Asa – One of the Followers
We followed him everywhere, this man called Jesus. Somehow the work we used to do no longer mattered. My father was distressed at first that I walked away from a profitable business. I was the oldest son and he had plans for me. I had always imagined that I would follow him and continue with the boats, and nets, and the fish as he grew older and less active. My prolonged absence worried him and he grew angry with me. But I knew that my brother would step into my shoes without hesitation and that the business would thrive under his leadership and sharp mind. All of that had lost its appeal to me over the past few months. Now Jesus was not only the focus of my attention, but the focus of my life.
Jesus had come to Capernaum and began to teach in the synagogue. His words were familiar, and yet there seemed to be a depth of truth in them that I had never heard before. It was as if he knew, without a doubt, that what he said was true. There was no room for discussion with the scribes or rabbis. He spoke the truth. And somehow we knew it deep in our hearts.
So we were annoyed when Silas came rushing in screeching as he often did. His brothers got up to take him out – it was a well-practiced routine. But today Jesus raised a hand to stop them, and they hesitated, looking at one another uncertain what they should do. Silas came right inside, yelling his head off. Men glared at him in disapproval. We understood that he could not help what he was doing for he had long been infested by evil spirits, but we did not appreciate his presence in the synagogue. It was not the place for such as him.
‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’
We were shocked. Silas did not even know the names of his brothers. How could he know that this man was Jesus – and that he came from Nazareth? There was a stunned silence as Jesus responded,
‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’
Silas screamed even louder and began to shake with such violence that we were afraid he would hurt himself. By now most of us were on our feet. We knew what happened when Silas had a bad turn like this – he needed help and he needed it fast. His brothers ran to him as he collapsed on the floor. Jesus bent over him, hand outstretched to help, and for a second or two Silas lay still. Then he grasped Jesus’ hand and, with his help, got up, looked around the synagogue – and smiled at everyone there. He was the only one moving. Every other man was standing still in shocked amazement. How could this be? Silas had been ill all his life. He had never recognised a face, never said a sensible word, never stood still. But now he nodded in acknowledgement of those around him; turned to Jesus and grasped him in a strong hug; then walked out of the synagogue, followed by his brothers who had not said a word, nor taken their eyes off him.
The synagogue erupted. We had no idea what had just happened. There were questions and disputes, men were overjoyed – or displeased, depending on how they felt about Jesus.
As if nothing had happened, Jesus began to teach again. He never shouted but we could always hear what he said, no matter what noise was going on around us. The crowd quietened, and we listened to teaching, the likes of which we had never heard before.
I followed him when he left town. Others came with us, including Silas who would not hear of any objections from his family, but left his home as if without question. Of course there were those who had been with Jesus from the beginning – his close friends, but there were others too. People like Silas and me who seemed to be unable to leave him and return to our homes. We moved around the country, and Jesus taught the people; healed those who were sick; told stories; loved them, yes, even loved those who were unlovable; and so they flocked to him. Not all of them stayed. Many drifted away again at the end of the day, but each day one or two more joined us.
One morning Jesus called us to him. His disciples came through the crowd, picking out some of us by name. Most of us had been following him for a while, but he had never before called us. Andrew came to our group,
‘Asa, Silas, the Lord has need of you,’ he said to us.
We looked at one another amazed. We did not realise that our names were known! We got up at once and hurried through the crowd. There were many of us who had been called – probably about seventy or so. Jesus said that he wanted everyone of us to go ahead of him and visit every town and village that he would be travelling through in the next few days. He spoke of a large harvest with few workers to gather it and instructed us to pray that the owner of the harvest would send out workers to bring the harvest home.
We were accustomed to his teaching. We realised that he was speaking about a harvest of people, and that the owner was God himself. We listened, absorbed as always. But his next words alarmed us,
‘Go, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.’
Who, us? Silas and I looked at one another uncertain how to react to these words. Where were we to go? What were we to do or say? Who were the wolves? All at once following Jesus did not seem to be as easy and appealing as it had done up to now.
Jesus continued speaking. He told us not to take anything with us and not to greet anyone on the road. This would be difficult for us because Silas enjoyed talking to people, whether he knew them or not, after his years of isolation. Jesus told us to offer peace to each household we entered and to leave our greeting there if they were peace-loving people. But if they were unpleasant or disagreeable then we were to take our greeting of peace back.
How did we do that?
In homes that welcomed us we were to accept their hospitality and eat whatever they offered us, for we would be workers and this was how we would be recompensed for our work. He instructed us to stay in one home in each village or town we visited and not to move around.
But here was the catch.
He told us to heal the sick in these towns and tell the people that the Kingdom of God had come near to them that day.
What? He sort of threw away the comment in the middle of a whole lot of other instructions, but we all caught it and could not believe it. We had become accustomed to Jesus healing people. We had seen many miracles – and had heard some reports of the disciples doing the same thing. But we were ordinary people. We were not even ‘inner circle’ friends of Jesus. This was just Silas and me and a whole bunch of other guys who were following a man who intrigued us. How could we heal people?
Jesus continued. He instructed us to remind the people of his message that the Kingdom of God was near, even in the towns that did not welcome us. He commanded us to warn the inhabitants of such towns that God would show more mercy to the wicked people of Sodom on the Day of Judgment than he would to them. We were to say that even the Gentile citizens of Tyre and Sidon would have believed his message if they had witnessed the miracles that had been performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida. He issued dire warnings and then his voice softened as he looked at each one of us and said:
‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; and whoever rejects me rejects the One who sent me.’
As I heard those words I lost my fear and concern. I was flooded with a courage I had never known before, and an assurance that I could do as Jesus asked. I could see that Silas felt the same as he straightened up and stood tall, and there was a burning light in his eyes that had not been there earlier.
Jesus sent us out two by two. It seemed natural that Silas and I should go together. And so we strode away down the road, the whole group fanning out across the country and visiting all the villages in the area.
We were still concerned though. How were we going to heal people? I could not even stand the sight of blood if my young sister fell and cut her knee. And so it was with mixed feelings that we entered the first village. There was excitement, hope, wonder – and yet there was an element of fear and lots of questions.
Normally we could walk into a village as strangers, be politely greeted, and move straight through it. But this time it was different, unusual, as people came to their doorways to watch us pass. They dropped what they were doing and began to follow us. We headed for the synagogue, but did not go inside. We stopped in the street outside the doorway and turned to face the now considerable crowd who watched us in silence.
I smiled at a child being held in her mother’s arms. She was big to be held and should have been running with the others, who were ducking and diving amongst the people. She held out her arms to me and I stepped forward to bless her. As I touched her I felt, to my alarm, a warm heat running the length of my arm and through my hand. The little girl’s mother cried out in alarm, but the child laughed and wriggled to be put down. Grasping my hand she squeezed it and ran to join the other children. The woman burst into tears and sobbed her thanks. The child had never been able to walk and now she was running and shouting with her brothers and sisters and their friends.
My heart swelled with joy. Here was the power about which Jesus had spoken. I was not sure what my part had been – but I understood that the heat I had felt was the healing power that was needed. I turned to Silas, my heart too full for words – only to see him bending over a man on a pallet, carried by his friends. Silas took hold of the man’s hands and helped him to stand up. The man flung his arms around Silas and together they laughed their delight!
Others pressed forward, and each one was healed. Even the demons obeyed us when we gave them the command to go in Jesus’ name. We gave the people our message about the Kingdom of Heaven being near. Many of them listened and we left the village with hearts singing a new song of praise to God.
We visited village after village, speaking to people and healing the sick. One or two villages rejected us. I often wonder what happened to the ones who said no to us, but I am far away now in a distant land. Was that their only chance? Did someone else go to them with Jesus’ message? I have spent many hours praying for them, that at some time in the future they have the opportunity to hear the good news again and accept the message that Jesus gives.
After two days we returned to Jesus, to meet others on the way with similar stories. By the time we reached him we were singing hymns of joy and shared our stories with one another far into the night. Jesus told us that he gave us authority to overcome the power of Satan and nothing would hurt us. But he warned us not to be glad because we had such power over evil but rather to celebrate because our names were written in heaven.
Falling to his knees, he began to praise God. We did the same, and the whole valley was ringing with praise. It was the most beautiful moment of my life.
God did a mighty work during that time in those villages, and he has continued to do so every day since then. We despaired when Jesus hung on a cross but our despair turned to joy when he rose again – and the power that he promised has continued to flow through us.
After a while I followed Paul to Ephesus. Silas was sent to Antioch and now works there. Now and again we hear news of one another from people who have visited the young churches in these towns. Our work takes courage. There are many here who resist it and our future on this earth is uncertain. But our future for eternity is assured. We know that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and that we will spend eternity with Jesus. For we have gone and delivered the message he gave us as he commanded, when he sent us as lambs among the wolves.