So now you’re going to die.
You try to be calm. You try to slow down your pounding heart and you try to convince your stomach to stop climbing up your throat. You try to control your breathing, but the cold night air just won’t rush into your lungs fast enough. On your knees, you listen for His voice again, but all you hear are the vulgar threats and wicked laughs of the men standing around you. They are going to kill you. They only wait for Jarrod to come out and make the first cut.
You close your eyes. Within your frantic mind, you see every image that has lived inside you since the day you were born. Too fast. Your life has gone too fast and now even the images flying through your head refuse to slow down. You want to slow everything down…but you can’t. You can’t control anything. They are going to kill you. They are going to kill you…
Wait. You reach for one clear thought. “They can kill my body, but they can’t hurt my soul.”
“What’s he saying?” Eli asks, dagger in hand, determined to have the “second” cut. “We sure can kill your body!”
Your eyes are shut tight and you strain to set your mind on sweet memories. Could it really be that only a night ago you were in that friendly house listening to the old man read? With all of the will that remains in your flesh, you strain to return to Exad’s home and immediately your inner self hears the reader again; as vividly as though you had left the courtyard and flown through time back to that good place:
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for,” the old man is reading again, and you’re sitting on the floor beside Susanna. You like Susanna and think that in better times she might have been the one you would have exchanged pledges with. You think she feels the same way, but now you both give your whole hearts to listening to Exad read. She seems to give her whole heart and full attention to the letter, anyway. You listen with one part of your heart, but you steal glances at her with another.
The lamp glows, Susanna looks angelic, and Exad continues to read, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.”
Dead. That word shocks you back to reality and you open your eyes. The lamp…gone. Susanna…gone. Exad…gone. Your executioners surround you, but you want to go back to that room. You need to get back there one more time. You squeeze your eyes tight and struggle to fly back to the glow of the lamp and …you’re there. He’s still reading.
“By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God…”
You want to please God. You grab that thought and fix on it even while another part of your mind succeeds in following the reading of the letter.
“…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
You are looking forward to that city, too. You will be arriving there soon. These words are comforting, just as the reading of scripture has always been able to soothe your soul and calm your pulse. Even though you wait for the daggers to tear into your flesh, you begin to smile…
“By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because heconsidered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”
“He’s smiling?” Eli is dumbfounded. “Why is he smiling?”
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspringwill be reckoned.”Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”
“Death is like nothing to the Father of the universe,” you think. “I soon will be with Abraham.”
” By faith Isaac…”
“And I will be with Isaac.”
“And Jacob as well.”
“Esau? If he made it to the bosom of Abraham, anyone can.”
“…in regard to their future.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.”
Jarrod comes through the doorway and into the courtyard…
“By faith the people passed through the Red Seaas on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.”
…he walks around behind you. He grabs a hold of your tunic from behind your neck and pulls you toward him…
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.”
…he draws out his dagger and tugs tighter at your garments clenched in his fist so that your head tilts back and your neck points to the sky…
“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”
…he lays his infamous blade to your throat and in your mind it’s no longer Exad reading…
…He’s come back!
He’s standing over you and the thorny crown is gone, replaced with radiant light. His eyes lock on your’s and He’s saying these words to you, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell…”
“No, Lord, you are right,” you think, ” There isn’t much time. At least not in this world. But soon I will be where I shall always hear your voice.”
“…about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions…”
You feel the blade begin to slice your skin and you use all of your heart to concentrate on the words that your Lord is speaking…
“…These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Jarrod may I have a word with you?”
You open your eyes.
Jarrod may I have a word with you?
You were listening in your mind to the Lord’s voice, but those last words…which you’re certain were not included in the letter when first you heard it…those last words were not spoken by the Lord in your heart. They were spoken out loud here in the courtyard and are still echoing clearly, “Jarrod may I have a word with you?”
Jarrod has stopped pulling the blade across your throat and all of his men are staring at a figure that has joined them in the courtyard.
“Jarrod. I said, may I have a word with you?”
Jarrod pulls his dagger away and releases his grip on you. You fall forward, catching yourself with your hands; a slight trickle of blood falls from your neck to the ground. The figure approaches Jarrod.
“So, he’s one of your’s?” Jarrod asks as though he already knows the answer.
“Yes, he is,” Exad says, reaching down to take your hands and lift you up. You stand, weak, and lean on Exad; he stands strong, and eye to eye with Jarrod.
“Mine and the Lord’s. Just as once you were, my friend.”