Summary: Lessons from Simon the Cross Bearer, the man that carried Christ's Cross to Golgotha.
In Luke 23:26, we read: “When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.”
I want to comment on this situation and make points that we can apply to our lives today.
First, let's understand the scene. It is early morning in Jerusalem. During the last 12-15 hours, Jesus has been arrested and bound, has been taken all around the city to appear in three different kangaroo courts, has been verbally abused and mocked, has been physically abused (with multiple slaps to His face, punched with fists, spat upon His face more than once, repeatedly beaten on His head with a hard reed, flogged 40 times with a leather whip which had pieces of metal sewed into the whip's ends so as to tear through skin and muscle, and had a crown of long, sharp thorns forced upon His head and brow), and repeatedly rejected by His countrymen. Having been through all that, He leaves the courtyard carrying the horizontal beam of the cross He would soon be nailed upon. John 19:17, “They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross.”
Now, the place of the crucifixion was outside the walls of Jerusaem at a place called Golgotha. To go from the Preatorium to Golgotha, they would have to exit through the Joppa Gate. The Joppa Gate was so named because it connects with the busy main road leading to the seaport city of Joppa.
Now Simon was from Cyrene, a city in the African nation of Lybia. Three hundred years before this event, 100,000 Jews were exiled to Cyrene and there was still a very large community of Jews living in Cyrene at this time. It was commanded in the Mosaic Law that all Jews were to assemble in Jerusalem to observe the 3 primary Feasts, two of which were the Passover and Pentecost. In Acts 2:9-11, we find Jews from all over the confines of the Roman Empire had journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost and some who were there were from Cyrene. It is very likely that Simon had sailed from Cyrene to Judea, which required that his ship arrive at the port city of Joppa and then he would take the Joppa Road to reach Jerusalem, entering the City at the wide Joppa Gate.
It was at the Joppa Gate that Simon ran into the Roman troops that was conveying the three 'criminals' out of the City to Golgotha. I gather that from two Scriptural passages: Matthew 27:32 states that Jesus was leaving Jerusalem when they found Simon - “As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon.” Mark 15:21 states that Simon was entering the City and was a mere passer-by when he bumped into the soldiers and Jesus - from the country or Joppa Road – Simon was “a passer-by coming from the country.”
At the very moment that these two parties ran into each other, something happened to Jesus. The soldiers no longer had Jesus carry the cross beam. Was it because Jesus, in His weakened condition, was walking too slow carrying the cross? Was it that Jesus, in His weakened state from lack of sleep, physical trauma and blood loss, fell and dropped the cross beam? Was it that the soldiers recognized that Jesus was showing symptoms of shock and were fearful that carrying the heavy load any longer would kill Him before they even reached Golgotha? We don't know. The Scriptures only say that the soldiers picked Simon out of the crowd to have him carry the cross the third of a mile trip from Joppa Gate to Golgotha. Luke 23:26 says the soldiers “laid hold upon one Simon” (KJV) or “seized” Simon (NASB). Both Matthew and Mark states that the soldiers “pressed into service” Simon to bear the Lord's cross.
With that, let's consider what lessons we can take from this scene to apply to our lives -
(1) Bearing The Cross is the Ultimate Demostratuon of Self-Denial.
At least, for part of the journey from Pilate's courtyard to Golgotha, Jesus bore the heavy cross. Not that Jesus wanted to suffer. Rather, three times He asked the Father to remove the cup of suffering that He was about to experience. But, at the close of each request for deliverance, He concluded: “Not My will but Thy will be done.” Carrying the cross and being crucified was the ultimate demonstration of self-denial.
Any one who would wish to be a genuine Christian must understand that the primary principle of true Christianity is self-denial. Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross.” There must be a total submission to the will of God. It is entirely giving to the Lord our minds, our hearts, our souls and our strengths. It wasn't easy for Jesus to completely give-up His will to the will of the Father. Paul said, in Hebrews 4:15, that Jesus was “One who was tempted in all things as we are.”