Summary: Stations of the Cross, Pt. 4

IN HIS STEPS (MARK 15:21-22, MATTHEW 27:32-33, LUKE 23:26)

The cross is what separates Christianity from other religions, the suffering Messiah from popular gurus and theological heavyweights from lightweights.

Lois A. Cheney wrote a touching and thought-provoking poem on the cross:

I stand before the cross and wonder.

I stand before the cross and fear.

I kneel before the cross and weep.

I pray before the cross and rejoice.

To know the cross is to know Christ.

To feel the cross is to feel Christ.

To gaze at the cross is to gaze at Christ.

To carry the cross is to be a Christian,

And not until then.

God, forgive us. (Calvin Miller, The Book of Jesus 370. NY: Touchstone, 1996)

Thomas a Kempis said, “Jesus now has many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of his cross.”

While John’s gospel noted that Jesus carried the cross upon his shoulders (John 19:17), Matthew, Mark and Luke stressed that Simon the Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus. In the Roman Catholic tradition, Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry the cross, is visibly present at the 5th and 9th stations, two of fourteen stations of the cross.

Who was Simon the Cyrene? What did he get out of carrying the cross? Why did it help him and not hurt him from carrying the cross? Simon of Cyrene was a pilgrim, in the biblical sense, who became an eyewitness and a servant of our Lord in the most extraordinary way.

A Cross-bearer is No Longer a Seeker, But a Sufferer

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). (Mark 15:21-22)

I am often bewildered by the strong response to the gospel song “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” After reading Simon’s story, I understand the stirring feeling of being informed of, invited to and included into this unique privilege.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh…Sometimes I tremble, tremble, tremble,

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Simon was an accidental tourist, but not an accidental believer. He was a Jewish pilgrim coming into Jerusalem, but he ended up as a Messianic pilgrim coming into faith. The foreigner from Cyrene, a region in Libya (Acts 2:10) of North Africa, discovered that the real pilgrimage was not at Jerusalem, but Golgotha; it was a single act and not a yearly Passover affair and the sacrifice was the precious Lamb of God, not the blood of animals.

Oddly, the choice of Simon the Cyrene was as curious as his appearance with Jesus that day. Previously he was faceless, nameless and clueless in the crowd, but now he was singled out to be Jesus’ pall bearer, the closest witness and the survivor of the two. While most people seldom question the color of his skin, one internet painting of Simon the Cyrene depict him as a black man.

Another web site suggested that he was one of eight black men in the Bible. Whether it is so may be intriguing, but this uneasy pilgrim could well be a black man, a Jewish foreigner or maybe a Gentile godfearer.

Like other pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem at that time, Simon was there to confess his sins, ask for forgiveness and vow to return. The sacrifice at the temple was symbolical, ceremonial and yearly, but the sacrifice at the cross was personal, bodily and historical. Jesus’ death was the offering of his own precious blood, not the blood of goats and calves, once for all and not once a year to obtain eternal redemption for believing sinners (Heb 9:12). Simon the pilgrim did not receive ceremonial forgiveness, but legal pardon; temporary acquittal, but permanent atonement; short relief, but divine reconciliation.

A Cross-bearer is No Longer a Stranger, But a Son

32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). (Matt 27:32-33)

Henry Morton Stanley, the 19th century explorer whose name is forever associated with finding the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone and the immortal words of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” described the transformation that came into his life from befriending Livingstone:

“I went to Africa as prejudiced as the biggest atheist in London. But there came for me a long time for reflection. I saw this solitary old man here and asked myself, “How on earth does he stop here -- is he cracked, or what? What is it that inspires him? For months after we met I found myself wondering at the old man carrying out all that was said in the Bible – ‘Leave all things and follow Me.’ But little by little his sympathy for others became contagious; my sympathy was aroused seeing his piety, his gentleness, his zeal, his earnestness, and how he went around his business. I was converted by him although he had not tried to do it.” (7,700 Illustrations # 3101)

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