Marcus’ story was different to any of the others. He was not a Jew. It opened up the impact of Jesus to other nations, other races and somehow made his touch universal. It also revealed that it did not matter what a person had done, or how hard their heart might be, Jesus could reach through all barriers and still change lives. Jesus appeared even to a Roman soldier, hardened by battle, and changed his life forever through a dream. I found myself asking whether Marcus really did have a dream or whether he witnessed the events as they happened.
I was grateful for this story. It was a reassurance to me that my past was gone, swept away by the grace of God and I was now one of God’s followers. I was sure that some of the things Marcus had done as a soldier far surpassed any of my university pranks. I understood that it was probably not a good thing to compare but nevertheless the fact that Marcus was forgiven and included amongst Christ’s followers reassured me of my own salvation.
I would have liked to have spent some time with Marcus. I was sure he would have had some more interesting stories to tell.
What a man Marcus must have been! And what stories he must have had to tell if only we had the opportunity to hear them. I would have enjoyed talking to him about his dream. It seems God uses many ways to touch lives. For me Marcus made me realise that we do not come to Jesus to use him as a crutch, but rather because he is God. Following Yeshua is not a sign of weakness but an act of courage. Marcus never went home again. He had to say goodbye to the friend who had done everything with him. I don’t suppose that was easy. And he carved out a new life in a new land for himself and later for his family.
I have never understood why or how, but there have been times when I have been homesick for my own homeland. Oh, I have visited it from time to time as an adult, but it never seemed to satisfy me as I thought it would. At one stage I considered moving back there, but when I went to explore where I could settle, I never quite found the right place where I felt I could be happy.
Now I wonder if it was not longing for my homeland that made me homesick, but rather my yearning for my destination – for heaven. The men and women who face death in these stories look forward to it with hope – perhaps after all, it will be the ultimate home coming.
Thaddeus’ story too gives me hope. My heart aches when I look around at the people I know who are so busy earning a living, making a fortune, with some even retired and enjoying the rewards of their hard work during a lifetime. My prayer for each of them, and for all those who read these stories, is that they may meet the risen Christ themselves; and that all those who have rejected him at some time in their lives may have a second chance and be able to respond to Jesus before it is too late for them. Some of them may not even realise that they have rejected him; others may have made an intentional decision to do so. But I have come to believe that God is the God of the second chance and Thaddeus tells us that this is so.
I have struggled with where to place this next story, but it seems to me that this is the best place as Thaddeus, like Paul, may only have really met Jesus as his Saviour, long after the crucifixion.