On the Via Dolorosa
Once Jesus was condemned to die by Pontius Pilate, He began a journey to Golgotha - the hill outside Jerusalem where He was to be crucified.
The journey has been called the Via Dolorosa, which is Latin for "Way of Sorrow" or "Way of Suffering." You may be familiar with the Sandy Patti song by that title.
First, Jesus was flogged. Flogging was sometimes called "half death." It was cruel and vicious. Jesus was also mocked by the Roman soldiers. They put a robe on him and fashioned a crown made of thorns, forcing it onto His head and causing more bleeding. They mockingly called Him a king and then beat Him some more.
Finally, the victim of Roman crucifixion was required to carry the patibulum - the cross-bar piece of the cross. It often weighed 75 to over 100 pounds. Weakened from the flogging, Jesus could not bear the weight of the patibulum, so the soldiers in charge of His crucifixion compelled another man to carry Jesus' cross.
"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." (Mark 15:21 NIV)
Simon from Cyrene. We know little about him, yet his name is forever attached to Jesus and His journey on the Via Dolorosa. Cyrene is in North Africa, on the Mediterranean coast in modern-day Libya. One hundred thousand Judean Jews were forced to resettle there in 300 BC. It is likely that Simon was a Jew who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Roman soldiers compelled Simon to carry Jesus' cross.
Jesus could not bear the weight of His own cross because of the effects of the flogging. He was half dead. He was weakened by dehydration and blood loss. And he was carrying another weight that was much heavier than the patibulum. He was carrying the weight of my sin - and of yours. All the sins of all humanity for all time were embodied in the sinless One as He went to Golgotha to pay the price to redeem us. God-in-the-flesh bore the weight of our sin and paid the price so we can be forgiven and set free from sin and its consequence - death.
Jesus could have stopped all this at any time, calling a legion of angels to come rescue Him. He would have been within His rights to do so. He was innocent. We are the guilty ones. But love compelled Him to walk the Via Dolorosa and make redemption for us. I have never been loved like this by anyone else, nor will I ever be.
On the Via Dolorosa we see love conquering evil. We see love that will not stop until a way is made for His beloved ones to be ransomed. We see the undeserved, unconditional love of God enfleshed in Jesus, walking the Way of Sorrow to the Cross. We see love determined to pay the price of redemption so we may be set free. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)
Sometimes life is heavy for us. Sometimes we bear burdens that are beyond our capacity to carry. Sometimes we need someone to carry our cross along with us. We need a Simon of Cyrene to take the burden on himself. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our Burden Bearer. When we turn to Him in complete and utter trust (faith), He redeems us from sin and death and lives in our hearts, shaping us to be like Himself and continuing to carry our burdens when we are too weak and frail to do so.
Thanks be to God for a Redeemer such as this!