THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 6

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”

Again systematically, Cornelius went down the list: the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful and the pure in heart; the peacemakers; and the persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

What amazed him was that Jesus revealed a concept within a series of riddles that just turned his sense of reality upside down. Jesus’ ten riddles expound on who truly are the recipients of God’s blessing and Cornelius does not fit with any of them. He came from a world that does not consider them successful. As a Roman, with the expanse of the empire covering most of Europe, Africa and Asia as a testimony, he was brought up to make something of himself not value meekness or to be poor in spirit. He was taught to push himself to the front of others, to promote oneself, and climb the ladder to success even over the bodies of his fellows. For him, the way to inherit the earth is to get ahead. Yet, herein lay the paradox. In the eyes of God, it is the meek, not the proud, who will inherit the earth. It is the poor in spirit, not those who are self-sufficient, who are in the kingdom of heaven.

Cornelius always knew that there was something lacking in his life but he could not put his finger on it. The words of Jesus may be what he sought especially the last riddle that appealed to him in some way but even that he could not peg down. The last riddle calls one to rejoice and be glad, not when things are going good, but quite the opposite. In fact, it challenges the one who is being persecuted to be happy regardless the pain they are feeling and knowing full well that he will not taste the rewards in this lifetime. He would have loved to meditate on this concept some more but then he heard Jesus’ voice again.

He opened his eyes and saw that Jesus was again addressing the crowd to listen. He spoke to them of how, as the chosen people of God, they should boldly shine out to the world and be that beacon to bring people to Him. A number of people called out to him asking who he was. His response to them was…
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” [Matt 5:17-18 NASB]

Cornelius found it interesting that as the people clamored for him to identify himself as the Messiah, he would not entertain them with a direct answer. The people, who were probably cajoled by the zealots, desire a fighting leader like in the days of the Judges. But Jesus emphasized that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. If Jesus is the promised Messiah, then there are things based in the Law that he has to accomplish first. In many ways, this is how the true Messiah would be revealed.

“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”   [Matthew 5:19-20 NASB]

This declaration surprised Cornelius even more. Though it mirrored the riddles that Jesus started with, he openly emphasized that the best of them, the teachers and lawyers of the Law, failed to live up to it. And he challenged the people to live better than them if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Cornelius felt both relieved and concerned at the same time. He was relieved because these were not the words of a man who would ally himself with the shortsightedness of the zealots. Jesus wanted to bring change to the people but it was clear to him that Jesus will do this from the inside out. The concern was that Cornelius want him to succeed but his last statement polarized him from the religious leadership. Sure enough, as he searched the crowd, he saw them gathered together whispering to each other casting angry glances at the teacher on the rock.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 5

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

By the time they came to hearing distance, Jesus sat on an outcrop that was slightly higher so that his disciples and the surrounding crowd could see him better. He motioned for the people to sit. Again, just like at the lake shore, Cornelius was amazed with Jesus’ commanding presence. Except for the wind and the rustling of the grass, it seemed like there was hardly anyone on the hills. Then he spoke.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

[Matthew 5:1-12 NASB, The Beatitudes]

Cornelius was somewhat surprised and relieved at the same time in what he heard. He half expected him to conjure up a miraculous happening, staged by the zealots, of course, and convince the masses that this is the time to rise up against the Roman occupation. He had no doubt that Jesus’ charisma is such that he could be able to raise the whole populace of Palestine, Syria, Persia and even Egypt to push Rome out of this part of the Mediterranean. Rome would be hard pressed to claim it back or even to keep the rest of its empire intact. But instead, Jesus started out his sermon with ten riddles at the end of which he stopped. He looks first at the twelve men that he chose with a whimsical smile. The men looked at each other with puzzled looks. Until Jesus told them to talk it out and make sense of it. Then like a flood bursting, the silence was shattered by hundreds of people conversing.

Jacob and Cestus were conversing silently to each other knowing that Cornelius would prefer mulling it over by himself. Closing his eyes, he mentally blocked out the noise around him to better analyze the words. Systematically, he started out on the most prominent word that was repeated nine times, ‘Blessed’. He remembered when he was young, while listening to Jacob telling him the story of Creation, he said that God blessed the animals, and then man, saying, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” [Genesis 1:28 NASB]

He asked him what it meant to bless.

Jacob gave him a scholarly definition, “To bless is to endow with power for success, prosperity, fertility, longevity and so on.”

But Cornelius was only ten. He did not understand. So, Jacob picked up a wicker ball and put it on the floor. He then told that very young Cornelius that the ball was him. After a while, as Cornelius was staring at the ball, Jacob asked him if he thought that the ball was happy. He said no. When asked why, he said that the ball was just sitting there when it should be rolling or tossed around with or kicked. Then Jacob asked him if the ball can do any of that by itself. He shook his head. When asked how the ball can be made happy, Cornelius gave him a toothy smile and kicked the ball across the room.

For the first time, he finally made the connection. In the beginning, mankind was like that ball. From the first book of Moses, it says that God formed man of dust from the ground but like the ball just sitting on the floor, man was without purpose… was without life, until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. But it did not stop there; God endowed to him with the ability to multiply… to fill the earth and eventually subdue it.

So, when Jesus said, “Blessed are those…” he was actually saying, “God blesses those…” God is the key. So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 4

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius did not want to take the same road that the crowd was on. He led them cross country heading west, north of the city. Then they swung south always keeping the lake road and the people in sight but yet far away enough not to be seen. About a mile to where the crowd seems to gather, Cornelius found a gully where he left the horses and the three soldiers to guard them. Cestus, Jacob and he climbed a high grassy hill. When they reached the top, they beheld a shallow valley surrounded by three hills including the one they were on. There was a running stream snaking its way through the valley on its way to the lake. Here and there were a few copses of short trees and shrubs. They were standing on the highest hill. They saw that the largest concentration of people was on the hill adjacent to theirs and more were pouring in. Cornelius could not make out any details from their high vantage point but when they went down the hill about three quarters of the way, he noticed that people were looking toward at the base of the adjacent hill near the stream. Jesus was there standing in the center of an open circle of people. Also in the circle was a cluster of eight men. Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, were among them. Cornelius also recognized two other fishermen who were their partners. “What were their names?” He tried to recall. “Oh, yes… James and John.”

Jesus then beckoned to another man to join him at the center and it was another face that he recognized. He also noticed the angry murmuring of the crowd.

“That is Levi, the tax collector,” exclaimed Jacob. “I heard a rumor in the city that he just up and left his collecting table and I even heard that there was still money on it.”

For some reason Cornelius was pleased that Levi got out of that hateful work. Then Jesus beckoned to another which did not please Cornelius at all. It was Simon the Zealot. Simon seemed surprised himself to be chosen as he hesitantly approached Jesus. But Jesus embraced him in a bear hug showing him that it was no mistake. Two other men were also chosen. Cornelius made a mental note to later acquire their names.

“He chose twelve men,” whispered Jacob.

“Why is that important?” asked Cestus.

“Twelve is a number that is very prominent in the Scriptures.” Jacob quickly mentioned that through out Scripture, God had chosen the twelve sons of Jacob to become the twelve tribes of Israel. It seems to represent, in most cases, the number for perfection and authority.

Cornelius noticed that Jesus and his followers were heading to a bunch of rocky outcrops half way up the hill. It seemed to him that if Jesus was going to address the people, that rocky outcrop would make the perfect platform. At first, he hesitated to be in the midst of the crowd lest he and Cestus be identified as foreigners until he noticed that, though the crowd was made up mostly of Jews, there were a fair number of Greeks, Syrians, Arabs and other nationalities mingled in.

“He is moving up that other hill. Come let us go closer so I can hear what he has to say.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 3

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

The next day, Cornelius was at his desk writing his report when Cestus entered.

“Sir,” Cestus said. “One of our spies has reported that the Nazarene was not at the house of the fisherman. He was told He snuck out in the middle of the night. Even his followers were looking for him.”

“Very well. Have him go back to the house and follow the fisherman.”

“Yes, sir!”

Just as he was about to leave, Cornelius inquired, “Have you seen the lad? He does not seem to be out and about this morning.”

“He is down below, sick in bed again. He has been in and out of bed sick three times already this past month.”

“Send for the physician. I will be down in a while to see him.”

A few minutes later, He found Trax in bed being fed some broth by Jacob.

“Hello lad. How are you feeling?” He puts his hand on his head. His head was hot with fever.

Trax smiled up at him and then made a face at the taste of whatever Jacob was spooning into him.

“It is supposed to taste bad or else it would not be good for you.”

Trax gestured with his hands that he’d rather it be bad for him. Cornelius laughed out loud and tousled the boy’s curly hair. He was concerned for the boy but it seems like Trax will be fine in a day or so. Then he will be running around like himself.

Later that morning, Cestus told him that the spy he sent to watch Simon Peter reported that many people from the city including the one he was to follow were heading out to the hills about seven miles south-west of Capernaum over looking the inland sea.

“Get out of that armor, Cestus. Choose three men all in nondescript clothing and have them saddle six horses. We are going out there.”

Cornelius went back into the house to talk to Jacob.

“It looks like Jesus of Nazareth is out on the hills south-west of the city. As usual he has attracted a large crowd. Do you wish to come?” Jacob looked at him eagerly but then looked over at an already sleeping Trax. “Do not worry about Trax. The physician will be here later and Porcius will look after him. He is fond of him too.”

So, they rode out.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 022

SIMON THE LEPER
31 AD – The Sermon – Galileefaithful-encounters-cover-w

Simon thought he ended his sermon there, for the Nazarene paused for such a long time. But then he spoke of entering God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate and then of being wary of false prophets by deeply checking their fruit. Somehow, the delivery was a little different and Simon wondered if the narrow gate had something to do with him.

And sure enough, the Nazarene spoke of himself and said something that may be construed as blasphemous.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” [Matthew 7:21-27 NLT]

Then, the Nazarene stood up indicating he was done. The people started to clap and call out to him.

For Simon, the words of the Nazarene was heaven in itself. He had almost forgotten that he was stricken with a flesh eating disease that will sooner or later take his life. He so wanted to live not because he was afraid. But because he wanted to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. He watched the Nazarene work his way down the hill through the crowd. It looked like he was making his way to a copse of low lying trees on his side of the stream. It was then he noticed some tents among the trees. A thought occured to him.

Suddenly, he was up and rushing down the hill with his son asking a little surprisingly on where he was going.

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Greeting friends…

I hope you are enjoying the 22th 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.

Thank you.

Until the next post.

Johann Q.

FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 021

SIMON THE LEPERfaithful-encounters-cover-w
31 AD – The Sermon – Galilee

“You are the salt of the earth,” He said. “But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets.” [Matthew 5:13-17 NLT]

Simon’s ears perked up when hearing about the law of Moses.

“No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” Simon almost wanted to shout out, ‘how?’.

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” [Matthew 5:18-19 NLT]

Then he said something that almost stopped his heart.

“But I warn you,” the Nazarene paused. “Unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” [Matthew 5:20 NLT]

Simon looked out at the crowd to gauge their reaction. From what he could see, a tiny number at the edge of the crowd reacted in silent protest. Clearly, there were probably some members of the ruling class in there.

To emphasize his outright blatant statement, he began offering a long series of achievable challenges on how to divinely deal with anger, adultery, and divorces. He spoke of on how holy vows are in the eyes of the Lord. He even tackled a subject that every Jew would find hard to swallow, loving their enemies and of revenge.

The Nazarene communicated to every sort of person. To the stingy and the attention seekers, he says to offer alms for the needy and to do it in private, so that only the Father, who sees everything, will reward them. He talked about the hypocrisy in how people pray and fast, then he would show them how. To those who work so hard to gain wealth and to toil even harder to keep it, he revealed unapologetically that it was temporary and even quite futile compared to true and everlasting treasures.

He told them of not judging others but looking deep in oneself instead. Finally, he summed up all that he spoke about with the golden rule – “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 7:12 NLT]

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Greeting friends…

I hope you are enjoying the 21th 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.

Thank you.

Until the next post.

Johann Q.