Addi took a sip of hot tea as he glanced across the city of Jerusalem from the upper veranda overlooking his estate. As was his daily routine, he awaited the sky to change from fading darkness into the full light of day and the brisk air into warmth. He again found himself reflecting on the encounter he and the others had had with John the Baptist forty-five days ago. Addi was still somewhat confused by John’s strong response to Hadar during his questioning, but he was also impressed by John’s confidence and fearlessness in front of the Pharisees and the members of the Sanhedrin.
I am the voice of one calling in the desert, to make straight the way for the Lord, he had said. When Addi had asked Hadar about the words, Hadar hissed back that this man was no voice of the Lord calling out anything except false teachings and self-promotion.
“He will get what his words deserve,” Hadar had replied as Addi rode beside the wagon on their journey home.
Addi waited until the next day to broach the subject with him, but even with one day to cool down, Addi could still see and hear the anger in Hadar’s response when he had asked him about John again.
“I’m sure that the Herodians will be very interested in him.” Hadar added.
“Why would they be interested?” Addi asked, a little surprised by the response.
“Because we have found the possible Messiah,” Hadar replied with a smile, coldly looking away as he continued. “The last thing Herod wants to see is a Messiah showing up to ruin his corrupt rule. Our proclamation will turn the Herodians' attention to this John, while we continue with our plans. A heaven-sent distraction for us if I might say.”
“Wouldn’t such a proclamation mean his death?” Addi asked. Hadar turned toward him.
“He brought this on himself by trying to do the work of God, something that is allowed only for Priests.” Hadar said trying to read Addi’s expression. “Why Addi, do you think he is the Messiah?” he asked as if speaking to a child.
“No,” Addi replied, fighting the urge to respond in anger. “He denied such a claim himself. I just don’t see the need to send a man to his death for trying to turn our people back to God.” Addi responded trying to read Hadar’s expression.
“How many people do you think will die in the upcoming war with the Romans?” Hadar asked. Addi shrugged slightly.
“However many our Lord will deem necessary to bring about the victory,” Addi finally replied.
“Then this John’s death will just be one of many that will help us achieve our Lord’s desires for his people. No one will remember him once our land is restored. Our goal is to find the Messiah and this John is just one more name that we can cross off our list,” Hadar stated, seeing the displeasure in Addi’s face. “Addi, do not let your emotions distort or distract you from your purpose.” They rode in silence for awhile before Addi finally replied.
“He said he knew who the Messiah was. If the Herodians kill him, or worse, they make him tell them who the Messiah is, then we will have missed an important opportunity with our own search.” It appeared that Hadar was preparing a response, but just continued to ride in silence. Addi eventually allowed his horse to fall back behind the wagons where he also rode in silence for the rest of the day.
Letting go of the memory, Addi knew it had been an interesting trip to say the least. As the sun finally rose above the eastern skyline, Addi took another sip of tea, suddenly grimacing at its now lukewarm temperature, struggling to swallow it as he continued thinking. He had never enjoyed the politics life had generated, no matter what level of society a person enjoyed. He had learned the hard way that it was a dangerous and deadly environment, generally having one winner and one loser, yet each side professed to be working for the benefit of the other. He was learning with each new day that not even the priestly order was immune to it. What he had also learned was those not taking a stand, but left their decisions in the hands of others, were generally the ones that suffered the most.
Much like the lukewarm tea he now held, Addi had learned that anyone who takes a stand about the choices of life had to choose between either being hot or cold, for or against those choices. If not, he was simply allowing the battle between the two temperatures to rage without his influence. One's destiny by being lukewarm was to be poured or spit out by someone else’s decisions for his life.
If he were to continue to be heard, he needed to take a stand one way or another with regard to this John the Baptist situation. There was much to do and although he was involved in the preparations for the upcoming battle, he had chosen to take the middle ground of an observer long enough. As Hadar had explained, John was just a casualty of the upcoming war that would cost more lives than just his own. If John’s life would benefit the greater cause, then it was worth the cost of a good man. Addi poured the remaining tea over the railing, walked into the house to prepare for the day and go over the numbers with Gavriel for the Pesachya meeting that evening.
Addi was surprised Gavriel was not interested in the encounter they had had with John the Baptist. When Addi asked his opinion, he just shrugged and referenced the fact Hadar was very knowledgeable on such matters and changed the subject. They quickly went through the numbers and progress since the last meeting, making plans and arrangements for the temple gifts. Knowing he would be stopping at the market herdsman to select the cattle for sacrifice, he asked Gavriel the name of the herdsman who was employed there. Gavriel moved a few papers around until he found the sheet he was looking for and started reading.
“Maor,” he finally stated, putting the paper down and began writing again. His short and somewhat cold response had finally pushed past the point of ignoring the awkwardness of the morning.
“Have I done something to upset you today?” Addi asked. Gavriel looked up from the paper he was writing on and then leaned back in the chair, exhaled, shook his head and smiled.
“No. I’m sorry, despite the apparent success, it has been a difficult week,” Gavriel responded as he placed the marker back into the inkbottle. “Even though there is this feeling that the culmination of all our work is at hand, I feel we are on a dangerous precipice where just one bad decision, or choice, or statement, could doom all we have worked so hard for,” he ended, taking a deep breath while looking at all the various types of work spread out across the table in front of them. Addi at first wanted to console him and convince him everything was fine, but he knew his friend would see through it.
“I know. I feel the same,” was his only response.
“Let’s just make sure neither of us do something rash that may push us over the edge,” Gavriel said smiling. Addi nodded, not sure what Gavriel had meant by the comment.
That afternoon, his two guards with him, Addi headed to the marketplace to select his cattle for the temple sacrifice. His tradition was to stop by the market to see if the young woman was working. Again, he was disappointed to see she was not there. Where could she be? He wondered. His heart sank at the thought that perhaps she had married someone, or was now living far away. At first, he was greatly saddened by the thought, but then felt perhaps that was best. The game he was playing was not fair to her. He turned and headed toward where they kept the animals prior to sending them to the market areas.
With his employee's name now memorized, Addi was happy to see him working when he arrived. He saw the young man confidently speaking with a buyer. There was a joy and excitement in his demeanor.
“Maor, it is good to see you. How is your family?” Addi asked and smiled. When Maor turned to see who had spoken to him, his eyes seemed to light up even brighter.
“My lord!" He exclaimed, smiling. "They are well, thank you for asking;” he excused himself from his current client. “I expected to see you today, so I brought in extra cattle and have held them for you. They are some of the best in the herd,” he said proudly.
At first Addi was impressed and honored that Maor had the foresight to expect him before the upcoming Pesachya meeting, but then a thought occurred to him. If Maor had pieced together this rare meeting schedule and had planned accordingly, had others also? With Gavriel’s concerns still floating in the back of his mind, he made a mental note to bring this topic up this evening.
“Thank you, Maor,” Addi replied, watching as Maor opened the gate, bringing the cattle into the market pen. It was obvious Maor had selected some of the best cattle in his herd. Addi felt a slight twinge at the thought he was going to sacrifice his best breeding cattle. If he continued doing this, how would the quality of his herd be affected? He had worked so hard to build his reputation and that had brought him the highest prices and profits.
“Have you seen him?” Maor asked and Addi thought back to their last conversation.
“Yes, I did travel out to see John the Baptist. He is a very interesting and persuasive man to be sure.” Addi replied, seeing Maor’s face frown as he contemplated his response.
“Oh, I meant have you seen the Messiah?” Maor exclaimed and Addi’s heart began leaping in his chest.
“No, I mean who, or where is he?” Addi bumbled through his excited response, and was surprised that Maor seemed disappointed with him.
“His name is Jesus of Nazareth, but no one knows where he went.” Maor said. Addi tried to remain calm, although his insides were screaming in excitement.
“How do you know this Jesus is the Messiah?” Addi tried to ask calmly.
“John said so. I traveled out to see and be baptized by John and right after my baptism, John turned and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.1 He was pointing to this Jesus who was walking toward him,” Maor reflected as if he was reliving the moment in his mind. He then looked back at Addi. “Jesus walked right past me and into the river toward John, but John tried to stop him and said, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ However, Jesus said to him, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’2 Maor passionately recited the words from memory as if they were burned into his heart, stopping in deep thought.
“What did John do?” Addi finally asked.
“He baptized him. But the amazing thing, my lord, and why I know he is the Messiah is what happened next.” Maor exclaimed and Addi hung on his every word. “As Jesus came out of the water, heaven opened up and I saw what can only be the Spirit of God descending gently...almost like a dove... and surround him. Then a voice booming from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”3 Addi just stared silently at Maor, listening intently to his story, wanting more.
“Then what, what did this Jesus say?”
“He just embraced John as if to say goodbye, then turned and walked out of the water through the crowd of people. Honestly, most of us were frightened by what we just saw and heard. Some thought we would die because of seeing the light come down, but Jesus never said another word. But...somehow he was different than when he had gone into the water.”
“Where did he go?” Addi asked. Maor shrugged.
“To my knowledge, no one has seen or heard from him since. It’s as if he disappeared.”4
Addi thought through the timing of the event and estimated it had been perhaps forty days since Maor’s encounter.
“Thank you, Maor. Please send only two of the four cattle and return the others to the herds for breeding.” Addi finally replied.
“I will have them delivered this evening, my lord,” Maor responded, a little confused by the request.
Thinking about his discussion with Maor, he and his bodyguards walked to the Temple. Had Herod heard about Jesus and had him killed? Addi wondered. Had that really been the voice of God? Had that dove-like light really come down from heaven to rest on him? He had a great deal to share at tonight’s meeting.
With the news he now carried burning inside him; Addi was more impatient than usual with all the pre-meeting rituals of the priests. While each took their turns, he looked around at all the members and wondered how secure their group really was. If his herdsman had recognized the timing of these meetings, a trained professional carefully watching them could also have easily done the same. Gavriel was right, everything that had been accomplished was held together with such a fine twine of trust between these men.
As the rituals ended, Hadar wasted no time announcing that yesterday Herod had imprisoned John. It was a shock to Addi, but it was handled as if it were just another piece of business mentioned in their meeting. Apparently Hadar’s subtle announcement about John had worked its way to the Herodians as planned, and Herod had him brought in for questioning in front of the people. Joseph of Arimethaea, who said he was there in the crowd during the questioning, stated Herod had initially been quite impressed with John. He had been moved enough by his message to ask him about this “repentance” he was preaching to the people. But in the same fearless fashion he had spoken to Hadar, John pointed out an example of Herod’s need for repentance in front of all the people that had gathered there. Herod needed to end the unlawful relationship he had with Herodias, wife of his brother Philip. John's honest response landed him in prison reaping the wrath of Herod.5 There were rumors that John was to be killed, but there was such an outcry from the people Herod had yet to follow through with his plan.
Addi again felt pain in his heart for John’s situation. He was imprisoned because of Hadar’s subtle words and for telling the truth about Herod, an unlawful relationship the whole city already knew about causing great disgust. While John spoke the truth, the Pharisees or Sanhedrin to Addi’s knowledge had never challenged Herod on the relationship in private or in public.
“What a fool,” one of the Pesachya members stated with a murmured agreement and chuckle from most of the other members.
“He was willing to say what the rest of us were unwilling to say,” Joseph stated loudly, silencing the other members. Hadar turned to look at Joseph.
“He has drawn the attention away from our plans, Joseph. You should not concern yourself with anything other than finding the Messiah,” Hadar stated, disguising the rebuke.
“He was a good man, Hadar,” Joseph countered.
“He was an unschooled fool,” Hadar tried to end the discussion but Joseph was not finished.
“No, he wasn’t. He was actually the son of Zechariah, a priest of our order who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. There is an interesting story about that family if a person takes the time to research it in our archives.” Those around the table seemed a little surprised by the information, but Addi could see Hadar was not interested in discussing it further.6
“Trained or untrained, this man is not the Messiah, nor is he of any concern of ours,” Hadar harshly stated, raising his hand to signal the discussion was finished.
“Actually, Herod may have already found and killed the Messiah as a result of capturing John,” Addi suddenly found himself interjecting as he had done in the prior meeting, Addi ignored the protocol of waiting to be recognized by Hadar before speaking. He was not sure if he made the statement out of anger or pride, but his words stunned the members of the meeting as a quiet murmur became a growing roar. Addi could see Hadar was upset at the unapproved interjection of information, but there was a growing interest and attention from the others requiring him to address Addi.
“Addi, perhaps you can enlighten us with your insight?” Hadar stated rather sarcastically followed with an over exaggeration of a motion of his hand, clearly reminding Addi of the protocol he needed to follow before speaking. The subtle rebuke caused Addi to hesitate and refocus his response.
“This evening my herdsman had cattle waiting for me to select and bring with me for the sacrificial offering.” Addi replied, waiting to see if anyone would grasp the direction he was heading. Hadar was clearly bothered by the response, while the others seemed confused.
“Are you looking for a ‘thank you’ or recognition for the gift?” Hadar asked. “If so, and as always, we are clearly grateful for your generosity,” he expressed with a false gratitude. Addi shook his head at the response.
“No! My point is, if my herdsman has been able to figure out when and where our meetings are being held, then how easy would it be for a professional to discover and infiltrate them?” Addi’s response again generated a murmured discussion within the group until Hadar held up his hand to quiet them.
“Perhaps our meetings are getting a little predictable. We will change the times for our future meetings.” Hadar replied to calm the group and Addi took the moment to continue.
“I would assume they already know who we are, but they still might not know what we are doing. Time is short, and we cannot afford to make a mistake so close to our goal,” Addi replied as murmurs of approval were shared around the room until Hadar held up his hand.
“Your point about our security has been noted. Did you have something else to share about Herod’s killing of the Messiah?” Hadar asked, clearly upset with him. Taking a deep breath, Addi walked them through the discussion he had had with his herdsman about his encounter with John, and then his encounter with Jesus. When he had finished, the room was silent.
“So, you believe that God has chosen to work through this John the Baptist to reveal the Messiah and not through the priestly order who have been preparing hundreds of year for him?” Hadar asked as the excitement in the room abruptly diminished. Addi was surprised Hadar had chosen to start by discrediting the idea instead of investigating it.
“Whether a burning bush, from inside the belly of a giant fish, or from any of a hundred examples God has used to reveal His will, I was taught by the priestly order it is never about who the messenger might be, but what the message is.” Addi responded in frustration.
“Do you know so much more about the word of God that you feel the need to teach us?” Hadar replied curtly. Addi shook his head seeing how in his frustration his comment had come across wrong.
“No, that is not my intention. What I’m saying is that even the prophet Samuel did not see David as our future and greatest king. God looks at the heart of a man. Are we?”7 Addi stated more humbly this time. “During our visit with John the Baptist, he claimed not to be the Messiah; but that he was preparing the way for him and he even knew who the Messiah was.” Addi paused as he realized some of the members apparently had not been told that part. “In our hurt and pride, rather than pursuing the opportunity, we left instead of trying to find out who the person might be that John was referring to. Now, I hear from my herdsman that he personally saw the Messiah, the Spirit of God and he even heard the voice of God,” Addi’s passion and frustration clearly displayed in his words.
“You are putting your trust in a fool and a herdsman,” Hadar responded coldly. There was an awkward silence as those in the room waited for a reply. Addi knew he had already crossed the line of etiquette, but felt too frustrated to remain silent.
“John spoke the truth about Herod, despite the risk to his very life. If he was willing to risk death in front of Herod, why would he lie to us about knowing who the Messiah was? What is more important? Why wouldn’t we take the time to at least listen to him and find out if what he was saying was true?” When Addi had finished, no one looked toward Hadar except Addi, and he could see why. Hadar’s anger was obvious, as if a volcano was ready to erupt. He suddenly realized that although he tried to make his comments general in nature, those in the room, including Hadar himself, understood to whom Addi’s question had been directed.
“Addi makes a good point,” Joseph suddenly stated, breaking the silence and halting the eruption from Hadar everyone was expecting. “We need to explore every possibility, no matter how distorted it could appear to us.” The murmurs of agreement seemed to deepen Hadar’s anger.
“I think the important thing right now is to find out who this Jesus of Nazareth is and if he is even still alive.” Nicodemas interjected without waiting for the normal approval motion from Hadar, a dangerous decision for Nicodemus to make. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin and not bound by the Pharisees leadership formalities, Nicodemas was restricted. Addi knew an unapproved contribution to the discussion would normally receive a gentle rebuke or look from Hadar, but knowing his current state, an expected public flogging was coming. What spared Nicodemus was the obvious approval of the rest of the group in the room, including the other Pharisees. Their soft murmurs and nodding heads made it clear they agreed forcing Hadar to change his course.
“You bring up a good point Nicodemus,” Hadar replied in a surprisingly calm voice. “I want you to take whatever resources you need and look into this Jesus the herdsman saw. Leave no rock unturned,” Hadar ordered and Nicodemus nodded, clearly surprised and relieved by Hadar’s response.
Hadar wrapped up the meeting without doing the standard accounting and materials reports from Addi and the other contributors. He had apparently heard enough and clearly did not want to give Addi another opportunity to further corrupt his members. He called briefly for a separate meeting of the Pharisees, which Addi assumed was where he would issue the rebukes to everyone, particularly Nicodemus. As the meeting ended, the usual discussion and interaction he had with the other members was nonexistent. Addi understood if a person wanted to stay in the good graces of Hadar, anyone seen talking with Addi was jeopardizing his career. Addi smiled as he watched several of the influential merchant members of the group make their way toward Hadar for a personal discussion. Like vultures, Addi knew they smelled blood and an opportunity, each trying to position themselves to take over the key roles and points of favor from the Pharisees they felt Addi had lost this evening.
Addi knew the rumors they spread about him when he was not present, mainly that his success was only the result of his support from the Pharisees. Some of it was true, but most of what he had gained was the result of building upon the incredible foundation his father had built before he was murdered. As the vultures continued to swoop in, he knew he might be wounded and bleeding in their eyes, but he was far from dead. Most important, his determination greatly increased to see this group achieve its goals of establishing the long-awaited kingdom.
As he left the meeting room, walking into the growing darkness of the temple courts, a voice called to him from where he just left.
“Addi, can I walk you out?” Joseph asked, catching up to where Addi was waiting. They walked in silence as they passed the massive sacrificial altar. It seemed alive as the flickering flames of the torches and lanterns made the shadows around it move.
“Politics is a dangerous game,” Joseph said as they walked together. Addi nodded. “We strive to be heard by those that have the power to make a difference, but the closer you get to the top, the more dangerous it becomes and the more careful you have to be.” Joseph added, as they climbed the steps to the Court of Men.
“We are so close, I would hate to see us miss this opportunity because of our pride,” Addi replied. Joseph chuckled in response and then grasped Addi’s arm, turning him back toward the altar and temple.
“Do you think the will of God can be stopped?” Joseph asked and then motioned his hand in a circle around them. “This temple was not built because of the Levite priests, or the people of Israel, but by a man who does not even truly worship our God. Yet here it miraculously stands for us to enjoy. Addi, as you stated tonight, our people’s history is filled with incredible examples of God using men and women to insure his will is done. Some choose of their own free will to trust in Him and in turn God empowered them to accomplish it. Others, even those who are opposed to his will, are still used as God’s instruments to see that his will is accomplished. God always prefers a willing heart, but His will cannot be stopped.”
As Addi listened, the names and stories of such individuals came rushing through his mind. The accounts of Pharaoh, Moses and the plagues of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, King Artaxerxes and Nehemiah, Jonah and Nineveh, Esther and King Xerxes, Rahab and Jericho; each were accounts of men and women choosing to work with God and his will, or oppose Him and his will, but God’s will was always achieved. However, he was still confused by the direction Joseph was going with his question.
“How exactly does that apply to this evening?” Addi asked.
“If this Jesus, or any other person who comes along, is truly the Messiah, do you think God’s will for His kingdom can be stopped?” Joseph replied and waited a moment before continuing. “Our efforts to do so might only be fighting God’s efforts. Our true purpose and goal should be simply to do our best to be ready for it to come, first inwardly, and when it does, to respond accordingly. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the outward preparation, we miss the inward part.” Joseph’s comment struck a nerve inside Addi as he thought about all the pieces that were coming together in order for the arrival of the Messiah that would finally drive out the Romans.
“Are you saying that we should not be preparing for this kingdom?” Addi asked. Joseph shook his head.
“I’m saying that whatever you do, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons,” patting him on the shoulder smiling. “You are so much like your father. He had the same spirit burning inside of him and just like you, he was always fighting between his will and God’s will.”
“How can you know the difference?” Addi asked.
“Unless you’re willing to completely trust and obey Him, the only time you will ever know is when you look back on your life to see if God was with you or against you. Even then you might not truly see it correctly,” Joseph answered.
“That could be a wasted life,” Addi said in disappointment.
“Addi, the only wasted life in God’s eyes, is the life that did nothing. God is always waiting for us to take an action, so he can have a reaction. He wants to do amazing things, but we must take the first step. As we move forward, he will either open the doors in front of us, or close them. We still have to choose to go through the open doors, but the bigger question is how long will we try to force open the door that God has closed in front of us.” Joseph paused as if trying to see if Addi was following his explanation. “In his pride or personal desires, a man will often waste his entire life trying to force open a door that God has closed, instead of taking the open door before him.” Addi listened then shook his head and smiled.
“You obviously feel I’m at the wrong door. Care to be more specific or are you going to just leave me pounding away at it?” Addi asked. Joseph raised an eyebrow and then smiled.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Joseph said with a surprised look, then smiled. “Addi, all I’m saying is; if you’re having difficulty, just remember to step back from the door in front of you every now and then to make sure its the right one.” Joseph looked up at the stars and then back at Addi. “It’s an incredible evening for a person to think and pray while walking home, wouldn’t you agree? Good night, Addi.” Joseph turned and headed back to the meeting room as Addi nodded in agreement. He felt fortunate to have Joseph as one of his teachers since his youth and now as a friend.
Passing through the temple courts, gathering his men, he wrestled with Joseph’s advice all the way home. What door was Joseph referring to that he felt Addi was standing in front of, the 'find Jesus' door, the 'challenge Hadar' door, or the 'drive out the Romans' door? There were so many doors standing before him right now he could not explore all of them at the same time. He had to pick one of them, but which one? Joseph had suggested praying while he walked home, so he did. By time he arrived home, he had an idea. He knew what he needed was more information before he could make that decision and he was spread too thin as it was. What he did have was the resources to hire several people to do some of the work for him and he knew the perfect man to start with - his good friend Cleopas.
1 John 1:29-31
2 Matthew 3:13-15
3 Matthew 3:16-17
4 Matthew 4:1
5 Matthew 6:17
6 Luke 1:All
7 1 Samuel 16:7