I was a Zealot. Other Zealots call me traitor, coward, and worse, because Israel is no longer my first loyalty. The change came at the cost of great pain of heart, broken friendships, beatings, threats, and the loss of my family’s respect. It was not a welcome change of allegiance, but an absolutely necessary one.
I came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah our prophets told us would come. He is the one Who saves us from our sins. He is also our God. That was impossible for many to accept. I struggled with that too. I almost hated Jesus at first because of that claim alone. It is the ultimate blasphemy for a man to claim to be God. It is a sin deserving of death.
The Zealots had begun to think about how we could free Israel from domination by Rome. My soul was in turmoil for several reasons at that time. The deep corruption of the priesthood, the domination by Rome – filthy Gentiles! And who was going to free us? A few radicals with daggers?
I began to drift away from my brother Zealots. My heart burned for justice and freedom, but my focus on the Scriptures began to separate me from weapons, assassinations, plots. My soul began to cry out for an answer from the God of our Father Abraham. When the patriarch Moses led Israel out of Egypt, he was sent by the Most High. Israel was not freed from Egypt by war, but by miracles such as could only come from the one true God.
Moses had promised us, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” I began to pray daily for this prophet to come. I believed the words of Holy Scripture! I did believe in the Holy One of Israel! I still do!
And I remembered a rabbi teaching from the scroll of the prophet Zechariah: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Both my ears tingled when I heard that! I went at once to see him for myself. John was wearing camel’s hair clothing, and a leather belt, just like the scroll of 2nd Kings describes Elijah. His appearance was right, but any pretender can duplicate an appearance.
John began to preach about repenting of sins. I might have turned away, but he said the Kingdom of Heaven was near. I could not ignore that, and it dawned on me as I listened, was I fit for the Kingdom of Heaven? I began to remember my sins as if I were watching another do the things I had done. My lustfulness, my pride, my temper and harshness to my fellow Israelites, my dishonesty. I saw myself as I really was instead of the clean pure self I preferred to envision. I ran away to hide my tears.
I went to the Temple and offered the correct offerings for my sins, but still my soul was hungry. I went back to John Baptizer and requested baptism. One of his disciples baptized me, and I felt a little better, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that something more was needed.
I had heard and heeded John Baptizer, and he had nothing more to say to me. I returned to my life, which shrank to dealing with necessities and reading the Holy Scriptures, trying with all my heart to prepare myself for I didn‘t know what. I tried to share these feelings with my fellow Zealots, whom I rarely saw any more, but when I declared that Israel’s freedom depended on the Most High, they turned away with scornful looks and blistering condemnation. I did not see them again.
Then I heard that someone else had begun to preach that the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand”. I thought, strange, I didn’t feel the earth move. But I went wearily to see what this was about.
A man called Jesus of Nazareth was preaching. His words made sense, when I could understand them. Before long He was not in favor with the pharisees, yet His knowledge of Scripture was so great that He frequently taught in synagogues!
He said such strange things. I might have lost interest during the first several encounters I had with Him, but I saw that He performed miracles almost as often as He breathed, so effortlessly that I was shocked. No one was beyond His healing power. Sick, crippled, lepers, even demon-possessed people. He even raised people from the dead, and when I saw that for the first time, I knew this was the Messiah of God! Because the prophet Ezekiel had been given a sure sign of the presence of the Most High: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.”
At that moment I knew I was done with the Zealots forever. In the three years that followed, I went from elation and worship to feeling inadequate and unworthy, to knowing I was unworthy, to knowing my sins were forgiven, and back to doubt again when Jesus was crucified. But the Most High raised Him from the dead! Jesus returned to us alive, and he stayed with us for forty days after His resurrection. He proved many times that we were talking to Him, walking with Him again, sharing meals with Him. I no longer felt wildly elated. Instead I felt a peace so deep and strong that nothing since has shaken it.
After His return to Heaven, I do what I can and pray for those I encounter. And for those I knew before I became a disciple of the Messiah. I pray that I may reach many souls with the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus the Messiah. That’s my life, my world now. It has been many years along a weary road, and the Messiah has not returned. But I remember the things I have seen with my own eyes, the miracles I had the privilege to perform in Jesus’ name during the early years. The changed lives I have seen in those who trusted Jesus for sins forgiven and eternal life. I am content. He will return when He will.
I’m cold and hungry, and my old body groans at the thought of moving. But I am smiling as I write this. Death or the Return, either way, I will be in the presence of the Most High and His Messiah before long. May you find the way there also.