Exhausted and bleeding, Jesus was buckling under the weight of the cross and, probably fearful that He wouldn"t make it up the hill at Golgotha, the soldiers compelled passerby Simon of Cyrene to bear the cross behind Jesus.

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News of Jesus' arrest and so-called trial, meanwhile, had reached every part of Jerusalem by word of mouth - there were no major news networks then. People gathered along the streets. The cries of "crucify him" had died away: the leaders and their supporters who had condemned Jesus had had their way and now, in their place were a group of women from Jerusalem who, according to the Gospel of Luke, "mourned and wailed" for Jesus.

What is of interest - particularly in light of the agonising physical suffering of Christ depicted in the recent film, The Passion of the Christ - is what Jesus said to them: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, "Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!"" (Luke 23: 28-29, New International Version).


Notice how He defers sympathy from Himself; from the physical death that was in progress. Instead, He implores them to focus on what is happening in the spiritual, telling them "Hey, there is much more going on here - look past the outward appearance and look at your own heart". (It"s a point illustrated in the very structure of the gospels themselves, none of whom describe Jesus" death in detail: see Mark"s unemotional reporting of the event.)


Jesus" statement tells us a lot about Him. He was very aware of the hard hearts of people, even the ones who were weeping for him. He was devoid of self-pity and full of concern for a non-repentant nation. (His prophecy was, of course, fulfilled 40 years later when the Romans besieged and utterly destroyed the city).


But perhaps most important of all, His words also tell us that Jesus was very aware of the spiritual implications behind His physical death: "Don"t weep for me ladies, though I appreciate your sympathy; weep for yourselves and your children because the spiritual implications of what is happening far outweigh what you see."


As writes Norval Geldenhuys in the New International Commentary of the New Testament, Gospel of Luke: "Christ does not merely desire to be regarded with emotional sympathy as the great Sufferer. He needs no-one"s sympathy, for His suffering is forever past...It is not sympathy but sincere faith in Him and genuine repentance that Jesus expects from us."


That is the challenge for us today.


Andrew Merry is senior pastor at the Ocean Grove Baptist Fellowship in Victoria, Australia