The Journey To The Cross
In Jerusalem there is a road called the Via Dolorosa, which is a Latin phrase that means the way of suffering. It begins at the place where Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified and it ends at Golgotha. The Catholic Church, for many years, has identified 14 different events which happened to Jesus at various locations along His journey to the cross. Some of them are not recorded in Scripture, but come out of tradition. At each of these 14 stations there are markers on the walls of buildings, or in some cases there are even churches built to commemorate these different occasions of Jesus’ path of suffering. People come from all over the world on pilgrimage to walk the Stations of the Cross. They begin at the Ecce Homo convent and walk along the streets of Jerusalem stopping at each of the locations and reflecting on the suffering of Jesus on his way to the cross.
Eight of these stations are recorded in Scripture and this morning, I would like to lead you along that path. As we walk the Stations of the Cross, we will not do so as an intellectual exercise in which we analyze what is happening. Rather we will walk along Jesus’ way of suffering and try to enter into the experience. It will be less of an exercise of the mind and more an exercise of the heart. I would like to invite you to meditate, to feel what was going on, to experience what God was doing in this profound journey. I would like to invite you to walk where Jesus walked. As we journey the Via Dolorosa, I hope that we will experience the presence of God, the love of God and the grace of Jesus in His journey to the cross. At each station, I will read the text that relates to it and then reflect on what happened.
I would like to ask that the lights be turned off. As we walk along the path of Jesus’ suffering, we will extinguish one candle at each station until they are all extinguished. At the end of the service, I would like to ask you to walk out of the church quietly meditating on what you have experienced.
I. Station 1: Pilate Condemns Jesus to Die
The beginning of Jesus’ journey occurred in the palace of Pilate who was the Roman governor over Jerusalem at the time.
Read John 19:5-16. “When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”
Look around the crowd at the scene at this moment.
At the fringes of the people who were witnesses to this statement of condemnation there may have been some who were uninvolved spectators. What would it have been like to witness this travesty of justice? If they knew enough to realize that the trial was a sham, that Pilate was spineless and that Jesus was innocent would they have been angry at the evil being done? Or, on the other hand would they have been caught up with the shouting mob which forced the hand of Pilate to make the condemnation?
Physically uninvolved, but emotionally deeply invested were those who were followers of Jesus. Knowing Jesus was innocent and pure and loving and wonderful would have made this a deeply disturbing experience. Peter may still have been watching from a distance. Mary and some of the other women likely heard the condemnation. What anguish, what fear, what loss would have assaulted their hearts as they heard that Jesus, their friend had been condemned to be crucified.
For the Jewish leaders this was a day of victory. After the weeks of determined pursuit and vigorous attempts at entrapment, they finally had achieved their purpose. The words of condemnation to a cruel death on a cross would have been sweet. They did not want stoning, which was their right. They wanted crucifixion, which was much more cruel and according to Jewish thought indicated that God had condemned the one crucified. How sweet, how perfect was the condemnation because in this statement they had what they wanted. How their hateful hearts must have rejoiced!
Pilate was not so sure. He knew full well that there was no cause for Jesus to be crucified. But he was the final authority and even though he tried to wiggle out of it and desperately did not want to make this decision, he had no choice. He was in charge and as much as he hated to do it, he feared crowd violence more and reluctantly spoke the condemning words – “take Him to be crucified.” One wonders how long it would have taken for him to get over it. Did he think about this decision for weeks, for months? Did he think about it when he heard that Jesus had been raised?
As we circle around this difficult scene and look into the soul of the crowd and the followers and the Jewish leaders and Pilate himself we come finally to Jesus. How does it feel to know that you have been condemned to death? Although he knew all His life that this would be His end, reality was now presented to Him. What was going on in His mind as he processed the sentence, as he anticipated the pain, as He realized what the death of the innocent one meant? Even though the Bible tells us that he went through this with the joy set before Him, at this moment, I doubt if joy was all he felt and experienced.
This is what was happening as Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
II. Station 2: Jesus Accepts His Cross
As we read on, we pause at the next stop on this journey to the cross. We pause as we read in John 19:17,” Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).”
Although we just read that “Pilate handed him over…” it is interesting that the very next line is “Carrying His own cross…” It makes us reflect on what was actually going on here. Jesus had said to Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…” Although we might say in legal jargon that Pilate had responsibility for the death of Jesus, it is powerful to understand that this did not happen because the Jewish leaders shouted or because Pilate failed to pursue justice. Jesus accepted His cross because that was the purpose for which he came.
Yet we need to pause to think about what it meant that He took up this cross. Already bruised and weakened from the beating He had just received, he accepted the weight of the cross and willingly carried it. It was heavy, but he carried not only the weight of the wood, but the weight of knowing what it meant. And so the journey to Golgotha began.
III. Station 3: Simon Helps Carry the Cross
We follow along as Jesus begins to take one step after another along the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. We watch as Jesus steps haltingly along the smooth stones of the pavement, as he carries the heavy cross on his shoulders, as he is goaded by the powerful soldiers making sure that progress is made and as he sees the angry crowd staring, mocking and shouting. But the weight was too much and Jesus fell and we take a third stop on the way of suffering.
As the soldiers were making sure that progress was made, it was evident that Jesus would not be able to make it all the way. And so we read in Mark 15:21, “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” The soldiers looked about and saw Simon. He looked strong and was made to be willing. Was he really willing? Did he gladly help Jesus? Can you imagine what the followers of Jesus might have felt? Perhaps some of them had already hoped that someone would have the courage to help Jesus, but their fear prevented them from offering their help. I suspect that they were glad that someone was helping.
I can imagine Jesus looking up at Simon with gratitude in His eyes as the weight of the heavy cross was divided between them.
IV. Station 4: Jesus Speaks to the Women
As the procession carries on we notice all the smells of Jerusalem: the smell of the spice shop, the butcher shop, the open sewers and the people. The sounds of Jerusalem pressed in: the sound of animals, the murmur of the crowd, the clanking of the soldier’s armor and weapons and in the midst of this cacophony the sound of women weeping.
Our next stop in this journey is a most interesting stop. Jesus; broken, beaten, carrying the heavy cross, hearing all the sounds, yet has ears for the weeping of these women and he stops to speak to them. We read in Luke 23:27-31, “A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Pause for a moment and reflect on this stop. In his own suffering, Jesus nevertheless was aware of the suffering of others. Although he was aware that they were weeping for Him, He was also aware that there was a time coming when they would also suffer. The evil done to Him was not the end of evil. That is why he said, “…if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry.” This is a puzzling statement, but I believe it refers to what would happen because of His death and that the consequences for Jerusalem and the Jews would be devastating. And only 40 years later, what Jesus describes here happened.
But we are not here today to analyze and figure out the meaning of this phrase. Instead we can allow this stop to speak to our hearts. What does it say? How comforting to know that Jesus is aware of their suffering and of all they will suffer. This stop helps us to see the compassion and care of Jesus and allows us to be jarred by the incongruity of it all, but even more to be comforted by the great compassion of the one who cared even in the midst of His suffering.
V. Station 5: Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
Finally the procession makes its way to Golgotha. The cross is taken off of Jesus shoulders. The crowd backs off a little and the soldiers begin their horrible task.
We pause at station 5 as the soldiers do the first job of getting the prisoner ready to be crucified. Now it all becomes quite real. The first job was to strip the prisoner of all his garments so that he stood naked and exposed to the world. John 19:23-24 says, “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did.”
Jesus willingly emptied Himself of the divine glory when He came to earth. He came naked into the world, but we are told that he was “wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Now the clothing he had worn was stripped from Him and even his human dignity was taken away from Him. He stood naked before the whole world and as we look upon this scene, we do not really want to look. It is embarrassing, it is shameful. How horrible to think that Jesus, the perfect and eternal King is exposed to all. When Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately became aware of their nakedness. They were ashamed because sin had exposed who they really were. Jesus never sinned, but as he was about to be crucified, he was exposed for all to see. Perhaps it makes us realize and think that He was shamed not for Himself, but for us. Jesus was exposed because of sin so that we can be clothed in His righteousness.
VI. Station 6: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
The next job of the soldiers and our next stop on the journey is the crucifixion. We read in Mark 15:22-32, “They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
25 It was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. 27 They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!”
31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
I wonder if even the most hardened of men would have rejoiced at such a terrible spectacle. I wonder if the soldiers, used to killing, were totally comfortable with the violence of this act. All I can think of is the pain and horror of it all. Death is not as much to be feared as is dying. If dying is feared in normal circumstances, what would dying be like for someone who was crucified?
I think if I had been there, I may have looked for a place to throw up. As we reflect on its horror and its pain, and we realize that He was there for us, what does that realization do in our hearts?
VII. Station 7: Jesus Cares for His Mother
While Jesus hung on the cross, He became aware of his mother standing among those witnessing this horror. We read in John 19:25-27, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
As we stop at this seventh station on the way of suffering, we once again see His compassion. He was experiencing the pain of suffering and also experiencing the pain of separation from all those who were dear to them. In his suffering, He nevertheless, had compassion for those who were suffering. He must have felt what it was like for His mother to lose her son. He must have felt what it was like for the one whom Scripture seems to describe as His best friend to lose that relationship. In compassion for both of them, he encouraged them to care for each other.
I am amazed at the deep caring which Jesus manifested when He was Himself in the greatest depth of agony. What does it say to us that He cared for others while He was hurting? How it encourages us that He truly loves others!
VIII. Station 8: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Finally, mercifully we come to the eighth station. In Matthew 27:45-50 we read, “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi,a lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.”
In the end, death came to Jesus quite quickly. They were surprised that he was already dead. There is a certain peace about death when there has been great suffering and you know it is inevitable and you have been waiting for it. Was there peace in this death? When we think about the injustice of it all, when we remember that Jesus cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” then there is no peace in this death.
Clearly the implications of this death were great as evidenced by the darkness, by the curtain of the temple being torn in two, by the response of the centurion who exclaimed, “Surely He was the Son of God” and as evidenced by the visions of holy people appearing in the city.
But the stark reality for Jesus is that He was dead. The sad fact for the disciples is that hope was gone. We often go too quickly to meaning or to resurrection. Today we will stop here at the cross with Jesus on it. Today we will not go beyond the cross, but will pause at this station to realize that Jesus is dead and we will leave here contemplating the fact that Jesus experienced the same end as every human being will experience. After a prayer, we will walk out in silence. If you need to talk to someone, please wait until you get out of the building, otherwise I would encourage you to walk out in silence and contemplate that Jesus is dead.