“And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name:
him they compelled to bear his cross.”
Simon of Cyrene was at the end of a gruelling journey from North Africa to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. Perhaps he had been resident in the Holy City for a few days and business took him beyond the walls into the country on the eve of the Passover. Perhaps he had been delayed in his journey only arriving at Jerusalem a few hours before the sacred festivities began.
But whatever Simon’s circumstances, he reached the gate of the old city just as a rather cruel and barbaric procession was exiting. He could hear the shouts and the obscenities of the soldiers and he could see the beleaguered victims, crosses upon their backs being forced through the narrow streets towards the gate and upwards to Calvary.
He reached the gate just as three condemned men were being pushed through the opening. Just then one of the men staggered. It was obvious his blood loss was considerable. His back bore the deep cuts inflicted by the lictor’s whip that morning. His face was pummelled and bruised. His brow has been pierced by something sharp; Simon didn’t know it then but we know that these were the marks of the crown of thorns. The man could go no further with such a cruel weight pressing upon the torn and the raw flesh.
A rough arm hauled Simon from the crowd, the cross was laid upon his back and suddenly this unassuming bystander was given a prominent place as an eye witness of the greatest event in world history.
Simon turned his head and he saw His eyes.
Eyes filled with pain and pity, eyes that were clear and kind and true.
How could Simon not have been moved as he carried the burden of the cross and walked step by step up Calvary with the Saviour of the World?
As the execution place was reached Simon was pushed roughly back into the crowd.
He was there when they crucified my Lord.
He heard the dull blow of the hammer swung low as they nailed my Lord to the tree.
He watched as the cross was raised up, exposing the Son of God to the laughter and mockery of the callous crowd.
But as Simon watched the horrific drama unfold he did so as the man who carried the cross of Jesus.
Chance encounters do not happen. God works to an orderly plan. Simon was placed at the gate on that eventful morning because he was chosen to bear the cross. He was chosen to be identified with Jesus Christ in His greatest agony.
Encounters with Jesus Christ take place today. Sitting in a church service, listening to a radio programme, reading a Gospel tract, being engaged in conversation, experiencing a time of suffering or bereavement or reading this article…Jesus comes and looks on you…And you feel the power of that look…Eyes that suffered for you out of love are fixed on you today.
Your calling is to see His cross as your cross. This is what it means to bear the cross. It is to understand that He died for you, that He took your suffering, your torture and your Hell.
St. Mark, when recording the life of Christ for the believers in Rome many years later referred to Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Obviously the readership in Rome knew Alexander and Rufus as being members of their fellowship; at least I can think of no other reason why Mark would record this detail. This is a comforting indicator that the cross carrier became a follower and he won his boys for Jesus.
He never forgot the encounter at the gate of old Jerusalem and the day he carried the cross.