Were You There?
One of my favorite songs often heard at
Easter time is the beautiful old black spiritual,
“Were You There?” The simple but haunting
words of this great classic remind us of the
suffering and sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary,
as well as the triumphant victory of His
Because Christ suffered and died — notfor
His own sins but for yours and mine — in a
very real sense we were there at Golgotha on
that awesome day of destiny nearly 2,000
years ago. And it is important that we remind
ourselves of what happened there — of the
death that gave us life…of the penalty paid that
set us free.
Were you there at the place of
the skull which became the place of life everlasting?
Dr. Van Impe and I have gone to the outer
edge of the old city of Jerusalem to Golgotha,
the place of the skull, to view the place where
Jesus died for us. Perhaps it is only fitting
that today there is an ancient cemetery on top
of this rugged, rocky hill. And sure enough,
when viewed from below at enough distance
for good perception, the shape of Mt. Calvary
is much like a human skull!
When I was there, the ugly reality of what
really happened to Jesus on that spot struck
me. He was tortured, maimed, and killed
there. He was mocked and humiliated, then
nailed to a rough-hewn cross. His blood
poured out and stained the wood, the rocks,
and the ground.
Not long ago a friend of mine asked, “But
why did Jesus have to die?” The answer is
clear — mankind sinned, and the Bible says the
wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
For centuries God allowed men to sacrifice
the blood of animals as a temporary covering
for their sins. This was an imperfect sacrifice,
with limited efficacy. The blood of goats and
calves could not take away sin (see Hebrews 10:4).
Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the
perfect, sinless, Son of God, was pure and holy
enough to wash away the stain of sin for all
mankind. No wonder John the Baptist, upon
seeing Jesus, cried out, Behold the Lamb of
God, which taketh away the sin of the world
Because of Christ’s willing sacrifice, the
place of death became the place of life — yes,
everlasting life — for all who receive the Lord.
Were you there for the noonday darkness
where we received the Light of the world? The gospels tell us that Christ was
crucified at 9:00 a.m. and that from noon until 3:00
p.m., darkness covered the earth! Imagine the
daylight hours as dark as midnight, when there
was no light in the heavens and the sun
refused to shine. When the “light of the world”
was dying, darkness was everywhere!
Darkness symbolizes trouble and
despair, fear and hopelessness. We’ve all gone
through dark days when it seemed there was
no way out of our desperate situation, and
everything around us looked black. Jesus
tasted of that awful darkness for us, when there
was no joy or no hope. But in the midst of
the darkest hour in all of human history, He
brought new light!
How fitting that the Prophet Isaiah was
anointed by the Spirit of God to look down the
corridors of time to the coming of Jesus and
proclaim, The people that walked in darkness
have seen a great light: they that dwell in the
land of the shadow of death, upon them hath
the light shined (Isaiah 9:2).
Today the world seems dark again. I know
people who don’t even want to watch the news
on TV or read the newspaper because
everything looks so black and bleak. If ever we
needed the light of the world, it’s today.
There’s no other way out of the darkness. But
if we follow Him, we can live in the joy of His
sunshine in our lives.
Were you there at the place where Jesus
said, “I thirst,” and from which now comes
living water? One of the worst forms of human suffering
is to be thirsty. I remember being in Israel
while we were taping a TV special. On a
blindingly bright, blistering hot day (120
degrees Fahrenheit), I was recording a song on a
hill overlooking Masada. The sun beat down
mercilessly, and the desert wind swirled the
sand around us.
After a while I got so thirsty I could hardly
speak, much less sing. My mouth was almost
too dry to swallow — it felt like waves of
desperation mounting until I was finally given
something to drink.
I thought of Jesus hanging on a cross, after
having been beaten with whips, crowned with
cruel thorns, and nailed to the beams that
suspended Him between heaven and earth. In the
midst of the agony of crucifixion, He also was
stricken with thirst.
When they offered Jesus a drink, He
realized that it contained something to help dull
the pain of His suffering — and He refused it.
He allowed nothing to keep Him from experiencing
the utter depths of the thirsty soul.
All of us have a thirst within that cannot be
satisfied except by the Living Water of God.
We may drink from the waters of pleasure and
ambition, even taste the wine of riches and
self-indulgence. But nothing earth has to offer
can quench the thirsting of our souls.
Jesus said, Whosoever drinketh of the
water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but
the water that I shall give him shall be in him
a well of water springing up into everlasting
life (John 4:14).
Were you there for the weeping and
sorrow which led to joy and blessings? The cross of Calvary was a place of
weeping and sorrow. The Bible says that women
stood weeping at the foot of the cross. The
disciples of Jesus were also overcome with
sorrow. No doubt there were those who had
been healed, taught, and blessed by the Lord
who looked on that day. Their hearts must
have been broken to see this Miracle Worker
dying. And other followers who thought Jesus
was to be Israel’s new leader and deliverer
must have been bitterly disappointed, too.
“What’s happening?” they cried. “We thought
this was our Messiah!”
But if Jesus had not experienced such great
sorrow, He would never have understood the
sorrows of mankind. Isaiah prophesied, He is
despised and rejected of men; a man of
sorrows, and acquainted with grief…surely he
hath borne our griefs, and carried our
sorrows (Isaiah 53:3,4).
Because of His sacrifice, we know that all
our tears will be wiped away and our sorrow
replaced by divine joy. Thank God, the
psalmist wrote, Weeping may endure for a
night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Were you there for the time of anguish
which provides our comfort? On Calvary, Jesus gave His body and soul
as a sacrifice for us. He suffered unendurable
sorrow and pain. Here He bore our sins. We
cannot even imagine what it was like for the
Perfect One, God in the flesh, to feel the
defilement of every sin in the universe. Here
was Jesus, who never did cheat, steal, lie,
commit adultery, or do any other sin, suddenly
burdened with the vileness and degradation
of the whole world — for every person who
would ever live!
It was absolutely overwhelming. No
wonder the Saviour cried out, My God, my God,
why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).
God the Father had to turn His head because
He could not look on sin (see Isaiah 59:2). So
Jesus endured that anguish…alone. And
because He took our sins, we can now come to God.
Jesus knows the awful sadness and bitterness
sin produces. And because He took our
sins upon himself, He can comfort us in any
situation. The Word of God says, For we have
not an high priest which cannot be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in
all points tempted like as we are, yet without
sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the
throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy,
and find grace to help in time of need
Were you there at the place of punishment
from whence comes redemption? The penalty for sin is death! That punishment
must be endured — that penalty must be
paid. And that was the reason for Christ’s
death on the cross — the purpose of Calvary.
On that day, the place of punishment became
the place of redemption for all mankind…for
the whole world.
Without the gallows of Golgotha there
could be no salvation, no forgiveness for sin,
The old spiritual concludes by asking,
“Were you there when He rose up from the
grave?” Thank God, through Christ our Lord,
we were there!
Through His sacrifice, we’ve faced death
and overcome it with life everlasting.
We’ve gone through the darkness of this
world and moved into His marvelous light.
We’ve overcome the desperation of
unquenchable thirst by receiving a well of living
water springing up within our souls.
We’ve found the only source of joy and
blessings that overcomes life’s sorrows, and
the only comfort in the time of anguish and
And we’ve met Jesus at the place of
punishment and found it has become a place of
Only by going to Calvary to see what
Christ has done for us can we really experience
the full joy of Easter! Were YOU there?
Oh, truly, “sometimes it causes me to
tremble” to realize how much we owe…how
rich we are. My mind can scarcely comprehend
the wonder of it all. How marvelous!
No wonder Jesus commissioned us to go
tell this great good news to every person in all
the world! Let’s go tell it to all who will hear!