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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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Are We To Be Pitied?

 

1 Corinthians 15:16-19 NASB

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

On this past Easter Sunday, as I took time to reflect on those events some 2000 years ago, I began to wonder if we truly believe.  Christians all over the world for the previous week spent time remembering the triumphant entry of a man into Jerusalem.  A man that people were ready to declare King.  They remember a man who challenged the traditions of the people.  They remember a man who spent a last meal with his closest friend.  They remember a man who was betrayed by one of those friends.  They remember a man who was tried for treason and blasphemy.  They remember a man who was tortured and beaten.  They remember a man who was killed in one of the most excruciating ways ever devised.  They remember a man who was laid in a tomb.

And if this is where the story ends they remember a fool who died for nothing.

But the story does not end here, because they remember a man who did not stay in the grave.  They remember a man whom God raised from the dead.  You see Jesus was not simply a man.  He is the Son of God.  Jesus did not simply die and rot in a grave.  He was raised again to life and is alive today.  A life that is offered to everyone who will believe.  This is what Christians remember.   This is why we celebrate Easter, Good Friday, Maunday Thursday, Holy Week and Palm Sunday. Praise God for this truth.

But far too often, as I look at churches and Christians I have to ask, “Do we really believe?”  Does this truth really permeate our lives or is it just a nice story? Do we live like Jesus is alive? Do we really believe in the ressurection? Or is Jesus still in the tomb to us?

Maybe we go to church on Sunday (or Saturday or possibly a different day depending on your tradition and circumstance) to sing songs, pray and listen to the pastor. Maybe we teach a Sunday school class or lead a small group. Maybe we preach from the Bible.

Some of us may read the Bible throughout the week. Some pray each night before we go to bed.

We are friendly with our neighbors and strangers. We are generous with those in need. We do the right thing at work and in business even if it will make our life more difficult.

In any of these cases we are living the Christian life, aren’t we. After all doesn’t the Bible tell us that we show our faith by our deeds. From the time we are children we are told that actions speak louder than words. So these actions show that we truly believe. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

Far too often we do these deeds for the wrong reasons. We go to Church on Sunday not to worship, but because it is what is expected or because it feels comfortable. We teach or preach because we want to feel that we have a place we fit in or we want other to look up to us.

We are friendly with neighbors and strangers because it is our personality or we were taught it when we were young. We do the right thing in business because we want others to see us as virtuous or we are afraid of being caught doing otherwise.

It’s not as simple as actions speak louder than words. In the sermon on the mount Jesus declares “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22 – 23)

Yes, our actions are important, but no matter how great they are, they are meaningless without the right backing. If we do not believe the foundation of the Christian faith, If we do not believe Jesus is the Son of the Living God, If we do not believe Jesus rose from the grave, and if we do not believe that forgiveness and eternal life can be found in him alone then our actions are meaningless and we are truly to be pitied.

My friends, if you are doing good I am certainly not saying to stop. Continue doing so and always look for more opportunities, but don’t let that be the end. Look behind the action. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Are you doing it because Jesus gave us an example for this life or because you truly believe Jesus was who he said he was and your actions are a response to His incredible gift which reaches beyond this life.

 

Brian Olson is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ having worked with both youth and adults.