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Chapter 12: The Stuffy Room
Even by my old, earthly standards, the room was stuffy, smelly and dingy. It was packed with people. A few of them I recognized from the crowd listening to Jesus’ teaching, and some from the crowd at his crucifixion. Most I saw were new to me.
“I’m telling you, Jesus is dead. D-E-A-D,” he spelt out, “and dead men stay dead.”
“Oh, Thomas, you’re not still going on about this are you?”
“Yes, I’m going on about it! It’s a full week since you claim you last saw Jesus. Isn’t it about time you all came to your senses? And especially you, taxman. John floats around with his head in the clouds and Peter’s got a mouth big enough to swallow anything, but I expected more of you, Matthew. I always thought of you as a hard-nosed facts and figures man, and here I am, still waiting for you to ditch your ghost story and snap back to reality.”
“Thomas, these eyes saw him,” said Matthew, pointing to his eyes. “With my own ears I heard him as we spoke with him for perhaps thirty unforgettable minutes!”
“Oh, sure! He walked right through a locked door!”
“That’s a breeze compared to opening that tomb from the inside. No human could do that.”
Thomas looked at Matthew hopefully. “Now you’re talking, taxman! At last you agree that we’re talking impossibilities here. I tell you, I was really worried about you!”
“Thomas! The body’s gone – despite all those guards. How – and why – would anyone steal his body?”
Another man spoke, “And the grave clothes were removed and left behind, neatly bundled up. Who in their right mind would take such care – with the guards there and everything?”
“We’ve seen him, Tom,” said another, “and we spoke with him – in this very room.”
“An apparition – a vision!” Thomas snapped back.
“We all simultaneously had the same hallucination?” asked Matthew incredulously.
“Well . . . . mass hysteria!”
One of them, chest out, moved closer to Thomas, “Oh, I’m emotionally unstable am I!” His voice was raised. “I’m a blubbering nut-case?”
Thomas, seemed a little nervous about this man’s aggression. “Well, not exactly hysteria, James – sort of auto-suggestion.”
James, prodding Thomas on the chest with his finger, said, “I’ve got a suggestion for you, egghead!”
Was James one of the Sons of Thunder? I wondered. Part of me wanted to rush off and bury myself in a Bible for a few moments to find out, but I was too enthralled to dare blink an eyelid, much less look in a book, even if I had one.
“Cool it, James,” ordered Matthew, “it does sound incredible.” A few moments later he added, “But Thomas, it’s not just us who saw Jesus, the women –”
“Women! Those emotional wrecks couldn’t see for tears!”
One of the women, hands on hips, moved closer, and in a sarcastic, indignant tone said, “Well, thank you!”
“They touched him, Tom.” Matthew was calm. “They held his feet.”
“Yeah? Did you touch him?”
“n . . . .no – but I saw his wounds.”
“He breathed on me,” said another.
Matthew’s eyes lit up. “Yes, that’s right. I felt his breath. He told us about God’s Spirit and breathed on us. Hallucinations don’t breathe.”
“What about when he walked with Cleopas and his friend to their house in Emmaus?” the woman said.
“Sure! Walked seven miles on feet that had had nails driven right through them!”
A couple of the people groaned. Matthew shook his head. “But Jesus is healed,” said another. “He’s risen!
“Rubbish!” said Thomas.
“Jesus broke bread with them,” said the woman.
“And he ate with us,” added Matthew.
“Look, you can talk till you’re blue in the face –”
Matthew, looking around the room, said, “Where’s Peter? He’s unusually quiet!” He beckoned to the burly man I remembered seeing on my first visit to this era, “Hey, Mouth!” When Peter came close, Matthew put his hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Set this guy straight, will ya? Explain the new understanding of the Scriptures Jesus has given us.”
“Hey, before you do,” said a man, “new thoughts have been spinning round my head lately. Can I try them out on Thommo?”
“Go for it, John!” said Peter.
“The way I see it, the whole sacrificial system instituted by God has death and resurrection built into it.
“Eh?” said Thomas.
“Well, take the Day of Atonement,” continued John. “Two goats are chosen. They’re innocent. They have done nothing to contribute to human sin, yet one is slaughtered for our sin and afterwards the other is presented alive before the Lord for our atonement. We need a substitute who will die in our place, but after that sacrificial death we need a living substitute to complete our cleansing from sin.”
“Then there’s the ceremonial cleansing of a leper. Two clean birds are taken. One dies and its blood is poured out. The living bird is dipped in this blood and then released, bearing the marks of recent death upon its wings. Is it just me? That sounds like death and resurrection to me. And only after both the death of the bird and the release of the living one can the now-cleansed leper join God’s people.”
Thomas looked at Matthew. “What’s he raving about?”
“The sacrificial system foreshadows Jesus because Jesus is the final – the ultimate – sacrifice,” said Peter.
“How dare . . .” Thomas was getting flustered, “that’s blasphemy! Human sacrifice! Scripture categorically forbids it. It’s an abomination to God!”
“That’s because anything worthy of sacrifice must be without blemish. Except for Jesus, all humans are defiled by sin and so their sacrifice would be a senseless waste of human life and an insult to the holiness of God. But Jesus was unlike any other human – perfectly sinless. A normal human sacrifice –”
“A normal human sacrifice! I can’t believe I’m hearing this! Ghost stories are one thing, now you’re talking like pagans!”
“Scripture over and over shows that human sacrifice is a concept close to the heart of God,” continued Peter.
“Oh, come on!”
“Who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? Satan? Pagans? It was God’s idea.”
“You can’t bring that up! The Lord planned all along to stop Abraham from going through with it. He intervened and Isaac lived.”
“And after Jesus’ death,” said Peter, “God intervened and Jesus lives.”
“Oh!” uttered Thomas in disgust, or maybe frustration.
“You can squirm as much as you like, Thomas, that whole episode in Abraham’s life was initiated by God. And what’s circumcision if it isn’t the shedding of human blood to seal a divine covenant?” said John.
“This principle is woven into the very fabric of creation,” added one of the women. “Our Creator made us so that the binding covenant of marriage is sealed through the shedding of virgin blood.”
“And the new covenant the Master spoke about during the supper we had just a few days ago could only be sealed by the shedding of innocent human blood,” said Matthew.
“What about God’s ruling on anyone guilty of manslaughter?” Peter asked. “They are confined to the city of refuge, unable to leave year after year, until the high priest dies. Nothing but the physical death of the high priest can secure their pardon.”
“And Jesus is our high priest, whose death –” the woman began.
“You’ve flipped!” said Thomas. The woman fumed.
“What about in Elisha’s day when Moab was attacked.” Peter clearly loved telling a good story. He quickly had everyone’s attention and loved it. “The king of Moab knew there was no escape. He was surrounded, hopelessly outnumbered and the invading army was closing in for the kill. In desperation that pagan king grabbed his firstborn son,” Peter seized one of the disciples and acted it out, “and slaughtered the lad before the eyes of the enemy, then used that boy’s carcass as a sacrificial offering. Suddenly, all the invading soldiers lost interest in fighting and left in peace. The Moabites were saved.”
Thomas retorted, “The army withdrew in disgust, horrified at such a godless act.”
“Maybe so, but it worked. Countless lives were saved because of a ritual human sacrifice.”
“Oh . . !” said Thomas, with obvious disgust.
“Haven’t you ever puzzled over why the Lord recorded that incident in holy Scripture? Was it because he planned to one day sacrifice his own Son so that multitudes would be saved?
“And remember how Jesus spoke about the sign of Jonah and applied it to himself. When Jonah was in the fish’s belly, Scripture speaks of him being in hell, and after three days he emerged alive and because of that thousands of people were saved from God’s judgment. That’s just like Jesus rising from the grave after three days and saving from God’s judgment all who believe in him.
“And then there’s Isaiah’s “Man of Sorrows,” wounded for our transgressions; made an offering for sin.”
“That’s referring to our nation!” protested Thomas.
Others groaned. Some shook their heads. “But it says this “Man of Sorrows” was righteous!” said one.
“Isaiah said there was no deceit in him,” said another.
“Israel wasn’t innocent!” added the first.
“Even if Isaiah were referring to Israel,” continued Peter, “– surprisingly innocent Israel – it’s still human suffering and death as an offering for sin.”
“And the “Man of Sorrows” really dies!” said John. “Isaiah says he was cut off out of the land of the living. He poured out his soul unto death. He made a grave with the wicked, it says, and with the rich in his death. But then it says he shall prolong his days.
“If that’s not death and resurrection of a sinless human for the forgiveness and salvation of God’s people, I don’t know what it is!”
“Yes, Tom, explain that!” said James.
“And then there’s that marvelous Scripture –” said Peter.
“Ah! I’ve had all I can stomach, Rockhead! Scripture calls human sacrifice an abomination and that’s the end of the matter.”
One of the women raised her voice, “Thomas Didymus, you’re stubborn, conceited –”
“And have the brains of a mud brick!” added John.
The others cheered.
James, with his thumb and index finger close together, put them under Thomas’s nose. “And you’ve been about this close to having your head –”
“James!” chided one of the women.
“How could the death of animals remove our guilt?” asked Peter. “Sure we desperately need a substitute, but it’s humanity that’s sinned. It’s humanity that faces the death penalty. And no one who himself is under the death sentence could bear the penalty for someone else. Earth needs a sinlessly holy human, willing to trade places with sinners. How could anyone or anything be an effective intermediary between God and man except Jesus, the sinless sacrifice?”
The others cheered and clapped. “Good on ya, rock!” said one.
“You tell him, Mouth!” said another.
“What’s happened to you lately? pleaded Thomas, scanning faces, hoping for a some sort of support. “We used to be able to talk. Now you’ve suddenly become know-alls.” There was silence for a few moments. “Look, you’ve been under a lot of stress, you had your hopes –”
“So we’re all grief-stricken fools then?” said James. “We’ve cracked? Is that it?”
“We can’t tell the difference between a ghost and a real person?” added another.
“Or in three days we forgot what Jesus looks like, and confused him with someone else – someone who not only looks exactly like him and has his voice, but someone with his wisdom and gentleness and mannerisms?” said Matthew.
Peter said, “Or we’d been on a drinking binge when we thought we saw Jesus?”
“Yeah, Thommo,” James was getting worked up again, “just what are you accusing us of?”
“Look! I told you before and I’ll tell you again: unless I hold him with these arms, put my finger in the holes in his hands and put this fist in his wounded side, I’ll never believe!”
Suddenly, Jesus was in the room. There was no sound or movement; no opening of doors or crashing through walls; no gradual materialization. One moment that part of the room was empty; the next blink Jesus was there. My heart pounded in shock, and yet there was something about it that seemed almost natural. Maybe it was my flitting from place to place – all over the universe for all I know – that created this sense of it being natural for someone to suddenly appear. Thomas had been standing fairly close to the wall, facing inward, in eye contact with the others. Jesus had appeared behind, and just to the right of him. Thomas continued talking, oblivious to what had just happened. “I’m not into distorting the holy Word of God. I’m not into superstition. I’m not into emotionalism. I’m not into making a fool of myself –”
Most of the rest were as wide-eyed as me, staring straight at Jesus. A couple motioned to some others, speechlessly drawing the attention of those who had not been quite looking in Jesus’ direction. Thomas, mystified by their behavior, turned to see what everyone was staring at. For a long couple of seconds he was expressionless. Then, reaching over, he gingerly touched Jesus.
“It’s . . .” But that is all he could get out. He fell in worship at Jesus’ feet. The others giggled.
“Thomas,” Jesus placed his hands in front of Thomas’s face, “put your finger in these holes. Put your hand in my side.”
“Jesus, my Lord and God!” gasped Thomas.
There was a reverent awe for several minutes, then Jesus, a big grin on his face said, “Let’s have something to eat!”
Everyone suddenly came alive. Some laughed. Some cheered. Some come up to Jesus and joyfully embraced him. Some shook his hand. Others slapped his back.
Jesus took some food, had a bite and with the remainder still in hand said, “You’ve heard my teaching. You’ve seen my miracles. You’re witnesses to my victory over death. I now appoint you to go to the ends of the earth, telling everyone, so that they, too, may believe and have eternal life.”
Then to my astonishment, Jesus began to – well we would call it rap.
As the Father helped me, I’m helping you.
The things I’ve done you’ll surely do.
I have all power and I hand it to you.
Believe my word and I say to you;
There will be signs, and not just a few:
Raising the dead is what you will do.
You’ll speak in tongues with words ever new,
With mighty works and healings, too.
Demons and evil will flee from you.
You can do it, ’cause I’m in you.
As the Father loves me, I’m loving you.
Complete my joy – love others, too.
I give you life and I’m praying for you.
You have my power – it will see you through –
So speak the words I’ve given to you,
Spreading my name to Gentile and Jew;
Living my life as I told you to,
They’ll see my light come shining through.
Whatever the trial, you will come through:
By my Spirit, I’ll be with you.”
I found myself lying face down. Funny how I pass out each time. I wonder what excitement awaits me here? I felt quite cozy. All sense of danger had evaporated. I had been kept safe every other time. I opened my eyes and turned over. Surely not! In a flash I sat bolt upright and hastily scanned my surroundings, my heart pounding. Oh no! I have never felt so cheated.
Not since this astounding adventure had commenced had I been surrounded by such chaos. Yep, I was back in my own bedroom. How could all that possibly have been a dream? I strained to recall the last things I could remember before all this started. To my deep annoyance, I remembered going to bed. I was furious.
I flicked off my bed lamp and in the darkness flopped into my pillow, hoping I could go back to sleep and wake up to discover that what I had experienced had not been a dream.
When next I opened my eyes, there was total anarchy wherever I looked. It was my bedroom alright. My clock confirmed it was the middle of the night.
Hey! It’s the middle of the night. There’s not a hint of sunlight, my light is off, and yet I can see! What’s going on?” There was something peculiar about what was lighting up the room. I turned over and there was Chebon standing regally before me, his glowing body illuminating the room.
He looked at me. “Man,” he said.
I began to tremble. Strength drained from me. I had become somewhat used to seeing these glorious beings and being treated as if I did not exist. Being the focus of their attention, I was quickly discovering, was an entirely different matter.
“Help!” I cried, as I began to slip into some sort of faint. He reached out to me. I’m so thankful he did not touch me – I doubt that I could have coped with that – but I felt strength coming from him and flowing into me.
“I am here to remind you that you have merely seen a vision – a doctored portrayal of reality.”
“What?” I said, rather loudly.
“Allowances have been made for your intellectual limitations.”
“My what?” I was more than a little indignant.
“Do you think a gigantic scorpion really attacked Jesus?”
“Well . . . no. I thought –”
“And do you think Jesus rapped?”
“Oh,” I said, deflated. What an idiot! Of course Jesus would not have rapped. How could I have missed something so obvious? I really must have been in a trance to have been so stupid.
“Okay, I figured out that what I saw was being translated. From what you say, liberties must have been taken with the translation, but what I saw must have been genuine . . .”
“There were other divergences from reality.”
“Those sparkler things – surely they were real? What about the sand that always stayed on the beach? What about –”
“I am not permitted to say.”
“Fat lot of good that is!” Annoyed and disappointed, I had momentarily forgotten whom I was addressing. Fearing Chebon’s reaction, I quickly tried to calm down and placate him with an attempted justification of my outburst. “I’ve just had what I thought was the experience of a lifetime, only to discover I don’t even know what’s real and what’s for my entertainment, or whatever!”
“It is for your well being.”
“For my well being?” I was raising my voice again.
“You have a great susceptibility to pride.”
“Oh!” Not while he’s around!
“Well, you’re real!” “Maybe.” My self-control was wearing very thin. “So I’ll never know?”
“Not your side of eternity.”
I recalled how the apostle Paul had learnt things during a heavenly visit that he was not permitted to tell a soul. Before I can even formulate the question in my mind, Chebon interrupted my thoughts.
“See what I mean about pride?” He laughed and laughed. I thought it was rather rude. “What secrets do you think were entrusted to you?”
“Well – er . . .” He can read my mind!
“What makes you imagine that you have anything beyond the most pathetic conception of the beauty and splendor and perfection of the glorious King of all? Why do you have the blind audacity not to realize that your understanding of the awesome Lord is so crude as to be an insult to the majesty of Almighty God?”
I wanted to slither under the carpet.
“Nevertheless, you will share the throne of Almighty God. You humans are destined to rule worlds and galaxies; reigning in splendor forever. We angels will bow to your every command. And why, little man? Because you are one of those for whom the eternal Son of God – the glorious Lord through whom all things exist – shed his blood.”
Then he vanished.
I flopped back into bed; angry, shocked, confused.
Fearsome angels bowing to my every command? My mind flashed to that terrifying clash with the fallen angel who had claimed to be my master.
As I lay on my bed, trying to make sense of the crushing blow Chebon had just delivered about the nature of my unearthly experience, my mind floated back over all those astonishing events. I could not face calling them a dream. They were too real; too life changing. I recalled the “sparklers”. Until that first “sparkler” hit, I had spent much of my life yearning for marriage. Would I now spend the rest of my earthly existence yearning for those “sparklers”? I marveled that I had survived those astounding sensations ripping through my body. Truly our pre-resurrection bodies are not designed for such sensory overload. I smiled. By surviving those “sparklers,” I had not only cheated death, it felt like I had pulled off the most daring robbery in the universe and stolen some of heaven’s treasures.
My grin broadened. What wonders are ours for the taking! What daring exploits we can achieve if only we abandon faith in our abilities and supposed goodness, and drive our faith deep into the bedrock of the living Christ. I pondered for a moment Christ’s power to vaporize impossibilities, his eternal glory, his unapproachable perfection, and the matchless beauty of his moral courage as love propelled him to endure inconceivable torment for those who detest him. These inexhaustible riches, and so much more, are all there for the taking for everyone who heroically clings to faith, and refuses to waste what the eternal Son paid such an horrific price to make available to us.
I despised my pride as I recalled the exalted Lord of glory, the majestic King of kings, on his knees and then flat on the ground, romping with children – no, not even children; entities many of us in our arrogant ignorance would drag several notches lower than that. In my mind’s eye I saw again their glee and how, though devoid of sophistication, such uninhibited delight in him is the highest praise.
Then the memory hit of that dizzying experience that left me floundering in indecision as to who is privileged and who is not. Truly, when all is revealed, all our rantings against God’s temporary tolerance of injustice will come crashing down and we will stand in naked embarrassment at our unfounded accusations against the One who is always good and always right. He is always kind, always unselfish, always wise. What joys, what moral heights, what endless fulfillment await those who yield to his perfection!
Like a frenzied bird in a cage, my mind kept darting back and forth over all I’d recently witnessed. I flashed back to the angelic song that had wrung tears from my hardened heart as it opened my eyes to the ecstasy of discovering more of the boundless wisdom of God. I had barely recalled lamenting lost opportunities to deepen my understanding of God’s ways when my mind whizzed forward to me squandering prayer and Bible time in that round room. I determined to do better from now on.
Before I could dwell on that, my mind was off again; this time almost overwhelming me with memories of the unexpected elation I felt when harmonizing with nature in that amazing forest. Losing my legs could hardly be more devastating than losing that mystical – for lack of a better word – connection with the rest of God’s creation. Then my mind bolted to the breathtaking beauty of that vast aquarium. It was just a flash because the next moment I was savoring the memory of that garden that seemed to have special healing powers. I had never been so alive. In a split second the words, “For me to live is Christ” came hurtling into my consciousness. Then my mind fled to another of Paul’s famous statements, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . .”
Could I ever again be content with this grimy planet? The word must get out. I wanted to tell everyone, but dare I?
I’d love your feedback. Should this work be published?
For comments, please write to Grantley Morris firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is also available in the form of a play (See Drama) but for a rough draft of new material along the same theme as the above, see God’s Mysteries: Deep Spiritual Truths Revealed in an Entertaining Way.