There was nothing special about the Nazarene. His body was hard and rippled with muscles carved from years of apprenticeship in his father’s shop. The man looked pale and sickly. Forty days of fasting would eventually take their toll on a man. Even if the man in question was the Messiah. Supposed Messiah. The man was asleep at the moment. The harsh, unforgiving wilderness provided a less than comfortable bed. Still the Nazarene slept soundly, though far from easy. The man churned in his sleep, tormented by unknown turmoils. Although the man was, on the whole, unremarkable, something about him made Lucifer’s wings itch. Or, more appropriately, the nubs that once were his wings. Something about the man made his insides seethe. The deluge of hatred he felt for him was only compounded by the waves of pity. Still, curiosity claimed its prize in the Angel of Light. He stepped through the veil between the worlds and touched the alleged savior.
Lucifer felt no signs of divinity in the man. To all knowable senses, the man was mortal. He examined the man closer. His sojourn through the desert had left his robes bleached by the sun, and so threadbare that they were barely recognizable as clothing. Patches were missing from his beard and hair as if, in a fit of rage or sorrow, he had torn at them. The skin on his face, shoulders, and back was scorched from unyielding desert sun. The wind and sand had traced thin whelps across his back which bled in narrow but steady streams. Both of his hands and feet were cracked and bleeding from exposure. Except for the uneven rise and fall of the Nazarene’s chest, and the violent tosses of his body, the man looked for all the world like a corpse.
“Awake Son of Man,” Lucifer said, and his voice was like the sound of water rushing over smooth stones. The Nazarene opened his eyes, rolled onto his side, and spat out blood. “Water,” he managed to croak. A jolt of nausea shook Lucifer as the wind carried the stench of the man’s unwashed body to him. “Not much of a Messiah are you?” Lucifer said.
“Water please!” the Nazarene called out, his voice breaking. Lucifer gave a sigh of exasperation and dug a small hole in the earth. He leaned over the basin and, with a glib smile toward the Nazarene, whispered one of the forgotten words of power over the sand. Before the eyes of the man from Galilee the bowl of earth filled with cool clear water. The Nazarene stared in surprise. “What are you, stranger?” he said.
“Drink Son of Man,” Lucifer said. “There’s time for that later.”
The man leapt upon the pool of water and gulped it down vigorously. No matter how much he drank the pool did not run dry. When he had drunk his fill, he sat back, exhausted. He heaved great gulps of air into his lungs. When his breath eased Lucifer spoke.
“What is you name Son of Man?”
“I am known as Jesus son of Joseph.”
“Well Jesus son of Joseph, there is much talk of you in the other realms. It has been said that you are the one to whom the prophecies foretold.” When Jesus offered no explanation, Lucifer continued.
“The Children of God, both the fallen and the faithful, are claiming you are the Messiah.”
“Which are you? Fallen or faithful?” Jesus said, and Lucifer shuddered at the fierce way in which the Nazarene’s eyes fixed him.
“You know who I am Jesus son of Joseph,” the two stared at each other across the centuries and Lucifer was relieved when it was the Nazarene who spoke first.
“Yes,” he said. “I suppose I do. Why are you here?”
“Why that should be obvious,” scoffed Lucifer. “I want to know if the rumors are true. Are they? Are you the chosen Messiah?”
“I am a rabbi,” said Jesus.
“A rabbi!” Lucifer laughed a cold sneering laugh which was not without its own harmonious melodies. “Well tell me rabbi, why are you out here in the wilderness so far from the holy places?”
Lucifer took a sort of pleasure in the way the man shifted his weight from side to side.
“I was called here by God for a time of prayer and fasting,” said Jesus.
“And how long ago was this?”
“Have you received the answers you sought Son of Joseph?” Lucifer could not suppress the smile that played upon his lips as Jesus slowly shook his head.
“Are you here to test me?” inquired Jesus.
“I am here for answers,” snorted Lucifer. “Tell me your story Son of Joseph.”
“There’s not much to tell really,” responded Jesus. “I was born in Bethlehem, raised in Egypt, and baptized in the river Jordan.”
“An all together unremarkable life. So why is it, Son of Joseph, you are causing the celestial realms such an upheaval?”
“I suppose that would concern my baptism.”
Lucifer’s ears burned as if a single flame had leapt to life on his earlobe and traced its way to the tip. With each word the Nazarene spoke Lucifer became more and more uncomfortable. In the back of his mind, just as the All Mighty had done, Lucifer began to lay the foundation of his own plan for Jesus of Nazareth. He did not breathe but gave a sign that the man should continue.
“At the moment of my baptism, the skies opened and a dove descended from Heaven.” For the first time in their conversation the Nazarene smiled. Lucifer was
put off by the knowing look in the man’s eyes. After a moment, Jesus spoke again.
“The voice of God spoke to me. The voice said, ‘You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ “
Lucifer bristled. Anger sprung to life in his bowels and flashed in his eyes. In a single moment he was thrown back to centuries passed. He remembered well when the Creator had said the same words to him. This was before Lucifer had read the Book of Life. A single tear smoldered in his eye and he let if fall to the sun parched soil. He gathered himself and prepared himself for what he was about to say.
“So,” began the fallen angel. “God has chosen you as his son.”
“It would appear so,” said Jesus.
“Let us find out, son of man,” retorted Lucifer. “After forty days of fasting you must be hungry.”
Lucifer bent and picked up a rough desert stone. Holding it out to the man, he said, “If you truly are God’s son turn this stone to bread. Slake your hunger son of man and prove yourself.”
Jesus took the stone offered him. He rolled it over in his hands, pondering its
every jagged edge while Lucifer waited with baited breath. Jesus weighed the stone in each hand before speaking.
“It is written,” said Jesus. “That man should not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Lucifer laughed his bell-like laugh.
“You know the Word as well as any alive, Rabbi,” spat Lucifer. “I would venture as far as to say that you have had enough of the Word, and desire something that becomes the mouth a bit more.”
With a sheer force of will Lucifer turned the stone in Jesus’ hand to a loaf of dry
brown bread still warm as if from an oven. At the stone’s transformation Jesus started and dropped the loaf to the ground. Lucifer stooped and picked up the bread. He brushed of the clinging grains of sand and held it out before Jesus.
“Go on eat. You’ll need your strength for the coming days before you.”
When Jesus did not take the offered meal Lucifer sighed and spoke again.
“You’ll find nothing out the ordinary about it. Take it son of man and eat.”
Lucifer tore of a piece of the bread and shoved it in his mouth. Once more he offered the bread to Jesus. Jesus devoured the entire loaf in seconds flat. Lucifer chuckled to himself.
“Come Son of Man,” he said. “Let us see the world.”
Lucifer took the hem of the man’s robe and didn’t know if he imagined the charge he felt lance through his finger tips. He brushed it off. The world spun and the two were standing atop the Temple. Jesus swayed and was profoundly sick. The sight of the man heaving on the roof of the most holy of all spaces brought a twisted smile to Lucifer’s lips. He stepped to the edge and gazed out over the streets. People weaved in and out of buildings and into alleyways carpeting the streets in a swarming mass of humanity.
“Look at them Son of Man,” Lucifer said with a note of disgust. “Hundreds of them. Each one with hundreds of sins on their unwashed heads. Liars, thieves, adulterers, and murderers by the score. Each one oblivious to the sins of the others as well as their own. Each one bathing in the filth of the world, hiding behind their false priests and sacrificial lambs. Each one in violation of the Covenant.
“Look Son of Man. These are the people you are sent to save. Tell me, are you up to it?”
Jesus pulled himself to his feet and gazed over the parapet.
“I will do what I am called to do,” he said.
“Called or not,” spat Lucifer. “The job before you is no easy task. How can one man, one all together unremarkable man, be the hope for all these people?”
“Moses asked much the same question,” replied Jesus, his eyes trained on the banquet of sin laid out before him. Though his voice was firm his brow betrayed him. The son of man was not as sure of himself as he pretended to be. Lucifer pressed on.
“They won’t listen to you,” he began circling the Nazarene. “Even if you are God’s chosen son, what proof of it can you offer the masses? Moses performed miracles. You refuse to feed yourself after starving for forty days! You accepted bread from a fallen angel rather than turning the stones yourself. If you are to save the poor, the broken, the downtrodden, if you are to redeem the unclean and make low the most high, then you are going to have to do something spectacular to get their attention.”
Jesus turned to the fallen angel.
“What do you suggest?”
It was a question born of true and honest confusion. The son of man, the supposed Messiah was asking him, Lucifer the Fallen, for advice. Looking into his eyes and seeing fear and doubt hiding there, Lucifer almost felt sorry for him. He quickly brushed it away and rubbed his hands together.
“Leap from this wall Joseph’s Son.”
A moment passed in which the Nazarene considered his words.
“It’s so high,” he said at last. He had taken the bait.
“Is it not written,” Lucifer began. “That ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone?’”
“It is,” said Jesus.
“Then what are you waiting for? Show these people who you are. Leap and prove you are the Messiah.”
“It is also written,” said Jesus. “’You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
A spark of anger flared inside of Lucifer. As quickly as it had lit up it subsided.
“He puts us to the test. He tested me when he left the Book of Life in my possession. I tested the woman in the garden. He tested Abraham, and Moses, and David. We tested Job. And now I am testing you. Life is full of tests Son of Man. Even if you don’t know it. Why should he be any different?”
Jesus did not respond but turned his gaze away from Lucifer and back to the people below him. Lucifer sighed as that same spark snapped to life in his gut again. With a vice-like grip he grabbed Jesus’ shoulder.
“There is still more to see Son of Man.” Not another word was spoken before he threw both himself and the Nazarene over the edge of the Temple wall.
The wind whipped Lucifer’s face as they fell. Jesus pressed his eyes tightly shut
and clung to him. The terrified howl that issued from the man’s throat was music to Lucifer’s ears. He let out a wild and wicked laugh as the plummeted to the streets below.
It was over as soon as it began. However, instead of slamming into the rough stonework streets Jesus was shocked to find himself on the precipice of a high mountain. He collapsed to the ground shaking.
“Get up Joseph’s Son,” barked Lucifer irritably. “Open your eyes and see the world.”
Trembling, Jesus stood and looked out at the terrain spreading out before him.
“What-What happened?” Jesus asked his companion and Lucifer was deeply satisfied to the break in his voice.
“You forget Son of Man that I was and angel too. Once.”
“Where have you brought me?”
“A place without a name,” said Lucifer. “Before you lay all the countries of the world. My kingdom.”
“What of it?”
“I want you to grasp the gravity of your impending situation. Sit down Son of Man and listen to my story.”
Hesitantly, Jesus sat on a large rock and prepared himself to listen. It seemed an age before Lucifer spoke again.
“It may not seem so now, but I was once in the highest council of the All Mighty. I can tell by your expression that this surprises you. Yes I, the fallen, the damned, once walked the gilded streets of paradise side by side with Jehovah. I was beautiful once. Light shone around me and music sounded wherever I walked. And I was once beloved by the one who now calls you his son. I was his chosen, his favorite. I was his beloved son in whom he was well pleased. Sound familiar?
“Yes, I was once where you are now. I know what it means to be chosen by God. Your job, the calling you received, all the prophetic scripture that points to you was supposed to be mine.”
Jesus recoiled. Lucifer fought back the tears that were threatening to burst from his eyes in rivers.
“Don’t seem so disgusted. You and I have much in common. You see we are both bound by chains of…fate? Destiny? The will of the Most High?” Lucifer laughed. “His infallible will. What you may not know Son of Man is that when God created your kind and gave them free will he knew what path their history would take. Oh yes, he knew that man would fall. He knew they would choose the path that leads to death. And choose it you did. In all my years of watching mankind it still amazes me the capacity in which the human race has for continually choosing the wrong choice. Their capacity for hate, and violence, and war, and blasphemy. It makes may head spin. I can’t understand it and I am the author of confusion.
“And yet,” he began pacing back and forth in righteous anger. “And yet! And yet more confusing than mankind is God himself! No matter how many times you disappoint him, and disappoint him you do, he continues to favor you. A favor the likes of which my kind was never afforded! He looks down seeing each and every bad decision you make and hopes against hope that next time you will choose him who gave you the privilege not to!”
Against his better judgment his tears would no longer hold their place
behind his eyes and they came freely. Soon he was sobbing and rocking back and forth on the hard ground. Jesus hesitated for a moment and placed a weather worn hand on his shoulder. Lucifer recoiled as if scorched by boiling water.
“Don’t touch me!” Lucifer foamed at the mouth and as he shouted a few flecks sailed through air and struck the rock on which Jesus sat. Jesus hesitated a moment before speaking.
“Why did you bring me here?” he asked with all the sincerity he could muster.
“Why?” said Lucifer wiping away tears and spit. “Look around you Jesus. All the countries of the world are here before you. Each one of them full of people. This is the size of your task. You are charged with being the redemption of all these people. How can you possibly hope to accomplish that? Do you know?”
“No,” admitted Jesus.
“I do,” Lucifer rose to his feet. “What being the Messiah is, truly is, is living a life of solitude, ridicule, and intolerance. You will be hated by all and you will lead a life of misunderstanding and hardship and that pain will only to be surmounted by your betrayal and eventual death at the hands of the very people you were sent to save!”
“How can you possibly know such a thing?” Jesus said aghast.
“Because it was supposed to be me!” shouted Lucifer through a veil of tears. “That’s why I rebelled. I read it in the Book of Life. And the worst part, the part that gnaws at my spirit day and night is knowing that at my dying hour, when I have been forsaken by the entire world, with my dying breath and the crushing weight of the sins of the world upon my shoulders, God himself will turn his face from me!”
Jesus’ reaction was no different than if Lucifer had struck him in the face. Under the weight of this startling revelation Jesus crumbled into himself.
“It can’t be true,” he said to himself.
“It is true Jesus of Nazareth,” said Lucifer. “I could not fathom that my god would turn his back on me, so I rebelled. Instead of taking on the sin of the world I became the sin of the world. Instead of being its redemption I became its damnation.”
There was a long pause in which neither man hardly dared to breathe. Finally after what seemed like forever, Jesus spoke.
“Even so. The curse of sin must be ended. If this is what is asked of me then I shall receive it.”
“You are willing to lose everything?” Lucifer asked.
“What choice have I?” asked Jesus. “You said yourself the will of God is infallible. If I must die then I must die, but hopefully not before doing some good in the world.”
Lucifer knew not what to say. Luckily for him he didn’t have to. At that moment
the sky was torn apart and a host of angels descended on Jesus. They brought him food and drink and tended to his wounds. Lucifer knew every one of them and his heart ached to see them clad in the glowing splendor of Heaven. It grew to be too much and he departed.
After he was well away from the man from Galilee he began to notice the sound of footsteps following him. He turned and was startled to see his old friend Gabriel standing before him. He was just as he remembered. The angel was beautiful with clear white skin smooth as glass. His hair fell past his shoulders in curls like liquid gold. His wings spread out behind him for at least twenty feet and he shone like the sun. So much so that Lucifer had to shield his eyes.
“Gabriel,” said Lucifer. “The Messiah is that way.” He gestured the top of the mount from which he had descended.
“It is not Jesus I was sent for Lucifer,” said the angel.
“Why are you here old friend?” asked the fallen angel.
“Lucifer you know me better than any being above or below. You know the charge the All Mighty has given me. I am the messenger of God”
“Then you have a message for me?” said Lucifer.
“I have,” said Gabriel.
“Of course,” said the angel.
“Well Gabriel,” huffed Lucifer. “Get on with it.”
“He loves you.”
The only sound that could be heard was that of a whistling wind. Tears once more began to stream from Lucifer’s eyes.
“Then why…” he began but was unable to get out any more. He sank to the ground sobbing. Gabriel advanced on him and held him close like a mother would her child.
“Because dear heart,” he said soothingly. “The will of our Father is infallible. Because he has a plan.”
“And what is his plan for me, Gabriel?”
The angel thought for a moment before speaking.
“Lucifer,” he began. “Mankind is not like the Children of God. They are unable to understand God’s mercy and love without something to compare it with. Know Lucifer that you were not without God’s favor when you raised your war with him. On the contrary, you were and remain his most obedient servant.”
“So my role in the Creator’s plan is to be the ultimate evil to his ultimate good?”
“For now,” said Gabriel. “But remember Lucifer that he called you his beloved child. The Father does not throw such terms around. He still loves you. Passionately and with such fervor that makes some of the higher Host quite jealous, if angels are capable of such a thing.”
“Then why has he forsaken me?” Lucifer asked with a tear stained face.
“Oh my brother he hasn’t forsaken you,” said Gabriel. “You see this man? The man with whom you have spent the last hours is the hope for all creation. He is the redemption of sin. All sin.”
“You mean…” said Lucifer. Gabriel nodded. “But what I did was a grievous sin against God himself.”
“Some sins are ordained by God himself.”
Lucifer began to weep fresh tears. Gabriel held him tight.
“Your time will come dear heart. God is a god of mercy and love. Angels have little need of his mercy because none of us have been given the monstrous task you now have. Just as Jesus will live God’s plan so will you. You will show humanity God and through you they will understand him as we do. Not as a wrathful, blood thirsty deity, but as a grieving father counting down the days until he sees his son again.”
For a long time the angel simply held the fallen. Every now and then he would
rock him gently and coo softly in his ear. Mostly he let the devil cry. After a long while, he released his grip and they both rose to their feet.
“I must go now old friend. Be patient. We will be together soon. You shall come home dear one. Until then, do good by doing evil. Humanity shall find its salvation in you, and you shall find your salvation in humanity.”
With that the angel left him. Lucifer stood for a moment in the wake of Gabriel’s
absence and poured over what his friend had said. Redemption through humanity. God certainly did have a strange sense of humor. He pondered the words of the angel in his heart on his journey back to his realm They would not make the flames of Hell any less hot, but for the first time in a long time Lucifer the Fallen felt the hand of his father and did not shy away.