One of Rembrandt's more famous paintings is entitled The Three Crosses. When one looks at the painting, your attention is drawn first to the cross on which Jesus died. Then as you look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, you are impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, your eyes drift to the edge of the painting to catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Some art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross.
The old spiritual asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And we must answer, “yes, we were there.” Not as spectators only; but as participants, guilty participants.
One author has written, "It is a simple thing to say Christ died for the sins of the world. It is quite another thing to say that Christ died for my sins. It may make us feel better to point the finger at those who put Jesus on the cross, but it is a shocking thought that we can be as indifferent as Pilate, as scheming as Caiaphas, as calloused as the soldiers, as ruthless as the mob, or as cowardly as the disciples. It isn't just what they did --- it was I who nailed Him to the tree. I crucified the Christ of God, I joined the mockery."
It was each of us who participated in Christ’s death and yet He willingly took the cross upon Himself to reveal to the best of God’s love and bring us salvation. The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Friends place yourself in the shadows with Rembrandt. You too are standing there. But then recall what Jesus said as He hung on that cross, “Father, forgive them.” Thank God, that includes you and me. Horatius Bonar (1808-89), who has been called the 'prince of Scottish hymn-writers', expressed it well about the sacrifice of Christ:
Twas I that shed that sacred Blood,
I nailed him to the Tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
Yet not the less that Blood avails
To cleanse me from sin,
And not the less that Cross prevails
To give me peace within