This is it, the denouement. I hope you got something out of it.
Zachariah walked down an immense hall where a glorious light emanated in front of him. He was accompanied by an angel. In these surroundings he was a little afraid. His thoughts went back a few days as measured in earth time. As promised by Jesus he found himself in Paradise with Him. Jesus had gathered all those in Paradise and told them that He would take them to their permanent home after He received His Kingdom from the Father. Zachariah met and spoke to the heroes of Israel, including Abraham, Moses, and King David. He considered how fortunate he had been to have died next to Jesus. Jesus had returned to Paradise and brought them all here. Now it was time for him to meet the Lord in person.
After what seemed a long time, Zachariah finally stood before the Lord. “Zachariah, welcome to my house,” Jesus said. “You are the first to die in my name under the New Covenant written in my blood. You are a witness to my Grace, you will be an example to people until the end of time. By learning of your story, people will know that by faith they may enter my house and my Kingdom. Turn around, Zachariah.”
Zachariah turned and saw more people than stars in the sky, but in this immense hall they looked like only a few and the hall seemed empty. Jesus motioned to them.
“These are the ones who saw me by faith and looked forward to my coming. This hall will be full by the end of the age and you will witness that. Face me, Zachariah. I must judge your life now. It will not be pleasant but it must be done. You will now understand all of the prophecies about me and why I had to die. After this you will be free to explore my Kingdom.”
Zachariah was back in his childhood . . . .
The carriage rocked gently as Abebe settled back and read one of the scrolls his friend Simon had given him the previous year. Abebe was returning to Ethiopia after visiting Jerusalem for the Passover. “I wonder where Simon is. It would have been wonderful to have visited Jerusalem with him. I would have learned so much.”
Abebe slowly unrolled the scroll and read the Hebrew text. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
Abebe stroked his chin. “What does this mean?”
A man ran up to his carriage. “Do you understand what you are reading?” the man yelled.
“How can I unless someone guides me?” Abebe replied. “Come up here and join me if you can be of service.” Abebe told his driver to stop and the man climbed in beside Abebe.
“Is he talking of himself or someone else?” Abebe asked the man after he was seated.
“He is speaking of Jesus,” the man said. “Have you not heard of him?” Abebe shook his head. The man excitedly told Abebe about Jesus, beginning with the prophets and ending with the empty tomb.
Abebe and the man talked until the sun set and then the man disappeared as quickly as he had come.
Abebe ate a small dinner by the fire that night. “How is it that I came to be here today, reading Hebrew scrolls when this man approached?” He walked to the carriage and looked on the scroll as it sat on the bench. “Could these be more than just words?”
A month later Abebe stood before his Queen at the palace in Axum. “This man Jesus, he is the one the passage is about?” she asked.
Abebe nodded. “Yes, your highness.” He paused and glanced down at the floor and then back at her. “I have travelled many places at your request. Our kingdom has spared no expense to seek out knowledge from all parts of the world. After praying and meditating on this, I am certain the prophecies in these scrolls are true, and that the one they call Jesus was sent from God.”
The Queen sat silently in her throne. Moments later she said, “You have proven yourself a wise counselor. What should we do with this knowledge?”
“We must spread word of Jesus to our own citizens, and then to the rest of the world.”
“Our treasury is at your disposal. You need only to ask.”
Abebe bowed and left to pray for wisdom.
“This is a very difficult passage from the prophet Isaiah. Do not become discouraged if it does not come easily,” Simon said as he dismissed his students for the day.
The young men filtered through the door and Simon’s thoughts drifted to his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. “Has it been two years already?” He looked out the door and saw the streets of Cyrene. “I have travelled the world only to return to Cyrene,” he sighed as the packed his scrolls and walked to his parents’ house.
The setting sun turned the sky blood red as Simon trod the narrow street. “If only my family had believed the things told them about Jesus. Of course, I would not have believed them had I not been there to see them.”
Simon ambled along, lost in his thoughts. He did not see the stranger until he and the man bumped into each other. Simon turned and apologized, catching a glimpse of the man’s face. It seemed familiar, but Simon could not remember where he had seen it before.
The other man look startled and then smiled. “Hello, Simon. Do you remember me?”
“Your face does look familiar,” Simon blurted. “But I am at a loss as to where I have seen it.”
“My name is John. We spoke at the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. You carried his cross and I was sitting with his mother.”
The memory flashed before Simon. “I was just thinking of those things only a few minutes ago. How have you come to Cyrene?”
John smiled. “I have come at the calling of God, but did not understand why until now. We must talk. I have many things to tell you.”
“You will stay with me and my family. Follow me and tell me what has happened since that day.”
After dinner John told Simon and his family the events which followed the crucifixion. He spoke of the resurrection, Jesus’ ascent into heaven, and Pentecost. He told of the miracles and the people who had become followers of the Way.
“I was teaching a passage from Isaiah today. It speaks of the one whom the Lord crushed,” said Simon. “Is that the same Jesus?”
“It is,” said John. “He was the one who was sent to save us. He died so that we might live.”
Simon’s father interjected, “You saw this Jesus after His crucifixion?”
“Yes,” replied John. “I was an eyewitness to all these things. I was not the only witness. There were hundreds of others.”
“How is it that you saw a dead man walking after he was taken down from a cross? I am only a simple trader, please explain this to me,” Simon’s father implored.
“It was no man, but was God himself who hung on that cross.”
No one spoke. Simon’s heart raced as the struggled to understand what John said. As John spoke he felt a fire burning inside.
“What must we do to be saved?” Simon yelled.
“Believe with all your heart that Jesus is the Messiah and follow Him,” said John passionately.
Simon’s family and John talked late into the night. Simon slept for only a few hours after the conversation ended and the lamps were extinguished.
The next morning Simon dragged himself back to his makeshift school. “Class, today we are going to the review yesterday’s passage from Isaiah.” The students let out a small groan. “But instead of reading the passage I am going to tell you how I watched this prophecy become reality.”
After class was over students fired questions at Simon. “You carried the cross for this man?”
“The sun, did it really disappear?”
Several of them begged Simon to tell their parents what had happened. “If I tell them, they will think it is only a foolish child’s story. If you look them in the eye and say it, they will believe,” one said.
For the next month John and Simon spread the word of Jesus to the people of Cyrene and to the traders who passed through. Many were converted and followed Jesus.
Simon felt a clarity he had never known, and a purpose that energized him. Months later he heard the voice that had taken him to Jerusalem. “Axum.” Within days Simon left, hoping to see Beatrice and Abebe one more time and this time he took his children.
Claudius drank wine in the warm sun and dreamt of his past. He had been retired for several years as he sat outside the small house he shared with his wife near Rome. He watched laborers tend to the vineyards further down the hill.
Claudius didn’t hear the approaching horse and was startled at the shout, “Hail, Claudius.”
Claudius jerked upright and squinted in the sunshine. His eyes focused and he recognized his old friend and assistant sitting on a horse.
“Hail, Marcellus. What brings you to my humble abode?”
Marcellus stepped out of the saddle and approached Claudius. “Retirement, Claudius. I was released from service a year ago. I have spent most of the time since travelling. It took me some time to find out where you were living, but I was able to find an old soldier in Britanicus who knew of you.” Marcellus looked at Claudius’ waistline. “Retirement does not allow you much time to train, I see.” They both laughed.
“Come, Marcellus, where are my manners. We must eat, drink and talk about your adventures. I was reliving my time in the guard as you arrived.”
After several hours of swapping stories and drinking wine the men fell silent.
“Claudius, I have been talking to a man in Rome called Paul of Tarsus.”
“Really, and what is so interesting about this fellow?” replied Claudius.
“Remember the man we crucified that day, the one called Jesus of Nazareth?” said Marcellus.
Claudius gulped wine from his cup. “I can’t forget. I still get nightmares. Pilot may have washed his hands of the man, but there is a stain on my soul from what happened. We released a murderer and killed an innocent man that day,” Claudius said bitterly.
“Well, Paul says that this Jesus rose from the dead,” said Marcellus.
“Impossible,” retorted Claudius. “This Paul, is he prone to drinking too much wine?”
“I am serious. Remember the rumors several days after he died?” said Marcellus. “They said that his followers stole his body.”
Claudius stared into the hills. Marcellus continued, “I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But, do you remember how the sky went black, and what Gaius told us?”
“Yes, but I didn’t put any credence in that.” Claudius paused. “It was funny though. Pilot put some other fool in charge of sealing the grave. When the rumors circulated, there was no investigation. I asked Pilate if I should interrogate Jesus’ followers, but he told me to forget about it. We were transferred to Rome a few weeks later.” Claudius put his empty glass on the table. “That was a very strange affair, Marcellus.”
“I did not come to you by accident. Let us go and speak to Paul, Claudius. He is under house arrest in Rome and is going nowhere. We can look him in the eyes and hear him tell his story,” Marcellus pleaded.
Claudius thought for a moment. “Yes, we should go. I have nothing else to do these days. I’m getting old, Marcellus,” said Claudius with a hint of resignation. “It is late. Sleep here tonight and we will leave in the morning.”
The next day the ex-soldiers rode to the house that served as Paul’s prison. A guard met them at the front door.
“Is this man so dangerous that he needs a full-time guard?” laughed Claudius.
“It’s a long story,” said Marcellus. “We wish to see Paul,” Marcellus told the guard.
The guard nodded and knocked on the door. “You have visitors,” he yelled gruffly.
“Please let them in,” a voice responded.
“Enter,” the guard said as he pushed the door open. Paul was sitting and writing behind a desk. He put down his pen and looked up.
“Ah, Marcellus. Welcome again. You have bought a visitor,” said Paul.
“Yes, this is Claudius the Centurion, my Centurion.” replied Marcellus.
“Enough of the past, Marcellus. Now I am just another old man trying to stay warm in the sun,” said Claudius, a little embarrassed.
“I am honored,” said Paul as he looked in Claudius’ eyes. “Marcellus has told me much about you.”
“Marcellus tells me you speak about a Jesus who rose from the dead, the one crucified by Pilate,” said Claudius quietly after he and Marcellus sat.
“He is correct, Claudius. That has been my mission for many years now and it has brought me to Rome,” said Paul purposefully.
Claudius stared at the floor. “I was the Centurion who performed the crucifixion. I watched him die,” said Claudius sadly. “It has haunted me every day since. Now I am told that he is not really dead. ”
“I remember that day as if it were yesterday, Claudius. You cried out that Jesus was surely the Son of God,” said Paul. “Wouldn’t you expect the Son of God to rise from the dead?”
Claudius recalled every detail of the day Christ died and blurted out his account. Paul listened intently and did not interrupt.
After Claudius finished his account, Paul calmly stated, “These things were meant to happen, Claudius.” Paul explained the prophecies that were written about the Christ.
“Claudius, Marcellus tells me you were an upright and honorable soldier. You did your job to the best of your ability. The Lord forgives you and he wants you to come into His Kingdom,” stated Paul.
Tears welled in Claudius’ eyes. “An innocent man died a horrible death and a murder went free because I lacked the courage to keep an innocent man from dying. How am I to be forgiven for that?” asked Claudius.
“You are already forgiven. Just believe with all your heart that Jesus is the Son of God and follow Him,” said Paul.
Claudius dropped his head into his hands and tears wet his palms. “Forgive me, forgive me,” he whispered. He thought what he had seen and heard about Jesus. Claudius looked at Paul and said, “Yes, I believe. There is no other choice”
Paul said, “Today, you are a new man.”