“That was a long time ago, ” Jarrod says.
Jarrod’s men, impatient as they are, are preoccupied now with an intriguing puzzle. They don’t know what to think of the strange sequence of events that have taken place in just the last few moments. A Samaritan they wanted to kill…twice… is still alive; an old man they do not know appears out of nowhere and is allowed to interrupt their business; Jarrod seems to have just admitted to having been a follower of the Carpenter…a long time ago. Even Eli, blood thirsty as he is, finds himself more captivated by the mystery that’s unfolding right in front of him than he is in butchering you with his dagger.
“I’ve wondered if you’d recognize me after all these years,” Jarrod continues, “What are you called these days?”
The old man looks into Jarrod’s eyes an uncomfortably long time before he answers and when he does he says almost with a wink,”Exad.”
“Exad?” Jarrod takes this in as if it’s the most unbelievable information he’s ever heard. His eyes first squint quizzically at the old man and then go wide as he breathes in a huge gulp of air. Pondering what he’s just heard, he holds that breath like a sponge diver getting ready to go under the water and as he holds it a realization takes hold of him that, after the longest of pauses, comes out as…laughter.
He laughs like a man who hasn’t laughed in over thirty years…and the truth is he hasn’t. He laughs a pure laugh, a good laugh, not a mean or ironic or bawdy laugh. His laugh is jolly and side splitting and really confuses the gang of Sicarii who were already at a loss as to what was occurring before them. He laughs and the old man smiles and smiles until his smile turns in to a snort and the snort turns into a chuckle and the chuckle a howl…the Christian and the Dagger Man are laughing together and their laughter overflows from the courtyard echoing far into the Jerusalem night.
“Exad,” Jarrod is trying to repeat the name while he is absolutely guffawing and the old man is nodding and gasping for air at the same time. They laugh and repeat the name “Exad” to each other, slapping their knees, then each other’s back, until, wheezing and coughing, they finally look at each other and embrace like brothers who haven’t been together in over thirty years. The truth is…they haven’t.
They hug until their laughter has turned to tears, and there they stand, holding each other; Exad is crying softly but Jarrod is sobbing. Sobbing. Sobbing even harder than he had been laughing just seconds before.
He sobs and there they stand: slack jawed Eli and the other eight killers. He sobs and there stands Daniel, the newest and most bumfuzzled Sicarii in the Holy City. He sobs and there stands you, bleeding and just as stunned as the men who were going to be slicing you up right now. Instead you’re all standing, watching the old man and Jarrod wrapped in each other’s arms as Jarrod wails on Exad’s neck.
Jarrod begins to swallow his grief and Exad gently extends his arms, still holding Jarrod by his shoulders.
“We have some catching up to do, don’t you agree?” Exad says to which Jarrod answers with frightened, hopeless eyes. Exad doesn’t push for an answer. Instead, he continues and says,”We do, my friend. Not all at once, but over time, we can talk, yes?” no one was gentler leading a lost soul to the light than the old man. Jarrod turns to his stupefied men and says, “we’re done here for the night. Go home.” No one moves and Jarrod wipes his eyes and stands up straight, suddenly looking more like the man who had been holding a knife to your throat than the man who had been laughing; and sobbing.
“Go home,” and this time the nine leave quickly, Eli the most reluctant but not the least bit defiant. Daniel begins to follow them.
“Not you,” Jarrod says and Daniel stops, but his eyes follow the others out of the courtyard. Jarrod takes him gently by the arm and says, “You don’t have to go with them. I’m releasing you from your pledge.”
“I don’t want to be released,” Daniel says and shakes himself free from Jarrod. He glares at you and Exad, and Jarrod, with contempt and rushes to catch up with the others.
“What am I doing?” Jarrod says aloud, first to himself, then turning to Exad and shrugging his shoulders up to his ears, “What am I doing?”
“I can’t answer that for you. But I know this. I have a small flock of gentle souls who need help. I told them something tonight that will change all of our lives. We are leaving Jerusalem. If we can get out. Disciples are waiting for us in Pella.”
“Our people, Jarrod.”
Jarrod shrugs again.
“I can help you get to Pella, but I can’t say what I’ll do from there. How quickly can you get your people ready?”
“The sooner the better. We are all ready.”
“Then tomorrow after sunset,” Jarrod already knew he’d lead them through the Essene gate, that way they would avoid the Sicarii. Then he’d take them through the Plains of Jericho north to Pella, that way they’d avoid the Romans. Pella
“As you say. We’ll be ready,” Exad takes you by the arm and you, young as you are, are leaning on the old man.
“You trust me?” These words stop Exad before the both of you leave Jarrod alone in the courtyard.
Exad looks at Jarrod and smiles again.
“I trust the Lord and you are His…in spite of yourself.”
You had your doubts, but the next night Jarrod leads Exad and his flock out through the Essene Gate just as he’d known he could; just as he’d said he would. You and your brethren slip though the Kidron Valley and over the Mount of Olives. Walking late into the night, the pilgrims reach the Plains of Jericho and keep trekking for hours before Jarrod says, “Here. We stop here and get some rest before the sun comes up.”
Everyone beds down for the night, but you hear the old man and the Sicarii talking long after all the others are asleep. They sit together beside a quickly built fire that crackles and sends up sparks into the crisp, black desert air. Exad takes something from his cloak and unfurls the letter, reading it from the very beginning to Jarrod. Tired as they are, the two men sit by that fire as Exad carefully reads the words that have been repeated in your heart…and by your tongue… so many times since you first heard them in the old man’s home. Try as you might to stay awake and listen, you drift off to sleep but awaken to hear the old man reaching near the end of the letter. From where you lay, you can see Jarrod, still in rapt attention, as Exad reads:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Your heart is still broken for Daniel. He lost heart, and now, what was to become of him staying with Ka-na-im in Jerusalem?
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
You feel for the wound on your neck and smile. You won’t get cocky about it, but you are glad to have survived both the struggle with sin…the temptation to quit…and the blade of the Sacarii.
“And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Your view of the world is limited at this point. So much of the letter you are only able to hear and see through the narrow world of Jewish disciples living in Jerusalem. Soon you will find out that all over the Roman Empire many of your brothers have interpreted the harshness of times as a sign that the Lord had abandoned them. They had quit their faith and others were following them out of the church.
“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,‘ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. “
Your mind turns back to Daniel again and how his loss of faith had made you doubt the Lord, too. And you wondered about Jarrod. What had made him leave the Lord? You had so many questions for Exad when he lead you from the courtyard but you hadn’t yet had time to ask them. What was their history together? What had so suddenly turned Jarrod from a man with a knife at your throat to a weeping soul willing to lead your people to safety?
“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.‘ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.'”
Out here in the wilderness, looking at the stars as the firelight flickers nearby, you easily imagine the people of the Lord wandering in the desert not far south of this very place. They had Moses, you have Jarrod. And Exad. Not bad, you think.
“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’
Exad finishes the letter and talks in great detail with Jarrod about their history together before and after meeting the Lord. They talk about the irony of Exad’s name and all that has taken place leading up to tonight. All your questions are answered, all the mysteries are solved.
But not for you. Long before Exad finished the letter you fell fast asleep and will not wake up until after the sun rises and warms your tired, cold face.