The Via Dolorosa

After His arrest in the middle of the night, Jesus was bound and led away to Annas where He was falsely accused (Matthew 26:47-66).  During the course of this trial He was spit on, blindfolded, beat, struck with the palm of hands, and ordered to prophecy about who struck Him (Matthew 26:67-68; Luke 22:64).  Then Jesus was led to Caiphas where He was falsely accused by the Jews (Matthew 26:57).  A soldier struck Jesus across the face for remaining silent when questioned by Caiphas.

In the early morning, Jesus, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and exhausted from a sleepless night, was taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, where He was falsely accused (Matthew 27:2). 

Pilate sent Jesus to Herod where He was vehemently accused. Herod’s soldiers mocked Him, treated Him with contempt, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:5-12).  In response to the cries of the mob, Pilate ordered Barabbus released in Jesus’ place and condemned Jesus to scourging (flogging or whipping) and crucifixion.

Matthew 27:26 – “Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” NKJV

That brings us to the end of the record of the historic trials of Jesus. Pilate gave his final verdict concerning Jesus; but his judgment had no integrity to it. Under personal and political pressure, he yielded to the will of the Jewish council.

Jesus had already been scourged as was customary before crucifixion. All that remained to be done for the execution was to gather the cross and other necessary equipment and to organize a procession to take the prisoner to the place of execution.

Two other prisoners were crucified with Jesus. A detail of Roman soldiers – four soldiers under the leadership of a centurion could handle several executions as easily as one, so these two men were added to the procession: Luke 23:32 – “There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.” NKJV

The parade of prisoners and Roman soldiers wound through the streets of Jerusalem and finally exited one of the gates in the wall of the city, ending at a location not far outside the wall: Hebrews 13:12 – “So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood.” NLT

The spot was known as “the Place of a Skull,” or “Golgotha” in Hebrew or Aramaic (John 19:17). It is also called “Calvary” (Luke 23:33; KJV), from a Latin word (calvaria) which means “skull.”

The journey from the fortress Antonia (where Pilate lived) to Golgotha was about 650 yards and has been called “The Via Dolorosa – Way of Suffering/Sorrows.”  This is the road that Jesus walked when He was carrying His cross.

They say that when a person is dying, His life flashes before His eyes.  I wonder what Jesus was thinking about.  No doubt He was thinking about where He had been (heaven), His life on earth where He had been tempted, why He was being mistreated when the only thing He was guilty of was loving people, which is not a crime nor a sin, and how He was being killed for someone else’s mistakes – which was a huge injustice.

How do you suppose He felt about the lies that were told about Him, the beating that He took, the sarcasm from the people, being mocked by His own creation, the cruel death He would soon suffer, the public shame of it all?

At every step of the way, Satan would have been there at Jesus’ side – tempting Him to quit, reasoning with Him to give up, and seducing Him to surrender, telling Him – “they are not worth dying for.”

At the end of this road (the Place of the Skull or Golgotha) was death.  Jesus was an innocent suffering for the guilty.  What do you suppose was going through His mind as He was nailed to the cross, as He watched the people, as He went through the separation from His Father for us?

In harmony with Roman procedure, the condemned were forced to carry the cross beams on their shoulders to the place of their crucifixion: John 19:16-17: “Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).” NLT

Weakened from the scourging and the exhausting night that He had endured, Jesus likely struggled to carry the heavy beam. The Gospel writers did not say that He fell to the ground under the weight of the cross, although that is a reasonable assumption. As the procession made its way along, it became clear to the Roman soldiers who were conducting the execution that help would be needed for Jesus: Luke 23:26-27: “As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women.” NLT

The Roman soldiers, when necessary, could order any bystander to assist them with whatever was needed.

A soldier must have pointed at Simon and said, “You, come over here and carry this man’s cross.”

Since this was the time of the Passover, the street was no doubt lined with people from Jerusalem and from faraway places.

Some had participated in the trials by crying out for Jesus to be crucified, while others were merely curious and had gathered to see what was taking place.

At one point along the route to Calvary, Jesus turned and spoke to a group of women who were following along behind Him wailing and lamenting for Him. We do not know much about these women. They may have been professional weepers who took it upon themselves to join the procession, walk along behind Him, and publicly lament for Him. Hearing them, Jesus stopped, turned, and addressed them:

Luke 23:28–31: “But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” NLT

Shortly after Jesus made these remarks, the procession arrived at the place of execution. The journey to Calvary was not a long one; it may not have been more than half of a mile. However, for Jesus, who had been scourged and had gone without sleep, food, and drink for 24 hours, each step was torturous, requiring every bit of energy that His body could muster.

Every part of our Lord’s death has significance and meaning for us and teaches us lessons that should never be forgotten. The journey to the cross is no exception. What does it say to us?

Simon, the man forced to carry Jesus’ cross, illustrates the fact that a life-changing event can happen at a most unexpected time! That morning, Simon went into Jerusalem as an unknown man from another country. He saw a procession moving down the street and went over to see what was happening. Then a Roman soldier pointed at him and required him to carry Jesus’ cross. At that moment, Simon moved from obscurity to a place in the Scriptures. Wherever the gospel is preached, he will be mentioned.

The wailing women remind us of an age-old truth – things aren’t always what they appear to be!  Jesus stumbled along as a criminal among criminals, going to a horrible death.

Some who followed the prisoners thought that Jesus was receiving what He deserved. Beyond the ugliness of it all was the truth: Jesus, as the Savior of the world, was making His way to a place where He would offer Himself as the sacrifice for our sins.

All previous time had looked toward this event, and all subsequent time would look back to it. He would endure the cross and despise the shame. Then, following His resurrection, He would sit down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

The presence of the two thieves reminds us that no matter how desperate the situation appears to be, almost every circumstance brings opportunities to offer salvation to a lost soul.

Luke 23:42-43: “Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” “And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” NKJV 

No place, no situation – regardless of how much agony it contains – is void of opportunities to show the light of God’s love. Who would have thought that one of these thieves would be won to Jesus before he died?

Jesus also had to deal with the people who were at the cross while He was on the cross – John 19:23-24:  “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”  Therefore the soldiers did these things.” NKJV

This has often been called the one thing of value that Jesus owned.  Having divided the spoils, the soldiers sat down and began to keep watch over Him.

Matthew 27:35-36: “After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there.” NLT

The soldiers were responsible for guarding Jesus, not to protect Him, but to keep friends from removing Him from the cross before He was dead.  Since death on the cross normally took a long time, they would have expected a lengthy wait: Matthew 27:35 – “After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.” NLT 

I wonder what that scene must have looked like to Jesus! When Jesus looked at those soldiers He was looking at us too, because we do the same things they did – we also play games at the foot of the cross – we sin and we like it, we judge/won’t forgive/hate/gossip about people – we bicker/fuss/fight – act like babies and throw temper tantrums when we don’t get our way – we lie, cheat, steal – all the while we look around to see if anyone is looking – look up, someone is.  I wonder sometimes if the one who looks down at us wonders if we were worth it.

There was also a crowd standing by, watching: Luke 23:35 – “The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” NLT

There was also a constant stream of passersby, probably pilgrims on their way into the city for the day’s festivities: Mark 15:27-32: “With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.” NKJV

The soldiers also jumped in: Luke 23:36-37: “The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” NKJV 

The two thieves joined in: Matthew 27:44 – “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.” NKJV 

Mark 15:32 – “…Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.” NKJV

These people did not understand that if Jesus saved Himself and came down from the cross (which He could have done), then we would have all been lost. They did not understand that He stayed on the cross because He was the Son of God dying for the sins of the world.

1 Peter 2:24 – “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” NLT

1 Peter 1:18-19: “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” NLT

1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” NLT

Closing thoughts

On a human level, the Bible says there were a number of people involved in sentencing Jesus to die on the cross  (Judas – greed; priests – envy; Pilate – fear and cowardice).  However, our sins, disobedience and rebellion sent Jesus to the cross as well.

The death Jesus died was the death that you and I deserved. Our sins, disobedience and rebellion sent Jesus to the cross. We are no less guilty than Judas, the high priest, or Pilate:

Romans 4:25 – “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” NLT

Judas had betrayed Him with a kiss; Peter had denied Him three times; all the disciples had left Him and fled.  And in the darkest hour of the history of the world, God the Father struck His own Son with our punishment:

Isaiah 53:4-6: “Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all!” NLT

The Romans put Jesus on that cross, the Jews put Jesus on that cross, you put Jesus on that cross, I put Jesus on that cross. Who crucified Jesus – we did!  Judas’ greed was ours; the priest’s envy was ours; Pilate’s fear and cowardice was ours.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

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