Summary: The sermon answers the question of the old hymn, "Were You There?" by surveying the people around the cross of Jesus and seeing how we are similar to them.
Title: Surveying the Cross
Text: Luke 23:36-56 v. 27 A great number of the people followed him...
They called the other day to conduct a survey about the alumni of the University of Southern California. Asked me about my ethnic background, and I told them I was Mexican. They asked my line of work and I told them I was pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Germantown. Then they asked my age and gave me four choices, 20-25, 26-35, and 36 or older. And I thought to myself, when did they change the categories? I may have to revisit that web site and change the introduction of the pastor to read Dynamic 30 something pastor.
From verse 27 you get the sense of the vast number of people who were there at the cross when Jesus was crucified. In surveying that crowd and those participating and/or victimized in the crucifixion of our Lord, I do believe that we might hear from heaven this day and proclaim the salvation that comes flowing from that place on Calvary known as the Skull. The old song asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my lord?” And it is in surveying the crowd, in studying these lives and their purposes for being there, in their backgrounds and in their personalities that we might be able to answer affirmatively that old question and realize that while it took place two millennia ago, Jesus died on that cross for you and for me. So let us survey that wondrous cross and see if we do not in fact find ourselves there among the great number or as a centurion or even dare I say as one of these two thieves crucified one on his right and one on his left.
Firstly, I want to understand the ethnic makeup of this historical event as somewhat of an example of the plurality of peoples that makes up the family of God. Secondly, I would have us look at the various classes of people that comprised this great multitude as noted in their job descriptions and in the locations of their respective homes. Then I’d like to look at the various personalities of these people as seen through their recorded words and understand how it is that our Lord suffered on account of those personalities. And then finally, I would want us to survey the cross for the various states of spiritual conditions that were to be found there. It is my aim in all this that we will at once be convicted and encouraged, guilt-riddled and redeemed, included in the blame but excluded from our due punishment. I believe that in hearing that old hymn after looking at this text, we will each individually realize that we were there at that cross.
That first thought, of understanding how so many ethnicities were present at this crucifixion is a point that differs from traditional Western European views. Maybe you too were of the persuasion that the folks around the cross were White folks. It’s what we’ve seen in paintings. It’s what has been in the pictures of our children’s books. It might even be in your bible somewhere in an artist’s rendition. For ever since the time of the Renaissance, paintings began to depict the biblical world as being filled only with White, European looking faces, and the thought in so many minds then is that in surveying the wondrous cross one would find people of one color, one nationality, and one ethnic origin, and they would be White. But as we survey the cross there, one man, Simon of Cyrene was of the country of Cyrene, a country on the North Coast of Africa. There were women there who were presumably from the mix of groups that formed the Jewish people, which included a line of people from the regions of modern day Iraq and also which included the descendants of Moses whose wife was a Cushite woman, and the descendants of Ephraim and Mannaseh, whose mother was Egyptian. There were soldiers of the Roman government at the cross of Jesus, Italians by descent. There was also a man named Jesus there, and that is the one that draws the most hesitation by traditional academia who for years have known that Michelangelo’s paintings of Jesus do not accurately depict the historical Jesus. Jesus as indicated in the genealogy in Matthew’s gospel, was in part a descendant of Rahab, a Black woman. He was also a descendant of Ruth a Moabite woman, a woman of color. There are others in Jesus’ lineage but I think you get the idea that the pictures of Jesus we’ve seen throughout the years may not portray how Jesus actually looked. In fact, do you know that prior to the domination of Christianity by the European community, that most every depiction of Jesus was as a Black man? The Madonna and Child that was so prevalent among ancient art only ever depicted Mary and Jesus as Afro-Asiatic individuals. It was the Italian church that first took the liberty to draw up a Jesus that resembled their pigmentation, and then when the West engulfed Christianity, it became common place to understand Jesus as looking like a White man. Images of the Black Jesus were systematically done away with. And you know you can do or say an awful lot of things to try to hide the truth. But it doesn’t change the truth anyway. You can hear a defense lawyer make a well reasoned, impassioned and logical argument on behalf of his or her client. But it may say absolutely nothing about whether or not the charges are true. Church I come to tell you, there were a whole lot of folks there at the cross. Black folks were there. People of mixed backgrounds were there. Italians were there. May even have been some Greeks there. The survey of the cross shows that when Jesus died on that cross, he died for people all over the globe. He died for people of all nationalities. He died for people of every color, of every ethnic group. He died in the presence of and on behalf of all of God’s children.