THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch14 – part 2

THE OPPOSITION – JerusalemCG-book-cover-w

Jesus continued to teach for another hour, and then he and the disciples left the temple by way of the south gate. Because many of the crowd followed him out, they were not harassed by any of the religious leaders nor temple guards. They followed the columned corridor to the south-west corner of the Temple Mount; went down a short flight of stairs unto a vaulted portico. As they emerged, Cornelius was again treated to a panoramic view of Jerusalem. They stood at the top of a wide avenue of marble steps built to accommodate the incomings and outgoings of large crowds. The marble steps descended about forty feet down to the base of the Temple mount. He went over to the balustrade to get a better view. The first thing that caught his eye was a huge coliseum like structure which was directly below him. Unlike the Great Coliseum in Rome which was round, this one was elongated and was not as high. He estimated that this arena can sit about five thousand spectators. Chariot races are probably the most watched spectacles.

To the left of the arena were the high walls of the City of David. To the right across a deep ditch rose hundreds of dirty white squared buildings of the lower city. His eyes could clearly see the evidence of over population and squalid living conditions. About the same level of where he is standing beyond the lower city are the rich ornately decorated buildings of the upper city. One in particular that stood out was a large Greco-Roman Amphitheater.

Cornelius then followed the others down the wide marble steps to the bottom where they found a busy and noisy market place. Taking advantage of the busy market place, Jesus and his small groups of followers snuck away from the larger crowd that followed him down from the temple.

When they found a reasonably deserted alley, Cornelius went up to Jesus and said, “Lord, I have to go to the Praetorium and report to my superiors.”

“That is alright,” Jesus said. “We will be going to Bethany, to the home of a friend. You may find us at the temple courts in the morrow.”

After receiving directions from Judas Iscariot who knew the city well, he, Jacob, Trax and Cestus worked their way up-hill through the busy narrow streets of the lower city, always keeping the massive western wall of the Temple Mount on their right. The route they took brought them eventually to the low retainer wall of the upper city. They headed towards one of the six gates where there was a long line of people waiting to be questioned by Roman guards. Brandishing his cohort’s insignia and rank that was hidden under his robe, they were able to pass through the gate without being questioned or searched. Again the distinction between the upper city and the lower city was obvious. From dirty smelly narrow streets, they were now walking on clean wide flag-stone streets. The avenue that they were on was mostly lined with merchant shops. Richly robed patrons haggled with merchants over exotic materials from the east, intricately woven rugs from Persia, jewelry, aromatic perfumes and other trinkets. Jacob elatedly found a merchant selling scroll manuscripts of Greek poets and philosophers that the trader have bragged were elaborately copied by the scribes of the Great Library of Alexandria.

After pulling away a much disappointed Jacob from the shop, they eventually reached a tall wall structure with multiple arches. Bolted on one of the arches was a carved sign that read ‘TYROPOEON’ in Greek. As they were walking under one of the arches, Jacob told them that the Tyropoeon^ was originally a deep rugged ravine that in ancient times separated Mount Moriah from Mount Zion. This was one of depressed valleys that were filled in during the time of Solomon. The structure that they were walking under is actually the Zion Bridge that span from the western wall of the Temple Mount to the shiny palaces on Mount Zion. Cornelius also saw that the bridge separated the relatively new buildings of the upper city from what was before them, the old city, original site of Salem. The old city was built on a rolling plain. The streets were narrow and not always going on a straight line. A few times, they found the street that they were walking on stopped abruptly where they would either climb or descend a steep set of rough steps. Eventually, they finally came out onto an open plaza across of which rose the Fortress Antonia.

[ ^ Tyropoeon Valley – (i.e., “Valley of the Cheese mongers”), the name given by Josephus the historian to the valley or rugged ravine which in ancient times separated Mount Moriah from Mount Zion. This valley, now filled up with a vast accumulation of rubbish, and almost a plain, was spanned by bridges, the most noted of which was Zion Bridge, which was probably the ordinary means of communication between the royal palace on Zion and the temple. A fragment of the arch (q.v.) of this bridge (called “Robinson’s Arch”), where it projects from the sanctuary wall, was discovered by Robinson in 1839. This arch was destroyed by the Romans when Jerusalem was taken.
The western wall of the temple area rose up from the bottom of this valley to the height of 84 feet, where it was on a level with the area, and above this, and as a continuance of it, the wall of Solomon’s cloister rose to the height of about 50 feet, “so that this section of the wall would originally present to view a stupendous mass of masonry scarcely to be surpassed by any mural masonry in the world.” ]

Cornelius can appreciate the strategic placement of the fortress which was up against the north part of the city walls. If this city is to come under siege, it can only be here at the north wall. The east, south and west walls are very much protected by inaccessible terrain for large armies and siege machines. Connecting battlements from the north wall to the fortress make it easy for the defenders to quickly take their positions. The fortress itself was a large rectangular keep where the walls and battlements rose just slightly higher than the massive walls of the Temple Mount. But what were even higher were the four large towers built into the four corners of the keep.

They crossed the plaza, and then climbed two sets of wide steps to the top landing. There were two main gates which were on another landing a few more steps up. Before they approached the main gate, Cornelius paused and said to Jacob and Trax, “I am afraid that when we enter there, decorum requires that you both again must give the appearance of being my slaves.”

Jacob was again amused while Trax pouted his disappointment, because as a slave he could not freely explore the whole fortress which he so desired.

Cestus laughed out loud and clapped Trax on the shoulder. “You need not fret, lad. You can accompany me.” Trax beamed with delight.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch14 – part 1

THE OPPOSITION – JerusalemCG-book-cover-w

As soon as Jesus revealed himself and started to teach, many quickly recognized him and they flocked to listen to him. Cornelius and the disciples struggled to keep the excited crowd from overwhelming him. It was a good thirty minutes before the priests realized what was happening. It was not long until Cornelius and the other disciples noted a delegate of priests and scribes making their way through the crowd towards them. They paused at the edge of the crowd and listened to what Jesus had to teach for another twenty minutes.

“Teacher,” called out one of the scribes somewhat disdainfully. “Tell us by what authority do you do these things, or who gave you this authority?”

“I shall also ask you a question, and you tell me what your answer is. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”

The delegation started whispering among themselves. Cornelius almost laughed out loud. He knew that they were caught in their own trap. If they answered, ‘from heaven’ then Jesus could ask them, ‘why did you not believe him?’ But if they say, ‘from men’, then all the people around them who believe that John was a prophet could raise up against them and even stone them.

Then the same scribe who was not so smug anymore, answered him, “We do not know!”

Then Jesus said, “So, neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Some in the crowd started to laugh but quieted down as some of the scribes scowled at them. So, Jesus addressed the crowd with a parable about a rich man who planted a vineyard and rented it out to a group of vine-growers. This rich man then went off on a long journey leaving the tenants a long time thinking that they were the sole owners. When the rich man returned he sent his servants to the tenants to receive some of the produce of the vineyard that was due him. The tenants refused and beaten the servant and sent him away empty handed. They did the same thing to every servant he sent. Finally the rich man decided to send his own beloved son in the hopes that they may respect him. When the tenants heard that he was sending his son they reasoned among themselves that if they killed the heir then the inheritance would be theirs. So, when the son arrived they killed him.

Then Jesus looked at the scribes and the priests and loudly asked, “What, therefore, will the owner of the vineyard do to them?”

Some of the scribes started to nervously look around. Someone from the crowd boldly called out and said, “He will rightly destroy the vine-growers!”

Jesus looked at the delegation again and said, “What then is this that is written, ‘the stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone?’ Everyone who falls on that stone will the broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” [Matthew 21:42-44 NASB]

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch13 – part 6

TO JERUSALEM – JerusalemCG-book-cover-w

The main Temple complex was built on a four foot height base platform about the same height of the platform that the columns were sitting on. This gave Cornelius a chance to see above the crowd’s heads all the way into the complex. The Temple itself, sitting on another raised platform, was flanked by two battlement walls with three watch along both sides. The main entrance of the complex were three arches; two small ones flanking a larger one. His eyes can only see as far as what Jacob explained to be the Court of Israel. Clearly he saw that only the men of Israel were allowed there. However, he can see women in a sectioned part of the Court of Israel which is referred to the Court of Women.

At the far end of the men’s courtyard was a line of columns and three doors; two single doors flanking a much larger double doors, which were all open. He could just make out another courtyard in the other side. Jacob pointing said that inner courtyard was called the Court of the Priests. Cornelius could just make out two prominent large objects which dwarf the priests near them. One of them was a giant bronze bowl sitting on twelve bronze oxen. It was called the Sea. Water is said to be piped in to keep it filled to the brim which the priests would use for ritualistic cleansing. The other was the bronze altar where the priests have to climb seven steps to offer the butchered animal for sacrifice; laying the meat pieces on a grill over the fire which is kept alive by the priests through out the year. Because today was also considered the Feast of First Fruits, priests can be seen casting baskets of grain into the fire. Behind the working priests, up twelve marble steps is the temple foyer with its beautifully carved doors inlaid with gold trimmings. The doors were closed for only the High Priest and other high ranking are allowed to see the inside.

Cornelius was experiencing mixed feelings. Since he was a child, this temple was just stories to him and yet every one of those stories told him that this temple represented a promise of closeness to their God; a closeness that was not offered in any of the temples back in Rome. Cornelius then realized that he was standing here, a stone’s throw away, he too desperately wanted to get close to God. But then seeing the many signs along the balustrade in both Greek and Latin that no Gentiles are allowed to go further than the entrance, he felt cheated and even more longing. His eyes began to water but he quickly wiped it away as he felt that there were eyes upon him. Then he noticed that Jesus was looking at him.

John, the brother of James, came to Jesus from the crowd. They all retreated deeper into the columns to talk.

“I spoke to a relative of mine who is a priest. He said that the High Priest and the chief priests were looking for you since yesterday. They gave orders to the temple guards to separate you from the crowd and bring you to them. They now think that you are not in Jerusalem.”

Peter pleaded, “Master, it is as you said. Our religious leaders have plans to do you harm. We must be away from here.”

Jesus listened to all the other disciples’ arguments silently then nodded his ascent. So, they started to walk towards the nearest exit. As Jesus came out of the columns into the sunlight, he paused and looked around at the milling crowd. Cornelius knew that he had a change of heart. To the visible dismay written on Peter’s face, Jesus removes his prayer shawl that hid his face then stood at the top of the steps of Solomon’s Colonnades and started to teach to the crowd.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch13 – part 4

TO JERUSALEM – Magdala to JerusalemCG-book-cover-w

On the third day, they reached the end of the escarpment in the region of Perea. As the rest were working their way down from a plateau, Cornelius and his group went to the edge for a better look. Below them was a low lying land with the Jordan River in the middle snaking its way from the north finally spilling into the Salt Sea in the south which was three times as big as the Sea of Galilee. The vast valley below them was vast and much greener than the barren area they trekked on for the past two days. The valley was flanked by two high ranges: the eastern Perean escarpment which they were on and the Judean Highland in the west which rose higher.

“Behold,” Jacob said to Trax and Cestus, “this is the Jordan River Valley where my ancient relatives, after forty years in the wilderness, was led by Joshua to here, the gateway into the promised land. Now, do you see that high peak over there?” He was pointing southeast from them to a mountain peak that rose higher than the escarpment. “That is Mount Nebo! That is where God permitted Moses a glimpse of the land he could not cross over to. To this day, no one knows where he was buried.”

As Jacob retold that story, Cornelius’ focus was toward the west, up in the Judean Highlands. There lies Jerusalem. For a year, he looked forward to this day; to cast his eyes on the legendary city.

“Come! We have a river to ford.”

They caught up with Jesus and the disciples who waited for them at the river. Fortunately, the river level was not too high which made it easier to cross. Not wanting to be recognized, they skirted around the city of Jericho then followed a group of singing pilgrims up the Jericho Road. At dusk, they decided to go off the road to the east side of the Mount of Olives and make camp for the night.
At day break, Jesus led them to top of the mount where Cornelius got his first sight of the famed city. The Mount of Olives rose higher than the city providing them with a fantastic view. Jerusalem was a walled city heavily fortified with forty-foot walls with massive watch towers every two hundred paces. From the ridge that they were on, they had a frontal view of the southern and the oldest part of the city. The lower city as it was known was originally built on a deep ravine. The structures were mostly of the squared houses that can be found throughout Palestine but tightly packed to each other. Cornelius recalled that during the time of Abraham, it was originally known as Salem occupied by the ancient Jebusites. When David became king, he captured the city and expanded it to include the City of David. The City of David was series of walled-in palaces built on a long narrow finger of a ridge over looking most of the lower city. The farthest part of Jerusalem that Cornelius can see is the upper city. The contrast between the upper to the lower was quite evident. The upper’s architecture was more of Greek and Roman designs with their signature red roofs and its many spires. Clearly, they were the dwellings of the higher class.

The most prominent structure of the whole city was the massive Temple Mount. From their high vantage point, Cornelius could just make out the Temple complex and part of the open courtyard floor at the farthest side of the mount. The rest was hidden behind the tall perimeter walls and battlements. The east side of the mount was a sheer wall that rose from the floor of the Kidron Valley up to what Cornelius estimate was about two hundred feet high; about thirty feet height of which is the perimeter wall that surrounds the complex. The rest is the massive foundation. Cornelius imagined King Solomon tasking tens of thousands of workers spending most of the forty years it took to finish the temple to filling in deep ravines and valleys with layers upon layers of earthworks; until it was filled up to the level of the original mount. He had to appreciate what it took to complete this monumental endeavor.

Cornelius gaze shifted as his eyes were attracted by the sun’s glare reflecting off the gilded moldings on the crown of a tall structure covered with marble. Even from this distance, the edifice was majestic to look at as it was meant to be. For that building which lies at the middle of the temple mount holds ‘the Holy of Holies.’ Cornelius remembers that there are two chambers within. The largest was called ‘the Holy Place.’ Only priests were allowed to bring in the grain offering, to light the incense and the seven candelabras. In ‘the Holy of Holies’, once a year, only the High Priest may enter to present the blood offering for the sins of the whole nation. Inside that most important chamber lays the Ark of the Covenant. Of course, Cornelius knew it was a facsimile of the original which was either lost or hidden. For this temple was ransacked several times in the past.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch13 – part 3

TO JERUSALEM – Magdala to JerusalemCG-book-cover-w

The Festival of Tabernacle is only a few days away. Jesus again received a message from his brothers that he should go to the festival. But he again declined. Instead, Jesus, the Twelve, Cornelius and others crossed the Sea of Galilee to the region of Decapolis. There, they went up to the top of a small mount. As always it was not long before a large crowd gathered and, of course, they brought their lame, crippled, blind, dumb, and many others, and they laid them down at his feet; and He healed them. It was also here that Jesus again challenged the disciples to feed the multitude. To Cornelius’ surprise, the disciples gave the same excuse of how. Doing the same way that Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand several months ago, he again broke bread and giving thanks to God, then starting passing bread and fish to his disciples who in turn distributed them to the multitude. Over Four thousand men with their respective families were fed that day.

They returned to the boats and again crossed the sea to the region of Magadan. Jesus was again approached by another group of Pharisees and Sadducees^^ who wanted to test him. This time they came demanding for a sign from heaven.
[^^ The Sadducees believed in almost the opposite issues from the Pharisees. They were the liberals of their day.]

Jesus then sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” Then they went back to the boats.

As they worked their way up the coast, Jesus told them, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

Andrew whispered to his brother, Peter, pointing at an empty basket which was held by Thaddeus. It was the basket that usually carried bread in. A few of them started to discuss among themselves occasionally pointing at it. It occurred to Cornelius that they think that what Jesus said was because they have forgotten to bring bread.

It too occurred to Jesus, for he rebuked them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? ‘Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?’ And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?”

They answered him, “Twelve.”

“When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?”

And they sheepishly answered Him, “Seven.”

“Do you not yet understand?” [Mark 8:11-21 NASB]

They sailed to Bethsaida where he healed a blind man. After which they returned to Capernaum.

“The festival is at hand. Tonight we leave for Jerusalem. Speak to no one of our departure.”
For three days, they followed the pilgrimage route on foot trailing two donkeys that carried their supplies. Traditionally, pilgrims mostly from Galilee who annually partake of the three major festivals in Jerusalem would travel to the southern end of the inland sea. There the waters flow into several small rivers that snake their way through a swampy delta until they all eventually cascade into the beginning of the Jordan River. The pilgrims would ford the river there then follow a well used southerly caravan trail that ran the length of a barren escarpment which took two days to travel by foot.

It was when they were about a day on the trail and the heat was unbearably hot, that Cestus asked why they were traveling such a strenuous route. “We could have easily gone by the King’s Road near the Mediterranean to the Judean highlands where the climate is comfortable.”

Jacob explained that the King’s Road, though it would have been a shorter route, went through Samaritan country which the Jews would take great strides to avoid. Cornelius knew the reason why.

Jacob continued, “You see the Samaritans today are descendants of the Israelites who intermarried themselves with Gentiles. This was way back when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was finally conquered by the Assyrian Empire some six hundred years ago. They exiled most of the Israelites and those that were left which were few, were forced to intermarry with a foreign people, dregs mostly, imported from through out their empire. About two hundred years later or so, the southern Judean kingdom who were also exiled, but this time by the Babylonians, returned to Jerusalem after seventy years. They rebuilt the Temple which was destroyed. At the time of the Temple’s re-dedication, all the Jews gathered including those who considered themselves Jews. They were mostly the Samaritans who kept up some of the Jewish traditions. But because the Samaritans could not prove their Jewish heritage by genealogical account, they were out right ejected from the holy assembly. The Samaritans returned to their country hating the Jews. To spite them, they continued to practice their version of our religion on their holy mountain even up to today; hence the animosity between our people and theirs.”

Simon, who was walking close enough to listen to Jacob’s explanation, also said, “Hear this. I, a Jew and a former Zealot, would rather invite you, a Roman, to my home than any of them.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch13 – part 1

TO JERUSALEM – Magdala to JerusalemCG-book-cover-w

For Cornelius, the next two weeks went by with a whirlwind of activities. He again followed Jesus going to every village in the region teaching and healing the sick. He did not stay long in each village. As soon as he had finished preaching, they were off to the next. Twice during that time Cornelius’ sense of reality was rocked by Jesus’ power. He had gotten used to seeing people healed by Jesus that it had become commonplace to him. But then bringing someone back to life from the dead was something that he did not expect. He had heard Jesus say that he brings life to the dead, but he had always thought that what he meant was metaphorical.

The first time was when they had landed on the shore near Magdala. As usual the crowd was waiting for him when Jesus was desperately approached by Jarius, the local synagogue leader, who told him that his only daughter was dying. But the press of the crowd had slowed them down when messengers arrived to tell Jairus that his daughter had died. When they finally reached his house, Jesus went in with only Peter, James and John. A question kept nagging Cornelius as they waited outside. If the girl was already dead, what was the reason for Jesus to tell Jarius to believe? Believe what? Can the dead be brought back to life? More importantly, could Jesus bring her back to life? With all that he had seen Jesus do, Cornelius had a hard time believing in this. His unbelief was disturbing to him and he did not know why.

After a short time, Jarius came out carrying his daughter who was obviously well. For many, they argued that she was not really dead and that Jesus healed her on time. Cornelius was of the same opinion and did not think anymore of it.

The second time was when they arrived in the town of Nain. As they were approaching the gate, there was a funeral procession. Four men were carrying a dead body in an open box litter followed by a weeping woman and a sizable crowd. They found out that the woman was a widow who had lost her only son. Cornelius could see that Jesus had compassion for her and somehow knew what he intended. Then those same questions and the feeling of great doubt came back to haunt him.

Jesus stopped the sad procession of which a number of the crowd was not happy. After whispering in the widow’s ear, he placed his hand on the coffin and commanded, “Young man, I say to you, arise!”   [Luke 7:14 NASB]

Cornelius’ heart was beating very fast as he watched the dead body stir and then abruptly sat up. The bearers were so startled that they almost dropped the coffin. The young man was speaking but his voice was muffled by the wrappings around his head. Jesus unwrapped his face, helped him out and gave him back to his mother alive. Cornelius felt shame for doubting but then he looked upon Jesus with a different set of eyes. He felt something significant had happened with him but he could not put his finger on it.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch12 – part 6

THE MISSION – Capernaum, Nazareth, SidonCG-book-cover-w

When they returned to the encampment near Capernaum, many of the seventy men have returned including Jacob. There was joyous laughter throughout the camp. Jacob was recalling his week long adventure with the young John Mark, who was also recounting his own version to Peter. He spoke excitedly of preaching to an assembled crowd in every village they went.

“I cast out an evil spirit!” He blurted out excitedly. “At first, I was afraid for he was a mad man that dogged us with wild screeching and hysterical laughter. Finally, I pointed at him and commanded the demon in him to come out in the Master’s name… and it worked!”

Before Jacob could finish his story, Jesus called them all to gather around him.

“I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” He said. “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

Then he raised his hands high up and with a joyous voice he called out, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.”

The people joined him in praise. Cornelius, who was much more reserved, closed his eyes and thanked Him silently.

Then Jesus announced to them, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

He then went into the tent as the camp celebrated and privately spoke to the Twelve and Cornelius who was also invited. “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.” [Luke 10:21-24 NASB]

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