Were You There?
Pastor Vince Gerhardy
Intense hatred is an emotion that is difficult to comprehend.
It takes such a grip on a person that all rationality goes out the window.
Hatred can be so all-consuming to the point that all understanding, compassion and forgiveness become an impossibility.
This kind of red-hot hatred can be so intense that a person is no longer seen as human – just some inconvenient thing that needs to be gotten rid of. And so people who were once neighbours and friends turn on one another because the only thing they can feel is hatred.
It would be impossible to count how many people have been affected by racial hatred or “ethnic cleansing” to use the modern definition. Because of the colour of their skin, their economic status, their religion, their family and ethnic backgrounds people have been hated and destroyed. This happened in the United States, South Africa, Yugoslavia, Nazi Germany, Pakistan and India, Rwanda, and the list could go on and on.
There were two brothers who had inherited the farm from their father. It soon became evident that the older brother just couldn’t get on with his younger sibling. He started accusing the other of stealing, not working hard enough, cheating and an intense hatred developed in the mind of the older brother. He threatened his brother with a gun, threw a bucket of fresh cow manure through the open door of his brother’s house, and gave strict orders that his children were not to have anything to do with their cousins. This kind of blind hatred defies explanation – except to say that this is sin doing its worst and ugliest.
Or take the treatment of Jesus, climaxing in that last night of his earthly life. You look at the graphic portrayal of the unrestrained hatred that was unleashed there.
Jesus had only been going about doing good. He had done nothing deserving of the raw hatred that he experienced at the hands of his enemies. Pilate testified to the Jewish authorities, ‘I find no guilt in this man’ and yet he was beaten and whipped, and spat on and punched, and mocked, and finally crucified – and even his dying words are taken up in mockery and the unrestrained abuse of the man on the cross filled the air. He is hated so intensely that his innocence didn’t matter – Jesus was an inconvenience that they needed to be rid of.
Had television cameras been there that day and given us a live broadcast of the events as they unfolded I wonder how we would react to such a display of raw hatred. My guess is that we would be horrified at the behaviour of “those people”.
I guess that’s what television does. We can watch something and sit back in judgement on the behaviour of people. From the comfort of our lounge chairs we don’t feel any sense of involvement – we are watching what others are doing.
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We can do that with the events of Good Friday –
observe it as we would any other tragedy;
shake our heads at the senselessness of it all;
and then go about whatever it is that we have to do without giving it another thought.
But that’s something the Bible doesn’t allow us to do. The story of the crucifixion doesn’t allow us to sit back and blame “other people” for Jesus’ death. Take the passage from Isaiah that we read at the beginning of the service that describes what will happen to the Messiah. Isaiah uses language that directly involves. He uses words like this.
‘All we like sheep have gone astray’,
God ‘has laid on him the iniquity of us all’,
‘He was despised, and rejected’,
‘He was despised as one from whom men hide their face’.
He implicates all of us in the suffering and dying of Jesus. There are is no talk of “those people” – the Jews, the Romans, the religious leaders – killing Jesus. The finger is pointed directly at each of us – ‘we– you and me – despised him and rejected him’.
To hear about someone in a rage throwing a bucket of fresh cow manure inside someone’s front door may be slightly amusing. But to be told that you and I were involved in the death of the most innocent man who had ever walked this earth – well, that’s quite something else.
But it’s true. Oh sure, none of us were physically there on the streets of Jerusalem when the call ‘Crucify him!’ was shouted out or outside the city on Calvary Hill amongst those who nailed him to a cross and made fun of him. We may even argue that we wouldn’t have behaved as the people did back then.
Maybe not! There were those who didn’t join in the shout for Jesus’ blood but neither did they open their mouth to protest at this unfair and unnecessarily harsh treatment. Those who were considered Jesus’ friends slipped into the background, some deserted him completely. Even those close friends of Jesus are included in Isaiah’s words ‘we despised him and rejected him’.
But even that misses the point of our involvement. The simple fact is that were it not for our sin, our rebellion and rejection of God, our own waywardness, then the Son of God would never have had to come to that point.
It was our sin that brought Jesus to the point of dying on the cross.
When he died all of our sin was laid on him –
all of our rebellion,
our lack of faith and refusal to believe in God;
all of the times we have hurt one another in word and deed.
He died, under the curse of all of our sin. He died in our place.
As you came into the church this morning you were given a nail. There is nothing special about this nail –an ordinary nail like the ordinary nails that were used on the first Good Friday.
This nail is a symbol of our involvement in the death of Jesus.
It is a reminder that it was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. As we proceed through the service today I encourage you to focus on that nail and appreciate afresh what Jesus endured because of your sin. Don’t worry about the sin of other people – just focus on your own sin and acknowledge that it your sin that put Jesus on the cross. Focus on the nail and in repentance ask God to forgive you and change you.
The Bible says,
“For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
It says that “God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Or as Isaiah said, God, “has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
The message is clear – we drove those nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. Our sin was nailed to the cross with Jesus. He died to restore our friendship with God, made it possible for us to be his renewed and forgiven people, gave us the hope that sin and death will not be the end of us but as his renewed people live in his kingdom now and forever.
The events of Good Friday are not just a sad story of hatred, cruelty, and death – a display of humanity at its worst.
This is a story about sin, about ignoring God and his ways, and how seriously God views all sin.
This is story about how our peace was made with God.
It’s a story that urges us to trust in Jesus our saviour, claim the forgiveness that he won for us, and let our restored relationship with God renew our commitment to God and his ways and change the way we live our lives every day.
In a moment we will sing the song ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ What part did we play in the suffering and death of Jesus?
If we take Isaiah’s words seriously then there is no question that Christ died for us and because of us. As we listen to the Passion story this morning let us do so first of all with a humble spirit. It is our sin that put Jesus on the cross. If it were not for our sin God’s Son would not have been compelled to go to such lengths to ensure that we are his forever.
Let us listen with repentant hearts ready to turn away from the sin in our lives that grieves God and those around us.
Let us listen with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving for this painful yet loving act of God that has given us complete pardon for all of our sin.
Let us listen and renew our commitment to our God and Saviour because Jesus has given himself to us so selflessly and generously.
‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ Yes it’s true my sin, your sin, was responsible for his dying. And yes, to use the words from Isaiah, ‘We are healed by the punishment he suffered’.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2007, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.