On this Good Friday, I am thinking of the old hymn, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" And I'm wondering - were you?
Jesus was a man who had to climb a mountain for some alone time to pray. He had to walk on water to get some peace with His disciples where the crowds couldn't find them. He had to catch a few zz's in a boat in a storm because that was His definition of down time. The crowds were always pressing in on Him, always hanging around, always staying long past what might have been prudent - He fed the 5,000 because they had been there for three days and would be too tired, without food, to make the trip home.
Then we paint this picture of holy week, of the days leading up to Easter, and I wonder what happened to all of those people. I wonder where they went.
Because the way we tell the story, there were throngs of people in the courtyard - supporters with their whispers, watching to see what was going on, and gaggles of the religious shouting for His crucifixion. The shouts were louder than the questions. Crucify Him! Crucify Him! It's the sound of a thousand voices, yelling in an angry mob, begging for the King of the Jews to face the cross. And Pilate gives in.
Jesus is taken into the public square, stripped and beaten. Flogged until His back is breaking open. And there's still a crowd. They are jeering, taunting. Laughing as the Roman soldiers beat Him one more time. And more whispers. More of the quiet few standing near the back, anxious to see what will happen to this Messiah but not daring enough to get caught worrying about Him.
They throw a cross onto His weary shoulders and as He steps off down the road to Calvary, the crowd starts to thin out. A few onlookers line the streets, maybe a few deep in spots and one man falls into the road and is forced to help carry the beam. But the closer we pull to Skull Hill, it seems the people are all but gone.
There, on what we call the lonely hill of Golgotha, Jesus is crucified and from this point in the story on, we see Jesus, two thieves, a small battalion of Roman soldiers playing dice games in the dirt, Mary the mother of Jesus, and John, the disciple whom He loved. That's about it.
And I can't help but think that's about wrong.
Crucifixion was a public death; Golgotha, a common hill. The people would have come just for the spectacle of a public execution, the way in more recent times, the masses have come for hangings. There was no, "OK, we are leading Jesus into the secret death chamber now." No. They put Him there in public for anyone and everyone to see.
You mean to tell me you believe that the masses just left? That for three years, they followed this Teacher who spoke such wisdom, challenged authority, cast out demons, healed the infirm, and fed the thousands...and all of a sudden, they're not interested any more? That they heard Him speak about His death and coming resurrection and that even though they didn't understand what that meant, they were content to let Him die quietly? That they had hounded this Messiah throughout His entire ministry and they would just walk away?
You mean to tell me you believe that the people who had followed Jesus, who had listened to Jesus, who had been touched by Jesus, who had been fed by Jesus, who had been loved by Jesus, who knew without a doubt in their mind the authority, the power, and the awesome love of Jesus...had no interest in hanging around to see what this Messiah was about to do with a Cross?
I don't buy it.
Three days later, we hear that the women journeyed to the tomb. The disciples were walking toward the place where Jesus was buried. So what? He dies and that's just it? They are all so quick to walk away and leave Him there?
I don't buy it.
I don't buy that there weren't masses at the foot of the Cross. I don't buy that when the Romans taunted the holy man and told Him to bring Himself down that there weren't at least hundreds of listening ears, some jeering along with the soldiers and some muttering under their breath, "Yes, Lord. Please. Show them!" I don't buy that there weren't dozens, if not more, dedicated followers who could not walk away even though they had to turn their heads. I don't buy that Jesus just dies, alone on a public hill, is placed in a tomb and that's it.
I believe there had to be people there. I believe there had to be masses there. I believe there had to be people waiting at the Cross....standing near the tomb. And I think it's a better story if we have them there.
I think it's a better story if the climax is not, "Then Jesus went alone and something happened to Him and it was kind of this but only two people were there, so it's hard to confirm and then I was walking on a road to Emmaus and He happened along." I think it's a better story if we have people at the Cross - doubting, jeering, hoping, watching, waiting, wailing. I think it's a better story if people keep coming by the tomb - leaving flowers, keeping vigil, watching, waiting, wailing.
I just don't think we can get away with a public Jesus who died a private death on a public hill when for no apparent reason, the masses decided not to follow Him. When for once, they decided to leave Him alone. When they seem so willing to buy that a death sentence overwhelms the miracles they've seen Him perform. I just don't see a Jesus that carries His Cross to Golgotha and nobody....nobody at all...goes with Him.
So I'm thinking about the crowds and wondering...were they there? Did they really en masse turn away and leave Jesus to His own death after relentlessly pestering Him for three years of miracles and ministry? Or did the crowds press on, waiting to see what would happen? Watching? Wailing? Pressing in on every side. Trying to touch His robe one last time. Daring to cry out as He passed them by one last time. Thirsting to drink in every second of Jesus. Whispering for a miracle. Hoping He would show them all.
I think I would have been there. I think I would have gone. I would have wanted to see. I would have wanted to know. I would have turned my face away, but I don't know that I would have turned my back. This was the moment Jesus was about to do something. If there was ever any moment, this was it. After three years of really cool stuff...this....this could have been the big stuff. And it was.
Are you content to turn away?
Or were you there when they crucified my Lord?