A Visitor From Rome
After traveling for three weeks from my home in Rome I arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. That was about eight or nine weeks ago. The roads in Jerusalem were crowded with people from all over the Empire. After finding lodging and securing a place in which to observe the Passover, I was out sightseeing, and I heard a great commotion on the road from Bethpage into Jerusalem.
Down near the steps leading to the Temple people were putting palm fronds and even their cloaks on the road. I thought they must be honoring an arriving king or prophet. I was surprised when it was just a man dressed in common clothes riding on a donkey. I heard the crowd shout,’ Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest’!’ I had heard some friends talking about miracles being performed by a great prophet like Elijah while others proclaimed that the Messiah of promise had come. I thought, could this be the One?
I thought about these questions for a while, but my thoughts soon turn to my preparations for the Passover feast. The market was so crowded I didn’t think I would get the things needed for the feast in time. I finished preparations over the next few days and finally sat down to rest. I then heard a great commotion outside. People were shouting “crucify Him”! I ran outside thinking I would see a cordon of Roman soldiers guarding some well-known criminal in chains but was surprised when I saw the man that people had hailed as king just days previously, standing before the judgement seat of Pilate. The man’s clothes were tattered and bloody, his flesh torn by Roman whips when he was scourged. His face was covered with blood when the soldiers jammed on his head a crude crown of twisted acacia branches lined with thorns. Pilate said after the scourging said that he would release the man, but the crowd shouted louder; "crucify him, crucify him". Pilate acceding to the mob's demand, orders Roman soldiers to lead the man away to be crucified.
The Man dragged the wooden beam to which his hands would be nailed toward the bald hill called Golgotha. The Roman soldiers pushed through the frenzied crowd increasing the bedlam. I soon found myself drawn into the madness and heard myself shouting the same epithets and slurs. When we arrived at the hill, I saw the soldiers lay the Man down on the beam, spread His arms wide and drive iron spikes through the base of His hand. I saw the agony on His face as they raised the beam and dropped it into position on the supporting post. I winced with each mallet blow as the soldiers nailed His feet to the cross. As I gained some sense of control, I remembered why I was in Jerusalem; to celebrate God’s salvation of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Finally I was able to walk away.
It became strangely dark and quiet as if nature had taken a collective gasp. I turned around just as someone with a spear approaching the Man, now hanging loosely on the cross, and thrusting it into the Man’s side released a gush of blood and water. Sickened by the sight I hurried back to the place where the sacrificial lamb would be eaten. The trembling of the earth caused me to further quicken my pace. Now with just enough time to get ready, I focused on the celebration of the Passover. This helped to diminish the horrific scenes of the crucifixion.
After traveling so far to observe the Passover I determined to stay in Jerusalem for Pentecost, the feast of weeks. While I waited for the upcoming feast, I tried to forget the events surrounding the crucifixion. I heard rumors that the man had been resurrected, although I didn’t believe it. On the day of the feast, about eight days ago, I heard a loud sound like wind and hurried out of my room to find out what was going on. Nobody seemed to know until a group of men stood up and asked for quiet.
They were dressed like common people, not like priests, Pharisees, or other leaders nor as learned speakers. Someone mockingly called them drunk Galileans. What really surprised me was that as each man spoke, he spoke perfect Greek, the language of my birthplace. I am a proselyte not a native Hebrew and although I can read Hebrew the spoken language is difficult for me to follow. I was further amazed when I realized everyone there heard the speeches in their native tongue. Then one of the twelve stepped forward and began to speak.
He explained that Joel had prophesied of this time. A time of revelation from God. Then he systematically showed from the law, prophets and psalms that the man I had seen enter Jerusalem with praise, only to later be condemned to be crucified by an unruly mob of the same people (including me!) were all part of God’s predetermined plan for the world. My guilt at my actions continued to increase however, as he showed from the scripture that Jesus was the son of David, the King of promise. My guilt and anguish reached a crescendo with the realization that I had slain the Son of God. Cut to the heart I cried out in hopelessness; “What shall I do?”
The main speaker, Peter, then said; “Repent and be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ and your sins will be forgiven.” Peter continued speaking, but I was already convinced I needed to obey God’s command. As soon as I was able, I stood before the thousands listening and proclaimed Jesus as God’s Son. I was then immersed in water in the name of Jesus. Coming up out of the water of baptism I felt the weight of guilt diminish as the joy of my salvation was realized. I then watched as three thousand or so of my brethren were immersed.
I stayed in Jerusalem to sit at the apostles’ feet and listen as they proclaimed the gospel message, revealed and explained the teachings of Jesus and further explained God’s plan for man. They showed us how to pray and taught us the power of prayer. The apostles taught us how to love each other in Christ and to rejoice in our fellowship. The apostles then taught us about the memorial Jesus established during the Passover He had observed with them on the day of His arrest. They said it was a communion established to help us remember the Lord’s death and it’s meaning until He came back in judgement.
They taught us that Jesus had taken the unleavened bread, blessed it and then broke it. Jesus then gave the pieces of bread to the disciples telling them to each eat and as they ate to remember how He sacrificed His sinless self for them. The apostles continued that Jesus then took grape juice, told His disciples to drink and as they drank it to remember this represented the beginning of a new covenant for the forgiveness of sin made possible by the shedding of Jesus precious blood. They further explained that each time we partook of the “Lord’s supper” it was a proclamation that He had died for us. They explained that the memorial was so important, that Christians were to gather together the first day of each week to remember Jesus’ sacrifice.
That was three days ago and now it’s the first day of the week. I admit to feelings of trepidation at a memorial specifically designed to help me remember Jesus’ death. I still vividly remember with revulsion the sight of His crucifixion and my part in it. I also remembered the crushing load of guilt and hopelessness I felt when Peter had charged me with the crucifixion of God’s only begotten Son. As I listened to the blessing, I realized something both simple and profound; The Memorial is not about me! When I understood this, I gladly took the unleavened bread and ate it remembering Jesus perfect sacrifice of His sinless life for us that we might have hope.
The cup was then blessed and as I drank, I thought of the new covenant established by God that was based on the forgiveness of sin made possible by Jesus willing sacrifice, shedding His own blood for us. At the close of the memorial, I was filled with joy and hope in the depth of the love shown for us in Jesus’ death on the cross. I now eagerly count the days until we meet again in communion, to remember Christ’s sacrifice.