Crossroads On The Cross Road
We call it the Via Dolorosa—the way of sorrows, the way of grief. I refer, of course, to the route which Jesus traveled through the streets of the city of Jerusalem on His way to the hill called Calvary. Today, I would like for us to walk the Via Dolorosa with Him, to retrace His steps as it were. As we do so, we shall stop twice along the way and pause just long enough to notice the two spots where the lives of other people intersected the life of Jesus—where their experience crossed His. That’s why I choose to call these two incidents “Crossroads on the Cross Road.”
The first crossroad
If you were walking the Via Dolorosa today in Jerusalem, you would start at the spot where the Roman barracks used to be. You would move down the narrow street for several blocks, and the road then would turn to the left. You would continue on for several blocks more and the road would turn to the right. At the point of that right turn, there is a shrine built beside the road. That shrine marks the spot where Simon of Cyrene intersected Jesus of Nazareth. The spot is traditional—but that Simon of Cyrene intersected the life of Jesus is not traditional. It is fact, and it is most blessed fact.
We do not know very much about Simon of Cyrene, but what we do know is most interesting. We know that first, and most obviously, he was from the town of Cyrene, a little town in North Africa. We also know that he was a Jew, not by birth but by choice. We know that he was, physically speaking, a rather large man, and we know that, more than likely, he was black. We also know that he was in Jerusalem for a holy purpose. He was there as a religious pilgrim to celebrate the Feast of Passover. And because the whole city was filled with such pilgrims, there were no accommodations vacant in the city. That’s why the Bible says quite specifically that Simon was staying “out in the country.” He was staying in one of the little road-side inns that line the highway on the way into Jerusalem. On this particular day, he had entered the city on foot and was on His way to the Temple to begin the celebration of the Holy Day. It was at that moment that he encountered this procession of death. He wanted no part of it. You see for one to participate in the Holy Day, one had to be ritually clean, and to have any contact with death caused one to be ritually unclean. So Simon of Cyrene wanted no part of this procession, and therefore using his great size, he began to push his way through the crowd in an effort to escape this hideous mess. It was just then that Jesus, carrying his heavy cross, fell, He fell flat on His face in the dust of the Via Dolorosa. It was at that moment, by chance—no wait, did I say by chance? No, no, a thousand times no! It was not by chance, but by the Holy Spirit of God that at that moment the life of Simon of Cyrene intersected the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Now the Roman Centurion in charge of the execution squad, a man very experienced in these things, realized immediately that Jesus could go no farther, especially with the weight of that cross. So he scanned the crowd quickly to find someone who could be made to carry that huge piece of wood. His eye fell on Simon of Cyrene. The Roman soldier took his sword stretched it out and placed the blade flat-side down on the shoulder of Simon of Cyrene. Now anyone who lived under the domination of Rome knew immediately what that meant. It meant that you were drafted into service. There would be no argument, no debate, no recourse, no alternative. You obeyed or you died on the spot. That’s why the sword was placed, flat-side down, on the shoulder so that if you disobeyed the razor-sharp edge of the blade was toward the throat, and it took just a flick of the wrist and you were dead. So with the sword on his shoulder, Simon knew he had no choice. The Bible says, “They compelled him to carry the cross.”
Now I suspect that if you could ask Simon of Cyrene his thoughts at that moment, my guess is he would have said, “This is the worst moment of my life.” And yet, isn’t it incredible to realize that the worst moment of his life wound up becoming the best moment of his life. You see, something happened on the road to the cross. We do not know precisely what it was. We are not told. But something happened to Simon of Cyrene as his life intersected the life of Jesus. For in that moment, Simon came to love Jesus. We know that’s true because, interestingly enough, in the book of Acts and in the book of Romans, we read about of two of Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. They are noted in the Bible as being two of the most distinguished leaders of the early Christian Church. And as you read their story, it makes it quite clear that they had inherited their faith in Jesus Christ from their father, Simon of Cyrene. So, you see, something happened on that road to the cross. The worst moment of Simon’s life became the best moment of Simon’s life.
Isn’t that the way it happens so many times? So many times, it is in some kind of stress-filled moment, that we encounter Jesus as perhaps we have never encountered Him before. So many times the Prince of Peace comes to us through pain. So many times in a moment we feel is the worst moment in our lives, Jesus reaches out and touches us on the shoulder and says, “It’s alright. I am here. Together we shall not fail.” Oh yes, dear friends, so many, many times when we are open to seeing Him, Jesus transforms the worst moments in our lives into the best moments in our lives because in such moments we see Him clearly. Something like that happened to Simon of Cyrene that day on the Via Dolorosa—on the road to the cross.
Now the second crossroad
If you continue on the Via Dolorosa from the spot where Simon’s life intersected the life of Jesus, the road continues on for quite a distance, uphill all the way until it arrives at the bazaar, the marketplace of the old city of Jerusalem. The marketplace is still there—dozens and dozens of tiny, little shops jammed together so that the streets become narrow and filled with people engaged in buying and selling. In fact as you move through that marketplace area in the old city of Jerusalem, you actually begin to have a sense of claustrophobia. As this procession of death made its way along the Via Dolorosa through that marketplace with all of the crowds, they must have had to push and shove their way through. Then just at the other side of the marketplace, the road makes a final turn toward Calvary. Right at the point of that turn, there is another shrine. It marks the spot where the lives of the wives of Jerusalem intersected the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
These women were not the aristocratic wives of the religious and political leaders. They were just the ordinary housewives of Jerusalem, those people whom Jesus especially loved. More than likely they had their babies cradled in their arms and were dragging two or three other children behind them on their way to the marketplace. It’s an everyday function for people in the old city of Jerusalem, then and now, to go to the marketplace to buy food and supplies for each day. And there, these women encountered the procession of death. They responded as women of the Middle East have always responded to the reality of death. They still do it today. You have seen it on your television screens. They respond to death with loud mournful wailings. That’s exactly what they did. They began to wail and to cry. Then that procession of death, just before making the final turn to Calvary, stopped for a moment. Jesus turned and looked at the women of Jerusalem. Under the spell of His gaze, they stopped their wailings. Jesus then spoke saying to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” In other words, Jesus was saying to them, “Listen, I don’t want your tears, your sympathy, your pity. I am doing what I have been sent to do. I am laying down my life of my own accord. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will in accord with the will of my Heavenly Father.” It is so important for us as Christians to understand what Jesus meant when He said that. Jesus understood, you see, that there is built into this universe of which we are a part, what I would choose to call “the Law of Sacrifice.”
Do you hear what I am saying? I believe that there is built into the warp and woof of this universe a law of sacrifice—a law which declares that the only way any wrong can ever be righted is through loving sacrifice. Jesus understood that. So He said to the women of Jerusalem, “Do not weep for me. I lay my life down to put right everything that is wrong in your life, in the lives of your children, and in the life of the world of which you are a part. I offer my life’s blood for you, and I do it simply because I love you.”
I remember once speaking on a college campus, addressing the students about the need for commitment to Jesus Christ—the need to offer all that we have and all that we are to the One who is our Savior. After I finished, one of those college students, a bright, attractive young man, pulled me aside and said, “Don’t you think it’s very narrow, confusing, and maybe even cruel to suggest that we come to God only through Jesus Christ?” I said to him then what I say to you now. Does our God require ceaseless reincarnations in order to attain perfection as the Hindus preach? Does our God require a slavish adherence to mechanical even inhumane legalisms of which the Muslims make so much? Does our God require endless, egocentric rituals as the Buddhists promote? Does our God call us to throw ourselves into wild orgies or to give ourselves to star worship like the weird sects of yesterday and the even weirder sects of today? No, our God says simply, “Receive my Son. Give your sin to Him. Give your heart to Him. Give your life to Him. For by His grace, you shall be saved, and if you give your life to Him then you will know a life of joy, love, peace, power, and pardon beyond compare.” That’s all God says, and yet you would call that narrow? You would call that confusing? You would call that cruel? How absurd! Quite the contrary is true. That in fact is the best news this world has ever heard, and Jesus made it possible that day when He walked the Via Dolorosa—the road to the cross.
You know how it is when you are moving down a road and you come to a cross road or an intersection. There is always a decision to be made—a decision as to which way you will go. Well today, we have walked the Via Dolorosa with Jesus. His life has intersected ours. That means that we’ve got to decide. Either we shall let Him bear everything in us we can hardly bear … or we shall live and die alone. Either we shall choose to live for Him and know the hope, joy, peace, and power He offers us … or we shall choose to live for ourselves with all the pain, hopelessness, and sorrow that brings. So which way shall we go? It’s our decision to make—yours and mine. And you know for the life of me, I cannot figure out why some people find this decision to be so hard …