10 Nissan • Jerusalem
· Alexander of Cyrene ·
“Alexander!” Papa called across the Cyrene Synagogue. I glanced up from the scroll spread before me and a few other boys my age. “I’m going to the temple to choose a lamb. Come with me.” My shoulders slumped. We didn’t have a copy of the Torah like this in the synagogue back in Cyrene, and I was savoring the rabbi’s instruction.
However, choosing the lamb for the Passover was one of the most important parts of the festival preparations. For the next four days, my family would take care of it. Then, at the end of the week, we would have to eat it during our Passover meal. Normally, I enjoyed helping Papa choose the lamb. This time, I wished Papa would do it without me.
“Go, Alexander,” The rabbi prodded with a gentle smile. “You can always find me when you come back and we will look at the prophet’s words then.”
I nodded unhappily and unwound my teffilin, the boxes containing the laws of God, from my head and upper arm. After I had placed them in their box, I followed Papa out of the synagogue, blinking in the bright sunshine.
In the two days that I had been in Jerusalem, I had grown to love it. The city hummed with excitement, especially today. The closer we got to the temple, that hum turned into a roar. “Where’s that noise coming from?” I asked Papa
But he only shrugged. “The Temple?”
“Is it a riot?” My heart beat harder, but whether it was from excitement or nervousness, I couldn’t tell. Jerusalem was a violent city in comparison to Cyrene. Still, a small part of me wanted to see something exciting that I could brag about to my friends when we went home in a month. “Remember what Rabbi Jotham said yesterday about that insurrection a few weeks ago? Do you think the leader escaped prison and is leading another mob to the Palace of Herod?”
Papa stopped and glared at me. “First of all, Rabbi Jotham said that the leader is being heavily guarded and has been condemned to be crucified in the next few days. He won’t be escaping, now or ever. Second, if it was a riot, don’t you think it would sound more like a battle and less like a choir?”
I averted my eyes and nudged the dust with my big toe. Now that I was paying attention, I could hear the happiness in the cacophony.
“You’re 13 years old, which means you’re a man now. It’s time to grow up and act like it.” With that, he stalked away.
My eyes burned. Ever since the accident that had left my little brother, Rufus, with a lame leg three years ago, Papa had been like this. Some days, he was fine. But other days, he was sullen at best and hurtful at worst. I wish Papa’s spirits recovered as well as Rufus’ good leg, I thought as I followed him
The Temple court walls loomed over us before the crowds got so thick that we couldn’t move forward. All around us, people waved palm branches and shouting as they pressed toward the Temple. One man next to me shouted, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” A woman nearby shouted, “Glory to the Son of David!” Other cries rang around us.
“Peace in the highest heaven!”
“Glory in the highest!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Save us, Son of David!”
I stared around me with wide eyes. We never celebrated the Passover like this in Cyrene. “Papa? Is this normal for Jerusalem at Passover?” Papa shook his head and pointed at his ear. I pointed to the palm branches. “IS THIS NORMAL?” I yelled.
Papa shook his head emphatically then turned to the man next to him. “What’s going on? Who are you shouting about?”
The man shouted back, “Don’t you know who’s coming into Jerusalem today?”
Papa shrugged, bewildered. “Should I?”
“It’s Jesus! The prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!”
My eyebrows rose. The people who lived here talked about little other than this Jesus. One of the rabbis at the synagogue said that he had heard one of Jesus’ life-changing speechs on the Torah a few months ago. I overheard one woman tell Mama that He had once fed thousands with a little boy’s lunch. Then there was a legend that He walked on water. Not like I believed all the stories, but it made for good evening entertainment. I want to see him, I thought. Does He look as remarkable as the stories about Him are?
“Isn’t He the miracle worker that supposedly raised that man from the dead?” Papa asked.
” ‘Supposedly’? You must be a stranger around here. None of the locals doubt it. Besides, my wife’s cousin knows people who were there and saw Lazarus walk out of the tomb!”
“Likely story,” Papa muttered to me. If the man heard, he didn’t take the bait.
“You should press forward! It’ll be worth it, I promise you! You’ll be able to tell your grandchildren someday, ‘I watched the Messiah ride into Jerusalem to claim David’s throne!’ Come with me and I’ll show you a shortcut into the Temple. We’ll be able to see Him there.”
Papa pursed his lips and looked back toward Akra, the suburb where the Cyrene Synagogue was. I held my breath as I watched his face. As much as I wanted to go see the prophet, I knew better than to push him. When Papa shook his head, my shoulders slumped. “We came to get a Passover lamb, not to get distracted by a cult leader,” he said.
“Suit yourself,” the man said with a shrug. “But the best lambs are at the Temple anyway.”
“But the cheaper lambs are at the marketplace on the other side of Akra,” Papa replied as he turned to leave. I glanced toward the Temple one more time before following Papa.
+ + + + +
“So you didn’t even get to the Temple?” My little brother, Rufus, asked me after Papa dropped me off at the synagogue on the way to the marketplace.
I shrugged. “Nope. But I want to go back.”
Rufus looked down, scuffing a toe against the floor. “Wish I could go.”
Rufus blinked up at me. “I would need to get to Him first.”
“He’s at the Temple. It took Papa and me about fifteen minutes to get there earlier. If I help you, we may be able to get there in an hour or so. He heals you and we’re back in time for supper.”
Rufus’ eyes shone. He glanced over at Mama, then looked back at me. “Let’s do it!”
More than two hours later, we finally made it to the Temple. “Alexander, I need to sit again,” he said, sinking onto one of the stone steps that led to the outer courtyard. He clutched his head in his hands and stared at the ground.
“We’re almost there. All we need to do is figure out where He is and get you there!” I exclaimed.
“I’m too tired, Alexander. Find Him then come back to get me.”
“Looking for Jesus?” A voice with a Jerusalem accent behind me asked. A boy around my age stood a few steps below me, his dark brown eyes flickering between Rufus and me.
I nodded. “Think he’ll see us?”
“He sees everyone.” A bright smile spread across his face. “I should know. My name is Justus son of James. Jesus is my uncle.”
Rufus gasped and my eyebrows shot up. “Seriously?” Rufus asked.
“Yep.” Justus looked up the stairs then back at me. “Between the two of us, we should be able to carry him up there.”
I wanted to accept his help, but I bit my lip and shook my head. “Didn’t you come here to worship? We don’t want to get in the way of that.”
Justus shrugged. “I was going to go see my uncle. Besides, He likes it when people are brought to Him.” Without waiting for an answer, he walked up the steps and knelt down on Rufus’ other side. “We can make a chair out of our arms like this,” He grabbed his left forearm. “Then I’ll grab your forearm with my free hand and you’ll grab mine. He can scoot onto our arms, and we can lift him up. If he wraps his arms around our necks, he won’t fall off.”
I followed his instructions. Within minutes, we were at the top of the stairs, where we stopped to rest. After I caught my breath, I grinned at Justus. “I’m glad you came when you did! It would have taken about four times as long if you hadn’t helped.”
Justus grinned back and we picked up Rufus again. Hundreds of people were pouring into the Temple courts. Some, like us, were pushing forward with the lame and blind. Since there were so many in the crowd, we had to stop frequently.
Some shuffled away with wide eyes, muttering to those they passed about Jesus. Others, especially children, were dancing and singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Alexander,” Justus said. “We can move forward now.” We shuffled forward a few feet, then had to stop again. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, what happened to your leg?” Justus asked Rufus.
Rufus grimaced. “Alexander and I were playing with friends, and I ran into the road. The man on the horse couldn’t stop in time.”
“It took months for him to get better,” I continued, “And that leg didn’t heal right.”
Our progress was almost imperceptible, and we had nothing to do but talk. By the time the sun was low over the Mount of Olives, my arms ached with Rufus’ weight. “If Mama isn’t worried about us yet,” Rufus murmured, “She will be by the time we get back.”
“Then we better make this worth whatever punishment awaits us when we get back,” I told him.
“It will be. Besides, we’re almost there.” Justus said with a nod. He looked around, then called. “Phillip!” A man about ten feet away looked around him with a furrowed brow. “Phillip! Over here!”
As soon as Phillip saw us he smiled and walked over to us. “Greetings, Justus! I was wondering when we would be seeing you. Who are your friends?”
“This is Alexander and Rufus from Cyrene. Their family is here for the Passover.”
Phillip nodded. “Greetings and welcome to Zion. I’m Phillip from Bethsaida, one of Jesus’ disciples.”
I nodded respectfully, but thought, Please, take us to Him! I’m not sure how long I can hold Rufus!
Phillip glanced between Justus and me, his head cocked. “How far have you two been carrying him?”
I nodded at Rufus. “We’re staying at the Cyrene Synagogue in Akra, and we met Justus on the steps by the Tower of Antonia.”
Phillip’s mouth fell open. “That’s quite a distance for such a heavy load! Come with me. Would you like to continue as you are, or would you permit me to carry him the rest of the way?”
My knees weakened. My arms had lost all feeling an hour ago and my shoulders were sorer than they had ever been in my life. “Take him,” I said.
As soon as Phillip picked him up, my arms tingled. As we followed Phillip, I stretched and shook my tingling arms as I followed them through the crowd. I glanced over at Justus, who was rubbing his arms vigorously. From his pained expression, I doubted he was feeling better than I was.
Less than two minutes later, Phillip broke through the crowd into a small open space. Some men stood around it as a human barrier against those who were trying to get closer. Other men were organizing the crowd. Inside the bubble, two men and a blind woman were talking quietly. Then one of the men touched the woman’s eyes. When He pulled away, the woman blinked, her eyes suddenly clear and focusing. She gasped and looked all around as though visually starved. Then she covered her mouth with her hands and fell to her knees. “Thank You, Rabbi!”
The second man knelt next to her and wrapped her in a hug, kissing her softly on the forehead. She looked up at him and burst into tears again. They stood hand in hand. “Go in peace,” the first Man said, a soft smile playing on His mouth.
As the couple left, Phillip stepped forward. “Master, your nephew and a couple of friends wish to see you.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting when He faced us, but somehow He looked shockingly… normal. His brown hair curled just enough to look out of control and He had the long nose typical of our people. From first glance, He wasn’t particularly striking in any way. The only thing about Him that caught my attention was His eyes. They flashed as though on fire and when He looked at me, I felt like I was standing before Him naked, but without shame. When He looked at Justus, a smile lit up His face and He opened His arms. “Justus!” my friend ran into His embrace. “You’ve grown since Hanukkah!”
Justus lifted his chin. “I’m almost taller than Papa now!”
Jesus chuckled then lifted a finger. “Before we catch up, I want to talk to your friend.” Justus nodded and stepped aside. Phillip set Rufus down and Jesus stooped in front of him. For a moment, they watched each other. Then Rufus cocked his head and leaned forward, which brought a smile to Jesus’ face. “You have great faith. Get up and walk.” He stood and held out His hand.
Rufus took it, beaming. As Jesus pulled him to his feet, I watched the leg straighten. My jaw dropped and my stomach tied in at least a dozen happy knots as Rufus launched himself into Jesus’ arms “Thank You, Jesus! Thank You! Thank You!”
I turned around to see Papa pushing himself through the crowd. The knots in my stomach hardened. “Papa?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”
He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off Rufus. His mouth opened and closed, but nothing he said made sense. “I… You… Your mother… we thought… Rabbi said he saw you leave…” Tears clouded his eyes. He stumbled forward, and opened his arms. Rufus just grinned ran into them. Papa looked up at Jesus and gasped, “You healed my son. Thank You.”
Jesus smiled, but before He said anything, one of His disciples pushed through the crowd and whispered in His ear. He snorted softly and whispered back. The disciple blinked, nodded, and disappeared back into the crowd.
Within seconds, some of the head priests and scribes shoved their way through. The leader snarled at Jesus. “You!” Jesus raised His scruffy eyebrows but said nothing. “We heard the most insidious thing in the outer courts. There are children out there singing Your praises! For Moses’ sake, we’re in the Temple of God!”
Jesus nodded, which seemed to infuriate the priest. He threw his arms in the air stalked away. An old scribe stepped forward and said condescendingly, “Rabbi, You’ve been in here for hours, and so we doubt that You know what is happening outside this porch. I’m confident that even You, if you but knew what the children are saying, would concede that they are speaking blasphemy.”
“Concede?” Jesus smirked. “Of course I know what they’re saying! But why are you surprised? Haven’t you read the Scriptures? It says, “From the lips of infants and children, I ordain praise.”
The scribe spluttered but before he could reply, Jesus turned His back to the religious leaders and faced Phillip. “We better head to Bethany. Knowing Martha, she’s probably preparing a five-course dinner for us, and I’m hungry.” He gestured to the other disciples. “You dismiss the crowds, and meet me at the Gate of the Valley.” With that, He turned to Justus and clapped him on the back. “So, have you started your apprenticeship yet? How is your skill with a planer?”
“I’m working full time in the shop now, and the planer has been a lot easier to use since you showed me how to use it.”
As they walked away, Papa stood, one hand was resting on Rufus’ shoulder. Rufus stood tall next to him, rocking back and forth as though he couldn’t stand still. Tears streaked down Papa’s cheeks as he watched Jesus disappear into the crowd. “Come on, boys, let’s go tell your mother what Jesus did.”
+ + + + +
I was grateful that Jesus was teaching in Solomon’s Colonnade today. The last several days, He had been out in the courtyards all day long. But today, the sun burned hot. Even though it had sunk behind the Temple, sweat trickled down my spine. At least it wasn’t as bad now as it had been earlier. I turned to Papa and Mama, but they were so engrossed in Jesus’ words that I doubted they felt the beads of sweat on their foreheads.
They were holding hands, which made me smile. Ever since Jesus healed Rufus, Papa had changed. He was peaceful and hadn’t yelled at anyone all week. In fact, he had actually laughed a couple times! I had forgotten that his laugh was like rolling thunder, and it caught me off-guard every time I heard it. In many respects, I felt like when Jesus healed Rufus, he healed my father, too.
Justus, sitting on my other side nudged me and nodded outside the portico where Rufus was playing. The kid still couldn’t hold still. Mama said that he was making up for lost time but I had to work hard at not being annoyed. Right then, he was playing Follow the Leader, and Rufus was in front, hopping up the stairs of the portico. I felt sorry for all the other kids as they followed him. Rufus turned around and jumped up the stairs backwards. “Come on! Keep your feet together! You can do it! We only have eight more steps to the top!” Then Rufus tripped and sat down hard. It knocked the wind out of him, but he didn’t cry, so I assumed he was okay. The other kids collapsed on the stairs, gasping for breath. Justus looked at me and grinned. I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. I didn’t do a very good job and Papa looked at me sternly. So, I swallowed my laughter and looked back at Jesus.
He was only a few people over from us. When He paused, Phillip and another man walked up to Jesus and spoke to Him. I could only catch a couple of words, like “Greek,” “Talk,” and “Respectfully.” When they pulled back, Jesus squeezed their shoulders and said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He turned to the rest of us. “Yes indeed, I tell you that unless a grain of wheat that falls to the ground dies, it stays just a grain; but if it dies, it produces a big harvest. He who loves his life loses it, but he who hates his life in this world will keep it safe right on into eternal life! If someone is serving me, let him follow me; wherever I am, my servant will be there too. My Father will honor anyone who serves me.”
Just then, He glanced in our direction with a troubled expression. When Justus and I waved at Him, the edge of His mouth twisted up, but the smile didn’t reach His eyes. When He turned away, He rubbed His arms and looked up at the ceiling. “Now I am in turmoil. What can I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. I will say this: ‘Father, glorify your name!’ “
A voice boomed from the skies, “I have glorified it before, and I will glorify it again!”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I looked up at the heavens, my heart racing. The crowd buzzed with excitement as I caught my breath. “What was that?”
“Thunder,” Papa said. “Strange that the sky is so clear, though.”
Justus shook his head, his eyes large. “I heard a voice! I… I think an angel spoke to Him.”
“What did it say?” Papa asked, but Justus didn’t answer because Jesus held up a hand and waited until the crowd quieted.
“The voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time for this world to be judged, now the ruler of this world will be expelled. As for me, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
I shook my head. Sometimes Jesus spoke so strangely. ” ‘When I am lifted up from the earth’? Why does that sound like He’s talking about death?” I whispered. Justus shrugged.
Papa sighed and placed a hand on my knee. “I’ll tell you later.”
The crowds whispered for a couple minutes as Jesus walked away with His two disciples. The man beside us rose to his feet. “Rabbi?” Jesus turned to face him. “We have learned from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How is it that you say the Son of Man has to be ‘lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
At least I’m not the only one who’s confused! I thought.
Jesus took a deep breath. “The light will be with you only a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, or the dark will overtake you; he who walks in the dark doesn’t know where he’s going. While you have the light, put your trust in the light, so that you may become people of light.”
The man cocked his head and blinked. “Are you saying this Son of Man is light? What kind of answer is that? Are You or are You not the Messiah?” Jesus didn’t answer. He smiled at the man, then walked out of the portico. The rest of the disciples quickly dismissed us and followed Him out.
Jesus’ strange words made my stomach feel hollow as we left the portico. “Are people trying to kill Jesus?”
Justus shrugged. “There are a lot of people who want Him dead. The chief priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the Herodians…”
I raised an eyebrow at his matter-of-fact attitude. “And He isn’t hiding in a cave somewhere because…”
“They’ve tried to kill Him many times.” He smiled. “Jesus keeps escaping them. I don’t think they’ll ever succeed.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Papa said, as we stopped to wait for Mama to get Rufus. “Your uncle is a great man, and I mean no disrespect to Him, but He is foolishly bold. He speaks with authority like I’ve never heard before, but I’ve seen the way the religious leaders look at Him. He’s a threat to them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they resort to something unethical to see that He’s silenced.”
Justus stared at him, his mouth dropped open. Finally, he closed it and turned his head away, his brow furrowed and eyes flicking back and forth.
“I’m sorry, Justus. I really am. And I can’t tell you how much I hope I’m wrong,” Papa said gently.
Justus didn’t look up.
“But, Papa,” I said, “The Passover starts the day after tomorrow. They wouldn’t kill Him during the festival, would they?”
“The way the crowds love Him? Probably not.”
“And if they were going to arrest Him publicly, they would have done it by now.” Justus stared at us but otherwise, held very still.
Papa let out a deep breath slowly and nodded. “Probably.”
“Then all He needs to do is teach publicly when He’s here and hide when he’s not until the priests slaughter the sacrificial lamb day after tomorrow. Then, He sneaks away to a safer region in all the crowds right after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.”
Justus relaxed, glowing with a new confidence. “Yeah! If He does that, then they won’t be able to kill Him!”
Papa shrugged. “Let’s pray it’s that simple.”
Mama and Rufus reached us and we left the Temple grounds. “Justus, will Jesus be celebrating the Passover meal with your family?”
Justus shook his head. “My Grandma Mary will be, but not Uncle Jesus. He’s going to be celebrating with His disciples tomorrow night.”
I cocked my head. “But that’s a day early.”
“He probably has big plans for the fourteenth.” Justus glanced around then leaned toward us. “I think that’s when He’ll raise up an army and free Jerusalem. Remember what the prophets say about salvation coming for Israel in a single day?”
I grinned and whispered, “I’d fight in that army, and I bet most of the men who’ve listened to Him this week would, too!”
Papa and Mama exchanged a look. Papa shrugged. “He is a miracle worker.” He said, “Maybe He could drive out all the Romans in a day. But I’m concerned that His greater challenge will be with the priests and elders. They would never let someone with such blunt opinions sit on David’s throne.”
+ + + + +
“Alexander,” Papa shook me as I laid in bed. I groaned, blinking in the early morning light streaming through the synagogue windows. It looked like Mama, Papa, and a few rabbis were the only ones awake. Sleeping mats with dreaming people were still scattered around the floor. “Alexander, wake up. Justus is here and needs to talk to you.”
I sat up, blinking at him. “Whaa? Where?”
Papa’s shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry, son. Jesus… Jesus was arrested last night and tried for blasphemy.”
I was awake now. “What?”
“They… they condemned him to death. He claimed to be the Son of God.” Papa shook his head. “The fool. If He had kept His mouth shut, they would have had to release Him. He’s done nothing wrong other than that.”
I felt like someone had just hit me in the stomach with a brick. “Then…”
“Justus is at the door of the synagogue and needs a friend. Go on. I’ll roll up your sleeping mat.” I nodded and rubbed my eyes as I threw the blanket off me.
Justus was sitting against the doorpost when I walked up. When I sat down next to him, he looked at me with red-rimmed and vacant eyes.
“Papa told me,” I whispered. He nodded and slumped against the doorpost. “What happened?”
He sniffed. “After celebrating the Passover meal last night, they went to the Mount of Olives… They’ve been sleeping there most of the week … The disciples hadn’t been asleep long when a mob marched in and captured Uncle Jesus.”
My eyes widened. “How did they know where…?”
Justus took a shaky breath. “One of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, brought them.”
I leaned away from him, my stomach in knots. “Why?”
Justus shrugged. “The mob took Him to the Palace of the High Priest and tried him overnight.”
“Can they do that? I thought all trials had to be during the day and public.”
Justus shook his head. “They got away with it, though. At dawn, they announced that… that…” He gasped and bit his fist. “They’re taking Him to Governor Pilate to be tried for sedition.”
“Sedition!” I cried. “But… He… He never…” I looked around wildly then looked back at Justus. “And if He’s convicted…?”
Justus buried his head in his hands. “Maybe beheading. Then again… if they want to make an example of Him…”
The word “crucifixion” hung between us unspoken.
“And if Pilate doesn’t convict him?”
“The religious leaders… stone Him… outside of the gate… before sundown.”
I leaned my head against the door and concentrated on breathing. “What does your father think?”
He gulped and shifted his weight. “Papa and Uncle Jesus… Well, they don’t get along. Papa is afraid that they’ll come for us next… and he doesn’t know that I’m here.” When my eyes widened, he continued quickly. “I’m not disobeying him right now if that’s what you’re thinking. He and my other uncles are still trying to figure out how to keep us safe. He never specifically told me not to leave.”
Papa came to the door. “I’m going to go over to the governor’s palace later to see how everything plays out. Would you two like to come along?” I nodded and looked at Justus, who was biting his lip. Slowly, he nodded. Papa sighed. “Go ask your Papa’s permission. You should be fine, so long as you never say that Jesus is your uncle. If you do that, I’m not sure I’ll be able to protect you.” Justus nodded again and trudged down the steps.
I looked at Papa. “When do we leave?”
“A couple of hours before noon. Pilate will probably be cross-examining the witnesses until then.”
+ + + + +
The courtyard before Pilate’s judgment portico was full to overflowing. We were barely able to squeeze past the gates. All sorts of people stood around talking. Many looked impoverished, but I saw familiar faces from the Temple crowds. There were also some Temple guards and religious leaders, like rabbis and councilmen. Even the chief priests were there. Dotted here and there were Roman soldiers. “Papa, are all these people here to see what happens to Jesus?”
Papa shrugged. “Come on. Let’s see how close we can get.” It seemed to take hours to squeeze forward. We stopped about twenty feet from the judge’s seat, behind some teachers of the law. I glanced into the sky to gauge the time. The sun wasn’t at its apex yet.
Papa tapped one of the teachers of the law on the shoulder. “Sir? Has anything been decided?”
The man shook his head. “Jesus is being flogged right now. I think Pilate hopes that such a small chastisement will content us.” Justus’ mouth fell open, his breath coming out in gasps. The teacher glanced at him scornfully. “Careful boy. Today is not a day to be sympathetic toward blasphemers.” Justus shut his mouth and gulped. Papa offered him a small, comforting smile as the teacher turned to speak to someone else.
Justus’ shoulders slumped. “But why?” He whispered.
Papa whispered in his ear just barely loud enough for me to hear, “It’s a good sign, Justus. Pilate recognized that your uncle is innocent, and is trying to appease the religious leaders. As awful as it is, be grateful that Pilate is being preemptive. It may just save His life.”
Pilate walked out of the palace and raised his hand for silence. His face was hard but ashen as he waited for the crowd to obey him. “You brought this man before me on a charge of subverting the people. I examined him in your presence and did not find the man guilty of the crime you are accusing him of. And neither did Herod, because he sent him back to us. Clearly, he has not done anything that merits the death penalty. So, I had Him flogged, and will release Him.”
“Away with this man!” Someone yelled. Within seconds, the whole crowd was screaming the same thing.
“Papa?” I asked, my heart beating wildly.
He shook his head. “Shh!”
Pilate’s eyes flitted back and forth across the crowd. “Look! I’m bringing Him out to you to get you to understand that I find no case against Him!”
He gestured, and two soldiers dragged Jesus out, chains on His wrists. Blood was streaming down His face from a thorny circlet jammed into His skull. Even streaked with blood, I could tell His face was bruised and beaten. His hair dripped with sweat and blood. His beard seemed to be missing in places, like someone had yanked out parts of it. The only thing he was wearing was a scarlet robe. Even that didn’t cover Him very well. I looked away, my face flushing.
“What’s that on His head?” Justus asked quietly.
“I… I think it’s supposed to be a crown,” Papa replied. As soon as they let go of Him, He collapsed to the porch steps.
I couldn’t stop myself. I looked up. Blood seeped through the robe. He was gasping, straining to push Himself to His grazed knees. I glared at Pilate, who looked down at Jesus like he was about to throw up. He swallowed and turned to us. “Behold, the man!” He shouted.
“Crucify Him!” It was instantaneous. The cry began in a group of priests standing at the foot of the stairs. Quickly, it spread through the entire crowd.
“NO!” I shouted.
“LET HIM GO!” Justus cried at the same time.
Papa’s hand smacked over my mouth. The sudden sting brought tears to my eyes. “Stop that!” Papa hissed between his teeth. He looked around then rasped next to our heads, “That kind of talk will get you lynched!” I closed my mouth and looked at Justus, Papa’s other hand over his mouth. Tears streamed down his cheeks, eyes straight ahead. Papa pulled back.
Jesus stood before Pilate, swaying back and forth slightly as the crowds yelled. His expression was sad but calm. Calm. As though everything was going to be alright. Calm. As though the people standing around us weren’t screaming for His death.
Pilate’s lips were pursed, a vein in his forehead stood out. “Why?” He screamed over the uproar. “What crime has He committed? I don’t find any case against him!”
One of the teachers of the law in front of us stepped forward. “We have a law; according to that law, he ought to be put to death, because he made himself out to be the Son of God.”
Pilate’s eyes grew large as he looked down at Jesus. He signaled the soldiers and stomped back into the palace. The soldiers grabbed Jesus and forced Him to follow the governor. A few minutes later, Pilate returned alone. He paced back and forth, glaring at the crowd. Around us, the crowd was getting more restless.
Papa was glancing around, breathing hard. “I should never have brought you here. This is turning into a mob!” He muttered under his breath.
Finally, Pilate stopped. “Every year since becoming your governor, I have released to you one prisoner during this festival. Whom do you want me to set free for you? Barabbas? or do you want me to set free for you the ‘King of the Jews’?”
“Give us Barabbas!” The crowds screamed.
“Justus?” Papa breathed. “Wasn’t Barabbas the name of the leader of an insurrection a few weeks ago?”
Justus gulped and nodded, not taking his eyes off Pilate.
The governor finally sat down in the judgment seat. “Bring Him out,” He barked into the palace, then sat on the judge’s seat. The crowds screamed even louder for Barabbas as Jesus walked out unsteadily. Pilate gestured at Jesus. “Here’s your king!”
“Take Him away!”
“We have no king but the Emperor!”
“Put Him to death!”
Pilate turned to a servant, but I couldn’t hear what he said over the uproar. The servant disappeared inside, then returned with a pitcher of water. Pilate put out his hands and the servant poured the water. He held up his hands to the crowd, water streaming down his sleeves and screamed, “My hands are clean of this man’s blood; it’s your responsibility!”
“His blood is on us and on our children!” Someone screamed, and everyone else agreed.
Jesus’ shoulders slumped as He looked over the crowd. Somehow, He found us in the crowd. As soon as He saw us, He closed His eyes and bowed His head. “You heard them!” Pilate said to the soldiers. “Take Him and flog Him again. Thoroughly. If He survives… crucify Him.” The soldiers grabbed Jesus and yanked Him back into the palace. Pilate rose from his seat and went inside. The crowds hooped and hollered as they began to file back towards the city.
I can’t believe it, I thought. I couldn’t move. I looked over at Justus. He stared rigidly at the door Jesus had disappeared into. “You were right, they resorted to something unethical,” he whispered, looking up at Papa. A tear streaked down his cheek. “He promised to come to my house while He was in Jerusalem. He hasn’t had a chance to, yet. He’s never broken a promise before.”
Papa put a hand on Justus’ shoulder. “If you want to see Him one last time, all we need to do is walk out the gate and stay near the road. He’ll be brought out eventually, and you can see Him then.” Justus nodded and let Papa lead him out.
Apparently, all Jerusalem had the same idea. Nearly an hour passed before a drum beat in the courtyard. A Roman soldier walked out of the gate yelling, “Make way! Make way for the prisoners! Make way for those condemned to be crucified!” A man walked out, carrying a cross. He wasn’t Jesus, but an older man, bleeding through his robe. A second bleeding man followed. Still, it was a stranger. The entire crowd strained to see Jesus, then pulled back, repulsion written on every face. Papa saw what the rest of the crowd saw and pushed us back. Still, he continued to watch, horror written on his face.
“Papa! What is it?” I asked.
“I want to see my Uncle!” Justus hissed.
Papa looked back at him and gasped, “No. No, you don’t. There’s no closure here, trust me! This is worse than what you’ve already seen.”
Justus stared at him, eyes glazed. Finally, he whispered. “How worse?”
Papa gulped. “He’s so disfigured that He doesn’t look human. The soldiers were… thorough.”
“You!” A Roman soldier snarled, grabbing Papa’s arm, turning him around. His uniform was blood-splattered, and I wondered if he was the one who whipped Jesus. From my vantage point, I caught a glimpse of a blood-drenched robe and looked away. “What’s your name?”
“Simon of Cyrene, sir. Please, I’m a peace-loving man–”
“Carry the cross!” The Roman shouted in Papa’s face. “The Nazarene is too weak!”
“Sir, I beg of you, I’ve done nothing–” His voice shook with every word.
“There is no punishment waiting for you unless you don’t obey me! Carry the cross!”
Papa nodded. “I crave but one minute.”
Papa nodded again then turned to me. “Alexander, go back to the synagogue now and don’t leave there until I return. Justus, go home. Both of you, promise me that you won’t look back.” My hands felt so clammy at seeing Papa so scared. I couldn’t speak, but I nodded. Justus glanced at me and nodded, too. “Go,” Papa grabbed us and pushed us into the crowd. His hands were shaking. “I’m ready now.”
Justus and I pushed through the crowd. I longed to look back, but I kept my face forward. “I can’t believe it,” Justus murmured. “They’re actually going to kill him.”
+ + + + +
“Papa!” I yelled as soon as he trudged into the synagogue, covered in dried blood.
“Simon!” Mama screeched, tears welling in her eyes. She ran up to him and cupped his face in her hands. “I’ve been so worried. Alexander got back hours ago!”
“I’m fine, Ruth,” Papa murmured. “I had to carry the cross all the way to a mountain outside of town called Golgotha. I watched…” He covered his face with his hands. “I watched.” He slid to his knees, his shoulders shaking with sobs. Mama crouched before him and held him until he could speak again. “He was still alive when I left. But it was getting dark like a storm cloud was settling over Jerusalem. I wanted to beat the rain.”
I glanced up at the windows. So that’s why it’s so dark now.
“Papa?” Rufus asked, walking over to us. “Papa, it’s going to be okay, won’t it?”
Papa looked up at him. His face was ashen, his eyes wide. He gulped and shook his head. “I don’t know son. I just don’t know.”
+ + + + +
Three days later
“Justus?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hadn’t seen him since we parted ways after Jesus’ trials. What shocked me more was the wide grin on his face as he stood inside the synagogue door.
“Hi, Alexander! Sorry I haven’t been around. Papa didn’t want any of us to leave until…” He licked his lips and glanced around. “Can we talk? Privately? I’ve got to talk to you about something.”
I raised an eyebrow and nodded. When we were outside, he asked, “So, how are you?”
I shrugged. “I’ve had better weeks. Papa hasn’t been the same since he carried Jesus’ cross. He sits by himself a lot and stares into space. He hasn’t said much.” It was actually much worse than that. It was like Papa’s soul was dying, even though his body was fine. Watching him was tearing Mama apart. I shook my head to clear my thoughts then asked, “So… how have you been?”
His smile waned. “Honestly? It’s been the worst week of my life. When I heard the rumor that Uncle Jesus rose from the dead, I was so mad.”
I nodded. “Me, too. He was such a good man. Why can’t they let Him rest in peace?”
He ignored my question. “Grandma and I went to His tomb a couple days ago. Alexander, it’s actually empty.”
“So did the disciples steal the body?” I whispered, my heart racing as I repeated the rumor floating around Jerusalem.
He shook his head. “They were just as confused as the rest of us. But then, people came over to tell us that they had seen Him.”
I stopped and stared at him. “Seen who? Not… Not your uncle?”
he grinned. “Yeah. Uncle Jesus. I thought it was really weird. Why would so many people want to lie to us about that? Then, Uncle Jesus came to our house last night. All of my uncles are still visiting for the Passover, so we all sat around and… just listened.”
I couldn’t move. “Justus, ah… are you sure this wasn’t a dream?”
“It happened! Really!” He held out his hand. “I touched Him! He hugged me!”
I shook my head, but there was something about Justus today. Facing his confidence and joy, I found myself wondering, What if…? Instead, I asked, “How?”
Justus grinned. “Uncle Jesus is the Son of God. The Messiah! But His kingdom isn’t political. Well, not yet anyway. He said that someday that will be part of His kingdom, too. Anyway, as we were eating supper, He showed us Scriptures about how the Messiah had to suffer and die for mankind. The pure for the impure, so that we can be forgiven and have a right relationship with God.”
“Like the Passover lamb?” I asked. It seemed so absurdly simple, but my heart burned with excitement.
“Exactly!” Justus exclaimed. “But that was an insufficient sacrifice– its blood could only make us right before God for so long. But Uncle Jesus is the perfect lamb from God, who takes away the sins of the world. He said that anyone who believes in Him is called to repent and serve Him.”
My knees buckled and I sat down. “Jesus is who He said He is?”
“Yeah. Incredible, isn’t it?”
I nodded, running my hand through my hair. “But… I believe you. Do you think Jesus will appear to me, too?”
“Maybe. He’s on His way to Galilee to meet His disciples there. But He said He’d come back to Jerusalem before too long.”
“I, uh…” I glanced up at the side of the synagogue. “Could you come in with me? Papa needs to hear this.”
When he nodded, I jumped to my feet and led him inside. Papa was sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, on the far side of the room. I sat down next to him. “Papa? Justus needs to tell you something.”
Thank you for reading part 1 of The Holy Week Series!
Click on the links below to read more!
Part 2: The Last and the First John the Disciple has eaten more meals than he can count with his Master, Jesus of Nazareth. But this one is different. In many respects, it feels like a meal to end all meals. Then again, is it a herald of things to come?
Part 3: The Commander’s Vigil “Jesus went as usual to the Mount of Olives… There appeared to Him an angel from heaven, giving Him strength.” (John 22:39 and 42, CJB)
Part 4: The House of Judgment Nicodemus, a pious lawyer and friend of Jesus, is summoned to be a juryman for the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus is tried for His life, Nicodemus can’t help but notice how unusual and, well, illegal the proceedings are. He wonders when the council will give up… or if they’ll succeed.
Part 5: The Sacrifice Joseph of Arimathea has been waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God, and believes that Jesus heralds its arrival. But when Jesus is crucified, Joseph is left only with would-have’s, could-have’s, and should-have’s.
Part 6: The Sword-Pierced Heart When Jesus was a baby, a prophet warned Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. 33 years later, that prophecy came true in ways she couldn’t imagine possible.
Part 7: The Appearance As far as James is concerned, it’s the end. His brother, Jesus, is dead, and that is–unfortunately–that. But he’s about to figure out that God has other plans.
*All scripture quotes are from the Complete Jewish Bible, © 1998 by David H. Stern. The following passages were quoted (in order that they appeared in the story):
Sources and Further Exploration
First Century Synagogues by Chad Spigel
Rabbi and Talmidim by That the World May Know
The Timing of Passover During the Feast of Unleavened Bread and During the Week of Jesus’ Death by Frank Daniels
Jews Of Ancient Cyrene And The Gospel by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg
Solomon’s Colonnade (Jerusalem) by Bible Maps
What Are Tefillin? by Chabad.org
Ancient Jerusalem by Biblestudy.org
Jesus’ Triumphal Procession from Bethphage and Bethany into Jerusalem by Reasonable Faith
The Roman Empire in the Age of Augustus