In his novel entitled The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas skillfully told the story of the crucifixion of Christ.  One of the central characters in the plot was a Roman military officer named Marcellus.  He was in charge of the small detachment who were chosen to carry out the execution.  Marcellus did not desire the assignment but accepted it with the aloof resignation of a good soldier.  It was his job, and he would do it.

But after the dirty deed was done, Marcellus was a haunted man.  He returned to Rome but was unable to escape that day in Jerusalem.  In casual conversation with friends and family, he would suddenly lose his train of thought, sit silent for a moment, and then with a blank stare would ask, “Were you out there?”

It was a strange question to ask people who have never been to Jerusalem.  They could not possibly have been present the day that Jesus died.  But Marcellus kept on asking, nonetheless.  And the question has persisted across the centuries.  Someone has even written a song about it.  I don’t know who, or when, or where.  But all of us have heard it:

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

 Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

That question endures because, for some strange reason, it makes sense.  Most of us do not spend a great deal of time thinking about the crucifixion of Christ.  But when we hear or see the story vividly portrayed, we cannot escape the feeling that somehow, we were there.

The people who actually participated in the event are all familiar to us.  We know the names of some and the positions of others.  Sometimes we try to think of them as demons with horns.  But that was not the case.  They were just people, not greatly different from you and me.  They were, of course, creatures of their time and place in history.  We cannot imagine ourselves approving of a crucifixion.  But that was an accepted way to execute criminals.  They were conditioned to it, just as people in more recent times were conditioned to the guillotine and gallows.  And many today are conditioned to the use of the electric chair and lethal injections.  If we had been there, it is doubtful that any of us would have objected to the crucifixion on grounds of its brutality. 

We need to understand the people who planned and perpetuated the crucifixion were very much like us.  Every influence that sent Jesus to the cross is a reflection of our day-to-day iniquities.  Not one unusual sin was involved.  The tragic result almost unbelievable.  Yet the things that brought it about were the same things of which we, ourselves are guilty – our sins against the Lord and one another.

In point of time, the crucifixion of Christ is far removed from your life and mine.  But in point of fact, it is closer than we like to think.  When we honestly examine our hearts, we have to confess that we played a part.  And we need to pray, “Father, forgive us, for we were there when they crucified our Lord.”