THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 2

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

It was neither long nor difficult to find Simon Peter’s house. The house was not as large as that of Elan’s, the synagogue leader. There was one entry point and stairs that led up to the roof. The house and the narrow streets were literally wall to wall jammed packed with people most of which were crippled from disease and physical ailments. Cornelius and Jacob had to shove their way through the crowd until they reached a platform that overlooked the entrance. At the front entrance, a large man can be seen shuffling people in and out through the door. Cornelius recognized him to be the fisherman who allowed Jesus the use of his boat as a platform to teach people by the lake. He was also the one that bowed before Jesus after that miraculous catch of fish. Simon Peter was pleading for the people to not crowd the entrance and wait their turn. He was just letting a woman and her sons out when they started to praise God loudly. This added to the frenzy of the crowd. Gauging the size of the house, Cornelius calculated that it can only hold about forty people. For now, Simon Peter was only choosing those who were ambulatory. There were some exceptions though.

A group of six men all dressed in expensive robes easily walked through the crowd, especially since the crowd parted for them, came up to Simon Peter. Jacob told him they were Pharisees. Cornelius noticed that Simon Peter was not pleased they were here, but he called to his brother Andrew and whispered in his ear. The brother Andrew went back in and then about eight disappointed men were ejected and the Pharisees entered. Cornelius also spotted Simon the Zealot with three of his comrades and walked up to Simon Peter. They had a short conversation and Simon Peter allowed only Simon the Zealot in.

Then a determined group of men, who were carrying a crippled man on a pallet pleaded with Simon Peter to let them in. But he told them that there was just no more room. Eager to be inside himself, Simon Peter closed the door. But the dejected group would not give up, one of them pointed at the stairs that led up to the roof. Cornelius watched them carry the cripple up the stairs. He was curious to see what they were doing. So, he and Jacob climbed the stairs that led to roof of the house across the street. There was also a small crowd on that roof and they were calling out encouragement to that group of friends that started to dig up the roof by tearing at the dried mortar and thatch. Cornelius could hear the protest of a voice from inside. When the hole was big enough, the friends gently lowered the cripple in his palette. Then, there was silence for about five minutes. Then the friends who were peering in the hole started clapping and patting themselves in the back. It was not long when they started down the stairs. Then a man came out carrying a palette praising and crying out with joy. Cornelius almost did not recognize him and was not sure if he was the same man. But the friends knew and gathered around him. Then the whole crowd erupted in song and praise. From Cornelius’ vantage point on the roof top, he could hear the spreading of the singing and jubilation to the adjacent streets; though he was sure that many of the crowds were just caught up with the celebration not really knowing the reason. But if this spreads even farther, he feared that the nearby garrison may be called to quench what they may easily think is an uprising. But after a while, things were calming down a little. The atmosphere was still a little festive but not all were joyful. Midst the crowd the group of Pharisees walked out of the house frowning and did not seem pleased.

“There is no way we will be able to get in now!” He looked over at a teary eyed Jacob. “Come, my old friend. That is enough excitement for today.”

They made their way back down to the street and walked back to the house. Again, Cornelius’ mind was in conflict. It started when he realized that he was feeling an inexplicable sense of happiness. Did he get caught up with the festivities? The sober side of his mind needed to look over at the event logically. What did he really witness? Was that man, the cripple, healed magically? He had never seen the man before. The only proof he had was him being carried by his friends. Could it have been staged by the Nazarene? But then why deny them entry in the beginning? It does not fit. But then there were the Zealots to consider. Simon the Zealot was there with three others. Maybe more! Cornelius pursued this line of thoughts with a question. How will staging miraculous hoaxes help their cause? The answer was simple, mob mentality. He saw how easily a hopeful crowd got riled up. Get the people to fanatically declare that Jesus is the Messiah and crown him king which will unite them enough to push Roman rule out of Palestine. Another disturbing thought was that for the Zealots to this pull off, Jesus and his followers must be in collusion with them. When they finally got back to their house, though he had a hard time believing in it, he really hoped that what he saw was miraculous.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 1

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

On the Sabbath day, Cornelius was summoned to a meeting with Arturos at the Bethsaida garrison. The meeting lasted for two days. Contingent plans were laid out for the transfer of the Governor General’s seat of power from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem next month. Already the Fortress Antonio in Jerusalem had been garrisoned with two cohorts of Praetorian. Before Cornelius made his return to Capernaum, Arturos told him that the Governor has shown interest with Cornelius’ reports. Since, the insurgent problems are mostly concentrated in the Galilee region, he is still ordered to stay in the area.

It was mid-day, when Cornelius returned to his house. As expected, Jacob was there eagerly waiting for him with news.

“Jesus was at the synagogue!” He called out even before Cornelius can dismount. “He was there at our Sabbath meeting! Oh, if you were only there yourself to listen to him. At the lake I said he was a masterful teacher. That praise does not do it justice. I have been a scribe of the law for over thirty years and even I cannot teach and explain the Scriptures the way he did. For one so young, he spoke with conviction… with such authority like he himself was the sole author of the law. It was an eye opening experience that I thought I would never relish again in my old age.

“Then this man barged in making such a commotion. He was crazed out of his wits. I have seen this man before roaming the streets talking to himself. He was one with an unclean spirit. He pushed his way into the center and no one could hold him. He pointed at Jesus and said, ‘What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!’ [Mark 1:24 NASB]

“While we all backed away, like from a rabid dog, Jesus stood there calmly. I saw no anger or judgment in his face for this unholy creature. I did see pity and compassion when he told the man to be quiet. Then he took a step forward and commanded the unclean spirit to come out. The man collapsed and began thrashing violently on the floor like a fish out of water. His face was contorted like in such pain and then he suddenly calmed down. Like waking from a deep sleep, he opened his eyes and asked where he was. The whole room erupted with amazement that no one noticed the Nazarene had left quietly.” Chuckling to himself, “When I left I noticed my old colleagues, both scribes and Pharisees, arguing among themselves on what to make of all this.”

“Where is he now?”

“Oh, how foolish of me not to say right away! He has been staying in the house of a man called Simon Peter. I heard that the mother of his wife was with fever and this Jesus healed her. So, since yesterday, the house has been inundated, day and night, with all sorts of people bringing their sick.”

“Come! Let me change and then we will go to this house.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 5

A MOTHER’S TALE – Nazareth, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

After eight days, we traveled to Jerusalem to present our baby at the Temple as in tradition. It was there, we were met by a man named Simeon who said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.’ Then he told me that ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ [Luke 2:29-32 NASB]

“After the census was finished, people went home. Joseph’s family urged us to stay. So, we stayed. Jesus was over a year old, when we were visited by several disciples of Daniel known as Magi. They presented us with the gift of gold, francinsense and myre. That night, Joseph woke from a disturbing dream. He told us that an angel urged us to leave for our child was in danger. So, we left for Egypt. It was there we later heard what Herod had done. So, we stayed two more years until again an angel told Joseph it was safe to return. When we learned that the eldest son of Herod was to rule Judea, we chose to return to Nazareth.”

Then Mariam went silent. After a long while, Cornelius asked, “Would you tell me how I may find your son?”

She looked into his face for a very long time without uttering a word. Cornelius assumed she would not give that information to a soldier of Rome who could harm her son.

“He is in Capernaum.”

An hour out on the road, Cornelius was riding his horse next to the wagon.

“Ahem… Centurion?” It was the voice of Levi, the tax collector. “You have done a kind thing back there.”

“It is of no consequence.”

“No consequence, you say,” exclaimed Jacob. “You have, time after time, shown such consideration to my people of which you again risk retribution from your own people.”

“Ah yes…” Levi said. “I have heard talk of you among our people, even from those that hate me. You are gaining many friends in the city. It may be that if my people can accept you, a Gentile. Maybe they will be able to forgive me, a tax collector, and allow me back to worship the Lord in the synagogue. Oh… how I tire of this hated position.”

Cornelius did not say a word. He kicked his horse to a trot and rode ahead. He felt conflicted inside. In the back of his mind, he knew that part of his motives to show kindness was also to add to this myth so that he may do his task to protect the empire. But then hearing that incredible tale, his duty to do his task didn’t seem so important. But he shook his head and reminded himself that he is a Roman soldier with orders and a task to do. However, he wondered how he was going to report this.
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 056

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

They led him south of the village into the same small canyon where Joram hid from the Romans. They followed the well worn winding track passing several fenced out grave sites, a number of which had carved circular stones about three feet in diameter covering the openings. They reached the end of the trail that opened up into a wider enclosure where Simon’s clan maintained a garden. The garden was fenced in by a short rock wall about three feet high. There were several burial chambers carved out halfway up the canyon wall. Simon told Jesus that Lazarus was entombed inside the chamber of the first ledge about five feet above the canyon floor.

Jesus climbed the steps to the ledge followed closely by Simon and Jesus followers.. The sobbing sisters also climbed the steps but stopped part way. Jesus placed his hand on the round stone and wept openly.

“See how He loved him!” Joram heard one of the Pharisees saying. But someone else also said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have kept this man also from dying?” [v36,37]

Jesus took a step back and spoke to Peter and Andrew, “Roll the stone away.”

Martha gasped and said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” [v40] Mary’s head came up and looked on him with a desperate hope.

Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” [v41]

So, the two men positioned themselves on the right side of the stone. The round stone was resting in the bottom of its inclined groove carved into the rock. Grunting profusely, they rolled the heavy stone up the slight incline, revealing the small opening into the dark chamber. Except for Jesus, those on the ledge and steps as well as those gathered below the ledge covered the nose and mouth from the obvious smell of decay. They quickly retreated down the steps leaving Jesus alone on the ledge.

Then Jesus raised his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

Then he called out in a commanding voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” [v41-43]

The crowd was silent. When after a while nothing seem to be happening, some in the crowd started snickering. But then a woman gasped and with a trembling hand pointing, she said, “Look!”

Joram climbed the stone wall to look over everyone’s shoulder and get a better look inside of the tomb. At first, all he saw was pitch darkness until he could just make out some slight grayish movement deep inside. He felt the hairs on his back stand up and eyes grew wide. The crowd was startled with a few women screaming out loud as a bound hand came out of the darkness grasping the entrance wall. Jesus reached in, grasped the other hand and helped the struggling bound man out. It was Lazarus alive after four days in the tomb. He was wrapped from head to foot with linen wrappings. The bound wrappings were hardened and stiff from the herbal ointments applied when he was buried.

No one moved. Jesus, who was holding him up, called out to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” [v44]

It was the sisters that reacted first as they both rushed up the steps and embraced Lazarus. Other men rushed up to the ledge and started to tear at the hardened wrappers. His father handed his robe to cover his nakedness. He was still pretty weak, so they had to carry him down.

The people were amazed and were calling loud praises to God. Even those Jews who had laughed at him bowed their heads in respect when Jesus and his disciples walked by following the happy family.

Joram’s mind was reeling. He heard the stories but to witness what he just witnessed was mind boggling. He had to get to know Jesus more. Fortunately, he knew the exact person to make the introduction. He was in such in a light mood that he did not notice a squad of Roman soldiers waiting outside the canyon. When they spotted him, they pounced on him. He tried to struggle free but one of the soldiers hit his head and knocked him out.

When Joram woke up, his head was pounding. It was very dark. When he tried to stand he realized he had a heavy iron cufflinks on his ankle and he was chained to the floor. He heard a moan nearby.

“Who is there? Where am I?” He asked desperately in the dark.

“Stop your wailing! No one will come to help.”

“Where are we?”

“Where else! We are deep in the dungeons of the Praetorium.”

Joram’s mind reeled. The Praetorium is the Roman fortress that overlooks the Temple itself. There is only one way out from here for the likes of him; crucifixion.

Even in his dire situation, he only had one thought, ‘I will never see him again.’
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 055

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

On the fourth day, he was lounging on the steps that overlooked the front courtyard and gate of Simon’s house. He was enjoying a bowl full of dates when from inside the house Martha, Simon’s older sister, emerged followed by Simon and some servants. In a quick pace, they went out the gate. Curious, Joram quickly descended the stairs, crossed to the gate and dashed after them. He followed them through the village but he was careful to hug the sides of houses and made sure he had sharp eyes for patrolling Romans.

He followed Martha and Simon out the village gate. They went down the road about a quarter of a mile to a crowd of people milling at the side of the road. They both approached a man who was sitting on a hewn log. The man stood to greet Simon with a hug. Joram realized that that man had to be the one who healed Simon, Jesus.

Martha who looked angry stood at a distance. The man Jesus took a step towards her and said, “Martha.”

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha said in an angry and trembling voice. Then she bowed her head and sobbingly said, “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” [John 11:21,22]

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [v23]

Sighing deeply she said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” [v24]

Then Jesus approached her and stood before her. Her face was bowed and downcast. “Martha, look into my eyes,” he softly said to her. She slowly raised her teary eyes to meet his. Then he gave her a reassuring smile and said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” She cast her face down again in shame. Jesus ever so gently lifted her chin and asked, “Do you believe this?” [v25,26]

She sobbed loudly and Jesus drew her closer to him so that her face cried on his shoulder. Martha said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even he who comes into the world.” [v27]

Then Martha hurried back to the village with her servant in tow. Meanwhile, Joram wrestled with the words that Jesus incredibly uttered, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ Joram was flabbergasted. He was thinking to himself on how anyone can make such a claim.

About fifteen minutes later, a sizable crowd was seen coming out, a number of them were Jewish leaders from the city paying their respect. They were following Mary, the youngest sister of Lazarus, who was walking fast ahead of them. Martha was just behind her. When Mary spotted Jesus, she sprinted the last twenty yards to him. Then she threw herself on the ground at his feet weeping loudly.

Her tear streaked face lifted to look imploringly at him and she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [v32]

Jesus helped her up on her feet and she fiercely embraced him, burying her face unto his chest weeping loudly. As Jesus returned her embrace, he was openly weeping. The women among the crowd were also weeping loudly.

Then he looked at Simon and his daughter, Martha and asked, “Where have you laid him?”

“Lord, come and see.” [v34]
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 4

A MOTHER’S TALE – Nazareth, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius and Jacob looked at each other but no words were exchanged. Mariam then told them that her husband to be, Joseph, wanted to divorce her quietly but the same angel spoke to him in a dream and they got married. They thought the baby was to be born at Nazareth but then came the Emperor’s edict for the heads of family to return to where they were born. So, we left for Bethlehem where I gave birth.”

“We know of the coming of the magi from the East and the dreadful event after. Was there there anything unusual that happened on the day you gave birth?” asked Jacob.

“When we arrived in Bethlehem, the village was crowded with people because of the census. We stayed with the family of Joseph but the inn, that is, the upper room for guests was already occupied by other relatives; one of whom was also ready to give birth. The midwives were already up there. At that time, I thought I still had about a week to go, so Joseph and I were quite content to sleep on the ground with other family members. We settled ourselves on the ground where the animals were usually kept during the winter months. That night, I went into labor. All the men were ushered out of the house while the women of the household helped me.

“When my son was born, Joseph wrapped him in swaddling cloth and then he laid him in a stone manger filled with a bed of fresh hay while I rested. I still recall how magical it was when Joseph let open the large wooden doors to let the cool air in. A ray of light from the moon seem to fall upon my baby’s face. But that is not the only special event that happened that night. Something else happened in the nearby hills. For this part of the story, I bring you an eyewitness.”

She nodded to one of her daughters. She went out the door leading an old man leaning on a hooked staff. Miriam gestured to him and said, “This is Eloa. He was there when I gave birth. At that time, he was a shepherd who was out on the hillsides of Bethlehem watching over a flock of sheep. I will let him tell you himself.”

“Gre… gre… greetings, your honors,” Eloa said nervously. “I is a simple shepherd. I not talk to others too good, but this story I like to tell very very well.

“I remember… I always remember that night like it yesterday. Me, my father and ten others… we sitting around fire. Night very dark, when suddenly on hill above us, man appear like very bright sun. We all knew man was no man but messenger of the wind… sent by Yahweh. He spoke to us in very clear words.”

Cornelius then heard him suddenly speak with clear diction and it seemed Eloa’s voice was not his own.

“Fear not… for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“Then night sky burst bright with more light and there was many holy messengers flying by singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ [Luke 2:10-14 NASB]

“Then… no light… no singing… all quiet. Even sheep quiet… no run away. We shepherds laugh and cry because we so happy. We left sheep… not worry about them… they safe we know somehow. We met other shepherds going to Bethlehem. They saw too. More and more joined us. When enter Bethlehem, we asked where babies born this night. We search and search… found five but not right one. Finally, we came to house where baby born in upstair room but baby was girl. Then walked around house and big doors open and single light from lamp over manger. When we saw baby in manger, we knew sign. First, we quiet… then laughed out loud. Soon dancing and singing psalms. When villagers came… asked why… we told them all.”

Mariam smiled and nodded. Eloa bowed and then quietly left. “Eloa stayed with us ever since. The village did celebrate that night. Joseph and his family were concerned but as is the nature of people, they easily forget.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 054

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Joram silently went over a high wall of a villa in the village of Bethany. The occupants were hopefully sound asleep. He saw that there was a light shining through the third floor balcony. With limber agility, he easily climbed up to the third level. Taking a careful peek through the open door of the balcony, he was relieved to see Simon the Leper writing on a parchment under candle light.

“The last time I saw you, my old friend, you had no nose,” Joram said lightly.

Simon turned his head a little surprised, but as he recognized his intruder he humorously responded, “I thought the Romans had you in chains by now.”

“They almost caught me once or twice.” He gave a short laugh, then he paused and said, “I feel sorrow for you, my old friend… for the loss of your son.”

“Yes… Thank you…” They were quiet for a long while until finally Simon asked, “So, what has been happening with you?”

“Never mind me,” Joram said. He hesitatingly reached out to touch his face. “It is you that have a story to tell. Except for you, I have not heard of anyone who had escaped the fate of the lepers.”

So, Simon told him of how Jesus healed him. He spoke of his other miracles and teachings which to Joram was somewhat hard to comprehend. They talked the night hours away and just as the sky paled over the eastern hills, Simon confessed his utmost belief that this man Jesus is truly the Messiah. When they broke the night’s fast, Simon invited him to stay… and stay indeed for four days.

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