Bartimaeus looked back only once at Herod’s temple, remembering that his mission came from the king himself. He wore his sword and sheath hidden beneath beggar’s robes, his face and hands purposely smudged with dirt to give the appearance of poverty and being on the road for a long time. As a trusted member of the Temple Guard, Bartimaeus had gone undercover before amongst the Romans and the Jews. This time though Herod recruited him personally, and he knew the rewards would be great if he brought back this Jewish child the three kings from the east were claiming would be the Messiah.
He tracked the kings and came upon their encampment, noticing the sentries dozing off on the perimeter. Bartimaeus slipped quietly up to the tent where the kings drank tea and studied charts on the table. They talked about the large star; he glanced over his shoulder at the road to Bethlehem and saw one large bright beacon amongst its lesser brethren in the firmament. One king said, “We will continue away from Bethlehem but then make our way to see the child in good time.”
He knew that they had lied to Herod now, but he had no time to go back and tell this news. No, he understood that he had to reach the child first and bring him back, as Herod instructed – dead or alive!
The night grew cold as Bartimaeus walked along the road to Bethlehem. Having grown up with a religious father, he had heard him talk about the Messiah but never believed himself.
He came upon three thieves attacking an old man. Bartimaeus drew his sword, and the attackers scattered into the night. The old man could not catch his breath, but he looked up at Bartimaeus and smiled. “Thank you for helping me.”
Bartimaues said, “You should not be travelling along here at night. This road is full of thieves.”
The old man got to his feet and pointed to the star. “I must go there to see what has been promised by Micah from days of old.”
“What do you hope to find there?”
“The King of the Jews,” the old man said.
“Very well. Let’s go.” Bartimaeus took the man by the arm and they continued their journey.
A few miles down the road they saw shepherds and their flock in the distant field. The old man left him and started walking across the field. The earth shook so much as to knock him to the ground. Suddenly the sky was filled with light as if it were noontime, and Bartimaeus had to shield his eyes as he saw the shepherds seemingly paralyzed with fear.
The old man rose above the shepherds, and he spoke as if he were a poet with a lyre. Bartimaeus finally heard the words he needed to hear – “You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Bartimaeus didn’t understand how the old man had done this, but with this information he rushed into Bethlehem and got caught in the crush of people in the streets, and then he saw the Roman soldiers directing people away from the square and recalled Herod complaining about the Roman census. He now understood the connection to the scripture – the child was foretold to be born in the city of David.
He asked around the town about the baby, but no one knew anything. He found a bustling tavern and went inside, seeing men with their jugs of wine and noting the foul stench in the air. The inn keeper suddenly grabbed his arm saying, “We don’t serve the likes of you in here.”
Instinctively he prepared to go for his sword, but then he remembered that he was undercover. To the innkeeper he appeared to be a beggar. He took a deep breath as the large man started dragging him toward the door. “Sir, I apologize, but I am trying to find the baby that was born tonight.”
Once out on the street the innkeeper looked him over. “It figures that you’re poor like they are.”
“The baby’s parents. I couldn’t give them a room here, but see that barn out there in the field?” Bartimaeus looked to where the man pointed and saw a small illuminated structure; directly above it shone the large star. “They are in there. My wife said the babe was born just an hour ago.”
“Thank you, sir,” Bartimaeus said. He rushed down the hill, across the field, and anxiously went toward the small barn. Outside there were sheep sleeping on the grass, and as he made his way inside he saw some of the shepherds he had seen in the field and the man that he had saved from the thieves.
They all knelt before a crib where the baby lay indeed wrapped in swaddling clothes. These few scrawny men would be no match for him, he thought, as he moved forward and prepared to take the sword from its sheath.
He saw the baby’s parents kneeling next to the crib, and the old man looked up at him and said, “Behold your salvation, Bartimaeus of Beersheba.”
Bartimaeus released the sword and stared at the man. “How do you….”
“See what the world has waited for all these years. “
Bartimaeus feared looking at the child, but as he did he felt his knees quiver. The radiance surrounding the baby overwhelmed him, and he fell to his knees and felt ashamed by the realization of what he had been prepared to do. He understood completely now as his heart opened and allowed the rush of energy inside.
He would never return to Herod or the killing of men. Bartimaeus understood his father now and why he awaited the Messiah, and as he stared at the child with love he had never known, he understood that from this day forward this blessed baby would be the only king that he served forevermore.
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