coins glinted in the midday sun as they were counted from hand to hand.
“Ooomph! Ow!” Ezra rubbed his leg, backing away from a sheep pen he ran into.
“Ah, my good sir!” The sheep merchant scurried over to Ezra. “Buy a lamb for the Passover? I can give you a good price. You can’t afford a lamb, can you? Here are my fine pigeons, take a look!”
Ezra pushed away from the man, even more determined to be rid of the peddlers. He tried to focus on the things he had longed to see. There! There are some teachers of the law! They were gathered under a magnificent porch, clearly discussing Scripture. And over there are Levites, faithfully carrying out their duties. Ezra was surrounded by the strange languages of devoted Jews who had traveled from distant lands. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Yes, God’s House—filled with His People. This is what I remember.
It wasn’t long, though, before Ezra’s serene contemplation was broken by a disturbance around him. Out of nowhere, tables began flying in every direction.
At first Ezra was just perplexed. “Wha—what’s happening!?!” He looked to Jairus, but Jairus was just as confused.
Money boxes were being hurled into the air, booths were being pulled to the ground, animal hooves clattered, and doves took flight. People were shouting and screaming. The temple courts were in utter chaos!
“What is this?” Ezra shouted to Jairus over the racket. “A loose ox? A madman?” He spun around and caught sight of a whirling figure carrying a whip.
“There, Jairus! That way!”
Jairus turned. In the same instant they both recognized the man. They were stunned.
“It is Jesus!”
For an instant, Ezra’s eyes met with Jesus’. They burned with a holy fire. Jesus swung back around in righteous fury.
Ezra stared at Jesus in disbelief. Was this the same man that had been so meek and gentle in Simon’s courtyard? Was this the man so full of love, care, sensitivity? He had held children, laughed with delight, spoken words of truth that had resonated in Ezra’s soul. But now, He was creating a catastrophe right here in the place most sacred and dear to all of Israel.
Ezra’s glance flashed towards the religious leaders who were lined up against the back wall. They stood shocked, anchored in place. At the top of the steps, leading from the courtyard, stood the High Priest. He, too, was trying to make sense of the situation as temple priests and authorities quickly sought him out. Once the High Priest saw the source of the turmoil, his eyes betrayed his wrath. His fists clenched tightly, grasping the edges of his robe.
Questions swirled violently in Ezra’s mind. He examined the faces of each of the Pharisees in the crowd—a veritable who’s who of leaders and experts. They, too, were filled with indignation, anger, hatred, and worse.
Ezra groaned deep within his soul. He knew what was happening. This time it was not Jairus who refused to ignore wrongdoings. It was Jesus, and He was determined to rid the temple courts of what would clearly be displeasing to God.
Ezra felt sick to his stomach. But this is not how I wanted our leaders to meet Jesus! Now they are going to totally misunderstand Him.
“Get these things out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s House into a market!” Jesus shouted. His voice had a fiery passion that seemed to shake the foundation of the temple itself.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, the outburst was over. Jesus stood in the middle of the courtyard, panting. His whip clattered to the floor. A shocked silence fell upon those who remained in the temple. Many of the peddlers and moneychangers had fled. Coins, broken tables, and empty cages littered the floor. Common people on hands and knees wrestled for the scattered currency.
Ezra’s mind warred with his heart. He knew Jesus was right to be angry. The greedy peddling of sacrificial animals was an insult to Yahweh’s Holiness. But couldn’t Jesus have made His point a different way? Surely these great leaders would have listened to reason! Ezra desperately searched the faces of the Pharisees again, in hope of finding even one who appeared soft. But he found none.
Instead, a sharp calculated voice snapped, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” It was the High Priest. He coolly looked down at Jesus from the top of the steps. All eyes then turned to Jesus.
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” Jesus declared in response.
Another Pharisee scoffed, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”
How could the temple be rebuilt in only three days? Ezra felt the offense and confusion as well. Jesus isn’t making any sense. He glanced at Jairus, whose eyes were wide with astonishment and wonder. Jairus doesn’t understand, either, but…he doesn’t seem to mind not understanding!
Ezra looked over at the Pharisees. They were clearly offended. And angry. They stood rigid with pride and self-righteousness.
Jesus hasn’t been in Jerusalem even one full day, and He is already in face-to-face confrontation with the hearts and minds of every religious leader here, Ezra agonized.
He shook his head in awe as he recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah. What Holy irony—no one in any generation would WANT it to be this way:
‘He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem, He will be a trap and a snare.’
The rulers were undecided about how to proceed and spoke heatedly amongst themselves. The crowd began to disperse. Jesus, James, Andrew, and the others turned and simply walked away, through the temple gates. Without hesitation, Jairus pursued them, and then motioned to Ezra, pleading with him to follow.
But Ezra found himself in a panic. Desires to run to the priests and Pharisees surged within him. Surely I need to talk to them! Wouldn’t God want me to? Maybe they will listen! These are leaders of Israel—God’s chosen people! I can’t just walk away…
He moaned again, barely able to stand on his feet. In agony, Ezra watched Jesus and His followers walk out of sight.
Oh, God! What do You want me to do? Do I pursue the scribes and teachers? These men have given their lives to the Scriptures! I have revered and honored them for my whole life as Your anointed ones. Surely I can’t stand against Your chosen leaders. These very men have led Israel for decades!
Ezra looked at the leaders still angrily conversing. But wait! He felt his confusion changing to reproach. Why are they so mad at Jesus? Why weren’t THEY angry with the abuse of God’s House? Their role in Israel is to stand for, to represent, God’s Holiness on behalf of sinners. Might it be that they are blinded by something in their own hearts? How else could they allow so much unholiness in the House of God? How could they close their eyes to the contradiction, every single day? Ezra shuddered as he realized he was just as guilty as they were. Hadn’t he been disgusted by the ambitious, self-serving merchants? And yet he had chosen to look the other way looking only at what seemed good.
Knees buckling, Ezra crumpled onto one of the steps leading up to the temple. For the first time, his back was to the religious leaders. Oh, God, forgive me. Give me eyes to see and give me a heart of courage to respond to what You show me. God, I need to know what to do. I don’t understand Jesus’ words, and I certainly don’t understand His ways. But, I see your Holy and Righteous heart in Him.
All at once it became plain and obvious. Ezra knew deep inside that he could place his confidence in Jesus. This man had the heart of God and was not afraid to walk in that. Was Jesus unpredictable? Definitely. Was He hard to understand at times? Yes. And yet doesn’t His passion also show His love for God’s Holiness and for God’s people? Though he couldn’t explain it, Ezra knew that Truth and Life could be found in this man.
Ezra KNEW what he must do and what he had really been longing for. All that had been so utterly foggy was now crystal clear as he looked truth full in the face.
A broad smile spread across his face. I am going to follow Yesu.
He stood up firmly. “I’m going to follow Jesus!” he declared with exhilaration in his newfound conviction. And with that, without the slightest fear or hesitation, he ran toward where he had last seen his Master.