All the Way to Calvary: The Via Dolorosa

Spectators began to fill the streets. Pilate had just given the order and word was beginning to spread that an execution was about to begin. In actuality, the crowd would witness three men being led to the crucifixion site.

The death march was now underway. The prisoners were being forced down the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Way of Suffering”), the narrow stone-covered path which was just wide enough to accommodate the condemned, their heavy crosses and the soldiers who prodded them along.

The spectators’ eyes were not deceiving them. One of the condemned was God’s innocent Son! “And he bearing his cross went forth” (Joh 19:17 KJV). Christ was willingly submitting Himself to both the injustice of His accusers and the justice of God, which He had come to satisfy.[1]

Suddenly there was a commotion. The air was filled with gasps and wails from the many observers. The burdensome cross on Jesus’ back (still bleeding from the horrific scourging) was too much.[2] The soldiers scanned the crowd and found their man. Simon would now carry Jesus’ cross. But it was not the Simon who said, “Even if I must die with you [Jesus], I will never deny you” (Mat 26:35).[3] No, Simon Peter, a devoted follower of Christ, was nowhere to be found.

The Simon Who Was There

With the tap of a soldier’s spear, Simon of Cyrene was drafted to bear the cross of Jesus to the execution site. It was likely an annoying and messy intrusion into the Cyrenian’s plans, but “the tap of the spear” was not something that could be rejected.

This Simon was likely a Jewish pilgrim coming into Jerusalem to keep the Passover. Little did he know that the cross he was bearing would soon hold “Christ our passover [lamb] … sacrificed for us” (1Co 5:7 KJV).

Being compelled to take the cross to Golgotha, Simon probably watched the remaining events unfold, being struck by the remarkable behavior of the Man he was urged to help. Listening to Jesus’ words and witnessing His forgiving spirit, Simon felt he needed to stay and watch. If he had not been conscripted, perhaps he would not have been converted, for a comparison of Mark 15:21 (Mark’s Gospel being written to believers at Rome) with Romans 16:13 seems to indicate that Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, became a Christian.

But before arriving at the Place of the Skull, a different commotion drew the attention of Jesus. “A great number of the people followed him, among them women who were mourning and wailing for him” (Luk 23:27).

Mourning for the Wrong Reason

Of all the sounds, shouts and screams of the many present, Jesus heard those of the women of Jerusalem and addressed them specifically: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (v28). Christ was not interested in their sympathy, tears or pity, but in their faith, for apart from faith in Him, their future would be dark and frightful. So too will it be for all who refuse Christ as Savior.

With Simon trailing behind Him, and likely the two thieves also, the prophetic voice of Jesus to the women rang out this warning: “For this is certain: The days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never nursed!’” (v29). The judgment of the future will be so dreadful that barrenness, usually something to be lamented in Israel, will be considered a blessing. Jesus added, “Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’” (v30). The final book of Holy Scripture records earth-dwellers who rebel against God and refuse His Son using this exact language during the tribulation period as they anticipate His terrifying wrath about to befall them (Rev 6:16-17). Far better for these women (and every sinner) to call out to the Maker of the mountains and hills now to save them rather than to the mountains and hills then to crush them!

His prophetic words finished, Jesus and the soldiers finally ended the long walk down the Via Dolorosa. They arrived at “the place, which is called Calvary” (Luk 23:33 KJV). But before the first nail was driven and the gruesome deed performed, a rare offer of mercy was extended.

The Cup Jesus Refused

They “offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink. But after tasting it, he would not drink it” (Mat 27:34). Mark adds (15:23) that myrrh was also in the mixture, which would have given the sour wine a better flavor. Both gall and myrrh were narcotics and would serve to deaden the pain crucifixion victims would feel. Jesus refused to drink it. He would endure suffering in its fullness, without any dilution whatsoever. Simon, the thieves, the women, the soldiers and all the spectators would presumably notice. He may have been the only Man who ever refused this drink! His focus was on drinking the cup His Father had given Him (Mat 26:42; Joh 18:11).

The Via Dolorosa was now behind Him, but the dreadful sufferings of the cross were still ahead.

Down the Via Dolorosa called the way of suffering,
Like a lamb came the Messiah, Christ the King.
But He chose to walk that road out of His love for you and me.
Down the Via Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary.[4]

We have made it all the way to Calvary, but so much has yet to transpire there. We hope to cover these sacred events in the months ahead.

[1] Frederick S. Leahy, The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 69.

[2] The cross of Jesus probably had two pieces: a standard (the upright piece) and a patibulum (the crosspiece). Christ would likely have been tied to the patibulum for the arduous walk to Golgotha.

[3] This and all remaining Scripture quotations are from the NET unless otherwise noted.

[4] The Via Dolorosa, Billy Sprague and Niles Borop.