Summary: #3 in series, about Simon of Cyrene, and about how we all need to carry our own crosses.
Mark 15:21-24 – Were You There? #3 – Cross Carrier (Simon of Cyrene)
The name Simon is fairly common in the New Testament. The name means, “God has heard”, and it’s a fairly noble idea. There was Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’ disciples. One of the brothers of Jesus, son of both Mary and Joseph, was named Simon. There was Simon the Pharisee, at whose house Jesus ate. There was Simon, the grumpy judge on American Idol. No wait. I meant to say, Simon, brother of Alvin the chipmunk. No wait, not that either… Just kidding. Today we are looking at Simon the Cyrenian. Let’s read Mark 15:21-24.
So, who was this man? We don’t know a lot about him, but he’s a hero in the NT. He came from Cyrene, a Greek colony on the north-eastern coast of Libya. The town itself was about 25% Jewish, and its people keep popping up in the book of Acts. What’s funny is that it is so far away from Jerusalem – about 900 miles. For Simon to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover feast was a huge undertaking – it probably took a month to get there.
There were 3 times in the run of the year that Jews were supposed to travel to Jerusalem, pilgrim feasts. There was Passover, in March or April. There was Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, or the Feast of First Fruits, 7 weeks later, in May or June. And there was the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths, held in the fall. These were times that Jews from all over were supposed to Jerusalem. The reality is, it didn’t always happen. The Jewish people were scattered so far away, that for some, one trip to Jerusalem in their lives was all they could do.
Imagine if this had been Simon’s only time ever to go to Jerusalem. Walking for a month, braving the elements, running the risk of desert bandits, in danger of wild animals… I’m sure he was glad to arrive in Jerusalem and to be safe within its walls.
But the city was not what he expected, I’m sure. Even if he had been there before, there was certainly something different in the air that year. There was a tension all around. Perhaps he hadn’t even had the chance to enter the city, to go to the money changers and exchange his Greek coins for Jewish currency, to go to the vendors at the Temple, to buy a spotless lamb from a salesman loving the business this time of the year, to take the lamb to the priests at the Temple, to have them say a prayer and slit the throat of the helpless beast, and to have them hand the carcass back. Later Simon would take the sacrificial lamb somewhere to be roasted and eaten, to partake of the Passover ceremony, and to remember that God had freed him and his people from slavery.
How far had he gotten? I don’t know. But he became a witness to a different kind of slaughter. He saw a man, a criminal of some kind apparently, struggling to carry a cross from the city of Jerusalem to a place outside the city. Some will say it was only the crossbeam, some say it was the entire cross – it doesn’t matter. It was heavy, and it was hard.
And then it happened. A Roman soldier, tired of the game, bored of watching criminals strain under the weight, plucked Simon out of the crowd. “You – carry that!” Can you imagine?
Having travelled all that way, just an innocent bystander, and all of a sudden… his life was changed. In my research, I read something I had never thought of before: that this act, this carrying of an instrument of death, touching the blood of a known criminal, would have made him unclean. In a ceremonially way, according to the traditions and laws of the Jews, he would not have been able to approach the Temple, to give his lamb to the priest, and thus would not have been able to eat and celebrate Passover. All that way, all that time, with the intention to do his spiritual duty, and he found himself forced to do something. Man’s selfishness getting in the way of service to God.
I don’t know how noble Simon was. I picture him more as annoyed and frustrated than honourable and sporting. “Oh, please let me carry that poor man’s cross. I’ll do it, and enjoy it as well!” No, not so much. It’s just that you don’t argue with men who carry spears for their jobs.
But yet, Simon did carry the cross for Jesus. It makes me think of things Jesus said in His teachings. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me – Matthew 10:38. If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me – Matthew 16:24. I like how the NLT words that verse: If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.