The Via Dolorosa, (The Way of Suffering)

We are meditating on the drama that led up to the crucifixion of Christ (Scroll down for yesterday’s meditation). In the scene presented to us in the gospels, we see a picture of man behaving at his worst to the Creator of the Universe. After Pontius Pilate had washed his hands of the whole affair, the religious elite were allowed to have their way. The whole company of soldiers were laughing and jeering at the humiliation of the One Who is the true King. They clothed Him in a scarlet or purple cloak, the color of a king, and put a reed into His right hand instead of a scepter. They then kneeled before Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews,” mimicking the “Hail, Caesar!” that was spoken to declare allegiance to the Roman emperor, while at the same time spitting upon Him. With all the open wounds in His back, they then pulled the purple robe away, causing further blood loss, before putting His own clothes back on Him (Matthew 27:27-31).

Typically, the Roman soldiers would then tie the cross beam, the Patibulum, usually weighing at least one hundred pounds, to the victim’s shoulders. At the front of the procession to the place of crucifixion, one carried a sign that was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (John 19:20). This would give an indication of His “crime.” The chief priests objected to this statement, demanding that it be changed to read, “He said He was the king of the Jews,” but by this time, Pilate was so disgusted with them, he answered, “What I have written I have written” (John 19:22). A guard of four soldiers led by a centurion would lead Christ out to the public place where He would be crucified. They would part the garments of Jesus among themselves as a “benefit of the job.”

The route that day was a circuitous route, for Rome wanted as many people as possible to see an example of those that stood again the Roman empire. John tells us that Christ was taken to the Place of a Skull, which was called Calvary, or Golgotha in Aramaic (John 19:17). Some say that the place was so called because of skulls of other victims were left lying there, but this is unreasonable when one considers the Jewish passion for cleanliness and holiness of the land. It was more than likely a hillside that was shaped like a skull. Crucifixions took place on major thoroughfares and outside city gates so that many people would see and fear the same fate. The Lord was severely weakened by having no sleep, scourged, beaten in the face by the whole company of Roman soldiers, humiliated, spat upon, and hit about the head with a staff. Jesus needed help to carry the cross as His body was already weakened by the loss of blood. Victims of crucifixion would not usually undergo other punishment prior to their execution.

26As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then ” ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘31For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left (Luke 23:26-33).

In His weakened condition, the one-hundred-pound crossbeam, i.e. the patibulum, was too much for Jesus to carry, so the Roman centurion compelled a traveler just arriving into Jerusalem for Passover, Simon from Cyrene, North Africa, to carry it. On the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, Jesus was concerned for the women who were crying and wailing for Him. Christ told the mourners to wail for themselves and for the judgment that will follow. In a proverb (vs. 30-31), He compared Himself to a tree that is green and full of life. Righteous green Jesus was not a natural object to be burned in the fire of judgment, but the dry, lifeless nation of Israel that had rejected mercy and grace, would have to face the fires of judgment by the Roman government in 70 A.D.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 63 at this link, The Crucifixion of Christ (Luke 23:26-49). Keith Thomas