Summary: Simon of Cyrene is on his way into Jerusalem when his plans are inconveniently changed when he is called upon to carry the cross of Jesus. The “silent witness” of Simon calls us to think about the ways Jesus uses the inconvenient moments of life to draw us closer to Himself.

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Silent Witnesses

Mark 15:21 Simon Who Is Inconvenienced

Even before Jesus is crucified He has faced a brutal ordeal.

Looking at some verses in Mark 14 and 15

Mark 14:65

Some of the Sanhedrin began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

Mark 15:15

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Mark 15:17, 19

A whole company of soldiers … twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him.

After this Jesus is lead out to be crucified. Initially Jesus was carrying his own cross.

John 19:16-17

Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).

Jesus who has been whipped, repeated punched and beaten with a staff. He is bloody and bruised and has very little strength.

Carrying the weight of the cross.

This means he has to walk through the city.

Where there are narrow streets and huge crowds.

The place is stifling. People are yelling out and mocking Jesus all the way. Roman soldiers would have had to separate the crowds to create a narrow path for Jesus.

In the end it is all too much. Jesus collapses under the weight of the cross. And that creates a problem. The procession isn’t going anywhere.

The soldiers are not going to help.

The disciples are nowhere to be seen.

The Jews just keep laughing and mocking.

No-one is going to lift a finger.

Enter into the picture Simon of Cyrene.

Matthew 27:32

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.

Mark 15:21

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.

Luke 23:26

As the soldiers 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.

When we put this few verses together we can paint a bit of a picture. Cyrene is a large city in modern day Libya.

It was a city with a large Jewish population.

All Jews sought to make at least one pilgrimage to the holy city during the time of the Passover to celebrate and make a sacrifice at the temple. For Simon the trip from Cyrene to Jerusalem would have been long and difficult.

1300km by land. 57 days to walk. 35 days by camel or horse.

1100km by sea. At least 6 days of sailing, plus 1 to 2 days over land.

This is perhaps a once in a lifetime journey. The fulfilment of a dream which would have incredible spiritual significance.

Simon is on his way from the country into the city – in other words he is coming from the opposite direction. He has no idea what has been going on.

Someone needs to help Jesus ... no-one wants to.

The Roman soldiers had the authority to conscript any citizen into temporary service.

They make a convenient choice … YOU – carry the cross!

The is …. inconvenient.

It is inconvenient because it was not part of Simon’s plan.

Simon had not come to Jerusalem to carry a cross. He had just spent anywhere between 35-55 days making his way to Jerusalem This was supposed to be a memorable time for him and now he has to carry a cross through the streets and out the city gate. All to help a disgusting, bloody criminal who has been so severely beaten he can’t even walk.

It is inconvenient because it is an emotionally draining task.

Simon follows Jesus.

This means he now has a front row seat to all the mocking and scorn and hatred. He would be feeling the mood of the crowd first hand.

In the middle of all the shouting and screaming.

That is a huge amount of emotion to endure.

It is also inconvenient because now Simon is unclean

Jesus’ blood and other body fluids would have drenched the cross by the time Simon picked it up. Not only was it disgusting and unsanitary, touching the blood of another person made you unclean and unacceptable.

Simon can’t go to the temple to sacrifice the Passover Lamb.

Simon won’t be clean in time to participate in the Passover.

The very purpose for which Simon has come to Jerusalem is taken away. All his plans have come to nothing.

“That’s inconvenient.”

… …

How many times have you said those words in the past couple of weeks?

“That’s inconvenient.”

No-one wants to be in our current situation.

Yet even beyond COVID-19 there are plenty of other situation where we would rather not be involved in.

Times when our families don’t work – no matter how hard we have been trying.

Times when our dreams have been shattered – despite all our planning.

Times when we have been rejected, or feel broken – even though we have been doing our best.

Times when we have been hurt and it is causing us to struggle – in the most unexpected ways.

“That’s inconvenient.”

Yet here is how God works. The very situation that causes inconvenience could actually end up being a witness to the grace of Jesus.

Simon of Cyrene is another “Silent Witness”

We see why by going back to

Mark 15:21

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.

What is the purpose of specifically mentioning Alexander and Rufus? Well most scholars agree that Mark’s Gospel was first given to the believers in Rome. Here is what Paul writes to the same church.

Romans 16:13

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

The general consensus is that this is the same Rufus – 25 years later.

Rufus, the son of Simon, is chosen in the Lord.

Rufus’ mother, Simon’s wife, is like a mother to Paul.

The journey which started for Simon as a massive inconvenience, becomes a journey of grace and transformation. And that is where this passage has a powerful lesson for us.

Picture Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross as he follows Jesus out to Golgotha. On the way to Golgotha, Simon may have hated the Romans, and hated this criminal whose cross he is forced to carry.

Finally they reach the killing place outside the city, and Simon drops his burden. The soldiers get on with their business of nailing the prisoner's hands and feet to the wood. Then they place the bottom of the cross in a deep hole, push the top of it skyward, and sit down to watch their prisoner die.

What happens to Simon? Does he stay and watch the slow death, or does he leave? The Scripture is silent, but the witness is very visible.

Something happens to Simon that leads him and his family to faith.

Something happens to his sons that makes at least one of them a significant member of the church in Rome.

Something happens to his wife that makes her like a mother to Paul.

That something is Jesus.

Jesus who can enter our lives at the most inconvenient time.

Jesus who constantly uses His inconvenient timing to give us life.

Jesus who carries us through all the inconvenient moments.

It is no accident that the Roman soldier pulled Simon out of the crowd. This is God at work, using what looks like an inconvenience, to put in place a specific plan of God.

At some point after the inconvenience Simon understands a much greater truth.

If Jesus didn’t want to be crucified, not even the full power of the Roman Empire could make it happen.

Jesus had 12 legions of angels who would have protected him in an instant.

The truth is, Jesus chose the cross.

At some point Simon realised that he was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus only because Jesus first voluntarily carried the cross for Simon. At some point Simon understood that it wasn’t Jesus’ exhaustion that caused that Roman to say, "Pick it up!" It was God Himself who had chosen to confront Simon of Cyrene.

God allowed Simon to carry the cross Jesus couldn't carry so Jesus could die the death Simon did not want to die.

When we face inconvenient times we always need to be open to the possibility that, what at first looks like a terrible interruption of our plans, is actually a specific plan of God.

Suddenly we have turned the corner and there is Jesus. He says to us, "will you accept My cross?"

Simon had plenty of feelings about what was happening to him.

We will have all sorts of feelings about what is going on.

But, when we do carry the carry the cross, we will see that what starts out looking like a terrible inconvenience, is actually another door of transformation and grace.