How can I forgive when it hurts so badly?
That was the big question for Jacob. It seemed that he had pushed his father’s death back into the deepest part of his mind. What with the pressures of just trying to survive, he hadn’t had time to think about it. Now all the sorrow and anger had suddenly come flooding back with the arrival of the great teacher, Paul.
As Jacob slumped in a chair in their little rented house, he wondered if the pain would ever go away. Paul had been to visit them, telling them all how sorry he was, and asking their forgiveness for giving the order to have Father killed. Mama and Anna spoke to the man kindly, telling him that although they missed Father terribly, they knew he was with the Lord. Of course, they forgave Paul.
But Jacob just sat, listening numbly. He was able to control himself while Paul was there, but once the man left, his anger spurted out again, this time directed at Anna. As Mama went out into the courtyard to check on the vats of dye for the cloth, he turned on his sister.
“How can you forgive him? Do you even remember what happened that day?”
“I remember,” she said quietly. “I still have nightmares about it.”
Jacob felt badly. Of course she remembered. She was only two years younger than him. Mama hadn’t seen it at all, for she had been knocked unconscious by a soldier. Paul and the temple police had shown up, along with some Roman soldiers, who often came along in case they were needed. As usual, they had stormed into the homes of Christians, dragging them out to be taken to prison.
That day their persecutor was especially vicious. Paul suddenly turned to Father who was being held tightly by two of the temple police.
“What about you!” Paul had sneered. “You call yourself a Jew! You’re a blasphemer, that’s what you are! But turn from this Jesus right now, and I’ll spare you.”
“No, never,” said Father, calmly.
Paul’s face turned red in his fury. “Kill him,” he told his men.
Jacob had closed his eyes then, and a few minutes later, neighbors had swiftly whisked him and Anna out of sight. The last thing he’d seen was both his mother and father lying on the ground motionless. Then, a few weeks later, the Roman soldiers had stormed into the house where he and Anna were staying. They had taken them off to the same dungeon as their mother. They hoped to use them to persuade her to recant.
Everyone knew, of course, that the Jews weren’t allowed to execute people. Paul could have gotten into big trouble that day. But the Roman soldiers standing there had let it all happen.
“I’m sorry,” Jacob said to Anna. He put his head in his hands and sighed. He just wished it would all go away — the anger, the grief, everything.
“I understand. I really do,” she said, “But Father wouldn’t want us to hate Paul. Besides he’s so different now.”
“I know. I’ll try.”
Everyone in the Perga church rallied around Jacob. He knew they loved him and understood. He was glad of that, but he still couldn’t seem to stop being angry.
Sometimes it was easier to just pretend that everything was all right. Zacarias seemed to know it wasn’t though. And so did Paul, who often looked over at him so sadly that Jacob wished he could just forgive the man.
Sometimes, after Jacob prayed about it, he felt better and was able to look at Paul without being angry. Then something would trigger his thoughts about his father, and it would start all over again.
“I know you’re struggling with this, Jacob,” said Zacarias one day. “Sometimes it just takes time. What’s important is that you want to please God, and He will help you.”
They all continued to meet together to hear Paul’s stories about his journey, and ask questions about the Scriptures.
One day, a commotion from the doorway interrupted them. Everyone whirled around to look as one of the young men from the Perga church dashed in.
“Paul’s in danger!” he gasped. “The Jewish leaders have stirred up a mob. They’re coming!”
“I’m so sorry,” said Paul. “You’ve had some peace and freedom here. Now I’ve ruined it by coming back!”
But the men rose quickly. “Don’t worry about us. Come quick! We’ll hide you!”
“The rest of us had better go, too,” said Zacarias, as the Perga Christians just sat around, looking rather stunned.
“They’re after Paul and Barnabas not us,” someone said. “These people are our friends and business acquaintances.”
But the Jerusalem Christians, who had seen this kind of thing before, hustled the group out, and they all scattered.
Suddenly they heard the mob. How had the Jews gotten together such a violent, angry crowd? The people carried sticks, and stones, and weapons. They were rushing down the main street of town, searching alleyways and houses along the way. As they saw the Christians running, they shouted with glee, and raced after them.
The believers cried out to God — and at the same time, ran as fast as they could! They ducked into hiding places, and houses where unsaved friends, not understanding what was going on, quickly pulled them in.
Somehow, suddenly the street was empty of Christians. God had helped them all escape!
Jacob had gotten separated from his family. He headed down an alley. Coming out on a back street, he ducked behind a wagon. Suddenly he saw Paul running alone. The man must have gotten separated, too. But at least he was safe. Or was he? Jacob suddenly realized that the direction the man was going would bring him right out in plain view of the angry mob.
He sprang up, then stopped. Did he really want to help him? Maybe he should let Paul get a taste of what it was like to be persecuted.
Jacob suddenly felt sick. What is wrong with me? Who do I think I am? Do I think I’m God that I should punish him? Do I really want that mob to kill him?
He remembered the Old Testament Scriptures about revenge. Jacob knew that it was God’s job to avenge and punish. Besides, Paul was forgiven. Jesus had taken the punishment for all his sins, even the murders he had committed. Jacob remembered, too, that Paul already knew what it was like to be persecuted. He’d been yelled at, or beaten, or arrested in nearly every town he’d visited.
Suddenly Jacob heard voices. He saw the angry mob turn the corner into the alley.
Jacob moved into action. He squeezed between some wagons and the wall of a warehouse. Perhaps he could reach Paul before the mob saw him.
“Sir,” he called, softly. “Brother Paul!”
But Paul was looking back and forth frantically, knowing he was cut off. He didn’t hear Jacob. The mob came closer as Jacob sprang out from behind the wagons, and jerked Paul around the corner of the building. They clambered over a low wall, and landed in a dusty lumberyard.
The mob filled the alleyway and rushed by, looking here and there. As the two sprawled on the ground, pressing as close to the wall as they could get, Jacob saw the surprise on Paul’s face. He had realized who his rescuer was.
Then he smiled. “So…I guess this means you’ve forgiven me…since you saved my life.”
Jacob grinned back. He suddenly realized that he did truly forgive the man. And it felt good to have love and forgiveness in his heart instead of hate and anger.
The last of the mob raced by and Jacob said, “come on, this way.”
They entered the warehouse, and Jacob saw that it was filled with logs and half cut planks. It was apparently a ship building business, for two small fishing boats, nearly finished, set on blocks.
Fortunately the building was deserted. The workers were all out watching the excitement. Jacob and Paul dodged around obstacles. When they reached the opposite side of the long building, Jacob peeked out a front window, raising his head just above the sill.
Paul clambered out the window after him, and they hurried through the streets to the house of one of the pastors. There they met up with the rest of Paul’s group and some of the other Christians.
“Paul! Where have you been? We were so worried!”
“If it hadn’t been for Jacob, I would have been in the hands of that angry mob!”
Everyone stared at Jacob in surprise. Then they smiled and clapped him on the back.
Paul and his companions felt it best to leave, and not put the Christians in any more danger.
“They followed me from other towns, and stirred up the Jewish leaders here,” Paul said.“They’ve been doing that all along the way.”
One of the Perga Christians said, “my friend, who’s a lawyer, thinks it will all die down. He says the Romans aren’t happy about uprisings like this, and the Jewish leaders in town might get into trouble for this riot. As long as we mind our own business and continue to be law abiding citizens, he thinks we’ll be safe.”
The next day, as everyone gathered at the wharf to see Paul off, he paused to say good bye to Mama, Jacob, and Anna.
Jacob had been thinking and praying about something very important. He had a question for Paul. “May I join you on one of your journeys? I’d like to travel with you. Zacarias says he will help me learn to teach the Scriptures, so I’ll be ready. If the business is going well, and my mother and Anna can handle it, that is.”
“I would like that, Jacob. I think you will be a great help in our missionary work.”
After they had left, and the people were making their way back to their homes and jobs, Jacob caught Anna’s expression of longing and hope. He suddenly realized that she wanted to come, too! Women sometimes traveled with Paul’s group, helping in many ways. Women had gone with the Master on His travels. So why not?
Their mother smiled at them. “You both will make good missionaries some day. Jesus told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Whatever God wants for you two, I’ll be all right. The business is going well and I’ll have enough to hire a helper in a few years, when you’re ready to leave.”
They trooped back to town, glad that Mama was always willing for them to follow God’s path. There might be hardship and danger in the future but they knew God would see them through.
By Carol Bennett
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Catacombs: burial places under the ground where Christians sometimes hid to escape their enemies
Persecute: to cause suffering, especially because of political or religious beliefs
Recant: to turn away from your beliefs
The Twelve: the twelve disciples whom Jesus taught when He was on earth
The Master: Jesus
Brothers: the Christians thought of themselves as a family. They often called each other brothers and sisters
Centurion: high ranking officer in the Roman army
The Way: the name for the Christian believers at that time
Mantle: Woman’s head covering
Note: I have taken liberties with the time frame between Paul’s conversion and the first missionary journey.