Smatterings of blood trailed the figure sprinting through the streets of a waking Jerusalem. Early morning merchants and yawning olive farmers treading toward the gates met the fearful runner in the narrow passages of the Lower City. Those who leapt aside too late found themselves looking up from a cold, damp ground.
The sprinter's face was battered and unrecognizable. Only the remnants of a tattered tunic and the glistening plates along his belt identified the man as a soldier. A Roman soldier. A Roman soldier running for his life through the streets of Jerusalem.
A wave of killers rolled behind him. Gaining in strength. Gaining in speed. It roared with the stampeding echo of heavy footfall, the clanging of armor, and the cry of crisp commands. The wave shattered the serenity of morning and shook the city from its sleep.
The fleeing soldier heard nothing.
He ran through unpaved streets slanting dangerously downhill.
He ran through the market knocking over pottery and ricocheting off fruit stands.
He ran through the pain of a scabbard-slashed thigh and a dagger-ripped shoulder.
He ran toward home.
There would be no rest until his faltering vision focused on the gentle faces of the twins. Perhaps his left eye was swollen shut from the beating. Perhaps it was forever useless, punctured by a random blade during the commotion of an improbable, perhaps miraculous, escape. He didn't know. Nor did it matter.
Only Primus and Annia mattered.
And only death could stop him, but death had failed so far.
The wave of killers rolled on.
The sprinting soldier began to hear them, to sense them, to feel their presence.
His weary mind formed a prayer to an unfamiliar God.
"God of Jesus, God of Peter, I have seen your work. I am unknown to you. I am Annilas the Roman, and I need you. I ask for strength, I ask for speed. Please deliver me to my Primus and my Annia. And I'll give you...I'll give...I'll give the little that is left of me."
He asked for nothing more.
He only ran. Like a man ferried by unseen angels, he ran.
His feet became no match for his speed. Losing his balance, he stumbled and skidded along the unforgiving roadway. Bits of earth latched to his blood-streaked body as he rolled. The new wounds screamed and flamed his adrenaline. Springing to his feet like a pursued animal, the running Roman quickly regained his stride.
The killers rolled on. Gaining. Always gaining.
The sprinting soldier never slowed as he approached his home. He lowered his shoulder and smashed into the thick wooden door. Tumbling across the threshold, he landed face down upon the dusty floor. As he struggled to lift his head, two young voices cried out in fear at the hideous figure.
"Primus, Annia, it is me."
"Father?" replied the boy. "Father, oh father, is that you?"
"Listen to me for you must know!" insisted Annilas, straining upward to his hands and knees.
"Forget all that I have taught you. Last night I guarded the one called Peter, the follower of Jesus the Nazerene, and his God took him. Took him! Do you understand?"
His children did not answer. Annia, the girl, his beautiful girl, grabbed a cloth and bent to wipe his filthy, wounded face.
"Listen my loves, listen. Last night Peter told me the truth and I scorned him. But his God is real. Sixteen of us kept watch. Bound...locked away...Peter's God rescued him! You must know, and you must learn the way of Jesus. For it is true, it is true!"
The wave of killers rumbled outside their home.
Annilas sat back upon his heels and bowed his head.
The twins watched as their father's body released all rigidness. They listened as he spoke words of thanks to an unseen friend. They embraced as the wave's rising roar drowned out his final words. They screamed as the Roman soldiers spilled savagely through the open doorway. They shut their eyes beneath the submerging chaos.
And they wept as the wave subsided, realizing their father was with them no more.
Acts 12 (NIV)
Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him...In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. After Herod had a thorough search made...he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Jason Swiney is a Christian, husband, father and educator who lives and writes in NE Georgia (lettingitflow.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org