In a tiny, unpretentious house in the village known as Beth-lehem, House of Bread," bunches of lavender dried in the rafters of the main room, filling the place with sweet aroma. The seder supper was finished. The stories of Israel's deliverance from bondage in Egypt had all been sung. The clutter of empty dishes remained stacked on the table.
Three boys and a sheepdog shared a bed made of soft fleece. Avel, aged nine, lay between five-year-old Emet and eleven-year-old Ha-or Tov.
Emet and Ha-or Tov were drowsy, nearly asleep. Avel, eyes heavy, listened to the soft voices of two men engaged in conversation. Red Dog blinked at the firelight.
Zadok, Chief Shepherd of the flocks and herds of Israel, was old. A patch covered one eye. Skin was like leather, face split by the scar of an ancient wound. His voice and that of his Passover guest, Yeshua of Nazareth, drifted into the bedchamber. "But if not now, when?" Zadok inquired of Yeshua.
Avel strained to hear Yeshua's reply.
In the history of the world, had there ever been a more important question? So many things depended on the answer. Redemption. Freedom. Vengeance against Roman oppressors and corrupt religious rulers.
Avel rested his cheek on his hand. Zadok was not asking one question, but many.
When would Yeshua openly declare His right to the throne of David?
When would He take His place at the head of an army to drive the Romans from Jerusalem and Israel?
When would He avenge the blood of those who had fallen victim to Roman swords within the Temple courts only today in Jerusalem?
"If not now, Lord, when?"
And who had more right to know than Zadok? Zadok, who as a young man had been among the first shepherds to see the angels and hear their heavenly proclamation that the Messiah had been born in a lambing barn at Beth-lehem.
Zadok, who had brought first word of the miraculous event to the elders of the Temple as he delivered the young lambs of Beth-lehem and Migdal Eder for the daily sacrifice.
Zadok, who had made room in his own home for the young mother, her husband, and the newborn baby king. Zadok, who had secretly sent the family on their way to safety as the soldiers of the old butcher king, Herod, had come by night to kill every male child under the age of two in the village. Zadok, whose face had been ripped open by a Roman gladius in his battle to save his children.
Zadok, who had buried three tiny boys while the keening of his wife, Rachel, echoed across the pastures of Migdal Eder to be heard as far away as Ramah.
Zadok, who had kept his holy vow of silence about the whereabouts of the promised King of Israel for thirty-two years until tonight. Did a man who suffered so much not deserve to know why? What had it all been for?
Yeshua, His gaze fixed intently on the old man, did not answer at first. Then He grasped Zadok's hand. "You were the first to hear. The first to believe. The first to suffer loss for my sake. Your babies are the first martyrs. Surely you've known, old friend, that it was no accident that the Son of David was born in a stable among the lambs set apart for sacrifice in the Temple of Yerushalayim. That same child born thirtytwo years ago in Beth-lehem is korban, that which is holy and set apart for the purposes of the heavenly Father."
"But what can it mean?" Zadok's voice was intense.
"Zadok? You're Chief Shepherd of the Temple flock. You tend the lambs for sacrifice. Can it be that you've forgotten the words spoken by the prophet Isaias about the Messiah?"
Zadok waved a hand. Evidently, Avel thought, the old man did not want to be reminded of that part of the Scripture. "So much written about what is korban. How can an old man be expected to remember it all?"
Yeshua stroked His beard. Without taking His eyes from the shepherd He said, "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led as a lamb to slaughter."
That was all. As if it explained anything!
Ha-or Tov, now wide awake, whispered to Avel, "What does Yeshua mean? What do the sacrificial lambs raised here in the fields of Bethlehem have to do with Messiah, the Redeemer?"
"I think he's talking about the riots today," Avel replied.
"The penalty for breaking the commands of the Almighty," Yeshua continued, "is death. That curse now rests on every human soul. Redemption costs something, Zadok, my old friend. It is written by Isaias about the Son of Man, 'Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. . . . He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. . . the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.'"
Zadok leaned close. Firelight glowed golden on his face. "Can the cost of our salvation be so high?"
"Tomorrow I'll be teaching in Beth-Anyah."
"So close to Yerushalayim! You'll draw the wolves out along with the sheep. You put yourself at their mercy." "A day is coming when they will understand God's Mercy."
"But not that way, Lord! Tell me it won't be!"
"God's love for each person is that profound."
"There must be another way! Crush our enemies! Call down fire from heaven! Destroy the wicked! Set up a kingdom in Yerushalayim like our shepherd-king, David! Like you, he was born here in Bethlehem!"
"Zadok, when the soldiers of Herod came to Beth-lehem to kill every baby boy, you sought to save your three sons." Yeshua touched the scar on Zadok's cheek. Avel fixed his eyes on the scene, remembering his own healing. But this time Yeshua did not make the jagged line smooth again or restore the eye lost in the battle, though Avel knew He could have done so. "This scar is proof of your love for your children." "I failed. I am alive and my babies are in their graves."
"Not for want of effort. You would have died to save your little ones. I know you. Even now you'd face a lion and lay down your life to save your flocks. Can the Son sent by the Father do any less for the flock given to him? Would you deny the Lord the honor of wounds and scars that will be eternal proof of how much he loves you?"
"I will die for you, Lord."
"He was led like a lamb to slaughter."
"But I am more ready to give up my own life! Gladly!"
"One day it may be so. Anyone who lays down his life for my sake will find it. God so loved the world that whoever believes in his Son will never die but will inherit eternal life. But first, the good shepherd will lay down his life to save his flock. That price must be paid to redeem those the Father has given to me. The prophecy of what will happen is all there, recorded by Moses and the prophets. They longed to see what you see, to hear what you have heard. The battle for mankind will be won."
"Rabbi, will we fight the enemy then? Together?"
"Don't misunderstand, old friend . . . by his wounds we are healed."
The prophecy hung like the scent of lavender on the air. Then, inexplicably, Avel saw a tangible sorrow grip the old man, as if he remembered something. What was the meaning of it? Avel wondered. What had that fragment of verse awakened in the old man's understanding? Shoulders sagged. With a groan Zadok bowed his head. Ran crooked fingers through his thatch of white hair. What did Zadok hear that Avel did not?
After a long time the aged shepherd pleaded, "Ah! No! And after such a fine beginning. I looked up! Saw the stars shinin' there above us in the field. Such joy we felt. What a beautiful baby boy! Such hope! What's it for? It can't be meant to end so ill!"
Silence descended. Then, finally, Yeshua replied, "It can't be any other way."
"Next year in Yerushalayim. Passover."
"I won't attend." Zadok raised his chin defiantly.
But Avel knew the truth of it: Yes, Zadok would be there.
Yeshua stood and smiled. "Never mind, old friend. I'll see you again. Soon." He glanced at Red Dog. "The faithful ones are gone. Wolves lead the flock of Israel. They won't let you rest."
Zadok's lower lip shot out. "Get yourself out of Judea! Y' knowwhat they'll do! The office of high priest is bought and paid for. They fear you. And after today? What happened in the Temple? They'll findsome way to blame you for it."
"It isn't yet my time."
"Y' must leave! Thirty years ago I warned your mother and Joseph to leave. Go to Egypt. To Alexandria. There are true Israelites in Alexandria. They have a temple there where some might listen. Them that hold the power in Yerushalayim now will use their might against you as Herod, the great butcher, once tried. Caiaphas as high priest is in league with the Romans. Up to the neck. Herod Antipas depends on Roman soldiers to keep the people from revolution and the Nabatean king from attacking. It's a dangerous time for us all." "Men's souls have a fiercer enemy than Rome. More terrible than Herod Antipas. Don't be afraid of those who have power to kill the body. Beware of one who will destroy your soul if he can."
Yeshua glanced toward Avel, Emet, and Ha-or Tov. "Follow the shepherd," he said to the boys. "Learn from him. Listen to no other voice and you will live!" Then He placed His hand on Zadok's shoulder in farewell. "Teach them Torah as the Lord commands a father to teach his children. Zadok! Take care of my lambs!"
Zadok nodded, unable to speak.
The two clasped hands. "I'll see you soon. Won't I?" A flash of understanding appeared to pass between them. Avel fought the urge to run to Yeshua, to wrap his arms around Him and beg Him not to leave them unprotected. Yeshua touched His finger to the mezuzah, the small rectangular case containing a fragment of Scripture. This was the covenant-mark placed on the doorpost of every Jewish house in remembrance of the blood of the Passover lamb.
In a gentle voice Yeshua whispered the blessing: "The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."
Yeshua's benediction seemed a promise that the Lord Himself would watch over them, Avel thought. Why then was Avel afraid to see Him go? Even with hope that the Lord would preserve them, death felt very close. Wolves were stalking the flock, nipping at the heels of the Good Shepherd and all who followed Him.
The two men embraced. Without a backward glance, Yeshua strode into the night.
Excerpted from FIRST LIGHT (A. D. Chronicles, No. 1) © Copyright 2003 by Bodie and Brock Thoene. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.