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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Johann Q

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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Johann Q

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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Johann Q

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch2 – part 5

City of Tiberius, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“Ah Centurion, welcome my Roman friends,” he said grandiosely in Latin with both hands raised high.

Cornelius saluted and said formally, “Hail Tetrarch! We bring greetings from Governor Pontus Pilate. He sends his warmest regards.”

“I am sure he did,” he said a little too sweetly. “I have received a dispatch that your unit will be policing my region of Galilee. I am so gratified to hear this. This region is crawling with Zealots determined to uproot my good relations with Rome and my good friend Caesar Tiberius. They are ever a thorn at my side. Why, just last week, they attempted to despoil the statue I erected of our beloved emperor. My own name is besmirched by these wild brigands among my people.”

“May I ask, Tetrarch? Who are these zealots?” asked Cornelius.

“I am sorry to say that I don’t know. I have no specific names to provide.” Cornelius noted some reluctance in his voice. “I have reports of wild religious fanatics rousing the countryside that a king from among them will lead them to freedom. In the jurisdiction of Jerusalem, there is a highwayman, a self-proclaimed man named of Barabbas, said he was a Zealot and had made a reputation of himself by robbing your tax collectors even in daylight and eluding your pursuits. These zealots are everywhere.”

As Herod drone on with his prattle, Cornelius so wanted to meet the prophet before Herod takes him down south. “Ah, Tetrarch?” he asks. “I have heard that you are holding a dissenter here. I have orders to question all insurgents.”

“Oh… How did you… Ah well… He is not an insurgent. He is just a desert teacher. He is harmless.”

“Why is he your prisoner?”

“He is not! He is a guest but under guard… for his protection, of course. He will not reveal anything because he does not know anything.”

“Nevertheless, Tetrarch,” He brings out his baton. “I must see this man!”

“Very well, Centurion, I will arrange a translator.”

“No need, Tetrarch,” Cornelius said in fluid Aramaic.

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Johann Q

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch2 – part 4

City of Tiberius by the Sea of GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Tiberius was somewhat a surprise to Cornelius and his mounted men. As soon as they rode through the northern gate, it was like they entered into a Roman city in Italy. From the gate, they followed the traffic of wagons and a lot of pedestrians on a wide boulevard of cobblestone, lined with tall palm trees and in interval, statues of Greek gods in their divine poses. The city sat on a graded slope from a high rocky mount all the way to the shoreline of the lake. It was lined with a fortified wall with battlements with two main gates, north and south. On the lip of the mount, overlooking the city, is an amphitheater, the size of which can be seen from any part of the city. The population of it is close to eighty thousand people the majority of which… obviously observed by the Centurion… seem to be made up of non-Jews.

“It’s almost like home, sir,” commented Cestus who rode next to him. He and the cavalrymen had grins on their faces and were looking around everywhere.

Asking direction from the city guard, Herod’s palace was about midway down the wide boulevard, then turned left on another avenue which would take them close to the waterfront. Riding in two columns, they entered through the gates into a fairly impressive palace complex. They were greeted by Herod’s chamberlain. Cornelius and Cestus were led to an antechamber to wait on Herod who was having a heated discussion in the next chamber. His discussion were with two other men and a woman whom Cornelius surmised was Herodias, his wife. Originally, he stole her from his brother. The story goes that Herod Antipas divorced his Nabataean wife, the daughter of Aretas IV, king of the desert kingdom adjoining his own, to marry Herodias, formerly the wife of his half brother. The marriage, of course, offended his former father-in-law and alienated many Jewish subjects.

The discussion was loud and agitated, but Herod was probably not worried about the Romans overhearing their conversation because they were talking in the common tongue. However, Cornelius understood what was said for he grew up learning Aramaic. Jacob taught him the languages of the land. Hebrew is the exclusive language of the Jews; Greek is the trade language used among the foreigners; and then Aramaic, the most used language in the entire region.

“Why did you have to bring him with us? “You should have left him at Machaerus,” wailed the woman.

“Herodias, my dear,” Herod spoke melodiously, “He is a prophet like of old. The words that come out of his mouth are the very words of God himself.”

Cornelius picked up on it quickly. His ears were burning.

“Do you not hear what he says about us? …about ME?!” She was screeching.

“He cannot help saying it. He is the mouth of God after all.”

“I do not care! I want him DEAD!”

“NO!” He lifts his voice angrily. After a moment of silence, he goes to her sweetly and said, “I cannot kill him, my dear. He is the very messenger of God. If I had him killed, I’d hate what would happen to you. …to me. My father was a great king, but when he crossed God… he died a terrible death. Do not pout, my love. I promise you… as long as he is locked up, he cannot say another word against us.”

“You do not fool me, Antipas,” she said. “I know you send for him to your private chamber at night. I know you listen to him. You are a fool. He is even more dangerous now. This is not over.” She walked away still angry.

“My king, there is another matter that we must discuss.,” said one of the men with him. “There is another fanatic out there. We thought it was one of the Baptist’s followers but they seem to have dwindled and gone to this new one.”

“Who is he?”

“We don’t know. He seems to move from one place or another preaching. And the people are protecting him.”

“Is he arousing the populace?” He gave Cornelius a quick glance.

Cornelius had to maintain a straight face but his mind was racing. He has to talk to what he hope is a genuine prophet. He also have to investigate this elusive teacher and magician who may potentially move the people to revolt.

“He seem to only limit himself here in Galilee. Also, there are some reports of miraculous healings but nothing substantiating.”

“Really?! I must know more.” Herod glanced toward the Roman. “Are we set to leave for Perea tomorrow.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Make sure the Baptist travels with my caravan. Now, leave me while I meet with our guests.”

The two men bowed and left, while Herod gestured for Cornelius and Cestus to join him.

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

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Johann Q

FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 014

faithful-encounters-cover-w

ANDREW THE FIRST DISCIPLE
30 AD Jordan River Valley

Feeling released, they ran to the spot where the man left the road. They found a trail and followed it up to the hill. They actually lost sight of him when they were at the foot of the hill. When they got to the top, the trail ended and there was no sign of him. They split up. Andrew jogged to the north side of the hill. When he got there, he scanned downed the hill and saw him. Andrew whistled for John who was some distance away. John quickly turned and started to run towards him. Meanwhile, he kept his eye on the man who may be the Messiah.

They decided not to dash after him but instead follow from a discrete distance. For a day, they trailed him going north skirting the Judean highlands into Samaritan territory. It was about the tenth hour, when they were going around a bend on the trail they were following, the man was waiting for them.

“What do you want?” he asked with no hint of mistrust in his voice.

“Rabbi,” asked Andrew. “Where are you staying?”

Then, the man laughed a little from amusement. “Come and see.”

They followed him to a farm house not too far from the river. The farmer was leading some animals to a pen when he saw them. He was quite happy to see the man.

“Blessings to this house, my friend,” said the man “Can we impose in your hospitality?”

“Of course, Jesus. You need not ask.” The farmer invited them into his house where his wife was already setting food for them.

When Andrew heard his name, he realised that Jesus means ‘Yahweh saves’ or ‘Yahweh is salvation’. A Jewish mother would not boldly name her child so, unless… unless an angel told her so.

 

That night, John asked him, “Rabbi, are you the Messiah?”

“What had John, the Baptist said?” asked Jesus.

Andrew and John told him what the Baptist shared. He smiled at that and said, “The answer you seek will have to come from what you believe. Faith is not blind. Come. Let us sleep. We leave for Galilee at first light.

The next day, the farmer hitch up a wagon and took them to the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was by good fortune than John found some fishermen and a boat that could ferry them to Bethsaida.

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Greeting friends…

I hope you are enjoying the 14th segment of my ebook, FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS.
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