Jesus carried the cross an estimated distance of 650 yards. Which is a little less than a quarter of a mile. The same distance many may walk leisurely in the morning with a cup of coffee in hand or in mowing one’s lawn on a warm summer day. But for one who had just been scourged within an inch of His life, undergone intensive interrogation, suffered abuse and had little if any sleep or nourishment, that distance must have seemed like that which one would run in a marathon.
[Pheidippides, a Geek messenger, legend sates, was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon(in which he had just fought), in 490 BC. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “Victory,” before collapsing and dying.}
It has been debated whether Jesus would have been able to carry His cross that distance considering the state of His condition. Historians tell that those condemned to crucifixion would carry the cross-bar and not the stem of the cross. Still the weight of the cross-bar was between 80 to 110 pounds. It has been shown that even a healthy man of Jesus’ presumed stature would not be able to carry the cross-bar the distance from the beating, on a path, known as the Via Dolorosa or the “way of suffering” (which was a narrow street of stone, probably surrounded by markets and crowded at the time), to the crucifixion site at Golgotha.
Along the way a centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, forces a North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross; after the third fall of Jesus. Jesus follows along still bleeding and sweating a cold clammy sweat of shock, until the journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha ends.
To answer the debate of how Jesus could have carried the cross under His dire condition one must look beyond the physical. Jesus is referred to as the “Son of Man” and the “Son Of God.” He was both human and divine in nature. The cross he carried was made of wood, but, in truth, was composed of the sum total of humanity’s sufferings from the trials of body, mind and spirit. All of which were derived from original sin. Jesus was not sent by God to overthrow Roman Rule, but rather “to turn the world upside down in order to turn it right-side up”(G.K. Chesterton), through the conversion of human hearts from sin in order to reconcile God with His people.
To accomplish this reconciliation there must be a sacrifice. For a soul can only be cleansed of sin by the shedding of blood. And for all mankind to be forgiven, God would have to offer Himself in sacrifice. A life not to be taken, but given. It was only the unimaginable perfect love of God that could make the burden of man’s sin, which was the substance of the cross, manageable enough to be carried by Jesus. By divine love alone can the unbearable be borne ; and men and women set free from the burden of sin.
Simon was at first forced to carry Jesus’ cross. And when the journey was done, Simon may very likely had to again be forced; but this time to leave His side. For when the cross that lay upon the shoulder of God lay upon his, the role of his own sin became apparent in this act of deicide. And he too felt the cross made manageable, for his burden, along with that of humanity, had already been borne by this savior, and was now lifted from all through divine pardon. Simon was the first of many who are called to take up their cross and follow Christ.
So the cross itself is a contradiction-a paradox. It has both a vertical stem and horizontal cross-bar. Vertical represents life, while horizontal represents death. And hanging in the intersection is Jesus the Christ. Who through His death and resurrection has triumphed over death and removed its sting. And in so doing fulfills the promise made to us all; that by following Him we too will do the same.
And with His last breath the Son Of Man bowed His head in death. Three days hence, in the rising of the Son Of God was heard “THE WORD” proclaimed, as was once uttered by the dying Pheidippides; “VICTORY!”