THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 8

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

Cornelius knew all too well what was really at stake. Herod Antipas have friends in Tiberius Caesar’s court. Pilate, though still supported by the emperor, received communication from him of his displeasure regarding the aqueduct project in Jerusalem. Apparently, Pilate plans to bring water into the city using Roman engineering as a way to better the relationship between Rome and the Jews had an opposite effect. Pilate had used the Temple tax revenue to finance it. The Jewish leadership was in an uproar. Herod saw his opportunity to try to regain the governorship of Judea. With his help, the Jewish leadership sent communique through those in court that were no friends of Pilate. This incident opened up Pandora’s box for Pontus Pilate. The Jews have gained a political advantage over him which is causing him to tread lightly.

“I have decided to grant you a leave of absence. I am in agreement of your assessments in regards to this other preacher and miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth. His large followings cannot be ignored. Though, as you have reported, he has no political ambitions, yet his activities do provide tremendous political advantage for those who would exploit it. Centurion, I do not want to be caught unaware. You, at least, are already known to him. You will follow him closely. If there is any indication that this preacher will be used to bolster a revolt, you will report back to me. Tribune Arturos will fill in the other details. Now, before your misplaced sense of fairness gets the better of you, Centurion, I think it best that you leave here now. Dismissed!”

Cornelius snapped to attention, saluted and made a sharp about face. As he and the tribune were about to walk out, two household guards entered. One was carrying a tray with a covered bundle and trailing behind him were droplets of blood. Cornelius need not stare for he knew what it was. His professionalism maintained a passive appearance as they marched out of the ballroom. But in his mind, he voiced to the heavens, ‘I am sorry, my friend.’

“Cornelius, the governor will be going down to the coastal city of Caesarea to oversee the final phase of the construction of our military port. Flavius and the whole cohort will be garrisoned there sometime this month. In two months from now, the governor will be in Jerusalem for this big Jewish celebration… Passover, I think… Security is going to be very tight for us, there. I hear that the whole country will be congregating there for at least two weeks.” Arturos motioned to stop just under the big palace doors. “You will be on your own. You better keep some men with you.”

“Cestus and six others is all I will need. I will also still use the Capernaum house as my base of operation.”

“Then, it is settled,” Arturos smiled. “I was worried back there for a moment, Centurion. I would hate to lose such an able loyal soldier as yourself and… a good mentor and friend.”

Both men laughed and grasped each other’s right forearms. Then Cornelius descended the short flight of stairs and was about to mount his steed when a woman’s voice called out to him. He turned to see Pheobe run past an amused Arturos. He met her at the bottom of the stone steps.

“The Lady Procula sent me to give you this!” She hands over a small but heavy bag of coins. Pheobe leans close to whisper, “She says to use this in any way you feel fit to help the Nazarene. For myself, I hope to see you again soon.” She places her hand on his arm. “Please take care!” Then she turns and walks back up the steps and stood by an already beaming Arturos.

When Cornelius mounted his horse, Flavius hands the reins over to him with a mirthful smile. As Cornelius rode out into the night, followed by Cestus and six others, Cornelius could not help but smile in the darkness.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 7

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

Reluctantly, Pilate addressed Herod about this matter. “My lord Antipas, may I have a word with you?”

“Certainly, my dear governor,” Herod said as he lead Pilate to a quieter alcove for a private talk.

Cornelius and Tribune Arturos took their position not far from the governor.

“My dear Antipas, I was hoping to broach this subject of the Baptist with you. Would it not be prudent for you to hand him over to us? There are some among my… ahem… officials that are quite interested in interrogating this John the Baptist further.”

“Alas. It is out of my hands,” responded Herod. “I have given my vow that she may have anything in my power to give. It is regrettable but culture and tradition dictates that I must fulfill my vow.”

When Pilate returned to his divan, shaking his head negatively, Procula coldly stood and left the party followed by Pheobe and a number of ladies. Pheobe looked back to Cornelius with a wave.

Cornelius seethe with the thought that a righteous man… a prophet of God… and a friend would lose his life needlessly. With no plan formed in his mind, he started moving purposely toward the exit with his hand tightly grasping his sheathed sword.

“Centurion!” Cornelius halted and turned to find that it was the governor who called him. “Come! Attend to me.”

“Sir!” Cornelius snapped to attention. Then he followed the governor and the tribune out to the same balcony where he talked with Pheobe.

“I think it best that you stay standing at attention, Centurion.”

“Sir!”

Pilate circled him with amusement.

“I wonder, Centurion, how you would have fared against Herod’s hired guards if you did manage to stop the execution in time?” Pilate then sat at a bench looking at him up and down. “Yes. I think you would do well, for a time by yourself. I would even venture to speculate that the men you commanded outside would not think twice to mutiny and come to your aid. But then, what would that have left me? Mmmm…? A renegade cohort… outlawed… hiring yourselves out as mercenaries… No, Centurion. I cannot spare you. At ease, Centurion.”

Cornelius relaxed his posture but kept looking forward.

“Besides, how would I explain this to your father?” Cornelius questioningly gazed down at Pilate. “Oh, yes. I know your father. He wrote me sometime back that you were with the Italian contingent. He as well as your commander had appraised me on your strong sense of fair play. This has served you well, so far. But I have to rein you in, this time. As much as you would like to save the life of that desert preacher,” Pilate raised his hand for silence as Cornelius was about to object. “I am sure he is innocent, but I have to consider the bigger picture. This region is too volatile. Herod and I, at least, must have the appearance of a unified front.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 6

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

They both went back to the festivities and noticed that the party was focused to a lone dancer performing mostly in front of Herod Antipas and his party. Cornelius guided Pheobe back to where the Lady Procula lounged with the rest of Pilate’s entourage.

The dancer was weaving on the dance floor in fluid seductive movement keeping in rhythm with the thumping pounding of several drummers. With her hand still on his arm, she asks, “Who is she?” noticing that the dancer was no ordinary performer.

Cornelius saw that the dancer resembled Herodius, Herod’s wife. “She must be Salome, Herodius’ daughter from her first marriage,” he whispered back.

By the increase of pitch and tempo of the instrumentalists and the dancer’s undulating movements, the performance was reaching its climax. Then the dancer positioned herself in front of the obviously leering and drunk Herod gyrating ecstatically until the music stopped abruptly with her collapsing into a bowed position. There was a moment of silence when Herod applauded her excitedly.

Obviously drunk with pleasure, he stood and declared, “Ask me of anything you like and I will give it to you. Upon my head and before my court, I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!” Then he collapsed in joyous laughter with the court joining in with the mirth.

Salome goes to her mother, Herodias, and they whisper excitedly to each other. Then Salome gracefully returns before Herod who looks upon her attentively.

“I want the head of The Baptist, right now, here on a silver tray.”

Herod quickly lost his mirthful look. What seemed like a long time, Herod sighed and then gestured to the head of his household guards. Herod whispered his instructions to him then the guard left. Meanwhile, Procula was herself furiously whispering to the Governor to take action. Cornelius prayed under his breath that she would succeed.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 3

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

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.”

“I must beg your forgiveness. For I have sought the one of whom we spoke and neglected to see to your release.”

“That as it should be,” smiled the Baptist.

Then there was a knock at the door and one of his disciples peered in and said, “Your messenger has returned, master.”

“Let him enter.” Seeing that the messenger hesitated when he saw Cornelius, John said, “Do not fear. What did he say?”

“He said, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.’ ” [Luke 7:22]
Clearly, Cornelius knew who sent the message. John the Baptist bowed his head in a moment of silence and then lifted his head high with a knowing smile. Then he looked at Cornelius and said, “Again, that is as it should be. My task is done. Soon, I shall go to be with my fathers.”

“What talk is this? I have come to secure your release. This night during the celebration I shall persuade the governor to request a boon from Herod Antipas of which he cannot refuse.”

“Nay, Centurion. My task is completed. I must diminish so as not to take away what is rightfully his.”

Then Cornelius could hear faint trumpets blaring through the small dungeon windows.

“The governor is arriving. I must go. When we next see each other you will be free.”

“You will see me, but not as you expect. Farewell!”
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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 041

ZACCHAEUS THE LITTLE PUBLICAN
32 AD – Guess Who’s Coming For Lunch – Jericho, Jordan River Valleyfaithful-encounters-cover-w

At the banks of the Jordan River, the Baptist spoke of the Messiah and the promise of forgiveness. After the reported death of the Baptist, stories of a wandering rabbi and healer trickled down from the north. A particular story of a tax collector becoming one of the rabbi’s closest disciples, intrigued Zacchaeus to a point that he almost went to Galilee himself. But his business life kept delaying his departure until it finally drove it out of his mind.

Zacchaeus’ carriage entered through the gates of his home, one of three villas on a small hill of several hills within the city. There were two other carriages and their slaves lounging around the outer courtyard. He cringed a little for he knew he had visitors.
The next day, the city was awake early with the buzz of news that Jesus of Nazareth, the healing rabbi from the north was close to the city. Even in the aloof neighborhood of the rich, the news had stirred interest. Zacchaeus was so elated, he left his villa in a rush and on foot with only one bodyguard to accompany him. He quickly worked his way through the rich neighborhood until he saw a small crowd and followed them to the city square where they joined an even larger throng of milling city folk. His bodyguard was concerned that the people would recognize Zacchaeus and turn on them. He was noticed many times but the people were so focused at the imminent closeness of the miracle worker, they paid him no mind, at least, for the moment.

Then, there was excitement coming from outside the city. Zacchaeus and some of crowd worked their way out the gates. The crowd outside was watching something happening, but he could not see over the shoulders of the people. Then he heard some of the people calling over the crowd.

“What is happening? What is going on?”

“The Nazarene… he called over a beggar to him.”

“It’s Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus!”

“Who is he?”

“It’s the blind beggar that always sat by the north road.”

“What was the shouting?”

“It was Bartimaeus… he was calling out to the Nazarene. He was shouting, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ He kept shouting it over and over until the Nazarene called him over.” [Mark 10:46-52]

Then there were shouts of excitement.

“He can see! The blind man can see. He healed him!” The story was spreading like wild fire and speculations of who he is was spreading even more.

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Greeting friends…

I hope you are enjoying the 41th segment of my ebook, FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS.

Feel free to leave your comments below. I look forward to read your comments and constructive inputs that will help me direct my creative thoughts.

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Until the next post.

Johann Q.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch3 – part 1

THE PLAN – Roman Fort 2 miles east of Bethsaida, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

The fort is busy with activity. At the stables, horses were being brushed down, saddles being rubbed down with oil, and horse’s hooves being shod by the troop’s farriers. Outside the walls, squads of troops are being drilled by boisterous optios marching them in full armor and heavy shield. In the fort, every available space is being used by soldiers practicing with swords. Just outside the commander’s quarters, a large group of soldiers were cheering and egging a young lad wearing armor one size larger than him, a padded helmet, a heavy rectangular shield and clumsily wielding a practice sword. Circling opposite him was Cornelius crouched low in just a sweaty red tunic, round shield and practice sword.

“Now, Trax. Keep your shield facing him. Tuck your sword arm in more. Do not let your sword slacken. Always be ready to hit,” instructed Cestus. “Come on boyo, I have 10 coppers on you. Don’t fail me, lad.”

Cornelius raised his sword high as if to strike. As he saw Trax raise his shield to fend it off, Cornelius then used his shield to knock Trax’s heavier shield on the side edge causing Trax to swing around exposing his back. He then used the flat side of his sword to aptly spank his bottom. Trax yelped and the audience broke out in laughter and jeers.

“Oh no, Trax! Don’t over reach yourself and keep your balance always.”

Trax, embarrassed by the laughter, snarled like a cat and went on the offensive and came at Cornelius swinging his sword aggressively. The men cheered as he would not relent his attack forcing him back against the wall. Laughing out loud, Cornelius raised both arms up in surrender shouting out, “I yield… the field is yours!”

The men cheered and gathered around a heaving but smiling Trax, patting his back in congratulation. Cestus was satisfied collecting coins from those who lost the wager. Cornelius came forward smiling.

“Good attack, lad. You came at me like a wild cat.”

“Wild cat!” A number of the men were calling it out with approval.

“He’ll make a good Legionary one day, sir.”

“Not just yet he won’t,” Cestus said as he came up behind Trax. “Our wild cat here still needs work on his sword play. Come on, lad. Let’s go to the practice course.”

Cornelius fondly watched them walk around the corner. Wiping the sweat from his brows, he went up to his quarters. Casting aside his shield and sword, he changed into a fresher tunic and went over to his work table. The table was literally covered with piles of scrolls and sheets of parchment papers. A leather bound codex was open at the end of the table. Cornelius went to it and leafed back a couple of pages and reviewed his notes of yesterday. He glanced at the open scroll of Isaiah which was about a quarter of the way unrolled. He glanced back at the codex he started some two weeks back. That was when Cornelius returned to the fort from his meeting with the Baptist. The first thing he did was sought out Jacob but he was still at the village with Trax. He sent a runner to seek him out. When Jacob finally walked into his quarters after a couple of hours, he found Cornelius already had the scroll of Isaiah opened and a had a blank codex next to it.

“I thought you were coming back tomorrow?”

“I would have but I met someone that might interest you,” Cornelius said. He then told him about his late night encounter with the Baptist. Jacob was flabbergasted. When he was told that the Messiah was already walking the hills of Galilee, his eyes went wide open and he was trembling. It took a while for him to calm down from the shock of the revelation. Cornelius brought him some water.

“Did he give you a name?”

“He called him the Lamb of God!”

“The Lamb of God?” Jacob asked in confusion. “I’m not sure I understand. Why the lamb? But it does sound right somehow. I just can’t put my finger on it. How are we to find him? …recognize him? Who is he? What is his purpose? And what will he ask us to do when we do find him?”

“I asked him those same questions. He told me to seek him out through the book of Isaiah and the other prophets.”

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Johann Q

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch2 – part 9

City of Tiberius, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

God called out to them as they hid among the trees of the garden asking where they were. As they came out of hiding, Adam admitted that they both hid because of their fear and shame. When Adam was confronted whether he ate forbidden fruit, he said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’ Eve herself said that the serpent deceived her. Clearly, Cornelius have seen this typical behavior before. They did not want to get in trouble, so they passed the blame to another. In fact, Cornelius realized, Adam so wanted to be righteous that he actually blamed God more than Eve. But God could not be fooled. First, God cursed the Serpent for his action. To the woman, God would multiply her pain in childbirth and that she will ever be dependent on her husband. To the man, God cursed the ground and man will have to toil to eat all the days of their lives until they return to it as dust. Then, after God made them clothing from skins, he cast them out of the garden into the world so that they will not eat from the tree of life and live for ever.
“Hold on, John… Let me clarify this for a moment,” Cornelius said as he process the story in his head. “If this story is true, then all the problems of the world stems from this point. My search on why things are the way they are have its beginning here in the Garden of Eden. This is difficult to accept.”

The Baptist nods his head and said, “Cornelius, I know that you are from a much different religion as mine. I do not expect you to believe right away. However, you grew up learning about my people and my God. So, I will ask you to temporarily assume that it is true and hear out the rest.”

“Very well,” Cornelius agreed. “I’ll concede, for the moment, that the story of what happened to Adam & Eve is right. I still don’t understand the connection between what happened to them and why I need salvation? Salvation from what?”

“Eternal damnation,” whispered the Baptist.

There was silence for a while, then he went on. “You gleaned that in the beginning, mankind had a close relationship with God. Do you remember that God created us in His image? Having the image or likeness of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. Of course, Adam did not look like God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood. ‘God is Spirit’ as it is written and therefore exists without a body. Adam’s body, however, did reflect the life of God in so far as his body was created in perfect health and was not subject to death. In the beginning, we were meant to live eternally with God… for as long as humanity had direct access to the Tree of Life, which if you recall is found only in the Garden of Eden.”

“But… because Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, we all eventually die,” Cornelius concluded. “Well, does not dying release us from pain and suffering?”

“Yes and no…”, the Baptist said. “Since, God is spirit, then as we are in His image, we too have spirits. The question is – where does our spirit go when our bodies die?”

“Well… we Romans, like the Greeks believe that the after-life is the under-world of Hades.”

“For us, we call it Sheol. The difference is that Sheol is devoid of love, hate, envy, work, thought, knowledge, and wisdom. Scriptures says that there is no light, no remembrance, no praise of God, in fact, no sound at all. All goes there and become weak, trembling shades who can never hope to escape from its gates.

“So, this place may seem to be to your liking thinking that you are forever free from pain and suffering. But I tell you, Sheol is temporary. Our time there would be like a blink of the eye. Then, we all face judgment where our sins will be accounted for. From there, the fiery pit of Hell where unimaginable suffering await us forever. Unless…” The Baptist stayed quiet and looked intently into Cornelius’ eyes.

“Unless… Unless God sends a Messiah!” Cornelius completed the sentence. “A savior to bring about a way for mankind to escape eternal damnation.”

“Yes… and that savior is walking here now. The time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” [Isaiah 9:1-2 NASB]

Cornelius recognized the words of Isaiah again.

“You have seen him, haven’t you? Who is he?”
The night was getting later. The guards and the two followers of the Baptist were asleep. Aroused by slight noise, one of the followers stirred and woke up. He looked around in the dimly lit chamber and heard that the sound was coming from the cell. He stood and peered through the door’s small portal. He could just make out his master sitting on the floor talking quietly to the strange Roman officer. He wondered what they were talking about. After awhile, he yawned and went back to where his companion was sound asleep. His last thought before he drifted away was what good will come about this encounter between the holiest and an unclean gentile.

End of Chapter 2

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch2 – part 7

City of Tiberius, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Then he sat down. Cornelius was not exactly fond of prose, poetry or the songs of Scriptures. He preferred the historical aspects. And it showed on his face of which the Baptist picked up on.

“The word can be cryptic if you are only hearing but not really listening. Think about it closely and the right questions will come out.”

Cornelius wished he had parchment and quill. Instead, he gazed blankly at the far wall and mentally laid out the words in line segments the way it was sung. In his mind’s eye, the words jumped out at him and his analytical mind went to work.

Clearly, he knew that John the Baptist is a prophet… a messenger from God… a voice of God… in the ‘wilderness’? Herod’s chamberlain did tell him that the Baptist was preaching and baptizing in the wilderness region of the Jordan. He was thinking that part of Isaiah’s was literal enough, however the next lines were a little harder to take literally. If John is the prophesied messenger, then he will have the supernatural powers to smoothen desert dunes into highways, fill in sunken-in valleys into plains and even flatten both hills and mountains. That would be a sight to see. As a child, he fantasized of being there with Moses when the Red Sea miraculously parted. But somehow he felt that this prophecy had a much more deeper meaning.

So, he asked, “Have you completed your task?”

The Baptist smiled, “Almost.”

If that is so, Cornelius thought then, the making clear of deserts, valleys, hills and mountains for the LORD were metaphors. Like a hunting dog in hot pursuit, his analytical mind went back to work. A prophet’s work is to communicate… to be the mouth of God… ‘a voice calling in the wilderness’… So…

“So, the question is, ‘What is the message from God and to whom?’ ”

The Baptist looked at Cornelius with bright eyes, as if he was debating whether to reveal the message of God to him maybe because he was a Roman… A Gentile. Then he nodded.

“In your studies of the Scriptures, do you recall the coming of a Messiah?”

“My mentor and teacher, since I was a child, did tell me of a legend that God will send the Prophet and Redeemer to set Israel free.”

“For you I shall make the picture clear. What you heard is just partially true and incomplete. Do you wish to journey down the road which will significantly change your life?”

Cornelius hesitated for just a moment. Then he went to the door and called out to Cestus.

“Cestus… get us some food and drink. I will be here all night. You and the men enjoy yourselves in the city.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch2 – part 6

City of Tiberius, Galilee

CG-book-cover-w

It was twilight when Cornelius entered the cellar below the stables. There were three guards and two other men in ragged tunics sitting on the floor next to a bolted door with a small grilled window. The two men were followers of the Baptist that the Tetrarch allowed to serve his need. An oil lamp was handed to him by one of the guards. Cornelius then handed to Cestus his sword and dagger.

“Sir! You must not go in there unarmed. According to some of these blokes, it took seven of them to subdue him when they arrested him.”

“I’ll be alright.”

He walked to the door. The two followers stood up and backed up out of the way. He unlatched the door and swung it in. Not knowing what to expect, he braced himself for violence. He entered with the oil lamp held high. It took a short while for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Then he saw him standing calmly with hands at his side palms out; to show that he was unarmed. Cornelius beheld not a bulky warrior that held off seven soldiers nor did he see what he’d always imagined was the chosen mouth piece of God. The Baptist was somewhat shorter than he was. He was muscular but not bulky. He had extremely long hair and his beard went all the way to his navel. It was long but not disheveled. His hair and beard were unexpectedly cleaned, oiled and tightly braided into tied bundles. As he scrutinized his camel’s hair clothing with a leather belt around his waist and his hair, he recalled another desert prophet from the book of the Kings of Israel. Elijah was his name and it was he who singlehandedly confronted four hundred fifty Baal prophets on a contest on whose god is the strongest. It was a favorite of his. One man versus four hundred fifty and he prevailed against them. It was written that he did not die but was taken up into the heaven on a fiery chariot. When he asked Jacob why? He said that God would send Elijah back one day to fulfill a task. ‘Could it be true?’ he thought, ‘is this him?’

He broke the silence. “You have questions, I see,” he said in Greek. He gestured to a bench, while he sat on the floor.

“Yes, I do.” Cornelius sat, “Shalom,” he greets in Hebrew. “Peace be with you. I am Cornelius Metellus, Senior Centurion of the Italian Regiment of the 9th Legion. ”

The Baptist smiled. “Greetings, Centurion”, he returns. “Blessings be upon you.”

“Forgive me for staring… May I ask who are you? It is said that a prophet of old shall return. Are you Elijah?”

He started to chuckle. “I am pleased that you know about one of my people’s greatest legends. That is unusual for a Roman.” He peered closely at him like he saw something. “But I see that you had some education.”

“My name is John, son of Zacharias, also known as the Baptist. To answer your second question,” he continued, “it is not for me to say but this… ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.‘”. [Mark 1:1-3 NASB]

Cornelius blinked. He remembered reading those words… just recently, in fact. “Is that from Isaiah?” Cornelius asked in amazement.

The Baptist was pleased. He took his sash and ceremoniously draped it over his head. Cornelius have seen Jacob do this when he ritually sings from the Scriptures. Then the Baptist sang in Hebrew.

“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’” [Isaiah 40:3-5 NASB]

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

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Thank you

Johann Q