BEWARE THE CLOAK HOLDER!

MODERN-DAY REPORTER SERIES:

by Bill Byrnes

Psalms: 18:48:  “ He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, he liftest me up above those that rise up against me. He hast delivered me from the violent man.”

 

         Jerusalem:34 A.D.- Reporter: Bill Byrnes — This was going to be a very long day, but there was no choice–I saw a huge story looming and had to be part of it. I had become an assistant Muleteer in a small caravan heading to Damascus. The real story was its owner–the infamous Saul of Tarsus; his purpose–to go to Damascus and  persecute any Christian converts he could find. The plan would follow the same methodology he used in Jerusalem and towns into the Jordan Valley, and as far away as Scythopolis.  He would gather up the Nazarenes (the name Temple clergy had given to followers of Jesus), bring them to local synagogues where judgments were made, then provoke them into confrontations ending with beatings and tortures. There were, of course, some ensuing deaths.

There would be plenty of time to consider the best way to approach my report. It was a week’s journey to Damascus. Despite the  very hard work involved with being assistant to the mule-drivers, it was the only way to be on the front edge of a massive story.

We left at daybreak, and looking back from Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem had such a  pretty, serene glow. It was the type of glow many towns had before its inhabitants awakened.

Family caravan on Agadir beach

We  took the usual route  to Ginae  in the plain of Esdrelon. Once there, our guides decided  to head to the western shore of the lake of Galilee and go northward. We crossed the Jordan river about halfway to the Lake of the Marshes. We kept trekking east into the upland region for about five hours until we came to a small town that lay at the intersection with the road to Gilead. Thus far, our trip has taken approximately 4 1/2days and the whole time, my thinking focused on the meteoric rise of Saul of Tarsus– persecutor!

Saul was born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia (in Asia Minor–modern day Turkey) approximately the same time as Jesus. His parents were devout Pharisees and his father traced his lineage back to the tribe of Benjamin- who had given the Hebrews their first king–Saul. His dad, a wealthy textile merchant, was also a Roman citizen, so he gave Saul a Roman name–Paul–a name to be used among Gentiles including the Greek speaking peoples common to the area.(This was a common practice for Jews outside the “homeland”– their real names to be used only among their own kind)  The legacies of family wealth and Roman citizenship would prove invaluable for Saul’s development and later success. With Roman citizenship, he could travel anywhere within the empire. His family’s wealth meant that he didn’t have to be pressed into servitude, and instead, could pursue scholarly interests, which he did.

Although a contemporary of Jesus, Saul never met him. He grew up in Tarsus and left for Jerusalem at age 17-18. His father hoped he would continue in the Pharisee tradition and above all else–keep to the law of God. After beginning his studies at the Temple, Saul was very impressed with the noted Pharisaic scholar-Gamaliel, but found himself lacking in knowledge of the ancient Hebrew language and scriptures. After checking with local scholars he decided to visit the main colony of the Essenes, a devout sect of Jews located upon a shelf above the plain bordering the Dead Sea. They lived in a walled-in community and were totally isolated from any contact with the outside world except for occasional trips to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were extremely committed to living in the “old ways”. They were very active in scholarly pursuits and constantly transcribed books onto leather scrolls. His “visit” lasted more then two years and during that time, Saul established the foundation of knowledge he was seeking.

Bartolomeo_Montagna_-_Saint_Paul_-_Google_Art_Project

Saul never met Jesus.

However, that was also the same time that Jesus of Nazareth carried on his ministry in Galilee. Because of their isolation, the Essenes (and Saul) were totally unaware of Jesus’ passing thru Jericho-only a few miles on the other side of the river from them. Of course, this also meant the Essene colony knew nothing about Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Saul learned of these momentous events from visitors to the compound and soon after, left for Jerusalem.

It’s interesting to note that during Saul’s first stay at the Temple in Jerusalem, his qualifications drew interest from no less than Caiaphas- the High Priest. It’s no surprise, then, that after his return he was quickly brought up to date on the surging Nazarene(Christian) movement. After the first Pentecost, the movement was spreading rapidly, especially into areas inhabited by Hellenistic Jews…like Damascus. Saul found this deeply troubling. This new movement, if it spread far enough into the Gentile world, could be viewed as a threat by the Roman empire, which had been very good to Jews within its domain. Also, it ran against his Pharisaic beliefs. Unnamed sources, associates of young Saul, said that at this time he concluded that the best course of action was to stop the movement before it started spreading into the Roman world.

He started  going to meetings at the house of one of the High priests with a group of other like-minded young men. They realized that Saul would be their best choice to lead them. He spoke Greek, so he could easily identify with Hellenistic Jews, and, his Roman citizenship meant his movements in areas outside Judea wouldn’t draw Roman suspicions. Next question was: how to begin!

Since the episode with the “gift of tongues” on the first Pentecost, Temple priests had felt more threatened, and confused, each time they heard about the miracles of healing and the subsequent conversions. When John and Peter healed the lame man at the East Gate(see last article- “Solomon’s Porch”) they were imprisoned, then released because the priests didn’t want to chance angering the followers who were still on the Temple grounds. Not long after, Peter and John were again arrested while visiting Solomon’s Porch and preaching to the public. After being jailed, their cell door was “miraculously” unlocked and they went right back to preaching the message of Jesus. This enraged the priests, who wanted to kill them. Fortunately for them, Saul’s mentor, Gamaliel addressed the gathering. He said that if this movement was God’s plan they wouldn’t be able to stop it, if it wasn’t, then it would soon fall apart, as was the case with the beliefs of previous false prophets. This made sense to the priests, who decided to beat Peter and John and send them on their way.

212

Their cell door was mysteriously unlocked.

The healings and conversions continued and a new follower, Stephen, became prominent with his Temple preaching. Stephen worked with the disciples in dispensing food to the needy. Friends admit that he was full of the “Holy Spirit”, and was a gifted speaker. He was also credited with some healing miracles. Being only a co-worker of the disciples, and not one of the twelve leaders, he quickly drew the attention of Saul and his conspirators. Indeed, Stephen would be their initial target.

It’s still not clear whether Saul’s group went out and arrested Stephen, or if they waited for one of his regular Temple visits. Either way, when Stephen addressed the priests, their previous frustrations became quite clear. They were enraged at him. Witnesses at the gathering said that Saul seized the moment and shouted, “Blasphemy!”, knowing his word would incite the others. Stephen was dragged out of the Temple, into the city streets, and stoned to death! What’s interesting to note is that Saul, though  leading the group, never picked up a stone. Instead, he held the cloaks of the murderous group. When it was over, Saul comforted the priests, and those involved, by saying, “It is a good thing he was killed.”. From this moment on he was treated with great respect. And, any of the new Christians definitely had to beware of the coat-holder!  A “reign of terror” against these new converts to Jesus was beginning. It’s leader was Saul of Tarsus!

StoningOfStephen-300x240

Stephen would be their first target.

Several campaigns later, Saul was on the verge of his most ambitious undertaking yet–Damascus. His usual “henchmen” from the Jerusalem temple were not with him, probably because he wanted to avoid drawing attention from the Romans.

Inhabitants of the small village we stopped in warned that Eastern tribesmen were robbing caravans along the Damascus road. They advised that it would be better to wait until tomorrow and we could team up with another Damascus-bound caravan that was overdue. This way, it might be too large a target for the outlaws to attack. Saul ignored their warnings and forged ahead. It was still 12-13 hours ahead, including an overnight stop, and he didn’t want to delay his journey for one minute longer than necessary.

We were traveling on some rough road, thru a bare, rocky area West of the Trachonitis Range–it’s volcanic hills showing a deep purple façade. Looking ahead even further, to the Northwest, we saw the massive Mt. Hermon, complete with snow covered peaks despite the fact that it was May. We would have to pass by the entire base of the mountain before arriving in Damascus.

Unimpressed by the scenery, Saul kept up a pace that left us lagging. Undaunted, his pace never lessened. Despite our best efforts, we fell further behind. It was difficult to keep him in our sight. Then we noticed the weather starting to change. It appeared his horse also sensed it as it made nervous attempts to outdistance the dark clouds rolling off of Mt. Hermon. The dark clouds soon became darker, the winds increased dramatically causing temperatures to plummet. The clouds continued their metamorphosis into an almost-black hue! My fellow muleteers had been saying that Spring storms coming off of Mt. Hermon could drop to bone-chilling extremes. We stopped, as we all started reaching for the packs carrying our warm Cilicium coats.(Cilicium was the name given to garments made in Cilicia, which were standard cold-weather gear for Roman soldiers. Many of these coats were made by Saul’s father and, undoubtedly, played a large role in his being granted Roman citizenship.) As I slipped into my coat, I realized that Saul carried no provisions on his horse. When I told this to my mule driver he yelped something to the effect of, “You noticed –start running with a coat for the boss! A frozen owner would be unable to pay wages!”

I took off in Saul’s direction. He was barely visible in the heavy cloud cover ahead. I was cursing my lack of speed when I looked ahead, trying to focus in on Saul’s distance, and what I saw stopped me almost dead in my tracks! His horse had made it to a walled enclosure(khan), but just before it entered, it stumbled, throwing its rider. I had managed to reach a point  approximately 50 yards behind him. The dark clouds surrounded Saul. I dropped to my knees, awestruck, when an strange eerie light pierced thru the clouds- as if it were seeking just him! Once it found its target, the sounds of the violent storm ceased. All I could hear was a muted thunder. It was strange because it was not the usual ominous sound of thunder–but it sounded– almost soft with staccato rhythym–the sound was almost–well–it sounded– CONVERSATIONAL! The sounds seemed  incredulous– and then I noticed something that was truly a sight for the ages…Saul, the dreaded persecutor , was lying prostrate on the ground, his arms straight in front of him palms down, as if he was WORSHIPING that light!

Saul-Blinded-By-The-Light-248x300

It was as if he was worshiping the light…

My co-workers caught up to me as the surrounding area resumed its normalcy as rapidly as it had lost it. One of Saul’s assistants raced ahead to help his master up and then lead him into the enclosed area to rest. When we caught up to them what we discovered chilled us as much as the storm: he was BLIND–Saul of Tarsus was blind! When we asked his helper what we could do, he said  just rest until the morning, then we would continue into Damascus. As I laid down to rest, I inched towards the reclined invalid as much as I could without appearing menacing. It was enough to barely hear Saul’s conversation. His voice, understandably, was very strained when he told his helper, “…then I asked him, ‘What shall I do Lord?’ Then he said, ‘Go into Damascus, and you will be told what to do.’ ”

I was shocked by what I just heard. But it had to be true–Saul of Tarsus was not worshipping light in a storm–he was talking with God! He had just been converted to the Christian belief! Absolutely incredible!

Fatigue was overcoming me quickly. My last thoughts for this momentous day were about that prophetic statement of Gamaliel:  “If this new movement was part of God’s plan, no one could stop it.”  Well, after what I just observed–I don’t think anyone will. I sort of smirked when I thought about God’s template for change. What’ll happen when this new religion confronts the mighty Roman empire? Will God change them like he just changed Saul? “Oh…that’ll be the day!”, I thought. Then I fell into the caress of a much needed, wonderful sleep.

***Note: Don’t stop here–READ “Acts of the Apostles” – located in a Bible near you! It really is the 2nd greatest story ever told!

 

 

TONGUES OF FIRE

Modern-Day Reporter Series by  Bill Byrnes

“…I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and young men shall see visions.”   Joel:2:28

PART 1:SOLOMON’S PORCH

Jerusalem, 33A.D. Reporter: Bill Byrnes —  At this moment, I’m standing in the dazzling portico, along the East side of the Temple, known as Solomon’s Porch. It is a beautiful remnant of the original Temple of Solomon. Originally, this was Solomon’s Hall of Judgment, where the king would dispense justice. It was covered with cedar from floor to ceiling. The current porch-type area was restored by King Herod and rests upon a massive retaining wall constructed of “marvelous” stones, adjacent to the East (or “Beautiful”) Gate. As I look around, it’s easy to see why this was a favorite location for Jesus to mingle, and, to teach. Since his crucifixion, his disciples have met here quite often. Cloistered walkways provide for private or semi-private discussions, with the courtyard being a perfect setting for public discussions.

model-of-herods-temple

However, this beautiful serenity has been disturbed– I’ve just witnessed an occurrence so awesome as to leave me almost dumbstruck. A man, lame from birth, who, daily, had been placed by relatives next to the East Gate of the Temple , WALKED onto this historic area! He was holding onto Peter and John, disciples of slain religious leader-Jesus of Nazareth, but it was clear that the man walked under his own power!  Earlier today, when I entered thru the East Gate, I saw him there, asking for alms–and he was lame! As he moved, he gave praise to God for healing him. When Jesus was alive, these healings were commonplace–but he’s not here now and there’s just been a miraculous healing!

As I gather my thoughts, I realize the best way to continue this story is to move backwards. My last article ended with the realization that this story would be best served by continuing into Galilee(see “Scriptures Fulfilled–Tomb is Empty”), especially after suddenly meeting Mary Magdalene. We crossed paths as I was heading towards  Jesus’ tomb. At the time, there was no reason to doubt the account of an empty tomb, but it was her euphoric state, almost trance-like, that made me change direction. When she asked me if I “saw him”, I didn’t know to whom she was referring. However, over the next 50 days, I realized, without ANY doubts, who it was.

Jesus-Resurrected-208x300

After I returned to Galilee, my first step was to locate the disciples of Jesus. Several tense discussions with some of the few believers I encountered, led me to the Cenacle – or “upper room” – of a small synagogue on Mt Zion. This location made perfect sense–it was, after all, the site of Jesus’ Last Supper with his followers, and also the site of what has been termed, the “blessing of the feet.”  But, I was not allowed to even get close to it. Friends of the eleven remaining followers would not let me into the synagogue. I could understand their fear…if the Son of God  was just killed…how could they presume safety? After I convinced them I was no threat I was told that this was, indeed, the disciples’  habitat. However, I was not allowed to stay.

Over the next six weeks, repeated trips to the site–and several conversations with sources  to whom I had to swear permanent anonymity- yielded the following incredible statements. When we met on the road to Galilee, the reason Magdalene had that look on her face was because she claimed to have seen and spoken with Jesus himself! In fact, that very evening, Jesus made the first of several appearances to his disciples. This was behind closed doors at the Cenacle. At these meetings Jesus stressed to his followers that they must not leave Jerusalem. They should wait for a “baptism with the Holy Spirit”. This would give them all the skills and powers they would need to be “witnesses” for him. In fact, exactly forty days after his death–he said goodbye to his eleven followers and ascended into the Heavens, where white clouds hid him from sight!

jesus-ascension-09-238x300

Seeing the miraculous healing on Solomon’s Porch made these details stand out in my mind more than they did when I first heard them. After all, at what point does one disembark from  the restrictions of reality into a journey of faith? I discovered that answer only ten days after Jesus’  ascension, and exactly fifty days after his death.

It was during the Khag Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks. that a most incredible happening took place. Since this is one of the few pilgrimage festivals, Jews from every country in the world were in Jerusalem. It was a Sunday morning, and I was in the street trying to get what information I could. I had just learned that Matthias was  elected as a new disciple, taking the place of Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus at Gethsemane. Many of the pilgrims were in the street. Suddenly, the whole area was blanketed by an extreme noise. It sounded like very strong winds, but, noise only–no actual wind! All present quickly determined that the noise emanated from inside the Cenacle. We waited for what would happen next. It wasn’t long before the doors of the small synagogue opened wide and all twelve Apostles came into the street and started talking to the ever-growing crowds. The amazing part of this story is that each of the twelve were talking different languages!

Pentecost_58-227-235x300

The crowd kept growing. Thousands were present, each of them hearing the message in their native tongue! As the crowd grew, the voices easily projected over the distance between them and their entire audience! Even ambient street noises seemed to disappear. Leaders of the different ethnic groups within the crowd asserted words to the effect of : “Look, aren’t all these men common workers from Galilee? How is it possible that we each hear them in our own languages, telling about the great things God has done?”  They kept asking themselves, “How is this possible?” Some among the crowd, who couldn’t believe these happenings exclaimed, “They have had too much wine?” Then Peter, who led the disciples, said in a voice that sliced thru the noise and silenced the throng, “My fellow Jews…and all in Jerusalem…listen to me! We are not drunk-it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!” He continued explaining the situation by reciting from the book of Joel, stating that it prophesized what was happening. Peter ended his amazing oration with this statement:  “God has made Jesus–the man you nailed to the cross–both Lord and Christ!”

The crowd remained quiet. Then, in a guilty manner, some of the leaders asked, “What shall we do?”. Peter then commanded: “Change your hearts and lives–BE BAPTIZED–each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. The gift of the Holy Spirit is for you, your children, and those far away! Save yourselves from the evil of today’s people!”. With that final remark, Peter and the other eleven started baptizing members of the crowd. Hours later–approximately 3,000 new followers of Jesus continued listening to teachings, broke bread together, and prayed together. This entire episode was absolutely astounding to anyone present! As the apostles continued to mix with the crowd there were more “miracles and signs”. The massive crowd settled into a great “respect”  for God.

pentecost-300x224

“,,,there were more miracles and signs…”

On my way home, I encountered Mary Magdalene, who answered my biggest question of the day: that noise. She said that the disciples, while seated in the Cenacle, were engulfed by it. Then cloven tongues of fire rested on each of them, and they started conversing in different languages! Her statement, as well as all the other events of the day, made for as much information as I could process. However, I was filled with the irony posed by the appearance of the “cloven-tongues of fire”. At the Tower of Babel, God made many languages, and now, at least temporarily, for a few men, there was only one–the language of God!

Over the next several days, the new believers started selling their land and other possessions, intending to give the money to anyone in need. They practically lived together– and shared food with everyone. There were daily meetings at the Temple–group worship was commonplace. And, new believers continued to be baptized. I started hearing a new word to describe the believers–”Christians”, or, followers of  Jesus Christ.

Today, was another of several meetings for more group prayers at the Temple. It was supposed to be a 3:00 prayer service– an agreed upon daily time. At the entrance to the East Gate the lame man saw Peter and John approaching. He asked them for some money. Peter replied, “I don’t have any silver or gold–but I have something else. By the power of Jesus Christ–stand up and walk!”

After their entrance onto Solomon’s Porch, Peter started preaching to the crowd. As Peter was talking, reality, once again, arrived in the persons of the Captain of the Temple soldiers, Sadducees and other priests. They grabbed the two disciples and led them away.

Despite recent momentous happenings and wonderful tidings, this latest event does not bode well for these “Christians”.

READ FOR YOURSELF– “The Acts of the Apostles”– in any Bible! It                                              truly is the 2nd greatest story ever told!

Next:  “Beware the Cloak-Holder”

Modern-Day Reporter Series by  Bill Byrnes

“…I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men will dream dreams and young men shall see visions.”   Joel:2:28

PART 1:SOLOMON’S PORCH

Jerusalem, 33A.D. Reporter: Bill Byrnes —  At this moment, I’m standing in the dazzling portico, along the East side of the Temple, known as Solomon’s Porch. It is a beautiful remnant of the original Temple of Solomon. Originally, this was Solomon’s Hall of Judgment, where the king would dispense justice. It was covered with cedar from floor to ceiling. The current porch-type area was restored by King Herod and rests upon a massive retaining wall constructed of “marvelous” stones, adjacent to the East (or “Beautiful”) Gate. As I look around, it’s easy to see why this was a favorite location for Jesus to mingle, and, to teach. Since his crucifixion, his disciples have met here quite often. Cloistered walkways provide for private or semi-private discussions, with the courtyard being a perfect setting for public discussions.

model-of-herods-temple

However, this beautiful serenity has been disturbed– I’ve just witnessed an occurrence so awesome as to leave me almost dumbstruck. A man, lame from birth, who, daily, had been placed by relatives next to the East Gate of the Temple , WALKED onto this historic area! He was holding onto Peter and John, disciples of slain religious leader-Jesus of Nazareth, but it was clear that the man walked under his own power!  Earlier today, when I entered thru the East Gate, I saw him there, asking for alms–and he was lame! As he moved, he gave praise to God for healing him. When Jesus was alive, these healings were commonplace–but he’s not here now and there’s just been a miraculous healing!

As I gather my thoughts, I realize the best way to continue this story is to move backwards. My last article ended with the realization that this story would be best served by continuing into Galilee(see “Scriptures Fulfilled–Tomb is Empty”), especially after suddenly meeting Mary Magdalene. We crossed paths as I was heading towards  Jesus’ tomb. At the time, there was no reason to doubt the account of an empty tomb, but it was her euphoric state, almost trance-like, that made me change direction. When she asked me if I “saw him”, I didn’t know to whom she was referring. However, over the next 50 days, I realized, without ANY doubts, who it was.

Jesus-Resurrected-208x300

After I returned to Galilee, my first step was to locate the disciples of Jesus. Several tense discussions with some of the few believers I encountered, led me to the Cenacle – or “upper room” – of a small synagogue on Mt Zion. This location made perfect sense–it was, after all, the site of Jesus’ Last Supper with his followers, and also the site of what has been termed, the “blessing of the feet.”  But, I was not allowed to even get close to it. Friends of the eleven remaining followers would not let me into the synagogue. I could understand their fear…if the Son of God  was just killed…how could they presume safety? After I convinced them I was no threat I was told that this was, indeed, the disciples’  habitat. However, I was not allowed to stay.

Over the next six weeks, repeated trips to the site–and several conversations with sources  to whom I had to swear permanent anonymity- yielded the following incredible statements. When we met on the road to Galilee, the reason Magdalene had that look on her face was because she claimed to have seen and spoken with Jesus himself! In fact, that very evening, Jesus made the first of several appearances to his disciples. This was behind closed doors at the Cenacle. At these meetings Jesus stressed to his followers that they must not leave Jerusalem. They should wait for a “baptism with the Holy Spirit”. This would give them all the skills and powers they would need to be “witnesses” for him. In fact, exactly forty days after his death–he said goodbye to his eleven followers and ascended into the Heavens, where white clouds hid him from sight!

jesus-ascension-09-238x300

Seeing the miraculous healing on Solomon’s Porch made these details stand out in my mind more than they did when I first heard them. After all, at what point does one disembark from  the restrictions of reality into a journey of faith? I discovered that answer only ten days after Jesus’  ascension, and exactly fifty days after his death.

It was during the Khag Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks. that a most incredible happening took place. Since this is one of the few pilgrimage festivals, Jews from every country in the world were in Jerusalem. It was a Sunday morning, and I was in the street trying to get what information I could. I had just learned that Matthias was  elected as a new disciple, taking the place of Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus at Gethsemane. Many of the pilgrims were in the street. Suddenly, the whole area was blanketed by an extreme noise. It sounded like very strong winds, but, noise only–no actual wind! All present quickly determined that the noise emanated from inside the Cenacle. We waited for what would happen next. It wasn’t long before the doors of the small synagogue opened wide and all twelve Apostles came into the street and started talking to the ever-growing crowds. The amazing part of this story is that each of the twelve were talking different languages!

Pentecost_58-227-235x300

The crowd kept growing. Thousands were present, each of them hearing the message in their native tongue! As the crowd grew, the voices easily projected over the distance between them and their entire audience! Even ambient street noises seemed to disappear. Leaders of the different ethnic groups within the crowd asserted words to the effect of : “Look, aren’t all these men common workers from Galilee? How is it possible that we each hear them in our own languages, telling about the great things God has done?”  They kept asking themselves, “How is this possible?” Some among the crowd, who couldn’t believe these happenings exclaimed, “They have had too much wine?” Then Peter, who led the disciples, said in a voice that sliced thru the noise and silenced the throng, “My fellow Jews…and all in Jerusalem…listen to me! We are not drunk-it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!” He continued explaining the situation by reciting from the book of Joel, stating that it prophesized what was happening. Peter ended his amazing oration with this statement:  “God has made Jesus–the man you nailed to the cross–both Lord and Christ!”

The crowd remained quiet. Then, in a guilty manner, some of the leaders asked, “What shall we do?”. Peter then commanded: “Change your hearts and lives–BE BAPTIZED–each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. The gift of the Holy Spirit is for you, your children, and those far away! Save yourselves from the evil of today’s people!”. With that final remark, Peter and the other eleven started baptizing members of the crowd. Hours later–approximately 3,000 new followers of Jesus continued listening to teachings, broke bread together, and prayed together. This entire episode was absolutely astounding to anyone present! As the apostles continued to mix with the crowd there were more “miracles and signs”. The massive crowd settled into a great “respect”  for God.

pentecost-300x224

“,,,there were more miracles and signs…”

On my way home, I encountered Mary Magdalene, who answered my biggest question of the day: that noise. She said that the disciples, while seated in the Cenacle, were engulfed by it. Then cloven tongues of fire rested on each of them, and they started conversing in different languages! Her statement, as well as all the other events of the day, made for as much information as I could process. However, I was filled with the irony posed by the appearance of the “cloven-tongues of fire”. At the Tower of Babel, God made many languages, and now, at least temporarily, for a few men, there was only one–the language of God!

Over the next several days, the new believers started selling their land and other possessions, intending to give the money to anyone in need. They practically lived together– and shared food with everyone. There were daily meetings at the Temple–group worship was commonplace. And, new believers continued to be baptized. I started hearing a new word to describe the believers–”Christians”, or, followers of  Jesus Christ.

Today, was another of several meetings for more group prayers at the Temple. It was supposed to be a 3:00 prayer service– an agreed upon daily time. At the entrance to the East Gate the lame man saw Peter and John approaching. He asked them for some money. Peter replied, “I don’t have any silver or gold–but I have something else. By the power of Jesus Christ–stand up and walk!”

After their entrance onto Solomon’s Porch, Peter started preaching to the crowd. As Peter was talking, reality, once again, arrived in the persons of the Captain of the Temple soldiers, Sadducees and other priests. They grabbed the two disciples and led them away.

Despite recent momentous happenings and wonderful tidings, this latest event does not bode well for these “Christians”.

READ FOR YOURSELF– “The Acts of the Apostles”– in any Bible! It                                              truly is the 2nd greatest story ever told!

Next:  “Beware the Cloak-Holder”

Simon of Cyrene- Prophecy Fulfilled?

Modern Day Reporter Series

Exclusive interview with Simon of  Cyrene  by Bill Byrnes

 

“…they laid hold upon one Simon of Cyrene…and upon him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.”  Luke:23:26

 

Editor’s Note: Our  coverage of the “Terror of Golgotha” painted a terrifying picture of the last moments of slain rabbi Jesus of Nazareth. But now, the question arises as to why Simon of Cyrene was chosen to help Jesus? Was there more to it than an expedient choice by a Roman soldier?

 

Jerusalem, Judea, (Good) Friday 7:00 pm; reporter, Bill Byrnes: 

I’ve just finished observing the body of Jesus of Nazareth being removed from the cross. The burial party is led by Joseph of Arimathaea . They’ve just left the area, but right now I’m with the man who carried the cross – Simon of Cyrene.

“ Simon, why did the Romans choose you to carry Jesus’ cross?” Were you one of his disciples?”

“ No. I had heard of him, like almost every Jew. But even if I were a disciple, after watching this – do you think I would admit to it?”

“No.” I  admitted , “I don’t think I would . But I noticed that he was telling you several things. Would you mind sharing them with my readers?”

“Yes, but first I must mention spectacles like this make one wonder if this is the cost for all of Rome’s civilizing influences. And if it is…is it too much? No one should have to die like this man did; I cannot think of anything  more  painful !”

“Yes, I had hoped to meet this man. Me and my family came to Jerusalem for the Passover…I still cannot believe he did anything bad enough to merit punishment like this. What was his crime?”

“Blasphemy.”, I answered.

“That cannot be”, he stammered. “Throughout the whole ordeal all he did was talk to me about peaceful issues ,  like  the ones he raised at his sermons…he used the term beatitudes. He did not complain once about the Romans, or his other persecutors. In fact, he was more concerned about me & my family. He even knew the names of both my sons; Alexander and Rufus. I don’t know how this was possible? My family had never met him – and I know he had never been to my home country of Cyrene (modern day Ethiopia). Among the last things he said to me was that anyone who followed his teachings and witnessed them to the world would be saved and would dwell with him forever in Heaven.”

I noticed the look in his eyes: it was distracted and seemed to be searching for a distant point to focus upon.

“So, Simon, what will you do from here on?”

“When I get home tonight, I will talk with my wife and sons about this man. I shall gather all his teachings I can find….

“And.…” , I quickly interrupted.

“And…then we shall see. Maybe he shall have four witnesses.”, he said with a small, wry smile, then quickly added, “Just don’t tell the Romans.”

I noticed that Joseph’s small group started their laborious path to his burial tomb. I had to wrap up my interview. “Simon, is there anything else you’d like to share?”

“Yes. When I return home to Cyrene I must consult the scriptures: This man Jesus – before being nailed to this cross –  told me: ‘Go,  descendant of Ham, with the peace that I ,  a descendant of Shem, have bequeathed to you. Show love and serve every Roman. They are the descendants of Japheth.’ ” With that he left at a deliberate pace. My guess is he didn’t want any lingering Romans observing him leaving too quickly.

When I got home I researched the scriptures. When I found the passage Simon referred to I realized that it was anything but chance that led that Centurion to call upon Simon to help the young Rabbi.

simon of cyrene

Genesis: 9:25-27: (Prophecy of Noah): “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” 

When I woke up the next morning I realized the true impact of the prophecy: The Jews, including Simon and his family were descendants of Canaan, the youngest son of Ham – himself the youngest son of Noah. The fact that Noah’s curse carried to Canaan,    showed  the punishment was directed at descendants of the family! Until they accepted Jesus (descendant of Shem) as their Lord and savior they would be bound in servitude to Japheth –  Rome – which  would become the ultimate seat of Christianity- after it accepted  Jesus and became Christian!

Looking back , I’m sure that Simon of  Cyrene   came to understand this  prophecy.

He was certainly good for his promise of studying the teachings of Jesus. His sons were prominent in spreading early Christianity. Rufus, and his mother, were mentioned in Romans:16:13. His other son, Alexander , was thought to have remained in Jerusalem, where his remains were discovered in 1941 in excavations in the Kidron Valley of Eastern Jerusalem

Men from Cyrene (which probably included Simon) were among those converted at Penteost. Also, Cyrenians were among the first scattered when Christians were persecuted in Jerusalem. After their return to their homeland they found the church at Antioch, and according to Acts:11:26, where disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians”.

As I consider these facts – one thing I realize is that the Centurion who chose Simon to carry that infamous cross – never had a choice. Simon of Cyrene was predestined as the man to serve Jesus. But, then, again, aren’t we all?

-30-

    

 

 

SCRIPTURES FULFILLED–TOMB EMPTY!

MODERN-DAY REPORTER SERIES

by Bill Byrnes

        Mary Magdalene Discovers Body Missing!  Jesus is risen!              

 

          Jerusalem, Judea; Sunday AM; Reporter–Bill Byrnes This morning-at sunrise, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary, arrived at the tomb housing the body of slain Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, crucified on Friday for the crime of blasphemy. They carried sweet-smelling spices to anoint his body. They were shocked to see that the huge boulder blocking  the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away!

Two Roman soldiers, sent by Governor Pontius Pilate to protect the tomb, stood next to the opening. Both appeared to be in a near state of shock–unable to speak!

JesusEmptyTomb-1024x832

The huge boulder had been rolled away!

I was heading to the tomb this morning when I encountered the women–on the road to Galilee. They told me about a young stranger, inside the tomb. “This man had a countenance that shone as bright as any light.”, said Magdalene. As she relayed her story, I could see that the look of grief and shock I had observed on her Friday during the crucifixion was different. It was now a look of surprise mixed with some shock and something new–anticipation! She continued, “He said,  ‘Don’t be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus. He is not here. He has risen from the dead–as he said he would. Come and see where his body was-then go quickly and tell his followers what has happened. Tell them Jesus is going into Galilee to see them.’ ”  With that, the women left and continued on their path to find Jesus’ disciples. I headed for the tomb.

Jesus-Resurrected-208x300

“This man had a countenance that shone as bright as any light!”

After what had to be only a few minutes or so, I heard sudden joyful shouts, mixed with loud sobbing! I turned around, heading back to the path the women were taking-fearful that they were in trouble. I saw them, both in a position of worship–hands outstretched as if they were holding something–I saw nothing! When I got to them, I asked them what was wrong. Again, it was Mary Magdalene who replied– “Sir, you didn’t see him?” I asked who it was I should have seen? They looked at each other, smiled back at me, then turned and continued quickly on their path. The look of anticipation I had noticed moments earlier was gone. A sort of glowing happiness had replaced it. Even if my description isn’t accurate, one thing  is for sure:  looks of grief, shock and sadness had left their faces!

When I arrived at the tomb, I saw no guards and no stranger. I  knew that the story would continue in Galilee.

As I am heading back to find the Disciples, I realize that there was no real story here. There comes a point where any reporter can lose his all-important “objectivity” when confronted by overwhelming facts. Well, I can no longer keep objectivity when confronted by this fact: everything has been FORETOLD and every prediction about the Messiah has been fulfilled! From here on…well…that is where the  real story begins!

-30-

Luke:24:5-6:  And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen…”

bible-sunset-2

TERROR AT GOLGOTHA!

MODERN-DAY REPORTER SERIES  

Jesus Crucified– dies horrible death! Earth Trembles at His Passing!

Jerusalem, Judea; Golgotha; Friday, 7:00 p.m.; Reporter-Bill Byrnes   The young Rabbi who started a movement of peace, love and changing Mosaic Law, met a horrible end this afternoon. He died on the cross ending a six hour agonizing struggle. Hysterical followers, grief-stricken, sobbed, “No one should die like this. This man was the son of God–who performed many miraculous healings, and spoke of peace, love and God’s forgiveness!”

During the last few hours on the cross, darkness came over all of Jerusalem; when Jesus actually died…an earthquake hit the area, breaking open tombs and actually tearing the curtain in the Sanhedrin from top to bottom! A lone Centurion, guarding the crucifixion site was heard to exclaim , “Truly, this was God’s Son!”

jesus-crucifixion

Despite this incredible, inhuman, 6-hour death, his ordeal began in the pre-dawn hours after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. In a closed-door trial held by leaders of the Sanhedrin–Jesus was declared a “Blasphemer”–a crime that carries a death sentence!  Attendees at the trial, whose anonymity was guaranteed by this reporter, said that witnesses testifying against the man of peace all had stories that “lacked credibility” and conflicted with each other. None of that mattered to Caiaphas, the High Priest and his followers, all of whom declared the defendant: “Guilty!” It was further reported that while these proceedings were going on, Judas Iscariot– the disciple who betrayed Jesus– hung himself out of despair after seeing the result of his actions.  His suicide is not consistent with the notion that it was money alone that prompted his betrayal.

300px-Jesús_en_casa_de_Anás_Museo_del_Prado_José_de_Madrazo

“Guilty”!

                            Politics vs. the Conspiracy  

The early morning hours saw the assembly taking Jesus  to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, for judgment. Pilate tried to pass responsibility back to the Jewish leaders, exhorting them to judge the accused according to their own laws…then execute him. In a masterful maneuver, the Jews replied that Roman law prevented them from executing death sentences. Not to be outdone, Pilate, after questioning Jesus, told the gathering that he found no basis for sentencing, and that he would refer the case to King Herod, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. King Herod, after questioning the accused, quickly sent him back to Pilate.

Pilate, flustered with that outcome, told the crowd that neither him, nor King Herod could find Jesus guilty. As a “half-way” measure, he decided to have the Rabbi whipped and released.

At this point, politics again reared its ugly head: the chief priests goaded the crowd into exercising a yearly privilege: at Passover, the Roman governor would free one prisoner chosen by the people. The crowd chose Barabbas, a murderer, to be freed. Pilate, in one last gesture to the crowd demanded, “What has this man done–what do you want me to do with him? The crowd shouted, “Crucify him!” Pilate again demanded, “Why?”. All he got was the same answer from the crowd–but even louder. The chief Roman, not wanting a riot to ensue, realized that he had no choice. He took a bowl of water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am not guilty of this man’s death. You are the ones causing it!”

300px-Eccehomo1

“You are the ones causing this!”

Roman soldiers led Jesus away for his execution. From all accounts, it was a horrible ordeal inflicted upon the young Nazarene including beatings, and public floggings that tore pieces of flesh from his back! After the Romans placed a crown of thorns on his head, he had to carry his cross thru the town to the execution site–“The Place of the Skull”; in Hebrew, called “Golgotha”, many know it by it’s Latin name – “Calvary”. At several points, Jesus stumbled under the heavy load. A man from Cyrene – Simon – stepped from the crowd to help with him carry it. Once at the site, the punishment went from massive to inhuman as bones were broken to fit the stocks on the cross. Then, rather than tying his limbs to the wooden members, huge spikes were used to actually nail his hands and feet into the wood.  A sign was fastened to the cross, above his head. On it were the initials, “INRI” , which stood for the Hebrew words meaning “Jesus-King of the Jews”. Observers say that just before his moment of death, Jesus called out to his God. Then, after a sponge soaked with vinegar was raised up to his mouth, he tasted it, then uttered his last words: “It is finished!” Time of death was approx. 6:00 p.m.. A final indignity: a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side with his lance to make sure he was dead!

images-of-jesus-christ-144

Simon of Cyrene helps the struggling rabbi

It was exactly at the time of death that earthquakes hit the entire town of Jerusalem. The massive curtain in the Sanhedrin, separating the most Holy place of the synagogue from  the other commonly used areas, was torn top to bottom. Graves were opened and people started reporting seeing loved ones raised from the dead — walking the streets! Though these reports have not been substantiated, this reporter can vouch for the validity of the other damage. “It was as if the Earth cried out to everyone in Jerusalem”,  shouted one of the witnesses, as he was running away wildly, changing his directions as his panic caused numerous indecisions.

There was no one left unaffected by these occurrences!

Reportedly, Joseph, of  Arimathaea, one of Jesus’ allies at the Sanhedrin, went Pontius Pilate  and secured the body for proper burial in his own, new gravesite. This  happened quickly, because today (Friday) is Preparation Day for any corpse. Jewish law prohibits any further preparations on the Sabbath day(Saturday).

502px-Paolo_Veronese_010

His body about to be removed 

Only one question remains: the eleven other disciples of Jesus- the men who were the constant companions to him & who were with him every moment till the betrayal at Gethsemane-have totally disappeared! There is no knowledge of their whereabouts. The only report surfacing amidst all the confusion was that a man, closely resembling Simon Peter, one of the most trusted of the Disciples was seen in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house during the trial. After repeated questioning, the man fled, ranting hysterically, after the second crowing of a rooster.

But, all things considered, who can blame them for disappearing? It was as if they knew that there was nothing they could do–that all of the betrayal, suffering and agony of Jesus Christ–whom many say was the Son of God– was supposed to happen exactly as it did!

-30-

Type = ArtScans RGB : Gamma = 1.882

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”: John:3:16

Betrayal At Gethsemene!

MODERN-DAY REPORTER SERIES

Man of Peace” taken at Sword-point in pre-dawn raid!

Jerusalem, Judea;  Early A.M.–Friday; Reporter – Bill Byrnes:  In the  pre-dawn hours, at this little garden-spot on the Mount of Olives, Jesus of Nazareth was taken into custody by a group of Temple guards, pressed into service by the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin. One of Jesus’ own followers, Judas Iscariot, singled out the young Rabbi to the arresting group. “This was necessary to prevent his escape in conditions without light” said one of the deputies.

polls_The_Garden_of_Gethsemane_Posters_1540_717015_poll_xlarge

Jesus himself calmed the situation.

Confusion & high emotions almost took control, but it was Jesus

himself who calmed the situation! Reportedly, some bloodshed occurred

when one of Jesus’ followers drew his sword and struck one of the high

priests’ guards , cutting off his ear! Rather than try to escape in the

mayhem, the “man of peace” from Nazareth actually rebuked his followers

shouting, “Put your sword in its place! All who live by the sword, shall

perish by the sword!” Then, amazingly, he went to his injured opponent and

healed the man’s ear with his bare hands! Sources present at the

confrontation said that both sides were awestruck at this selfless act. Then

the rabbi continued with his rebuke saying, “Surely you know  I could ask

my Father in Heaven and he would give me more than twelve legions of angels to help! But it must happen this way to bring about what the Scriptures say!” The young man who was smitten, and healed, stood dumbfounded as his comrades left with their captor. As the group left the scene, Jesus’ disciples scattered and ran away.

It is not known where the betraying disciple, Judas, fled to.

Eyewitnesses said  he left in a different direction–appearing to take a

heading towards the Temple. At this point, speculation says that the betrayal

was only for money since there were no other areas of dispute within the

small group.

A guard, who prefers to stay anonymous, said that they were to take

him to the house of Caiaphas, high priest of the Sanhedrin, where he would

answer to charges of blasphemy- a crime punishable by death!

One big question remains: any execution must be performed by the

Romans–and, before that, the Roman Governor must approve it.

Speculation says Pontius Pilate, newly appointed Governor, wants to keep

the different factions in this troubled land at peace–which means that he

might approve! But first, Jesus must be found guilty by the leaders of the

Sanhedrin. Every indication is that he will be…in Jerusalem, facts are never

an issue. What the Sanhedrin wants–the Sanhedrin gets!

                                                 -30-

VOICE ON THE MOUNT!

(Modern-Day Reporter Series)

                   Nazarene Rabbi preaches to thousands on

                  Mount; calls for  mercy , compassion &

                  forgiveness ; chooses 12 followers!

  

Matthew: 4:15-16: “ In the land of Zabulon, and the land of  Nepthalim (near Capernaum) by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles ; the people which sat in darkness saw a great light…” 

 

Capernaum, Judea (31 a.d.) – Reporter:  Bill Byrnes                                                      

Controversial young Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth,  added to his already  burgeoning reputation yesterday, when he preached to thousands atop a small Mount, on the Northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Though some calling themselves  his friends  said this was  the first official act of his ministry, this native of Nazareth has already established quite a reputation among Judeans – many of whom already refer to him as the “Messiah” – the savior –  whose  coming has been foretold for many centuries in  Jewish religious scriptures .  Interestingly enough, Jesus has never referred to himself as the messiah, but, in the past several months, he has been credited with healings that have been nothing short of miraculous, and all of them having several witnesses!  All manner of diverse diseases including leprosy; great fevers, afflictions from birth, and the expulsion of evil spirits were healed!

220px-brooklyn_museum_-_healing_of_the_lepers_at_capernaum_guc3a9rison_des_lc3a9preux_c3a0_capernaum_-_james_tissot_-_overall

“All manner of diseases were healed–including leprosy!

Just a few days ago, Jesus chose twelve men to be his “Apostles”–or Followers. These men , reportedly , have forsaken all their worldly possessions to be among the chosen. I’m  awaiting verification of all their  identities before mentioning any of them.          It was  an  incredible scene. He stood on a small rise, above the people, who were stretched out on three sides of the surrounding terrain, almost as far as the eye could see. They came from all over : Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, and many other areas of Judea, and  beyond Jordan. There was no limit  to age or gender. There were many families , and  even young children, normally rambunctious , seemed to pay attention  when he spoke– it was the most incredible presentation ever witnessed by this reporter!  His voice was not the powerful, booming instrument shown by great orators of the past; but it was steady and unwavering–soothing and penetrating when he wanted to emphasize key points.

TissotBeatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit  , for their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven . Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek,-  for they shall inherit the Earth!”

But the most amazing thing about his presentation was his eyes — — at any given time, he looked directly into everyone’s  eyes — AT THE SAME TIME!  I discovered this by circulating among the crowd, talking with them during his pauses. One young mother, choking – up, almost sobbing, said, “The way he looks into my eyes– — comforts me and my children greatly.” Her gaze never left him while she answered.  A man 20-30 ft.  down from her  said, ”The way his eyes look into mine when he speaks;  I’ve never felt so content.  And my children, usually very playful, are quite still, as if they have just finished eating and are ready for sleep. But the way they’re staring at Jesus , they must understand him too!  As I moved among the masses, the responses were the same. And when I sat  and listened, I was affected as much as anyone!

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:  for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

          When I first started hearing stories of the child prodigy from Nazareth — I just mentally filed them away for future reference. But, now….now I knew  there had to be some truth to  them. Suddenly, I could form a mental picture of the 12-year old boy sitting in the temple in Jerusalem, asking questions and discussing issues of faith with the most educated of clerics, who were spellbound with the lad’s answers to their questions. All of this happened while his parents (not knowing their son’s whereabouts) frantically searched for him  for 3 days!

img

They were amazed with the boy’s answers!

The most impact occurred during the last three of his “blessings”,  “Blessed are the pure in heart – for they shall see God! Blessed are the peacemakers–for they shall be called the children of God ! Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for their’s is the kingdom of Heaven! “  With the last few words, it was if a very short episode of collective , brief sobbing was heard  throughout the entire crowd! I must admit, I was not immune to being a little choked-up!

After this, he spoke at great length regarding a new purpose for the laws governing his people. No one in the crowd, myself included, had any doubts that this man was, indeed, the long awaited messiah! But, he still never referred to himself by that name. He came pretty close to it when answering criticisms from some skeptics in the crowd who accused him of trying to destroy the laws of their ancestors. Matthew: 5;17: “Think not that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I have not come to destroy them, but to FULFILL them.”   So, at the least, Jesus  gave himself a very special “raison  d’etre ”.

Certainly, everyone leaving the event realized  that they were at a very special happening. The blessings bestowed by Jesus were termed “Beatitudes”. Considering that the word comes from the Latin  “beatus” , meaning “blissful” or “fortunate”  This reporter can honestly say that I was very “fortunate” for having drawn this assignment.

(30)

* See Note Below*

(One year later –   32 a.d.) 

Reporter’s post-script:   After  posting the above article my editor  gave me a royal chewing-out for losing objectivity, and removed me from any assignments covering Jesus. This morning, I was exonerated! No sooner had I gone to my desk, than he came over saying:  “Hey, Byrnes – don’t hang up your coat! You’re back on with your messiah.”  I stammered, “Great–but what happened?” Then, I added facetiously,  ”I thought I wasn’t objective enough?”

“ Yeah,  but now, we’ve got a whole new ball-game– AND I want you on it– — Now!”

As  I started gathering all my necessities  he added: “During last night’s storm out on the lake– — several witnesses saw your messiah  rescue his followers —  BY  WALKING  ON THE WATER!”

“No complaints from me, boss”.  I was all smiles and as I exited the office, my smiles turned into almost giddy chuckling when I confronted this question: have I gained much more than the greatest story ever—have I found GOD—alive, well, and walking around Judea? In my gut—I knew the answer!

img_0001