Laetare, The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 22, 1998
17, 154, 142
And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, Who walked the road of sorrows for us, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Injustice, whether it’s real or imagined, almost always brings a strong reaction from people. Once, during my college days, I was sitting in traffic court waiting to pay a ticket. The man whose case was ahead of mine was arguing with the judge. This fellow was as mad as a hornet! According to him, he’d been driving down the freeway, going reasonably close to the speed limit, when he was passed by a sports car doing at least 90. Almost immediately, he saw red lights in his rearview; he thought surely the state trooper would speed past him and nab the little sports car. To his surprise, however, the trooper pulled him over, and gave him a ticket for driving 58 m.p.h. “If that’s justice,” the man said angrily, “I’ll eat my hat!” “We’re trying your case, not his,” said the judge. “Were you really going 58?” “Well, yes, I suppose so, but…” “And what’s the speed limit on that road?” asked the judge. “Well, it’s 55, of course, but…” “Guilty as charged,” said the judge. “That will be $45; see the clerk of courts. Next case!” I thought that guy was going to pop a vein as he stormed out of the courtroom!
Well the fellow was guilty, of course; but as far as he was concerned it was unfair—a terrible injustice. He reacted with anger. Our text for this morning tells us of a far greater injustice—real, not imagined. It tells of the innocent Son of God condemned to death for sins He did not commit. His reaction to the sentence was far different than we might expect. Follow our Savior with me, today, as we consider the theme:
There is a street in modern-day Jerusalem called the “Via Dolorosa.” In Latin that means, “The Road of Sorrows.” It is commonly believed to be the route that Jesus traveled from the court of Pontius Pilate, where He was condemned, to the hill of Golgotha, where He was crucified. It’s a narrow street with rough, cobblestone paving. In length, just a few city blocks—but for our Savior, this short journey was indeed a “road of sorrows.”
It’s not too hard to imagine the scene of that fateful Good Friday morning. The dusty street was lined with people. It was the festival of Passover, and Jerusalem was packed with visitors. All the more people to crowd the road when news got around that an execution was to take place. Jesus stepped from the praetorium into the street. He must have been a sight to behold; He was beaten and exhausted from the mock trial that had lasted all night. His face was streaming blood from the crown of thorns pressed into his forehead. The skin of His back was in tatters from the flailing of the Roman whip. “Who is it?” a newcomer in the crowd might have asked. “It’s the Teacher, Jesus of Nazareth,” would be whispered back excitedly. “What did He do? It must have been something terrible, to earn this kind of punishment! And He must be guilty, because He’s not protesting—He’s just going along peacefully!”
And that’s the amazing thing. Jesus didn’t struggle at all, although He had every reason to! The Jews had brought trumped-up charges of blasphemy against Him and used false witnesses to convict Him. Pontius Pilate had actually found Him not guilty and overturned their decision against Him. But in the end, Pilate had buckled under pressure and given in to the angry mob. Jesus was mocked, tortured, and spit upon, and then sent down the “Road of Sorrows” to be crucified. Even though He was innocent. It was the greatest injustice of all time!
And what was Jesus’ reaction to the injustice? Anger? Retaliation? He could have done what He did in Gethsemane, and caused all the soldiers to fall to the ground. He could have done what He’d done several times in the past when faced with a hostile crowd—He could have struck them all blind, and simply walked away in the confusion. But He didn’t. Jesus went peacefully.
Why? Why did the almighty Son of God allow Himself to be led through the streets like a criminal? Why did He meekly submit to the taunts of the pagan soldiers and the jeers of the Jewish crowd? Why did He go peacefully? For one reason—so that He might bring us peace! Hundreds of years before that day, the scene had been prophesied by Isaiah: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” Is 53:7. The picture could hardly be more accurate. Jesus was, as John the Baptist called Him, the innocent “Lamb of God.” He went peacefully to the slaughter, willingly laying down His life as a sacrifice for ours.
In the movies, the policeman always says to the criminal, “Now come along quietly, and don’t make any trouble,” but they almost always do. Jesus didn’t. He went along quietly. Isaiah said, “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him.” He bore the punishment that brings us peace. He resisted the temptation to give up, to lay down the cross, to cut and run. One thing held Him on course—the prospect of bringing peace to a world of lost sinners. It was love for you that made Him go peacefully. He wanted, with His sacrifice, to turn you from an enemy of God into a beloved child of God! That was His mission, His goal, His joy! The writer to the Hebrews encourages us, “Look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Heb 12:2. He went peacefully, so that He might bring us peace!
Then, of course, there was the cross. The added weight of an already heavy burden. Jesus was exhausted. He hadn’t slept for perhaps 36 hours. He had already lost a lot of blood. And now He was forced to shoulder the massive weight of the rough hewn cross. Step by painful step, He struggled down the “Road of Sorrows.” He was flanked by armed Roman guards. Leading the way was the Roman centurion who was in charge of the execution detail. Above, for all to see, they held the placard that mocking proclaimed, in three languages: “This is Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews.” They threaded their way through the crowds of gawkers. Some mocked. Some wept. Some laughed. And all the while, the weight of the heavy cross bit into His wounded shoulder, and strained His ability to go on. Again and again it drove Him to his knees, until finally He went down and couldn’t get up. Then the cross was placed on the back of a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, and the procession continued on toward Golgotha.
So Jesus was eventually relieved of the weight of the cross. That, at least was a mercy. But not much of a mercy, because the heaviest weight our Savior was carrying that day wasn’t the physical burden of that piece of timber. It was the burden of guilt. The heaviest weight that our pale, exhausted Savior carried down the Via Delorosa that day was the weight of our sins.
It may come as a surprise to you to find that sins have weight; you might have thought of sin as something ephemeral and “weightless”—like air. But air is not weightless. I remember how surprised I was as a grade-schooler when our science teacher proved that to us. He weighed a deflated basketball, and then he weighed it again after it had been pumped up with air. It was substantially heavier after it was inflated. No, air does have a weight, and so do sins. In fact, Scripture says that each sin has a tremendous weight—a single one of them would be enough to condemn you to hell for all eternity. James says, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all,” Ja 2:10, and, “The wages of sin is death.” And each of us becomes guilty of many sins every day. Imagine the burden that rested on the back of our Savior as He staggered down the “Road of Sorrows.” He was bearing not only our guilt—but the guilt of the whole world!
Still, he struggled forward—He carried the guilt, so that He might make us guiltless. By diverting the flood of God’s wrath over sin directly onto Himself, Jesus left us free from guilt. Parents often make great sacrifices so that their children may have a better life. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can call ourselves the children of God! He gave us a new life. A life in which we can get to the end of a day, confess our many sins, and go to sleep peacefully knowing that all those sins were paid for by our Savior. A wonderful life in which we can come to worship services every week and hear the word of forgiveness preached in the Gospel. Where we can receive the very body and blood of our Redeemer in the Lord’s supper as a visible sign and seal of God’s forgiveness. Because Jesus bore our guilt that day, we can look forward to the Day of Judgement not with fear, but with eager joy. That’s when you will hear the voice of your Savior say, “This one is guiltless—he has been washed clean with my precious blood. Come, you blessed of My Father, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you!”
As I said, a great injustice always inspires a reaction. The fellow who stormed past me out of traffic court that day reacted to his supposed “injustice” with anger. What is your reaction to the terrible injustice that took place on the “Road of Sorrows” on Good Friday? Anger? I hope not. Sorrow? Yes, perhaps sorrow—over the sin you contributed to the crushing burden that weighed on our Savior. But more than that, I hope you react with joy—joy over sins forgiven, punishment spared and freedom gained. Because that’s why Jesus walked the “Road of Sorrows.” He went peacefully so that He might bring us peace, and He carried the guilt, so that He might make us guiltless! We join with the hymnist in saying:
I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God.
He bears them all and frees us
From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus
To wash the crimson stains
White in His blood most precious
Till not a spot remains. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.