Jesus allegedly took the cross up the Via Dolorosa, meaning the Way of Grief or Suffering, beginning from the governor’s mansion (The Praetorian) to the site of His crucifixion. The path runs through the old city of Jerusalem inclined up the western hill of the city. Christians pilgrimage yearly to this site to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus through the events of His tragic journey to the hill of Golgotha. Through study, one comes face-to-face with God’s great love for humanity that led Christ to choose the way of suffering (death) for our redemption. This brings reflection of whether to follow Jesus.
Daryl Cox/March 2, 2013
Christians traveled and recreated the Via Dolorosa since the fourth century when Roman Emperor Constantine ceased persecuting believers and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christians then freely toured sites of the Holy Land mentioned in Scripture. As time progressed, the Christian community regarded the Via Dolorosa as more than just the path Jesus took to His death. Rather, they viewed it as landmarking various events that took place on that day, called the 14 Stations of the Cross. Gospel accounts attest to nine of these. This writing focuses on three of the confirmed stations and people involved with these events.
The stations of this journey begin with Christ’s trial by Pilate and end with His body being placed in the tomb only to be resurrected later. How does our contemplating the Via Dolorosa account impact us as believers? Our reflection gives pause to consider Christ and examine our hearts. The psalmist David writes, “Search me, O God, and know my Heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24 KJV).
Station 1: Trial and Condemnation of Jesus
“What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”(Matt 27:22). These familiar words from Pontius Pilate ring a resounding effect for life both now and throughout eternity. We cannot accept or reject Jesus and remain untouched. Today, the journey on the Via Dolorosa begins at a school called the Madrasa al-Omariya, which sits on the site where Jesus’ trial allegedly occurred. The Matthean account records Jesus’ trial by presenting Him, Pilate, his wife and the people of Israel gathered at the governor’s mansion. Pilate acknowledged he found no cause of death for Jesus having examined Him, but the Jews demanded accountability for Jesus under direction from their religious leaders and cried out for His death (Matt 27:20-25). Hailed as a prophet earlier, Jesus’ own people now reject and condemn Him. The reason? He claimed to be the Son of God (John 19:7). Pilate cried out that there was no reason for sentencing an innocent man to death. His wife sent her husband a message not to have anything to do with this man whom she called just, for she suffered many things in a dream because of Him. Was she sick? No, she was under conviction from Jesus’ indirect ministry and, thus had no peace. Her life remained unchanged because she wanted nothing to do with Jesus, just as she advised her husband. No decision for Christ reflects any decision against Christ. We have no peace unless we lose our life for His sake that we may recover it in Him. On the other hand, Pilate faced a dilemma. How could he legally condemn an innocent man to death? He did not wish to see Jesus put to death. Rather, he chose to wash his hands of the matter and submit to the insistent will of the people. He released Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist, instead of Jesus who had done so many wonderful things for them. The trial was a case of injustice, of which justice did not prevail. Accordingly, justice will not triumph at the hand of those who are weak and indecisive about Jesus and His word.
Station 5: Simon of Cyrene
There was a man named Simon from the country of Cyrene who was in Jerusalem the day Jesus walked the Dolorosa to His death. Jesus physically could no longer carry the cross due to the scourging and beating from the hands of the soldiers earlier that day and the priests and elders the night before. So, Roman soldiers forced Simon to carry Jesus’ cross during the journey. Why does this account show significance? — Three Gospels record it. In the Markan account, the author mentions Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21). He wrote his Gospel account to Christians at Rome, acknowledging Simon’s two sons (Alexander and Rufus) as known figures in this church. The Apostle Paul acknowledged Rufus as a chosen leader in the church at Rome. Rufus’ mother (Simon’s wife) became known as Paul’s mother in the Lord (Rom 16:13). Simon, whom the Romans forced to bear Jesus’ cross up the Via Dolorosa, witnessed His death and following events. At some point, Simon converted to a believer after the events of the crucifixion and Pentecost. Not only did he embrace Jesus as Lord and Messiah, but as a result of that dreadful day, his family made the same choice. Simon’s experience on the Dolorosa and his choice to believe in Jesus influenced the lives of his family forever. Scripture records their salvation and its result as a witness for us today.
Station 8: Wailing Women
As Jesus moved closer to Golgotha’s hill (Luke 23:27-32), He saw the terror and hurt in the eyes of the many who really loved Him. His response, though comforting, was prophetic. He admonished them to weep not for Him, but for themselves and their children. If the Romans would condemn an innocent man (the green tree) what will they do with those whom they considered guilty or were proven guilty (the dry tree)? These words looked forward to about 40 years into the future when the Romans would destroy Jerusalem under the command of Titus. The nation of Israel’s own words “Let his blood be upon us and our children” were fulfilled (Matt 25:27). Christ’s impending death would be for every person only to be overcome by His resurrection, but Israel and its descendants would bear the responsibility for it. They would incur its far-reaching effects upon their future and eternity by rejecting Jesus. The choices people now make about Jesus and His word impact their present and future times.
From a study of these three Stations of the Cross, we see Jesus willingly walking a path to taste death for everyone. He gives everyone the opportunity to accept Him. Those who accept and follow Him are given eternal life. Those who reject Him will walk the spiritual path of the Dolorosa to their own destruction. Pilate’s wife had no peace because she did not repent while under conviction. Pilate sought to remove himself from the Christ issue and made the wrong decision. Israel, did not accept His claim to be the Son of God, and they and their children paid dearly years later. God made Jesus the pivotal figure in human history. We cannot have the favor and peace of God without Him. Simon of Cyrene, though he carried the cross by force, made the right choice for Jesus. As a result, Simon observed His passion at close range. Unlike those who rejected Jesus, he witnessed Christ’s love and power that would change the lives of both him and his family forever. Simon’s wife significantly influenced the life of Paul. Additionally, his children became great leaders in the Church of Rome. Jesus lives today. He will save and change all who come to Him:
- Seek to know Him. Believers mature with knowledge of Christ and a closer relationship with Him. In turn, God makes fruitful men and women whom He uses to bless this world.
- Be mindful of His identity. The death of the Son of God was the sacrifice of God, who so loved the world, in flesh.
- Remember what He did. Jesus expressed His greatest passion through His love for humanity. His love provides restoration to relationship with God
- Continue to follow Him. These Stations of the Cross should not become mere religious symbols, but a means to know the biblical Jesus, Who is beyond our greatest perception.
Via Dolorosa covered by Sandi Patty
Via Dolorosa – song in Russian (Жуковская)
Via Dolorosa 苦路 (Singing with Chinese Lyrics 原创中文歌词)