“Come to bed old man,” the voice from the other room calls with the kind of affection that only thirty one years of sleeping together can conjure.
“When I finish,” he whispered hoarsely. In the old days he could read aloud or shout for hours to the whole assembly but now a few pages of a new letter read softly to a small group crowded in his humble home could exhaust him. ‘Getting old,’ he thought,’ is certainly not for the pampered.’ He had mentored countless young men over the last three decades and the worst insult any of them had ever heard from him was to be called ‘pampered’. He had treated his own body harshly both before and after meeting Jesus. Before he knew the Lord he was brutally destructive to himself and anyone who happened to be so unfortunate as to cross paths with him. After meeting the Lord the pain he subjected his body to was the result of a joyous and thankful heart that loved preaching the Good News more than sleep, or food, or drink, or any of the ‘normal’ desires men have in the Hierarchy of Need paradigm. He refused to pamper himself and for a long time what anyone else would have considered a necessity of life he probably would have regarded as an indulgence and a sinful, wide open door leading him to being…pampered!…what a ghastly thought.
But she had changed much of that. Through her he learned that his zeal was in no danger of being lessened by eating, drinking, sleeping…loving. “Are you more disciplined than the Lord? I don’t think so,” she would say, adding,”He took time to drink wine and cook fish and put children on his lap.” And so over the years the young preacher, who had been scary enough before following Jesus, and even scarier in some ways after meeting the Lord; became the beloved mentor to so many who knew him as Friend, Teacher, Reader and so many other names. But she was the only one who could call him Old Man, and she did it fondly.
He’s always had a lot of names. He could also be called ‘Witness’. He had been directly touched by the Lord and, like all those who had walked with Jesus, he spent some part of every day longing to see Him again. For over thirty years not a day went by that he didn’t think he caught a glimpse of the Man out of the corner of his eye, or heard a laugh that made him think of that Voice. He wasn’t an apostle, not even one of the apostle’s acolytes, yet he had been as faithful as any and more famous than most. But none of that was on his mind tonight. This letter and how badly the young man Daniel needed to hear it was all he could think of.
“How many times are you going to read it tonight? You’ll wear it out,” she called again from the other room.
“It’s just a ‘short letter’,” he called back, mocking both her and the author’s last few lines in the writing. He knew the author well and loved him. He respected the inspiration of the message and oh how pertinent it was for their ministry at this crucial time. But still, he had to chuckle at the way the writer had closed his letter; the idea that this was a ‘short’ letter. “He learned that trick from me,” he thought to himself. How many times had he said he had a ‘few, brief remarks to make’ only to keep the congregation sitting for hours?
He hoped Ishmael could find Daniel tonight. Maybe there was time yet to undo what the Pharisees had done to his faith. As he read the parchment again he saw the answers to all of the Lawyer’s arguments demolished by the message in this ‘short’ letter:
Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
The Pharisees had argued many out of the church by using the fact that Jesus was not a Levite as a debate against His right to the Messianic claim. Never mind that the prophets clearly foretold that the Savior was a lion from the tribe of Judah. “You need the priests! You can not abandon the Tempel!” the Lawyers shouted and many followers had left the church without clearly thinking through all the prophecies, all the facts. And with the pressure of the Ka-na-im added to the equation (pressure?…that’s putting it mildly. ‘Join us or you die’ might be considered more than ‘pressure’ by most) the faith of many had been wrecked. Daniel was the most recent and the pain of losing him from the fellowship was the freshest.
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Yes, he hoped that Ishmael…you… would find Daniel tonight. That kind of mission would help with your own doubts and possibly even bring Daniel back to his senses. But if the old man had known what would be involved in finding Daniel…just how far Daniel had fallen…he may have had a different prayer on his heart.
For Daniel had found you.
And now squatting in the middle of a small courtyard, surrounded by Sicarii, hands tied behind your back, you have a decision to make.
“Join us or you die, my friend,” Daniel says with a voice that doesn’t have the confidence of a skilled assassin, but as a new convert he’s performing for the others, his ‘trainers’, and they sneer approvingly.
Your eyes feel like they are bleeding, again. Your ears feel like they are on fire, again. Your pulse and brain are thumping like hummingbird wings.
In the dimly lit room the old man is reading and praying and somehow in one of those miraculous ways that unconnected events reach out for one another across time and space, you, in spite of your terror, remember the very words you heard earlier that evening at the exact same moment that the old man is reading them, again:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.