It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
Johnnie R. Jones
and the book:
CrossHouse Publishing (January 10, 2013)
***Special thanks to Jennifer Nelson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Johnnie has written articles for the Southern Baptist Texan and has written numerous articles for several daily newspapers. He is chief editor and publicist for SYD Publications, McKinney, Texas. He has authored four books and numerous booklets. Johnnie is currently founder and revivalist of His Abounding Grace Ministries, Inc., McKinney, Texas. This is volume one of a series of novels based on the first century A.D.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Martyrdom. Fraud. Stoning. Beheading. Miracles. The early church experienced it all!
The Bible's Book of Acts includes page after page of high drama, yet the average reader can't help but be struck with the gaps that exist in this New Testament account of the early believers. What happened to those individual, unsung followers who risked their lives to participate in the birth of the church? What pain and crises occurred among those who gave their all to advance the cause of Christ?
In his dramatic novel, Acts of the Spirit-Filled, Johnnie R. Jones helps the reader envision how common, oppressed people became empowered by God's Spirit and turned their world upside down with a powerful Gospel. Interweaving fictional dialogue, narration, and historic events, Jones paints a graphic picture of the struggles, trials, and passions that propelled Christianity forward during a dark and dangerous time.
This theatrical account of the early church is the first volume in Jones' Acts series and is based on events described in Chapters 1-12 of the New Testament Book of Acts.
List Price: $19.95
Paperback: 322 pages
Publisher: CrossHouse Publishing (January 10, 2013)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“Deus Sol Invictus; Deus Sol Invictus!” Toward the east, Tiberius looked into the darkest hour. “Invincible god of the sun, arise and burn up the advances against my enemies!” The scribe wrote carefully as the emperor paced the floor, chanting toward the eastern horizon, awaiting the dawn of a new day. There was silence for a moment . . . then he spoke again. “There is a people whose love for the divine spurn our gods, and they spurn me!”
“O Divine One?” asked the scribe. “Who would dare spurn man’s deity? Who would dare spurn your power?”
The emperor continued his easterly gaze. “They see the Unseen One as their Deity—not our gods and not me!”
The scribe returned to his quiet writing. For hours, the emperor had been awake, pacing the floor, talking—speaking many words of random thoughts.
Suddenly, over the distant, eastern range, the sun burst forth in rays of beauty. “There, scribe!” the emperor cried, as he pointed to the sun. “There is one of our gods!” He shielded his eyes as he squinted at the brilliant ball of fire.
“Yes, Divine One, there is Sol.”
“How can these people not worship it? How can their Unseen One exceed the glory of this brilliance!?”
The scribe began to write again, but the emperor grabbed his quill and threw it to the floor. He lifted the scribe out of his chair and turned him to face the east. “Look with me, scribe; do you see beyond the sun? Is this not our supreme god!?”
The scribe feared to move his hand to shield the sun’s rays. He opened his eyes, trying not to disclose his indirect stare into the blinding ball of fire. “Divine One, many of your servants remain sightless today for trying to see into Sol. They say everything is now unseen.” He raised his hand to shield the rays from the emperor’s eyes. “Divine One, do not attempt to see into it, lest it blind you as well.” The emperor did not reject the scribe’s motion to shade his eyes. “You must continue to see so that words of divinity may be written.”
Tiberius released the scribe, who promptly picked up his writing tool, sat at his table, and gingerly dipped his quill tip into the ink. “My servants do not cherish what is written by me or the emperors before me. Augustus tried to appease these easterners with laws of moral fidelity—he even set up courts to uphold these laws. Yet these easterners ignore our rule over them. My commands do not inspire them. They abhor my edicts!”
He turned toward the scribe once again. “What have you written? Read the words to me!”
The scribe trembled. “O Divine One, these words are not ready to be repeated. Allow me time to straighten them out.”
“Straighten them out?” He reached out to grab the scribe’s pages, but stopped. “Straighten them out,” he said again. “Straighten them out.” He looked toward the east; his hand became a fist as he raised it into a beam of the sun’s invasion into the room. “Sol has given me a word of prophecy for the easterners: ‘straighten them out!’”
Near Bethany of Judea
A blinding light immersed the ascending figure, causing hundreds of onlookers to gasp and fall back to their knees. Only a handful of men remained standing, defying the radiant barrier. An awestruck silence overcame the crowd, that is, until a single voice cried out:
“Lord Jesus, don’t leave again!”
Peter stood with his hands and arms lifted toward the light. He was a disciple of Jesus—not just any disciple, but the one who Jesus had said would “shepherd” His followers, the one who would lead and protect His followers from the ravenous wolves of mankind. But he was not ready to go it alone without his Master—without Jesus beside him!
Peter ran to a large rock and climbed on top of it to get the attention of Him one last time.
“Jesus, it’s me—Peter! . . . Jesus!”
Too late—Jesus was engulfed into the brilliant cloud that continued to rise into the clear morning sky. Where is He going? Peter’s mind began racing to the controls of the next moment (a normal response of his). I want Him back—I need Him!
“Master, please come back.” This time he spoke in a surrendered voice—a voice that revealed the obvious: Jesus was gone. Peter shielded his eyes with his hands to stare at the bright cloud that had covered the One he had come to love.
Peter had surrendered to Jesus as the long-awaited Deliverer of Israel; He was the One of whom Moses spoke in the Sacred Writings:
“Jehovah God will raise up for you a Prophet, from the midst of your brothers, just like me; Him shall you listen to . . . and I will place My words into His mouth; and what I command, He shall speak.”
Peter was convinced: Jesus is that “Prophet;” I saw Him speak with Moses and Elijah! And the cloud—this same cloud!—overwhelmed us on that mountain top. On that mountain, the brilliance of the cloud momentarily engulfed him and two other disciples: James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Back then, he thought Jesus was preparing a new camp—a staging ground to wrest Jerusalem out of the grip of a troubled Roman Empire. But just as quick as the cloud appeared, it dissipated, taking Moses and Elijah with it.
Words of Jesus began to flood Peter’s mind: “Feed My sheep.” . . . “Before Abraham existed, I Am.” . . . “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” . . . “Lazarus! Come forth!” He thought this through: Jesus proved Himself as the One who had power over life and, now, power over death. He is the Deliverer—the One to set our people free from the empire’s control. But why leave now? Why not deliver us now? This departure, however, was different; it was with finality.
Peter looked up toward the sky and spoke in his heart one more time: Jesus, my Master, please return now and lead us to restore the kingdom. We cannot seize the temple grounds without Your presence and without Your power. He slowly slid off the rock and looked up, only to see the fading remnants of the engulfing cloud.
Someone nearby broke the silence of the moment: “Why do you Galileans stand here gazing at the fading cloud? Jesus is gone; but He is coming back, just as you saw Him leave. Go now and do what He has told you to do.”
Peter glanced at the two men beside him and the others, and then looked back in the direction of the cloud. Do what He has told me? he repeated in his mind. Do what He has told me? Do exactly what? What do these strangers know that I don’t already know? Jesus has told me so much; I can’t begin to— He stopped abruptly. The men beside him were gone! Peter looked around; others seemed equally dazed at the occurrences of the moment.
“Where are they!?” Peter shouted, turning in a circle. He ran toward several other men and pushed them aside as if someone was hiding behind them. “I can’t take another disappearance! Where are they!?”
“Peter! Peter!” Another disciple, John, ran up to him, grabbed his shoulders, and looked him in the eyes. “Did you see them?”
“See who!? Where!? When!?”
“Those two men! Right here! Right now!”
Peter stared into the young lad’s face. Once again, he wondered why Jesus would include himself, a seasoned fisherman, to try to keep up with the younger men whom his Master had called to be His disciples. About a month ago, John easily outran him to a grave site where Jesus had been buried—Ah, but he was too afraid to venture in. Peter had to smile as he remembered the empty tomb of Jesus. That’s why Jesus chose me. Someone needs to take charge of these young men and lead them until He returns.
Peter brushed some dirt off his hands and straightened his outer garment. “Yes, I saw them. Now what did they say?”
“They were angels, Peter! They said that the Master would return again, just as He left us. So we must go back to Jerusalem and wait until the—”
“Wait?” Peter interrupted John. “I hate that word! Wait? After what the priests allowed those soldiers to do to Jesus? I say we recruit these men here, head back to the city, and take the temple away from those crucifying-hungry hypocrites! They all deserve to die.” He pointed to the sky. “And I bet that same cloud will show up again and Jesus will wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s what I say we should do; no more waiting!”
John was taken aback at the words he was hearing. He had been around Peter for over three years now and knew he had little patience. “Peter, please listen to me; I heard our Master specifically say that we must return and wait—‘wait for the promise of the Father,’ He said. Think about it: in the past forty days, He did not tell us that we would soon attack the temple, and He did not train us how to assemble an army of men. He trained us with His words, remember? It was His words that changed us. It was His words that calmed that storm on the Sea of Galilee; it was His words that pushed the temple guards back and onto the ground the night He was arrested. Peter, Jesus wants more than men’s brawn; He wants their whole being—He wants their hearts.”
Peter realized that, once again, his emotional reaction was premature. “John the Lover,” he said. “Always speaking from the heart.” Peter looked around and saw the other disciples and friends looking toward him and John. “Yes, we should gather our bags, walk back to the grand old city, and prepare for our next move.” He spoke within hearing range of the other disciples. “Come on, men; it’s time to move on.”
While walking, Peter began to size up the crowd that remained. The 500 or so who had spent the day with Jesus were from various towns and villages, primarily in Judea. However, a mixed group from Galilee and Judea—about 120—was related to the disciples and household of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Jesus had referred to the disciples as His new “apostles” for His “kingdom.” Some—including Peter—had wives and children.
Nicodemus and Joseph were members of the Sanhedrin council; they believed in Jesus, but remained secret followers so as to be aware of possible plots against His life. Next were some more men, their wives and children, and Mary Magdalene, who ministered to a small group of Galilean women—outcasts—but accepted by Jesus and who always seemed to be around whenever the Master taught. (Sometimes the women interrupted the Master’s teachings, bringing children and the sick to Him.)
Finally, there was Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her other children, though late in believing, yet joining now in the following. This comprised the 120 followers who were walking back to Jerusalem while the others fanned out onto the trails that led elsewhere.
“Go now, and do what He has told you to do.” Peter thought this through. I saw Him alive after the burial. I thought He was a ghost; but ghosts don’t eat fish and bread, do they? No, it was Him. I saw His death scars; He is alive now, but no longer as a man . . . why? What’s the purpose of His disappearance? And what’s the purpose of this following? I’m the oldest of the disciples—thirty-two—so I must put a plan together. I must know what to say and do when we get back to the villa.
“Andrew?” asked Peter, looking for his brother, who was another disciple. “Andrew, my parchment scholar?”
“Yes, my brother?” he said, with one eyebrow raised. “What are you wanting now?”
“I need your brains to help me. Find some papyri so you can write this down.”
“While walking? You are beside yourself! Can’t this wait until we get back to the courtyard?”
“No, no more waiting. I’ve got to formulate a plan, and we haven’t much time.”
Andrew surveyed his older brother’s face, with its wiry beard and receding hairline. It had the wear and tear of a typical, sunbaked fisherman. And right now, Peter’s face had that familiar look of determination which meant that there would be no deterring of his intentions. So Andrew began interrogating each among the group for some writing materials, hoping no one had any. But there were some parents with children that happened to have just what Andrew knew would satisfy his brother’s wish.
After retrieving the writing materials, he returned to Peter. “Very well, what do you want me to do with this? You know I can’t think, walk, and write at the same time.”
Peter laughed. “Yes, that is true. You have always had difficulty chewing grain and walking at the same time.” Andrew responded with a slight push. “Enough playing around. I want you to write what Jesus told us to do since He woke up from the land of the dead. What has He taught us?”
“James, John, Nathanael—the rest of you; I need your help over here,” shouted Andrew. “Master Peter wants some answers to what Jesus has taught us.”
“‛Master’?” asked some among them.
As the other disciples drew nearer to Peter, he shot a stern look toward his brother for making such a statement. “Now, now, men; you know that I have to be ready to speak up when the time comes.”
“Yes, we’ve noticed that trait in you, old man,” said Philip, Nathanael’s brother. The others laughed.
“Come now, brethren,” said John. “Let’s remember how Peter spoke up when we were too afraid to do so.”
“Afraid!?” objected Thomas. “Who said I was afraid?”
“Oh, have you forgotten the storm on the Sea of Galilee already?” asked John. The others laughed. Thomas mumbled something under his breath.
“What is it that you want, dear friend?” asked Nathanael.
Peter spoke up. “Since the empty tomb, what has Jesus taught us to do?”
The men began to consider together as they walked, feeling that Peter, a bit pushy at times, meant well with his observations.
After stopping a few times and allowing Andrew to write, they arrived at the city gate. Peter faced the others and asked, “What do we have so far?”
John spoke up quickly: “The first thing is: Go and proclaim the good news of Jesus as the Messiah.”
“Ah yes, the good news,” said Peter. “This is true. Next?”
Andrew responded. “The next thing we have come up with is: Teach and train those who wish to follow the Master’s cause.”
“I like that, but what about baptism?”
“I was about to ask that,” said Nathanael. “Don’t we baptize before we teach and train?”
“You answer this first,” said Andrew. “Do you see any rain clouds following us wherever we go?” Some laughed. “We baptize first, when there is available water and each person understands the cost of joining Jesus—and becoming a follower with us. However, if there is no water nearby, we teach and train those who respond to our proclamation and baptize later. Our Master’s emphasis was for us to ‘make disciples’.”
“Agreed,” interrupted Peter. “So we proclaim, baptize, and teach and train; what else have we come up with?”
“Worship Him!” John said. “We worship and adore Him as our Master, our Messiah, and our Savior.”
“Then let us appoint you as our worship leader,” said Peter.
“Amen, amen!” shouted the others in agreement.
“Now, what else?” asked Peter.
“Fellowship and the breaking of bread and drinking from the fruit of the vine, in remembrance of His death and life,” responded Simon the Zealot.
“And keep the juice fresh and diluted so as not to intoxicate the younger followers,” said Judas, son of James.
“Amen, amen,” said the others.
“Who among us will take charge of our communion memorial with our Lord?” asked Peter.
“John and I have access to some used temple utensils,” said James. “We’ll take on that responsibility.” Previously, their father was a Levite and rotated in duties in the temple.
“‘We’?” asked John. “Do you have a field mouse in your garment?”
“Come now, John,” said James. “This is a part of our worship and you are our new worship leader.”
Peter wanted to press on. “Okay, you siblings work this out among yourselves and report back to us. What else? Is there anything missing of which Jesus instructed us?”
“Power,” said Matthew, another of the apostles. “Jesus said we would have power from His Spirit to do His will.”
“That’s right,” said Peter. “Anyone have a suggestion as to how we get this ‘Spirit power’?”
“Wait!” said John.
Peter turned and faced the youthful lad. “Wait, my son?”
“Yes, Jesus specifically told us to wait in the city until the promise of His Father’s Spirit comes to us. His Spirit will come and bring us power.”
“How long do we wait, John?” asked Peter.
“I don’t know.”
“Neither do I; do any of you have a message from Jesus as to how long we wait?” There was no response. “Don’t we have His teachings fresh in our minds? Shouldn’t we go to the temple courtyard and begin to proclaim His message—the gospel?”
Andrew could sense his brother’s drudgery of waiting. He knew how Peter hated to wait for anything. But Andrew knew Matthew and John were correct, so how could he tell his older brother to listen to them—especially listen to John, the youngest of them all? “Peter, my brother, remember in the garden, where you cut off that man’s ear?”
“What has that to do with this?”
“Listen, my brother; we all heard the Master say to wait in the city until this power comes upon us. None of us fully understand His plans to rule over the kingdom, but He just now told us not to worry about how we were to do it, but to wait until the power of His Spirit comes upon us.”
Peter stood there, running his fingers through his beard and looking into the eyes of the others. Again, Andrew spoke up: “I say we let our newly appointed worship leader prepare us for some times of praying, singing of psalms, fellowshiping, and get us through the Feast of Pentecost, which ends next week.”
“Amen, amen!” shouted the others.
“Yes,” said Peter as he embraced Andrew. “And let’s start with the food fellowship—I’m hungry!”
“Amen, amen!” they all shouted again. As they entered the city, they all walked with a sense of togetherness and purpose.
† † †
Matthew pondered the turn of events as he entered the city of Jerusalem. He saw and experienced the ascension of Jesus; but, like the others, he was equally confused as to how Jesus planned to wrest the kingdom of His people from Roman rule. He knew the Romans well from his tax-collecting duties. They were a harsh breed with a strong military.
But Jesus had power like nothing he had ever witnessed before. Matthew had previously observed the power of Jesus against a host of temple soldiers: “Who are you looking for?” He asked the soldiers who came to arrest Him.
“Jesus, the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I am He.” But when He said that, an unseen force pushed them back and caused them all to fall down. His power was supernatural!
But now Jesus is gone; how can He continue to lead? How can this transfer of power occur? “Wait,” said Jesus. “Wait until you are enveloped in power from the Holy Spirit.” Surely this meant He was coming back. Surely this meant that the restoration of all Judea would soon take place through some sort of supernatural manifestation.
Matthew struggled with his newfound “job” as a proclaimer of this new “Way” into God’s kingdom. I was a tax collector; I dealt with statistics and money, he thought. I enjoy working alone; I’m not a proclaimer, so how can I best serve Him? What can I do to further this cause?
Matthew thought back to his decision to leave the tax business and follow Jesus. When he looked into the eyes of Jesus, he saw hope—hope of a restoration with his family, who had disowned him because of his job. And hope of a restoration with his God. He believed Jesus when He said everything was going to be restored. And with Him nearby, nothing was impossible. Then came a startling statement from Him: “In a few days I will be turned over to the authorities, and I will be gone.” And now He was.
But no sooner had Jesus left than He returned. Three days later He appeared; Jesus was back! But not as before: He appeared as in a body, but not as regular flesh and blood. He did have a body—He ate before them; but then He vanished right before their very eyes! Later, Jesus came back and taught them and revealed to them how He fulfilled all the prophecies concerning the Messiah. But why depart now? And why wait? This indeed was puzzling. Nevertheless, it was the command of the Master; now he and the others must obey.
† † †
As Philip walked with the others, his mind also raced through the encounters with Jesus since He had risen from the dead. The disciples and others went into seclusion after the crucifixion for fear of the high priest and the authorities. But Jesus found us—He appeared before us behind locked doors! He was alive! He was real—but then, as quickly as Jesus appeared, He left again. Eight days later, He appeared again to teach Thomas not to doubt His presence and the ability to reveal Himself.
His presence was external, but then He “breathed” on them and said, “Receive now the Holy Spirit.” And just like that, His presence was felt inwardly like never before! Jesus was as real, in His Spirit, as He was previously in His flesh.
I feel Your presence, my Lord, he said silently as he walked. You are with me—You are with us inwardly, as You were outwardly in the flesh. Philip recalled how Jesus appeared to the group on numerous occasions, after His resurrection. He taught them how the prophets’ foretelling of the current events related to the Messiah. Like never before, the words of the prophets became a present reality. The pieces of the prophetic puzzle began to fit.
But, again, why “wait”? What is this power going to do to us that Your presence has not already done?
Philip looked at the others; the disciples appeared to be in deep thought as well as discussing with Andrew about the main things Jesus was teaching them. “Wait until . . .” I suppose we will soon fit some final pieces of this puzzle together.
† † †
James observed his younger brother, John, as he was promoted to worship leader for the group. This reminded him of their father, Zebedee, a Levite, who had been active once as a worship leader for the priests at the temple. But his zeal to purify the Jewish system by dethroning the Herodian kingship brought conflict between the Herodians and the families of the current high-priestly lineage. To keep the peace—and power—the high priest demoted Zebedee to the daily affairs of preparing food for the other priests. That’s what led Zebedee to move to Capernaum to become a fishing merchant—and a successful one at that.
Jesus called James and John the Boanerges—“Sons of Thunder”—due to their vocal dislike of the high priest’s authority. Their father’s zeal was passed on to them, which made them targets of the ruling authorities. James remembered several times when Jesus had to intercede to prevent the Boanerges from causing conflict and physical harm to those to whom He was sent to minister.
But didn’t Jesus change all that? Shouldn’t they use that “thunder” and speak for Jesus now? But He said, “Wait.” James could hardly comprehend the waiting command. With Jesus’ spiritual presence, why couldn’t the group go to the Sanhedrin council and demonstrate who Jesus actually is? And why not sit down with the high priest and his court and demonstrate how the Master’s power could change everything? Besides, the family of the high priest knew Zebedee; surely the high priest would be reasonable with the sons of Zebedee and their friends? These thoughts occupied James’ mind as they walked back to the city to “wait.”
† † †
As she walked near the men, Mary of Magdala—also known as Mary Magdalene—listened as the apostles were describing things Jesus taught them after His resurrection. She thought back through the past month. Jesus wasn’t “teaching” me as much as He was showing me how to love Him and others. He told me how my obedience to His words was an indication of my love for Him. I love Him so much! But how can I, a single woman with a bad reputation, reveal His love to others? She did not want to walk back to Jerusalem, but to stay where she last saw Jesus. She quickly dabbed her eyes, trying to catch her tears.
“Patience, my dear,” said a voice beside her, as they walked. It was Mary, the mother of Jesus. “In time, He will reveal His plan for you.”
“Do you think I can fit in with His plans?” she asked between her sobs.
Mary smiled and held her hand. “If He knows every bird that falls to the ground, I believe He knows your heart as well. You were special to Him, and I know He is going to use you in a special way. We must have faith in Him and wait for His plan to be revealed to us all. He has promised that His presence will be known by all us who love Him.” Then she gently squeezed Mary’s hand and ventured away from her.
My Lord, Mary Magdalene prayed, I will wait as long as it takes . . . but please don’t delay Your return.
† † †
“How long must we wait, Lord?” It was Peter’s shift to offer prayers, and he was anxious to move on. A week had passed, and still there was no sign of the “promise.” He looked at a few others, some kneeling and some lying on their mats, but all asking Jesus to come and bring the promise from the Father, which they understood to be the presence and power of His Spirit. “Is the ‘promise’ Your Spirit, Jesus? Will You be seen by us but not the others? Will You dictate to us our every move? Or is it the Spirit of You in someone else, as the Father did through the kings and the prophets of our forefathers?” Peter continued to pray.
“Peter, James, Matthew!” shouted John, as he leaped two steps at a time coming up to the prayer room.
“Shhh!” said Peter. “It’s the Sabbath, John; don’t be so loud.”
John lowered his voice. “Oh, please excuse me; I’m so excited. James, our Master’s brother, has returned from Bethany! He’s in the courtyard, and he’s brought Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary!”
Maybe Your brother is our promised spiritual leader? thought Peter, as he stood up. Lord Jesus, please reveal this to me. I need some sort of sign that he is truly the one promised to reveal our takeover plans. I will submit to him, I promise.
James arrived with an entourage, his face shielded by his headgear as he walked into the outer court. Peter stepped slowly down the stairway, shrouding his feelings of anxiety. A week had transpired since the abrupt departure of Jesus. Now there were only two days left before the end of the Pentecost observance.
"Wait," Peter whispered to himself. "Wait until the power to lead us comes." Peter greets James, "James, peace to you, my brother. And how was your journey?"
“Peace to you, Peter. Fine, the journey has been prosperous. And you?”
“We continue to wait, just as your brother told us.”
“Yes; that is what He told us.”
“So, has He spoken to you? Have you seen Him?”
“No, I’m afraid not, Peter. Oh, hello Mother; so good to see you.” James stepped over toward Mary, as she approached the men. They each embraced and kissed.
“My dear son, so good to see your journey is ended and you have arrived safely.”
“Nothing to worry about, woman; the excitement of an insurrection is fading, and the Romans have ceased their close scrutiny over us. It also appears that the priests have ended their watch on Lazarus and have returned to their regular duties, keeping us at a distance.” John was standing next to Mary. “And you, Mother; has John seen to your needs?”
She put her arm around John. “Yes, my son, like Jesus Himself. He is so youthful and so caring. But I do miss your brother. Oh, that He would return once more; I miss Him so.”
“He’s coming back,” said John. “He said He would come back.”
“Yes, He did, John,” said James. “But I’m afraid my doubts about Him may be causing the delay.”
“No!” Peter raised his voice. “Don’t say that! If anyone is to blame, it’s me. I was the one who denied Him openly. Yet He came back to me and forgave me. Remember? He forgave me.”
“But I am his brother; I should have known better.”
Mary gave them both a stern look. “Stop it, both of you! Jesus has forgiven us all for our doubts and misunderstandings.” Then she smiled. “Now is not the time to bring back old sins of fear and doubt. We must believe Him and wait. We must prepare for these final two days of Pentecost and continue to wait.”
“I have it!” said Peter. “We’re off balance! We need another!”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked James. “What is ‘off balance’?”
“Twelve—Jesus chose twelve; now we’re only eleven. Quickly; we must gather everyone together and choose another.”
“Now what?” said Thomas, sitting at a nearby table. “Can’t we just accept that this is it? We must have misunderstood His commands. Don’t you agree, Matthew?”
“Hmm; I think we should listen to the old man,” spoke Matthew. “Maybe he is dreaming again.”
Peter ignored Matthew’s verbal jab. “Matthew, Thomas—all of you listen to me. It has always been our custom to honor our forefathers with the proper representation. Jesus chose twelve of us as His disciples; now we must replace ‘the traitor.’”
“Judas Iscariot?” asked Thomas.
“Please!—don’t say that name in my presence!”
“Peter,” said John. “Calm down or we’ll have to rub more herbs on your neck.”
The others began to laugh. Peter’s face and neck always flushed a deep red when he got overly excited. Matthew pulled a cloth out of his tunic. “Here, now, let me wipe the sweat off your brow.”
“Leave me alone! I tell you, we must select another.”
“Listen, everyone,” said John, “Please gather around us. Peter has a revelation.”
Thomas rolled his eyes.
“Ahem,” Peter cleared his throat. “Brothers and sisters, we must confront the need to honor our forefathers by selecting another follower to replace ‘the traitor.’ We know that he died according to the writings of our prophets, and I just now remember another writing that says we must replace him with another. I believe this may be the missing piece of the puzzle that prevents the return of our Master’s Spirit. We must select another.”
“Are you sure you’re reading our prophets correctly?” asked Thomas.
“Yes, I’m quite sure. This verse has come to me during many a catch of fish. God always promised me replacements for those I caught. And what He says to me about fish, I believe He says to me now about selecting another man to be one of the Twelve.”
“Then why not James, our Master’s brother? Or Lazarus?” asked Bartholomew.
“Well . . . well, because neither was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when He was baptized by John. The one who joins us must be able to testify of all that Jesus began to do and teach, from the start to the present.”
“Who among us has been with us since the beginning of our Master’s baptism?” asked Nathanael. After a brief survey of the attendants, two men were found who met the requirements and agreed to be selected as an apostle—one of the Twelve: Joseph Barsabas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.
No one objected to the proceedings, except John. “Peter, shouldn’t we do what the Master said, and wait? Shouldn’t we let Him choose the replacement just as He chose us all?”
“Wait? And how long do we wait? What if this very thing is stalling His return? Do you want to continue to delay our Master’s return? I say we choose one of these men.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” asked Philip, joining them from the upper chamber.
“Uh, well, we’ll have them draw straws.” That brought a laugh or two. “Or lots—that’s right! Who has a set of lots?”
By now, the whole courtyard was filled with followers of Jesus.
Someone handed Peter a set of lots. “Step back and give me some room, will you?” said Peter, as he bent down on his knees. “Now let’s pray: Jesus, our Master, you know our hearts’ desires are to do Your will. We ask of You, please select the one to fill in the empty space of the one who betrayed You. Let this meet Your approval by the arrival of Your promise; and, Jesus, come back to us soon; Amen.”
“In His name, Peter,” said John.
“Remember, He said to ask in His name.”
“Oh; yes, so He did. In Your name, Jesus, we ask of You.” Peter looked around, but no one was moving. All eyes appeared to be on him. “Okay, prepare the lots . . . Brothers, may Jesus choose between you two.”
The lots were cast and the name selected was Matthias.
“My dear brother, please come and kneel before the Lord
. . . Here is another, Master Jesus, who brings us to twelve. We ask of You to receive him, in Your name, amen.”
“Amen, amen,” responded others.
“Now let me get back to our meal,” said Mary. “Come Martha, Mary; we have a lot of preparations to complete.”
Supper ended with a gathering around the apostles as they broke bread together to celebrate communion with their Master. John led the group through several of the psalms and odes from the Sacred Writings. Next, Andrew read a portion of Isaiah. Then, Peter stood to share a few words of encouragement to the followers. After a few minutes, he concluded.
“Tomorrow is the final day for the Feast of Pentecost,” said Peter. “Let us finish our usual prayer shift this evening and then, tomorrow, we’ll all join together for a celebrated season of prayer at daybreak.”
As everyone began to break up into their family groups, Perpetua, Peter’s wife, and Petronilla, their daughter, approached him. “Shouldn’t we be heading back home soon?” asked Perpetua.
“Abba, Father, please can we leave? I want to go home.” She nestled up close to him. The feel of her long black hair and the smell of her mild perfume gave him great inner warmth and gratefulness for his dear family.
“Now is not the time to discuss our trip back to Galilee, my dear woman,” he said to his wife. “Jesus wants us together for the time being. Look at me, my darling Pet.” She raised her head from his lap. “Jesus has specifically told us to wait for His power to come. Remember that power, my darling? It was that same power that raised your grandmother from her sick bed.”
“Ohhh,” she responded slowly.
“You and your mother may have to go ahead of me; but let’s talk about that after tomorrow’s festivities. Now you two go and prepare for bed; I’ll join you in a few minutes.” As they walked away, Peter looked around the room. Lazarus was at a window looking out over the eastern sky. He walked over to him. “Lazarus, my brother; how are you feeling these days?”
Lazarus smiled. “I am blessed beyond measure. I am alive to see how Jesus plans to change the world. This is a blessing indeed.”
“Well, He’d better come soon or the authorities will soon break up our gathering.”
“Patience, my brother; Jesus waited four days before lifting me out of the grave. Every delay is another opportunity to trust Him more.”
“I suppose you’re right; but I am anxious to see Him once more . . . Good night, and sleep well.”
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