Die Now, and Live Forever
He heard a scream break through the silence of the night and wondered if perhaps he had not been the first one to get to her. Maybe there was someone else who wanted the girl dead or maybe she was just overly jumpy. Either way, she wasn’t going anyplace tonight and he would investigate in the morning. For now, he would hunker down in a conveniently empty house across the street and wait.
Simay slept fitfully that night; dreams of her mother, the glowing-eyed bear, the Christians and every event of the past twenty-four hours swept through her mind like a small whirlwind and coalesced into a cacophony of spiritual distress. The screams of her mother haunted her.
In her dreams later that night, Simay found herself alone in the desert with no one to show her how to leave the endless sea of sand; the torturous heat beat down on her head without mercy and there was no water to be seen. After hours of trudging through the scratchy sand dunes, she could not walk any farther. Her lips were chapped and bleeding and her mind was so foggy she almost forgot where she was. Just when she thought she would die of exhaustion and dehydration something green slipped into the corner of her vision. A single palm tree – no, a group of them sharpened into focus.
With every agonizing step, Simay’s hope rose. Soon she found herself staring down into a pool of refreshing, cool water. She immediately fell to her knees and drank until she could drink no more.
She walked shakily over to one of the clusters of trees and lay down in the shade to rest.
She jumped at the voice.
“Simay.” The voice said again.
She looked all around her puddle of shade. There he was, standing just beside the indentation she had left in the sand while she was inhaling water. He had a gentle face, and when she looked into his eyes she saw… truth. There was nothing false in him – no deception of any kind.
“Simay, come with me.” He held out a hand.
Simay smiled at the man and began to get up when she heard a low growl coming from behind her. The smile on her face vanished.
“No.” the gravel-coated word gripped Simay and she did not dare turn around. She knew in her heart from whose mouth the word had come and she also knew that there would be consequences if she disobeyed.
Simay clenched her eyes shut, folded her knees up to her chin and hid her face from the man. Moments later, she woke up sobbing, never seeing the scar that marred the pleading, still-proffered hand.
In the blackness of the lower level of the Temple of Artemis Diana, Nuray awaited the darkness just before the dawn… and the hour of her death.
Her life could not be worse. Her own daughter – her little girl had revealed her secret to the temple and as a result, she was to die in a few hours. She had no chance of getting out of this dungeon, and her vow to Diana… Nuray did not want to think about the vow that she had made so hastily. She could not turn her heart away from the despair welling up inside her.
What would happen to her? What came after death? Nuray had never thought about it before – she had never really had a reason to, and the thought terrified her. Diana, with all her promises had never really filled the emptiness in her heart. For so many years, even before she had come to the Temple of Diana, Nuray had been searching for something that might satisfy her need for fulfillment. She thought that following Diana would give her that fulfillment, and for a while she thought the goddess had done just that; even up until Simay’s betrayal Nuray had truly thought that Diana might make her happy, but now that she stopped and thought – really thought about her life, she realized that the hole burning within her heart had only grown.
Nuray began to weep as she thought about her plight, and the horror of the events of this awful night hit her full-force. She was looking death in the face; it shook her to the core of her being and she began to shake.
“Diana!” Nuray pleaded, not knowing what else to do, “Diana, deliver me!”
No answer came, not even the ever-familiar whisper in her mind.
A fresh wave of despair crashed over her soul and she cried out one more time, to the last one in heaven or on earth that she expected to help her.
“Jesus, help me!” She gasped and clapped her hand over her mouth, partially to keep from letting out her shock at her own words, and partially to keep herself from saying anything else.
Unbearable silence made the inside of her tiny cell seem to close in on her.
“Do you really mean that?” a faint voice floated through the bars and reached her ears.
“W-who’s there?” Nuray whispered in fear.
“I am Ïskender. May I ask your name?”
The question rang in Nuray’s mind as she remembered the day the Christian named Aquila had asked her the same question. She hesitated to answer Ïskender, but she forced herself to open her mouth and respond.
“I… I am Nuray.” She waited for Ïskender’s reaction, but none came so she felt obligated to explain. “I was High Priestess to Diana, but… I had a child, a daughter fifteen years ago. My own child betrayed me to the Temple this very night…” Nuray began to weep again.
“And now they want to kill you.” Ïskender supplied.
“Before dawn.” She sobbed.
“Nuray,” he said kindly, “you never answered my question.”
Nuray stopped crying for a moment and looked up at the ceiling of her cell, since she could not see Ïskender. “Which question?”
“Did you really mean what you said? Do you really want Jesus’ help?”
Nuray let her chin fall to her chest and buried her face in her hands. She didn’t know what to do. Confusion swirled in her mind as doubt began to well up. Diana was her goddess; Nuray had made a vow to her – a foolish vow, but still a vow. But Diana had let her be imprisoned and sentenced to death by the servants of the Temple. Diana had saved her life, and she had taken it away at the same time with no promise of hope. If what the Christians said about this Jesus was true…
Nuray bit her lip, took a deep breath, and answered Ïskender. “Yes. I meant what I said… But, who are you? Why are you here?”
In his own small dark cell, Ïskender smiled and began to tell the woman his story.
“I too, was once a servant of Diana. Years ago, I sneaked into Tyranus’ lecture hall to listen to the teacher Paul. I came many times – always carefully disguised of course. I told myself I was coming to keep an eye on the man – make sure he didn’t cause any trouble. Truthfully I didn’t really care what he did. For a Jewish religious leader, he was no orator, but it was not skillful speaking I came to hear; it was his message that left me intrigued. Paul taught about a God, called Jehovah, who sent His own Son to take our punishment for the wrongs we have all done throughout our lives. This Substitute, Jesus Messiah let mortal men shed His blood so that He might cover our sin eternally. Jesus offered everyone a gift – He would cover their sin with His blood and give them eternal life if a person would accept Jesus as Saviour.
“Of course I thought this whole thing rather odd. Nothing I had ever heard before was anything like what Paul was saying about Jesus, so I kept coming back. I even stopped Paul after the teaching time was over one day and asked him some questions about what he was saying. He patiently answered every one and invited me to eat with him and two of his companions, a man – I think his name was Aqu-something – and his wife.”
Nuray’s eyes flew wide open is realization.
“Aquila…” she supplied. “His name was Aquila.”
“Yes! That was it. Wait… have you met him before?”
“He and his wife came to my house several years ago and healed my daughter.” Nuray shook her head is disbelief as Ïskender continued.
“Well, I told Paul that I could not come with him because I had to get back to work. Of course I never mentioned that the work I was doing was in the Temple of Artemis. It was not too long after I refused Paul’s invitation that he had to leave Ephesus to go back to Jerusalem – for the Passover he said.
“I spent the years between Paul’s visits thinking about all the things that I had heard him teach about Jesus. How this Man wanted His followers to love their enemies, to pay their taxes, to be fair to their customers. At first I thought he was being idealistic, but as time went on and I was able to observe some of my own friends who believed Paul’s message I realized that this Jesus had the power to change people’s lives. He could take a thief and turn him into an honest man; he could change a prostitute into an honorable woman; staunch followers of Diana became dedicated disciples of Jesus.
“The changes I saw began to make me wonder, ‘What if I was to take Jesus Christ to be my Saviour?’ It was not a light question, as I’m sure you know. Having a position, albeit a humble one, in the Temple of Diana demands a life of service, and anything less than fulfilling your vow to the goddess can get you killed. I had to look down both forks in the road and choose one. It was the hardest decision I ever made: stay in the temple and go about the daily chores of ministering to the needs of Diana, or leave the temple and become a fugitive with a death sentence on my head. It was at that moment that I realized that I had been looking at everything from the wrong viewpoint. I realized that question was not ‘live or die,’ it was ‘die now and live forever, or live now and die forever?’”
Both prisoners sat in a thoughtful silence.
“I don’t know how I did not see this before. I have heard these truths more than once. Every time I heard them I thought back to the times that I had spoken with Diana – heard her voice and held conversations with her. How could a dead Jewish Messiah do me any good? I could never accept that this Jesus died, but did not stay dead. After all, no man can come back from the dead, and my goddess was not dead. I always asked in my heart why I should exchange a living goddess for a dead man. But that is not the right question, is it, Ïskender. Like you, I asked the wrong question. What I should have asked is, ‘why shouldn’t I exchange a treacherous goddess for a living God?’
“Oh, Ïskender I’ve been a fool: a hopeless fool.” The last word came out as a sob.
“If you still draw breath, it is never too late to believe, Nuray.” Ïskender said.
“But… Would Jesus take someone like me, Ïskender? I’ve broken my promises; I’m a liar, a thief… and worse…”
“Nuray, Jesus was talking with a Jewish Pharisee one night and told the man, ‘That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Jesus was talking about Himself and He said ‘whosoever,’ Nuray. That means that anyone can come to Him and He will not cast them out.”
Nuray thought quietly. The decision lay before her and no matter which road she chose there was no turning back from here.
“I choose Jesus.”
The moment she believed it was as though the terrible weight that she had been carrying all her life vanished in a single instant and not even the echoing footsteps of the approaching executioner could bring it back.