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The Foiled Conspiracy
Phillip, panting with exhaustion, ran through the back streets of Jerusalem, his home city.
“I can’t stop! If I’m late for dinner again, Mother will kill me!” thought Phillip. This was the third night in a row he had been late for dinner. His mother questioned him why he was always late, but he couldn’t bear to tell her it was because he wasn’t keeping up with his grades in school and had to stay behind to work with his teacher. It seemed as if he was never doing anything right. All the other boys in his class excelled in Mathematics, Science, and the study of the Torah, while Phillip could barely sustain a passing grade.
He swung around the side of a house and almost crashed into a group of men, Jews to be exact, in a serious discussion.
“Whoa! Watch where you’re going next time, boy!” said one of them, who seemed to be in charge.
“I’m sorry, sirs. Just going home for dinner,” Phillip said quickly, edging around the group of men. He slipped around the corner, but stopped, curious of what they were talking about.
“Anyway,” said the first man’s voice from the other side of the wall. “What we are going to do is send Simeon to ask for the commander to have Paul appear before the Sanhedrin for further questioning. On the way there, we attack them.”
“Just us? There are only ten of us! We can’t possibly take on the guards that will go with him.”
“No, it won’t be just us. I have another group ready to join us. There will be over forty of us in all. Are we all clear on the plan?”
Phillip heard murmurs of agreement, and then the man said, “And remember. There will be no eating or drinking until Paul, the prisoner, is dead.”
Phillip gasped, unable to keep it inside. Paul, his uncle, was going to be killed? He heard footsteps coming toward the corner of the house. Realizing his danger, Phillip dashed along the wall and onto the street.
“Hey, you! Get back here!” shouted one of the men, dark eyes flashing.
“Let him go. He’s just a boy. What can he do?” said the man in charge.
Phillip kept running aimlessly, with no specific destination in mind. Just somewhere away from those Jewish men.
Finally, Phillip had to stop. He sank to the ground against a wall, panting, sweat dripping into his eyes. The hot sun beat down on Phillip, baking the city and everyone in it.
“OK. I have to think,” Phillip said to himself. “It has to be my uncle. His name is Paul, he is a prisoner here in Jerusalem, and many of the Jews hate him because of what he believes and teaches. I have to stop those men somehow.”
Phillip got up to go home and ask his mother what he should do. Then he realized something.
“If they aren’t going to eat or drink until they’ve killed him, they must plan to do it soon.”
Then Phillip knew what he had to do. He didn’t want to, he was afraid to, but he would do it anyway. Determined, he walked down the dusty street towards the barracks where his uncle was kept prisoner.
After much persuading from the jailer, Phillip walked back towards his uncle’s prison cell.
The prison cell, cold and damp, had one small window with bars over it that let in enough light to see by. A thin mattress lay with a worn, moth-eaten blanket along one wall. Hopelessness hung like a thick fog over the air, clammy and stale.
Then Paul stepped into the small square of light, his face pale and bony. A thin tunic hung loosely on his shoulders. Phillip approached the bar-covered door.
“Phillip! It is so good to see…” Paul’s voice faded when he saw the worried look on Phillip’s face. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
Phillip quickly explained to his uncle about the plot to kill him on the way to the Sanhedrin.
When Phillip finished, Paul’s face was emotionless, as if it didn’t surprise him that someone wanted to kill him.
“You must go to the commander and tell him what you have just told me,” said Paul hurriedly. “And you must do it now. Those Jews could be on their way here as we speak. Guard? Guard?” The guard came over to Paul’s cell. “Please take this young man to the commander immediately. He has something to tell him.”
Phillip stared at Paul, dumbfounded. He, Phillip, who always stumbled through the reading of the Torah, who could barely remember his multiplication tables, who never did anything right? And now he was to go to the Roman commander? Surely he would mess up; he couldn’t do something this important.
Seeing Phillip’s fear, Paul looked deep into his eyes. “God go with you, Phillip. Remember, you can do all things through Him who strengthens you.”
Phillip followed the guard down the dark hallway up to an iron door, large and foreboding. The guard knocked on the door, and a voice from inside said, “Come in”.
They entered the commander’s room, and Phillip followed the guard to where the commander sat. His heart was thumping like a drum.
“Paul, the prisoner, sent this young man to you because he has something to tell you.” And with that, the guard left.
“What is it you want to tell me?” asked the commander, drawing Phillip aside.
At first Phillip couldn’t speak. He knew he was going to mess up. What if the commander just laughed at his story?
“Well?” said the commander.
Phillip fumbled for words, not knowing where to start.
“I was on my way- I was late for dinner so I was-” he decided to just skip to the point. “I overheard some Jews talking about a plan to kill Paul. They vowed to not eat or drink until he is killed. They are going to come to you and ask to have Paul taken to the Sanhedrin for further questioning. On the way there, over forty Jewish men are going to ambush Paul and the others with him and kill Paul. You can‘t let them! Please, don‘t let them take him away!”
The commander sat thinking for a moment. “Do those Jews know you overheard this?”
“Yes. They found me hiding after they were finished planning. But I ran away and came straight here.”
“OK. You must not let any of those Jews see you. I will have one of the guards show you a back way out of the barracks.” The commander called two soldiers and ordered them, “Gather together two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. At nine tonight you must take Paul to Governor Felix in Caesarea.”
“Yes, sir,” they said as the left.
Just then a guard came to the door. “There is a Jew here to see you. Simeon, I think his name is. He wanted to ask you something concerning the prisoner, Paul, and about taking him to the Sanhedrin.”
Phillip’s head whipped around to look at the commander. “That’s them,” he whispered, fear in his voice.
“Bring him to me,” the commander told the guard. When he left, the commander spoke to Phillip. The seriousness in his voice told Phillip how dangerous the situation was.
“You must not let anyone know you have come to me. We don’t have time to call a guard to take you out now. You’ll have to go yourself. Go out this side door,” he said urgently. “Take a right, and there is a door at the end of the hallway. Do you understand?” Phillip nodded. “All right. Make haste.”
“Good bye,” said Phillip, going to the side door. “And thank you.” Phillip stopped with his had on the door handle. “Will I be able to see Paul before he leaves?”
“If you go out the door, and take a left, there is a door leading into the prisons where you can say good bye. My men are leaving at nine tonight.” There was a knock at the door. “Now go, quickly!” the commander said in an urgent whisper.
Phillip whipped the door open and darted through, quietly closing it behind him.
A stone corridor led Phillip to a door leading outside. Phillip went out this door and heard voices. Voices that sounded much like those he had heard on his way home for dinner. Then, to his horror, he realized it was those same voices! Phillip stopped short, holding his breath. His heart thumped in his ears so loudly, he was surprised the men couldn’t hear it. Phillip glanced the other way, checking for a way to escape. A stonewall blocked his way from going around to the front of the barracks.
Phillip sighed quietly and leaned his head against the side of the building, thinking. He would have to wait until the men left and pray that they wouldn’t come to his side.
Presently, Phillip heard another voice join the Jews.
“He refused,” said the voice.
“What?” asked one of the Jews.
“He wouldn’t allow Paul to be taken to the Sanhedrin.”
With these words, a mighty wave of relief washed through Phillip.
“That ruins everything!” said the leader, very angry now. “How would he know? He couldn’t know!”
“What about that kid? He was listening in on us planning!” said another voice. Phillip heard a gasp.
“It has to be him! No one else knew! Of all the scummy, tattletale little kids- come on! Let’s go find him, and we’ll let him have it!”
Phillip plastered himself against the wall, not daring to breath. To Phillip’s relief, the Jewish men’s voices soon faded around the other side of the barracks. Phillip took a deep breath, relieved, and waited to make sure they were gone. The minutes ticked slowly by while Phillip waited. When he was sure the coast was clear, he ventured around the side of the barracks. He found the door the commander told him about and slipped inside, where he was met by soldiers demanding to know why he was there. Phillip tried to explain that Paul was his uncle, and he wanted to say good-bye. When they wouldn’t believe him, they called Paul over to confirm Phillip’s story.
“Do you know this young man, Paul?” asked one of the soldiers.
“Of course. He is my nephew- my sister’s son,” replied Paul.
“Well, all right. He came to say goodbye to you. You only have a few minutes.”
Phillip and Paul went to one of the few unoccupied corners to talk.
“Thank you for what you did, Phillip. It can never be repaid,” said Paul.
“Oh, it- it’s nothing.”
“Yes it is. You saved my life, and life is a very precious thing.”
“Well, I…” Phillip stopped when the guard came over to them.
“I hate to break this up, but it’s time to go, Paul,” he said.
“Good bye, Phillip. Tell your family I said good-bye, especially your mother.”
“Will I ever see you again?” asked Phillip.
“Only in God’s timing. Good-bye!” Paul said as he walked away with the guards.
“Good-bye, Paul!” And then he was gone.
Phillip slowly walked home. He couldn’t shake the thought that he might never see his uncle again. He couldn’t imagine telling his family- especially his mother. They were brother and sister and had always been close.
As Phillip thought back through his adventure, he remembered his fear of messing up. His fear that the commander would laugh his story off and not take him seriously. His fear of his uncle being killed. He realized that none of those things had happened. Paul was safe, and Phillip had not once made a mistake. “You can do all things through Him who strengthens you.” He could hear Paul’s voice in his head, and he realized how true it was. With God’s help, he could do anything, even do well in school. Phillip was determined to try even harder to improve his grades.
As Phillip was processing all this, his stomach rumbled, and he started sprinting.
“I’m late for dinner again!”