By Charles Ludwig

 

 

 After Pontius 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 Pilate.

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 laughed.

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 speech!"

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 Christ!

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 doing so!

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 them!

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 shoulder.

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 cross!

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 excellent bargain!

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 mother.

Bearing one's cross pays!