Summary: A call to discipleship
“Don’t Cry For Me Jerusalem”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Those who rejected and condemned Jesus showed that they preferred darkness to light. Those who cried for our Lord to be crucified revealed their inner darkness, their desperate need for pardon and transformation.
In our Scripture passage Luke shows Jesus being led through the streets of Jerusalem, along the route now known as the Via Dolorosa, “the sorrowful way”. He begins His death march outside the city to be crucified. We’re told in Hebrews 13, “Under the system of Jewish laws, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, but the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates in order to make His people holy by shedding His own blood” (11-12, NLT). Jesus died, not as a martyr but as a substitute; He suffered for us—His death pays and removes the penalty for our sins.
It was customary for condemned criminals to carry either the cross or its crossbar to the place of execution. Jesus starts the walk to Golgotha carrying His cross but He has been weakened so by a lack of sleep and food and by the flagellation—a brutal whipping which normally preceded crucifixion and occasionally caused premature death,—that one of the Roman soldiers abruptly presses a passer-by to carry the cross (vs 26). Certainly no soldier would stoop to assist a struggling prisoner.
The person chosen is Simon of Cyrene, a town located near Tripoli in what is now Libya, North Africa, some 1300 km from Jerusalem. I visited this area with my parents in 1962; it is mostly a desert region, similar to Saudi Arabia. According to Jewish historian Josephus, there was a large Jewish community in Cyrene. Simon was a common Jewish name—there are 8 different Simons mentioned in the New Testament. This Simon likely was a prominent Jewish leader; the fact that he is able to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover festival indicates his importance. It would be in character for a Roman soldier to embarrass a prominent Jewish man with this demeaning task. There is no hint that Simon is a follower of Jesus, but he shares the journey. Taking the cross, he is covered by Jesus’ blood making him ceremonially unclean and unable to further participate in the Passover ceremony.
We say how Jesus’ blood saves us, covers our guilt, is the price paid for our forgiveness. Yet without faith in His sacrifice, even if His blood were literally placed upon us, we’d have no assurance of salvation. We don’t know if Simon of Cyrene was a believer. It would be tragically ironic if he died without the spiritual benefits of Christ’s blood.
In our Sunday School we’re memorizing John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life—no one comes to the Father but by Me.” If there were any other way to offer salvation God’s own Son would not have needed to suffer and die for us, to take our punishment. If there could be any other Way, then Christ died needlessly. People condemn themselves by rejecting sin’s Remedy. Scripture states that God does not wish for any to perish, yet people do perish by refusing God’s pardon.
Simon unknowingly enacts the definition of discipleship—to take up the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked that “When Jesus calls us, He bids us to die.” We die to self- interest when we turn to Christ. When we take up the cross we no longer have plans of our own.
I’ve been several times to Oberamergau in southern Bavaria, home of the famous Passion Play; I almost got to see it in 1990, but got orders. I toured the Festspielhaus where the play is performed by local actors. The cross carried by the one who plays Jesus is quite heavy, allowing the actor to feel the weight of the cross and gain a better appreciation of what Jesus had to hold up under.
In John’s Gospel we’re told, “Even in His own land and among His own people, Jesus was not accepted” (1:11, NLT). Now that the religious leaders have obtained their goal of arranging for the death of Jesus, the cries demanding His crucifixion have died away. They are replaced with open lamentation, tears of grief and sympathy (vs 27). Those who clamored for Jesus’ execution were not necessarily a significant number of people. There were still many in Jerusalem who were sympathetic to Jesus, and saddened by the course of events. Most scholars believe their sorrow was genuine, and Jesus treats them as sincere mourners. It was (and still is) common in the Middle East for people to openly and intensely express grief. There were no inhibitions or social restraints to “be strong.”