FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 065

SIMON THE LEPER
33 AD – The Day of the Lord – Mount of Olives, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Some of the Pharisees were loudly protesting, while some were trying to maintain decorum. Simon and some of his followers were probably relieved that things were calming down. But apparently, Jesus was not done yet. This time, he turned to the Pharisees and scribes and delivered some very scathing rebukes each attacking their hypocrisies.

Every one of the rebukes started with “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees. Hypocrites!” For every ‘woe’ exclaimed, Simon Peter visibly cringed knowing what an explosive situation they were in. He signaled the rest of the Twelve to be at a ready. They formed a protective circle while there were about twenty or more other disciples between them and the crowd. Some of the disciples were leading women to retreat deeper among the colonnades.

Like the pounding of a nail into wood, every rebuke touched a sensitive nerve most in their pride, but some in their conscience. For about half an hour, Jesus continued his scathing rebukes. On Jesus’ third set of woes, which triggered the Pharisees to make even a louder commotion, out came High Priest. From the Temple, he strode through the crowd with his priests making way and joined the already seething members of the Sanhedrin. He had a satisfied smirk in his face.

Jesus continued on with four more rebukes from their hypocrisy in tithing to finally their hypocrisy to honor the prophets forgetting that their ancestors were the ones that killed them and that even now they are doing the same by plotting to kill him.

Then with dramatic flair, Jesus points ominously at the Pharisees, the scribes and the High Priest, and declared, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” [Matthew 23:33-36]

Like the breaking of the damn, the courtyard broke out with indignant voices. Everyone was up and shoving each other. Some of the angry priest were calling out for the guards. People were saying he is the Messiah. Others were calling to have him stoned for blasphemy. It was this time of the chaos that Jesus was whisked away by his disciples. They went down the Eastern stairs the lower gates below the Temple Mount. They quickly crossed the Kidron bridge. Jesus hid his face to keep the thousands encamped in the valley from recognizing him. They maneuvered through the crowded valley, then up the Mount of Olives.
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 064

SIMON THE LEPER
33 AD – The Day of the Lord – Mount of Olives, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

For Simon, the past three days of the Passover was a blur of intense tug-of-war between the Jewish leadership and Jesus. Everyday he came into the Temple court and taught the people on the steps of Solomon’s Columns. He taught much and soon even the elites of the city came to hear him teach. Of course, as expected, his lessons were always interrupted by those who sought to discredit him, mostly the priesthood lackies trying to catch him in either blasphemy or reasons to betray him to the Romans. To the relief of his followers and the delight of the crowd, he brilliantly thwarted their attempts to no avail. Simon felt though that they will come at Jesus with such greater endeavor before the Passover day tomorrow.

Jesus was finishing the latest parable he was imparting to the crowd, when Simon saw an exceptional group of scribes and Pharisees, many of whom were of the Sanhedrin, were approaching for another bout. Jesus saw them too. Then he stood up like he was about to orate. He turned first to Peter and the others. He smiled and Simon knew that Jesus is going to say something controversial.

Then he turned to the crowd and said, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

“They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.

“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” [Matthew 23:1-12]

Angry murmurs were coming from the Pharisees and scribes, while confusion was coming from his own group. They were caught off guard. They didn’t expect and understand why he was attacking them. Jesus criticized them for taking the place of honor at banquets, for wearing such ostentatious clothing, for encouraging people to call them Rabbi. For this he reminded the people that it was not them who are their true leader but only Christ. He was telling people that the true servants of God are not them who exalt themselves but those that humbles himself.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 2

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

It took them two days of hard riding to reach Herod’s fortress city in Perea. From Capernaum they followed the western shore of the great lake until they reached where the Jordan River again flowed south. They forded the river at the headlands just above the swampy delta of the Jordan. They then rode up to top of a ridge plateau and followed a caravan road for another fifteen miles before they made a short night camp over. Just as the morning sky started to pale, they broke camp. The caravan road went south skirting the rough ridges of the Perean highlands always looking down the winding Jordan River. The road was busy with slow Jewish traffic on their way to Jerusalem. The road finally descended unto a valley where if you wanted to continue on to Jerusalem, you ride west and ford the Jordan. But their destination is south.

The Tribune halted the unit just before they descended the ridge. From their vantage point, Cornelius can see where the Jordan spilled into what he surmised can only be the sunken salt lake. They say that this salten body of water is way lower than the Mediterranean and that the salt content is so high that a grown man in full armor will float and not sink. East of the elongated salten lake is another series of mountain ranges going all the way down to the Red Sea. Cornelius noted two high mountain peaks. The tallest must be Nebu where God allowed Moses to cast his eyes upon the Promised Land. The other peak must be Pisgah where, according to legend, the angels buried the body of Moses and as of today no one has still been able to find. Their route is to skirt the western sides of those peaks and follow a winding road with the salten lake on their right. They were suppose to ride another fifteen miles until they reach a small walled city below a fortress on a high ridge.

Some hours later, Arturos and Cornelius rode through the gates of Herod’s palace stronghold. The first thing he noticed was that Flavius was there with forty men of their unit standing at attention with their newly shined helmets and armor.

Cornelius handed the reins of his horse to Cestus who also took the Tribune’s. As they greetingly grasped their forearms, Flavius said, “You arrival is most fortuitous. For the governor and his entourage is only forty five minutes away.”

“Good! That gives me some time.” Cornelius turns to Arturos, “Tribune? With your permission, I have to attend to something.”

“Very well, but do not take too long.”

After gaining permission from Herod’s chamberlain, the brought Cornelius down to the dungeons. Upon entering the level where the Baptist is held, he saw that the same two disciples were there. But instead of being wary of him, they greeted him. The prison guard opened the cell door and Cornelius found John as before calmly waiting for him.

“Peace be with you, Cornelius. It is good to see you again.”
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 063

NAHAN THE PRIEST
33 AD – Enter the King – Kidron Valley, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Jesus and his entourage were still some distance away but slowly getting closer. And he could now make out what the people were calling out to him as being the Messiah.

Below the platform where he stood were a group of minor officials of the Sanhedrin. They, being Pharisees, were grumbling obviously because of the ‘Son of David’ reference. They being strict obedients to Jewish laws and traditions were appalled to the idea that this man from the northern provinces where they believe Jews were culturally contaminated by strong gentile influences can ever be the chosen Messiah. Their idea of a Messiah is a Joshua, who conquered the Canaanites … a Samson who was endowed with supernatural strength… a wise and successful Solomon… a strong and feared David… all in one. But then, what Nahan found amusing was that even with the Pharisees who considered themselves holier than most, they forget about the humbling beginnings of David being a lowly shepherd boy. Then, there is Solomon’s heritage of being the product of the heinous act of his father, David, who murdered his mother’s first husband to get her. As to Samson, he was a common womanizer.

The parade was closer. Jesus was smiling, waving to the people and shaking the hands of those that came near. Young people and children ran before him yelling in loud voices, ‘Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!’ [Matthew 21:9]

Their shouts echoed off the cliff walls of the Temple Mount. Nahan again looked up at the battlements and could clearly see a lot faces were looking down. He could just imagine the High Priest peering down and seething under him turban.

Some of the Pharisees tried to unsuccessfully quiet those shouting out their praise. One of them went to Jesus, finally pleaded with Jesus saying, “Teacher, rebuke them.”

But Jesus joyously laughed and said, “I tell you, if these become silent, the very stones on the ground will cry out!” [Luke 19:40]

Nahan hastily clambered down from the guard’s platform as Jesus and the crowd of people crossed the bridge. He pushed his way closer to them. When they reached the East entryway gate, Jesus got off the animals and entered followed by his disciples and the crowd. It was about sixty feet from the entry gate, up several flights of stairs, to another gate through Solomon’s columns onto the temple courts.

The court was cluttered with traders’ stall and money changers. He observed Jesus pulling up his sleeves and picking a coil of rope. He approached the nearest money changer’s table and started to tip it over. Coins scattered everywhere and the money-changer screeching like an old woman scrambled after them. He went next to a peddler of birds and tore into the soft baskets releasing the birds that took flight. He turned over more tables then turned his attention on breaking the pens that held the animals and using the cord of rope like a whip drove them and the corrupt merchants away.

“It is written… My House shall be a House of Prayer,’ but you have made it a Den of Thieves.”

From the colonnade’s vantage point which was slightly elevated, he saw, as expected, a squad of Temple guards dispatched to arrest Jesus but were thwarted by an excited and ever so growing crowds that surrounded Jesus hailing him the son of David. As the dust settled, Jesus went back up the steps of the colonnade and sat down to teach the people.

When Nahan entered his office, he thought to himself that this will be an interesting week.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 1

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

It had been several weeks since Cornelius had his late night meeting with Jesus. He had been informed that Jesus had again gone through out the villages in Galilee preaching. He even heard a story in the synagogue that he and his disciples were seen getting into a boat and headed for the eastern shore of the inland sea probably towards the Decapolis, the ten cities of Greek descent since the time of Alexander the Great. It was night fall and the winds from the north picked up making the sea dangerously choppy. Cornelius could well imagine the dangers of going out on the lake in a boat, though sturdy, was overloaded with men under those conditions. They would have to fight strong winds with oars rigged for only two men to use at a time; any sail they put up would be ripped to shreds. Navigating in the darkness would be next to impossible. They could be rowing in circles and not know it. But the greatest danger is being swamped by ten to fifteen feet swells compounded by the rain storm that tend to follow the northerly winds. Bailing water would be an exercise of futility. As the story went, the storm was incredible as it raged across the inland sea. No boat could stay afloat out there. The witnesses expected to find dead floating bodies by morning. Those that saw Jesus get into that boat despaired, but then as quickly as the storm rolled in, it all suddenly subsided. It was something that they have never seen. A few days later, Jesus and his disciples were at the market square of Capernaum where he cast out a demon from a man who could not speak. That was three weeks ago.

Since that meeting with Jesus, Cornelius had read and re-read the Prophet Isaiah’s thick manuscript searching what the Messiah’s task was to be. With the help of Jacob, they have managed to divide the manuscript into three parts. The first part which consisted of the first half of Isaiah was mostly prophecies of condemnation against Judah and of the surrounding nations. The third part, which was almost as thick as the first part, were mostly prophecies depicting Israel’s glorious future. What fixed Cornelius’ attention was the second part, found in the middle of the manuscript; the beginning of which was a historical reference of the Assyrian invasion of Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah. This was what Jesus was referring to when he said, ‘Seek out the answer in the one who was my Father’s mouth in the last days of Hezekiah.’ Cornelius compared it to the collected chronicles of the kings of Judah where he found the last accounts of King Hezekiah. Word for word both passages in Isaiah and the chronicles were almost the same. It was like the prophet had intentionally put these passages in as a red flag wanting the reader to pause and slow down to pay attention to what came next.

Sure enough, early in the passages, Cornelius found the verse that John the Baptist used to describe himself as the forerunner for the Messiah.

“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’ ”

Cornelius made a mental note to see him as soon as possible. Cornelius felt guilty that he has yet made an attempt to have the Baptist released from Herod Antipas’ dungeons. He had received a message from Tribune Arturos yesterday to expect his arrival today. This may be his opportunity to ask him for his help. Then he heard a shout down at the courtyard, “riders approaching!” Closing his books, he went down the stairs and out the door just as Arturos rode into the courtyard. A contingent of cavalrymen waited outside still mounted.

“Hail Tribune!” greeted Cornelius.

“Greetings, Cornelius!” Arturos dismounted. “As of now, your… ahem… demotion had been rescinded by order of the Governing General, Pontus Pilate.” Before Cornelius could respond, Arturos hurriedly ushered him back inside. “Come! You have fifteen minutes to change for we only have a long ride ahead to Machaerus in Perea where we are to greet the Governor who is to attend a celebration of Herod Antipas. Pilate has asked for you to attend. Now, you go up there and change, I’ll take care of things down here.”

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The story continues on in my next post a week from now.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 062

NAHAN THE PRIEST
33 AD – Enter the King – Kidron Valley, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Nahan had been visiting a rich friend who had set up an encampment on the north side of the Kidron Valley just at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The campsite was situated higher on the slope overlooking the entire valley which was packed with multicolored tents, hazy from thousands of cook fires. Even the Kidron river which flowed down the center of the valley was hardly distinguishable. The valley was a sloped shallow crevasse between the Mount of Olives in the east, the towering Temple Mount and the City of David in the west.

He had spent a profitable night with his friend, whom he only gets to see once or twice a year. Besides being a priest, Nahan is also a vineyard owner of which his friend is managing for him. As he was making his way back to the Temple, he was quite happy that his business was doing quite well. Then, he noticed that there was a crescendo in the general ambiance sound of thousands of people in the valley below. He paused in his stride just upon entering the eastern lower gate at the base of the mount. Curious, he took one step back to see what was in the air.

The people below the ledge where he stood were also aware that there was something happening but were confused of what. But then others coming from the midst of the city of tents started to point to the east. From where he stood, Nahan looked east and saw where the road from Jericho wound over the south-lower ridge of the Mount of Olives. The road itself could not be seen because of all the people there. Then he saw the waving of the palms and he knew who was coming. He smiled.

Nahan checked himself to see if he was wearing anything that might reveal he was a priest. He then took the short flight of steps down unto the bridge that span over the ravine. He worked his way through the crowd to the end of the bridge where the Jericho road ends. Temple guards posted there recognized him. He told them to pretend that they do not see him. But he took advantage of the two-level platform that they usually use. From there, he could clearly see throngs of palm-waving people lining the road. Then the cheers got louder and he saw him riding on a led donkey followed by a colt that skittishly hugged it’s mother. It almost looked like the Nazarene was astride on both animal.

Nahan almost laughed out loud in amusement. He knew that Jesus of Nazareth have not made any claim of kingship but there he is riding into the city from the east like the kings of old. He knew this was clearly a statement. He turned around and craned his head up to look up the sheer cliff and walls of the Temple Mount. He peered against the glare of the sky at the battlements and saw no one yet looking down.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 061

ANDREW THE FIRST DISCIPLE
33 AD – Enter the King – Jericho Road, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

It was a celebratory day. As soon as they went through the gates of Bethany, they were surrounded by a crowd of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the annual Passover Feast. The people were singing a Psalm.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
[Psalm 95:1-7]

Andrew recognized it as one of the psalms of Moses traditionally sung by pilgrims.

When many recognized Jesus they began clapping their hands and calling out praise. About a mile from the city, Jesus halted his approach. The people were wondering why he stopped. Some surmised that maybe he may not enter the city after all because they knew the leadership wanted him arrested.

Jesus called Andrew to him.

“Andrew, take a companion and go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” [Matthew 21:2-3]

So, Andrew and Philip went down a track just off the main road. They followed the narrow winding foot path through a grove of olive trees until they came upon a small walled-in village. They spotted the donkey and it’s frolicking colt tied to a tree just outside a shack.

With no hesitation, Andrew started to untie the donkey. He noticed that Philip was fidgeting.

“What is bothering you, Philip?”

“Well… when I saw this donkey and it’s foal, something jumped to mind but I cannot recall exactly what. This is going to drive me crazy.”

“Stop!” called a man who came from behind the shack. “Why are you untying my animals?”

“The Lord needs them,” Andrew said.

The man was about to say something but paused with his mouth still open. Then, he nodded his assent and followed them back to the main road where Jesus waited patiently.

Andrew anticipated what Jesus intended. He unrolled the cloth material that was slung over his shoulder and wrapped around his waist which he usually utilized it as a blanket or veil to protect him from the sun. He then spread it on the back of the donkey. Peter and James also placed their robes on the animal and helped Jesus to get on. They then took the reigns and led the donkey back on the road. The people roared in approval. The men in the crowd took their own robes off and laid them on the road while the women and children tore fronds of palm branches off and waved them at him as he rode by. They called out to him and called him king.

Andrew felt a tug on his sleeve. It was Philip saying excitedly, “Andrew, I now know what this all means. It is prophecy coming to life. I remember now the Scripture that was quoted to be by my Rabbi when I was a boy. It is from the words of Zecharia the prophet. ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” [Zecharia 9:9]

Andrew’s mind raced with the thought that Jesus will, this day, usher in his kingdom and claim kingship. He felt elated, yet still a little apprehensive, but he wasn’t sure why.

It was not long until they crested a ridge and looked upon the city of Jerusalem. Just below was the Kidron Valley where there was a massive encampment. Then they were greeted with an uproar of thousands of voice.

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