Day 49 – Transformation

The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30,31 NIV).


The wailing, sudden and deeply anguished as it was, startled Gabriel.  He almost let go his cover to rush into the room but stopped himself at the last minute.  His eyes darted about, noting the positions of the demons.  The wailing came from Gamaliel but he was in no danger.  The anguished sound seemed to have no affect whatsoever on the rest of the family who were still as quiet as death as they lay in their sleepy stupor.
But the demons heard it.  They heard it and they didn’t like it.  They tried to stop it.  They began to rush around the room with their hands over their ears.  It was a deep spiritual wailing they heard, though it came from the throat of a human.
Gabriel could see that the old Rabbi was awake, his eyes open.  The candles were burning low and the light of morning was beginning to penetrate the wooden shutters.  Soon there would be no more time left.  It had to happen now and Gabriel readied himself for battle.
He came out of a long tunnel filled with fog and uncertain shadows until the realization of where he was burned away the doubts like the morning sun.  The vision was clear in his mind, carved upon his soul for all eternity.
He understood.  For all of his great learning, he understood how ignorant he had been.  He looked upon himself as if a person apart.  He heard his own wailing and wondered at the strange sound.  Then with a rush it swept over him.  He felt it.
Oh, how he felt it.
How could he have been so blind?  Now his wails turned to great wracking sobs that shook his frail body like a leaf in the wind.  His grief flowed and overflowed from a soul that had been cleansed in the fire of revelation and he could not stop.
The wails of spiritual anguish had the demons trapped and defenseless for the moment.  Prince Bashan seemed to wither and cower in the corner as if assaulted by forces he couldn’t see.  Desperately he fought back, baring his teeth in a fearsome grimace, trying by sheer might to project his thoughts into the mind of Gamaliel.
“What would your friends in the Sanhedrin say about this? The Great Rabbi Gamaliel joining the Christian sect?  What a scandal that would be.  Your career would be ruined.  Your friends would leave you.  Your students would turn you in. They would not want to be tainted with this heresy.  Yes, heresy.  That’s what it is.”
The demonic voice almost screamed.
The wailing simply increased as the demonic words made clear Gamaliel’s addiction to pride.  He had been so wrong, so wrong.
His thoughts raced through his mind, tumbling over each other in their haste to be heard.  God had visited his people and his people had rejected him, tortured him and killed him like a common thief.      As a leader of his people, Gamaliel took the accusation very personally.  He had violated and spurned the Holy One of Isra´el.  He, himself, had done it.  His weeping broke out anew.  Saul had been right all along.
The wailing stopped abruptly.  The thought of Saul, his student, his burden, his thorn in the flesh, brought other rememberings and they tumbled through his mind in a kaleidoscope of pictures.  His demons were back.
“It wasn’t my fault.  I didn’t do it.”
Tears squeezed out from beneath his tightly closed eyes.  It was no use.  The demons would never go away.
Prince Bashan motioned to his minions to circle around closer to Gamaliel.  Gabriel almost let go his cover to rush into the room to protect him but he was checked by the Spirit within.  He waited, wondering what was happening.
“No, no, it wasn’t my fault.”
“You could have stopped him,” the voice said.
The demons stopped in their tracks.  They had not made the accusation.  Prince Bashan gave an order but his voice was a silent mockery of sound.  The other demons looked at him with eyes wide and then looked back at Gamaliel.  They could approach him but they could not speak.
What was going on?   
Gamaliel held his breath for a long moment and then exhaled slowly, trying to bring some control to his wayward emotions.  He could hear something different in the voice that spoke to him.
“Why didn’t you stop him?”  The voice was gentle but cut deeper than any accusation had ever done before.
The groan rose to another wail.  The question would not go away.  But it was a question.  That calmed him somewhat.  It was not an accusation and that gave him the courage to respond between shuddering sobs.
“It wasn’t my fault.  I didn’t –.”
He couldn’t finish.  There was no point.  After a moment his sobs subsided and he tried again.
“Nobody could control him.”
But even that excuse came out so weakly that he finally took a deep, shuddering sigh and said quietly, “It was my fault, all of it.  I am to blame.”
“Why are you to blame?”  The voice was gentle but insisted nonetheless.
“I was angry.  That man, Stephen, angered me so with his accusations.  He called me a sinner.”
“And are you not a sinner?”
“Yes, Lord, I am.”
But still the voice was not done.
“How much of a sinner are you, my son?”
Those last two words brought fresh tears to his exhausted eyes and it was a moment before Gamaliel could remember the question much less give a reply.
“I don’t know, Lord.”
“Why did you tell Saul, your student, to put Stephen to death?”
“No, that wasn’t the way –.”  Again Gamaliel fell silent.
“Yes, that is exactly the way it happened.  Young Saul was headstrong and passionate and I hoped that he would do something rash, but I didn’t think it would go so far.”  It all came out in a rush of much needed confession.
“I didn’t think it would go so far,” he said again, quieter.
“So it was not from a personal conviction of Stephen’s wrong, or from zeal for the things of the Lord.  Then where did it come from, this passion, this desire to hurt another?”  The voice seemed to flow in and out of his mind and soul with the smoothness of honey and yet bite with the sting of a wasp.
“He attacked my reputation, my pride, and I wished him evil.”
“Yes, you did.  And when you heard that my son, Stephen, was in danger of his life on your account what did you do?”
“I returned immediately, Lord, but it was too late.”
“You returned immediately?”
“Well, I didn’t want to, but the look in Onkelos’ eyes shamed me and I left in that very same hour.”
“And why did you return, for Stephen’s sake or to protect your reputation?”
Gamaliel was silent.  The voice would not let it go.  All would be revealed, every sin and guilty thought of his heart.
And then the memories came back, crowding into his mind from every side, stirring up the feelings that had tormented him all these years.
Gamaliel remembered most the look in Stephen’s eyes as he had died.  Yes, he had come back immediately.  It had only taken a few minutes of guilty silence for him to change his mind and leave for Yerushalayim at once with Onkelos.  But still, he had been too late.  Just as the sun was going down, they had arrived.
Saul was there, of course, and those who were chosen to carry out the sentence of death by stoning laid their cloaks at his feet.
Gamaliel went up to him at once.
“No, Saul.  This is not right.”
Saul only looked at him with curious disregard.
“It is already too late,” he finally said.  He turned his back on Gamaliel and looked toward the pit where Stephen had been led.
Gamaliel’s eyes desperately followed his gaze and he saw Stephen kneel down in the pit and pray.  He couldn’t hear everything but then Stephen looked up directly at them and he heard the words clearly.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Gamaliel looked quickly at Saul but he seemed not to have heard him.
“Saul, listen to me –. “  Gamaliel grabbed his arm.
“It is too late,” Saul said firmly and shook his arm loose from Gamaliel’s grasp and walked a few steps away.
Soon it was over.  Gamaliel had turned away, closing his eyes tightly against the awful smack of stones against flesh that would haunt him for the rest of his life.  Someone in the crowd jostled roughly against him and someone else shoved a rock into his hands.  He looked down at the stone, gripping it tightly in his fist, unable to let it go.  The sharp crack of a stone hitting bone jarred him and he shuddered with the enormity of what he had done.
“It’s not my fault.  I didn’t do it.  It wasn’t my fault,” he whispered to himself in a litany of absolution.  But the absolution couldn’t keep the demons of guilt from beginning their nightly visitation.
Saul had come to him after that Damascus trip but Gamaliel would not receive him into his house.  He heard the rumors and they only added to his guilt and shame.  Saul had taken an easy route out of his dilemma.  It was pure hypocrisy to believe that the things he had done could be so easily forgotten just by changing sides.
As far as Gamaliel was concerned, Saul had added to his guilt the sin of apostasy.  He had even changed his name, as if that would make any difference.  No, he would not see him nor talk with him.  It was over.
It was fourteen years later before they had actually talked together.  Saul had argued convincingly for his new faith but all their conversations were stiff and wooden and Gamaliel could not open his heart towards his former pupil.
Finally, Saul had left him with head hung low.
All of these memories had imprinted themselves like a picture on his mind.  How confused he had been in those early days.  But now everything was clear, and one thing more clear than all the rest.  Saul had been right all along.
He could not accept Saul’s conversion because he could not forgive himself.  But Saul had discovered the cross and he had only discovered his sin.
If Saul could be saved, even after murdering such a holy man, was there hope also for him?  Even in his old age, with nothing left to give, except a life of pride and ignorance, could he be accepted?
With those questions half-formed in Gamaliel’s mind, Prince Bashan saw his opening and leapt upon the head of Gamaliel and dug his claws deep and hung on for sheer life.  The rest of the demons jumped and pranced and ran around them in a circle of evil desire and guilt and shame.
Gabriel was already standing, his sword unsheathed, his shining glory partially unveiled but the demons were too preoccupied to notice.  On the other side of the room Shalamar was also unveiled and ready for battle but Gabriel raised his hand to stop him.
Not yet.
“Of course, you have nothing to offer.” Prince Bashan screamed his accusations at Gamaliel.   “Why would he want you now, old and frail, and ready to die?  This was to be your last Passover Seder and you knew it.  Your life has been spent, wasted perhaps, but spent nevertheless.  You are guilty.  You were an influential leader of your people and you let them down.  You were nothing.  You have nothing.  You are nothing.”
The spite in the words bit deeply into his soul, but Gamaliel seemed to grow stronger, not weaker, with every word.
Prince Bashan had miscalculated.
It was a mistake that pride easily made, thinking himself invincible, looking for any excuse to keep his charge under control.  But he had admitted the truth.  Gabriel smiled.  He had admitted the existence of the enemy.  He had admitted that Yeshua was there, waiting for Gamaliel’s answer.
Like a novice he had broken the first rule of demonic deception:  Never, under any circumstances, admit the truth about him.
Gamaliel took the prayer shawl from his shoulders and put it on his head and lifted his hands in the air.  Yeshua bar Joseph, the Rabbi from Nazaret, was the Son of the Living God and his pride didn’t matter at all anymore.  He was nothing.  There was no question of being able to offer anything to him.
“I have sinned.”  The words were a groan ripped from his heart.  “Even more, I am a sinner, selfish and proud.  Can you forgive a foolish old man?”
He was nothing more than Saul and nothing less.  He was not worthy, but still he belonged, body and soul to the God of Avraham, Yitz´chak and Ya´acov.  It was just that the Holy One of Isra´el now had another name – Yeshua, Savior, Lord.
Gabriel burst from his hiding place with the strength of his joy.  Now they had authority.  Now they could do battle.
Shalamar came in like a ball of fire from the other side of the room and scattered the demons who were gathered around Gamaliel.  But Gabriel had eyes only for Prince Bashan.
The demonic prince saw him coming and stood his ground, the sword in his fist an extension of his powerful arm.
Gabriel rushed in, his sword ready but the demonic prince struck first, his blow filled with incredible power.  Gabriel held the evil sword with his own for a moment and then spun away, crouching and swinging his sword at his knees.  But Prince Bashan leapt into the air to turn and land behind Gabriel.  Again their swords met in a ringing clash that shook them both as they strained against one another with brute strength.  Neither one could break away.  They were locked in a battle that would be won or lost in moments.
Gabriel realized two things at once.  The demonic prince still had too much power and the battle for Gamaliel’s soul was not yet over.
They had acted too soon.
The demonic prince laughed with evil delight at his advantage and bore down on Gabriel.  For a moment his bloodshot, serpentine eyes, glared at him, unblinking and filled with hatred.  The sulfur curled like wisps of smoke from his nostrils.  His bared fangs, the saliva dripping like acid upon Gabriel’s neck and the nauseating stench rising all around him was enough to make Gabriel sick.
He was trapped.
Out of the corner of his eye, Gabriel could see that Shalamar had his own troubles.  The demons had chased him from the room and he did the only thing he could.  He shot like a lightning bolt straight into the sky, the dark shadows trailing behind him.
Gabriel could hold his own against the demonic prince but his authority was draining away.  He cast a glance at Gamaliel.  Immediately he realized what had happened.  The demon prince had played his last card, shame, snatching Gabriel’s authority away at the last moment.
There was nothing to say.  It lay there deep in the soil of Gamaliel’s soul where Prince Bashan had planted and cultivated the seeds of shame for years.  Once begun, it grew like a weed to choke out the seed of faith planted so recently. Gamaliel was an old man and the roots of shame ran deep.
It welled up in him like a fountain of poison water.  It made no sense, but that wasn’t the point.  If he belonged to him, shame didn’t matter any more than pride did.  But Gamaliel couldn’t think.  He couldn’t analyze it.  He just felt it, deep and abiding shame.
It was almost more than he could bear and for a long moment he could not overcome it.  He wanted to run, to hide from God in the bushes, away from the piercing eyes of the Holy One of Isra´el.
Then a simple truth was whispered into his soul by a gentle voice.
“Shame can bring you to the foot of the cross and still leave you wanting if you do not release your shame to me.”
The voice was like a gentle wind blowing softly through his soul.  “Your shame is my glory.  Give it to me and accept my grace.  It will be sufficient for you.”
The attack came from above, the streak of light sudden and bright, and the demonic prince pitched forward.  Shalamar had returned.
Gabriel spun away, hesitating for precious seconds to check on Gamaliel.  That was where the real battle was.  But it wasn’t over yet.  Their authority was not yet reestablished.  Shalamar had given him only a brief respite.
With a rush and a furious roar, Prince Bashan leapt from the ground and attacked his dark sword cutting through the air in a swift arch of death.  Once again their swords met in a shower of sparks but this time Gabriel could feel the difference.  The demonic prince was not so strong.  His power was waning and Gabriel pressed the attack.
The famous Rabbi felt like a child full of questions, only half understanding this new world to which he had been introduced.  It was the gentleness of the voice, so clear and strong and full of love that penetrated his shame.
Strangely, he had no doubt who it was, and that is what saved him in the end.  For shame has its roots in sin and pride but has no power at all in the face of love.
He was loved.  In his deepest spiritual place his God wanted him and loved him despite, and perhaps because of, his shame.  Still it was difficult to let go and he held his shame close to his heart for one moment longer while the battle raged around him and in him.
Gabriel could see doubt cloud the eyes of the demonic prince.  At every step the black demon became weaker as Gabriel drove him back, away from Gamaliel.   Gabriel saw an opening and sent his bright sword in for the kill but it was met with a jolting parry that was a reminder of the power that still remained in those arms.
It was time to finish it.
The dark sword came in from the side, cutting through the air, but Gabriel sidestepped it, striking it aside.  Kicking out with his foot, he knocked Prince Bashan off-balance and his sword was ready to end the dual.  It was over.
But Prince Bashan allowed himself to fall, rolling away from the death that awaited him.  Tucking his wings under him, he leapt to his feet and immediately rushed straight for the Rabbi Gamaliel.  His huge dark sword above his head, he roared out his hatred with vile blasphemies and attacked, trying to end the battle with Gamaliel’s death before his authority was gone forever.
Shalamar and Melanchor attacked from both sides but they were batted out of the way by the wild-eyed, nightmare of terror.  Gamaliel was old and frail and this spiritual attack could certainly do him in.  Gabriel rushed through the room after the demonic prince with incredible fury, the more so because he knew he would be too late.
The huge black sword came down in a sentence of death, the demonic prince laughing with delirious delight, the soul of Gamaliel bare and vulnerable to his sight.
But even as the evil sword cut through the air, Gamaliel gave a deep, shuddering sigh of peace and whispered, “I am yours and you are mine and that’s all that matters anymore.”
The shock of it hit the demon prince like a physical blow.  His sword sliced through Gamaliel’s soul without any effect, his authority gone, and he hovered on erratic wings as he lost his balance.
Gabriel had almost reached them but suddenly he was caught up in a warm embrace, slowing his movements and gently settling him on the far side of the room.  The heavenly music seemed to ease out of Gamaliel in a great releasing wave of joy, soft and melodious and deep.
I see the Lord,  I see the Lord,
Exalted high upon the worship of the people of the earth.
I see the Lord,  I see the Lord,
My eyes have seen the King, the Lamb upon the throne
Who reigns forevermore.
The swirling flow of light sparkled with breathless beauty filling every corner, flowing through and around them, but concentrating more and more on Gamaliel and Prince Bashan in the center of the room.
I see the Lord,  I see the Lord,
Exalted high upon the worship of the people of the earth.
The demonic prince was picked up like a rag doll and hung in the air, his wings silent, his body limp, a look of sheer terror on his face.  He was held there for one long, awful moment as if by a great divine hand.  It was the Shekinah Glory that did him in, his evil not able to stand the Divine scrutiny.  Slowly, silently he withered away, fading gently into oblivion.
The train of his robe fills the Temple
A cloud of heavenly worshippers surrounding his throne
Gabriel turned quickly to check on Gamaliel.  The time had come for him to see his Savior face to face.   But now it was alright.  Even as his life force was fading away, he was being filled with the Holy Presence and Gabriel watched as the Divine light penetrated into the very depths of his being, breathing life into his withered soul and giving new light to his weary eyes.
I see the Lord,  I see the Lord.
Exalted high above the worship of the people of the earth.
Gabriel could not help it, his face broke into a smile.  He could feel the holy vibrations of joy in the very air around him. He had only one last task to perform and it would come at any moment.
I see the Lord,  I see the Lord.
My eyes have seen the King, the Lamb upon the throne.
Who reigns forevermore.
Gamaliel’s breathing slowed and then gently, gently came to a close and he breathed his last.  His family would find him with his face turned toward the morning sun, in his final rest with a mysterious smile shadowing his lips. Benjamin would know what that smile meant, Gabriel was sure, and he would share in the joy of heaven.
The train of his robe fills the Temple.
Gabriel took Gamaliel gently into his arms and his wings beat with great power and majesty, Shalamar and Melanchor on each side and they soared into the air and almost immediately the clouds covered them.  As they broke into the sunlight again, they were surrounded by thousands and thousands of angels, their eyes bright with excitement and joy.  Still Gabriel soared even higher, his great wings beating out a steady rhythm while the procession gathered strength with angels forming up on all sides.  Gamaliel had his head tucked into Gabriel’s shoulder as if he was sleeping, or perhaps he was simply waiting, not wanting to waste his wonder on anything less than the desire of his heart.
I see the Lord,  I see the Lord.
            Exalted high above the worship of the people of the earth.
Then he was there.  The throne room of the Majesty appeared before them lined with angels who stood with their wings unfurled in silence as the song of Gamaliel’s heart pour out all around them.  Gabriel set him down and turned him to face the throne.
Gamaliel was getting stronger every moment.  In truth it was his desire to see the Lord that gave him strength.  He took a stumbling step toward the throne and then another, when he was startled into a hesitant pause.
I see the Lord,  I see the Lord
            My eyes have seen the King, the Lamb upon the throne
Who reigns forever and ever, forever and ever…..
The Divine Majesty had turned toward him and their eyes met and Gamaliel was filled with a sudden and glorious emotion that took his breath away.
His name was spoken and the power in that one word almost swept him away.  Immediately, the Majesty upon the throne jumped up and hauled up his robes and ran toward Gamaliel with fierce abandon, the joy on his face shining brightly.  His eyes never left Gamaliel as he plowed through the clouds, finally dropping his robes and throwing his arms wide to sweep Gamaliel, his son, into his arms.
“My son, my son has returned,” he said over and over again, shouting it out so that the heavens shook.  The angles were awestruck, the seraphim wept quietly around the throne, the entire procession thrown into such turmoil that nobody knew what to do next.
Gamaliel, himself, could only gaze at Him in awe as the Majesty wept and held him tightly, his tears falling upon Gamaliel’s face and cleansing his soul for all eternity.
And all of Heaven stood in awe and worshipped quietly.  The cross had won again.
For my Eyes have seen the King,
The Lamb upon the throne who reigns forevermore.
The Desert Warrior
P.S.  Let’s talk to God……
Lord, I now see the truth.  All of the drama of Easter has a purpose, to transform lives.  If I celebrate Easter without working and praying for transformed lives then I have denied the whole point of the cross.  It’s so obvious now.  It was never supposed to be a religious ceremony, an observance, but rather a way of life, the way of the cross.  Thank you, Lord, for teaching me.  Help me now to live that way every day for the rest of my life.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.
Read more   (from The Temptations of the Cross)
The serpent was disgusting, his slithering form a transparent mask, his voice a whining caricature of human sound.  But he was no fool.  His attack would be subtle beyond words and Gabriel feared for the man and the woman.
Eve was walking near the center of the garden where the Tree of Life grew.  Its leaves were a beautiful dark green, its fruit delicious beyond the imagining of it.  But it was not the Tree of Life that had caught her attention.  She was staring at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, her curiosity a passing thing, with no evil desire to mar her interest.  It was simply not important other than the recognition that her Father had asked her not to eat from that Tree on pain of death.  Not that death meant anything to her, but to displease her Father was punishment enough.
She would have walked on, her entourage of forest creatures keeping pace and providing company for this impromptu tour of her kingdom, but then she noticed the serpent coiled around the trunk of the tree.  (Read more….)