Marcus had never seen any of the countries conquered by Rome. His father was a centurion in the Roman army and was being sent to Jerusalem. “I may be stationed there for several years,” Father told the family, “so I am allowed to take you with me.”
Marcus, hugging his father, shouted, “When do we go?”
Father continued, “You should know that Jerusalem is a difficult city to rule. Since the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, more and more Jews are becoming Christians. Those who do not believe in Jesus persecute those who do. There is constant trouble between them. And the Jews dislike Romans because we are their rulers. There is a constant threat of rebellion, but at least we will all be together.”
The first morning after his family was settled in Jerusalem, Marcus went to the front of the house to watch people and donkeys plodding up and down the steep narrow street. He turned to look up the hillside. Small stone houses were built above his home as far as he could see. He saw a boy watching him from the flat roof of a nearby house. Their eyes met and the boy raised his hand. “Greetings,” he called. “My name is Joshua. What’s yours?”
Marcus was amazed at how quickly he and Joshua became good friends. Soon they were playing games, riding donkeys, and exploring Jerusalem together.
After a while Marcus said to Joshua, “When we first met, you could tell by my name and clothes and speech that I am a Roman. Why then did you become my friend?”
Joshua replied, “Our Christian leaders teach us that the sooner we treat someone as if he were one of us, the sooner he will become one of us.”
Marcus had a hard time to keep from laughing. He could just picture the explosion if someone suggested to his father that they become Christians.
One day Marcus and Joshua were walking toward the great temple when an angry screaming crowd of people poured out of the courtyard into the street. Men were pushing, kicking, and beating a man. Joshua gasped when he saw the man’s bleeding face. “It’s Paul! We must help him, Marcus, or he’ll be killed!”
Joshua tried to fight his way through the angry mob to reach Paul. Knowing that Roman guards were stationed outside the Fortress of Antonia, Marcus ran in that direction. Just then a Roman patrol came around the corner with Marcus’ father, Valerius, in the lead. The moment Valerius saw the mob, he shouted orders for the captive to be freed.
Holding their shields in front of them, the soldiers rushed into the crowd, hurling men aside until they reached Paul. Two soldiers lifted him to his feet.
Soon Claudius Lysias, the chief captain of the Roman guards arrived. “It is Roman law that a man must not be punished without a hearing,” he insisted. Turning to Paul, the captain asked, “Who are you?”
Paul replied, “I am a Jew of Tarsus, a citizen of Rome.”
The captain seemed surprised to hear that Paul was a Roman citizen. “Then I must protect you from this mob until you can be justly judged,” he said. He ordered the soldiers to take Paul to the fortress, where he was locked in a cell.
“Who is this Paul you are so anxious to help?” Marcus asked Joshua as they made their way home.
“Paul is a great Christian,” Joshua replied. “He has been on long journeys and persuaded many to become followers of Jesus.”
“Why should people want to kill him?” Marcus persisted.
“Before his conversion, Paul bitterly hated Christians and persecuted them. He was a leader of the unbelievers, so now they feel he has betrayed them. They hate him for deserting their cause.”
All that night Marcus thought about Paul. He wondered what had happened to make Paul become a Christian after previously hating them so much.
Joshua asked Marcus to go to the prison with him to take some food to Paul. Marcus’ father arranged for the boys to go inside the fortress. After Paul had eaten, Joshua asked the prisoner to tell Marcus about his conversion.
Paul was a small, plain-looking man but his eyes seemed to shine as he told Marcus and Joshua about the events of that special day. He had been on his way to Damascus to persecute some Christians when suddenly a bright light came down from heaven and shone around him. Paul fell to the ground and heard a voice ask, “Why do you persecute me?”
Paul had answered with another question, “Who are you, Lord?” And the reply had come, “I am Jesus of Nazareth.”
When Paul arose, he could not see, and his friends had to lead him by the hand to Damascus. For three days he lay in darkness and tasted neither water nor food. Then there came to him a man by the name of Ananias who said he had been told in a vision to bless Paul so that he might see again. After the blessing by Ananias, Paul went about teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who would listen.
As Paul told his story and spoke of the love of Jesus, a strange feeling came over Marcus. Somehow he knew that all that Paul said was true and that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of the only true God.
When the boys left the fortress, they walked past the temple. Marcus wanted to say, “I would like to become a Christian,” but he was sure his father would never approve.
The boys sat on the ground with their backs against a stone wall. As they talked, tears came to Marcus’ eyes. Joshua asked him why he was unhappy. When Marcus spoke what was in his heart, Joshua said, “We will pray that the way will be opened for you.”
Just then they overheard a man’s voice on the other side of the wall. “There are more than forty of us who are under oath that we will neither eat nor drink until Paul is dead. You are to tell the priests to send someone to Captain Claudius Lysias with a message that they want Paul brought to the council room for questioning. Before Paul ever reaches that room, we will kill him.”
When the men on the other side of the wall moved away, Marcus and Joshua hurried to the fortress. Marcus told the guards he had an urgent message for his father. After waiting what seemed like forever, Marcus’ father came to the gate. He took the boys to his quarters, where they told him what they had overheard. “Paul is a Roman citizen,” Valerius said, “and must be protected. I will take you to the captain, and you can tell him what you have heard.”
The captain did not look pleased to see them. When Valerius told him the boys had come with a message, he grumbled impatiently, “A young man who just left gave me a message that requires immediate action if it be true. So give me your message in a hurry; I’m a busy man!”
Marcus repeated the plot to kill Paul that he and Joshua had overheard. The captain nodded his head, and when Marcus finished, Claudius Lysias said, “I am grateful to you for coming. Your story confirms what the young man who just left told me.”
Turning to Valerius, the captain ordered, “Make ready two hundred soldiers, three-score and ten horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to accompany you to Caesarea. Take Paul to Felix, the Roman governor. There he will be safe until it is decided whether he is guilty of any offense. I put him in your charge.”
While his father was away, Marcus thought constantly of Paul and of the teachings of Jesus. Finally Marcus decided to talk to his mother. He was sure she would not be angry, because once she had said to him, “The Christian friends you have made in Jerusalem are the finest companions you may ever have.”
She listened thoughtfully while Marcus told her the story of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus. “I wish I could have heard Paul,” she murmured. She sighed sadly before she continued, “I doubt if we’ll ever become Christians. Your father’s work in the Roman army, and even his life, would be in peril if it were known.”
But Marcus continued to pray for help.
The very day his father returned home, Marcus sensed a great change in him.
That evening Valerius put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “I rode all the way to Caesarea beside Paul.” He smiled at Marcus. “Paul is a great man. Now I know that we must become Christians, for Jesus of Nazareth is truly the divine Son of the only true God.”
Marcus felt a flood of gratitude fill his heart. He was the happiest boy in the whole Roman empire. He could hardly wait to tell Joshua the good news!