Chapter 1: The Miracle
October AD 27, one late night in Capernaum… It was rather quiet in the little town of Capernaum, located in the area of Galilee. Many Jews living there had gone to Jerusalem in observance of the Feast of Tabernacles, one of their great feasts.
Nearly a hundred Roman soldiers serving under the centurion Justus were stationed in Capernaum for public order. One of the soldiers standing guard of the army barracks stretched his arms up in weary and muttered, “There is nothing to do since all the Jews went up to Jerusalem. Let’s take it easy and relax, shall we?”
The other soldier patted him on the back and said, “Come now, don’t you remember the centurion saying it is at a time like this that we must be all the more alert? Look, it’s getting dark, so let’s hurry and make our rounds. I’ll take the left and you can take the right.”
The guards took up their torches and spears and started to walk the perimeter of the base.
Meanwhile, two members of the rebellion determined to free Israel from Rome’s oppression were sneaking into the base. They had decided to steal the horses from the Roman stables while security was slack. One of them, a man named Barabbas, planned to slip into the stables and lead the horses out while the other man named Simon was to be on the lookout outside of the walls.
Barabbas held a solid grip on his sword strapped to his side, and whispered in a firm voice, “I will go and steal their horses. You stay by the road and stand watch. If anyone comes, give me the signal.”
Simon grasped Barabbas’ hands and said, “If anything goes wrong and you are captured, you’ll be facing a terrible death getting nailed to the cross. Be careful.”
Barabbas nodded his head and smirked, “I’ve stolen horses from these Roman dogs many times. If someone gets in my way, their life will abruptly end by my sword. But if I do get captured, you must run away as fast as you can.”
Then, taking advantage of nightfall, Barabbas climbed over the wall that surrounded the Roman base and started toward the stables. But as he was sneaking along, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with one of the guards on patrol.
Barabbas swiftly drew his sword as the soldier stumbled backwards and shouted, “Intruder alert! We have an intruder!”
With a single decisive stroke of his sword, Barabbas dealt with the soldier. The man’s yelling went abruptly silent as he fell helplessly to the ground. Barabbas, stepping out of the pool of blood that was quickly forming at his feet, spat on the dying soldier and continued on to the stables.
Several other nearby Roman soldiers, including Justus himself, hurried to the area where the guard was last heard but it was too late to save him. When Justus bent down to take the still-burning torch from the dead soldier’s hand, he took note of the murderer’s footprints that remained where the blood had pooled.
“The one who did this has blood on his sandals! Find him!” he commanded.
Then a shout came from a soldier near the stables, “There’s blood on the ground over here! It looks like a footprint!”
Every available soldier on the base was now pouring into and around the stables. Every crevice was being searched. The horses became wildly restless with all the commotion, making it dangerous for anyone to be near them. Justus instructed his men to lead the horses out of the stables to prevent a stampede.
As the horses were led out one by one, with no place to hide, the soldiers soon discovered Barabbas. They surrounded him by the tip of their spears, leaving him no choice but to lay down his sword.
Justus shouted orders to his soldiers and said, “Just the one rebel? I want you to continue searching to every corner of this base. There should be more of them here. Do not let them get away, understand?”
The soldiers immediately split up and ran in every direction.
Simon, having listened to most of the commotion from the other side of the wall, was now trying to flee the scene. He was spotted by some soldiers and as they chased him they exclaimed, “There’s one, over there! Get him, he’s running away!”
In a panicked attempt to escape the Roman soldiers Simon jumped over a wall surrounding a house. The place was home to Matthew the tax collector, who avoided people because they treated him like a criminal for working with the Romans.
As soon as Simon went over the wall, he met Matthew who came out to see what all the loud noises were about. Matthew stepped back in surprise and said, “Who, who are you? Why are you jumping over my wall?”
Simon pointed his sword at Matthew, and said, “You are Matthew the tax collector? Of all places, a tax collector’s home…”
Simon held his sword close to Matthew’s neck and continued, “I’m a member of the rebellion. The Roman dogs are chasing after me, and if you truly have the blood of the Jews flowing through you, hide me.”
Matthew calmly guided Simon’s blade away from his throat and said, “Even though I collect taxes for the Romans, I too am a descendant of Abraham. Come quickly and follow me. I will show you a hiding place in the back room.”
As Matthew led Simon to the back room, Simon put away his sword and said, “Since you are a tax collector, I thought you acted only as a dog of Rome, but I thank you for hiding me.”
As soon as Matthew closed the back door, the centurion and his men knocked on his front gate.
“Open the door! I demand you open the door now!”
Matthew looked around as he began to slowly open the door, but the soldiers flung it open forcefully. They pushed Matthew aside and marched into his home. The soldiers all separated as they entered the house, searching every room from corner to corner.
While the soldiers searched, Justus approached Matthew and asked him, “Matthew, it’s been a while. I must say, didn’t a member of the rebellion take refuge inside your house? He is a criminal; he murdered one of my men and ran away.”
Matthew was startled and said, “One of your men was killed? How on earth… but I can’t say I saw anyone enter my house…”
Justus took a long gaze around the room and said, “Possibly. Then again, tax collectors like you are looked upon as traitors of the Jews… Of all places, your house would be the least likely for them to hide themselves.”
Just as they two were speaking, one of the soldiers approached the basket Simon was hiding in. Simon’s blade was pointed directly at the stomach of one of the soldiers. He held his breath, ready to strike, knowing he and the soldier were both about to die.
Just at that moment Justus called back his men from their search around Matthew’s house.
“Men, let’s go. We’re moving.”
The soldier turned away from the basket, barely missing Simon’s gasp of relief.
The next day at dawn Simon, preparing to leave, shook Matthew’s hand and said their farewells.
“Thank you Mathew. Let us meet again on the day Israel is freed from Rome.”
Matthew gave Simon some food to eat and responded, “Rome has the whole world in their hands; strength alone cannot defeat them. There is a man called Jesus who is preaching the Word of God here in Capernaum. Putting your faith in and praying to the God he preaches may be the faster way in gaining independence for Israel.”
They hugged each other, and then Simon carefully hurried out of Matthew’s house, looking left and right as he went.
Matthew took one quick look around himself and went back inside.
Meanwhile, Barabbas was tied up seated with his back against a tree. The Roman soldiers were completely surrounding him.
Among them Justus stooped down beside Barabbas and started to interrogate him.
“Where are the others?”
“You’d think I’d tell where the rest of my friends are?” Barabbas snarled back. “I choose death instead!” His outburst was followed by an angry attempt to spit in Justus’ face, but he was already so badly beaten and dehydrated that he could muster no moisture.
Barabbas continued his rant, “We will strike all of you Roman dogs with the sword and we will defeat you! Just as I killed that man last night, I will strike each of you down as well, if I am able.”
A soldier standing near Justus, enraged by what Barabbas’ had just said, instinctively raised his spear and drove the handle hard into Barabbas’ abdomen.
Justus smiled, but said, “That’s enough for now. The beating we’ve given him won’t make any difference to him if he’s dead.”
While Justus was still speaking, a servant from Justus’ house had hurried up to the centurion with terrible news.
“Sir! Joseph just collapsed! He may have had a stroke!”
Justus quickly stood up in alarm and said, “What did you say? Joseph fell from a stroke? Lead the way.”
As Justus was about to take off, the soldier beside him motioned down toward Barabbas and asked, “Sir, and what of him?”
Justus stared at Barabbas and said, “He will soon be sent to the governor in Jerusalem. There he will receive his sentence and be nailed to the cross; put him in a cell and watch him closely.”
After the soldiers saw Justus leave in haste, they spoke among themselves.
“The Centurion must be holding his servant Joseph very dear to his heart to get up and leave while interrogating a rebel.”
“Of course, he thinks of him as his own brother.”
“Isn’t the servant a Jew...?”
“That’s not all. The Centurion even built a synagogue for the Jews and helped many who were in need.”
As Justus arrived to his home, he was met with worried looks from his family and servants.
“Yes, so where is Joseph?”
One of the servants pointed to Joseph’s room, “He is lying down in there.”
Justus hurried to the room where Joseph moaned in pain.
“How are you Joseph?”
Joseph tried to get up as he said, “Master, it’s bearable, although I can hardly move.”
Justus clasped Joseph’s hands and said, “Remain resting for a while. It is very unfortunate that there are no good doctors here in Capernaum. And those rebels are causing much trouble nowadays, it’s not as if I can leave my post and go find one…”
Justus sat by Joseph’s side that day and throughout the night. Early the next morning a soldier out of breath ran to Justus and reported to him.
“Sir, a large crowd has gathered at the lake of Galilee. An informant claims to have spotted a rebel there. A deadly riot may be forming!”
Justus stood up at once and inquired, “How many are there?”
The soldier gasped for breath as he said, “Over a thousand, sir.”
Justus grabbed his sword and said, “If that is so, then I’ll see to it personally. You hurry and instruct everyone under my authority except for the guards and gatekeepers to come to the lake at once.”
Justus arrived at the lake to find the servant’s report was accurate. A large crowd had gathered and the crowd continued to grow by the minute. Soon the other soldiers began to arrive as well.
Among the crowd, Matthew and Simon were there, paying attention to Jesus as they hid their faces. Meanwhile some fishermen named Peter, Andrew, James, and John were washing their nets by the shore. Jesus stood by Peter’s boat and was preaching to the crowd. The wind from the lake blew gently as if carrying Jesus’ Word to the crowd.
Jesus looked around and said in a loud voice, “All of you need to heed my Words. Salvation is being born again as children of God by Spirit and water. Only those born again by Spirit and water can enter the kingdom of God! The kingdom of God is not a place you can go by using knowledge, strength, or money. Repent, for the kingdom of God is near!”
The Pharisees shouted in a loud voice, “We are descendants of Abraham! We spent all our lives worshipping God! What more do we have to do?”
“If you are truly descendants of Abraham, live like he did! To worship means to worship in God’s Spirit and Word, just as a child to his Father. My Father is looking for his children who will worship him in his Spirit and Word!”
The Teachers of the Law looked at each other and started to mutter, “There hasn’t been anyone who spoke about salvation and worship as clear as he has.”
“I remember John the Baptist pointing him out as the Lamb of God…”
“Who is that man that calls God his own Father?”
Making quick glances at Jesus, Peter continued to wash his nets while also listening to Jesus preach. Peter thought out loud, “That teacher always has a crowd with him wherever he goes. Well, I’ve been observing him for over a year, and I still don’t understand who he is…”
More and more people gathered around Jesus as he spoke. Smiling calmly, Jesus stepped into Peter’s boat and said, “Peter, please push the boat out a little.”
“Sure thing, Teacher. A lot of folks have come to see you!”
Andrew helped Peter stow the nets away inside the boat and then they pushed the boat out away from the shore and climbed aboard. After drifting a reasonable distance out, Peter and Andrew lowered the anchor. Peter then said in a proud voice, “Teacher, we’ve made sure the boat doesn’t budge. You sit comfortably in the front of the boat while you speak.”
Jesus stood up in the front of the boat and continued to preach. Many people were silent as they concentrated on Jesus’ words.
Jesus spoke in a loud voice and said, “Those who have ears to hear God’s Word, let him hear! The grace of God has fallen among you; the gospel is near you. Eternal life is to know the one and only God and to also know Christ whom he sent. God’s Word is Truth; His Word is Life! Whoever believes the good gospel of great joy just as a child believes will enter the kingdom of God!”
Jesus finished his sermon and then looked at Peter and said, “Let us go out into the deeper water. We’ll let down the nets and catch some fish.”
As they raised the anchors, Peter looked at Jesus with a confused expression and said, “Teacher, do you mean right now? You see, we’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing…”
Jesus looked at Peter with consideration. Peter scratched his head meekly and said, “If you say so… I’ll do as you ask.”
As Peter prepared to turn the boat around and head for the deeper water, Justus who was standing behind the crowd addressed his soldiers, “These men have only gathered here to listen to the Jewish teacher speak. This is no riot. Let us return to our post.”
Justus then selected two soldiers to remain until the crowd departed just in case. He instructed them, “Since many gather around that rabbi, you two stay behind and analyze the movement of the crowd. If anything is strange, report back to me immediately.”
Justus looked over the water towards Jesus and was surprised to see Jesus looking directly at him. When their eyes met, he quickly turned away and faced his men. “Alright, we’re moving,” Justus instructed, and they headed back towards the base. Jesus watched Justus lead his soldiers out of sight as Peter and Andrew guided the boat farther out.
Matthew and Simon, still hiding their faces, had listened intently to Jesus speak. With each statement that Jesus spoke, they had nodded to each other in recognition of his wisdom.
Matthew and Simon looked toward Jesus with a feeling of lacking in their hearts, and then parted their own ways.
Matthew lowered his head as he walked, saying to himself, “If I, a tax collector, am given a chance, I would like to record all of Jesus’ precious Words…”
Simon let out a loud sigh and looked to the skies as he went his way, saying, “That Jesus whom the tax collector had spoken of… Why does his Word bring a burning sensation to my heart...?”
Meanwhile, the other two fishermen, James and John, were also rowing their boats into deeper waters, following Jesus, Peter, and Andrew.
As Peter and Andrew let down their net and began to draw them up again, they were suddenly astonished that so many fish were caught. The net began to break under the weight of all the fish. Peter called out for James and John to come over to help. He said in a loud voice, “James! John! Come over here and help us!”
Andrew cried out, “Yes, hurry! We’ve caught so many fish that the net started to rip!”
James and John, anxious to join in on the excitement, quickly came and attached two corners of the net to their boat and started pulling to draw the net from the ocean. Even though the net was broken, the fish continued to come through the hole in the net rather than escaping through it. (When the waters surrounding the net was seen from above, angels can be seen gathering the fish from all corners and pushing them into the net.)
Peter laughed out loud and said, “How can this be? Last night not even one fish was seen, but now?”
Andrew held the net with one hand and scooped the fish with a basket in the other and said, “Instead of swimming away the fish are coming through the holes in the net. It’s a miracle!”
James shouted in surprise as he saw the many fish in the net and said, “How can this be? One of these nets can barely fill a boat and yet we have two boats full of fish! And still the fish are jumping out of the net!”
John shouted with joy and said, “This many fish had never been caught in decades! How is this possible? It’s a miracle! A miracle!”
Jesus also helped scoop the fish in with a basket and asked with a smile, “Isn’t it great to have caught this many fish?”
Peter looked at Jesus and said, “Teacher! It happened just as you told us. It’s great, really great!”
They all continued to scoop fish into the boats. For a while laughter was in the air. Once both boats were completely filled, the fish came back to their senses and slowly made their way through the holes in the net. As the fishermen sat down, looking at each other, in joy but tired from all the scooping.
Jesus then gave his attention to Peter, and looked at him with content. As soon as Peter made eye contact with Jesus, he stood up with a solemn face and walked in front of Jesus, bowed down to him and said,
“Lord, I am a sinner who didn’t recognize you. I’m a sinner who can’t be with you Lord, so please go away from me.”
Jesus held both of Peter’s hands and lifted him up on his feet and said, “Do not be afraid. Why are you so afraid, Peter? From now on, you will be a fisher of men for the kingdom of heaven.”
Andrew, James, and John, who looked on, also bowed down and did not know what to do. When Jesus saw this, he came to them as well and held their hands and said to all of them, “For the kingdom of heaven, I will make you fishers of men. Follow me.”
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all in awe of the miracle of catching so many fish and were deeply moved by Jesus’ Words. They fell on their knees in front of Jesus and worshipped him.