Our story began in the garden. Achim followed Yeshua from one place in Yerushalem to another. Now Achim and Yochanan wait outside Herod’s palace.
“Achim,” Yochanan’s voice brought him back to the present. “Are you okay?”
The boy shook his head and rubbed his hands together to warm them. “Just thinking.”
“We have plenty of time for that,” Yochanan agreed. He sighed, a deep, heavy sound that said more than any words. “I remember the first years with Yeshua.”
Achim looked on with interest. What was it like to have traveled and lived with the rabbi?
“We thought the world of him, but we weren’t sure who he was. It wasn’t until the last year or so that we began to believe, truly hope, that he was the promised one. We saw the miracles, the people healed, the blind given sight, the dead brought back to life. It was unbelievable, and yet it was real. What was even more so was the way he treated everyone. He had utmost compassion. His tears were never for himself, but for others.”
Yochanan paused. The night silence hung heavy in the air. Achim shivered.
“His teachings were like no other rabbi. He spoke with power, authority. He loved us, and it showed through his words and his actions. Then last week, he rode through the gates of Yerushalem on a donkey with the crowd shouting Hosanna. We thought the kingdom had come.”
Achim’s mind went back to the day he had met Yeshua and Yochanan’s question of who would be greatest in the kingdom. These friends of Yeshua had expected the kingdom right then and there.
“Then in the midst of all that glory and excitement, Yeshua began to cry!” Yochanan said. “I thought they were happy tears, but Yeshua began to talk about Yerushalem and how it would be destroyed! Then tonight after the seder, he was quiet and talked about dying. It made no sense, and now he has been arrested. What are we going to do?”
Achim knew there was no answer to give; so, he stood and mulled over the situation. Was Yeshua the promised one? Yochanan had mentioned the seder. Achim’s mind filled with memories with Momma when they would celebrate the meal. How could he have lost track of the time and not know it was passover? That would explain the crowds in Yerushalem. He shook his head. What were the Sanhedrin thinking? How could a kind man be arrested?
In the middle of his thoughts, the guard down the road shifted. Achim watched the Roman soldier. The man turned and opened the gate. Out came men, the Sanhedrin, Achim guessed. Their movement was rapid and purposeful, and yet Achim sensed they had not had their way. After they passed the doorway he and Yochanan hid in, Achim saw a man in a beautiful robe fit for a king. He walked slowly, as if he dreaded each step and yet knew it must be made. He glanced ahead, and Achim’s heart stopped in his throat. It was Yeshua! Two Roman soldiers trailed behind him holding the rope that bound Yeshua’s hands behind his back. A hand on Achim’s arm, pulled him farther into the shadows.
“Achim,” Yochanan whispered in the boy’s ear, “come back here. You’ll get us caught.”
Achim moved until his back touched the stone wall behind him. Once all echos of footsteps faded from their ears, Yochanan let go of the boy’s arm. Achim shot out of the doorway as silently and as rapidly as a cat after a mouse. He followed the direction the men had gone. He heard Yochanan lumbering behind him. He didn’t care. He had to find where they were taking Yeshua. Before, long, he saw them ahead. They seemed to be returning to the temple area. Achim’s mind raced. Where were they going? Then as if a missing piece of Momma’s dough had been dropped back into its place, Achim understood. He slowed to a walk. Yochanan’s heavy breathing caught up with him.
“Boy,” Yochanan panted between words. “What. Were. You thinking?”
Achim shook his head. “I had to know where they were taking him.”
Yochanan straightened up from having his hands on his knees. “Back to Pilate, of course. Only Pilate can issue the death sentence.”
Achim felt his eyes grow wide at the thought. “Buy why would he do that?”
“Why condemn Yeshua to death?” Yochanan voiced the question Achim could only think. “They don’t like him claiming to be God.”
Again, shock radiated through Achim’s small frame. God? How could that be? There was only one God; how could a man be God? As if reading the boy’s questions, Yochanan began to walk and talk.
“Yeshua constantly talked about being the Son of the living God. Not only did he say God was his father, he also claimed to have the same characteristics as God. Remember King David’s powerful psalm about God being the shepherd?” Yochanan waited for Achim to nod and then continued. “Yeshua claimed to be the great shepherd. At passover, we remember the journey out of Egypt and through the wilderness. What did the children of Israel eat in the desert?”
Achim answered without a pause. It was known to everyone. “Mana, a bread-like wafer.”
Yochanan nodded. “Yeshua said he was the bread of life. There are many others. He also said there was no other way to the father but through him. This teaching goes against everything the religious rulers teach. They can’t let him live.”
Achim understood. “You said you saw the blind given sight, and the lame walk.”
Yochanan replied with a short nod of his head.
“You saw the dead come to life?”
Again a head nod.
“Those are things only God can do. Yeshua must at least be a great prophet. But would a prophet of God lie about the rest?”
Yochanan shook his head. “That is why I follow him. I want to know. If he is truly the Son of God, he will prevail. My faith is in Him.”
Discussion halted as they reached the Antionia Fortress. A crowd had formed. Achim noticed people other than the Sanhedrin milling around. They seemed sleepy-eyed and restless. As Achim gazed up at the tower, he saw streaks of light coloring the dull sky. Day had arrived.
“Mariam?” Yochanan said, drawing Achim’s gaze from the morning light. “What are you doing here?”
Achim saw three women. Their heads covered properly but tears shown in their eyes and stained their faces.
“Yochanan, I could not sit by and let them harm him,” one of the women replied. Her voice reminded Achim of Momma.
“That is why we came as well,” another explained. “It was unfair to make Mariam wait in the upper room. We came to provide her company.”
Yochanan shook his head and ushered the women to a wall. However, there was no place out of the way. It was as if the morning light had drawn the inhabitants of Yerushalem to Pilate. Even now, a voice pierced the lightening street.
“Citizens of Yerushalem, it is my custom to deliver to you a prisoner on the passover. This year, I will give you a choice. Do you wish Barrabas, the known murderer and insurrectionist, or Yeshua, the teacher?”
To Achim’s horror, the crowd around him raised their voices as one. “Barrabas, Barrabas, Barrabas.”
The chant echoed off the walls and cobblestone road.
“No,” Mariam’s cry barely reached Achim’s ears. No one else seemed to even have heard.
The crowd grew silent; so the voice continued. “But neither I nor Herod found anything worthy of death in Yeshua. Again, I ask, do you wish Barrabas or Yeshua?”
The sing-song lilt of voices again took up the murderer’s name. Yochanan put an arm around Mariam’s shoulder. Achim noticed the woman was crying into the young man’s shoulder.
“Fine,” anger seemed to radiate from the man talking above the crowd. Achim couldn’t see him, but his voice was strong enough for all to hear. “Then what am I to do with Yeshua, who is called the messiah?”
Achim felt the fervor of the mob in the street. They swarmed toward the fortress, and even more people seemed to fill the small road. The group he was with was pushed closer to the fortress. No longer were they able to have their backs against the wall and stay in the shadows. The crowd threw their hands up in the air as if to emphasize the words that poured from their mouths as one voice.
“Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Achim couldn’t hear himself think. The pulsing beat of the chant filled him, causing his heart to pound in rhythm. An elbow banged against the boy’s head. Rough arms pushed him against Yochanan. As Achim righted himself, he saw the young man had his other arm protectively around Mariam. The other two women huddled close to her.
“Again, I ask why? What wrong has Yeshua committed?” the voice pleaded from over the mob, but there was no reasoning with them.
They shouted all the louder. “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
More pushing and shoving buffeted Achim and the small group with him. He wondered what would happen next. Would a riot start? The owner of the voice, seemed to come to the same conclusion as Achim, for he changed tactics.
“Fine,” the crowd strained to hear the words. “I do not find anything wrong with him.”
The air filled with the sound of jeers. Before they could get louder, the voice continued.
“But I will do as you have asked. He shall be crucified.”
Achim felt the shift in Yochanan’s weight and glanced over. Mariam had slumped against the young man. The two woman held their faces in their hands. Without understanding, Achim’s heart broke for them. He had no idea who they were, but they were crying as he had when the doctor had said Momma had died.
The crowd pushed, shoved, and jostled the small group. Achim almost lost sight of Yochanan. The young man grabbed Achim’s arm and held on. The strength in the man’s arms surprised the boy. As if in a nightmare, the group finally found a safe place to stand where they were not caught up in the stream of humanity.
Achim stared in shock and horror when sometime later, the roadway cleared. Soldiers marched down the streets. People lined every corner and free space along the edges. Behind the soldiers came a man carrying the heavy wooden beams of an execution. In morbid fascination, Achim watched as the man stumbled, caught himself, and straightened back up under the weight. Another soldier came next and then another man with the beams of a cross. As rotten vegetables bounced off the man, he leered at the crowd and shouted obscenities. Achim almost thought he had missed Yeshua. The gap between the leering man and next soldier widened. Then the loud strident voice of a man accustomed to being obeyed filled the air.
“Make way! You,” a short pause, “carry this man’s cross.”
Achim strained to see, but the crowd pressed in around them. When the people moved again, Achim saw a burly soldier marching. He swung his sword in front of him to clear the way. Achim hopped back. A man with arms that would have rivaled Shimon’s strained with the large wooden beams. The crowd pelted the man with verbal abuse.
Suddenly time stood still. Achim heard Mariam suck in her breath. At the same moment, brown eyes full of sadness, compassion, and love pierced Achim’s. The boy barely had time to comprehend what he was seeing before the moment passed. With faltering steps, a beaten, bloodied man continued down the road. Around his head thorns the length of a man’s index finger created a crown. Blood poured down his face and stained his garments. Yet, despite the horrific scene, Achim had seen something else in the gaze. Besides sadness, beyond compassion, and even more amazing than the love, Achim had glimpsed hope! Did Yeshua even now still believe he would not die?
The crowd pushed and pulled at Achim. Some moved back into the city and their daily lives, while others followed the condemned. Yochanan guided the women toward Yerushalem’s outer walls.
The memories from that night and the day that followed would forever be etched on Achim’s memory. As clear as the day Achim first met Yeshua, would be the day the boy watched Yeshua die.