Pilate had ceremoniously washed his hands and
declared, "I am innocent of the blood of this
just person: see ye to it," the crowd shouted
back almost gleefully, "His blood be on us, and
on our children." (Matthew 27:24-25). The only
thing left for the mob to do then was to rejoice
over the success of their freshly-washed robes
of self-declared righteousness. Had the Jews put
Jesus to death in their own way, He would have
been stoned; but since they were doing it the
legal wayăthe Roman wayăHe was crucified. The
history of death by crucifixion is an old one.
Alexander the Great borrowed it from the
Persians. Then it was copied by the
Carthaginians. And finally it was adopted by the
Romans who used it to execute slaves, thieves
and prisoners of war.
But the Romans considered death
on a cross far too cruel for their own citizens.
It was because of this that, according to rather
firm tradition, Paul was beheaded by a sword
instead of being crucified as was Simon Peter.
As the mob faced Jesus, they
faced a man who was utterly worn out. After His
hours of agonized praying in Gethsemane He had
gone from one weary trial to another, and He had
not had a bite of food or a drop of water since
the Last Supper the night before.
There had been the trial before
Annas, the three trials before Joseph
Caiaphasăthe preliminary trial, the regular
trial, and the repeat trialăthe one early in the
morning to make everything legal and within the
letter of the law. There had been the trial
before Pilate and the trial before Herod. And
there was the final trial before Pilate.
In addition to this, Jesus had
gone through endless mental and physical
torture. There had been the pain of three times
finding Peter, James and John asleep while
having Judas betray Him with a kiss. There had
been the pain of seeing Peter slash off a man's
ear with a sword. There had been the pain of
seeing His disciples flee. There had been the
pain of being bound and having His hands pulled
high between His shoulders. There had been the
pain of being before Caiaphas. There had been
the pain of being scourged by the order of
The man delivered by the
procurator to the mob was already half dead. He
was a pitiful sight with the crown of thorns on
His head and His raw back and swollen face.
Presently an order was given, and
two criminals were brought up out of their
dungeon and placed with Jesus. Then each was
given a cross on which he would be nailed. At a
signal a platoon of legionnaires armed with
spears formed a box around them so that they
could not escape. Then a man appeared with a
sign painted on thin pine board. The large black
letters read: "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."
The inscription was written in
Latin, Hebrew and Greek. A Roman officer on a
horse led the legionnaires, and the man with the
sign stood immediately in front. When everything
was ready the centurion on the horse shouted,
"Forward march," and the solemn procession
headed for the skull-shaped hill, Calvary.
The road at the beginning of the
Via Dolorosa was about twelve feet wide and led
up a straight incline before it sloped toward
the Damascus Gate. Jesus, with the heavy cross
on His shoulders, did not walk as fast now as He
had the day before when He led the Twelve into
the Upper Room, the eleven to the Garden of
Gethsemane and the three into the edge of the
Garden. The cross on His shoulders was heavy
enough, but added to that weight were the past
sins, the present sins, and the future sins of
the entire world. No one else but the Son of God
could have carried that load!
As the newly formed column moved
toward the grim place of execution, there were
multitudes who watched from the streets and the
roof tops of stores and houses. Some of the
people jeered. Others were silent. Some turned
their heads and dabbed at their eyes. Some of
them yawned with unconcern. Others giggled and
In that crowd, however, there
must have been people whom Jesus had healed of
blindness. But now they were blind againăblinded
by their tears. One can almost hear these former
beggars shouting frantically, "No! No! You can't
do this to Jesus. He healed my eyes!"
But these cries were ignored, and
the procession plodded on!
Also in that crowd there must
have been some whom He had cleansed of leprosy.
And I think I can see them gesturing with the
new fingers Jesus had given them and shouting
frantically, "No! No! You can't do this to
Jesus. He healed my leprosy!" But these cries
were ignored, and the procession plodded on!
And I think in that crowd there
must have been some whom Jesus had made to hear
and to speak. And I think I can see them
listening to Jesus' groans and then shouting
with their new voices, "No! No! You can't do
this to Jesus. He healed my ears and gave me
But these cries were ignored, and
the procession plodded on!
Then all at once Jesus, the
Carpenter of Nazareth who had carried many a
beam on His shoulders, stumbled and fell to the
ground. Someone kicked Him, but He could not get
up. His humanity was exhausted.
The centurion was now in a
dilemma. He could not ask one of his soldiers to
carry the cross, nor could he ask a Jew to carry
it. For if a Jew even touched it, he would be
defiled and not be able to partake of the
Passover. And Roman officers were definitely
forbidden to interfere with the religious
practices of their subjects.
One wonders where Peter and James
and John were at this time. They could have
carried the cross. They did not need to fear not
eating the Passover, for they had already eaten
the Last Supper with Jesus! Peter and John had
been at Caiaphas' palace a few hours before. But
where were they now? Jesus had been very close
to them for three years, but in this moment of
trial they were not there to pick up the load
for Him! And still He loved them! Oh, what a
Then Simon of Cyrene, a large
city in North Africa, came walking by. Just in
from the country, he was minding his own
business when he saw the column on the way to
Calvary. He stopped to see what it was all
about. That stop changed history for him and for
millions of others!
The centurion noticed him
immediately. He was just the man! He barked an
order, and the legionnaires grabbed Simon and
forced him to pick up Jesus' cross.
Who was Simon of Cyrene? We do
not know for certain, but we can make some
pretty good guesses. Mark tells us that he was
the father of Alexander and Rufus. (Mark 15:21,
Acts 13:1.) And since the gospel of Mark was
directed to the Romans, it is evident that the
sons were well known in the church at Rome.
The greatest honor ever given to
a human being was when Mary conceived and gave
birth to Jesus Christ. The next greatest honor
given to a human being was this honorăthe honor
of carrying Jesus' cross.
But how unexpected the honor was!
When Simon left home he had no idea that he was
going to play such an important part in history!
And perhaps as you read this the Lord will honor
you and ask you to shoulder a burden. Maybe
right now He's saying, "I want you in Burma,
Africa, India, Mexico. Or maybe in a voice that
is soft and low He is saying, "I need you in the
Sunday school. I need you to do regular church
visitation. I need your money."
If He is saying these things we
should answer, "Yes, Lord," and feel honored in
Now we often hear that a cross is
something that we voluntarily pick up; but this
is not always so. The text tells us that Simon
was compelled to carry it. Please remember that
real Christians are obedient Christians, and
that if we are to obey, we must pick up the
burdens Jesus hands us and be thankful to carry
I do not know what kind of cross
the Lord may present to you. But whatever it is,
carry it! The cross-bearer carries something
that Jesus cannot carry in order to enable Jesus
to do what the cross-bearer cannot do!
The task Simon was asked to
complete was not a very spectacular one. His job
was simply to carry a cross a few hundred feet;
tradition tells us that Jesus Himself had
already carried the cross most of the distance.
Although the job looked insignificant at the
moment, it turned out to be extremely important!
It is easy enough to get people
to assume big crossesăcrosses with publicity
attached to them, crosses that the multitude can
see. But it is very difficult to get them to
assume the little crosses that are unnoticed by
the crowd. Yet, frequently it is the little
cross that does the most good!
Teaching a Sunday school class is
not always an easy thing. To some teachers it is
a very heavy cross. To work on a lesson for a
class with its quota of rowdies is not always
easy. Many a teacher goes home and weeps over
the happenings of the day. And yet it so happens
that here and there a screaming toddler, a
paper-throwing junior hears something from or
sees something in the teacher that brings about
a great change.
Do not despise the seemingly
little things! Simon's burden was not unusually
heavy. His task was not drawn out. But it was
very necessary! And his name is written large in
history as a result.
You may be asked to assume a
cross for the simple reason that no one else
will carry it. Simon was not chosen because he
was pious, strong or faithful. He was chosen
because no one else could be had!
And when he picked up the cross,
without doubt he was met with jeers and boos.
One can imagine the abuse that was heaped on him
as he stood to his feet with the cross over his
Then I think somebody must have
gone right up to him and snarled, "Now you're
defiled. You can't partake of the Passover. You
are the most ignorant ignoramus I ever met!" His
ears must have tingled with the abuse. But I do
not think he really minded. For I think the
Master must have put a wearied arm around him
for support, and I think He must have whispered
some wonderful words of cheer into Simon's ears!
Jesus had instituted the Lord's
Supper the night before. But on this gloriously
terrible day He continued a custom that He has
never stopped. This wonderful custom is that He
always walks with the one who is carrying a
Are you weary of your burden?
Look at Jesus by your side. He is carrying the
heaviest end of the loadăthe end with the rough
edges. And if He isn't, it is because you will
not let Him!
Are you weary of the scorn of the
crowd? Look at Jesus, more of the scorn is being
heaped on Him than on you!
Are you weary of your tired,
aching, diseased, faltering body? Look at Jesus.
He was so weary He fell. And His body was
covered with wounds, spittle and blood!
When Simon took hold of the
cross, Jesus was so faint that He had fallen to
the ground. But now that He had Simon to lean
on, He gathered strength. In the crowd that day
there was a large number of women who were
weeping and lamenting over Jesus. Presently
Jesus spoke to them: "Daughters of Jerusalem,
weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and
for your children. For, behold, the days are
coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are
the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and
the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they
begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and
to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these
things in a green tree, what shall be done in
the dry?" Luke 23:28-31.
This was a very remarkable
prophecy concerning what was to come. I wonder
if Jesus would have had the strength to utter
these words without the help of Simon? Perhaps
not! Carrying a wooden cross a short distance
may have seemed insignificant to Simon, and yet
it enabled Jesus Christ to preach!
What you are doing for the Master
may seem very trivial and insignificant, but it
enables Him to carry on His work, for we are
yokefellows with Him. Listen to what Jesus had
to say on this matter, "And whosoever shall give
to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of
cold water only in the name of a disciple,
verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose
his reward." Matthew 10:42.
That day Simon had to give up
taking the Passover because he had carried the
cross and thus defiled himself. But whenever we
give up something for Jesus Christ, we always
receive far more in return. Remember the Master
said, "And every one that hath forsaken houses,
or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother,
or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's
sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall
inherit everlasting life." Matthew 19:29.
Simon of Cyrene gave up the
Passover, but in its place he received the
"peace that passeth understanding." It was an
Mark tells us that Simon was the
father of Alexander and Rufus, but he does not
tell us anything about Alexander and Rufus. Why?
It just was not necessary! We believe these two
sons were well known and loved by the readers of
Mark's gospel in Rome! They were pillars in the
Church! Indeed, it is thought by some that Rufus
traveled with Peter and Andrew on evangelistic
trips. We do know that he was well known to
Paul, for at the conclusion of his Epistle to
the Romans he wrote, "Salute Rufus chosen in the
Lord, and his mother and mine" (16:13). It seems
that the whole family was saved!
But now let us indulge our
imaginations, move the clock ahead some thirty
years from the time Simon carried the cross, and
go into an obscure part of the city of Rome.
Nero has been on the throne since A.D. 54.
Because of him many Christians have been put to
death. Peter has been crucified. Paul has been
beheaded. Others have been burned to death, some
of them as flaming torches.
But the Christians, the brave
Christians, continued to worship. Let us slip
into one of their meetings. A letter of Paul's
is read, prayer is offered, communion is taken,
a song is sung. Then a leader asks volunteers to
rise and tell how they met Christ.
Timothy gets to his feet and
tells how he found the Nazarene through the
preaching of Paul in Lystra in A.D. 48.
Then John Mark stands up. He
tells how he saw the arrest of Jesus and how he
had to flee home naked. Then he tells how he
found Him as his personal Savior. "But
Father didn't come back for a long time, and
when he did I noticed something had happened to
him. There was a new light in his eyes. His
worries and anxieties were gone. But I also
noticed blood on his gown, and so I asked him
what it was. "Then he told us the story of the
cross. At first we could not believe that it was
actually the Messiah. But we saw the change in
Father and learned about the Resurrection, and
so we knew that it was true.
"And that is how our entire
family became followers of the Lord Jesus
Christ!" Simon of Cyrene bore the cross
patiently, and as a result his sons, Alexander
and Rufus, became Christians. And perhaps even
Paul heard the gospel first through their
Bearing one's cross