Monday, March 2, 2009



Let’s start with a quiz. Who was Veronica? How many times did Jesus fall down on the way to Calvary? Did He encounter His mother on the way?

The answers to these questions are found in five of the fourteen traditional “Stations of the Cross”. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with having come up with this devotional exercise for the observance of Good Friday. It aims to help Roman Catholics to make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer, through meditating upon the chief scenes of Christ's sufferings and death and has become one of their most popular devotions. Other Christian denominations that are similarly liturgical have also adopted the exercise.

The sixth station shows the woman who gave her towel to Jesus so that He could wipe His sweaty face. When He had wiped His face, Jesus gave the towel back to her, and behold, it had an imprint of His face etched on it permanently. The woman was Veronica and the Roman Catholic Church made her one of their saints to be venerated.

Straightaway from the name, one can tell that the story of Veronica is a myth. Veronica is not a Jewish name. The name could be a combination of the Latin word vera (meaning, true) and the Greek word eikon (meaning, image). The Catholic Encyclopaedia says,Matthew of Westminster speaks of the imprint of the image of the Savior which is called Veronica…By degrees, popular imagination mistook this word for the name of a person and attached thereto several legends which vary according to the country… These pious traditions cannot be documented… the name has found no place in the Hieronymian Martyrology or the oldest historical Martyrologies, and St Charles Borromeo excluded the Office of St. Veronica from the Milan Missal where it had been introduced.

Three of the stations show Jesus falling under the weight of the cross He carried. Most people think that the Bible mentions that Jesus fell while carrying the cross to Calvary as He had been brutally whipped and tortured. Actually there is not a single reference to Jesus falling. It is conjectured that He must have fallen which is why the Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus (Matt.27:32).

Again it is conjectured that Mary must have walked along while her Son carried His cross and because of her special relationship with Jesus, must have had a private moment with Him.

Pope John Paul II, recognizing that the traditional stations didn’t have total validity, in 1991, inaugurated the “Scriptural Stations of the Cross” so that Protestants will feel comfortable about observing the Stations of the Cross.

While both the traditional and scriptural versions of the Stations of the Cross begin with the condemnation of our Lord in the court of Pilate, Max Lucado in his book 3:16, The Numbers of Hope (Thomas Nelson, 2007) observes that the road to Calvary didn’t start in Pilate’s court, but in heaven (p.192).

This Lent I’m going to be taking you on the road to Calvary past the Stations of the Cross starting with


Paul described the journey of our Lord well:

He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father (Phil.2:6-11, The Message)

The reason the road to Calvary began in heaven is that Jesus was not a mere man who lived some 2000 years ago. When Jesus came on the scene, God arrived on earth. Jesus was the Incarnation of God.

Jesus is God’s “one and only Son” (Jn. 1:14,18; 3:16,18). There aren’t many incarnations. If God was a frequent visitor, His visits would be rendered trivial, and we would feel that God has snatched our liberty by His inhibiting presence. When God visited planet earth, once was enough. He didn’t have to return again and again to accomplish His purpose. Lucado points out in his book that the phrase “one and only Son” translates the Greek word monogenes formed by the words monos (only) and genes (species, race, offspring). Jesus is not one of the many sons and daughters of God. Jesus is not even just the best son of God. As Lucado puts it, Jesus has God’s DNA.

The Old Testament prophet looked forward, without understanding, to the birth of a son who would be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa.9:6). When Jesus was to be born, the man Joseph was asked to shelter pregnant Mary and embrace her son, and give Him the name Jesus. The apostolic writer observes that that happened because it was in fulfilment of the prophecy that a virgin would give birth to a child and her son would be called “Emmanuel” to signify that “God is with us” (Matt.1: 18-23).

There have been quite a few who have suggested that Jesus Himself claimed that He was the “Son of Man” and it was the apostles, particularly Paul, who deified Him with a view to starting a religion. Even the title “Son of Man” is a messianic title from the Old Testament. It isn’t suggesting that Jesus was just a man. Anyway, Jesus very clearly claimed divinity too:

My Father is still working, and I also am working (Jn. 5:17)

Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am (8:58)

The Father and I are one (10:30)

John recorded that every time He made one of the above claims the Jews were going to stone Him to death for blasphemy, for the sin of claiming to be God. Jesus didn’t ever say that the crowd had misunderstood Him or that He was talking about some sort of mystical union that any human could enjoy. He let their accusations stand, while asking them to re-examine His claims. In the end, it was for the “crime” of answering to the charge that He was the Son of the Living God, that the Jewish Sanhedrin condemned Jesus to death. They had tried to pin all kinds of accusations on Him. When they didn’t succeed, out of desperation the High Priest placed Jesus under a sacred oath requiring Him to answer to the question of His divine origin.

It was because of what Jesus Himself said that the apostles later on said,

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment (Col.1:15-17, TM).

The writer of Hebrews said that while God spoke through prophets (1:1), Jesus was the Son of God. The significance of that contrast is that the writer was saying that Jesus didn’t stand in line with the prophets as the last of them. Knowing that there would be people who would quickly say that if Jesus was not a prophet, then he must have been an angel, a heavenly messenger, and so the writer very clearly indicated that Jesus was no angel, but the Son of God (vv.5-14):

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets many times and in many different ways. But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven. The Son became much greater than the angels, and God gave him a name that is much greater than theirs (vv.1-4, New Century Version).

That’s who Jesus was: God on earth. When He came into our world, He left His Father’s side. The glory of heaven is described in Revelation chapter 4. That’s what He left to come here. That’s the journey He undertook—leaving the glory, to come to our world of sin, sickness and sorrow. He voluntarily chose this journey downward into a world of moral filth, physical distress, and emotional trauma.

Who likes living out of a suitcase? We may love to travel, but sooner or later we hanker to return to our home because we love the conveniences and comforts of our own homes. However when we do travel we make all the arrangements for the travel and the stay to be as comfortable as possible. Jesus said that foxes have their holes and birds their nests, but He didn’t have a place of His own to lay His head down. Can you imagine that He left heaven for our kind of world, which didn’t even treat Him kindly?

Jesus did it all to save us. And it will do well to listen to the writer of Hebrews again:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (2:1-3, NRSV)

It’s so easy to drift. It doesn’t take any effort. A ship when not sailing, must be anchored. And when sailing, it must have someone at the helm steering it. In Christ we will have both rest and direction. That’s why He came. He came to guide us to His home, to take us back where He came from. Dare we neglect “so great a salvation”?

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