THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Epilogue – part 2

THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES – Caesarea

The years passed and he read of the incredible growth of the church in Jerusalem. As there was incredible growth, there was also tremendous persecutions. He heard of the stoning of Steven. The arrests of Peter and John. Then there was the strange tale of a zealous Pharisee named Saul who vehemently hounded believers even as far as Damascus, but then returns to Jerusalem as a newly professed believer. Many are suspicious, but he heard that Peter took him under his wing.

Not all things were bad news. Cornelius received two manuscripts. The first was a copy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ written by young John Mark whom Jacob wrote was being mentored by Peter. When he read his piece, he could tell it was written more for non-Jews. So, he read it to his wife, his household and to anyone in the garrison willing to listen. The other manuscript he received was a copy of another Gospel of Jesus Christ written by the former tax collector but now one of the Twelve Apostles, Matthew. His manuscript was a lot more extensive than Mark’s. It is quite clear that this gospel was written more for the Jews. He was quite happy of the many references to the older Scriptures in Matthew’s manuscript. This helped when he had his weekly discussions with his Jewish friends at the local Synagogue of which he helped many of its members .

Things are changing for Cornelius. He received a letter from his father that there is a post position opening for him with the elite Praetorian Guards of the emperor. Cornelius considered and prayed about it for a long time. He accepted the position and they are set to leave by the end of the week.

He was meditating in the garden of his house when his eye sight blurred alarmingly. Every where he looked, it was blurry and dim. He was about to call for help, when a man as bright as the sun appeared and was walking slowly towards him. He then realized he was seeing a vision for the surroundings was still blurred, the approaching man was quite sharp and clear.

“Hail Cornelius!” The man said. “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” [Acts 10:4-5]


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Epilogue – part 1

THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES – Caesarea

Ten years had passed. Cornelius is the garrison commander of the port city of Caesarea. As his practice, he did not keep residence in the garrison but chose to live in a small villa in the city with his wife, the Lady Pheobe, and his legally adopted son, Trax. Cestus is still with him with a number of his men from Spain who had remained loyal. They with their respective wives are now part of his household. Jacob, whom Cornelius gave his freedom, is at Antioch helping with the developing church there.

During those ten years, Cornelius kept close tabs with some of the disciples. He had heard that Jesus may have appeared to about five hundred people within a span of forty days after his resurrection. Then he got an accounting from Matthew and Simon of how the Eleven watched Jesus literally ascend into the heavens.

Just about three months since He saw Jesus last, at the time of the Pentecost, the Twelve with the newest member being Mathias, were again gathered together for their usual practice of prayer and making plans. With them were the mother of Jesus, including Jesus’ brothers and sisters, Jacob and about a hundred other followers. Cornelius had some expectation that something was going to happen but not exactly what. When he received a message from Jacob, he was filled with amazement.

While they prayed together, the room they were in was inundated with the sound like a violent rushing wind that filled the entire house. Then, a single flame of fire appeared above the heads of each of them. The feeling they all felt was indescribable. Jacob wrote that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, for they began to speak in other languages. But it did not end there. In that particular neighborhood lived devout Jews from other nations. They inquired what was that great noise of rushing wind was? Then the disciples started to talk to them in their respective languages. They were amazed because they knew that the disciples were Galileans and how was it that were conversing in their native language. More people gathered asking what was happening. Speculation upon speculation were doled up until the commotion reached the steps that went up to the Temple Mount. Before it became too chaotic, it was Peter who stood up and gave an incredible sermon about Jesus being the Christ. To Cornelius, what was most incredible was Peter speaking to all those people was feat on its own. The sermon was so arousing that three thousand people professed that they believed and the church in Jerusalem was established.


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch24 – part 5

THE PROMISE OF LIFE – Site of the Tomb, Emmaus, Galilee

It had been twenty days now and yet no other word of Jesus had reached Cornelius. He had heard that Jesus made an appearance twice to the Eleven disciples. He also heard that they retreated to Galilee. So, Cornelius decided to ride to Galilee alone, while Cestus was to take Jacob and Trax to Bethany.

Cornelius went to the one place that he thought he would find Jesus. It was dark when rode to the same copse of trees which was the campsite they used when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. But there was no campsite. There was no tent and camp fire. There was no one about. He sighed and walked up the hill to same place he and Jesus talked that first time. Under the stars, Cornelius stood on the top of that hill that overlooked the glistening water of the Sea of Galilee praying to see Jesus.

“Cornelius,” a voice said his name from behind.

He quickly turned around to find Jesus standing there. His face was not the same ordinary face. It was clean and had no marks or scars at all. His face looked majestic and there was a glow in it. In fact, his whole body emminated a soft glowing nimbus of light.

Cornelius went down on his knee and said, “My Lord.”

“Well met, Cornelius. My Father in Heaven is well pleased with you. Come, sit with me.”

When he sat by him there was no more glow about him.

“I know your heart’s desire, Cornelius. You wish to accompany me. I tell you that where I go, no man can come until I again return. For now, you must abide your time for a little while until you receive that I promised you. There are many things that must happen. The first of which will be unto those Chosen few who believed unto me. Then your time will come. For now, maintain your faith.

“One other favor, I ask. At the time of the Pentecost, send Jacob, your tutor, to be with my disciples and watch the will of my Father take fruit. Then you too will join in to reap the harvest.

“Fare well, Cornelius.”

============================================


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch24 – part 4

THE PROMISE OF LIFE – Site of the Tomb, Emmaus, Galilee

Cornelius stayed there two days hearing story after story of someone seeing him here and another there. Again the city streets was filled with all kinds of rumors more so the rumors spread by the chief priests that Jesus’ body was taken and hidden by the disciples who are saying that he is alive. Cornelius returned to his post at Emmaus, expecting to be summoned anytime by the Governor. When he arrived Cestus was there with a present for him.

“We captured him one day ago in a tavern. He has an interesting tale to tell you, sir.”

The soldier told his story. He was one out of eight guards that watched the tomb. That fateful morning while it was yet dark, the earth trembled greatly. It shook so much that the soldiers could not keep their footing. Then there was a great light but it did not come from the sun. It was an apparition whose appearance was like a thousand lightnings and his clothing as white as snow. It was he that rolled away the stone like it was a feather. Then even a greater light came from within the tomb. The guards were frozen in fear and could not move. They were like dead men. When their senses returned, the sun was just rising. The stone was rolled far away and the tomb empty. In panic, they abandoned their post. They dared not report back to their commander for they knew it was instant death for desertion. So, they went to the chief priests. They gave each soldier a large sum of money and told them to spread the word that the disciples came by night and stole the body while they slept. The priests promised that they will be protected from the Governor. The deserters did get the money and they spread their lies among the Jews. But three of the guards doubted that the priests could protect them, so they fled south.

“Cestus, let this man go. He is right to run. No commander will believe if they told the real truth.”

This was a dilemma that he had to face as well. Cornelius wanted to tell the whole world of what happened but how will the world believe such a story.


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch24 – part 3

THE PROMISE OF LIFE – Site of the Tomb, Emmaus, Galilee

“Sir, I am not one to cast doubt, but some might say that all of this may have been staged.”

“I do not believe so, Cestus. However, it is important to have proof even if it is for posterity sake.”

“Sir, I suggest witnesses.”

“Ah yes, the guards… Where do you think they would have gone?”

“They dare not report back to barracks. That would mean instant execution for deserting their guard duty.”

“So, what do you think, Cestus?”

“I think, sir, they will run. And some will head South for Egypt.”

“Right! You take my horse and get some of our men. Go to En Gedi. I am certain they will go there first. Go capture them. We will go to Bethany. They will have news there.”

By the afternoon, they arrived at the house of Simon the leper. The old man was there with his son and two daughters.

Cornelius asked, “Is there news of the Lord?”

Old man Simon said, “Mostly rumors. However, we have a woman here who says she had seen and talked to him.”

The woman was Mary of Magdala. She was one of the women who helped bury Jesus. When she saw Cornelius, she smiled and said, “I have seen the Lord. He has risen!”

“I know Mary. Tell me all.”

The Sabbath was over. It was very early in the morning when Mary of Magdala, and another Mary, the mother of James, and Salome were bringing more spices to complete the burial process that was not finished because of the Sabbath. They were discussing on how they were going to roll the heavy cover stone when an abrupt earthquake shook the ground under them. Not long after, soldiers were frantically running past them. One was hysterically shouting that they saw ‘ghosts’. When they came upon the tomb, the stone was rolled far away. When they looked into the tomb, the body was gone. So, they panicked and went to where they knew some of the disciples were staying in the old city. It was Mary that told Peter and John. They in turn ran to the tomb themselves. When Mary returned to the tomb by herself. For awhile she wept out loud outside then she entered the tomb again and to her surprise, two men were there.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

Then she heard a call. She turned around and saw another man standing there. She thought she recognized him but could not put her finger on it.

The man said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She wondered if he was the gardener. So, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Then he softly said to her, “Mary! Do you not know Me?”

As she looked closer, it was the face of Jesus as she remembered him but yet different. Mary then fell on her knees and hugged his legs, crying “Rabboni!”

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”

[Italics – John 20:11-17]

Then Jesus helped her to her feet, turned her and said, “Now, go Mary…”

When she turned around, he was gone. But she knew it was no dream. She went again to the disciples and told them what he told her. She went to every house of the Lord’s followers until she arrived here in Bethany.


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch24 – part 2

THE PROMISE OF LIFE – Site of the Tomb, Emmaus, Galilee

The next day, the sun rose bright. The third day has come. Cornelius had no way of knowing exactly what to expect. And he was tired of waiting.

“Jacob, how is Trax?”

“He is still sad, I’m afraid, since you told us what happened two days ago. He really liked Jesus.”

“Well, maybe he would like to see him again. Come, I cannot wait any longer.”

Cestus commandeered a cart from the supply post while Cornelius rode his horse. He felt that they should go first to where Jesus was buried. When they got there, it was already the fourth hour since the rising of the sun. What Cornelius found was a hopeful mystery.

What they found was that the tomb site was bereft of soldiers with only their spears and shields scattered and left behind. The tomb itself was open with the heavy cover stone rolled away some twenty feet leaning against a tree.

Cestus came to him saying, “Sir, there is no sign of struggle or any violence. Not a drop of blood anywhere. These soldiers were not driven away by force. Something scared them away for them to abandon their post.”

Cornelius was examining the the entry way. “Look at this, Cestus,” he said, pointing at the bent ringed nails still on the wall with torn rope ends dangling. “Look at these two pins bent outward. This took a lot of force to roll that heavy stone up that sloped track, break the ropes, bend these two pins then roll twenty feet away.”

“Cornelius, what of the Master’s body?” asked Jacob still sitting on the cart with Trax looking confused.

Cornelius hesitated. “Everybody stay outside,” he said.

Then he bent himself to enter through the short entryway. It took just moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkness of the chamber. He looked towards the slab and was almost dismayed when he saw a shape. At first he thought it was Jesus’ body. At first, he thought the prophecy was false and everything was lunacy. But then he looked closer. What was on the slab was not a body but Jesus’ empty linen wrappings so hardened by the spice mixture that the linen still retained his body’s shape.

Cornelius could not help but shout for joy. He emerged from the tomb laughing and with tears running down his cheeks. “The tomb is empty! Jesus is alive!” He excitedly told them what he found.


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch23 – part 6

THE HARDEST CHOICE – Golgotha

Then it started to rain heavy, like the heavens itself were weeping. But the downpour was short lived. The crowd had left, leaving the soldiers and a few of Jesus’ followers left behind.

After awhile Bragga came riding over with instructions to break the legs of the crucified so that they can die quickly and their bodies brought so as not to disturb Sabbath law.

Both prisoners howled in agony as their legs were broken. As the guards were about to break Jesus’ legs. Cornelius called a halt and told Bragga he was already dead. Bragga wanted to make sure, so he passed a spear to one of the soldiers and ordered him to pierce his side. As the soldier lunged the spear into Jesus’ side, blood and water spewed out like it was under pressure.

Not long after, a small wagon driven by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea was coming up the hill. They had gotten Pilate’s permission to claim the body of Jesus for burial. As the soldiers took down the bodies of the dead thieves, Cornelius, Cestus, John and Joseph with some of the women first secure his body with long lengths of fabric tied on the cross. Then the men worked on prying off the nails that pinned his wrists and feet. When they finally got them off, they gently lowered his body to the women below who lovingly wrapped his body. His mother was in the wagon when brought his body was laid on her lap. She was in tears as she gently stroked his hair.

“My family’s tomb is nearby,” Joseph said. “We have to hurry for the Sabbath is almost upon us.”

The tomb was a carved out chamber of limestone. The opening was about four feet high and two and a half feet wide. There was a massive wheel of granite stone about five feet in diameter. It took three of them to force-ably roll it up a slanted carved track. While the men rolled the stone, the women extracted the crown of thorns and washed him. Then they rubbed his body with myrrh and aloes, then they wrapped him with linen. When that was done, they carried his body into the tomb and laid him on a stone slab. Then Mariam came in, kissed his forehead and covered his face with a cloth. Then the men rolled down the stone.

They were about to leave when eight auxiliary soldiers assigned to the chief priest march in. The squad leader reported to Cornelius being the ranking officer there. They were there to guard the tomb. Apparently, the chief priests went to Pilate and told him that Jesus’ followers might steal the body to fulfill a prophesy that he might come back to life on the third day. So, Cornelius helped them seal the tomb. They pounded four ringed nails into the wall around the stone. Then they strung the rope through the rings and criss crossed it on the stone and tied a very tight knot in the center. Then they applied a lot of melted red wax on the knot. Finally, Cornelius pressed the impression of his ring seal on the wax.

Then, the waiting starts.


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch23 – part 5

THE HARDEST CHOICE – Golgotha

Hours past and the sky starts to darken. Cornelius noticed a commotion at the trail that came to the top of execution hill. The guards were blocking the way of some women and a man. Then he recognized the mother of Jesus and John, the youngest of the Twelve, brother of James.

Cornelius approached them and ordered the soldier, “Let them pass. It’s the condemned man’s mother.”

As he guided them up, he whispered to John, “Where are the others doing?”

“Hiding, I believe.”

“Why is she here?”

“She insisted.”

John and Mariam came close to the cross. The other women held back and wept. It was such a strain on Mariam. Her legs weakened as she looked up at her son whose face was caked with dirt and blood, almost unrecognizable.

When Jesus then saw His mother, and John supporting her, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to John, “Behold, your mother!” [John 19:26,27]

The sky became even more darker and in the distance thunder can be heard. The crowd was thinning out. By Cornelius’ reckoning, it was around the ninth hour.

Then Jesus’ chest spasmed up and he shouted, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”

Some of the bystanders heard what he shouted and they wondered if it was Elijah he was calling. And if so, will Elijah come and save him?

Jesus then called out again, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” After he begged for a drink, he uttered one last time, “It is finished!”

The Praetorian centurion in charge was standing nearby as Cornelius went to confirm he was dead.

“He is dead,” Cornelius said.

“Certainly this man was innocent,” said the other centurion. “I was there when he was flogged. He made no sound, not even a whisper. I thought how brave he was but now, after watching all that had happened, truly this man was the son of the gods!”

Cornelius whispered to himself, “No… he was the Son of God.”


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch23 – part 4

THE HARDEST CHOICE – Golgotha

By the time Jesus reached the top of the hill, they already hung the two thieves who were wailing in pain. The executioners quickly took hold of him, stripped him down to his loin cloth and laid on the cross. Cornelius had to fight the urge to not drawing his weapon on them, but instead stood there stone-faced as they drove nails into his wrists. He expected him to scream in pain, but as they pounded on the nails all he did was quietly moan. Once his feet was nailed onto the post, it took eight men to maneuver the bottom of the cross to the hole on the ground and lift the cross on a standing position.

The north-road and the environs around the execution hill were filled with people. Many of them were the chief priests and their lackies. When a soldier climbed a ladder to mount a sign on Jesus’ cross that said ‘Here is Jesus, King of the Jews’, they protested loudly. They demanded that the sign be changed to ‘Here is Jesus who claims that I am King of the Jews.’

Cestus was quite disgusted about the festive mood of the passers-by and those who came to watch Jesus on a cross.

“Just last week, they hailed and welcomed him to the city. Now, they celebrate him hung on a cross. Disgusting!”

The chief priests and their lackies fed this festivities by continually hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” Others were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” [Mark 15:29-32]

The people laughed.

The soldiers too were enjoying themselves by dividing up His garments among themselves, casting lots for them to decide what each man should take.

Then Cornelius heard Jesus speak as he called out, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]

Cornelius’ heart broke to hear him who is in agony think kindly of those who are mocking him and even those who are killing him.

Even the thief who hung on Jesus’ left was mocking him, calling to save him from the cross. But then the other thief rebuked saying, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he looked at Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”

Then Jesus weakly said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” [Luke 23:40-43]


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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch23 – part 3

THE HARDEST CHOICE – Golgotha

“Sir! There he is!”

Cornelius could just make out Jesus struggling with the heavy cross. Then his foot tripped and he stumbled to the ground with the weight of the cross pinning him down. For just a fraction of a second, Jesus’ eyes and his eyes met. And in that fraction, Cornelius realized that Jesus had seen him struggle. Cornelius made his choice.

“Sir! We have to attack now.”

“Stand down, Cestus. I now understand that this what Jesus want to happen.” Seeing the confusion in Cestus’ face, he said, “It will be hard to watch him die like this. But like Lazarus was brought back from death, God will resurrect him. We only have to believe and trust. Do you trust me, Cestus.”

“Always, sir. Always.”

“Thank you. Send the men back.”

Cornelius and Cestus pushed their way through the crowd to find one of the guards whipping Jesus to get up.

Cornelius shouted, “Stop!” He looked around and spotted a man built like a bull. He called the man over, “Name?”

“Simon of Cyrene, your honor.”

“Can you carry the cross for him?”

“Yes, your honor.”

Cestus helped Jesus to his feet as the big man from Cyrene picked up the cross and easily put it on his shoulder. Cornelius and Cestus helped Jesus walk the rest of the way.

Golgotha was a hill that was part of an abandoned quarry. It was about a quarter mile from the city wall. It was suppose to be another burial site for the rich but the Romans chose it as their execution hill because the North caravan road ran right next to it. It was known as Skull hill because from the perspective of the road the hill looked like a half buried skull.


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