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 – Ch18 – part 3

THE ANNOINTING ANSWER – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

It was the night before the beginning of the Passover Festival. The city is overflowing with Jewish pilgrims. The Kidron Valley, just under the gaze of the Eastern battlements of the Temple Mount, was startingly packed with multicolored tents. Smoke from thousands of camp fires formed a hazy blanket that rose as high as the controversial aqueduct that crossed the valley from the Mount of Olives. Cornelius, again with Jacob, Trax and Cestus were invited to the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. When they arrived from Emmaus, Cornelius was happy to find Jesus and the Twelve, the women who always provided support to the group, and a few other followers like young John Mark. Also present were a few Pharisees friendly to Jesus. Nicodemus was there talking to one that Cornelius didn’t recognize. He was a little taller than Nicodemus and brawny but not like Peter. When he saw him, they approached.

“Centurion, allow me to introduce you to a colleague and friend of mine, Joseph of Arimathea.”

“Oh, yes!” He said as Cornelius grasped his forearm with a smile, “We have common acquaintances. I believe you know the Lady Procula and her hand maiden, Lady Pheobe.”

“Most interesting ladies,” chuckled Joseph. “They have such a zeal to learn. I also have heard that you yourself is a student of the Law and a proselyte. Wonderful!”

Then Simon the former leper called for everyone to the pavilion.

“My brethren, we have come unto miraculous times. Even more so, here in this household. Just a week ago, my son was buried four long days, but now, see my son!”

Old man Simon hugged his son, Lazarus. There was clapping and hugging until the men broke out in celebratory music and Jewish line dancing. Cornelius and Cestus decided not to join in the dance, however Jacob could not keep hold of an excited Trax who jumped right in. They were clearly enjoying the show and was clapping away with the rhythm. This went on for several minutes until Martha came from another part of the pavilion and rang a gong like bell to announce the evening meal. Some of the men moved a number of low tables to the center of the pavilion. Cushions were quickly strewn around the tables and the men started to lounge on them.

Cornelius was content to take the furthest table when Jesus came and led him to the main table. It was the largest there and that it could accommodate about twenty or so people. Jesus led him to a place next to him. Cornelius looked at the faces around the table. Jesus was on his right with old man Simon, Lazarus and a few men he didn’t know sitting next. To his left, the Twelve, Simon, Andrew, Peter, Judas, John, Philip, Matthew, James, Matthew, Thomas, Nathanael and Thaddeus. Before him were bowls of flat breads, salt and a pale yellowish paste that tasted tangy. Simon said before they bring out the main meal, they start with this. Simon broke off some flat bread then dunked it first on the paste then in the salt. He waited for Cornelius to follow suit before they ate it. Cornelius enjoyed it. He was in his fourth serving when Martha and an army of women brought in the rest of the hot food to all the tables.

As the dinner progressed and conversations got more busier, Jesus leans over to Cornelius and said, “Come, I’ve sensed you wanted to talk to me all night. Let us retreat over there for awhile.”

They went over to an adjacent courtyard and sat on opposite benches. Peter and Simon probably figured out that they needed privacy, so they stationed themselves to the entry way of the courtyard.

“I see you have found the passages I told you to find in Isaiah,” Jesus knowingly said. “But you feel you are at a lost.”

“Yes, very much so,” Cornelius said. Then he started telling him everything what he felt and shared his frustration to Jesus who had that silent power to just listen, encouraging him to speak with no reservations.

After what seem a long while, he finally asked, “Lord, I am still unclear on what I am suppose to do?”

“My Father had shown those things for you as a way of understanding and preparation, but it is for you to act or not act. Do not despair, Cornelius, you will do what is right in the long run. Let us return, for you must witness what comes next.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch18 – part 2

THE ANNOINTING ANSWER – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius quickly wrote on his notes, ‘Can this mean a public execution?’ Shaking his head, He read on.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

This passage had clear elements of an execution. Being pierced could be as nails are being driven into hands and feet. Cornelius knew that the hands would be stretched out high and wide while the feet would be precariously nailed together on a tiny step with the legs slightly bent. Being crushed is the torturous effect of those under crucifixion. When hung like this, the lungs are crushed under the pressure. The effect is like drowning. The passage also stipulated beatings and whippings.

Cornelius was clearly not wanting this to happen to Jesus. But then, the same passage that detailed how it was going to happen in a gruesome way, also showed that we, that is, mankind will benefit. It was a redemption. It would be he who will be pierced and crushed, instead of us who truly deserved it more because of sin. Him being scourge instead of us would bring us healing and wholeness. He had to read on.

All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

He remembered when he fed those thousands on the Eastern side of Galilee, he called them sheep with no shepherd. When sheep have no guidance, they always wander, each to their own direction. There it is again. ‘The LORD’ that is God had purposely set up his son to go through torture and finally death. Cornelius was really having a hard time with his emotions. Intellectually, he now knows that this is why Jesus was born. He is going to offer himself to die in a gruesome way. He tasked me to find these passages and accept it. He continued on.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.

The words of John the Baptist came back to haunt him, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ He read on.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

There it is. ‘His grave!’ A prophetic conclusion in his mind. He is losing to his emotions again. He failed to save John. Does this mean he has to let Jesus die too?

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,

Cornelius almost lost to anger when he read that God was pleased, but then the intellect part of him took over when he saw something in the rest of the passage.

He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

Here lies an enigma? How is it that God’s good pleasure will prosper in a dead man’s hands? He could not reason it out. But instead of building up to more heated emotion, Cornelius looked up at his tent ceiling and closed his eyes. In his mind, he prayed the way Jesus taught, ‘Our Father in Heaven, what does this mean?’ It was his first prayer. He had never had a need even in the heat of battle. He wasn’t sure if he will get an answer, but he felt himself get calmer. He opened his eyes and read the last two passages.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

[Passages in italics are from Isaiah 53]

Cornelius smiled with a sense of satisfaction, for these passages gave him some hope but yet its full truth still lies beyond his comprehension. He glanced at his cot and it beckoned him to sleep. He crawled onto it and fell asleep with the reassurance of another day.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 4

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

“I have always looked at these stories as exactly that, stories! Intellectually, I knew them as your people’s history. Now, I believe them to be not just a collection of your history but one continued account; an account of God in the process of redeeming not only your people but all of mankind. In fact, redemption is the key in the process.”

“I am intrigued!” Jacob said eagerly. “Please, go on.”

“Mind you, I am only skimming the surface of God’s process. I really doubt that I will ever figure it all out in my lifetime. But this is what I managed to figure out when I first met John the Baptist. From the Adam and Eve story, mankind had a very close relationship with God. He provided everything for them in the Garden of Eden. But most importantly, we were created to live forever with him. Can you just imagine it, Jacob? Eternity!

“Unfortunately, mankind chose differently. They chose to sin; the most heinous sin of them all… UNBELIEF! What prideful creatures we are, Jacob, for we chose to know better than the creator himself. Even when God gave Adam and Eve an opportunity to repent they would not accept the error of their ways. It is no wonder that God had no choice but to eject them from his presence and the doom of death was laid upon all our heads.

“But death is not the worst of our doom. Mind you, this is just conjecture on my part for I have not found anything solid on what awaits us after death in the book of Moses or any of the other books. There are hints but I cannot put my finger on it now. However, there is a sense of damnation that awaits us. Jesus spoke of an eternal life with God. This made me to think that he is here to save us from the opposite – eternal separation from God. I believe this is mankind’s greatest doom! For are we not created in God’s image? To be eternally separated from God is eternal torture and madness. In fact, this madness is reflected already in mankind’s history and religions as we strive to get back to him. But we can discuss this part later. What is important to consider is that we are DOOMED!

“That is the bad news! The good news is that God had a plan even before he created us. That plan is hinted throughout all of Scripture. Again, I do not have it all figured out. Earlier, I said that redemption is the key. Now, sin prevents us from coming near God. So, God provided a way for us to come to him and that is through animal sacrifice. Why animals? I ask myself. The answer is simple enough. Animals are not under the penalty of sin. They are innocent of sin. We, on the other hand, do not qualify even though we were originally created in his image. If one of us offered ourselves to pay for the penalty of sin, that sacrifice will be rejected off hand. So, the tradition of animal sacrifice had been passed down through the generation. But the true implication of the sacrifice was not known among the other nations, only in yours, for God had focused on your people. It was God who had institutionalized the sacrifice to become eventually the Temple practice.

“However, I think that the whole Temple system was never meant to be permanent. For one thing it is not perfect. We only have to look at the history and see how easily the system can be corrupted. Then there is the frequency of the sacrifice itself. Every year thousands of animals are offered. All of these show me that it is temporary. I think the whole system, every element in the temple – the laver, the altar, the incense, the bread table, the candles, the Ark of the Covenant, the priestly garments, the utensils, and the animals – the whole Temple itself is a shadow of something even more significant to come. I think all of that point to Jesus!”

Cornelius can see a slight frown of skepticism on Jacob’s face. “I know, it sounds thin. But I cannot get it out of my head. Imagine if the blood of a lamb can temporarily purchase forgiveness for just a year, how much more the blood of the Messiah. Do you recall what John, you know, one of the Twelve, told us what John the Baptist called Jesus?”

“No, not really,” said Jacob.

“He said that the Baptist called him, ‘the Lamb of God!’ Jesus has to be the ultimate guilt offering to open the way to God once and for all. It all fits. By his mother’s testimony, he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He had no human father. His unique birth qualifies him to be free of the doom of sin; And to add to that, all the miracles that you and I witnessed are clearly testimony of God’s approval.”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 3

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

He went over to his desks and lit several oil lamps. He stared a long time at the top sheet of a stack of parchments. It was the passages of the suffering servant that he translated. Since the battle, his mind kept returning to that nagging desire for understanding ‘why the Messiah had to suffer so and die?’

The problem here is that this particular chapter seems to contradict all the other chapters that he had so far read of the Messiah in the whole book of Isaiah. The contradiction is that the Messiah is alive to usher in the new kingdom of which all of the nations will be affected. His logical mind tells him that since those chapters in bulk out weigh this one particular chapter, he should just disregard it. At most, if this is the passage that Jesus wanted him to find, then can it be that his task is to prevent it? That seems right, but yet, somehow in the deep recesses of his heart there is this lingering doubt in his logic. It was maddening.

He so wanted to speak to Jesus. On their way to Emmaus, they went through the town of Jericho. He made some inquiries on the whereabouts of Jesus. They said that he was there staying in the house of a tax collector that seem to have repented of his sins. But he and his followers left with no indication of where. Cornelius was tempted to swing by Bethany but he had to reach Emmaus by night fall. So, now, here he was unable to sleep trying to figure out an enigma.

He decided to read through the passages again.

On his third pass, one phrase seems to jump out at him.

If he would render himself as a guilt offering… [Isaiah 53:10b NASB]

He recalled that the guilt offering is an animal sacrifice for one to make himself right with God whenever that person sins. The ritual is for a person to symbolically pass his sins onto the animal by laying his hand on its head. Then the priests would slaughter it and offered its carcass on the burning altar. Cornelius knew he was forgetting something important; something about the animal. Oh yes, he remembered. The animal, whether it be a ram, an oxen or even a lamb, was to be male and with no blemish. That is the crucial condition that God required. It is written through out the Scriptures.

Cornelius realized that he may be on to something. He had to ask, what did the animals represent? And what is the connection between the sacrifice and Jesus? He went over to the corner of the large tent where the baggage was stored. He pulled out a big chest that carried his collection of books and scrolls. When he opened the lid, he rummaged through it; pulling out five big books. Cornelius had not read these books since way before he joined the Legion. They were the first books that Jacob helped him translate into Greek when he was still in his teens. It took them six years. They were the books of Moses.

That whole night, he poured through the books jumping from one story to the next, always writing down notes. He did not know when he finally fell asleep, but when he woke up and opened his eyes, he found that Jacob was there looking over some of the notes that he wrote. There was a tray of food and drink next to him.

“You have been busy, I see,” Jacob said as Cornelius was stretching his arms up. Pointing at his notes, he asked, “You have listed about twenty five references to the type of animal sacrifices from the story of Abel to the laying of Levitical ordinances^^. What do you hope to conclude from your research?”

^^ Levitical laws are found in the book of Leviticus, the 3rd book of Moses

“I have been working off a premise.”

“And that is?”

“That Jesus is offering himself as the guilt offering,” Cornelius answered. Jacob looked at him questioningly. “But I needed a better understanding of guilt offerings, hence my pulling out the Book of Moses to see where it all started. I tell you Jacob. It was like my eyes have opened up. I cannot explain it, but I began to see this book in the way it was meant to be seen.”

“What do you mean?”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 2

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

Later, in Arturos’ quarters, General Alto gave them their orders. “Tribune, your cohorts will be relieved in two weeks. They have earned some rest at Caesarea. However, Arturos, you will be stationed in Jerusalem with at least ten squads of your cohort.”

“Yes sir. Thank you.”

“Centurion, the governor wants you back at what you were doing, as soon as possible. He is giving you a squad of Equites Legati*. This is my suggestion. Tighten up your network of informants. With the light cavalrymen, you are to report more frequently, even if you have nothing to report. The governor demands it. He feels that with the biggest Jewish festival coming in a month or so that something significant is going to happen. He does not want to be caught unaware again.”

* Equites Legati were actually lightly armored cavalry men used mostly for reconnaissance and as messengers.

“Yes sir. I will leave in a couple of days.”

“Oh yes, I almost forgot. He wants you to be closer but not necessarily in Jerusalem. There is a supply outpost in Emmaus. It is only seven miles from the city. Establish yourself there within the week.”

“But, sir?”

“I know you want to closely follow this Jesus fellow, Centurion. You need not fret. He seems to have moved his operation to Judea and around the Perean Basin since last week. Apparently, this Jesus wanted you to know where he will be. One of his closest followers approached Centurion Porcius in Capernaum and gave him this note. I was at the Bethsaida fort when he reported to me. Since, we were already coming here I figured I will give it to you myself.” He handed the folded parchment to him.

“Thank you, sir.”

When he opened the note, what was written was a single Hebrew word, ‘Bethany’.

After a good nights rest, Cornelius opted to leave that day for Judea. He dispatched Nacob and Lyca, two of his best men as well as three of the light cavalrymen to Capernaum. They will hand over written orders to Porcius. The three cavalrymen will be stationed there. Nacob and Lyca will then bring whatever personal gear left there to Emmaus.

Flavius came up to him as he mounted. “Well, it looks like I will be in Jerusalem with the Tribune. I will see you there in two weeks.”

“Until then,” he said with hand raised in farewell as he led his contingent of fifteen men who rode on two wagons and the remaining four cavalrymen out the fort.

They actually did good timing. At the end of the second day, they rolled into the outpost about a mile outside of Emmaus. It was actually a small fort manned by only forty men. It was extensive mainly because the animal pens and grain storage were within. The fort’s commander was an aging veteran who lost his arm. His name was Verinius. Not wanting to quit the Legion, the only position open to him was procurement. He was jovial and quite accommodating. His men were easily billeted in the barracks. Verinius offered his quarters since Cornelius outranked him, but he declined telling him that he is not there to take command of the fort and its operation. So, they set up his campaign tent.

That night, he could not sleep. He went over to his desks and lit several oil lamps. He stared a long time at the top sheet of a stack of parchments. It was the passages of the suffering servant that he translated. Since the battle, his mind kept returning to that nagging desire for understanding ‘why the Messiah had to suffer so and die?’

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 1

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius walked into his quarters saddle soar. For a whole week, he and a contingent of twenty cavalrymen have doggedly followed the defeated army back to their mountain stronghold where the legendary city of Petra, a city built into the rock, lies. Upon returning to the fort, he was surprised to find that the Governor General was there with General Gaius Alto. He had to quickly freshen up and report to the Governor’s quarters.

As he entered the governor’s tent, he saw that Tribune Arturos, Flavius and other officers were standing relaxed listening to General Alto talk. Pilate was sitting on a plush divan with Tribune Marcianus standing behind him.

“Aretas will not be so bold as to gamble again for a long while,” Alto said, as he was finishing his assessment for the benefit of the officers. “He clearly underestimated your small force. Very well done on your first campaign, Tribune. I am sure your father will be pleased.”

“Thank you, sir.” Seeing Cornelius enter, he added, “Of course, sir, I could not have done it without my second in command, Centurion Primus Cornelius.”

“Ah yes, Centurion,” Pilate stood up and joined them. “I have read all the reports. It is most fortunate that General Alto had convinced me to allow you to rejoin your cohort for this minor campaign. I did not think that Aretas would go so far as to try to gain a toehold in the Decapolis and be a thorn at my side if he captured Gadara. It is a good thing that you were an important asset to your tribune, for I did not need anymore headaches.” Cornelius could hear in Pilate’s tone that he was not pleased with him about something.

Sensing the same thing, Arturos dismissed the other officers. As soon as they left the tent, it was Arturos who asked, “Governor, what has happened, sir?”

“What happened was? I was caught off guard because I had no intelligence to warn me three weeks ago!” Pilate angrily said.

“Allow me, governor,” Tribune Marcianus haughtily said. Pilate sat down fuming. “Three weeks ago, the governor was in Jerusalem for business. He was entertaining a delegation of senators when a loud mob formed on the Temple court and started shouting protests. As I understand it, the mob was incited by men from Galilee. Hence, the reason why the governor was not pleased with you, Centurion. You were not there to give him any warning. If he knew, he could have head off the protest.”

“Sir, may I ask what was it that they were protesting about?”

Marcianus turned to look at Pilate. “They were protesting something about the aqueduct project.”

“The aqueduct? Sir, the aqueduct was completed last year,” Arturos said. “I heard that the city turned out and celebrated. How was it that they were protesting a year later?”

“Those ingrates!” Pilate threw his goblet across the room. “I had a secret arrangement with the priesthood. The money to build it came from them.”

“From the Temple treasury, sir?”

“I assume so, but what does that matter? Annas and I had a deal! It was suppose to be a secret. Some priest must have told the Zealots. There they were, disrupting my business and they dare to call me names!”

“The governor wanted to send in the troops.” Marcianus cut in. “But I felt it was prudent to mix twenty of our men in disguise among the crowd to quietly separate the ring leaders. Well, when the signal was given, our men were somewhat zealous in their execution of the orders. I believe forty or fifty Jews were killed in the process.”

“But that is not the last thing I have heard on this!” Pilate brewed. “One of the senators informed me that the Jewish leadership was sending a delegation to Emperor Tiberius to have me ousted.”

General Alto stepped in, “Fortunately, Governor, you have this victory to report to the Senate.”

“Yes! Thank you for reminding me, Gaius. A triumph like this will gain me some support.” Pilate poured himself another goblet of wine. Then he lifted it up and toasted, “To the victory!”

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