Read Luke 23:26-43
A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. We should be used to the word follow by this time in the gospels, as Jesus has made clear that being his disciple is a following affair.
The crowd following Jesus is no doubt there out of curiosity, much like our courthouse square would be packed tomorrow if someone was beheaded on the lawn. But there is a group of women in that crowd who are mourning and wailing for him. But they can do nothing for him.
Those that follow Jesus to the cross are following him to his death and no more. Only with time could they appreciate what was happening at the cross. Only with time could they see that following Jesus was and is the only response to his death on the cross. And so it is with us. This picture in Lukes gospel gives us our reasons for following Jesus.
So why do we follow?
First, we follow because Jesus felt pity, not pitied. When in verse 28 Jesus speaks to them as Daughters of Jerusalem and warns them that there is a grief waiting for them, it reveals his grim understanding of the times. Jerusalem was only a few decades away from the end of Jerusalem as they knew it, for Rome would lay siege to the city and kill thousands. It would be the end of Jewish religion as that generation knew it. The remark about the blessed being those who did not have children points to a time when those with children would grieve more than others because they would most likely see the deaths of their children. The proverb, if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry (v. 31) in essence says, If a prosperous people will do this to the innocent, what awaits you when the times are not so good? In his grief he was thinking of them and the days to come. Even in the process of dying he was considering the welfare of the living.
Few in history are more deserving of being pitied than our Lord Jesus, but on his worst day we only see his pity for them and for us. Here is a Lord who sees the future of his friends and grieves for them. Here is a Lord who is taunted into coming down from the cross to save himself, yet he stays to save us. We follow a Christ who has pity on us. We are not seen as pitiable or pitiful, as if we are deserving of contempt or disgust or loathing. We are seen with pity, sympathetic sorrow, and kinship in our suffering. Jesus sees you in your suffering and pities you because he suffered. Jesus sees you in your grieving and pities you because he grieved. Jesus sees you in the throes of being human and pities you because he, too, lived in the throes of being human. This is why we follow Jesus.
Second, we follow because Jesus is intercedes with His Father for sinners. Jesus utters his now famous, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing, after they have crucified him. It was not a plea for their forgiveness before they had tortured him but after. He knew full well what they had done to him. There was no gray area. Jesus was the prime witness to the process of crucifixion: the curses, the mocking, the humiliation, the helplessness, and the heartlessness. No one saw the crucifixion of Jesus closer than Jesus, and no one knew the sin of crucifying Jesus better than Jesus. No one was more unlikely to intercede for crucifiers than Jesus. And yet that is exactly what he did.
He interceded for sinners. As Ive mentioned time and again, Jesus is not under any illusions about people. He died by the hand of crucifiers. He knows people. He also died for the crucifiers, Roman and Jew alike. His prayer was an intercession, but his death was also intercession. Because he knows sinners like he does, he can stand by the Father and intercede like no one else. That is why we follow. No one can intercede with God like your Lord. This is why there is no other name under heaven to be on your lips when you seek forgiveness and face judgment.
Third, Jesus is able to take us from earths hell to Gods heaven. There was no hell on earth like crucifixion, as the two men beside Jesus would have told you. Their responses are so illuminating. One man uses his pain to inflict pain on Jesus. Verse 39 says that he hurled insults at him. He was in his own hell on earth and spreading its misery to Jesus. That man would die in his misery with little hope for change. But then there was the other man. Not only does he defend Jesus from the insults of the first man, he sees Jesus as almost no one around the cross is able to see Jesus. Maybe its because of the misery he is able to see Jesus as the place for hope. And so he asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. And so Jesus says those great words to a dying man, Today you will be with me in paradise.
Paradise is a word of Persian origin that means garden, and it could not have been a more foreign idea at Golgotha, a site for execution. And it is still the case today that Jesus is able to settle into earths hells and promise heaven. There is no hell on earth that Jesus cannot invade and reverse with hope. As the apostle Paul will say in Romans 8:35, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? In his day he could have gone on to cite jailing and rejection and crucifixions. In our day we can cite our own list of troubles and hardships, disappointments and failures, betrayals and injustices. And no matter the miniature hells these create at our own place of Golgotha, Jesus promises Gods heaven. Earths hells are momentary. They are not darker than Gods light and they do not last longer than Gods heaven.
No one looked more useless on the day of Jesus death than those that followed him to the cross. That label is granted us in this age, too, but the crucifixion of Jesus is our reason to stay close. In the crucifixion, under the pressure of dying by execution, we learned that he is the only one worth following for now and eternity.