3

Coming Clean

Zaccheus

“What are you doing here? We paid your abusive fees just two weeks back. You can’t possibly want more already.”

This is not the first time I received this reception. I may be the most hated man in all Jericho—maybe all Israel.

“Please let me in. I’m not here to take, I’m here to give—no—to return what is rightfully yours.”

Finally, the door cracks open.

“May—may I come in?” I ask.

Slowly the door swings a bit wider and Ethan, a well-to-do businessman, allows me to step inside his home. We stand in his foyer. He invites me no farther.

I understand. I’ve been collecting his taxes since he moved here from Jerusalem eight years ago. Truthfully, it’s men like Ethan who have made me the rich man I am today—or should I say, I was yesterday. The tax Rome requires of Jewish businessmen like Ethan is high to begin with, but I didn’t become rich taking just what Rome demands. I am allowed to take as much as I can get, and that’s what I’ve done—for years.

Ethan, and others like him, filled my accounts.

He broke the awkward silence. “What do you have to give me, Zaccheus, next month’s tax bill? Why not send one of your lackeys with it, like every other time?”

“Ethan,” I began, “It’s not like that. Today, I’m here to make things right.”

Ethan chuckled, “How could you possibly do that?”

I’ve found, in the past week, the best way to fix all these broken relationships in my life, is to come right out with it. It’s on me, so best to just get it off. Since the day Jesus came through Jericho, I’ve spoken with a dozen local businessmen. It’s always the same.

“I’ve been stealing from you,” I said.

“What?” he replied.

“I’ve been taking far more from you than Rome requires,” I continued.

“You’ve been what? You’ve been robbing me? And now you stand right here in my home, for what? Are you here to mock me?”

As his anger mounted, he yanked open the door and motioned for me to leave.

“Get out!” He was shouting now. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that his wife sidling up to hear what was happening. I stood my ground. This was not the first angry man I faced recently.

“I’m here to make it right,” I repeated.

He stopped pushing but did not close the door.

“I’m here to return what I’ve stolen, and to ask you to forgive me. I’ve grown rich through over taxing men like you, honest hard-working businessmen, who have earned their wealth through hours and days of planning and hard work. I’ve slithered in and taken every penny I could manage.”

As I spoke the truth He seemed to be softening.

“So how can you make this right?” he asked.

“I keep meticulous records,” I said. “I know exactly what I’ve taken, and today, I’m returning four times as much as I have over taxed you.”

I handed him the bag of coins.

“It’s all there,” I said, “6,400 denarii. Eight years worth of my dishonesty in a bag. I pray you’ll forgive me.” I said. He opened the bag and ran his hand through the coins.

“I-I don’t understand,” Ethan said, quietly now. His wife approached. He showed her the bag.

She looked at me, head shaking.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

I answered with a question of my own.

“Have you heard of Jesus the Nazarene?”

“I’ve heard the name, one of those Messiah pretenders, isn’t he?” Ethan replied.

“I saw him the day He came through town,” Ethan’s wife said. “I needed a few things and went down to the market. As I shopped the square filled with people, and a procession flooded the streets. The man you mentioned, Jesus, walked in the center of it all. Crowds of His followers filled the streets in every direction. People pressed toward him, calling out. People all around me told the most unbelievable stories. Healings. Miracles. I heard one person say He raises the dead. I didn’t know what to think about all of it.”

I say, “He picked me out of the crowd, or should I say, out of a tree.” I stifle a laugh as I remembered how strange it all seemed at the time. “The day He came through town, I too wanted to see Him. The crowds, as you say, were such that I couldn’t see anything past the second or third row. I looked farther down the path He was walking and noticed a sycamore tree, and had an idea. I ran ahead and climbed the tree to gain a vantage point.

“I thought I was hidden there, but as He approached my perch our eyes locked. He saw me. And this was no glance. His eyes seemed to be calling me, and not just down from the tree. His eyes were calling me out of my past, out of all the lies and cheating, out of my very identity. It unnerved me.

“The next thing I knew, He was actually calling me.

“Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” Jesus said.

“At the sound of His voice, I scrambled down the tree, and we headed off to my home. Once inside, away from the eyes and ears of the crowd, He sat with us. He had me call my whole family in. He asked if we had any bread and wine. He broke the bread and we shared the wine. It felt like the Passover festivities of my youth. We have not celebrated Passover since we have been here in Jericho.

“My childhood rushed back to me as I ate the bread He offered. In my father’s house, we always celebrated Passover and every other feast and fast of our people. I can remember hearing the story of the slaughtered lamb and the night our people ate in haste and fled Egypt before Pharoh’s army. My love for the Almighty grew in those years.

“As I took the cup from His hands and touched it to my lips, I heard my own voice, forty years earlier, calling out to the Almighty, and promising to walk in His ways all the days of my life.

“With this memory came a flood of shame for all that I’ve become. I sat there, surrounded by all the things my lying and thievery had won me and began to weep. It was then our eyes met once more.

“Drink,” He said. “Drink and be clean. This cup is redemption for you and your household. You can be pure again. That’s what my name means—pure—Zaccheus and that’s when I broke down.

“I wept there for what seemed like an hour, and He gathered Himself, and started to leave. We walked out the door together, and the crowd was still there. I gripped His arm and looked up into his eyes one more time.

“I said, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.

“His face seemed to say He knew I would. Then He turned to the crowd and said, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’

“Since that day I’ve been making things right. It seems I owe almost everyone in Jericho something. At first, I was afraid to approach those I had cheated. I thought I would find hostility. But it has been the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t know the strength of money’s hold on my heart. The more money I had, the more fear surrounded me, and the more greed grasped at my heart. Once I broke the hold riches had on my heart, it changed everything.

“Now these visits fill me with life. Giving back what I have taken from folks like you brings joy and freedom. I never would have imagined giving could be so fulfilling.”

As I finish my story, I can see that Ethan and his wife are both on the edge of tears. I turn to leave and Ethan approaches and embraces me. “We do forgive you, Zaccheus, and I will be looking into this Jesus. If He can change you, He might just be the Messiah.”

His wife touches my hand and says “Thank you,” and the door closes behind me.

There is nothing more satisfying that walking in His ways.

~~~
To read the original story, see Luke 19:1-10.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2017 all rights reserved.

Encounters With JesusIf you enjoyed this brand new Encounter With the Jesus, you might enjoy my book, Encounters with Jesus. It is a collection of forty stories told in similar fashion, from the conception of Jesus through His resurrection. It's available now in paperback or kindle versions.

benheadshot1Thanks for coming by

See you again soon.

Ben

12

Healing the royal official's son by Joseph-Marie Vien, 1752.

A Royal Official

“Just go, and go now before it’s too late,” my wife said when she realized Jesus was our only hope.

My son was sick—dying really—and the doctors gave us no hope. They couldn’t even give a name to his malady. He couldn’t keep his food down, and breathing caused such pain it made him shudder. For the last week, he’d had no more than a few cups of milk. He was dying. My little Marcus would leave this life as a twelve-year-old, and leave his mother and me broken.

It came on him suddenly, just three months ago. At first, we thought he had the flu. There were times we thought he would melt from the heat his body produced. Food was harder and harder for him to hold down. The doctors tried everything. I called in doctors from all the neighboring towns. Each one had the same advice. “Try to keep him comfortable.”

I’m a Roman, noble by birth. I’m part of Rome’s occupying force here in Galilee. I’m not military. There are many of Rome’s military forces spread over the region, but I’m here to create Roman culture. My counterparts and I come to these satellite conquests and live Roman lives. This way the people of our new territories can see what Roman life looks like. We live in relative luxury when compared to the rest of Capernaum. This luxury includes the servants we brought with us from Rome. I miss my homeland, though, and have wondered more than once if Roman doctors could heal my son.

My butler brought his family with him from Rome when we moved here four years back. They lived together in a suite of rooms in the servants quarters, off the main house. He is my most trusted confidant. I speak with him about things I would not even share with my wife.

Three days back, my butler mentioned that Jesus, the healer, was back in Galilee—in Cana. We had talked about taking my son to him a few weeks ago, but the reports had him in Jerusalem and around Judea. My son was too sick to travel that far. But Cana—Cana is only a few hours from here.

We first heard of this healer a few months back, when my butler took his wife to find him. It was one Saturday night after the Jew’s Sabbath was over, right here in Capernaum. He told me, the next day, there had been dozens of people waiting outside the home where Jesus spent his Sabbath. When He emerged He healed every one of them. Not one person went home without a touch from this healer, including my butler’s wife. She had been suffering from vision loss since he came into my service. In any practical sense, she was blind. But when he came back in that night, there was a ruckus in the servants quarters. I went to see what was going on and found a full-blown party going on. When he saw me, he didn’t even apologize for the noise or seem concerned. He ran over and gave me a hug. His eyes were wet with tears.

“She can see,” he said through his tears.

I looked at her across the room and our eyes met, and she was nodding. It was true. She was completely healed. She could see.

So when he told me Jesus was back in the area, I told him to get my horse and carriage ready. Then I ran to my son’s bedside. I found my wife holding him, tears running down her cheeks.

“What is it?” I asked.

“He’s gone,” she said.

“Dead?” I asked.

“No,” she answered, “but close. He’s not responding to anything anymore.”

“I want to take him to see the healer—up in Cana,” I said.

“He can’t travel. He’ll be dead before you get him in the carriage.” She said.

“But the healer is back in Cana. He can save him, I’m sure of it.” I urged.

“No. I won’t let you take him,” she insisted.

“Well, I’m going anyway,” I told her.

I threw on my cloak and rushed for the door.

“You’re leaving now?” she asked. “It will be nightfall by the time you reach Cana.”

“Look at him,” I said. “He’s at death’s door. I must see this man as soon as possible.”

“Just go, and go now before it’s too late,” she finally agreed.

I ran out the door and found the horse and carriage ready for me in front of the house. I briefly explained I was going alone. We separated horse and carriage and saddled him. I was off for Cana.

My last look at my son panicked me. His body seemed limp, his color, gray. I couldn’t get the image out of my mind. I had to find this healer and all I knew of his whereabouts was Cana.

When I got to the town, I headed toward the magistrates building near the town center. But before I got there, I saw a crowd gathered in the square. In the center was a man who seemed to have everyone’s attention. As I approached I began to understand why. His words drew me like a bee to a blossom. The sound of His voice seemed to exude peace if that’s even possible. After two hours riding in panic, a calm from without began to press its way into my soul.

When the crowd saw the royal insignia on my horse, they made room for me. I dismounted and walked through the assembly to Jesus.

He stood before me in silence.

“My son is at the point of death,” I began. “He may be dead already, but I’m sure if you will come with me to Capernaum, you can make him well.”

Jesus turned from me to address the crowd.

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.

Sir,” I almost barked, feeling the panic rising again. I gathered myself and started again, this time with a forced calm. “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

Jesus said, “Go; your son lives.

The confidence in His tone—in His words—banished my fear and I believed Him. Three words turned my fear—panic—into peace. I turned and headed back toward my horse. I stopped. I realized I hadn't thanked Him. I turned to go back but He had His back facing me, holding another man in the crowd who knelt before Him.

As the evening hurried toward night, I found an inn at the side of the road. I slept well all night long, and that surprised me. I hadn’t slept that well since before my son fell ill.

I started awake, disoriented, forgetting where I was. For a split second, worry pressed upward from the depths. Then I saw my cloak and gear and remembered everything.

Only minutes after I left the inn, my butler and I met in the way.

“Master, master, your son lives!” he was calling as he ran to meet me.

We rejoiced for no short time, and then I asked, “When? When did things change?”

Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him,” came his answer.

“It was Jesus!” I said with confidence. "That’s when He spoke the words."

“Words?” he asked.

Your son lives,” I answered. “Those three words saved Marcus’ life. Three little words. Your son lives.”

We would be a few more hours on the road, but there was no gap in our talk of this fellow, Jesus. My servant told me of the things he had seen in Capernaum, and I told him my story again, and again, and once more.

Your son lives.” His words resound in my mind.

When we arrived at home, my son greeted me at the end of the walk. He started telling me what happened at home, while I tried to tell him what Jesus had done. In the end, I told my story to everyone in the household. I told my son, my wife, my other children. I called all the servants together and told them to bring their families. I then recounted the miracle for them as well. 

All who heard believed in this Healer from Nazareth.

~~~

To read the original story, see John 4:46-54.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2017

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

If you enjoyed this story you can find forty more like it in my book Encounters With Jesus. It takes you, as you read, from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon.

If this story encouraged you, would you do me a favor? Would you share it? It would be a great honor to me and would get the word out about the book.

Thanks so much for taking the time to spend here with me.

Walk with Jesus,

Ben

4

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary,
his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him.
Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts:
gold, frankincense, myrrh.
Matthew 2:11

A Star Speaks

Magi

Last night I had a dream—at least I think it was a dream. An angel stood before me and told me not to trust Herod, but to leave without passing back through Jerusalem.

In days past, my nation, Babylon, took captive many people from many places. Most of the people we conquered were content to be alive and, over time, assimilated to our culture. I don’t suppose anyone liked slavery or living in foreign lands. But our king in those days, Nebuchadnezzar, would have our captives evaluated. He believed it was a waste to put great minds in the fields or strong bodies in the counting house. People were not as likely to revolt if they were capable in their occupations.

You’re probably wondering who I am and what I’m doing here in Bethlehem.  Some call my sect stargazers; some think we’re magicians. In reality, we’re students—students of the wisdom we’ve gleaned from the cultures we have conquered.

When I finished my apprenticeship about five years back, I took on the writings from a peculiar people, the Hebrews.

The strange thing about these Jews is that they would never assimilate. They never became Babylonians—not even Babylonian captives. They were Jews and only Jews. They kept their customs and their ways. They dressed alike and stayed together. There were some, of course, who intermarried and some who left the worship of their God. Some even mixed their religions with others in our massive melting pot of culture. But most Hebrews held tight to their traditions and to their God.

One notable Hebrew captive was a young man named Belteshazzar. His Hebrew name was Daniel. I call him “the dreamer.” He and a few of his fellow Jews rose to places of great influence in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. He was a seer. He could read dreams and was able to see into the future. He often spoke of a coming messiah revealed in the Hebrew writings. This deliverer would come to release captive Israel. He spoke of a king for the Jews who would come when the time was right.

One night about two years ago, a new star appeared in the heavens. We called it a star, but it was unlike any we’d studied before. Most of the other stars circled the night sky, but this star was always right overhead. We observed it for a few weeks, and there it stood every clear night, shining bright and strong.

We began calculations to determine what it might be and what it might mean, and everything pointed to Israel.

We brought this information to our nation’s leadership. They wanted nothing to do with a king born in the land now occupied by the Romans. Our day had past, and Rome was a force far beyond our grasp.

My fellow astronomers and I began to look to others to support a journey to see what this star meant. As we told of the ancient stories of a king born in Jerusalem and sent from the Hebrew God, many listened. There were many who still held to the religion of the Hebrews.

They donated supplies for our journey and gifts for this king—most notably gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It took a few months more to gather enough support to make the nine-hundred-mile journey. By the time we were ready to travel, we had not only accumulated much to offer this new king, but we’d gathered quite a following.

We decided to take the route used by Israel when they made the trek back to their land. 450 years ago, Ezra led many Hebrews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and their temple. Rather than heading straight across the desert toward the star, we traveled northeast along the Euphrates and then south along the Jordan River.

We arrived in Jerusalem three days ago and met with Herod and his counselors. They directed us to Bethlehem. He offered us a handsome reward if we returned and guided him to this young king. I see now that he was plotting to destroy the child and this threat to his own reign.

Yesterday, after almost two years of planning and travel, we met with this child king. I was beginning to fear that the whole thing was a huge mistake, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Bethlehem. We asked around, yet no one knew of a boy king. We stopped and considered the star once more as evening approached. It seemed to be guiding us. I can’t explain how we knew, but we followed this guide right to the house where Jesus was staying.

We knocked on the door. The man who greeted us seemed unsure what to make of our foreign garb and the entourage that followed after us. I was not sure what to say either. My heart raced.

“Is this the home of the King?” I asked, unable to contain my excitement.

When I said it, I saw the tension leave his face.

“You must mean the child, Jesus. Wait here,” he replied.

I could see that the home was far too small to welcome our company, so we waited without while the man of the house left us. Moments later, he returned with a couple and their young child.

“This is Joseph of Nazareth and his wife, Mary, and her child, Jesus.”

Mary’s eyes grew when she saw our troupe, and she drew Jesus behind Joseph.

“What business do you have with us?” Joseph said.

I then fell to one knee as I looked upon the child. He looked like any other Hebrew boy, but there was something different in the air. I sensed a calm flowing out of the house. The curious boy peeked around Joseph’s legs and stared at us, his little head cocked. I’m sure we looked strange to these Jews, with our camels and colorful robes.

“We have come to pay homage to the One born King of the Jews. Is this the child? Is this the One the prophets foretold, the One called Emanuel?” I said.

“Yes,” Mary said. “His name is Jesus, and His miraculous birth was foretold by our prophets for hundreds of years.”

“We have come to worship this Messiah of the Jews with gifts from our nation.”

Then we presented our many gifts. The gold we carried made a fitting offering for a king and the frankincense a worthy homage to a holy man. The myrrh was a curiosity to me, because it was so melancholy. Yes, it was a precious and costly gift, but it spoke of death, which did not seem a fitting gift for child or king.

Our gifts accepted, the young couple took us into town to find a place for our party to stay the night. The inn was full but offered to let us rest in their stable. Before they left us for the night, Mary told me this was the place of the child’s birth.

How could it be that One so important, foreseen for centuries, could be born in such lowly surroundings and to such common people? Their house was tiny, and there were no attendants or servants to care for Him. This child of peace and grace should be in Jerusalem, in the great palace there.

It was as I slept in the hay that I had the dream. A man—an angel perhaps—stood before me and warned me not to return to Herod, but to go home another way. We returned to the house the next morning and told the couple of my dream. Some wanted to stay in Bethlehem and serve the young king, but his parents insisted we go, for our safety and theirs.

There is something within me that does not want to leave. This place has a hold on me. The child has captured my imagination. I don’t want to leave, but how can I stay?

What will become of this young king?

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:1-12.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes you from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon.If you want both you can get the Kindle version for only 99c when you buy the paperback on Amazon.

2

Joseph, I need to talk to you.

[Joseph is working at a lathe]

Yes, dear one?

I really need your full attention. This is important, and it’s not easy for me to say.

I’m sorry—just let me finish this last turn.

There, this chair leg is done. I’m listening. What’s going on?

Can we go somewhere and sit down? It would be better if we were sitting.

Sure, love. What is it? You’re making me nervous.

[they sit]

I’m not sure how to tell you this. I’ve been fretting about it for days. I don’t know how to explain what has happened.

What has happened, what do you mean, what has happened?

What has happened?

Well, do you remember about a week ago, when you came to Abba’s house for dinner and I was very quiet? You kept asking me if something was wrong, and I really never answered you. I think you may have gone home in a bit of a huff, feeling ignored.

Yes, I remember. Your whole appearance was a bit—I don’t know—different that day. Really, it has been ever since. You’ve been very quiet. Is everything alright?

Have you ever had an experience with God, you know, like in the scriptures, visitations, angels, anything like that?

No, not really, though there have been times, during my meditations, that I’ve felt the presence of something, God’s Spirit, I suppose you would say. But, I’ve never seen anything, if that’s what you mean.

Yes, that’s what I mean. Well, I saw something the other night.

Really? What was it? Tell me about it.

It was just after my evening prayers about a week ago. I rose to turn down the lamp, when, without warning, what looked like a man appeared in my chamber. He stood, blocking the door, so I backed up as best I could and put my chair between us.

Who was this man? Who would dare enter your chamber?

Wait Joseph, let me finish.

I knew he couldn’t be a man because he—how can I describe him—he was radiant. He could see that his appearance frightened me so he took a step back and then he began to speak.

"Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."

This began to draw me away from fear and toward confusion. What did mean by “The Lord is with you?” Why would anyone call me “favored?” It was an odd greeting.

“Do not be afraid, Mary;” he continued, “for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.

Conceive? Bear a son?

Hear me out, Joseph. This visitor continued,

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Wait—what are you saying?

Joseph, let me finish. I didn’t understand either. I asked him “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Then the angel said,

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”

[standingDid this man touch you—violate you?

It wasn’t a man Joseph, it was an angel. Please sit down, Joseph. The same angel that appeared to my uncle Zachariah before Elizabeth conceived.

[still standingDid this angel violate you?

No, but it did happen just as he said it would. I am with child, Joseph. Somehow God Himself has given me this child?

That’s not how it works, Mary. If you are with child, you know how it happened.
Was it the man who came into your chamber?
Did you know him?
Do I know him?
I could have you stoned! You know that, right?
How could you do this to me—to us?
Why would you throw away our future like this?

Joseph, stop it. [beginning to cry] It’s not like that. I have never known a man in that way. How could you think such a thing?

But, you are with child—pregnant. That’s what you’re telling me? And you’re saying that God made you pregnant without the aid of a man. This is too much to take in.

I love you, Mary, and I will not make a public spectacle of you. But you have disgraced yourself. You have disgraced me—my family—your own family. What am I to do?

Oh Joseph, please believe me.

I cannot believe this. It’s too much, Mary. I’m not sure I could believe it, even if God Himself told me. These things just don’t happen. Not here. Not now.

I won’t shame you. I’ll just get the lawyers to draw up papers of divorce and we’ll be done.

Joseph, no, please.

No Mary, it’s too much.

[Joseph storms out, Mary is left crying, alone.]


To read the original story, see Luke 1:26-55

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2016

Encouter cover samples covers onlyFor more stories brought to life out of the gospels, grab a copy of my book Encounters With Jesus. It has forty stories that will bring the Bible to life in your mind. You'll see the Lord heal lepers, open blind eyes and rise from the tomb.

This book would make a great Christmas present for someone who wants to get to know Jesus in a fresh way.

cropped-BenHeadshot.jpgThanks for coming by today.

See you again soon.

Ben

2

Small Beginnings

David

In the hour right before the sun comes up the Lord often floods my heart with new melodies. Last week when I was watering Papa’s  flocks at the brook, I started working on a new song. I keep parchment and quill with me in the fields. That’s where I get my best ideas for songs. I keep them in the bag with my supper and breakfast.

Honestly, I’m not even sure I can take credit for many of the poems I write. These songs and poems just come to me in the quiet hours of the night watch. I’ll be talking to the LORD about life—you know—like my family—or something scary that happened—and the most beautiful words come to mind. Sometimes the words come with music, and other times the music comes on a different day. I have a whole collection of words that have no music.

I’m working on a new song right now. This is what I have so far:

My heart is steadfast, O God; 
I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul. 

Awake, harp and lyre; 
I will awaken the dawn! 

I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the peoples, 
And I will sing praises to You among the nations. 
For Your lovingkindness is great above the heavens, 
And Your truth reaches to the skies. 

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, 
And Your glory above all the earth. 

Sometimes the music comes in the last hour before dawn. It’s really hard to stay awake waiting for the sun to rise, especially during those long winter nights. That’s when I take out my lyre and start playing with tunes and rhythms and the LORD gives me new melodies. That’s how it happened this morning.

As I played this new tune on my lyre, over and over again, fitting in the words and fiddling with the rhythm, something caught my eye. By now it was the middle of the morning.

This time of year I like to keep the flocks up in the north fields, between my papa’s house in Bethlehem and the city of the king, Jerusalem. As I sat with my back to an old olive tree on the hillside facing the house, I noticed a procession heading down the road, coming out of Jerusalem. It was too far away for me to see who it was, or even how many were in their party. But it seemed like something important.

It looked like they were headed toward the center of Bethlehem. They marched past the gate that leads to my house and kept on going toward town.

I went back to my strumming, but I couldn’t help wondering what was going on down there. I’ve seen lots of parades and processions heading toward Jerusalem, but not many headed to my little town. Nothing ever happens in Bethlehem. It's the most boring town in all Israel.

It wasn’t long before I saw a runner heading from the direction of town toward my father’s house. From where I sat, I could see him waiting at the front door.

I was getting more and more curious. Did this have anything to do with the group that headed into town? Why did they want my father?

What happened next seemed even stranger. All my brothers gathered around this runner. First one came out of the house, then another. Next, two came from the shed behind the house where father keeps his tools. The other three came down from the barn. They must have been milking. Soon I could count all seven of my brothers, and Papa following this stranger back toward the center of Bethlehem. A few minutes later, Mama followed, hurrying to catch up.

This week is the first time all of us have been together since Passover. My three oldest brothers just returned from the recent battle with Amalek. They bring home such wonderful stories. Mama doesn’t like it when they tell stories of the war at the dinner table, but I sure do. Last night was the best yet. While we sat around after dinner, my brother Shammah, told us what happened after they clobbered Amalek. Samuel the prophet took a sword and killed their king right in front of the whole army.

“He seemed angry with King Saul,” Shammah told us. “From where we were standing you couldn’t hear much of what was going on, but Samuel looked furious. He was pointing and shouting. Then King Saul fell to his knees. It looked like he was pleading with the old prophet. The next thing I knew, Samuel took Saul’s sword, turned and started walking toward the enemy king.”

“He cut him in pieces before our eyes. It was amazing,” Eliab added. He’s the eldest. He’s not a storyteller himself but loves to throw in some bits when Shammah's talking.

That was when Mama realized I was still in the room. “Don’t you have some sheep to tend?” she said to me. Then to my brothers, she said, “Don’t tell these horrid stories in front of your little brother.”

That’s when I blurted, “I'm not just a little brother. I’m fourteen and a man now, too. I killed a lion last week.”

Mama looked shocked. “You what?”

Shammah laughed, mocking me. “Sure you did, David. Are you sure you weren’t dreaming under that old olive tree again?”

“I did,” I said. “I was out in the fields three days ago when a lion came and took a lamb from the flock. I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth. When he rose up against me, I grabbed him by his beard and I struck him and I killed him.”

Eliab was laughing now, too. “David, get back to your lyre and your little sheep choir. Leave the fighting to us men.”

“Boys,” my mother said with her hands on her hips, fists clenched, “you leave little Davy alone.” Then she turned to me, wagging her finger, “David,” she scolded, “stop telling tales.”

“Maaamaaa,” I whined, “please don’t call me ‘little Davy,’ you know I hate that,” I replied. “And I’m not telling tales. A great lion came across the eastern fields, jumped the fence and went right for the lamb. It was the lamb that was just born three weeks ago.

“There was a bear that tried to attack the flock when I had them down at the brook a few weeks ago. I killed him, too, with my sling. It only took three stones.”

Now all my brothers we groaning and shaking their heads.

“David,” Papa jumped in, “get out to your sheep before your brothers try to take you apart.”

It’s so frustrating. Just because I’m the youngest, they don’t believe anything I tell them. They don’t know how dangerous it can be out here, and how the Lord comes to my side in every kind of trouble.

As I pondered last night's conversation, time passed. I started wondering what was happening in town. It seems like I miss everything while I sit out in the fields tending my father's sheep. My big brothers get in on all the action.

I went back to my tune, but before I had gotten all the way through it, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was that runner again. He headed from the house up toward me.

As he approached, he called out, “Are you, David?”

“What?—Uhh—Yes—I’m David—Yes,” I said, a bit nervously.

“Come with me,” he said as he turned back toward town.

“Why?” I called to him but I don’t think he even heard me. He was on the move.

I tucked my lyre back in its satchel and leaned it against the olive tree. I had to run to catch him.

“What’s going on?—Why do you need me?—Who's in town?”

“Just come,” was his only answer.

As we approached the center of Bethlehem, I realized that everyone was there, men and women. The whole town filled the square. In the center of the crowd stood the old prophet, Samuel. I’ve seen him a few times in Jerusalem at the tabernacle during Passover. I noticed smoke rising from where the south road leaves town. They built an altar and had an ox tied nearby.

Then I saw my brothers standing in a line from eldest to youngest facing Samuel. I headed over toward my brothers. Just then, Papa, who was standing with the prophet, called to me.

"David, join us over here,” he said.

I turned into a statue. For a few seconds, I couldn’t move at all. Why did I have to go out into the center of everything? My brother Abinadab gave me a nudge and I turned and slowly walked toward them, not sure what to expect.

As soon as I got to them, the prophet looked into my eyes. He studied me for what felt like an hour. Then he said to my father, “This is the one.” Without breaking his gaze he said, “Get on your knees, son.”

I could hear a few of my brothers take in their breath. My mother was crying. I was still not sure what was going on, but I knelt down before Samuel.

“Papa, what’s going on?” I asked.

He looked at me with a strange smile on his face. It was the kind of look he gave me when I read him one of my poems—like he was proud of me.

“Go ahead and kneel, David, it’s going to be alright,” he assured me.

I smelled the oil before I felt it. Samuel poured his horn of oil out over my head. It ran down my cheeks and between my eyes, then down my shoulders and over all my clothes. As the oil poured out, I sensed the Spirit of the Lord filling me. I’ve known the Spirit’s touch before, but never like this. Like a flood, peace and confidence filled every part of me.

I looked up at Samuel and asked, “What have you done?”

“The Lord has chosen you to replace Saul as king over all Israel,” he answered.

“Replace Saul? King? But I’m just a boy,” I said.

“No son, today you are a king,” Samuel said. “And now we must offer a sacrifice to the Lord."

I didn’t know what to say, but then I remembered the song I’d been working on all morning. As we walked over to where Samuel was going to offer a sacrifice, I started singing:

My heart is steadfast, O God; 
I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul. 

Awake, harp and lyre; 
I will awaken the dawn! 

I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the peoples, 
And I will sing praises to You among the nations. 
For Your lovingkindness is great above the heavens, 
And Your truth reaches to the skies. 

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, 
And Your glory above all the earth. 

Those around me picked up the last two lines and began to sing with me as we gathered around the altar.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, 
And Your glory above all the earth. 

I don’t understand how this can be. Saul is the king, and I’m just a shepherd boy. He leads thousands of men, I lead a few sheep. I’m just a kid from a tiny town. How will the Lord fulfill this promise?

~~~

To read the original story, see 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 108:1-5,
and 1 Samuel 17:34-35.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2016

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

If you enjoyed this story you can find forty more in my book Encounters With Jesus. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon.

2

Truly I say to you,
this poor widow put in more than all of them;
for they all out of their surplus put into the offering;
but she out of her poverty
put in all that she had to live on.
Luke 21:3-4

All She Had

A Widow

I still remember the first time I saw this one they call Jesus. Who could forget that day? It’s been just about three years. My husband Ari was still alive then, but he was not well. We barely collected enough money to buy a pair of turtledoves this year, let alone a lamb like we did when the kids were young.

Passover was always my favorite time of year. All the children were part of it and Ari always made sure we did everything, every game and story for the children, every glass of wine for the adults, every song for all of us.

Passover wasn’t simply a remembrance of days gone by to Ari and me. We often dreamed of a day when Israel would be free again. It’s true, Rome lets us sacrifice in the temple and have our meetings. But we prayed that the Lord would come and restore the true worship, as in the days of King David. In those days worship toward the Lord God would be offered twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Ari used to tell me the prophets spoke of a real son of David sitting on the throne again. We longed for those days.

That was before Ari got sick. But three years ago, when we came to the temple to offer our sacrifice, it was to be just two turtledoves. Our family was scattered and would not come home for Passover.

Just as we were getting ready to purchase our offering, that young man, Jesus, started dumping tables. Ari pulled me back as we looked on in shock as table after table went tumbling, coins rolling this way and that.

At first, I was angry. Why was this young rebel disrupting our worship? We had come, as we have been coming for forty years together, to worship the Lord.

From where we were standing I could see His face as He drove sheep and cattle out of the gate, and let the doves and pigeons out of their cages. His actions were angry and violent, but in His eyes—well—his eyes were wet with tears.

His voice echoed around the courtyard.

"Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a place of business."

It almost seemed His heart was broken over what He found in the temple.

As I said, that was almost three years ago now. My Ari died the next fall.

Initially, when he passed on, I thought I would be all right, I thought I could make what he left for me last. I sold the little shop where he and I sold butter and cheese. The young man who bought it from me lets me stay in one of the back rooms. But he can’t afford to feed me, so I’ve been living on the few eggs my sweet hens lay.

This last winter was so cold and long—you remember, don’t you—I had to trade my few chickens for firewood to keep the stove going in my little room. Now I have nothing left.

I’ve decided to give myself to serve in the temple. They take in widows and let them keep the courtyards clean. This way I can make my whole life about worshipping the Lord God. Maybe I’ll never see the son of David on the throne or public worship day and night, but at least I can worship Him with the rest of my life. He has kept me through these hard times and cares for my every need. My few remaining years are the least I can give back.

My landlord and his family received news of my decision to leave with mixed feelings. His wife was expecting, so they really needed my room for their growing family.

I really had nothing in the room that I wanted except one small box. Enclosed within were a few letters Ari had written to me decades earlier. We were betrothed, and he was serving in the army when he wrote them.  I think I read every one of them one hundred times before he came home to me. Since his passing, I’ve taken to reading them often. Now when I read them, I think about him waiting for me to come home.

The box also contained two tiny copper coins. These were a remembrance of that

A bronze mite, also known as a Lepton (meaning small), minted by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judaea, 103 - 76 B.C. obverse: the blooming lotus scepter of ancient Egypt in circle, reverse: star of eight rays.
A bronze mite, also known as a Lepton (meaning small), minted by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judaea, 103 - 76 B.C. obverse: the blooming lotus scepter of ancient Egypt in circle, reverse: star of eight rays.

day in the temple when the young prophet Jesus dumped the tables. As we stood out of the way, in the midst of all that chaos, these two mites rolled up and stopped at our feet.

We looked up to see who they belonged to, but in the tumult, there seemed nothing we could do.

As I looked at the two stars pressed into the copper, I knew just what to do with them. They were intended for worship that day in the court. I’ll put them in the treasury as an offering to the Lord.

I headed out the door for the last time, just this morning. We said our goodbyes with hugs and tears. They wished me the Lord’s best, and I touched their unborn child and spoke a blessing over it.

As I approached the temple I noticed that the booths and vendors were outside the temple gates, selling doves and sheep for the offerings. Even the money changers were outside the gates exchanging Roman currency for the temple coins.

I stopped and spoke to a boy selling doves at the side of the road.

“Why are you outside the temple court today, boy?” I asked.

“That Jesus person is in the temple again today,” he replied with annoyance. “He drove us out on the first day of the week after His little procession.”

I wasn’t sure what procession he was talking about, but it sounded like that young prophet was back in Jerusalem for the holy days again this year. My heart pounded a bit as I wondered whether I would see Him again today.

I wanted to take care of these coins before I talked to the temple administrators about  keeping me on as a caretaker in the temple. Once I put them in the offering, I could honestly offer myself to the service of the Almighty without any ties to this world.

As I entered the women’s court of the temple I found crowds of spectators at the treasury. During the holy days, the rich come to fulfill their pledges while the crowds are in town for the festivities. People love to stand and watch as the rich come and make their donations. I wondered if I would be shunned from this group of givers.

Each of these wealthy men before me had their servants surrounding them. As they gave, they would have a crier announce the amount they were giving. Some gave more in one offering than our whole village could earn in a year.

Part of me wanted to go back to my village. I didn’t belong here among all the rich and powerful people. But I knew I had to give the Lord my tiny offering. After one large entourage stepped away from the treasury with great fanfare, I quietly approached.

My nerves were on high alert. I could feel the eyes of many watching as I fumbled with my two tiny copper coins. I knew the money would never make any difference to the temple, but my heart hoped that the Lord would be pleased with my offering. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not meeting a need, but honoring my Lord.

I heard some people laugh as my coins dropped into the box, and wondered if they were mocking me. I didn’t care. I would go my way and give myself to the service of my Lord.

As I walked away from the treasury and headed toward a priest I had seen near the East Gate, I felt a deep peace. A peace that started in my belly and rose, lifting my spirits and filling me with joy.

It was as though giving my last possessions to the Lord set me free somewhere deep inside.

~~~

To read the original story, see Mark 12:41-44,
Luke 21:1-4 and John 2:13-21

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2016

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

If you enjoyed this story you can find forty more in my book Encounters With Jesus. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon. The kindle version is on sale for $1.99 for a limited time.

5

There is no way to
get rid of this kind of
demon except by prayer.
Mark 9:29

Help My Doubts

Father of a Demon-Possessed Boy

I remember the doctor saying to us, years ago, “Keep a record of his bad days.” My son—my eight-year-old boy—Enoch and I visited the doctor often in those first days. It’s been another eight years since we stopped going to doctors. For seven of them, we’ve found it easier to record the good days than count the bad.

The first sign the demonic attack has begun—we now know it’s a demon—is Enoch’s eerie silence. His eyes glaze over and it seems like he has gone away. He can’t hear—or at least he doesn’t respond to sound—and never speaks.

In the beginning, we thought he was sick. My wife, Havah, and I took him to our family doctor in the village. At first, this demon did not awaken while we were with the doctor, so he didn't know how to help. Enoch, couldn’t tell the doctor much. He couldn't remember what happened during his episodes. He just fell—no—not fell—it was like being thrown to the floor. Then he rolled around the ground as stiff as a board,  foaming at the mouth. If there was anything dangerous nearby, like fire, or water, or a steep drop, he’d head right for it.

Our third visit to the doctor was after a furious episode where Enoch found his way right into an open fire. It scorched more than half the skin on his left side. The doctor said he could  treat the burn, but he told us we should see a priest or rabbi. He didn’t think Enoch had any disease.

“This boy is possessed by a devil, and I can’t help you,” he told us as he gave us some salve for his burns.

After that, we went from rabbi to rabbi, each one shrugged his shoulders and wished he could do more.

It’s been seven years of rabbis and priests. We’ve given special offerings at the temple and paid for professional intercessors. We’ve gone to every house of prayer in Judea. Once we even traveled up to the temple at Shechem in Samaria to see if they could help us.

About a year ago, I started hearing stories of a rabbi from Galilee who was casting out demons and healing the sick. At first, I didn’t want Enoch and Havah to get their expectations aroused, but as the stories multiplied my heart began to hope.

One of my neighbors returned from a visit with some family up north near Tiberius. He told me of a pair of Jesus’ disciples going through the town. They were healing the sick and casting out demons in the streets. I’ve know Ari for many years, and he wouldn’t repeat these stories if there were any doubt in his mind. He was there. He saw men and women healed before his eyes, even some possessed by demons like my boy.

That’s when I started planning. I didn’t tell my wife, or even my son, what I was really up to. I didn’t want to lie to either of them. I just told Havah I wanted some time alone with my boy. I started planning for a trip with Enoch to find this Healer. I would tell Him my boy’s story. If He refused or couldn’t help, the disappointment would only fall on me.

I learned that He had been seen teaching and healing near Cana up in Galilee, so I packed our things and Enoch and I headed north.

Traveling with Enoch is no holiday. Everywhere we go, we have to be prepared to deal with his oppressor. This trip was no exception. In fact, the spirit's brutality the first night made me think we were might be headed in the right direction. The vile captor in Enoch’s young body protested more than ever. We didn’t sleep at all the first night we were on the road. Before I even had the fire burning hot enough to cook some dinner, he was flailing around and smothered it, at great cost to his own flesh. It was a grueling three days and two nights.

When we got close, someone told us the Teacher was on Mount Tabor. So we followed the road down from Cana to the east. As we approached the mountain, we found crowds at the base. I expected this. The accounts I’ve heard always have large crowds around this Healer.

It was nearly sundown when we came upon a few of the Healer’s disciples surrounded by dozens of on-lookers. They had just healed a couple of blind men. Next, they were laying hands on a lame woman lying on a sort of mat in the middle of the group. As we pressed our way into the center of the gathering, we saw this woman on the bed getting to her feet. Then she started jumping and running around the circle of spectators.

The disciples looked almost as stunned as the no-longer-bedridden woman. One of these men called out, “It’s the name of Jesus that heals the sick and delivers anyone in bondage.”

We had found Him.

I started waving frantically, crying out “My son, help my son!” I must have looked a little mad myself. I began to tell my son’s story to the one they were calling Andrew. There were three other groups like the one I was in, each surrounding what looked like a few disciples.

"I'm Andrew," said the man who was speaking, "and this is Simon the Zealot."

As soon as I began to describe Enoch’s condition, my son flew to the ground. I had my back to him, so I didn’t see the warning signs. I would have steered him away from the crowd before he went it to the full display of fury that is my son’s daily reality.

He was rocking back and forth, jerking up and down, six inches into the air and then slammed down again, rolling over so the foam covering his mouth was full of the Galilean dirt. Andrew and Simon hurried over to him and began to command the demon to come out.

“In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, come out,” they called.

Nothing changed. They said it a little louder. “In the name of Jesus, come out.”

They asked others in the crowd to hold him still while they prayed for him, laying their hands on his head and chest.

He thrashed and freed his arms. Then began slashing at them with his fists and scratching with his fingernails.

Andrew and Simon called two of the other disciples over to them and they started out the same way.

“In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, come out.”

Nothing.

I have to say, they didn’t give up. The sky grew fully dark and the air chilled as this failed exorcism went on into the night.

Finally, sometime after midnight, I took Enoch away from the crowd and we found a quiet place to get some rest. He had been in full manifestation for hours, and when he finally calmed, he was ready to sleep.

The sun was already well above the horizon when we awoke. The commotion that woke us was the arrival of Jesus and three more of his followers. They had apparently spent the night on the mountain. I’d never seen anything like Jesus. He was glowing—glowing! It wasn’t just the sun shimmering off his robes. The light emanated from Him.

As we approached Andrew called to Jesus, “Here they are Mater. We did everything you taught us and nothing changed.”

Once I realized that Jesus was right there, I said, “Teacher, I brought my mute son, made speechless by a demon, to you. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and goes stiff as a board. I told your disciples, hoping they could deliver him, but they couldn’t.

Jesus said “What a generation! No sense of God! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here."

Andrew took Enoch by the hand and led him to the Master.

The demon in my boy did his worst. He slammed him to the ground with no warning whatsoever. He pushed him right into a nearby fire. He convulsed and foamed and moaned, teeth grinding and eyes wild.

Jesus asked, “How long has this been going on?

Ever since he was a little boy,” I replied. "Many times it pitches him into fire or the river to do away with him. If you can do anything, do it. Have a heart and help us!"

Jesus’s eyes looked eager. “If?” He responded. “There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen."

That brought me up short. “I do believe;” I blurted, but then I wondered if I did, so I added, “Help me with my doubts!

I think the crowd knew something big was about to happen because they started to press in. Some just realizing that Jesus was back, others hearing the conversation. Everyone wanting to see what He would do.

"Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you—Out of him, and stay out!" Jesus spoke directly to the spirit who had tormented my son—my whole family—for the last eight years.

Enoch cried out, lifted off the ground and then fell back down with a thud. This time not rigid, as in times past, but more like a rag doll, begin tossed away. He lay there for what seemed an eternity. The crowd started murmuring.

He’s dead.”

“He killed the boy.”

Jesus walked over to Enoch, leaned down and grabbed his hand and pulled. At that moment, Enoch’s eyes opened, the color came back into his face. He nearly bounced up off the ground. With his hand in the hand of the Healer, he looked more alive than he had since the evil first took him. The joy was back in his eyes, the joy of a child with a future.

The two days traveling home seemed like a dream to both of us. In every village, at every meal, we shared our story with everyone we met. We were not just witnesses to a miracle. We were changed by our short visit with Jesus. His Words changed my boy and turned my hope into an unshakable faith.

My Havah could hardly believe her eyes. One look at Enoch’s countenance told the whole story. My son was bound, but now his chains are gone. His captivity is over. He’s free!

Messiah truly has come in our day.

~~~
To read the original story, see Mark 9:15-30. Quotes come from the Message Bible.

Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2016

Encounters With Jesus - Available Now
Encounters With Jesus - Available Now

If you enjoyed this story you can find forty more in my book Encounters With Jesus. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.

You can get your copy today in paperback or kindle on Amazon. If you want both you can get the Kindle version for only 99c when you buy the paperback on Amazon.

14

 

 

Adulterous Man

How has it come to this? I’m standing here with a rock in my hand amidst all this anger. The anger is not mine, but I can feel it. It’s all around.

I didn’t see this coming as I sat at breakfast with my wife, Anna, and my two little ones. I think of myself as a good father, a good husband. I have a steady job working with the dairyman. We sell our milk from a cart near the sheep gate. I almost have enough saved to buy a few cows of my own.

But at noontime, as I sat in the square eating the lunch my Anna had packed for me, I saw her. I have known her for a few months. I say known, but not really, though our eyes have met often. The few words we have traded have been suggestive and flirtatious, but meant nothing.

When I first saw her, the words of my father rang in my ears. On my wedding day he told me I must be like Job and make a covenant with my eyes if I wanted to be faithful to my Anna. But that day, my eyes saw only my sweet bride, and I can remember thinking such evil could never tempt me.

The day I first saw this woman in the market, she caught me staring. I looked away immediately, but I felt temptation’s net, and it had me. The next time, I let my eyes linger a bit longer.

Once I saw her walking through the temple gate with a man I took to be her father. I later learned it was her husband. Not a great match for her.

Today, she walked right up to where I was eating and sat down beside me. I told her she should not sit next to me right there in the square because people would whisper.

“I just need someone to talk to,” she said, right on the edge of tears. “Where can I talk with you?”

I took her to a place I knew would be empty and quiet at that time of day, and she began to cry in earnest. She told me of her life, and at first I just listened. I told myself she needed me to listen. She needed a friend. She just needed to talk about it. I needed to be compassionate, to listen like a friend.

Soon I was holding her as she sobbed and trembled.

The rest is a blur. What started as a comforting touch became an embrace, and soon I found myself overwhelmed. Compassion became passion, and the next thing I knew, the door burst open.

A group of men broke in, some in religious robes, including my own rabbi. This rabbi had married Anna and me; he had circumcised my little Yacob. They grabbed us and started dragging us out into the square.

“Let the boy go,” my rabbi said. “I know him.”

The woman’s husband was among our intruders. “You Jezebel! You harlot!” he yelled in our wake.

I followed the angry group out into the square, where they had gathered up stones. I’d lived in Jerusalem my whole life, but I’d never seen anyone stoned in the streets. We read about it in the Law of Moses, but we never took it that far. My rabbi stood beside me. He bent down and picked up two stones. They were bigger than a man’s fist. He took my right hand and forced me to take the cold, hard lump of hatred.

I dropped it, but he reached down, picked it up, and gave it back to me.

“If you will not do this thing, you will be up there with her,” he said to me. I could hardly breathe.

Then the crowd swelled forward. One of the rabbis called out, “Jesus is in the outer court. Follow me, and let’s hear what that upstart will have us do with her.”

Soon the woman lay face down in the dust. I could still hear her sobs. Before her stood a man dressed in common robes. There was already a good-size crowd with Him before we pushed our way through.

“Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?”

It was then I realized this was not about the woman, or about her sin, or about the law. It was a test for this preacher. It was not the woman in the dirt who was on trial here. It was this Jesus. This was a test for Him. They wanted to see what He would do.

Would this so-called Son of Man side with the sinner, or would He side with the religious leaders? They hated the title He had taken. They worked so hard to be more than mere men. These priests, scribes, and Pharisees craved the esteem of men; they were anything but common.

But this Jesus, He would eat with sinners. He was not ashamed to be with them in their homes and in the streets. How would He deal with this woman? Would He take her part and defy the Lord God’s own law? Would He take up a stone with us and break faith with the people?

This had me nervous. If He took up the law, I might just be next.

As I stood, stone in hand and awaiting His judgment, I thought back to those glances that brought me to this place. I wasn’t so innocent. A place in my heart had sought out this adultery. I allowed my eyes to draw me into dissatisfaction with a life full of blessing.

Jesus positioned Himself between those of us with stones and the woman. She was still weeping with her face in the dirt. He knelt down and wrote something in the dust.

I could not see what He was writing, but, in the silence my guilt and shame were mounting. Again I heard my father’s words: “Remember son,” he would say, “Hell and destruction are never full, so man’s eyes are never satisfied.”

How had I fallen so far? How could this man expose my heart without speaking one word?

Then He stood and looked at us—at me!

The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone,” He said.

After a moment, He got back down in the dirt with the woman. As He continued to write in the dust, His finger tracing the law in my heart, I saw for the first time the wickedness of my actions.

And I was not the only one. First the elders began to back off, some dropping their stones, others taking them away as they quietly pulled back from the crowd.

As I stood there, I could hear my own voice speaking my vows to dear Anna those eight years ago. What I wanted to do was fall down and beg Him to forgive me. That’s when I had to leave. I wanted to run, but I just dropped the stone and backed away. My sin, my unfaithfulness, filled my heart. I had to be rid of it. But how? How could I be free of this guilt? I never knew this darkness of guilt and shame until I stood in the presence of such holiness, such wisdom, such purity.

Who is this man?

What must I do to be saved from this condemnation that fills my heart?

~~~

To read the original story, see John 8:1-11.

===

If you find yourself asking these same questions check out this post - What Peace? - where I lay out God's plan in simple terms.

 

Copyright - 2015 -  Benjamin Nelson

This story comes from my book "Encounters With Jesus. Forty days in the life of Jesus through the eyes of those He touched." You can get yours today at Amazon.com.

If you've read Encounters it would be a huge blessing to me if you would write a review, and tell a friend about it.

If you would be interested in buying more than one copy, email me for bulk rates.

BenHeadshotThanks for coming by.

We'll talk again soon.

Ben

4

Before you read this encounter, I want to tell you this is not your normal pleasant Christmas tale. This is a piece of the Christmas story we don't hear often. But as I read Matthew 2:18, I was moved by the horror that accompanied Christ's birth and childhood. As Isaiah foretold, the bright and shining light would come into gross darkness. Christ's world was a world of darkness which He penetrated with unmatched brilliance.

By Angelo Visconti (1829 - 1861) (Italian) (painter, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH,
WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING,
RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN;
AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED,
BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.

Matthew 2:18

Captain of the King’s Secret Police

Herod is a cruel man. I’ve never thought of myself that way. I just do as I’m told. But these days—I can’t look in the mirror—he has turned me into a monster.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my share of killing in the king service. I’ve turned a blind eye to indiscretions. More than once I’ve lied for him before the temple authorities. They love Herod’s results, but just don’t have the stomach for his methods. When it comes to tactics, Herod figures the less they know the better.

About eight years ago, Ovidius, the king’s right hand, recruited me out of the Roman garrison here in Jerusalem. He had heard of my reputation as a brawler among the ranks. In the past my foul temper cost me many a promotion, but in Herod’s service, my brutality is rewarded handsomely.

I moved through the ranks of the kings secret service, until about a year ago I was placed at the head of his primary unit. Ovidius gives us the dirty jobs, where silence is required and conscience forbidden.

About six weeks ago some foreigners came through Jerusalem asking about a child born nearby they thought might be the king of the Jews. They started asking around at the temple, but soon ended up in King Herod’s court.

My station, when the king receives visitors in his Jerusalem palace, is behind him and slightly to his left. I’m alway armed and ready to deal with any threat to the king’s life.

Three of these strangers in there garish costumes were admitted to the throne room. There were probably twenty more in their party. By the look of them, they had been traveling for some time. They looked road worn and tired. They traveled with more than a dozen camels and other live stock as well. It made a spectacle on the streets of Jerusalem.

The spokesman for this band of travelers told a fantastic tale about following a star, and their search for this special child—this king of the Jews. They had apparently read some ancient prophecies about a Jewish deliverer coming to set His people free from oppression.

At the words “king of the Jews” I saw Herod twitch. I knew even without seeing his face that he was formulating a plan.

These visitors asked the king if he had heard of such a child.

Herod sent a runner and summoned the temple scribes. The scribes spent their days in the ancient writings. They transcribed them letter for letter and them proofed them repetedly to ensure their accuracy. If anyone would know the details of those Hebrew fairy tales it would be those scroll lovers.

As soon as the spokesman for the Babylonian star-gazer posed his question, the scribes huddled together and started muttering about this scripture and that. One turned to the runner and instructed him to bring back a few volumes from the archives.

In short order they were pouring over the writings four or five of the old prophets from centuries gone by. They spread these scrolls over the kings tables and pour through passage after passage.

After most of the afternoon had passed they seemed to come to a consensus. The chief scribe looked up and announced, “Bethlehem.” The one to his left read:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

When Herod heard this he said,

“That’s it, Bethlehem. I must go and worship this king too.” Turning to me he continued, “When these men have found their king, bring them back to me. We’ll see to it that all Jerusalem worships this young Messiah.”

He had no intention of worshiping a child. He had no intention of giving up his throne to anyone. I heard his voice slide into the tone he used so his words would lull the listener into trust as he prepared his betrayal. These wisemen were about to learn a lesson they would not forget. We would let them find this baby king and then kill the lot of them, and that was just fine with me. I had no use for these outsiders.

That was ten days ago, and they never returned. The next thing I knew the king called me into this private chamber.

“Why didn’t you have them followed?” Herod’s tone was threatening. “We’ve lost them, and the baby king lives on.”

I knew the look in his eye, and the tone of his voice. He was about to kill, and for the first time, I thought it might be me. “How are you going to fix this? How will you find this king? I want the body of this child in my chamber tonight.”

“How can I know who this king is? If I brought you the body of every boy in Bethlehem you still couldn’t be sure you killed the right boy!”

“Perfect—do it—do it today!” he screamed.

“Do what?” I asked, but I was afraid I knew.

“Kill them all! How long did they say they were following that star? Was it two years? Kill every boy, two and under, in Bethlehem—in the whole county. Take whomever you need. I want it done today. If you miss one of them it will be your head.”

I can’t even tell you how much threatening it took to get my men to carry out this atrocity. Many men deserted, and a I had to kill two of them just to get the others to follow my orders. I took three units, and we surrounded the area. We blocked every road leading in or out of the region. Then we invaded, house by house. No explanations were giving—no reason for our presence. In every house where we found a male child we left a weeping mother. These Jews believe in big families. Hardly a home was without one sacrifice to the kings wrath, and in many there were two and even three. Soon the sound of the wailing filled the streets as the blood ran and the horror spread.

While we did it, while we—I killed these untainted little ones, I felt like I was not in my own body. I couldn’t kill like this. I wouldn’t do it. My own code would never allow for such action. And yet, here I was, not only doing it, but demanding that my men carry out this horrific campaign against a peaceable nations children.

I can no longer sleep. My hands are covered in the blood of hundreds of innocents . When I reported to Herod what we had done, he actually chuckled. That was when I realized he had turned me into a monster. I can’t live with this any longer. I must find a way to get away from this guilt—this shame.

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:13-18 and Micah 5:2.

===

If you appreciate these first person accounts from the gospels, you can find forty more in my book Encounters With Jesus. There are a few others in the Encounters tab as well.

I pray you have a great advent season and that you allow the light that Herod tried to extinguish to shine in and through your life.

cropped-BenHeadshot.jpgBlessing,

Keep shining.

Ben

Pieter de With ~ Paul and Silas in Philippi drive the devil out of a woman possessed of a spirit of divination

My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is perfected in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Paul

“Silas, do you think she’ll be back tomorrow?” I said.

“Please Lord, make it stop,” was his reply.

We had arrived in Philippi two days earlier. As we made our way down to the river, to join a prayer meeting, a young woman—a girl really—met up with us. At first it seemed like the Lord was giving us great favor, because she started calling out that we were men of God who came to proclaim the way of salvation. She actually gathered us quite a crowd on that first day. Her declarations made me stand up just a bit straighter. I was feeling pretty good about this new city—this new harvest we were about to work. It seemed ripe for the gospel.

But as the day wore on, she never stopped her proclamations. Over and over she called out:

“These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

The distraction grew until I couldn’t keep my mind on my message. As I preached, or tried to preach, at the riverside, she stood at the top of the path and called out. It rattled me. I couldn’t even get my testimony out. Finally I called for a time of silent prayer, and just sat down.

She was back the next day too. All day she followed us around. All day she called out. By the end of the second day these cries disheartened us.

I spent the night asking the Lord what to do about this woman. Her words pierced like a thorn in my side. She stifled ministry. She drove seekers away. She got under my skin. I asked the Lord to send her way, to keep her from returning. This vexation had to stop, or we would just have to move on.

I felt foolish even asking the Lord about this. After all, look how far I’ve come. I’ve seen the Lord do so much. We’ve seen hundreds, thousands perhaps, enter the kingdom. I can’t count those we’ve seen healed from all manner of disease and malady. Besides the visible ministry, there’s all the amazing revelation. I’ve seen things in the heavenlies that I’m not even permitted to share.

It vexed me. I prayed all night. How could something so simple, just a girl, have such a devastating effect on ministry, and on my own peace.

As dawn broke, I heard the voice of Jesus.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

I had no idea I was so weak—so vulnerable—to satan’s ploys. After all I’ve seen and done in the Spirit of Christ, this messenger of satan was battering me. My weakness became so plain to me, and I saw how everything I had—everything I was—came by His wonderful grace.

That night I slept little, but I rose refreshed. I knew today held great promise. We would see the grace of Jesus in action today.

Breakfast was light and our plan was to head back to the river midmorning. I was planning on preaching until midday, and then Silas would baptize those the Lord called.

As we left the home of Lydia, where we were lodging while in Philippi, we met the young girl again. At first my heart sank. I really did not want another day of distraction.

Before I could say a word to her, she began her proclamations again.

"These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."

As she said the words “Most High God,” it all clicked into place. I saw it. Satan exploited my weakness. He pecked away at my patience. But, by the grace of God, now I could see his—satan’s—fingerprints all over this girl.

Thank God for His abundant grace. The grace that saved me. The grace that called me out of darkness and into His marvelous light. His all-sufficient grace rose up inside of me, and I saw it.

She started to speak,

“These men…”

I put my finger to her lips to stop her. With the full authority of the Holy Spirit I said,

“I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”

The spirit started to speak again,

“These men are…”

“Come out!” I nearly shouted.

At that I could see her change. There was a brief shaking, she rose up to her full height, on the tips of her toes, as though she was going to float away. Then she fell into the dust.

Her collapse alarmed me at first. I wondered if she was dead. But in a moment she was crying.

“Thank you,” she said through her tears.

We watched as her new-found freedom dawned. The spirit that ruled her life vacated. Everything she knew was about to change. The first change was to introduce her to a new Master, Jesus, the Messiah. No longer would she be under the mastery of the demonic. From that moment she joined the service of the King of kings.

What strikes me as I look back at this encounter with Jesus is how easily satan disrupted my ministry. The moment I began to move on my own, instead of allowing the Spirit to lead, I was undone. God’s grace truly is the answer to every one of life’s needs. The only hope for this dark world is Christ in me—Christ in us—we who call upon His name. When I feel strong in my abilities or in my accomplishments, my weakness is exposed. When I see my weakness, He comes in like a flood and demonstrates His strength.

What a glorious salvation.

~~~

To read the original story, see Acts 16:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 12 1-10

I hope you have enjoyed this story. It's part of my upcoming book, Encounters With the Holy Spirit.

To read more first person encounters check out my new book Encounters With Jesus. It's a collection of forty stories from the life of Jesus through the eyes of those He touched. Available now in paperback or kindle editions or for your nook.

benheadshot1Thanks for coming by,

See you again soon,

Ben