The Via Dolorosa

Luke 23:27–31 describes a part of Jesus’ journey on what has been called the Via Dolorosa:

“And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. [28] But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. [29] For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ [30] Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ [31] For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

The Via Dolorosa is said to be, the very steps that Jesus traveled on the way to his crucifixion. The term literally means “the way of sorrow.” It refers to the sorrow of the Jesus as he is being led out to die and to the sorrow of the people who followed him. There is no way to know the exact route. The current route has been fixed since the 18th century.

What we do know is that Jesus was condemned to die by Pontius Pilate at the praetorium, then the soldiers took him and mocked him and crowned him with thorns and then led him out to be crucified. We have a pretty good idea where the praetorium is and where the crucifixion took place so my guess is they just figured out the most direct route from the praetorium to the Calvary and that determined the route.

It is one of the most-visited sites in the city of Jerusalem, a place that is visited by many Christians pilgrims. Every Friday there is a procession along the route since Jesus was crucified on a Friday.

Tradition says that Jesus fell three times while walking on the Via Dolorosa. Since the Bible says the soldiers compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross it stands to reason that he did fall or at least struggled along the way.

The passage above describes something that happened somewhere along the route. As a large multitude that includes women who were mourning and lamenting for Jesus is following Jesus out to Calvary, Jesus turns to them and says, “Don’t weep for me, weep for yourselves.”

As always, Jesus is not thinking of himself but of others. That is the whole reason why Jesus was there in the first place, allowing his enemies to crucify him. As he himself says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

A few verses after our reading it says he prayed for those who were crucifying him, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He also shows care for the repentant thief who was crucified beside him. When the thief says, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The point of Jesus’ words in this passage are basically, “If you think things are bad now, just wait, they will get worse.” He should know. He is the eternal Son of God who rose from the dead and knows exactly how things are going to happen as the end of the world approaches.

There are those who think the other way, that as time goes on things are just going to get better and better. We will eventually overcome all diseases and problems that the world faces. There will be one world government, one world language, one world economy and one world religion. In other words, we humans have it in ourselves to solve all our problems.

Things are going to get so good that we will have the opportunity to live on the moon or on Mars if we so desire.

But that’s not what Jesus says or what the Bible says. Things are going to get worse as Jesus says above. “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ [30] Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ [31] For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Elsewhere Jesus says, Matthew 24:21–22

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. [22] And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”

It’s going to be worse than it’s ever been but for the sake of the elect God will cut the days short.

And Jesus says in Matthew 24:11–14:

“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. [12] And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. [13] But the one who endures to the end will be saved. [14] And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

The love of many will grow cold. But again, Jesus gives us hope: [13] “But the one who endures to the end will be saved. [14] And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

So, in contrast to the world’s view that says things will just keep getting better and better until we achieve perfection, the Bible’s view is that things will get worse but in the midst of the trouble we still have hope. Jesus still cares for us. Just as surely as he cared for the people on the Via Dolorosa, for the soldiers who crucified him, for the thief who was crucified beside him, he cares for us.

And it does not follow that, since things are just going to keep getting worse that we don’t have to try to make things better in this world. No, whenever we have the opportunity, we should try to make things better. And the best way to make things better is to share with others the Gospel, the good news that we have a Savior who died on the cross to pay for all of our sins.

If you ever get a chance to go to Jerusalem, you may get to walk in the very steps that Jesus took on his way to the cross. All along the way, all throughout his life, and especially as he hung on the cross, he was thinking of us. Because of what he did we know that on the very day we die we will be with the Lord in paradise.

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