The Via Dolorosa

As we prepare for Easter, we are walking with Jesus in the last 24 hours of his life on the way to the cross.

We began by looking at the trials Jesus faced, first by the Jewish Council the Sanhedrin, then by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. We saw how Jesus experienced first-hand the essential unfairness of this fallen world. False accusations. Condemnation for speaking the truth. Rigged trials. Unjust imprisonment. Misunderstanding. Jealousy. The innocent dying while the guilty get off free. And so often, good men standing by and doing nothing!

Last week we saw Jesus flogged,

Matthew 27 27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers round him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

This cruel flogging was an unjust, undeserved punishment. It was not “redeeming suffering” – it contributed nothing to our salvation. But it was “identifying suffering. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, Immanuel, God with us has identified Himself with suffering people in every situation.

Then the crown of thorns. Pure barbaric cruelty. Senseless torture. Suffering which was neither redemptive nor even identifying – but simply pointless! And then Jesus was mocked and taunted. He DID walk where I walk, He DID stand where I stand, He HAS felt what I feel, He DOES understand! God with us, so close to us, God with us, Immanuel!

The prophet ISAIAH foretold it so well.

He was dispised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows, and familiar with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

This week we will see that nowhere was this rejection more true than on that agonising journey from the trials to the cross along the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Sorrows. Let’s look at that journey from the perspective of all the different people who passed by, who saw Jesus on that road.

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?”
Luke 23: 27-31

In the midst of all his suffering Jesus was not thinking about himself, but for those who were watching him die.

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where all who passed by mocked Him..


Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, `You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God! Matthew 27:39

It was as if the whole world had turned against Jesus. Only a week ago the streets were lined with people cheering his arrival. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” “Hosanna in the highest!”

Now only seven days later what a contrast to the triumphal entry which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. At Golgotha we read that ALL who passed by mocked Jesus. Not a supporter in sight!

And it was not only the ordinary people but especially the important people came along to pour their scorn on Jesus.


In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God.’ ” Matthew 27: 41-43

He saved others – let Him save Himself! The irony was that Jesus WAS the King of Israel. He WAS the Son of God. And the proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be was not that He miraculously came down from the cross, but that he stayed up there. He COULD have come down – but then we would not have been saved. God the Father COULD have rescued His beloved Son from all the suffering of the cross. But then we would not have been saved!

And those who were crucifying Jesus added to the suffering of the hour.


When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots [that the word spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled: “They divided my garments among themselves and cast lots for my clothing.”] And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.
Matthew 27: 35-36.

They were just doing their jobs. The classic defence. “I was just obeying orders.” But there was at least one of them who was deeply moved by what was happening. After it was all over we read,
“When the centurion who stood there in front of Jesus heard his cry and saw how he died he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)

But that was too late!

PONTIUS PILATE the Roman Governor knew what was really going on!

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.
The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write `The King of the Jews’, but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” John 19:19-22

Good men doing nothing! Pilate KNEW Jesus was innocent. But he kept quiet. He compromised!

And what of Jesus Himself?

Mt 27: 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.

It was part of God’s plan of salvation that Jesus was determined to remain fully conscious all through his suffering. To drink the cup of suffering to the bitter end.

Just where were the DISCIPLES when all of this was happening?

While their Master and Friend was suffering in these ways, when humanly speaking Jesus needed their support most of all, where were those 11 remaining apostles? This is all that the gospels tell us about how the disciples stood by Jesus and supported him through his trials and then along the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Sorrows, to the cross.
Just as Peter was speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked directly at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him. “Before the cock crows today you will deny me three times.” And Peter went outside and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:60-62)

That’s it! Later on we find the apostle John at the foot of the cross. But not on the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Sorrows. And no sign of Peter or James or Andrew or Matthew or any of the other apostles. They are nowhere to be seen! Not even Peter, despite his rash promise, “Lord I am ready to go with you to prison and even to death!” (Luke 22:33)

“Lone and friendless now he climbs the cruel hill!”

Have you ever felt lonely and abandoned? As if all your family and friends have deserted you? As if you are all alone in the world and nobody cares what happens to you? Many people feel that way for lots of the time. Often if a loved one dies we will feel completely alone without them. But many people feel lonely even in the ordinary course of life. One person wrote, “loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.” Another wrote, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet be so lonely.” That was Albert Einstein. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being uncared for and unwanted are the greatest poverty.”

But the Via Dolorosa shows us that Jesus understands completely what it is to be alone and abandoned.

He was dispised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows, and familiar with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

“Lone and friendless now he climbs the cruel hill!”

At the hour of his greatest need, Jesus’s disciples were not there for him.

Only one man was there for Jesus, when carrying his own cross became too much for Jesus after the flogging and the crown of thorns.
Matt:27: 32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.

I’ll bet Peter and James and John and the others spent the rest of their lives wishing THEY had been there to carry Jesus’s cross for Him – but they weren’t!!! Only one man was – a complete stranger.

Mark’s gospel tells us that Simon of Cyrene was the father of Rufus and Alexander. We can assume that these were disciples and that they were well known in the Early Church. Indeed Paul sends a greeting to Alexander in Romans 16. So we can be pretty certain that Simon’s sons Rufus and Alexander became prominent Christians.

Simon came from Cyrene (in Africa). In Acts 13 we read about a man known as “Simeon the Black” who was one of the prophets in Antioch who sent Paul and Barnabas off on their Missionary journeys. Most people think that Simeon the Black was actually Simon of Cyrene. It seems very likely that that “chance” encounter Jesus had with a passer by who was on his way in from the countryside brought Simon of Cyrene salvation.

We often say that God loves each one of us so much that Jesus would have endured the cross and all His sufferings just for one of us – just for me. Perhaps Jesus endured all the sorrows of the Via Dolorosa just for Simon of Cyrene.

WOMEN OF JERUSALEM – They wept for Him

BYSTANDERS – They hurled insults at Him


SOLDIERS – They just did their job – and murdered him!

PILATE – Stood back and did nothing!

DISCIPLES – were nowhere to be seen.


The only one to help Jesus! And the one who received blessing upon blessing, life in all its fullness from that encounter.

Were YOU there when they crucified my Lord?

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