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Journey To Jerusalem - Chapter One
Simon trudged the last couple yards to the well and sat on a large rock nearby. He dropped the reins to his donkey and let him meander a few feet away to a small tree, to feed on some leafy fig branches. His feet ached and throbbed from the long journey.
After pulling off his well-worn sandals, he rubbed them in places that weren’t blistered and tried to massage the swelling away. His light, gray tunic was dark and dingy, covered with layers of dirt and sweat.
Perspiration beaded his face and streamed into his silver streaked beard. After a few moments rest he drew a bucket of water from the well and washed his hands, face and feet. The cool water from deep in the well refreshed his spirit and attitude. As he arose his feet still throbbed with painful disobedience, but they were able to carry his weight to the donkey.
“Come on Samuel. We finally arrived. Welcome to Jerusalem.”
Samuel brayed loudly at the interruption of his meal, but succumbed to the pressure on the reins after pulling off one last tasty branch. They walked slowly down the dusty trail from the public well site on the edge of the city, toward the busy market place a half mile away.
The closer to the market the more difficult it became to weave through the growing crowd. The bright morning sun squinted Simon’s dark brown eyes and warmed his bearded face. He smiled back at the sun; a tentative, hopeful smile.
As he arrived at the outdoor market, the first merchant he came upon was a small, wrinkled man selling doves from his overloaded wagon. “Can I ask some information of you sir?” Simon questioned.
The noise from the surrounding merchants and patrons, bartering over their purchases, assaulted the weary traveler’s eardrums.
“Is it about these lovely winged creatures?
“Is it about their price? I assure you a fair deal.” The merchant said.
“No, I’m trying to find a man.” Simon informed him.
The tiny figure sighed pathetically and his brow lowered. “I sell doves sir. And as you can see, there are many men about. I’m trying to make a living and don’t have the time or inclination to serve as your tour guide.”
Samuel pulled abruptly on the reins, being teased by the smell of oats being sold a few wagons down. “I have come a very long way and I am not asking you to lead me through the city personally to find this man, just tell me if…”
“You fool!” the merchant interrupted. “Do you not know how many thousands upon thousands of people come to Jerusalem for the Passover? Unless you have made arrangements to meet this man somewhere in advance you are on an impossible mission.”
Simon stomped his foot angrily as he dug into the camel skin bag hanging from his shoulder. He produced a coin and violently slapped it into the man’s hand. “One question.”
The merchant smiled greedily through only a half dozen crooked, yellowed teeth.
“Very well.” He snickered.
“Do you have any idea where I can find a man they call, Jesus of Nazareth?”
The disgusting teeth disappeared behind tight worried lips. His shoulders slumped as he stuttered. “Ya…ya…yes. He was arrested last night. They say he…he…he is in the hands of Pilate…at his palace.”
“Arrested! No, no…I must talk to him. I’ve come such a long way…I…must talk to him.”
The merchant trembled as he spoke. “All of his followers have fled. It is very dangerous to speak of him. The governor has eyes everywhere. Go…go now.”
Simon stumbled away from the cart in a daze. His eyes turned red, and tears streamed down his face. His breath was hard to find and his heart threatened to leave his chest.
“Sir!” the merchant shouted after him.
Simon turned around just in time to catch the coin the small man tossed back to him.
The scene around the governor’s house was frantic chaos. Several thousand men and women milled about spewing venom and hate.
Several dozen Roman soldiers guarded the ornate, dark wooden and gold palace doors and many more mingled with the crowd, waiting for orders from the governor and searching for familiar faces. They assumed some of the disciples of the man on trial in the palace might try to start a riot and rescue their leader. If there were any disciples here they were silent in fear of the thousands of Jewish citizens who were shouting loudly for the death of the Nazarene.
Simon made his way through the crowd to within thirty yards of the large marble palace steps. His heart pounded as his ears were attacked with the insults and hate for the man that Simon had come so far to see. As he wiped his face with a cloth from his shoulder bag a deafening roar went up from the crowd.
“It is Pilate, the governor…quiet, let us hear him!” shouted the man next to Simon. A short, stocky, gray haired man walked to the edge of the long stairway. He was dressed in a bright white robe trimmed in dazzling gold leaf. His forehead bore thick lines of worry, though his expression seemed smug. The crowd calmed as he spoke.
“As is your custom, a few hours ago I gave you the opportunity to free one prisoner at this, your time of Passover. To my astonishment you chose a murderer, thief and conspirator, Barabbas.” The governor stated. “He has been released as promised.”
The crowd applauded and cheered! Pilate motioned them to listen. “As to this man Jesus, I have questioned him extensively…I still find no reason for his arrest.”
“He is a liar and blasphemer…” the crowd erupted.
“Quiet, quiet!” Pilate shouted. “I have found him innocent, but you know I am compassionate to your beliefs. Here is your king.”
With that Pilate motioned to the guard at the large gold door. The soldier swung it open and four more soldiers dragged out a towering figure. As they brought him to the edge of the marble steps with the governor, Simon knew that this was Jesus. Even though bent over in painful agony, he was at least a foot taller than the guards were.
He wore a bright purple robe, darkened and streaked in blood. On his head a crown of thick thorns, each over an inch long, had pierced his skull and he bled profusely from the dozens of wounds. His long hair and beard were painted crimson and his eyes were nearly swollen shut from beatings.
The crowd exploded with terrible threats and wicked screams of, “CRUCIFY, CRUCIFY, CRUCIFY!”
Pilate quieted them with a hand motion, “Be certain of your decision. I have scourged him and punished him severely. Surely this will satisfy your lust.”
“What do you want done with your king, I ask you one final time.”
“We have no king but Caesar. If you do not crucify him, you are no friend of Caesar!” said one of the chief Jewish priest standing at the front of the steps.
Pilate rang his hands nervously. His voice trembled as he spoke. “Very well. This is your decision not mine. I am innocent in all of this. I wash my hands clean, free of any deceit, there will be no blood on my hands.”
“CRUCIFY, CRUCIFY, CRUCIFY!”
Pilate looked to the guards holding Jesus. In an obvious state of despair he moaned, “Give them what they want.”
The crowd roared with evil joy as fifty soldiers from the flock jumped to the steps and began clearing a path for them to lead Jesus away to his execution. Simon’s eyes ran wet as he was pushed along out of his own control, away from the palace area and down a side street in another direction. He tried to fight his way out of the mob, but it was useless.
They moved as one evil swarm, out of control and Simon had no decision in the matter. He was forced into the swift current of the bloodthirsty crowd.
From somewhere in the mob, Samuel’s reins were purposely ripped from his hands. Simon could not see the thief, who was able to escape with his donkey and the packs that he carried. All he could do was shout helplessly into the air to his faithful companion. “Samuel!”
Back inside the palace, Pilate’s hands burned. They felt as if they were on fire. He hurriedly poured fresh water into a silver trimmed, ceramic bowl and dipped his hands to wash them. As he lifted them out of the water he was horrified to see pure blood run off his fingers. He dipped them again and again, but each time he took them from the water they turned a deeper, darker red.
“No…no…no…I am innocent…it is what they wanted…they demanded it!” he yelled. He repeatedly scrubbed his hands violently but to no avail. Thick, red blood covered his hands and traveled up his wrist. He raised his voice to heaven and with an insanely wretched scream he collapsed onto the cold marble floor and hopelessly sobbed, “No…no…no…”
Ten minutes later Simon found himself with a thousand others, lining the narrow, cobblestone street. The enraged throng had trampled his sore and blistered feet, and several toes had been broken. He tried to stand on his heels to relieve the pain and pressure, but that was quite impossible in the shifting mob.
Simon could not believe what was happening. He had come so many miles to see this man he had only heard tales of, and to ask a request of him. And now it appeared he could only witness his execution.
From his home in Cyrene, in northern Africa, news had come about a great prophet who had performed miraculous signs and wonders. Many thought he was the Messiah they had been waiting for. Others claimed he was just a magician, misleading the Jews and blaspheming God. Most of the latter had never heard him speak or witnessed any of his miracles.
Simon didn’t make much of the gossip from Jerusalem, but just tended to his family and loved the Lord and followed his commandments.
His two sons, Alexander and Rufus, also loved the Lord and followed their fathers examples. Rufus was twelve and Alexander was seventeen. Simon was a widower and with help from family, had done a good job of raising the boys.
It was for his older son, Alexander that Simon made this long journey to see this prophet and wonder worker of God. His first son was born, not only blind, but also without eyes. Even this tragic circumstance did little to slow Alexander from youthful activities or from serving the Lord. The robust teenager was always first to complete his chores and the last one to finish eating his meal.
One day as Alexander climbed a ladder to deliver a tool to his father on the roof he slipped and fell, breaking his back. The boy was paralyzed and lay in bed wasting away. He could rarely hold down food and his determined spirit was eventually broken.
Simon mourned every hour of every day for his son’s condition. His prayers to either take Alexander from his pain and torment or heal his back went unanswered. Finally, out of desperation he decided to see if this prophet really existed and if he did, maybe he could heal Alexander’s back.
But, he was obviously too late. His journey was going to be in vain and even worse, the prophet was about to be put to death. The noise level rose dramatically as the soldiers appeared from around the corner and began marching toward Simon.
He scanned the crowd and noticed a few people here and there who were not shouting threats, but indeed mournfully weeping. Women, men and children, who must be followers, he thought. The rest of the angry throng didn’t even notice them as they concentrated on the grotesque parade approaching.
As many as forty-five Roman soldiers, with shields and spears led the way. The crowd gave the soldiers a wide birth as some of them had whips and were lashing out at anyone coming too close to the prisoner.
“Get back you animals!” one of them shouted.
Then Simon saw him. Stooped over with his matted bloody hair covering his face, he trudged to within ten feet. He no longer wore the bloody purple robe, but was stripped to just a modest rag wrapped around his midsection. The crown of thorns still caused a heavy flow of blood, which dripped onto the thirsty cobblestones.
He labored with a huge, wooden crossbeam over his shoulders and the weight caused him to collapse every few feet. The guard would whip the man violently and order him to, “Get up!” Finally it seemed he must be dead, because he collapsed and didn’t move.
“I said get up you scum!” the guard screamed.
He whipped him repeatedly, but the figure lay motionless on the ground. Then another guard came over and kicked him repeatedly in the side. Simon could hear the bones crack with the force of the blows. It angered the soldier when his prisoner didn’t respond.
He pulled a weapon from his belt. It was a stick, two feet long, which had four pieces of ropes extending from the handle. At the end of the three-foot stretch of ropes were fastened clumps of bent nails and jagged iron. The guard began to beat Jesus with this devastating weapon as Simon watched in horror.
Huge strips of flesh pealed back from his bare body. Repeated blows to his arms, shoulders and back,
ripped the meat to the bone with a sickening thud. By this time half a dozen soldiers were kicking him and torturing him with these weapons. All the while the soldiers and many from the crowd covered his body with disgusting green, spit and mucus, so that not even one inch of his body was not clothed in the filthy slime.
Simon could stand no more. He lurched forward off his broken feet and flew through the air, landing only a few feet from the body. From there he crawled the rest of the way and lay across the motionless body of Jesus to protect him while the Romans continued to reign down heavy blows, now onto Simon.
They stopped after a few more strikes and tried to drag him off their victim, but his strength was somehow double theirs and they couldn’t budge him. The soldiers were amused at the audacity of this vagabond and laughed out loud at the sight. As they laughed, Jesus stirred beneath Simon’s body. He turned his head to meet Simon at ground level, face to face.
As Simon gazed upon him he was overcome with joy and pain simultaneously. The eyes he stared into, through swollen slits, were intense and piercing, crystal blue.
He had never in his life seen eyes that color before. There was an intense energy that flowed from those eyes that left no doubt that this was the Messiah his people had been waiting for. But, how could he save us now, he wondered.
“Bless you Simon.” Jesus whispered.
“Okay now friend.” The guard interrupted. “You have just volunteered.”
Simon looked into his Saviors eyes. Jesus nodded agreement with the soldier’s demand. Simon rose to his feet and then picked up Jesus delicately.
Two of the soldiers hefted the crossbeam onto Simon’s small shoulders. The weight almost took him down, but he struggled back to an upright position. The lead guard kicked Jesus in the back and launched him forward five feet.
“Move!” he commanded. And down the road they went.
Along the pathway they slowly progressed. The longer they marched the more weeping faces they encountered. By the time they reached the edge of the city the crowd grew hauntingly quiet, with just occasional insults hurled here and there. Soon, even the insults ceased.
On the last stretch of the cobblestone road, Jesus slipped and fell to the ground. A petite lady ran to his side to help him up. After he wobbled to unsteady legs she tenderly wiped the blood from his face with a white cloth. He set his shackled hands on her head and blessed her before he staggered on toward the dark, evil hillside in the distance.
When the procession arrived at the top of the hill there were all ready two other souls being lifted into the air on large wooden crosses. They moaned loudly in excruciating pain as Simon gazed in disbelief at the carnage that was taking place.
A crowd had gathered on the hilltop to witness the execution, but no one spoke or stirred. Even the Roman soldiers seemed quietly uneasy as they went about their task.
They removed the beam from Simon’s shoulders and laid it on the ground. One of the guards brought Jesus over after removing his chains. They drove huge spikes into the crossbeam, securing it to the main post.
They set Jesus on the prone cross and stretched his bloody right arm out as far as it would go. The soldier placed a nail in the center of Jesus’ hand. He raised his hammer into the air, but then froze like a statue. Tears began streaming down his sweaty face. Slowly at first and then as if a damn burst.
Instinct was telling Simon to go stop the soldier, pull the hammer from his hand and get ready for the attack from the other soldiers. But, just as he was about to make his move, a woman dressed in a flowing, blue robe, brushed by him and knelt beside Jesus and the soldier.
Jesus smiled adoringly at the sweet looking lady and nodded. Then he spoke something unheard to the soldier. Something comforting it seemed. The soldier sighed, nodded and took a deep breath before delivering 6 exact, carefully aimed blows, driving the nail through the flesh and into the beam. He repeated the procedure on the other hand and both feet.
As they began to raise the cross into place Simon could bare no more. He turned and ran down the hill, his sorrow overcoming the pain in his feet and wounds on his back. He didn’t look back at the scene, but the horrific vision remained in front of his eyes for many, many miles.
Several weeks later Simon had reached the hill over looking his home in the country outside of Cyrene. He felt unusual strength on the journey home. His feet had healed quickly and though he feared that Alexander had probably died while he was gone, he was filled with an unusual peace. As he approached he saw a tall figure leave the stable and walk toward the house carrying two wooden buckets.
“Rufus!” he yelled. “I am home son.”
The figure stopped and turned toward Simon. He dropped the buckets, let out a whoop and charged up the hill. The person approaching so rapidly was much too large to be young Rufus. And yet he heard a familiar voice shouting to him, “Father! Father, you’re home!” It was Alexander! Strong, healthy and running like the wind!
“Alexander…Alexander…do my eyes deceive me? Is it really you or am I having a wonderful dream?” he cried.
The teenager jumped into his fathers arms and they spun around joyfully. As he stopped he looked into his oldest son’s face and wept uncontrollably. Alexander’s eyes were wide open and he was staring intently at his father for the first time in his life, with beautiful, deep, crystal blue eyes.
“Alexander…you…you can see? My God, my Lord…you…you have eyes!”
His son nodded.
“He was…He…IS the Messiah…oh thank you Jesus, thank you!”
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