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 8

City of Tiberius, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“Before we start, Centurion… Ah, may I call you by your name?”

“Please… by all means.”

“Thank you, Cornelius. Please call me John. Now, let me clarify that it is true that Israel awaits the coming of a savior who will lead them to freedom. I will even say so boldly that they wait for the Messiah to push you Romans out of Israel forever.” When he saw the concern on Cornelius’ face, he chuckled a little and said, “Be not too alarmed, Cornelius. When the Messiah comes, I believe the salvation he brings will not be limited for my people alone but for all man… for you, Cornelius.”

Cornelius blinked and sat up straight. At first, deep inside, he resented the notion. How is it the he needed to be saved? Saved from what? But before he could ask, John the Baptist asked his question first.

“You are seeking meaning in your life, are you not?” Then he continued saying, “You are a soldier who have seen much death and suffering. You yourself have killed. You desire answers especially on the question on why you need salvation by our Messiah.”

Cornelius nodded.

“When one seeks meaning… answers, then that one must go back to the very beginning for perspective.”

“Where?”

“I think you know.”

How would he know? He thought to himself. Then an old childhood tale of a garden, a tree, a man, a woman and a serpent that can talk came to mind. A story he thought was made for children.

“Creation story of Adam and Eve?”

The Baptist nodded then said, “Think about it. What did they have?”
The creation story is the beginning of Moses’ five books of the Torah. It tells in prose how God created the world by voicing into the darkness and just said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. That was the first day! In the course of five more days, God called into being the sky, land, vegetation, and every kind of living creatures including mankind. Then the story focused on how God fashioned the first man and named him Adam. From the way the story goes, Cornelius imagined God carefully and lovingly mold Adam from the dust of the earth then breathed life into his lungs. Then God placed Adam in a protective environment, the Garden of Eden, where even the natural law of survival was suspended. God provided everything for man; purpose, companionship, joy and life eternal.

“In the beginning, everything was perfect for man,” Cornelius answered.

“Why?”

“Because in the start, mankind had a very close relationship with God, their Creator… like family. But they lost it!”

“How?”

“God gave them one commandment, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…’ But the Serpent enticed Eve to eat the fruit, then she gave it to Adam who knowingly ate the same. Then something in them changed. I never understood what really happened.” [Genesis 2:16-17 NASB]

After Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were open. In other words, they became acutely aware of their nakedness and experienced shame for the first time. They covered their nakedness with fig leaves. Then when they heard the sound of God walking in the Garden, they both hid.

“There is a word… SIN. Do you know what it means?”

Cornelius frowned. It is a word strewn through out every book in the Scriptures. But for some reason, he never delved into it closely.

“By the look of your frown, you are not too sure of its actual meaning nor its significance.”

“My understanding is that sin is when you do wrong in God’s sight.”

“Yes but there is more. Isaiah wrote, ‘But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.’ ” [Isaiah 59:2 NASB]

“So, when they ate the fruit, they sinned and was separated from God. How does their sin entail for mankind?… at that matter, for me?”

Again, Cornelius saw the glint in the Baptist’s eyes. “Cornelius, if my own people would ask such questions as yours, well… never mind. The answer is what happened next in the story.”
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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

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch2 – part 3

The Fort, Bethsaida, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

The fort was in shambles. It sat on a low rise that overlooks the lake. Located about three miles from Bethsaida, it’s design is typical of most Roman forts. It was built rectangular with rounded corners and can accommodate six hundred men – two cohorts. This one was built over forty years ago to guard the fertile valley from desert raiders from the east. The walls, made from timber, were supposed to sit above an earth rampart but because of forty years worth of erosion with practically little to no maintenance, Cornelius noted several sagging breaches along all four sides. If they were attacked right now, the fort would be inevitably lost. There are six towers set in intervals along the perimeter but two of them are in such disrepair that it’s not safe to man them. Cornelius didn’t even bother inspecting the ditches outside the walls because they were non-existent.

It’s been two days since they arrived. After Cornelius had a heated discussion with the fort’s commander (who was of lower rank) about the unnecessary destruction of the village’s prayer place – called a Synagogue – and the incredibly shabby condition of the fort, he gave him his relief orders and the next day, the auxiliary troops packed up and left the fort to return to Caesarea Philippi. This left his own troops at least a week’s worth of clean up duty and the proper refurbishment of the fort. Cornelius stood watching the ongoing progress on the third level of the only sturdy structure situated at the center. He heard familiar footsteps approaching.

“How is the work going, Flavius?”

“We are focusing on the outer defenses first. We commandeered over a hundred locals to dig out the ditches. Our own lads are using that dug-up dirt to shore-up the breaches on the earth ramparts. I have men in the forest getting us timber to replace the rotted wood in the palisade and also repair the towers. I figure we will complete the repairs by week’s end.”

“I have to the go and pay my respects to the Tetrarch of the region, Herod Antipas. I’ll be riding to Tiberius.”

“Tiberius?!” Flavius’ eyebrows went up mockingly.

“Yes… he named his city after our glorious emperor hoping to curry more favors. He still hopes that the emperor will give him control of Jerusalem and the Judean region. But the emperor will not give it back to the Herods… ever, I think.”

“Hold on! We are stationed in his region. Do we get ordered around by this… Jew?”

Cornelius was smiling inside. He was tempted to correct Flavius and tell him that the Herods were not really Jews. However, there was a kin relationship. The old Herod king, who ruled this entire region because of his close friendship with Augustus Caesar, was originally Idumean. In the first book of Moses, the miracle son of Abraham and Sarah was Isaac. He married Rebekah and gave him twins, Esau and Jacob. Jacob became Israel, the chosen of God. And Esau became Edom, the rejected. There was enmity between the two brothers that have been passed on to generation after generation. Idumeans are the final descendants of Esau. It is ironic, Cornelius thought to himself, that Esau’s desire was to rule it over Israel. Generations later, his descendants succeeded.

“No! We are here to keep the peace. Our presence is for show only. We are a reminder to Herod that Pontus Pilate is the Governor,” Cornelius said. He then turned and walked towards the stairs that led to his quarters. “I will take Cestus with me and twenty cavalrymen. You get them ready to ride in half an hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

When they descended into the second floor, just as Flavius was about to go down to the ground floor, Cornelius turns to him and said, “Oh, Flavius… try not to lose the fort while I am gone.”

Flavius laughed as he went down the steps. Cornelius walked briskly down the corridor and entered his quarters. Jacob had laid out his formal armor. He cringed a little at the prospect of wearing that heavy armor which is good only for pomp and ceremony. He also noted with trepidation that the red cape was laid out as well. “Jacob?” he called.

His old tutor came from a curtained alcove with Trax obediently following. They then started to help him put his armor on.

“I will be gone for two days. Why don’t you go to the village and visit your kin? And to keep this rascal out of trouble, bring Trax with you.” Cornelius playfully shoved him away. Trax clapped in excitement and grinned.

“It will be good to visit my brother.”

“While you are at it…” He goes to a heavy chest and pulled out a pouch of coins. “Find the elders of the village and give them this. There should be enough there for them to rebuild their Synagogue.”

“You are a good man, Cornelius.” He did not think so. His motives for the money is to work his way into the hearts of the locals, so he can spy on them better. Jacob noticed him brooding in thought. “Is it right with you, my boy? Are you worried about something?”

He shook his head clear and smiled reassuringly. “I am fine, my old mentor.”

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

If you are interested in reading the entire ebook, you can find my ebook in Amazon.com for only $1.99. Just click the link below.

Thank you

Johann Q