Sermon: “Oh, To Have Been There”

Lectionary Series C; Good Friday

Sunday, April 19, 2019

Gospel Reading: John 19:17-30


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Each year as we mark this Friday we call Good, we sing the first three verses of the hymn, “Were you there?” We sing it as we hear of the rejection of Jesus, hear the hammering of the nails, and see the extinguishing of the candles. We sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb? And with each verse we sing, it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble. Tremble at the very thought of having been there.

What would it have been like to have been there? To have heard the shouts calling for His crucifixion. To have heard the final verdict. The innocent had been found guilty. The guilty Barabbas had been declared innocent. To have stood on the sides of those streets as the guards drove Him out of the city. To have seen them place that tree upon His whip-lashed back and force Him to carry it with the last ounces of strength He had in Him. Carry that cross to the Place appropriately called the Skull.

Oh, to have been there. To have stood on that mountain, the place where people were sent to die in the most horrific fashion. A place where death was put on display so that people could watch and tremble in fear at the thought of having to face the same fate. To have seen the nails, the hammer, and the tree. Instruments of a carpenter now altered into instruments of death to kill the carpenter’s Son.

Oh, to have been there. To have heard the sounds of the hammer hitting the nails as it rung in everyone’s ears. As it echoed throughout the land. To have seen His body hoisted about three feet above the ground. Just enough to ensure no relief for the one being crucified. To have watched the soldiers nail that plaque declaring Him the King of the Jews in three languages…a further insult of Pilate’s declaring that the Jews’ king had been crucified.

Oh, to have been there. To have heard the four soldiers divide his clothes into four equal shares. Then, to have heard them as they cast lots for Jesus’ seamless tunic acting as if this was like any other public crucifixion. No big deal. Oh, if they had only known that such a garment had touched the flesh of the Son of God.

Oh, to have been there. Imagine how it must have been for those who were there. Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene, and John. Imagine the heart-wrenching anguish as they witnessed Jesus beg for His thirst to be quenched as His body began to shut down. Imagine the anger welling up within them as they listened to the insensitive guards cast lots for the clothes of the man they loved so dearly. How could they do such a thing? Then to see Him suffer so intensely and not be able to do anything about it…oh, how it must have torn them up on the inside.

Oh, to have been there. To think about being there causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble…as we come to terms with the fact that it was because of our sins that He had to die. As we ponder anew what the Son of God did do here on Good Friday, we are brought face to face once again with the reality that it is because of our sinful disobedience that Jesus had to hang there and die while facing the wrath of God against sin.

Oh, to have been there. To have seen Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted. To see Him dying on that tree. Even the mere thought of it sends an overwhelming wave of guilt rushing over us.

And rightfully so. We are the guilty ones. We are the sinners. We are the ones deserving of God’s wrath. Each wound He bore was because of our disobedience, because of our rebellion. Every nail that pierced Him was supposed to be ours. We should have carried our own cross. We should have been left there to die. It is we who should have been upon that cross extended…as we just sang: “I caused your grief and sighing, by evils multiplying, as countless as the sands. I caused the woes unnumbered, with which your soul is cumbered, Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.” Such a reality ‘should’ make us tremble.

Oh, to have been there. To have seen His eyes look ever so lovingly at His mother who had given birth to Him, cared for Him, nurtured Him, and now was forced to say goodbye to Him. To have heard those words of care and compassion as He was suffering so: “Woman, behold, your son!” Then to John, “Behold your mother.” To see a son honor his mother, love and cherish her in the last moments of life. It tears at our hearts to think of such a moment between a mother and her son.

Then to have heard Him say “I thirst” from His cracked lips as His tongue was cleaving to the roof of His mouth. The last drink that He had consumed had been in the upper room the night before. Then to have seen them stretch and raise that sour wine soaked hyssop branch to His lips, a branch of only about eighteen inches or so. We can only begin to imagine how much it must have stung…how much it must have burned on the way down His throat. Then again, its intent was to dull the pain from the nails having pierced the hands and the feet. Perhaps it did a little before the inevitable occurred. Little did those soldiers know, but they were being given a part in fulfilling the very words of Scripture that had been foretold long ago in the Psalms.

Oh to have been there. To have beheld His last words…the final words He would speak before He would bow His head and give up His Spirit into the hands of His Heavenly Father. To have heard Him cry out, “It is finished,” and felt the earth shake and the see the rocks split…even the thought of such a death makes us tremble.

Death is so hard to put into words. It is so final. It seems so unfair. And in this case it was. The innocent Son of God died a criminal’s death. Such is the justice of the Almighty God. He sends His Son to die in our place.

Oh, to have been there. To have seen His love poured out from that cross forgiving all of us who don’t know what we are doing. Loving us to the very end. Giving of Himself, not forcibly, but willingly, voluntarily. What He did on this night, He did with joy as He fulfilled the will of His Father. Here again tonight, we are invited to see that all reasons for our guilt have been removed as far as the east is from the west.

It may be hard to look at the cross yet again, but without a doubt that is where Jesus wanted to be…for you and for me. He wanted to die our death. It was His delight to do the unthinkable will of His Father and lay down His life for His friends. And you are I privileged to be His friends.

So, take a closer look at Him dying on that tree. Look into those wounds. See that in those wounds are our sins. Every last rebellious sin that we have committed is embedded into those wounds. See here that he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Oh, to have been there…and in many ways we were there. We were upon His heart and mind as Jesus bled and died our death on that cross. That blood that we see that He shed is poured out for us filling us with forgiveness, lavishing us with life, and saturating us with salvation.

To think of such unconditional love that poured out from Him causes us to tremble in heart-felt appreciation. We can’t help but be eternally thankful to our God for turning our fate around. To think that we should have died in condemnation, but now because of this perfect sacrifice of the Son of God, we are saved. No longer does the Father look at us in wrath. That wrath has been endured by none other than the Son of God. Now when the Father looks at us, He can’t help but get this image out of His mind. The image of His Son laying down His life on our behalf.

Oh, to have been there. To have heard Him say His last words, “It is finished” and responded with trembling tears of gratitude. How can we not be eternally thankful?

Even as we sit here two thousand years removed from this event in history, we are still invited to behold that it was this moment in time that changed the course for all humanity. When God the Father in His infinite wisdom sent His Son to die for His most prized creation, all of humanity. Then to think that even here and now, God includes us. He includes us in His plan of salvation.

Oh, to have been there. Tonight, we have once again been given the opportunity to ponder upon those that were there. And we are also given the opportunity to rejoice that through His Word, we have been invited as well. Invited to behold our Savior Jesus pour out His endless love as they nailed Him to the tree…for you and for me…causing us to tremble, tremble, tremble. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.