The outside world could not be allowed to know that I still lived. I realized that. Nevertheless, holed up in that cramped cave, the entrance concealed by a huge stone, I found the boredom almost unbearable. And to make conditions worse, on Wednesday my courier was late bringing me my supper.
When he finally entered the cave through the secret rear passageway, I had only two questions for him.
The first question: What time is it?
Almost midnight. Im sorry I was delayed, but I couldnt take a chance that someone might follow me. Your food may be cold. I apologize.
And the second question: Is Jesus coming soon?
He bowed his head, ashamed to meet my gaze. Not tomorrow, Im afraid. Again I must apologize, my cousin. He did receive the message about your illness yesterday, as we had planned.
I remarked, Then later that same day, I died.
Yes. But apparently the Master wants to heighten the drama. Hes going to delay his arrival until Friday.
Ive got to hide here another whole day? I asked incredulously.
Im afraid so, he replied. But Ill check on you as often as I can. And, in the larger view, what is one more day? After all, God is great. Were working to bring about his glorious Kingdom. Any day now!
I grudgingly agreed. My courier Mordecai Mordecai the Mortician, as I had taken to calling him had been a great help to me. He had always been kind and courteous. I ought not to grumble about a minor delay.
For several months we had been preparing our secret plan, the five of us. The key figure was, of course, the itinerant preacher Jesus of Nazareth. There were four others. Two, Mordecai and myself, are distant cousins. The other two, Joe and Nick, are secret admirers of Jesus, but the public knows them as members of the powerful ruling Jewish Sanhedrin. Their full names are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.
Whenever Jesus journeyed south from his native Galilee and visited the capital city, he always preferred to avoid the crowds by staying with me. I live with my sisters Mary and Martha in the village of Bethany. Were only two miles away from Jerusalem, on the other side of the Mount of Olives.
One evening when the whole family was gathered at my house, Jesus invited Mordecai and me to leave the women behind and go for a walk. We climbed the hill to a dark grove of olive trees. Presently Joe and Nick joined us, having slipped out of the city.
Jesus swore us all to secrecy. Then he laid out his latest understanding of what the Scriptures foretold. He had come to believe that he was the Messiah, the man chosen to bring our people into a new age! We were amazed.
But according to his interpretation of the ancient prophecies, it was first necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die, then arise from the grave three days later.
What do you mean? I asked incredulously. Are you going to die and then come back to life?
Thats correct. The Messiah must suffer, and die, and be buried, and on the third day rise again.
How is that possible, my friend?
With God, all things are possible, he answered. But sometimes it is necessary for Gods servants to give him a little help.
For the suffering, Joe and Nick assured us that they could arrange for their colleagues in the Sanhedrin, when the time was right, to have Jesus arrested and condemned. The charge would be rabble-rousing, or inciting a riot, or blasphemy, or something like that.
For the dying, Mordecai suggested that Jesus could be poisoned in a way that would make him appear to die temporarily. His body would then be entombed. (We Jews dont prolong the funeral ceremonies for days, embalming our dead like Egyptian mummies. Instead, we wrap a corpse in a linen sheet and bury it promptly, before it starts to rot.)
Mordecai offered to attend secretly to Jesus inside the tomb. Once the Master had recovered from the poison and waited the three days that the Scripture required, he would emerge, gloriously restored to life. This sign would convince the people that Jesus was the Messiah! Then it would be up to him to lead the people in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.
My contribution was the poison. I know of a liquid that brings about unconsciousness within minutes. The subject appears to be dead. His breathing becomes shallow and almost imperceptible. Then, several hours later, the effects wear off and hes as good as new.
Nick insisted we should conduct a test run of the dying and rising, to make sure that my drug would work properly when the time came. Since it was my idea, I volunteered to take the poison and be buried.
To make the miracle more impressive, Jesus stayed far away from my house in Bethany at first. He preached on the other side of the Jordan River, attracting large crowds.
Meanwhile, on Monday I pretended to get sick. My sisters cared for me, and Mordecai stopped by to see how I was doing. I expressed a desire for my friend Jesus to come see me. Mary and Martha sent a message informing him of my illness.
The next day, Mordecai came into my room again. I swallowed the poison and gave the empty flask to him. Sure enough, almost immediately my vision turned fuzzy. As from a great distance I heard Mordecai urgently calling my sisters into the room. And then all was black.
It was still black when, some time later, I gradually began to return to my senses. I felt a pressure against my face, and I couldnt move my arms and legs. But I smelled something sweet and tangy. I began to moan, and immediately I heard Mordecais voice. Lazarus! You have returned! he cried. Now just lie still for a few minutes, and Ill have you out of those grave clothes.
He removed the napkin from my face and unwound the linen bandages that were wrapped around my body. I sat up, shook my head, and looked around. I was in a tiny cave, lit only by a single oil lamp.
How long have I been out? I asked.
Nearly six hours, he informed me. Once your sisters saw you die, I didnt waste any time getting your body prepared for burial and brought to this cave. We couldnt have you waking up before you were sealed in the tomb!
How did Mary and Martha take it?
Oh, they were devastated, of course. Mary couldnt stop crying, and Martha complained bitterly that if the Master had been here, you would not have died. Many of their friends have come out from Jerusalem to console them about their loss. Its a pity. But all will be well again, when Jesus comes.
And so it was on Friday morning that my mortician slipped into my tomb in great excitement. Jesus and his disciples had just arrived at the crossroads outside Bethany!
Quickly Mordecai re-applied the myrrh and aloes. He loosely wound my body in the bandages and put the linen napkin back on my head. He extinguished my lamp and hid himself in a recess of the cave. Now all we have to do is wait, he told me.
We waited nearly an hour before we began to hear the murmuring of a large crowd outside. When Mary and Martha left the house to meet Jesus, their friends came with them, and now the whole company had followed the sisters to my tomb.
Open the grave, I heard Jesus say. Take away the stone.
No, sir, Martha objected, we ought to leave the tomb closed. Hes been dead for four days. By now there will be a terrible stench. And at that thought, she broke into tears. So did Mary, of course.
Im sorry you had to go through this, my dear friends, Jesus said. Mary let out a huge sob, and Jesus himself started to cry. It sounded like the whole crowd was weeping and wailing for me.
Jesus composed himself enough to continue. But because of what has happened to your brother, he said, Gods glory will be revealed. Dont you remember me telling you that if you have enough faith, you will see the glory of God? I say again, take away the stone! I heard the grating sound as the stone was rolled away.
Jesus said a little prayer. Father, I thank You for hearing me. Of course, I know that You always hear me. I say this for the benefit of all these people standing here, that they may believe it was You who sent me. People, prepare to be astonished!
Then in his loudest voice he shouted, Lazarus, come out!
That was my cue. I stumbled to my feet and, zombie-like, shuffled to the entrance of the cave, some of my bandages falling to the ground. There were great screams and gasps. Both my sisters fainted when they saw the corpse of their brother walking toward them. Free him, Jesus commanded. Let him go.
Months later, again on a Friday, all of us gathered on a hill on the far side of Jerusalem. I decided Id best wear a disguise because of the fame Id acquired from the Bethany miracle. It was a very dark afternoon, for the Roman soldiers had just crucified Jesus. There he hung, nailed to a wooden cross.
Victims of this form of execution often linger for days before dying in great agony. But our little group had arranged for Jesus to be put out of his misery much sooner.
Standing near the cross, I had a jar at my feet that supposedly held vinegar. It was actually my poison. And I had a sponge and a bamboo pole nearby.
Jesus, hanging there in agony, looked down at me and said, Im so thirsty. That was my cue. I soaked the sponge in the vinegar, stuck it on the pole, and held it up to his mouth. He opened his lips and I pressed the sponge against them, squeezing out the potion. He swallowed it, looked around, and gave a deep sigh. Its finished, he said. His head fell to his chest, and the onlookers wept to see him expire.
Joe ran off to ask the Roman officials to allow him to remove the body. The Romans were surprised to hear that the condemned man was already dead. Just to make sure, one of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side, and blood and water spurted out. Uh-oh, I thought. Jesus will recover from my drug, but that stab wound could be fatal. Nevertheless, we had to carry on with the plan.
Joe and Nick claimed custody of the body, wrapped it for burial, and took it to a nearby tomb that Joe owned. They closed the tomb with a stone. Once again, Mordecai had concealed himself inside to remove the wrappings from the corpse.
But it was too late. Jesus was really gone.
The next day was the Sabbath. We conspirators gathered secretly to discuss whether there was anything we could do. We wanted somehow to keep alive our Masters dream of the Kingdom of God. Maybe, we thought, we could hide the corpse and then claim that the empty tomb was proof that God had raised Jesus from the dead, just as Jesus had earlier raised me.
Although the Master would unfortunately not be making any further public appearances, some of his disciples were superstitious, and they might convince themselves that they had seen his ghost. Maybe they would convince others that a resurrection had actually taken place. And we could claim that at some unspecified time in the future the risen Jesus was going to return in glory.
Late on Saturday night, we rolled the stone away from the tomb. Leaving the grave clothes behind, we removed the body and quickly but reverently interred it in a shallow grave not far away.
On Sunday morning, some of the Masters grieving followers discovered the empty tomb. One of them was named Mary. She wasnt my sister, but rather Mary from Magdala. She noticed Mordecai in the vicinity and asked him what had happened. He recognized her and called her by name. And then she decided he must be Jesus, escaped from the grave!
She tried to throw her arms around him. No, no, he said, dont hold me. Ive got to go back to Galilee. No, actually, Im going to be ascending into heaven soon. Tell the others. And she did. And they believed her.
Now everyones seeing visions. I suppose our plan was not a complete failure.
(a retelling of John 10:40 - 11:44 and John 19:17 - 20:18)
Portions suggested by The Passover Plot (1966) by Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield
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