Via Dolorosa

Series: Reflections On The Cross


Sermon Outline By Terry Siverd

Cortland Church of Christ / September 11, 2016

Jeannie and I enjoyed a two-night stay recently in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

On the way there we traveled Rt 11 to I-90 and crossed into Canada at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo.

It was the quickest way to get to our destination.

On our return home we opted for the byways & back-roads rather than the highway & expressway.

Two-thousand years ago God chose to visit earth by way of incarnation of Jesus.

Paul notes in Gal.4:4 that God sent forth His Son “in the fulness of time”.

This expression, fullness of time, is itself full of meaning.

At the very least, many scholars and commentators see in this term, the fullness of time, a reference to pax romana.

Militarily, the Romans had conquered the Greeks, but politically the Greeks had succeeded in capturing and captivating the Roman world.  As a result, the world of the first century AD was enriched by the best of two worlds.

This Greco-Roman world gave birth to an age of expansionism and civilization that heralded a period of relative peace.

The deeper Biblical meaning of the fulness of time corresponds to the fulfillment of OT prophecies like Dan.9:24f, etal.

In His providence God sent Jesus into the world at a point in time that served to expedite His eternal plans.

God’s sovereign will included His marvelous plan to secure mankind’s redemption from sin.

This time of reformation and reconciliation (of man with God) was ANCHORED IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST.

Jesus purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

This glorious gospel was proclaimed throughout the Roman world and churches of Christ were planted everywhere.

Several things helped facilitate the spread of the gospel.

Roman peace.  A common language (lingua franca) - - Koine Greek.  An efficient means of travel, etc..

“All roads lead to Rome.”

Via Aemillia … Via Appia … Via Aurelia … Via Cassia … Via Domitia … Via Egnatia …

Via Flaminia … Via Latina … Via Popilla … Via Postumia … Via Salaria … Via Valeria 

This skillfully constructed network of Roman roads provided a fast track for the expansion of the gospel.

I think we can safely conclude that Jesus Himself never traveled these major highways.

I think it would also be safe to conclude that Paul may have journeyed on most of them, if not all of them.

One road that Jesus did travel is not included among these twelve major highways - - Via Dolorosa.

Specifically, via dolorosa refers to the way of the cross, in particular the route from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgotha.

In a more literal and general sense, via dolorosa speaks of a way of suffering, sorrow and sadness - - sad road.

Most of you know that last month Jeannie & I lost our beloved dog, Siggy.

When we began to sense that he was nearing the end, we took him on a farewell tour of sorts.

He loved to walk in cemeteries and in the last month of his life we indulged him to visit some of his favorites.

One of those is Grove Street Cemetery in Ashtabula.  It was my playground when I was in the 4th grade.

In that cemetery is a large monument to the Ashtabula train disaster that occurred in 1876.

Philip Bliss, who wrote so many wonderful hymns, was one of the ones who died in that calamity.

We sang one of his hymns this morning, Hallelujah! What A Savior.

That song begins with the words:  Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came.

This portrait of Jesus as a man of sorrows is rooted in the writings of Isaiah the prophet.

While several of them allude to this, two in particular speak specifically about the sorrows of Jesus.

Isa.50:5-6 / The Lord has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient, nor did I turn my back. I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out My beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting…

Isa.53:3 / He was despised and forsaken by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…

Last week we spoke about the challenge of cross-bearing.

The intent of my sermon was not to highlight the suffering that Jesus encountered in bearing His cross.

My goal was to remind us that WE MUST ALSO TRAVEL THIS ROAD.

We dare not dumb down the gospel into some form of easy believism.

Jesus stated quite explicitly - -

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple / Lk.14:27

If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me / Lk.9:23

Some day I want to explore in detail the relationship between the cross of Christ and our sufferings.

This is a very deep subject that cries out for study and serious contemplation.

My purpose this morning is not to try to explain why we sometimes suffer or why we’re confronted with sorrow.

Our heartaches often drive us to fixate of the question of “why?” and, in particular, “why me?”.

The quest to comprehend the origin and reasons for sorrow and suffering is daunting to say the least.

Perhaps it will help here to share an approach that I have often suggested at funerals.

When we get bogged down dwelling upon questions about the sickness & sorrow and suffering & sadness

that we all experience, it is far better and much more productive to reframe our line of questioning. 

Rather than asking “From whence does it come?” and “Why must it be?” … let us ask instead, “Where will it lead?”.

On some level we can surely agree that sorrow and suffering teaches us patient endurance.

And subsequently, learning to patiently endure puts us on a path towards cultivating a more mature holiness.

Furthermore, we can surely acknowledge that the cross, with its suffering motif, teaches us a great deal about servitude.

Jesus illustrated the intrinsic value of death to self in his brief words recorded only in Jn.12:24.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

It is clear from the verses that follow (Jn.12:25-26)  that Jesus was not just talking about His own cross.

He who loves his life loses it; and he who ‘ loves less’ his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. 

I now want to move on to the heart of what I want you to hear, grasp, and forever cling to this morning.

Philip Yancey in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts (p.63), has uttered words that many of us have felt

but did not dare to express.  “If God truly is in charge, somehow connected to all the world’s suffering,

why is He so capricious, unfair? Is he the cosmic sadist who delights in watching us squirm?”.

“It is this terrible caricature of God which the cross smashes to smithereens…The God who allows us to suffer,

once suffered Himself in Christ, and continues to suffer with us and for us today.” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p.329).

Let us remember that Jesus came to earth as GOD in the flesh - - IMMANUEL, God with us (Mt.1:23).

I want to share three illustrations and then we will close in prayer.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was the site of this summer’s Olympic Games.

Rio is noted for is spectacular landscape - - the Atlantic ocean, the beaches, the mountains.

Yet Rio is not all that its cracked up to be (as we know from the recent games).

It is a city filled to overflowing with poverty and slums - - favelas - - thousands of hillside, crime-ridden shanties/shacks.

Rolf Italiander imagines a poor man from one of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, who climbs laboriously

2,310 feet up to the colossal statue of Christ, the Christ of Corcovado, which towers above the city of Rio.

I have climbed up to you, Christ, from the filthy, confined quarters down there…to put before you, most respectfully,

these considerations:  there are 900,000 of us down there in the slums of that splendid city … And you, Christ, …

do You remain here at Corcovado surrounded by Divine glory?  Go down there into the favelas.  Come with me into the favelas

 and live with us down there.  Don’t stay away from us;  live among us and give us new faith in you and in our Father.  Amen.

How might our Lord respond to such an entreaty?

The late Elie Wiesel, in his book, Night, gives a deeply moving account of his boyhood experiences at Auschwitz.

Elie was born a Hungarian Jew and just before he turned 15, in the spring of 1944, the Gestapo arrived.

All of the Jews of his town were deported by train.  For three days they traveled, eighty people in each cattle car.

Upon arrival at Auschwitz the men and women were separated and Elie never saw his mother or sister again.

He has written, “Never shall I forget that night…Never shall I forget that smoke (of the crematorium)…

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul, and turned my dreams to dust.”  He adds,

“some talked of God…but I had ceased to pray…I did not doubt His existence, but I doubted His absolute justice.”

He tells the horrifying story of how the guards tortured and then hanged a young boy - - a sad-eyed angel.

Just before the hanging Elie heard someone whisper, “Where is God?  Where is He?”.

Thousands of prisoners were forced to watch the hanging (it took a half hour for him to die) and then to

march past, looking him full in the face.  Behind him Elie heard the same voice ask again, “Where is God now?”

With cynicism, Elie thought in his mind, “Where is HE?  Here He is - - He is hanging here on this gallows.”

In every fiber of his being Elie rebelled against God for allowing people to be tortured, butchered, gassed and burned.

Yet his thoughts and words were truer than he realized - - for he was not a Christian.

“I was alone - - terribly alone in a world without God and without man.  Without love or mercy.”

What if Elie had grasped that GOD IN JESUS had been there, hanging on gallows shaped as a cross?

Listen to this short play titled, “The Long Silence”.

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne.  Most shrank back from the brilliant

light before them.  But some groups near the front talked heatedly - - not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.

‘Can God judge us?  How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a pert young brunette.  She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattoo

number from a Nazi concentration camp.  ‘We endured terror … beatings … torture … death!’         In another group a black boy lowered his collar.  ‘What about this?’ he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn.  ‘Lynced … for no crime but being black.   

 In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes.  ‘Why should I suffer’ she murmered.  ‘It wasn’t my fault.’       Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups.  Each had a complaint against God for the evil and sufferings he permitted in his world.  How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger, no hatred.  What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world.  For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he or she had suffered the most.  A Jew, a black man, a person from

Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child.  In the center of the plan they consulted with each other.  At last they

were ready to present their case.  It was rather clever.     Before God could be there judge, he must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be forced to live on earth - - as a man!    Let him be born a Jew.  Let the legitimacy of his birth

be doubted.  Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it.  Let him be betrayed

by his closest friends.  Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.  Let he be tortured.

‘At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone.  Then let him die.  Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died.

Let there be a great host of witnessed to verify it.’        As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs

 of approval went up from the throng of the people assembled.  And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence,

 there was a long silence.  No one uttered another word.  For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence.

Do not our sufferings and sorrow become manageable in light of His?

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,

 but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. / Heb.4:15

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