Category Archives: Easter

John Singleton Copley - The Ascension, 1775

Luke 24 – Christ Fully Revealed

Here we come to the end of the Luke’s account of the life of Jesus. In Chapter 24, we find the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

The last chapter ended with the women resting on the sabbath after having prepared the spices for Jesus’ body. On the morning of the first day of the week, we now find them heading to the grave to anoint the body with spices. To their surprise, when they arrived, they found that the stone that had been placed in front of the tomb was moved. They then stepped inside the tomb to look closer and discovered that it was empty.

Now, it is interesting that one attempt that has been made to explain this is the claim that the women had gone to the wrong tomb. I think that this was apparently a rumor that had been floating around at the time that Luke was writing, and this is why he made a point at the end of chapter 23 of saying that the women had seen the where and how the body was laid. Luke wants to drive home to us that the women had genuinely found the tomb, where Jesus was laid, empty.

Luke continues by telling us that while the women were wondering what had happened to the body, two angels appeared to them. The women were justifiably afraid, but the angels said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen” (Vv 5 – 6, NASB). They then reminded them that Jesus had told them that everything that had occurred had to happen. As they reminded the women of these things, they remembered.
The women immediately headed back to meet with the disciples and tell them what had occurred. John mentions the names of three women; Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James. Who are these three women, and why does Luke name them specifically. The first is, of course, Mary Magdalene. She had traveled with the disciples and had been a key member of their circle during Jesus’ ministry. The second is Joanna, who had also traveled with them during Jesus’ ministry. The last one listed is Mary, the mother of James. The James in question is most probably the apostle James the less. I think that Luke records these women by name to support their credibility. These were not some random women, these were disciples themselves.

So they return to tell the 11 apostles, but their “words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.” (v11) Yet it is interesting that Peter went to the tomb to see for himself. He found what they had described and returned home, amazed at what he had seen.

Luke now steps away from the 11 apostles and follows 2 other disciples who were traveling to Emmaus about seven miles away. While they were talking to each other about the events of the last few days, they were joined by a third traveler. Luke tells us that this third traveler is Jesus, yet the disciples were prevented from recognizing him.

Jesus asks them what they are talking about. They are quite surprised, and the one named Cleopas asked if he was the only one who was unaware of what had transpired. When Jesus asked what things, they began to recount things for him. They said, “we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” (v 21) They even recounted the events of the women finding the tomb empty that morning.
Jesus “said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?'” (Vv 25 – 26) He then lays out everything the Old Testament had spoken of him.

As the approach Emmaus, Jesus acted like he was going to continue on his way. The disciples encouraged him to stay with them because it was getting late. As they reclined around the table, Jesus took the bread and broke it. Suddenly they realized who Jesus was, and then he vanished. As they recounted the events of the day, they realized that they should have known it all along.

They immediately returned to Jerusalem, where they met with the apostles and the others who were with them. They told those assembled all that had occurred and how Jesus had appeared to them. Here we find the name of the other disciple, Simon. I think the reason for listing both names is to affirm the truth, as, under the law, it required two witnesses for something to hold up in court.

While they were there with the apostles, Jesus appeared in the midst of all of them saying, “Peace be to you.” (v 36) In spite of all the events of the day, they were still taken aback and thought he was a ghost. Jesus invites them to look at the holes in his hands and feet. He also invites them to touch him and confirm that he is not a ghost. They were still having trouble believing it, so Jesus asks them for something to eat. He then took it and ate it to prove once and for all that he was physically present among them.

Now that he has proven that he is really there, Jesus reminds them of the things he had said before his death concerning what was written about him in the Old Testament. He opened up their eyes to understand, and “He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day.” (v 47) He then told them that they would be witnesses of what had happened to the world, proclaiming “repentance for [the] forgiveness of sins . . . in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (v 47)

The last thing that Luke records Jesus saying to the disciples was that he was sending the fulfillment of the Father’s promise to them. Here he is promising to send the Holy Spirit. But he tells them that they need to remain in the city until that time.

Luke concludes his account by telling us that Jesus “led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” (v 50) Luke then tells us that Jesus was carried away into heaven. They worshipped there for a while and then returned to Jerusalem. They were then continually in the temple praising God.

My takeaways from this chapter are 1) Jesus’ resurrection is a fact. The witnesses and the evidence all make this clear. 2) The whole of the Old Testament points to Christ, his coming, suffering death and resurrection. 3) Jesus’ resurrection was an actual, physical, bodily resurrection. 4) Jesus’ death and resurrection opened the door to the forgiveness of sins for those who repent. And 5) Christ promised to not leave us alone, but to send the Holy Spirit.

Bartolome Esteban Murillo - The Crucifixion, 1675

Luke 23 – Good Friday: The Cost and Power of Doing the Right Thing

Chapter 23 gives us the all too familiar account of the crucifixion. It picks up exactly where Chapter 22 left off. After being questioned by the religious leaders, Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor over Palestine. The leaders lay out their charges against Jesus for Pilate, many of them false and complete contradictions of Jesus’ own words. Interestingly, the only seeming truth they could share was that he was the King of the Jews, and that is not something that Jesus appears to have ever actually said. In fact, Pilate asks him flat out if he is, and all Jesus responds with is, “It is as you say.” (v 3, NASB)

Pilate is satisfied that Jesus has done nothing wrong, but the religious leaders are adamant. Upon learning that Jesus is a Galilean, Pilate believes he has his out. He sends him to Herod since he happens to be in town, who is the “appointed king” over that region. Herod’s response is different than Pilate’s. He is excited about the opportunity to meet Jesus because he has heard the stories of the miracles and wanted to see one for himself. Jesus, however, will not play along. He is not going to do a miracle just because Herod wants to see one. No matter what Herod asks, Jesus simply just stands there. Herod has had enough. After mocking Jesus for a while, he dresses him in a fancy robe and sends him back to Pilate.

Pilate finds himself back where he started, He needs a new plan for dealing with Jesus. He summons the religious leaders and tells them, “having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” It looks like he thought this would appease them, and it was keeping with the law because he was allowed to release one prisoner during the Passover feast.

They had nothing to do with it. They instead asked him to release a man named Barabbas, who was a murderer and an insurrectionist. Pilate still wanted to release Jesus, but they began to call for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate finally caved to the pressure by releasing Barabbas and ordering Jesus taken away to be crucified,

I have to stop here for a moment and look at Pilate. Pilate by no means is said to be a righteous man or a good man, but apparently, he is also not a man of convictions. Rather than standing his ground for what he knew was right he gave in to the desires of the crowd for the sake of peace and quiet. I can not help but think of the phrase, “All that is needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.”

So Jesus is taken away to be crucified. Luke tells us that Roman soldiers grabbed a man named Simon to carry Jesus Cross for him. While Luke is not clear on the reason, we know from the other accounts that Jesus is weak from everything he has gone through, including brutal beatings,

As they travel along the way, they are followed by a large crowd, including “women who were mourning and lamenting Him.” (v 27) Jesus spoke to them, telling them to not lament for him but to lament for the days that are going to be coming. He tells them, “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” I think what he is telling them is that as horrible as this is, they need to remember that he has been there with them. God himself has been physically present in Israel and yet look what has happened. Now consider how terrible it will be when Israel is cut off from God’s presence completely.

As they come to the site of the crucifixion, called the place of the skull, they removed Jesus’ outer garments, and the soldiers gambled for them. They lifted him up on the cross and placed a sign above him that read, King of the Jews. Those around, including the religious leaders, mocked him, telling him to save himself. Yet through all of this, Luke tells us that Jesus uttered the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (v 34)

Luke also tells us that Jesus was not crucified alone. Two criminals were crucified at the same time. One on each side of him. One of the criminals joined in with the crowd mocking and scoffing at Jesus, but the other did not. Instead, he called for the other criminal to be quiet. He was saying that they deserved what they were getting, but Jesus had done nothing. He then asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (v 43) I think the message is clear. This man was truly repentant for what he had done. And even in his last hours, Jesus forgave him of his sins because he had shown faith.

Luke now recounts the final few hours of Jesus’ life and the miraculous events that occurred then. He tells that darkness fell on the land for three hours, and the veil in the temple was torn in two. At the end, Luke tells us that Jesus cried “out with a loud voice, saying, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” (v 46) and then gave his last breath.

Upon seeing all of this, the centurion who was present declared, “Certainly this man was innocent.” (v 47) I think we are safe in assuming that this centurion was the one overseeing the executions. What is more, this was probably not his first. He had probably seen many men die, but this was like nothing he had ever seen. It was obvious to him that there was something different about Jesus,

After the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council who had had not agreed to everything, went to Pilate for permission to bury Jesus. Having received permission, he took the body down from the cross, wrapped it in linen, and laid him in a brand new grave that was cut into the stone. As it was preparation day for the Sabbath, they did not have time to do everything beforehand. Luke is very sure, however, to tell us that the women who had followed Jesus were there and saw exactly how and where the body was laid. Luke concludes this chapter by telling us that the women when to prepare the spices that would be used on Jesus’ body, as was standard practice when the Sabbath was over.

My takeaways from this chapter are 1) We need to stand firm in the truth, even when it means standing alone against the crowd. 2) There is nothing so wrong done to us that it can not be forgiven with God’s help. And 3) It is never too late to be forgiven.

Orazio Borgianni - Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, 1610

Luke 22 – Maundy Thursday

In Chapter 22, we come to what the church calls Maundy Thursday or “Commandment” Thursday, the day before the crucifixion.

It is coming up on the time for the Passover when Luke tells us that the religious leaders of Israel were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus. It was at this time that “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot.” (v 3, NASB)  Judas went to the Chief Priest and discussed how he could betray Jesus. This made them very excited, so they gave Judas money to find a way. Judas then set out to find an opportunity to do it when no one was around.

This stands as our introduction to the chapter. We have heard several times throughout the book how the leaders were out to get rid of Jesus. Here we see that their plan is set into action, as Judas has given them their opportunity. Now while it is not clear what day this takes place, it does seem clear that it was at some point between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the events that follow.

Luke next tells us that on the day of unleavened bread, Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare things for them to celebrate the Passover meal. He gives them details on how to find the place and how to go about procuring it.

That evening when it was time for the meal, they reclined around the table. As they did, Jesus said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Vv 15 – 16) Passover was the holiest time in the Jewish year. And Jesus, who lived by and kept the whole law, knew it would be his last opportunity to share it with his friends.

Jesus took the bread and broke it into pieces explaining that the broken bread represented the way his body would be broken. After the meal, he also takes the cup of wine and tells his disciples that it represents the new covenant that was found in this blood. The blood that would be shed for him.

Before finishing the meal, however, Jesus tips his hand that he knows what is to come. He says, “the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.” (v 21) Jesus acknowledges that he will go along with the plan but speaks a warning to the person who would betray him. This created some turmoil among the disciples as they did what anyone of us would do, they tried to figure out who would betray him.

This then led to a second dispute among the disciple or who was the greatest among them. Jesus explains to them that they are not to seek after power and glory. These are the types of things that leaders in the world are concerned with. Rather Jesus tells  them, “who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?” (v 27) Beyond this, Jesus then tells them, “[he is] among as one who serves.” (v 27) What is more, Jesus points out that they have stood by him and will receive their reward, “eat[ing] and drink[ing] at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (v 30)

Jesus then turns to Peter personally, telling him that he will be tested and, in the end, will deny knowing Jesus three times. Turning back to the disciples as a whole, he tells them that he is sending them out again, but this time they need to take provisions with them. It is interesting that among the provisions he tells them to take along this time is a sword. In fact, he tells them, “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” (v 36) People like to portray Jesus as the ultimate pacifist, peaceful, and meek in all of his interactions. Of course, the encounter with those he drove out of the temple shows that this is not always the case. I think that rather, what is being portrayed is the realization the world Jesus is sending them into is dangerous. He is making it clear that there will be times that they will need to defend themselves. He is certainly not telling them to go out looking for a fight but is telling them to be ready to defend themselves when the need arises.

After the meal, they went out to the Mt. of  Olives, as Luke had previously established to be their normal practice. After telling them to “pray that [they would] not fall into temptation.” (v 40) Jesus moved a little further away from them, knelt down, and prayed. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (v 42) We forget that Jesus, while fully God, was fully human and, as such, did not want to go through with it if there was any way out. And who could blame him? None of us would choose to do so either. But Jesus showed strength beyond us by submitting to the Father’s will.

Luke tells us that an angel then appeared who strengthened him. I think this is a clear parallel to the end of the 40 days in the wilderness. Jesus had been tempted then, and in the end, angels came and ministered to him. Here too, Jesus is facing a great temptation, one to walk away from his mission, and an angel comes to strengthen him. If there is any question in our mind to what level Jesus is struggling with this, Luke tells him that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (v 44)

After he finished praying, Jesus returned to find the disciples sleeping. He wakes them and again entreats them to “pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (v 46)

While they were still speaking, Judas arrived at their location with a crowd. He approached Jesus and gave him a kiss, indicating to the authorities who they were to arrest. Jesus, knowing what was happening, looked at Judas and said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (v 48) A short altercation occurs as the ear of the High Priest servant is cut off. Jesus stops it and heals his ear. He then questions why they come as a crowd at night to this place away from the city to arrest him. He reminds them what Luke has gone out of his way to drive home over and over, that he has not been hiding. He had been in the temple teaching every day and yet they did nothing.

As they take Jesus away, Peter follows at a distance. Peter finds himself with a small group of people outside the high priest house, where they have taken Jesus. This is where it happens. Peter is confronted three times as being a follower of Jesus to which Jesus adamantly denies knowing him. It is then that Peter remembers the words of Jesus, “and he went outside and wept bitterly.” (v 62)

Meanwhile, Jesus is mocked by the guards who are holding him. Finally, at daybreak, Jesus is questioned by the religious leaders, including the Chief Priest. They ask him if he is the Messiah. Jesus first responds by saying, “If I tell you, you will not believe me,  and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” (Vv 67 – 69)

To this, “they all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’ He replied, ‘You say that I am.'” (v 70). This was enough for them. In their minds, he had committed blasphemy. And so, “they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” (v 71)

My takeaways from this passage are, 1) Jesus’ body is broken for us, and in his blood, he establishes a new covenant. 2) The one who is the greatest is the one who serves others. 3) The world is a dangerous place for the followers of Christ, and we are to be ready for the times when we will need to defend ourselves. 4) If Jesus wanted to find a way other than the Father’s plan, we should not be surprised when we want to. 5) God can give us the strength to see us through times of doubt and fear. And 6) even the most committed of followers can succumb to fear.

“Risen”: A Fresh and Moving Perspective on the Resurrection

I just came back from seeing the new movie, “Risen”.  I recommend it highly.

I have seen a lot of Bible-themed and faith-based movies over the years. Risen is something encouragingly different. You see, the problem with most bible-themed and faith-based movies is they fall short in at least one of the major category. Either the writing is transparent, the acting weak, the directing is misguided or the production is cheap. Risen is a clear difference, hitting on all four cylinders.

Joseph Fiennes solid portrayal in the lead is moving and draws viewers into a well-told story. The story is summed up with one statement. When asked, “What frightens you?” Clavius (Fiennes) responds, “Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.” Yes, Clavius is a non-biblical/fictional figure, but he becomes the personification of each and every person who has faced the truth of the resurrection and said, it can’t be true. As he proceeds on behalf of the Roman empire in an attempt to prove the false claims, we are reminded of the words of Sherlock Holmes, in The Sign of the Four “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This is where Clavius finds himself.

For those who are familiar with the account of Jesus resurrection, “Risen” provides a fresh perspective. For those who are not, they will find a compelling investigation as they see events through the eyes of a skeptic who must reconcile what he believes to be true with all the evidence that is laid before him.

Christ The Lord Is Risen Today!

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

Words by Charles Wesley, 1739
Music by unknown composer, ca. 1708

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them,“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Matthew 28:1 – 10

“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55 – 57

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2


The old saying is that bad news travel quickly. Of this, I have little doubt. Life experience has confirmed it. But if bad news travels quickly what happens with Good News? Well, there is good news that simply is nice to know and there is good news that you can not keep to yourself. It is this latter good news which is declared in Charles Wesley’s, “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.”

The account of that Sunday Morning gives us the greatest good news ever. In Matthew 28:1 – 6 we are told:

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

He is risen! What more joyous message could you imagine. These people who saw their friend and Savior die on the cross, had now received the news that He was no longer dead, that he had risen.

Upon receiving such incredible news what would you do? Imagine to be the first to hear the words that He was alive. This message that the angels shared was followed with instructions. In Matthew 28:6 – 7 we read “Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’”

Go and tell! This is the instruction given to the first to hear the truth. But need it be said. If you were to learn that one you loved with all your heart was actually alive, would you wait for instruction or would you want everyone to know right away. This is the message declared in the hymn when it reads, “Christ, the Lord, is risen today.” He is alive and I want the world to know!

The hymn continues, “Sons of men and angels say, . . . Raise your joys and triumphs high, . . . Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply.” Jesus is alive! Let the news echo throughout all the earth. All creation join in with celebration.

The hymn declares, “Lives again our glorious King, . . . Where, O death, is now thy sting? . . . Once He died our souls to save, . . . Where thy victory, O grave?” Jesus death on the cross, was but a step in the plan of salvation. It paid to penalty that we owed, but was not the end. His resurrection showed him victorious not only over sin, but death itself. This is why Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:55 – 57, “’O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Not only do we celebrate that He is alive, but that through Jesus death and resurrection we to share in the victory. This is why the hymn continues, “Love’s redeeming work is done, . . . Fought the fight, the battle won.” Jesus has won. In Him alone the work is done. Nothing we could do, would prove victorious, yet we may share in His victory when we accept his gift of salvation through His work.

Yes, He is Risen, and there is no greater news that could fill this earth. In Him we claim the victory that He has won. We know that we shall be “made like him.” (1 John 3:2) So we join in with the voices of those who came before and those who will come knowing that in Him all is “Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.”

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Read more about “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.

Read the full text of “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.

Traditional Choral Arrangement

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Words by Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153
Music by Hans L.Hassler, 1601

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.
John 19:2 – 3

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:4 – 6

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:15


History is full of what we call dark hours. In American History the civil war is considered by many the darkest time in American history. During the war an estimated 620,000 people lost their lives. Perhaps the darkest time was July 1 – 3, 1863, The Battle of Gettysburg. Neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, in the bloodiest battle ever fought on United States soil. Over 46,000 Americans lost their lives.

Since then there have been other, the stock market crash of 1929 saw 23,000 people committing suicide in one year. The December 11, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor saw 2,500 people lose their lives. The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon saw 2,996 people lose their lives.

Yes we have known dark days. Days when all seems lost. Days when we can see no hope. But as dark as these are, none compares to the darkest day in all history. The day Jesus Christ, God incarnate, died on the cross. And not a simple death, but one of humiliation and suffering. It is a reflection on these events that we find in Bernard of Clairvaux’s “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

The hymn begins,”O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown.” As we look back at the events, so long ago, we can not help but be moved. Jesus had entered Jerusalem welcomed by the people as a long awaited King. They had praised him and followed with anxious anticipation of His ascension to the throne.

But things had not gone as the people had expected. Jesus had not challenged the Roman rule, but the leaders of Israel themselves. He had caused a turmoil in the temple as He challenged the practices that had become so accepted.

But all had changed. He was betrayed by one of his closest friends. He was arrest and tried for blasphemy, claiming to be equal with God. He had been beaten beyond recognition. The people who once had greeted him with such exhilaration now mocked him openly. The soldiers who took him away “twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and to give Him slaps in the face.” (John 19:2 – 3) And finally, he was taken away and crucified.

Yet we remember these events. Every year we set aside time to specifically look at these events. Why would we do this? Why would we want to remember? The answer is found as we continue through the hymn, “What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain; Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.” That is why we remember. He did it for us. Jesus, the very Son of God, willingly went through this for us. It was a punishment that we deserved, for we had turned our back on God. We had failed to live up to His Holiness, yet Jesus took the punishment that we might not. Isaiah had prophesied these events in chapter 53:4 – 6 where we read, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

He suffered for us, and we need only accept the gift he has given. For when we accept it, all the punishment we deserve is transferred to Him. When we understand this, our response is as the hymn says, “Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place; Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.”

The hymn then addresses a profound question that comes from the acceptance of what He has done. It continues, “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?” How do you say thank you for something so wonderful, for something so impossible, for something that can not be put into words. A gift that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 9:15 as “indescribable.” The answer is not in words, but in every aspect of our lives. How do we thank Him? By living our lives for him.
Jesus suffering is something beyond our understanding. How God could take on flesh and allow Himself to be beaten and killed. That He would do that for us. Our response can not be less than that found in the words of the hymn, “O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”

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Where You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

Were you there when the stone was rolled away?
Were you there when the stone was rolled away?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Were you there when the stone was rolled away?

Were you there when He rose up from the grave?
Were you there when He rose up from the grave?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when He rose up from the grave?

Words and Music are a Traditional Negro Spiritual

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
Mark 15:25 – 37

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
John 20:25

Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
John 19:40 – 42

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.
Luke 24:1 – 8

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Corinthians 15:57


There are those songs that have come down through the ages. Songs that speak to our very souls. They come from a place of struggle and sorrow. They embody the deepest cries of our heart, those cries that we often can not even put into words. In America, we trace many of these songs back to some of the darkest days in our history. The days of slavery, when the cry of the heart was to be released from the oppression of this world. These songs place us in the events they describe. They transport us to a new place, a place that separates us from our situation and brings us to a place of hope. This is the case with the old Negro Spiritual, “Where you there?”

The the first verse starts our mind meditating on the events of that Friday two thousand years ago. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” So our minds begin a journey, looking back to that day. What must it have been like to stand there and see the events of Mark 15:25 – 37.

“It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.”

Imagine to have spent all those years with him. To have become friends and to have come to believe that he was the promised messiah, only to seemingly have it all ripped away. Imagine witnessing him dying the death of a criminal. The words of the verse continue with what is all to true. “Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” We shake and tremble at the loss of the one we loved so dear.

The next verse now begins to go deeper into the crucifixion. We read, “Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?” This is the nature of the crucifixion. Perhaps the most brutal form of execution ever devised by man. To be nailed to a tree, arms stretched wide. Nails through your hands and your feet. (John 20:25) To have to lift your body’s weight to breath, causing the tearing of flesh in the your hands. Every breath excruciating until you finally give up your last breath. This is what was witnessed by those who were present at the crucifixion.

The hymn continues, “Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?” There he was, their Lord and Savior. The man they had followed, waiting to see God’s power revealed, dead on a cross. So they lowered him from the cross and laid him in a tomb. There he laid, motionless with no life remaining. John 19:40 – 42 tells us that “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” Once they were finished, the tomb was closed with a stone across the entrance and He was left there.

But this is not the end. This is not where the story closes. The next verses ask the question “Were you there when the stone was rolled away? Were you there when the stone was rolled away?” The stone had been placed to close the grave. It was a visual evidence that there was no life inside. It was a place that none would go. Yet we discover it has been rolled away. Luke 24:1 – 3 tells us that, “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.” Why would the stone be rolled away? Why would someone want to enter a grave?

But we learn that someone did not enter the grave, but left the grave. Luke 24:4 – 8 reads “but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.” He had risen. He was alive. So the hymn turns to asking not a question of sorrow, but a question of joy. “Were you there when He rose up from the dead? Were you there when He rose up from the dead?”

Our savior and messiah is not dead in a grave, but alive. He has conquered death and now He stands as our mean to the Father. When we stop to truly consider the message of the cross and the grave, we need not sorrow, but find joy that if our Savior has conquered death, we need not fear it. In Him we to can have victory. (I Corinthians 15:57) When we are filled with the awe that comes from knowing what he has gone through on our behalf, that he died and rose again, we for a whole new reason declare, “Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

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