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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The title to this post is, as many will recognise, the first line of an old Negro spiritual - songs that were sung by African slaves in the cotton plantations of the southern states of the "New World" of North America.  The answer, of course, is that all of us were represented as the Lamb, slain from before the foundation of the world, hung on that old rugged Cross.

But who was there, physically, on that day almost 2,000 years ago?  Well, there were the men who engineered His death - the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The Pharisees were teachers of the Mosaic Law.  They ran the schools and synagogues and, in a sense, considered themselves to be the national conscience of the Jewish people.  They were men of high moral character.   Jesus, Himself, said "... unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:20).  They certainly had very strict attitude to life and their religious beliefs. They accepted the Scriptures (our Old Testament) as the Word of God.  Why should such men have wanted to destroy Jesus?  Simply because he was a threat to their status and authority!  They regarded it as their sole prerogative to keep the nation together spiritually, so when Jesus said: "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6), they were angered to the point of scheming His death.  They are an illustration of how men who are moral and upright can go wrong!

Then there were the Sadducees.  They were a group of aristocratic priests who were not only the spiritual leaders of the people, but also statesmen.  At the time when the Lord Jesus lived out His incarnate life, they were more concerned about politics than spirituality, and went out of their way to maintain good relationships with the occupying Roman forces.  Concerned for their own position, they were concerned that Jesus might start an insurrection that would bring the might of Imperial Rome down upon them, and upon the nation.  The well-known words of their leader - the High Priest, Caiaphas: "... that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish." (John 11:50), reveal the deep intent of their hearts.  They saw the Lord as a hindrance to their self-interest and self-concerns.  So, because it seemed to them to be expedient, they had Him nailed to a Cross.

This topic is going to take two posts, but permit me to mention one other person. He was not physically present at the crucifixion - but was instrumental in bringing it about.  His name was Judas Iscariot.  I don't know what a modern psycho-analyst would discover if he could have Judas Iscariot on his consulting room couch for a full session.  However, two questions surely arise when we look at this man - how could anyone who had know the Christ so well; who hard lived with Him, travelled with Him, dined with Him, listened to His teaching; do such a traitorous thing? Secondly, why would he do it for such a paltry sum of money - the price laid down for a slave!? (see Ex.21:32).  The only answer with which we may come up is that it was a mixture of greed, and attempting to 'force the hand' of Jesus. He may have travelled with the Lord, but did he ever enter into a genuine relationship with Him?  

In the very first sermon that I ever preached - almost fifty years ago! - I made the point that there were those who sit in church buildings, Sunday by Sunday, without any serious commitment to the Christ in their hearts.  They may persuade themselves that, because they have gone through certain ecclesiastical rituals, and have their names on a membership roll, that they are "Christians"! However, they are merely using the name, without any real relationship to the Lord.  Judas Iscariot would seem to have been of that ilk!

Of course, when we look at these people, we must also look at ourselves.   Perhaps at this mid-point of this Holy Week, we need to check who is in control in our lives. Does Jesus have full authority - or is He a threat to the authority we want to retain for ourselves?  Are we more concerned for our own position in society, than for His honour and glory?   Do we have a genuine relationship with Jesus - or are we depending on externals?  These are important questions.  They are personal questions.  They are questions that need to be asked - and answered - honestly!

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