Imagine what it would have been like to grow up with Jesus during the formative years of His life…
As the years went by, I noticed many different things about Jesus. For example, He was more in tune with the rabbi’s teaching than the rest of us boys. Often, I would see Him sitting out by Himself under a tree near our village. He wasn’t a loner—He was far from that, but He had a quiet side that was obvious.
In contrast, He also loved being around people. He enjoyed weddings and birthday celebrations. He was very involved in the social aspects of our community. He laughed, played, and visited with all sorts of people; but again, He also needed to get away and be alone.
When we had finished our chores and if the weather permitted, He and I would sometimes go a short distance outside our village and find a spot where we could lie on our backs and look at the clouds. It was fun and peaceful to look at all the vivid formations and imagine what they resembled.
One time, I told Jesus that a group of clouds looked like an army marching to battle. Jesus looked intently for some time at what I had seen, then said, “BB, we need to go home; you’re seeing things!” Then we both busted out laughing.
Nazareth was a great place for a boy to grow up. You cannot see the surrounding country from Nazareth because it lies in a basin; but the moment you climb to the edge of the basin to a vantage point on the outskirts of town, the view is overwhelming. You can see thirty miles in three directions.
Up there, we would talk about all the things that had shaped the history of Israel. We could see twenty battlefields, including the sites of Barak’s and Gideon’s victories and of Saul’s and Josiah’s defeats. We could also see Naboth’s vineyard and the place of Jehu’s revenge upon Jezebel, in addition to Carmel and the place of Elijah’s sacrifice. To the east stretched the Valley of Jordan, with the long range of Gilead, and to the west we could spot the radiance of the Mediterranean Sea.
All the stories we had heard about were right before us every day to imagine and talk about. We could envision these events unfolding right before our eyes. We would go out to the same spot at night and look at the stars. Those were amazing times. Jesus would talk about the vastness of the stars and the heavens as if He knew what was out there. I attributed what He said to His great imagination. Little did I know.
Do I think Jesus knew who He was? Probably not at first, but after He grew and matured, I’m sure He knew very well who He was. I remember hearing Him talking to someone as we went about our daily activities, and I would ask Him who He was talking to. He responded without hesitation,
“I’m talking to God. BB, God is everywhere and in all things. We need not go to the synagogue to talk to Him. He is wherever we are. We can talk to Him as we talk to each other. He can be as real to us as we want Him to be. We don’t have to do anything to conjure up His presence. His presence is all around us. Look at the sky, the birds, the flowers, the stars, the deer; all of His creation is near us, and so is He. It’s up to us.”
Jesus and His parents often went to visit their relatives, Zacharias and Elizabeth in Ein Karen, a village only five miles from Jerusalem. Frequently, my parents would let me go with Jesus and His family. The trip took a few days, but it was always fun traveling with them.
Because Ein Karen was so close to Jerusalem, we would go into the big city often. It was always filled with energy and excitement, and it made the small town of Nazareth seem boring.
We had a great time playing with John. At the beginning of each visit, John and Jesus would greet each other with a big hug that lasted for a few minutes.
Without fail, John would ask me the same question: “Bezalel, do you know the first time Jesus and I met?”
I knew the answer, but I would play along as if I hadn’t heard it before. “No John, tell me what happened the first time you met Jesus.”
Then John would say, “It was like this, Bezalel. Mary had come to visit us while she was carrying Jesus, and my mother was carrying me.”
I would roll my eyes and listen as John continued. “Well, we met when Jesus was in Mary’s belly and I was in my mother’s belly. As soon as Mary came in our door, I jumped in my mother’s belly and it almost knocked her over!”
Jesus and John both would laugh, and John would look at his mother and Mary. “Isn’t that right, Mother?”
Both women would nod and say, “Yes boys, now go along and play while we unpack and get ready for dinner.” This ritual happened on every visit.
Zacharias and Elizabeth were both holy and devout Jews. John’s father was a priest who regularly served God in the Temple at Jerusalem. At first, I thought Zacharias and Elizabeth were John’s grandparents because they were so old. But Jesus told me that they were like Abraham and Sarah, whom God had given a child when they were advanced in years.
What impressed me more than anything in Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s home was the peace of God that filled it. Mary and Joseph would join them in prayer; and Jesus, John, and I would watch intently as they worshipped God. You could feel and almost touch the presence of God in their home.
We three boys had a blast playing together. Those days are still very special in my memory, and I will always cherish the time I got to spend with John and his family.
Jesus told me that John was going to take the vow of a Nazarene when he got a little older. His parents had promised to set him apart for a special work for God. For some reason, I always sensed that they all knew something I didn’t. It’s kind of like they had a special secret that no one but these two families knew. Little did I know!
We boys were about the same age and played together quite well. Never did I feel left out because John and Jesus included me in all their activities. John used to joke about being older than Jesus by six months. Jesus and I were great friends, but the bond He had with John was very special.
Our custom was to go to Jerusalem for Passover ever year. Jesus and His parents were always in our group. On the way to Jerusalem, we would stop at the home of John and his parents. As I said before, they lived very close to Jerusalem, and we usually spent the night at their place before we all went into the city. Jerusalem was always filled with excitement, especially at Passover.
During Passover, the city streets were filled with pilgrims from all over, eating and shopping. There were people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Libya, and Rome; and there were both Jews and proselytes. We could hear every language spoken in the world in Jerusalem during Passover.
Our parents let us boys have a lot of freedom during that week. We went from street to street looking at all the bartering going on among the vendors with the pilgrims.
The aroma of the city was much different during Passover. During this feast, fresh produce was in abundance, and the food being cooked was different than normal. I figured that was because of all the different ethnic backgrounds. During Passover, the merchants were especially busy, their stands bulging with gold jewelry, Persian rugs, cloth from Egypt, and everything else you can imagine. Adding a musical backdrop were musicians who played everywhere we turned in exchange for a little donation from the many pilgrims.
We were from humble means, but during Passover we saw many people who were wealthy. They were the most interesting to watch as they negotiated with merchants for prize products we could only dream of having. We watched these wealthy people eat, drink, and walk through the city spending so much money we couldn’t keep up! Money seemed to mean nothing to them. We couldn’t imagine being so rich.
These people were dressed in the finest clothes we had ever seen. Accompanying them were several servants who carried their belongings. Usually, one servant was designated to handle their money. With their gilded gold robes and jewels, they looked like royalty.
On many occasions, the wealthiest would have the servants carry their wives or daughters on a lectica, a type of portable bed enclosed by curtains. This was a sight to behold!
I don’t know why it was so exciting to see people spend money, but it was. Jesus once said, “Hey guys, we’re having more fun than they are just watching them spend their money.” We all laughed and agreed.
One Passover was different, though. I was getting so excited about going, and didn’t understand why Jesus was acting so different about our upcoming annual trip to Jerusalem. He had just turned 12 and was much more mature than me. He had begun to study the Torah more, and I had seen Him talking to the rabbi more frequently.
As we made our way to Jerusalem this time, Jesus was quieter than usual. As always, we stopped at Zacharias and Elizabeth’s home on the way. Jesus and John spent a lot of time together that trip and, for the first time, I felt like an outsider: two’s company but three’s a crowd. This hurt my feelings. Jesus picked up on my emotions and tried to reassure me that everything was okay. He had a real good sense of when anyone was upset or disturbed about something.
When we got to Jerusalem, Jesus didn’t want to do the things we had done in previous years. He was much more serious this time and went with John to the Temple a lot. They were intently looking at all the surroundings. The Temple had always been a special place, but this year it seemed to impact Jesus and John more than usual.
So much going on in the Temple was awe-inspiring. The building itself was incredible, not including all the other features like the Inner Court and Brazen Altar. Just to think: God’s very Presence was in the Holy of Holies!
Sometimes, we would talk to John’s father, Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, about what it was like to go near the altar of God.
“Boys, it’s never the same,” he said. “Sometimes I sense His presence slightly, and at other times it is overwhelming. I’ve told you many times about when I was there and an angel appeared to me to tell me that we would have a son in our old age. That day, I was startled and was gripped with fear. That day, the presence of God was very intense.” None of us tired of hearing that story.
When we came to the place where the merchants were exchanging the different currencies for the pilgrims, Jesus stopped for some time and studied the process. He said nothing, and we didn’t either. He seemed troubled by what He saw. After a while, He walked away without saying anything else.
The last few days of our trip, I didn’t spend much time with Jesus and John. They didn’t seem to be as interested in the sights and sounds as I was, so a few other buddies and I spent the last few days doing our normal thing: people-watching.
After the Passover, we got up one morning before daylight and left Jerusalem to go back home. I was still tired from the stimulation of the trip, so I tried to sleep as much as possible that first day in our wagon. After three days of travel, Mary came to our wagon. “Belzalel, have you seen Jesus?”
“No, I haven’t seen Him in several days.” We looked through the entire caravan, asking if anyone had seen Him, but to no avail. Worried, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem to look for Jesus.
Back in Nazareth, the entire village was hoping for good news when Mary and Joseph returned. I had been hurt when Jesus hadn’t wanted to do our usual activities during Passover, but I had soon gotten over it and was eager to see my friend back home. I was worried about Him.
Finally, after several days, as I was chopping wood near the edge of our village, I saw a group of people in the distance. When they came closer, I could see that it was Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I was so excited that I began to run as fast as I could to greet them! Jesus began to run toward me also. When we met, we embraced like long lost friends.
We never talked about where He had been or what He had done. It didn’t matter to me. My best friend was back.
Like I said previously, I was always a bit short and immature for my age, but one summer I began to grow taller at a rapid pace. I ate everything in sight, but still was as skinny as a rail. My mother jokingly would say, “BB, you either have a tapeworm or a hollow leg.” I knew my legs weren’t hollow, because they ached every night when I went to bed. My parents told me that was normal when you’re in a growing period.
Another thing that was changing was my feelings toward girls. In our community, we could play with girls when we were little; but when we got older, the adults separated the boys from the girls as much as possible.
As a youngster, I never had liked to play with girls, and the only time I would do so was when there were no boys around. I had seen the change toward girls that some of the older boys had, but I never thought I would act that goofy about a silly girl. But the older I got, something strange began to take place: The girls were beginning to develop into young ladies, and you would have to be a fool not to notice.
One day was a life-changer for me. The family of the Rabbi Abaye who once lived in our village was moving back; as a matter of fact, his family had lived right next door to our house, and were planning to return to the same house.
They had a little girl, Leah, who had been around 10 when they had moved from Nazareth to Azotus. Leah had always shown up at the wrong time and said the wrong things, and, like most girls, she had gotten on my nerves. The last time I had seen her, she had two teeth missing—and when she smiled, I couldn’t help but laugh; she was so awkward and ugly.
The village planned a great feast to celebrate the return of their family to Nazareth, but all I could think of was their ugly daughter. I know it was wrong to judge people by their appearance, but I couldn’t help but wonder how unattractive Leah must be now that she’s older.
The day the family arrived, it looked like a wedding reception with all the food and wine. The entire village was present for the homecoming of our rabbi. As he and his family came through the gate, the music and celebration began.
The crowd rushed toward them, and you could hardly see the family. As I made my way toward the front of the crowd, Rabbi Abaye was introducing his family. One by one, he called out their names. Leah’s brothers had grown up, and I barely recognized them; and I didn’t see Leah or their mother.
Then the rabbi got up on the covered wagon to help his wife get out, and behind her came her daughter. As Leah stepped down out of the wagon with the help of her oldest brother, James, everyone in the village was speechless. Leah was beautiful—the most beautiful person I had ever seen!
She was not a young girl, but a full-blown woman. She had long, silky, onyx-black hair that shimmered in the bright sunlight. Her skin was creamy golden, like butter. She was fully developed and well proportioned.
Then, as if a lightning bolt struck me between the eyes and almost knocked me to my knees, she looked directly at me with dark brown eyes that put a spell on me. I became useless, numb, and dizzy, staring at her.
I looked over at Jesus, who was looking at me and laughing.
“What are you laughing about?” I asked.
He was so tickled He couldn’t talk.
Again, “What’s so funny?”
I knew He was laughing at me, and it made me mad.
He finally regained His composure. “BB, I wish you could have seen your face.” He stopped talking and began to laugh again, which really incensed me. I knew I looked like a fool, but I didn’t appreciate my best friend making fun of me.
Again, He tried to stifle His laughter to tell me how I looked as I was watching Leah get out of the cart, but He just couldn’t stop chuckling to get the words out. This really got on my nerves. I finally shouted, “Shut up!” and walked away.
Jesus came after me. “I’m sorry, but I wish you could have seen your expression when you saw Leah,” He said. “Your eyes were popping out and your mouth was wide open, like this.” He made a funny face trying to imitate what He had seen. He looked so ridiculous that we both laughed so hard our stomachs hurt.
“No one was looking at you but me,” Jesus said. “The whole village was fixated on Leah. I just happened to look over at you. I couldn’t help myself.”
By then I was fine and quickly got over my angry spell. How could I stay mad at my best friend? Besides, what he had said was true.
The entire village stopped all activity for three days to celebrate the return of our beloved rabbi and his family—and during the duration, all the boys my age couldn’t get enough of watching Leah’s every move.
Unfortunately for all of us wanna-be courtiers, Leah’s parents had previously arranged the marriage of their daughter to one of Jesus’ relatives who once lived in Nazareth but who had moved a short distance to the town of Cana. The lucky fellow was a relative of Mary and Jesus: Simon Kamanaios.
I was beside myself knowing that Leah would now be living right next door. After festivities concluded, I made myself available to help them settle in. I would jump to help with anything they wanted done. I even helped with chores that I wasn’t asked to do. I found any reason I could just to be near Leah.
“BB, I’ve never seen you so helpful and energetic,” my mother said to me. “What has gotten into you?”
My father would just grin and shake his head. They both knew exactly why I was behaving this way.
After the neighbors had settled in, I was not allowed to go to their house. Father and Mother made that clear. The family needed their privacy, and most of all, it wasn’t appropriate for a young man and a young woman to spend time alone—and on top of that, Leah was already spoken for and would soon be married.
When I talked to Jesus about Leah, He agreed like all the other young men that she was the most beautiful girl He had ever seen. Wherever she went, the old and the young alike turned their heads.
As the days wore on, the thrill I had felt about Leah’s family moving next door became a torment. I couldn’t keep my mind off of the young woman, and some of the thoughts I had about her were not pure.
One night, I went into the room where we stored our water pots. While I was there, I heard through the wall water being poured into a basin. Our outside wall was next to Leah’s outside patio.
My parents were already asleep and were not aware of where I was. As I looked through a crack in the wall, I could see the silhouette of Leah taking a bath. This caused strong physical feelings that I knew were not right, but I could not stop looking. Night after night, I would go to this same spot to try to catch a glimpse of Leah bathing. More often than not, she wasn’t there, but ever so often, I would time it just right.
One night, there was a full moon. Peering through the crack in the wall, I waited to see if she would appear. To my delight, she came outside for her bath. My heart began to race, pounding in my chest! I knew all along, though, that these feelings were not right.
The light from the full moon was so bright that I could see everything. Afterwards, I could not get the scene out of my mind. My thoughts constantly returned to that moonlit night. Whenever I saw Leah, the image of her bathing that night is what I saw in my mind. As the days went by, my frustration and guilt grew. I was embarrassed and ashamed to mention it to anyone. My secret and my torment were for me to bear alone.
Jesus could tell that something was bothering me. He would ask me about it and say I wasn’t being myself, but I would shrug off His concern for weeks by making one excuse after another. Finally, however, I swallowed my pride and shame and told Him exactly what was on my mind.
To my surprise, He understood. He didn’t condemn me, but He didn’t excuse my behavior either.
“Bezalel, the impulses you are feeling are normal and are placed in you by God,” He said. “They are fundamentally good, but can be distorted by sin. You must use self-control.
“To look upon a woman with lust in your heart is a sin. From this day forward, look upon Leah as beautiful and thank God for her beauty, but view her and treat her as you would your sister Alexandria.”
Jesus always knew the right things to say. It wasn’t anything new or something I hadn’t heard before, but He made it seem so simple and so clear. Just talking about it helped me so much. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to talk to Him.
Becoming a Carpenter
Things were pretty much back to normal in our little village. I was beginning to learn my father’s trade, and Jesus was becoming a skilled carpenter. Although I was neither content nor satisfied about my apprenticeship as a stonemason, the tradition of our people is for a son to continue in the trade of his father’s family. Our family had produced some of the finest stonemasons in Israel. We were called the master craftsmen of our trade, and my family and father took great pride in our heritage.
What I didn’t like most about my apprenticeship was the time that it took me away from Jesus. One day, I asked my father if it would be okay for me to not become a stonemason, but rather to become a carpenter. My father was not pleased. He ignored me at first, and then gave me a good lecture about our family tradition.
As the months went by, I became more miserable, and my father could easily tell. Finally, He said, “Bezalel, it troubles me that you show no interest in your work. I have always taught you to do the best at whatever your hand finds to do. You are not living up to the tradition of a true craftsman of our trade. What is the problem, my son?”
Before I could answer, he said, “A man must love his work. He must look forward to waking up every morning and fulfilling his God-given talent. I’ve seen you working in Joseph’s shop and I recognize your talent at carpentry. I will not stand in your way; I will talk to Joseph tomorrow and see if he will take you on as an apprentice carpenter.”
My father was a wise and good man. The next day, he met with Joseph, and both agreed to give it a try. I was elated! I looked over at Jesus, and by His expression I could see that He, too, was happy.
Not only did I learn my trade well, but the wisdom that came from Joseph and Jesus was worth the whole experience. People of all kinds came to Joseph’s shop for counsel and advice. My time spent in their shop gave me the best education a young man could ever get.
Jesus and I were now no longer boys, but grown men doing men’s work and learning not only our trade, but how to think and act like responsible men. Their shop was a gathering place for all the men of our village. Every day, our “regulars” stopped by to visit and talk about the issues of the day.
Joseph was getting older and needed help doing most of the heavy work, so Jesus and I did as much as we could to keep him from overdoing it. Joseph had been a good teacher so that Jesus could carry on with the jobs as need be.
The reputation of the carpentry shop spread far and wide. I was proud and privileged to work with such fine craftsmen who had a reputation of perfection in their work and honesty in their dealings with their customers. Other carpenters came by often to get advice and just watch us at work. Many carpenters would send their apprentices or sons to our shop to observe us at work. This made me very proud.
Jesus often reminded me of the Bezalel of the Torah whom God had gifted and chosen as His chief artisan to build the tabernacle, and who was in charge of building the Ark of the Covenant. “Bezalel, you’re named after the greatest woodcarver of all time,” He would say. “Think about that; the greatest carpenter that ever lived and you’re named after him.” This always made me feel proud and caused me to take much gratification in my trade.
The stream of visitors coming in and out of the shop didn’t bother us. Often, people would come by just to explain a problem they might be having with their children, their wives, or with others in the village.
Joseph and Jesus would listen intently without interruption as each person spoke, then there was a period of silence as they thoughtfully looked at one another. Only when the time was right would one of them speak. Never did they speak at the same time, as if they knew which of them was to answer the question or give the advice.
The children of Nazareth were particularly drawn to Jesus. Sometimes our work would stop because of these little ones wanting to talk to Jesus or simply to just be around Him. Being the impatient type, I would say to them, “Kids run along; we have work to do.” But not Jesus—He took the time for each one of them.
Little Esther came by to see us every day. She had Down syndrome and was the sweetest child in our village. She would run through the door every day at about the same time, saying in a loud voice, “Jesus, Jesus, give me a hug!”
After she gave Jesus a big hug, it was my turn. “Now BB, give Esther a hug.” I didn’t get impatient with her. She was a joy, and Jesus and I both looked forward to her early-morning visits.
Esther was prone to respiratory problems, so sometimes she wasn’t able to make her daily visit to our shop. But one week, she missed several days, so Jesus and I got concerned. Finally, Jesus said, “I’m going to check on Esther. I should be back shortly.” I waited expectantly for His return with news about our little friend.
When He walked through the door, I could see His concern. “Well,” I said impatiently, “how is she?”
“Not good,” Jesus said. “Her mother said she usually gets over these spells of illness in a few days, but this time is different.” Neither of us said a word the rest of the afternoon.
Shortly afterward, Esther died, and the entire village mourned. Jesus and I missed seeing her smile and receiving her big hugs. For days, we talked about how sweet she had been and how much joy she had brought to everyone’s life.
One day, I asked Jesus, “Why would God end the life of such a precious little one like Esther so soon?”
He looked up for a few minutes in deep thought, and then looked down at me. Focusing His eyes upon mine, He said, “This is hard for we humans to understand, but Esther’s life has not ended. She is like an angel before God.”
Jesus continued speaking. “Do you believe in the resurrection?” He asked me.
“Well, sure I do,” I answered.
“Regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to us by God, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB?’ God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Esther is alive with God.”
As if Esther’s death was not enough, Jesus had to face another loss just a few months later.
His constant companion and friend, Raah, had followed his master everywhere, and by his unconditional love and devotion to Jesus, had created a bond that worked its way into his master’s heart. Although Raah had lived a long life for a dog, it was still hard to think about letting him go.
Coming home one afternoon, I saw Jesus holding Raah like a mother would hold her infant child. Raah was still alive, holding on like a true champion. Every breath he took was laborious and obviously painful.
I could see in the face of Jesus the hurt He was feeling as He saw his little friend helpless and without hope. Mary was also there crying softly. Jesus looked at me as I approached. “Bezalel, my good buddy is not going to make it this time.” Raah had been sick many times due to his age, but each time before, he would surprise us and recover.
As I looked intently at Raah cradled in Jesus’ arms, I saw his weak eyes looking up at Jesus. At times, he would shut them, but he managed to open them ever so slightly to get one more glance at his Master. He even tried to lick Jesus in the face. Seeing the efforts of His dear friend, Jesus bent down so the dog could lick His face, and Jesus kissed him, tears running down His cheek.
As for me, I was a basket case. I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes as I saw my best friend so sad over the pain and suffering of his loyal companion. Raah made one last attempt to kiss Jesus, but didn’t have the strength. He gave one last breath and was gone.
With a final kiss to the top of His beloved dog’s head, Jesus said quietly, “I love you Raah; you have been such a faithful friend.”
Then Jesus went into His woodshop and returned with a beautiful box He had made for this occasion. He asked me to go with Him to the place He, Raah, and I always went together. It was getting late and the sun would soon be going down. Walking with the box cradled in His arms like He had been holding Raah, we walked toward the place not saying a word. As we were walking, I looked at Jesus. He was staring directly at our destination in the distance with tears running like a river down His face. He could not hide the sadness in His heart for His dear friend.
As we reached our destination, Jesus and I dug a hole for Raah’s small coffin; and Jesus gently placed the vessel in the earth. After covering the grave, He said a brief prayer, thanking God for the opportunity of having such a faithful and loving friend for so many years.
Not looking at me, but staring intently at the grave of His dear friend, Jesus said, “Bezalel, you are one of my best friends, but there was something special about the friendship between me and my little buddy. He was so faithful. Every step I took, he was there. At night he slept beside my bed. I will miss him so much. I loved him so much, and I never doubted his love for me.”
For a few minutes, Jesus silently looked at the grave, then lifted His head to the surrounding vista. He stood in this pose for the longest, then turned to thank me for helping Him.
As we walked back home, Jesus reminisced about the times He and Raah had spent together. He talked about the funny little ways of Raah. We both began to chuckle as we remembered how he had cocked his head as if he understood Jesus when He would talk to him in the shop. We both had such fond memories of Jesus’ little friend.
One day as Jesus and I were on our way to Capernaum to buy a cartload of cedar planks, a group of Roman soldiers was traveling in front of us on the road. We were traveling faster than the soldiers because our cart was empty, and as we began to pass them, my heart sank with fear on one hand and hatred on the other.
“Bezalel, don’t say a word or look in their direction,” Jesus told me as we were about to pass the group on the right side of the road. He had seen my response to Roman soldiers before and was quite aware of my quick temper. My mouth often got me in more trouble than I would like to admit.
The soldiers were walking at a slow pace and carrying their belongings on their shoulders. As we were about halfway past the group, one said in a loud, demanding voice, “Hey, Jew boy, stop your cart!”
Everything in me wanted to pop my whip and make our donkeys go faster so we could pass them, and soon be out of their sight.
I knew the Romans couldn’t catch us because of the heavy burdens they were carrying. We were walking beside the cart, and could easily run beside the donkeys and be well out of their sight in no time. But before I could do anything, Jesus had stopped the cart. The soldiers started piling their belongings on it until it could hold no more.
All but two soldiers were able to load their stuff on the cart. One of the soldiers whose belongings didn’t fit said, “Here, Jew boy, carry mine,” and handed his bundle to me. This sort of treatment by the Romans was normal, but I never could get accustomed to it, and I’m sure they could see the resentment and hatred in my face and in my eyes. They were as used to it as we were to their cruelty.
Jesus responded differently, however. As the Romans were loading our cart, He helped arrange it so that the parcels wouldn’t fall off as we traveled the rough rocky road. The soldiers mistook His actions as fear and begin to mock Him: “That’s a good Jew boy! He knows how to treat His masters, or we will beat the hell out of Him.”
They laughed, then looked toward me and said, “You better do the same, boy.” I stood there with both fists clenched, biting my lip and trying with all my might to stay calm like Jesus.
One soldier who had been watching us turned his back to Jesus, then whirled around and slapped Him to the ground. The others laughed and began to cheer their comrade’s action.
Without a word, Jesus got to His feet, dusted off, and wiped the blood from the corner of His mouth. Then He picked up the soldier’s bundle, threw it over His shoulder, and began walking toward our destination.
The travelers viewed Jesus’ response as weakness, but I saw it as strength under control. Never in our years together did I see Jesus respond otherwise. For, you see, Jesus was one of the strongest men I had ever known. To see Him respond with such courage revealed His inner strength, control, and character. This is one of the things I admired the most about Him.
We knew we would have to go with the Romans wherever they said. We had no idea how far they were traveling or where they were going, so Jesus asked one of the officers where they were headed.
“That’s none of your concern,” the soldier said. “Do what you’re told and we will not hurt you.”
There was a long silence, then, looking straight ahead, the soldier continued, “We’re going to Migdal.”
That news was a relief to us, because Migdal was just a few miles this side of Capernaum. If everything went okay, we could make the trip in four days.
After about two hours of walking, we saw dark storm clouds coming out of the west. As they approached, the light of the hot sun diminished and the temperature dropped considerably, to our pleasure, and the rain began to fall.
At first, the shower was refreshing and enjoyable, but soon the wind began to blow violently with flashes of lightning. I knew better than to seek shelter under a tree, because my father’s uncle had been killed many years before when he had been standing under a tree during a lightning storm.
As the squall intensified, the lightning came closer and closer, each strike revealing its nearness within seconds of the roaring thunder.
Within a few seconds, though, the thunder no longer rumbled and roared, but cracked with the lightning simultaneously.
We had nowhere to escape from this violent storm. The once-hardened faces of the cruel soldiers turned to expressions of fear and panic. As I dropped to the ground, face down and praying not to die, I cautiously looked up and saw Jesus standing on the road looking up at the vicious storm, hands raised to the sky.
There seemed to be no end of the lightning as it lit up everything, including Jesus’ face. “Jesus!” I shouted over and over, but the deafening thunder was so intense that He could not hear me. I again hid my face in the mud, thinking that would somehow protect me from the bolts of lightning striking the ground like flaming swords thrown from Heaven. None of us thought we could survive such a storm.
But gradually, the thunder, lightning, and rain subsided. As we got to our feet, muddy and wet, we were surprised that we had not perished. Most of the soldiers had witnessed what I had: Jesus standing during the entire storm, His hands raised to the heavens.
Most of the men looked at Him in bewilderment, not saying a word. Finally, the soldier who had slapped Jesus said, “That Jew is crazy! Completely nuts!” Others nodded in agreement or looked dumbfounded about His reaction.
“He must have favor with Zeus,” one soldier said, referring to the god of the sky, rain, lightning, and thunder.
“Shut up, you idiot,” the other man said. “It has nothing to do with your stupid gods; He’s just plain crazy!”
One thing about it: We were all muddy and wet, but Jesus was only wet. The soldier who said Jesus was crazy said, “He may be nuts, but He’s not muddy.” They all laughed, looking at Jesus as He laughed along with them.
As we traveled down the road, the mud dried and caked all over us in the hot desert sun. Finally, we came to a small creek—a welcome sight—where we rinsed off. We had gotten a late start on our trip that day from Nazareth, and because of the storm found ourselves behind schedule. The commander of the soldiers ordered the company to stop.
“The sun is going down and bandits frequent this road, especially at night,” he said. “We will spend the night here and station a guard-watch rotation. Each one will have a two-hour watch.”
“Unload the cart and hang your belongings over there,” he directed, pointing to a grove of trees by the road. “They should be good and dry in a few hours, and then repack them before the morning dew.” Then, pointing to two soldiers, he barked, “You two gather some wood to build a fire for tonight—and hurry up; it will be dark soon.”
After the fire was built, we began to warm ourselves. The soldier who had slapped Jesus looked at Him and said, “Hey, Jew boy, are you crazy, or were you praying to your God for protection?”
One of the other soldiers said, “Yeah, what god do you worship?”
Jesus didn’t say a word until the soldier said, “Speak up, Jew boy, or I’ll kill you and your friend. We need your cart for the rest of the trip, but we don’t need you!”
“Yes, I was praying to my God,” Jesus said.
“Why do you Jews only have one god?” the soldier asked.
Jesus looked intently at him and began to explain the history of our faith, beginning with Abraham and continuing to the prophets, our current day, and the hopes of our people for our soon-coming Messiah. I had never heard such a concise and simple explanation of our beliefs.
After Jesus finished speaking, one soldier said, “I know a Roman centurion who worships the Jews’ God!” Another soldier replied, “You’re a fool; no Roman centurion in his right mind would believe such nonsense!” The first soldier continued, “Yes it’s true; he lives in Caesarea, where he built the Jews a synagogue.”
The exchange continued. “You fool, you’re crazy too. Just for that you take the first watch, you moron; I’m sleepy.”
The soldier looked at Jesus with cold, steely eyes and said not a word. Jesus and the soldier steadily looked at one another for what seemed to be several minutes. Jesus finally spoke, looking sympathetic. “I pray that someday you will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart willing to repent and turn to God.” The soldier turned and walked away from Jesus, unwilling—or unable—to say a word.
The next day, we made our way past Cana to IIaniya, then on our journey toward Magdala, which took about three more days. When we came to their destination, the commander ordered us to unload the cart and sent us on our way.
We arrived in Capernaum late that evening and spent the night with a relative of Jesus. The next morning, we purchased the cedar planks and set out for home. Sometimes we would walk for hours without saying a word to one another. This gave me plenty of time to think of something I wanted to ask Him.
“What do you think happens to us after we die?” I asked Him. “I know the rabbis say we all go to Sheol, but what do you think happens to us? Is there some kind of afterlife after we die?”
We were approaching an oasis surrounded by a grove of trees between the villages of Moshaz, Arbel and IIaniya, and Jesus said, “Let us stop here for a rest.”
I gladly agreed. Again, I asked Him, “What do you think happens to us after we die?”
Jesus still didn’t answer, and I waited for his response. After both of us had gotten a drink of water and watered our donkeys, we sat down.
Then He began to speak. “Bezalel, Heaven is real. God lives there with His angels. The Torah speaks much about Heaven and the angels, but it is not like any place on earth that can be described in human words. Nothing about it or those who reside there can be understood by the human mind.”
He continued, “You will be like an angel in heaven. You will be a spiritual being with a spiritual body, not like a human being with a physical body. The resurrection is not merely life continuing where it left off after you die, but a complete change of life.
“Angels have visited this earth in the form of humans many times, but in Heaven they are spiritual beings. Nothing in Heaven remotely resembles anything on earth.”
Reaching down, Jesus picked up an acorn that had fallen from the shade tree above us. “Look at this acorn. Does it look at all like this tree we find ourselves under? No, but inside this little acorn there is a tree. Before you die, BB, you are like the acorn. Let me explain: your present earthly body is like the acorn. Your heavenly body is like the tree. BB, does this acorn look anything like this big shade tree? Of course not!
“When angels visit us on earth, they must take on human bodies for our benefit, so they can be seen and understood by us. In Heaven, they don’t need bodies like ours. They only appear as humans for our benefit. Does that make sense?”
“Sure, Jesus,” I answered. “You always make things so clear.”
Turning His eyes directly toward me, as if to make a strong point, Jesus said, “Bezalel, if God wanted to come down and talk to you as we are talking right now, He would appear to you in a physical body just like mine.”
After He said this, the look in His eyes was startling! Neither of us said a word for some time. Then we prepared our donkeys for the continuation of our journey.