FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 056

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

They led him south of the village into the same small canyon where Joram hid from the Romans. They followed the well worn winding track passing several fenced out grave sites, a number of which had carved circular stones about three feet in diameter covering the openings. They reached the end of the trail that opened up into a wider enclosure where Simon’s clan maintained a garden. The garden was fenced in by a short rock wall about three feet high. There were several burial chambers carved out halfway up the canyon wall. Simon told Jesus that Lazarus was entombed inside the chamber of the first ledge about five feet above the canyon floor.

Jesus climbed the steps to the ledge followed closely by Simon and Jesus followers.. The sobbing sisters also climbed the steps but stopped part way. Jesus placed his hand on the round stone and wept openly.

“See how He loved him!” Joram heard one of the Pharisees saying. But someone else also said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have kept this man also from dying?” [v36,37]

Jesus took a step back and spoke to Peter and Andrew, “Roll the stone away.”

Martha gasped and said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” [v40] Mary’s head came up and looked on him with a desperate hope.

Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” [v41]

So, the two men positioned themselves on the right side of the stone. The round stone was resting in the bottom of its inclined groove carved into the rock. Grunting profusely, they rolled the heavy stone up the slight incline, revealing the small opening into the dark chamber. Except for Jesus, those on the ledge and steps as well as those gathered below the ledge covered the nose and mouth from the obvious smell of decay. They quickly retreated down the steps leaving Jesus alone on the ledge.

Then Jesus raised his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

Then he called out in a commanding voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” [v41-43]

The crowd was silent. When after a while nothing seem to be happening, some in the crowd started snickering. But then a woman gasped and with a trembling hand pointing, she said, “Look!”

Joram climbed the stone wall to look over everyone’s shoulder and get a better look inside of the tomb. At first, all he saw was pitch darkness until he could just make out some slight grayish movement deep inside. He felt the hairs on his back stand up and eyes grew wide. The crowd was startled with a few women screaming out loud as a bound hand came out of the darkness grasping the entrance wall. Jesus reached in, grasped the other hand and helped the struggling bound man out. It was Lazarus alive after four days in the tomb. He was wrapped from head to foot with linen wrappings. The bound wrappings were hardened and stiff from the herbal ointments applied when he was buried.

No one moved. Jesus, who was holding him up, called out to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” [v44]

It was the sisters that reacted first as they both rushed up the steps and embraced Lazarus. Other men rushed up to the ledge and started to tear at the hardened wrappers. His father handed his robe to cover his nakedness. He was still pretty weak, so they had to carry him down.

The people were amazed and were calling loud praises to God. Even those Jews who had laughed at him bowed their heads in respect when Jesus and his disciples walked by following the happy family.

Joram’s mind was reeling. He heard the stories but to witness what he just witnessed was mind boggling. He had to get to know Jesus more. Fortunately, he knew the exact person to make the introduction. He was in such in a light mood that he did not notice a squad of Roman soldiers waiting outside the canyon. When they spotted him, they pounced on him. He tried to struggle free but one of the soldiers hit his head and knocked him out.

When Joram woke up, his head was pounding. It was very dark. When he tried to stand he realized he had a heavy iron cufflinks on his ankle and he was chained to the floor. He heard a moan nearby.

“Who is there? Where am I?” He asked desperately in the dark.

“Stop your wailing! No one will come to help.”

“Where are we?”

“Where else! We are deep in the dungeons of the Praetorium.”

Joram’s mind reeled. The Praetorium is the Roman fortress that overlooks the Temple itself. There is only one way out from here for the likes of him; crucifixion.

Even in his dire situation, he only had one thought, ‘I will never see him again.’
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 055

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

On the fourth day, he was lounging on the steps that overlooked the front courtyard and gate of Simon’s house. He was enjoying a bowl full of dates when from inside the house Martha, Simon’s older sister, emerged followed by Simon and some servants. In a quick pace, they went out the gate. Curious, Joram quickly descended the stairs, crossed to the gate and dashed after them. He followed them through the village but he was careful to hug the sides of houses and made sure he had sharp eyes for patrolling Romans.

He followed Martha and Simon out the village gate. They went down the road about a quarter of a mile to a crowd of people milling at the side of the road. They both approached a man who was sitting on a hewn log. The man stood to greet Simon with a hug. Joram realized that that man had to be the one who healed Simon, Jesus.

Martha who looked angry stood at a distance. The man Jesus took a step towards her and said, “Martha.”

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha said in an angry and trembling voice. Then she bowed her head and sobbingly said, “Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” [John 11:21,22]

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [v23]

Sighing deeply she said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” [v24]

Then Jesus approached her and stood before her. Her face was bowed and downcast. “Martha, look into my eyes,” he softly said to her. She slowly raised her teary eyes to meet his. Then he gave her a reassuring smile and said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” She cast her face down again in shame. Jesus ever so gently lifted her chin and asked, “Do you believe this?” [v25,26]

She sobbed loudly and Jesus drew her closer to him so that her face cried on his shoulder. Martha said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even he who comes into the world.” [v27]

Then Martha hurried back to the village with her servant in tow. Meanwhile, Joram wrestled with the words that Jesus incredibly uttered, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ Joram was flabbergasted. He was thinking to himself on how anyone can make such a claim.

About fifteen minutes later, a sizable crowd was seen coming out, a number of them were Jewish leaders from the city paying their respect. They were following Mary, the youngest sister of Lazarus, who was walking fast ahead of them. Martha was just behind her. When Mary spotted Jesus, she sprinted the last twenty yards to him. Then she threw herself on the ground at his feet weeping loudly.

Her tear streaked face lifted to look imploringly at him and she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [v32]

Jesus helped her up on her feet and she fiercely embraced him, burying her face unto his chest weeping loudly. As Jesus returned her embrace, he was openly weeping. The women among the crowd were also weeping loudly.

Then he looked at Simon and his daughter, Martha and asked, “Where have you laid him?”

“Lord, come and see.” [v34]
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 054

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Joram silently went over a high wall of a villa in the village of Bethany. The occupants were hopefully sound asleep. He saw that there was a light shining through the third floor balcony. With limber agility, he easily climbed up to the third level. Taking a careful peek through the open door of the balcony, he was relieved to see Simon the Leper writing on a parchment under candle light.

“The last time I saw you, my old friend, you had no nose,” Joram said lightly.

Simon turned his head a little surprised, but as he recognized his intruder he humorously responded, “I thought the Romans had you in chains by now.”

“They almost caught me once or twice.” He gave a short laugh, then he paused and said, “I feel sorrow for you, my old friend… for the loss of your son.”

“Yes… Thank you…” They were quiet for a long while until finally Simon asked, “So, what has been happening with you?”

“Never mind me,” Joram said. He hesitatingly reached out to touch his face. “It is you that have a story to tell. Except for you, I have not heard of anyone who had escaped the fate of the lepers.”

So, Simon told him of how Jesus healed him. He spoke of his other miracles and teachings which to Joram was somewhat hard to comprehend. They talked the night hours away and just as the sky paled over the eastern hills, Simon confessed his utmost belief that this man Jesus is truly the Messiah. When they broke the night’s fast, Simon invited him to stay… and stay indeed for four days.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 053

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

The next day, he was awakened by murmurings just below him. His first thought was that the soldiers had discovered his hideaway. Then he heard women crying. He slowly stuck his head out the hole and peered over the ledge. It was a funeral procession.

It was a large procession of more than a hundred people from Bethany. By the finery of the clothes of the mourners, the person that was being buried must have been very rich. They were just passing by under him, carrying the body on an open liter. The body, surrounded by flowers, was tightly wound by linen wrappings coated with a concoction of spices. Following it were the immediate family. One of them may have been someone he knew. But that was impossible, for the one he was thinking of was a leper and was probably long dead.

He watched the procession go to the far end of the quarry into one of the fenced-in garden. From his high vantage, he had a clear sight of the garden which was fenced in by a short rock wall about three feet high. This family was very rich for there were four burial chambers some of which were carved out halfway up the canyon walls. There were rough steps carved into the rock that led up to several ledges. Those carrying the liter climbed to the first ledge about five feet above the canyon floor. The ledge was only wide enough for about five to six people. A large heavy circular stone was rolled away to reveal the tomb. Two men carried the body in. After a minute, they came out and rolled the stone back to cover the chamber.

Then, another man, a much older one, went up to stand by the tomb. He reluctantly placed his hand on the stone to say goodbye. He turned to the mourners and spoke. Joram could not hear what was spoken but that was not what surprised him. The old man speaking was not only a man he knew, but one he thought was long dead. As he peered closely at the speaker, his eyes widened in disbelief. The man he is now seeing is his friend of fifteen years, Simon the Leper. But this man, clearly, had no trace of the disease. When last he saw Simon, his nose had rotten away and his face was bleeding from multiple sores. His back was hunched low and he was in constant pain. That was three years ago, when his friend asked him to leave him to die.

He was about to crawl out of his hideaway to see his friend, when he noticed two Romans lazing around near the entrance watching the funeral. He was wondering if they were posted there to keep an eye out for him. He was flattered but his pouch of food is only good for one more day, maybe two. He has to find a way to sneak past them. He thought of going out with the funeral mourners but his dirty clothes would not blend with their finery. Besides, he may have robbed some of them one time or another. So, he’ll go out when it gets dark.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 052

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Thieving had always been Joram’s way of life since he was a small boy in the streets of lower Jerusalem. If he was not pocketing fruit from a vendor’s stall, he would be climbing through a third floor window pilfering someone’s valuables. In whatever situation he was in, he could always count on being chased.

Joram was on the run again.

He was spotted pilfering through the packs of some sleeping Roman legionaries in an encampment in the Jordan River valley just north of Jericho. He decided to evacuate the area most haste. He was about six miles from Jerusalem on the Jericho road, when he was recognized by a Roman patrol and he had to desperately flee into the ragged surroundings of the Judean highlands. When he got to the edge of Bethany, he thought he lost the pursuit, when he heard a shout, “There he is!” from behind him. Rather than hiding in the village, Joram high-tailed it down a narrow track that jotted back into the trees. The track wound it’s way to the south-east side of the village then it went about another mile until it went down into a quarry which is utilized by the wealthy dwellers of Bethany as burial places. He also knew of a well hidden spot.

The quarry is situated in a box-canyon with only one entry way. From behind the bushes he was hiding in, Joram had to dash across out in the open through the entryway. Most thieves normally would not get caught dead in a place with only one entrance, but he was not concerned for he knew of a couple ways out of this canyon. The craggly limestone walls of the quarry rose up about thirty feet on both sides of the path until it widens up. The grave sites that he walked by were fenced in by three foot-high rock walls. Some of the enclosures had flowery gardens in them, a sure sign they belong to the rich.

Joram followed the path further in until it went right by a pile of old rock-fall against a sheer roughly hewn wall. He got on the top of the rock pile then finding hand and foot holds on the wall, he began to climb. He went up about fifteen feet where there was a ledge and a hole in the wall. As he squeezed through it, he found the chamber exactly the way he left it. He had used this hole before. And he went in just in time, for he heard voices below him.

The voices he heard were talking in the Roman tongue. Apparently, from what he could make out was one of the soldiers thought he saw him run into the quarry. They spread out and searched. Fortunately, they will not be able to see the hole from the ground nor will they even notice the ledge since it is not easily distinguishable against the ragged wall.

Joram heard a whistle blow twice. A commanding guttural voice called out, probably a command to assemble. As the voices faded, he took a quick peek outside and sighted the tail-end of the line of soldiers leaving the quarry. He smiled to himself.

“That was a little too close,” he said to himself.

He backed back into the chamber. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark then took stock of his small hideaway. The chamber was not natural. It had a very low ceiling and had room enough for three large persons laying side by side. The far wall was stacked with some very old rusted tools and broken crates. He figured that this chamber was a supply cache when the quarry floor was still level to it. He imagined thousands of bedraggled Israelites digging away and mining it for limestone and marble slabs probably way back in the days of Solomon’s building boom hundred of years back. Joram went to one of the crates and tilted it up to reveal a number of items he left when last he was here. He picked out a small oil lamp. Shook it a little to see if there was some oil left in it. Satisfied that it hadn’t dried out, he struck his flint to light the lamp. From his pouch he pulled out a half eaten roll of flat bread and took a bite. Unfortunately, he would have had a big chunk of a roasted fowl from the mess tent of the Roman soldiers, but the cook’s slave came in just as he was about to carve out a slice. The slave called out an alarm and all he got away with was a bit off piece of flatbread and an over ripe plum. That was his meal until the next day. At least, that was how long he had to stay hidden, he figured.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 051

MARY THE FAITHFUL
33 AD – Death of Lazarus – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

One afternoon, Lazarus woke up in the midst of a fever and in a low hoarse voice, he said, “Mary, I do not think I will make it.”

“What talk is this, Lazarus?” Mary said a little scoldingly. “Jesus will not let you die. He will come.”

“Comfort my heart. Tell me a secret like you used to when you were little.”

Mary knew a secret and she was going to share it with him when he gets better.

“I did discover something,” she whispered. “It was when the disciples were talking amongst themselves when Jesus said ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ [Mark 9:30-32]

“I was shocked to hear it but the disciples showed very little in emotion. Joanne later told me the he had said this a number of times before. The disciples are having a hard time trying to comprehend it and fear asking him about it. Some of them believe that it was more figurative. I believe otherwise… from the things I learned so far.”

Mary was given a great privilege. When Jesus saw that she had great capacity to learn, he gave instructions to his disciples to give her tutelage of the Scriptures which were traditionally reserved only for Jewish boys. Matthew took it upon himself to instruct her. Using the holy scrolls of a friendly Synagogue leader, Mary’s eyes opened to God’s written word. In the course of a few months, she saw a repeated pattern weaved within the stories of Moses and the books of the prophets. It was a pattern of sacrificial substitution provided divinely to temporarily pay for the original sin of Adam, the first man. But those sacrifices only benefited just a few. Mankind is still eternally in danger.

Mary, however, had also gleaned a promised hope in that pattern. She saw this promise float to the surface from within the literature like pieces in a puzzle starting with a voiced certainty that the future offspring of Abraham would be a great blessing to the nations. Those pieces came together in the prophecies of the coming Messiah. The question in her mind though was what would the Messiah do? The Jews have it in their minds that the Messiah would be a returning victorious king from the line of David freeing them from the tyranny of the Romans. But Mary believed that that prophecy will not come about the way her people expected. In her mind, their way of thinking only serves their nation. But prophecy says that the Messiah would be a great blessing to the nations… to all mankind. And that blessing will come in the form of a sacrifice to top all other sacrifices. She put it all together.

“Lazarus,” she whispered into his ear, “Jesus is going to die for all of us. I don’t know how yet, but I believe it is going to happen soon… very soon. I know this because of the way he had been talking to us lately. I think I am the only one who believes this. Lazarus? Lazarus, did you hear me?”

Mary thought he was asleep. When she placed her palm on his forehead, it was cold. She expected it to be feverishly hot. She sighed a breath of relief thinking that maybe his fever broke, but then to her dismay, she realized he was not breathing.

“Abba!” She called out as loud as she could.

Simon came rushing in followed by Martha and some of the servants. As Martha wailed loudly, he calmly assessed the situation. Going to a countertop, he retrieved his daughter’s hand mirror and gently held it under his nostrils trying to detect even a slight puff of air. He looked at Mary and shook his head. Then he pulled his son’s bed covers over his head.

The activity around the house was solemn. Mary was tired and walking around in a daze. She walked into the room where Lazarus was being prepared for burial. His body was almost wrapped with linen soaked in aromatic spices. Two women were solemnly wrapping his right arm and shoulder. Mary went to the other side of the table and rolled up her sleeve.

“Mary, you should not. You will be unclean,” said one of the women. “We can finish this.”

But Mary had already picked up the soaked strips and started to delicately wrap his other arm. When only his head was left unwrapped, the two women respectfully left the room to let Mary finish up.

Mary’s tears started to fall and she started to stroke her brother’s hair. When she turns toward the open window, she says, “If only you have come…”
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 050

MARY THE FAITHFUL
33 AD – Death of Lazarus – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

The winter again was not as harsh than last year and spring seem to have sprung up a little early in Judea. But the air was still a bit cold when Mary returned home with her two companions from Galilee. She had spent three wonderful months with Mariam, the mother of Jesus.

Mariam had taken Mary under her wing. From her, Mary was told an incredible story of how she was visited by an angel of the Lord. From that meeting, Mariam was told what the Lord God had intended and as intended, she became pregnant. The incredible part was that she was a virgin.

Jesus had been focusing his ministry in and around Nazareth and Capernaum. Whenever, Jesus was there, Mary had taken every opportunity learn more about him, the kingdom and eternal life. She even learned of things that Jesus only reserved to his closest disciples. For her, it was heaven.

When she alighted from the wagon, her father emerged from the house.

“Abba,” she hugged him. “It is good to be home.”

The two women approached them.

“Abba, you remember Mary of Magdala. And this is Joanne. Her husband is Chuza…”

“Oh yes… he is Antipas’ finance manager, I recall,” Simon said. “Ladies… please enter our home. I must talk to my daughter.” He led her to the side as her companions entered.

“Mary, I miss you so much. I almost regretted sending you to Galilee… almost.” Simon smiled then he hugged her again. “Before we go into the house, I have to tell you that your brother is very… very ill.”

Mary rushed into the house with her father not too far behind. She passed her two companions who clearly sensed something was wrong. She went up to the third level to her brother’s room. She paused before his door, took a breath and then entered.

Lazarus was covered from neck to foot with bed covers and blankets. His hair was flattened down in sweat. His glistening face was incredibly pallored to the point that he already resembled a corpse. It was only by his shallow breathing that Mary knew he was still alive. Martha was there laying a damp towel on his head.

“He has been asking for you, Mary,” Martha said.

“I wish I knew he was ill, or else I would have come earlier,” she said as they hugged each other. “How is he?”

“I feel much better, now that you are here,” Lazarus said as he smiled weakly. Then he fell back to sleep.

Martha took Mary to the far end of the room and whispers, “He is not getting better. I fear the worse. Where is the Master? Father had been sending messengers far and wide.”

“He and the Twelve are somewhere in the Perean region.”

“Then, I must inform Father, so he can send messengers. You stay and keep him cool.”

“Of course, sister.”

Martha quietly left the room.

“Mary?”

“I am here, brother.”

Mary went to his bed and replaced the the damp cloth on his head. He asked her for some news and she told him of the happenings of Capernaum, Cana and at Nazareth, mostly places where she was. Throughout the night and several other nights, she and her companions took turns in caring for him. However, Lazarus did not get any better and there were no signs of Jesus.

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