Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
4. Simon Selected
Luke 23:24-27 (NIV)
24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.
Also — Matthew 27:32 and Mark 15:21
Who is Simon, and where is Cyrene?
So far, in Luke chapter 23, we have met Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, and that fickle mob that cruelly yelled for Jesus to die. Now please meet Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene is an old North African port with a strong Greek influence in what we now call Libya. It is a long-established Jewish settlement and the oldest and most important of Greek cities in the region. It was bequeathed to Rome in 96 BC and became a Province in 74 BC. Acts 6:9 tells us that Jewish settlers from Cyrene were in Jerusalem and saw the Holy Spirit fall on the church on that amazing Day of Pentecost.
Simon is mentioned both in Matthew 27:32 and in Mark 15:21. He is the father of Alexander and Rufus. Rufus and his mother may be the Christians mentioned in Romans 16:13. She was later well known to the apostle, Paul.
Did Simon’s first close contact with Jesus lead to family conversions?
Perhaps Simon’s family had their first contact with Jesus and His gospel through the sad event that we now are about to examine. If so, it just shows how such an unpromising start can be used by God to bring great blessing to people. Maybe Simon, Rufus, or his mother (or possibly Alexander) all came to faith in Christ, and received the assurance of eternal life, through Simon first seeing Jesus carrying His cross, and then being forced to do what we examine in this chapter.
In the closing greetings Paul sends to the Christians in Rome, he says, ‘Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.’ (Romans 16:13.) We have no supporting evidence one way or the other whether the Rufus mentioned there is the same Rufus as Simon of Cyrene’s son. He could well have been. Of course, Simon could have become a Christian independently anyway, whether his family members received Christ or not through or because of him. We just do not know.
But perhaps these events did start the process that God used to bring Simon to repent personally of his sins and ask Jesus Christ to forgive him, cleanse him, and come to live in his heart, to bless and to lead him as his Lord. But we cannot say for sure if that happened or not.
The ‘root out of dry ground’
Although we cannot be dogmatic about their conversions being started through God using these sad events, that strong possibility is an encouraging reminder that God can save anyone, anywhere, at any time. Our God can always do the ‘impossible’—so He certainly could do this! If so, this might be called ‘a root out of dry ground’ that produces amazing fruitfulness, but in a far lesser way than the Bible describes Jesus by using that phrase in Isaiah 53:2.
Humanly speaking, Jesus was wrongly ‘suspected of’ having been born illegitimately. While always being sinless and perfect, and the Lord of Glory in human flesh, Jesus had very humble human origins. The average onlooker would say that there was very little ‘going for’ the carpenter’s son. He later would die as a crucified criminal, after bitter betrayal, desertion by disciples, cruel rejection, fake justice and merciless flogging. All that did not suggest the floods of amazing eternal blessing and joy yet to come. Yet that ‘root out of dry ground’ produced overwhelming and abundant fruitfulness in the worldwide blessing for the millions who have trusted Him as Saviour and still do today. Did what must have then seemed to Simon the worst day of his life result finally in his family and himself being saved, and maybe others through them? In God’s amazing grace that is quite possible. If you are finding things going very wrong for you right now, take heart!
Meanwhile, please remember that, just like Simon of Cyrene, we are all guilty sinners, and have sins that need to be forgiven by God if we are to receive eternal life and so end our days in Heaven.)
What Simon was made to do
Remember that Judge Pilate unjustly decided to condemn Jesus to death, although he was personally convinced of His innocence—as was King Herod—and had said so. Jesus had been blindfolded and punched in the face by rough Roman soldiers who ‘played a game’ with him. He was also severely weakened physically by a vicious and cruel Roman flogging and scourging which killed off many intended crucifixion victims before they could even get to their crucifixion. A crown of long nail-like thorns is put on His battered head. (Matthew 27:29). Now, He is so badly bruised, and wounded with a lacerated back, that Isaiah 52:14 prophetically predicts, ‘His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness.’ Isaiah 53:2b adds, ‘He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire Him.’ Jesus is now led off to be executed by crucifixion. Jesus is now so weakened by the cruel assaults on Him that he cannot carry His heavy and crude cross Himself. The soldiers seize unsuspecting Simon, and put Jesus’ cross on this North African, as he follows behind the battered and bleeding Saviour. They make him carry that cross for Jesus. Many people follow them. (We will look next time at the women who were there, called the ‘Daughters of Jerusalem.’)
But what if Simon did not turn to Jesus?
We have seen that it is well possible that Simon did turn to Jesus and that God used that to influence family members to trust in Christ too. But it is equally valid to assume that Simon did not turn to Jesus. Just for argument’s sake, and to make another point to learn from, we now ask and answer the question, ‘But what if Simon did not turn to Jesus personally as his Saviour and so was not ‘born again?’ What lessons do we learn from that assumption that Simon carried the cross for Jesus to Calvary but did not become a Christian?
No other way
The first thing to say is obvious but necessary. If Simon never turned from his sins and asked for God’s forgiveness by putting all His trust in Jesus, he is not in Heaven today, but in Hell. He did not and could not merit forgiveness by anything he did, including carrying Jesus’ cross for our wounded and physically weakened Saviour. (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The second matter to note is that Simon of Cyrene’s name never appears again in the pages of Scripture. Not once! We are not told in the Bible whether he trusted in Jesus or not. There is nothing specific to say he did. We may need to remind ourselves, and others, that we do not become Christians by doing what someone else tells us to do, good as it may be. If we take up our own cross, it means we have repented from our sins, put all our trust in Jesus, and decided by God’s grace to follow Him wholeheartedly. And we can only do that as individuals. Mark 8:34 says that Jesus ‘called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”’ In Luke 14:27 Jesus adds, “anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Real repentance includes the attitude of saying ‘No’ to ourselves and saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus: each of us has to decide to make Jesus our Lord and take up our own cross.
What follows when I take up my cross?
It follows that if I really repent from my sins that also involves my putting King Jesus on the throne of my life to run it His way. Taking up the cross is what a man literally did when he went to his own crucifixion—just as Jesus did, albeit helped by Simon. In short it means that at the same time as I ask Jesus into my life as my Saviour from sin, judgment and Hell, I put myself 100% under His holy but loving Lordship and control. (Romans 14:9). I make a decision in principle to die to my own choices, and I ask Jesus to be my living Lord, dwelling in me by the Holy Spirit, to lead my life the way He wants it to go. That is why the Bible, God’s written word, becomes my final authority and my life map. It is why I read it and pray every day to my loving Master and Saviour. It is also why I ask the Holy Spirit to keep on filling me so I can keep on following Christ. (Ephesians 5:18). I now seek to be dead to self and sin and alive to Jesus, God’s will, and God’s word, through the Holy Spirit. This is an ongoing work of God’s grace. I cannot ‘work it up’ myself. Remember that we have just seen that Jesus said that unless I take up my cross every day like that I ‘cannot be [His] disciple’.
I repeat that no-one can make me bear my cross or do it for me. It is my cross, and I alone can deny myself to take it up for Him. But there is another cross for us to consider even more closely and openly. It is the cross that Jesus was nailed to in my place, for my sins, to take the just and holy punishment of God the Father against me for the sins I have committed against Him. There is nothing magic or holy about the wood of the cross itself, of course. It is rather that it was there that Jesus died and so can enable every sinner who has repented, believed and started following Him, to now praise and proclaim with both shame and gratitude, ‘the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’. (Galatians 2:20) No-one can be saved now or in eternity until he or she realises that on that cross everything that could be done to save him or her was ‘Finished’ (meaning ‘accomplished’) by the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 19:30).
If you do not come to Jesus like that, through His cross in order to take up yours, you too, like Simon, may not be heard of again as someone who knows and follows Jesus. If you do deny yourself and trust wholly in Jesus, many others will both hear and see that now you are under the ‘new management’ of the Lord Jesus Christ, the once crucified and now living Saviour and Lord of all who repent and trust Him. You will witness to others what Jesus has done for you.
The wisest choice
The wisest choice anyone ever can make is to repent, trust in Jesus personally, and ask Him for His help to follow, live for, and witness about Him as Lord. Are you that person?