138: The way of suffering
It was almost nine o'clock in the morning when Jesus was led toward the hill known as Golgotha to be crucified. The morning sacrifice was being offered in the temple, but Jesus was on His way to offer the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known.
They put the cross on His shoulder and He dragged it along, panting. Behind Him came two robbers, condemned to death, also dragging their crosses. Roman soldiers drove them on; a captain led the way on horseback. The sorry procession plodded ahead through the narrow streets along hedges of curious people straining to get a good look.
For the people of Jerusalem, it was a day of joy. They were celebrating the feast of deliverance. But the three who were condemned to death could look forward only to a long period of torment followed by death.
Not one of all the thousands who were watching understood. No one knew that through the death of this one man, now despised and mocked, the true feast of deliverance would-be prepared for them.
The procession moved on; the three condemned men carried their crosses.
Jesus had already suffered much. He had been tested severely the night before in the garden of Gethsemane. He was exhausted from the hearings before Annas and Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod. He had been whipped and beaten by the servants and soldiers.
Still, He plodded along, drawing on His last reserves of strength. His clothes stuck to His bleeding body. His knees were knocking. He sweated profusely. He took a few more stumbling steps, and then fell beneath His burden.
At once the soldiers seized a man from among the many who were watching, a man who was on his way into the city from the countryside. They made him follow Jesus and carry His cross.
As the procession moved toward the place of execution, this man walked in Jesus' footsteps with a cross on his shoulder, as if he were one of the condemned men.
The man who lightened Jesus' load that day was from a city in North Africa. His name was Simon the Cyrene, and he will never be forgotten.
Only later did Simon find out whose cross he had carried. His sons Alexander and Rufus came to love Jesus. They were among the very first Christians in Rome, where there was a church.
Jesus did not experience only mockery and contempt on that painful journey. Among the people who walked with Him were some women from Jerusalem, who wept out loud and moaned.
Jesus did not answer those who mocked Him, but He did address these women. Even then He was not thinking of Himself. He thought only of the people He loved and of the city that rejected Him, the city that would be subjected to utter agony.
He turned and cried out sadly, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. There will be days when people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' "
His soul was still filled with compassion, even when He was about to collapse because of His suffering.
Slowly the sorry procession shuffled through the city gate toward a small, bare hill. That strangely-shaped hill lay shining in the sun like a bleached skull at the intersection of two roads.
That hill was the place of execution. It was known as the place of the skull or Golgotha.
The way of sorrows was almost at an end. The last and most horrible suffering of all was about to begin.