I know it's election night, and every good believer is talking politics about now. But what can I say that the media hasn't already said? I've prayed and I've voted and I'll watch some returns, but for now, let's talk about what I promised yesterday, and what is vastly more important.
I had two heroes growing up. Both preachers. Billy Graham and Peter Marshall. Dr. Marshall was the Senate Chaplain about whom the classic Christian tale A Man Called Peter was told. In the portion of his classic sermon Were You There? that follows, the Scotch immigrant pastor of the New York Ave. Presbyterian Church of D.C. tells the story of the suffering of Jesus in a way that only he could do. The full text, written and audio, is available with just a little online seraching...
...So they came to Calvary. They called it Golgotha. And visitors to Jerusalem would be asked if they agreed that, seen in silhouette, it suggested a human skull. It was a place to be avoided. It was where two great highways converged upon the city of Jerusalem and down in the valley below a place of stench, a place of horror, an ugly place where refuse always burned and the evil smelling smoke curled up and was wafted over the brow of Golgotha. That was the place of public execution. There the procession stopped. Only as the nails were driven in did the shouting stop. There was a hush because most of them were stunned and horrified, even the hardest of them were silenced. It is not pleasant to watch nails being driven through human flesh...Peter stood on the fringe of the crowd until hot tears filled his eyes and his heart broke in pieces.John stood beside Mary and supported her. The other women were weeping.
But as soon as the Nazarene had mounted His last pulpit, as soon as the cross had fallen with a thud into the pit they had dug for it, the shouting broke out again. There were some who had followed Him once, who had been attracted by the charm of the Wonder Worker. There were many among them who had accepted loaves and fishes at His hands. And now they shouted taunts at Him. They remembered what He had said and now they hurled His sayings back in His teeth. They threw up at Him like barbed arrows of hate and malice promises He had made, predictions and eternal truth that had fallen from His lips. Now they taunted Him. They stabbed and wounded Him with things He Himself had said.
"Aye, He saved others, Himself He cannot save." And you will note that they admitted here and now all the miracles He had ever performed. Aye, He had brought back the dead to life again. He had given sight to blind eyes. He had straightened withered limbs. He had caused the cripples to leap and to walk and to praise God in their joy. Aye, He saved others, Himself He cannot save.
"Miracle Man, come on down from the cross and we will believe. One more miracle, the greatest of them all."
"Ah-ha, Thou Who would build the Temple in three days. Mr Carpenter, Thou hast nails in Thy hand, Thou hast no hammer. Thou canst not build a Temple up there. Come on down from the cross and we will believe Thee."
"Older than father Abraham. Thou art very old now, but young enough to escape if Thou wilt work another miracle. Come on down and we will believe Thee." They shouted until they were hoarse...
...Now they were all there that day on the top of the hill, the friends of Jesus and His enemies. The church people, they were there as well as the people who never went to church. The priests were there and the scribes, the greedy Sadducees, the hypocrites, the proud Pharisees with their robes, their broad-bordered phylacteries on which golden bells were sewn with golden thread. They were there drawing their robes more tightly around them and standing with arms folded approvingly. They were there.
And the people who were always talking about the church and always talking about the Lord, the pious people on whose lips there were always glib quotations from the Scriptures, they were there. The unbelievers were standing beside them.
The harlots were there and their customers were there. They were all there. Simon of Cyrene was there and the soldiers too. Peter was there and John and Andrew and James and Thomas and Philip and Matthew and Bartholomew. They were all there. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
When we consider who were there and when we are honest with ourselves we know that we were there and that we helped to put Christ there. Because every attitude present on that hilltop that day is present in our midst now. Every emotion that tugged at human hearts then tugs at human hearts still. Every face that was there is here too. Every voice that shouted then is shouting still. Every human being was represented on Calvary. Every sin was in a nail, or the point of a spear, or the thorns. And pardon for them all was in the blood that was shed.
Nineteen hundred years have passed away but the rains of the centuries with their calloused tears have not yet washed away the blood from the rotting wood of a deserted cross. Nor have the winds covered His footprints in the sands of Judea. Calvary still stands. And you and I erect the Cross again and again and again every time we sin. The hammer blows are still echoing somewhere in the caverns of your heart and mine, every time we deny Him, every time we sin against Him or fail to do what He commanded. He is being crucified again and again and again.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? I was. Were you?
(Tomorrow I will share with you another story of the suffering church of Jesus.)