It is the most vivid memory I have from childhood—the day I met Jesus. I grew up telling the story to my friends, then to my children, and now I am able to tell it to my children’s children. It warms my heart that they want to know the details—that they are absolutely awestruck that I was once held in the arms of the One they acknowledge as Messiah.
I was about seven years of age when he came through our region. He was on his way to Jerusalem with his followers. My mother had heard many stories of his miracles from the local women, and she would often share these stories with us as we went to bed each night. My younger brother and I hung on every word, and we prayed for him to come to our town. Even our newborn baby sister seemed to quiet in my mother’s arms when she began to speak of him.
The only other important people to come through our town were Romans or members of the Sanhedrin, or other religious people. However, none of them were friendly, and we stayed far away from them to avoid trouble. Jesus of Nazareth was different. If my mother’s stories were true, he was kind to everyone—even sinners. He made sick people well, and he drove demons out of “troubled” people. Since my brother and I seemed to get ourselves into a lot of trouble, we were excited about meeting this important man that we wouldn’t need to fear. We just hoped that the stories were true. We wanted to see a miracle—something spectacular! We didn’t know of any lepers or demon-possessed people living nearby, but surely there were sick people who would want to be healed. There were a crippled man and a blind man that begged by the synagogue. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see him heal those people?
My father was not inclined to talk about him. He worked all day and didn’t say much when he came home in the evenings. The only time he really talked about such things was on the Sabbath, or on feast days. My mother lit the candles, and my father would come entertain us with the story of Moses, Elijah, and other great heroes of our past. While those candles burned, he would tell us about all the amazing things that God had done for our people in times past, before the Romans. In those days, we had other enemies, like Egypt. His stories were about things that had happened hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. I asked him once why God didn’t do those things for us anymore.
He got quiet and said that our people, especially our rulers, had turned their backs on him, and his commands. God had let other nations come in and almost completely destroy us because he wanted to stop all of the evil things the people were doing. When I asked him what kind of evil things, he didn’t really tell me. He just said that some people would rather serve a god that let them do whatever they wanted. I never really did know what he was talking about. He said that even though it had been a very long time, that our God had made promises to his people. He would send someone to free us from all the nations that rule over us. He would set up His kingdom. We had to hold on to the promises and keep obeying the commands of our God. His Deliverer, the Messiah, would come.
When the stories about Jesus of Nazareth began to circulate around town, I asked my father if he thought that this miracle man could be the deliverer. His answer was simple.
“Who knows? We just need to keep believing in our God, and obeying his commands, as we’ve always done. We’ll wait and see what happens with the teacher.”
My mother was fully convinced the Messiah had come, and she let everyone know how she felt. This made my father nervous because the priests and synagogue leaders had already said that he was an evil man, who did not respect our laws. They said he was dangerous.
At home, sometimes my parents got into arguments. My father told my mother we could get kicked out of the synagogue if she didn’t learn to be quiet about these things. He reminded her that we had never even seen him and that there had been many false Messiahs before. He said that if this man was the Messiah, soon everyone would know for sure. Until then, we needed to be careful. My mother reluctantly agreed, but never stopped telling us the new stories she had heard.
We could not have been more excited when he finally came to town. We got up early and packed some food for the day, and we all headed out to hear him talk. There were a lot of people gathered in the courtyard outside the house where he was staying. He talked for a long time, and my brother and I lost our excitement. He wasn’t doing any miracles, just talking. We wandered among the people, listening to them talk. They had a lot to say about this man and his teaching. As I made my way toward the front, I found myself behind our synagogue leaders and could hear them talking. My father was right! It was clear they did not like this man.
“When are they going to put an end to this?” one asked. “He is teaching them to disrespect the law; he blasphemes God, and he disrespects us.”
I once asked my father what “blaspheme” meant, and he told me it was to say things about our God that weren’t true. It was not respecting him. He said it was a dangerous thing to be guilty of blasphemy. I needed to be very careful when I spoke about God, to be sure that my words were true, and that they were respectful. I hadn’t heard this man say anything bad about God, but I had quit listening, so maybe he did. My mother wouldn’t have believed it though, and my father would have been listening closely, trying to figure the man out. He would know if this was true. I would have to ask him later. The thought that maybe we were in the presence of a “blasphemer” was almost as exciting as being in the presence of a miracle man. Either way, I would have a story to tell.
It started to get late, and people began to leave for the evening. We returned to my mother’s side. She was talking with a woman, and I heard her say that she wanted to take her children to meet him. The woman took my mother’s arm and led her toward the house. My parents motioned for us to follow them, and we approached some men who seemed to be guarding the teacher. The woman spoke with the men, and they began shaking their heads. A few other families with children had now joined us.
“Are they unwell?” the big man asked the woman. “Do they have a real need to see him?”
“They only want their children to meet him,” she pleaded. “That he might lay his hands on them.”
“No. I am sorry,” the man replied. “He has finished for the day. He needs to eat, and rest, and I am sure he will soon be seeking time to pray.”
Inside the doorway of the house, the teacher came into view, and he saw us standing with the men. The woman approached the teacher. I wondered who she was. She must have been someone important. They spoke briefly, and his attention turned to the men blocking their way.
I could not remember all of the words that were said that evening, but I heard my parents recite them over and over again in the years to follow.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a little child will never enter it.”
As my brother, sister, and I grew up, we would find ourselves in different kinds of trouble with our parents. Every once in a while, one of them would smile, look toward the sky, and say “The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Then they would exchange a look. When this happened, we knew our punishment would be light. If the words were spoken as a question, with a slight smile, we had nothing to worry about.
At the moment, however, all I needed to hear was “Let the little children come…” I passed by the big men, who just shook their heads, and stepped aside. My brother, being a year younger, followed me, but cautiously. Jesus of Nazareth had already kneeled down in the dirt and opened his arms wide. I was never one who was fearful of strangers, and I ran quickly into his embrace. He wrapped his arms around me, then picked me up, and took a seat on a stone bench in the courtyard. He motioned for my brother and the other children to join him. Lastly, he reached for my baby sister, whom my mother willingly surrendered to him. He cradled her, talked to her that weird way that people talk to babies. She waved her arms in the air and tried to talk back to him like babies do. He laughed and kissed her on the forehead. He then handed her back to my mother.
“This one will be great in the Kingdom of God,” he said to her.
He then laughed and began to talk with us. He asked us what we wanted to say, so I asked him,
“Are you a blasphemer?” I saw my mother’s horrified expression, but my father tried to hide a laugh. When Jesus laughed, he looked relieved, and let the laugh out.
“I always speak the truth about my father in heaven,” he said. “Isn’t that what your father taught you that you should do too?”
“Sometimes people don’t like what I say, because they don’t understand things the way that you do. Sometimes people—people that seem important—have eyes, but don’t see, or ears, but don’t hear. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” I told him. “Sometimes people call me bad names too, and I want to fight them. What do you do?”
His face looked sad for a moment.“I teach people to love their enemies, and to do good to those who hate them; to bless those that curse them, and to pray for those that treat them badly. Can you do that?”
“I don’t know. I think I will need to work on that one.” I admitted, looking over again to see nervous expressions on the faces of my parents.
“I know that you have good ears! If you want to fight, remember this. The best way to fight is to speak the truth—God’s truth. When you do this, your Father in heaven fights for you! Be strong and courageous little one!” he said. He answered some questions that the other children asked. Then he looked at my brother and the little girl sitting beside him, neither of whom had spoken a word.
“I know a secret about some of you. I know that some of you like to dance.” My brother smiled, as Jesus reached out one hand to him, and one to the girl. He then motioned for the rest of us to join. We danced as we often did outside on bright, sunny days. I didn’t see any miracles that day—at least not like I was expecting, but it was a day I will never forget.
Before taking his leave from us, he took a moment to speak to my parents. He spoke first to my father,
“Here is a man of noble character, who serves his family as a priest at the altar. He honors God in all his ways, and seeks truth and wisdom to guide him.” Looking my father directly in the eyes, he continued, “Truly, I tell you, you will find what you seek, and your reward will be great!”
To my mother, he said, “You have been entrusted with much, and have proved yourself faithful. Your children will rise up and call you ‘Blessed.’”
As we headed home, my parents discussed the events of the day. They agreed that he was a good man, and a wise teacher who was sent from God—not a blasphemer like our leaders had claimed. Since he had never claimed that he was the promised Messiah, my father said that we still needed to “wait and see” what happened in the future.
It didn’t take long before we would have our answer. Just after Passover, news spread throughout Judea that the Romans had crucified him at the request of the High Priest. My mother was inconsolable, and my father was especially quiet. As soon as we were able, we packed up again and headed to the house where he had stayed when he passed through town, assuming that these people would have some knowledge of what had happened. We expected to find grief and sadness when we arrived. Instead, they were in the middle of great celebration. At first, we thought that it must be a family event, and perhaps we were intruding.
Then we spotted a familiar face, the woman who had opened the door for our first meeting with him. She embraced us and invited us to join the celebration. She and her husband had just returned from Jerusalem with the most amazing news. They had seen him, alive and well! At first, we thought that news of his death had been incorrect, but that was not the story she told. She said that he had indeed been executed by the Romans, but that he was alive again. She said that she and her husband had seen him and that there were many others that could testify that what she said was true!
“Can this be true?” my father exclaimed, “If it is, he truly is the Messiah!”
“He truly is!” the woman went on, “And not only was he raised, but others along with him. Jerusalem is alive with the news of the dead once more walking among us, just as alive as you and I.”
“Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin must be terrified!” my mother mused.
“No.” I heard that they are still trying to ‘fix’ the problem, and return to business as usual. His tomb is empty, the dead are raised, and still, they don’t believe in him. I think we have a fight ahead of us.”
“He told us that their eyes don’t see, and their ears don’t hear,” I interrupted. “How can they believe? But I have good ears! He told me that.” I was excited now. “He also said that the best way to fight was with God’s truth. He said that when we do this, our Father in Heaven fights for us!”
My parents just stared at me, and I knew that I had overstepped my bounds.
A little more quietly, I added, “He told us, ‘Be strong and courageous’.”
I stepped back to find that my brother was no longer beside me. Looking around, I saw that he had spotted his friend, the dancing girl, and had joined her and the other children in their dance. I guess it was my imagination, but I would swear that I saw Jesus dancing and laughing with them.
My father looked back from my brother to me. It seemed almost like he was seeing us for the first time.
“The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” he whispered.
Featured Image by Enza Brunero