Simon the Cyrene Carries Jesus' Cross Mark15:21, Luke 23:26, Matthew 27:32
Updated: Oct 5
Stepping through the southern Water Gate of the aged bustling city was a highlight for my family every year. The Temple stood out grand and proud with parts of it sparkling high up on the hill with its countless uniform columns standing stately like sentries guarding the grounds. It was a special time for me to thank God and offer my sacrifices for my family, health and wealth. Jerusalem was always especially crowded at this time. With so many people coming from the country for Passover like we are, arriving a day later than I wanted to will make finding an Inn for my family a huge task. My sons, Rufus and Alexander, are almost ready to leave home to start their own family, so I knew that these treasured moments of close knit conversations would soon pass as the family would grow. The long road from Cyrene will give us ample time to reflect on the goodness of God and the importance of communing with Him daily in prayer for guidance. Seeking God was the most important lesson I wanted to teach my kids.
There was a strange electric atmosphere this year; I noticed the streets seemed to be melancholy and devoid of its normal activities. What could possibly be that alluring that everyone simply left their wares and stand? It took mere seconds to hear the roar in the distance towards the north. Was there an insurrection against the king? Was my family going to be safe in this city? I glanced back at my tall older son Rufus who was lagging behind pulling the rope of the camel with his mother riding while covering her face from the sun with a large colorful parasol. Alexander coming up behind them with the donkey pulling the cart that held our sacrifices. I prefer them to be safe near the gate if we need to exit the city quickly. Sizing up the open square, I lead them to a shady spot near the fountain to water the stock. It would be best if I go alone to find out what was occurring. Lowering the camel to help my wife dismount, I could see her concern growing in her eyes. Cupping her soft, fragile face with my large, calloused hands made her more vulnerable looking. After promising her that God has allowed this journey and He would not forsake us, I explained I must investigate what is occurring on the other end of Jerusalem. Reminding the boys to pray for our protection and a touch from God this weekend, I quickly took off towards the direction of the governor's mansion- the Praetorium. Surely there I will find the answer that I seek.
The long narrow winding road that begins at Antonia's Fortress and moves east to west will be my best route. Sure enough, that was where everyone was congregating. People were pressed up against the walled street as centurions were reigning in their horses to keep control of their beasts who were revolting from such confinement. Guards were everywhere, clearing people out of the way as their goal was to bring three criminals to the notorious hill of Golgotha to make a public display of crucifixion. Being well over six foot in height, I could easily see over the crowd. One of the criminals wore a crown of thorns that resemble long metal spikes and his face was torn to shreds evidently flogged by the cat and nine tails whip, and blood soaked his entire back robe. Never have I seen anyone so disfigured by torture. The crowds sneered comments of rage and disgust which seemed only directed towards this man. A shroud of darkness fell over me, as I felt an evil presence that it made my blood run cold. I stared in disbelief at the scene unfolding before my eyes. Who was this man and the commotion he has caused in this city? Suddenly, my thoughts were broken as I confronted a spear tip pressed into my forehead from a centurion looking down at me from his steed. Demanding loudly over the tumultuous and roaring crowd, "Get over there and carry that cross!" I stood in complete consternation until my own blood was dripping into my eyes, and then I moved quickly towards the man who was on the ground crushed under the weight of the cross in complete exhaustion. I heaved the cross up onto my shoulder easily, but the man did not move. I knew he had to get up or worse beatings would occur. I lean down close and whisper into what is left of his ear, "Get up man, quick - I am here to help you."
The man raised his head and looked directly into my eyes with such kindness and almost as if he knew my name, nodded. I helped him up as he writhed in anguish at my touch. Thanking God I was strong enough to hold the cross on my back with one arm and support this man with my other, I move forward. But each step was excruciating for him and therefore for me as well. I felt that no man was worthy of dying this way. The blood from his wounds are running profusely and causing him to slip and instantly he falls from my support to the ground. A woman comes to his aid crying his name, “Jesus” and wipes the blood from his eyes with a rag, only to be ripped from him by a guard. I embraced the weakened body to lift him up before the guard can strike in his fiery impatience to get this man to Golgotha. Time seems to stand still and gaining ten feet seems like an accomplishment with horse hooves hitting the end of the cross and spectators thronging the streets, all the while as this man is trying to maneuver each of his torn legs forward.
The journey out the gates and up a hill of Golgotha is nearly unbearable. The other criminals sneer remarks at him as well- chaos is everywhere and I thank God that my family is tucked away from this mayhem. It is nine in the morning, I am covered with blood and my heart is torn for this suffering man. Are his parents near? His sisters or brothers? Who is this man? I could smell the stench of the sour wine or vinegar offered by the guards to this man called Jesus, but it is refused. As we reach the top of the hill, I'm roughly yanked away where I lose my grip on Jesus, who falls in a heap while the crowds start laughing. At a little distance stood a group of women crying and wringing their hands. The men are laid on their crosses with spread out arms and nailed with three huge thin iron spikes each. Jesus arches himself in extreme pain unable to lean his back against the cross. The skies darken rapidly and the wind is violently swirling as if all of creation is revolting in this atrocity. Something feels very wrong about crucifying this man. The Roman soldiers place a sign over his head that reads, "The King of the Jews". I stood up and wept as Jesus connected his eyes to mine as to say thank you. Looking up to the heavens, Jesus says, "Father forgive them: they do not know what they are doing." I watched disgusted as the centurion allowed his guards to take Jesus' seamless robe and cast lots for it just behind the crosses. This gross spectacle causes me to cramp and heave that I fall to one knee. I wipe my mouth only to smear blood across my face. No doubt blood from an innocent man. Thunder rolls and the atmosphere reaches to a crescendo as I sense something dreadful is happening in this time and space. Is this man truly the King of the Jews? I recall the mystery of reading Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22- I can't hold the tears back. Am I witnessing God offering his son as the lamb of Passover? I can't stand the oppressive evil presence on that hill, and I look to God to help Jesus. Needing to be with my family, I race with the full force down the slope and far away from this hill. My heart was searching for a touch from God, but I never imagined that it would be a physical touch that would rock my life.
Questions if you are doing this with others:
Are we searching for what the commotion Jesus stirs up in others is all about?
Can you remember a time that you were a Simon to someone else or vise a versa? Share the incident with another person for it will encourage them to do likewise.
Jesus says pick up your cross and follow me? What do you think this means to you?
Further More Thoughts For Bible Study:
This story is recorded in the three of the synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke - it is important to note that God didn't want the significance missed. Simon the Cyrene is speculated by most commentaries to have been a dark skinned "black" man since Cyrene is now present day Libya in Africa. It would be assumed that the Roman centurions, in their desire to hurry up in almost a two mile journey across the city, leading out of the gates to the hill of Golgotha, that they would have chosen a strong man in the crowd to help carry the cross to get things moving along. Simon was probably strong and tall and stood out from the crowd. That winding road is now called the "Via Dolorosa" (the Way of suffering) and Golgotha has the meaning “The Skull” since the face of the hill took on the look of a skull in two directions- the hill of death.
Even in the last hours of Jesus' life we are taught amazing lessons. As pastor Jon Courson of Applegate Fellowship in Oregon and the Searchlight app states so wonderfully, we all need a Simon in our lives. Jesus didn't carry his cross the whole journey, for God provided support found in another. He doesn't expect us to carry our "crosses" alone. He himself will help give us strength, and we should allow others to come alongside us for support. It is also a reminder to us to be a Simon to others, for we can be there to help lighten the burden of others in need.
Simon went seeking God by coming to Jerusalem and found a deeper relationship with God that brought a deeper purpose and meaning to his life. He had to stop his work and take valuable time in his journey to God. Not that he couldn't meet God in his prayers in his home, but he sought obedience in the Jewish guidance to congregate annually for the sacrifices at the Temple and feast of the Passover. Like a branch that reaches and searches for the sun, we should seek the Son in order to grow and bear more life. As Christians, do we help our family, kids or friends grow by leading them to Jesus? We even have a Sunday (‘Son-day” )to remind us to stop and seek him and depend on him to help us carry our crosses. Our role should be like Simon, to bring people to the Holy One, so they learn there is someone who helps carry our burdens to an end.
We can assume Simon and his family's lives were touched by Jesus for the Gospel of Mark mentions Simon's son Rufus and Alexander. We know Mark was part of the early church, so we can deduce he is mentioning them for the reason that he knows them personally. In addition, Paul mentions in Roman 16:13, " Greet Rufus who is chosen in the Lord and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too ." No one can be sure if this is the same Rufus, but it is common to think it may be the same family.
Jesus took on our burden of sin and became the propitiation (payment) of that sin. He became the Passover lamb. It was a poetic orchestration of God to have Jesus die on the cross the late afternoon commencing the Passover. The perfect- spotless- unbroken nor lame lamb that was offered by every Jewish family as a sacrifice for their sins that weekend was also occurring with the perfect- sinless Jesus being sacrificed for the sake of our sins for all who desired to ask for cleansing. Why must deaths of innocent lambs occur? Sin leads to death and the cost of death is great and tragic. God allowed a way to sear into the heart of man the immense gravity of sin by allowing a "cost" to the heart in the restoration. The cost was near and dear -the offering of innocent life and that was the foreshadowing of the great cost that God gave to mankind in that He offered a piece of Himself. The cost was great and even greater to God who had to be separated from His son when Jesus became "sin" and descended into Hell that day. But the "Good News" is that He didn't stay in Hell for all power lies in God. He set the captives free that day from the limited place of Paradise (Abraham's Bosom) to enjoy the eternal home of Heaven and beyond so we can have restored fellowship with God for the great price of Jesus's work on the cross.
Mark 8:34-38: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Manwill be ashamed of themwhen he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
To deny yourself would simply mean -don't keep putting yourself first - a self- centered life style. To lay down your cross would mean - lay on the cross yourself-die to yourself and your expectations of what "life" should look like to you....then follow Him ..His Word...HIs ways. He loved others so much that he laid his life down for them...sacrificial love was his main lesson to mankind. We too should be touched by the work on the cross as our greatest lesson in life.
The account of the event as it is recorded in the Bible:
Psalm 22: 1-21
Herod's Temple- The Temple at the time Jesus was in the city.