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On the Via Dolorosa

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:15 NIV)

Jesus' trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, ended in an unjust sentence. Jesus had been pronounced "not guilty" by Pilate, and yet, wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas and had Jesus flogged, handing Him over to be crucified. Thus begins Jesus' pouring out the passion of HIs love on the Via Dolorosa - the way of suffering and pain. The Via Dolorosa was not a particular street in Jerusalem, it was the way of sorrow Jesus walked on His way to the Cross.

In the flogging, Jesus was brutalized. The Romans reserved flogging for non-citizens, and it was a vicious punishment. The victim was stripped and tied to a short post that required them to be bent over. Two soldiers took whips with either metal or pottery embedded in the thongs and alternated striking Jesus on the back, ripping and tearing the flesh. This flogging was sometimes called the half-death, and victims sometimes died afterward from blood loss and shock.

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on Him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on Him. And they began to call out to Him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck Him on the head with a staff and spit on Him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took off the purple robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15:16-20 NIV)

Beyond the flogging, Jesus endured the mocking of the detachment of soldiers assigned to His crucifixion. They fashioned a crown of thorns and put a purple robe around His shoulders. They spit on Him and paid false homage to Him. It was degrading, and the King of the universe had insult added to injury as the ones He created and loved mocked Him.

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. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it. And they crucified Him. Dividing up His clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. (Mark 15:21-24 NIV)

Crucifixion was a spectacle designed to be a deterrent to future crime. It was very public and very cruel. Part of the spectacle was the requirement that the victim carry their own cross (or at least the pantibulum - the cross bar, which weighed 75 to 125 pounds in and of itself). Jesus had been brutalized to the point it was nearly impossible for Him to do so. And so the soldiers conscripted Simon from Cyrene and forced him to carry Jesus' cross. Finally they reached Golgotha, the place of crucifixion, where Jesus was put to death - not for any crime He had done, but as a sacrifice for all the sins of all humanity.

We are left to wonder why all this graphic brutality? (The word picture I have painted here is actually only a fraction of the cruelty. Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, gives full view to the brutality of it.) Why did Jesus have to be victimized like this? He came in love to lay down His life for the very ones who put Him to death, and for all the rest of us, too. In His suffering we see the depth of His passion for us. He suffered so we might be spared the suffering. He died so we could live forever. He gave Himself willingly for the lives of every human being who is lost in sin and unable to save ourselves.

In this brutality, we also get a glimpse of how our Holy God views sin. Sin is so much more than our mistakes or failures. Sin victimizes us. Sin separates us from God, and thus from Life itself. Sin cannot be dealt with by a wink of the eye and wave of the hand of a kindly, grandfather God. The price Jesus paid for my sin demonstrates the real depth of its effect in my life. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NIV)

The Via Dolorosa is not just about Jesus, it's about us. Just as our Savior humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:8) we are called as His followers to humble ourselves, take up our own cross and follow Him. (Matthew 16:24) We often say all this so casually. Christ died for our sins. We are to take up our cross and follow Him. Discipleship - really following Jesus - will mean the death of willful ego in our lives in order to live full-out for Him.

We carry our cross along the Via Dolorosa of the rooting out of our lives of the willful selfishness that results in the sin that Jesus paid for. There will likely be some pain involved in the process of our being made perfect in holy love. But make no mistake, the cost is worth the end result. To live a life here and now that honors Jesus brings deep joy. Dying to sin and selfishness brings real life, both now and beyond physical death. In the scale of eternity, the Via Dolorosa - the painful way of sorrow over sin that leads to repentance and forgiveness and eternal life - is something like the pain one experiences while working out at the gym. It is unpleasant at the time, but the gain is worth the pain.

The way through to our redemption was the Via Dolorosa - the way of suffering. The way through to the redemption of everything was the Via Dolorosa - the way of sacrifice. And in the end, it is worth it all.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)


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