Summary: What must it have been like to have actually carried the cross Jesus died on, for Him, up to Calvary's hill?
A CROSS IN MY BELLY
A Monologue of Simon of Cyrene
There are several Simons in the New Testament. Two of them were called by Jesus to be His disciples. One was Simon Peter and the other one was Simon the Zealot. One of Jesus’ half-brothers, son of both Mary and Joseph, was named Simon. Then there was Simon the Pharisee, at whose house Jesus ate. There was also 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 another Simon - Simon of Cyrene.
Listen as I read Mark 15:21-24 “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. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”
Cyrene is a city (now Tripoli) in Upper Libya, North Africa, founded by a colony of Greeks around B.C. 630. There was a fairly large number of Jews living there.
So let’s use our imagination this morning and visualize Simon of Cyrene coming to talk to us. Oh, by the way, you might want to use an extra bit of imagination to help you visualize our guest a good bit darker in his skin tone – since he was a Jew living in arid Africa.
I had dreamed of that day all my life. My friend Reuben and I had talked as boys of someday going to Jerusalem. For those of us of Hebrew heritage, it was the most important place in the world. It was where Abraham almost sacrificed his only son Isaac. It was the city that King David made his capital. It was where Solomon built the first Temple. It was the place where Jeremiah and Isaiah prophesied and Nehemiah had rebuilt the Wall. And I wanted to see the new temple. “Herod’s Temple” is what they called it because King Herod had expanded and remodeled the old temple. It was the most endearing structure in the world for all the descendants of Abraham.
But I didn’t just dream of going to Jerusalem, but to be there during its grandest time, Passover! Those who live within close enough proximity make the journey every year. For others, like myself, it was a dream just to get there once in a lifetime.
Ever since I was a boy, my family observed Passover. When I was the youngest at the dinner table, I would ask the opening questions beginning with: “What makes this night different than all others”. And each year I would be mesmerized at the story of how God used Moses and ten plaques to melt Pharaoh’s heart to the point that he would let the Hebrew slaves go. I would get a chill down my spine when they told the story about the Passover Lamb whose blood was placed on each family’s door, requiring that the death angel pass over that home. And as we completed each year’s Passover observance we would all declare “Next year in Jerusalem”.
And every year those words seemed so empty, with no real means to become a reality. After all, it would require a journey of over 800 miles just to get there. It would take well over a month to walk that distance [not to mention the trip home], and an enormous amount of funds for such a pilgrimage. But I was determined to see it and participate in it someday. It was my dream.
Poor farmers were all we were, yet I started saving a little bit every time money came into my hands. It was slow to accumulate enough money but over the years it did mount up. I had hoped to take the whole family but when I felt like we had enough and could afford to be away from work that long - my wife was pregnant with our third child. She insisted that I take our two sons and travel without her. It had been the dream of both of us, but she was persistent, and you know how persuasive wives can be.
Reuben chose to accompany us and since he was not married he could help with the boys. Cyrene was located along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. One of my relatives knew a man who knew a man – well you know how that goes. Anyway we were able to book passage on a sailing ship at a much reduced rate. That was sure better than taking the land route around the sea. We would sail to Joppa, along the Palestinian Coast. Joppa is best known as the port Jonah had sailed from before being swallowed by a great fish. I could not escape the irony that Jonah left Joppa running way from God. And we, on the other hand, were sailing to Joppa in order to experience God in a meaningful way. From there we could walk the 35 miles or so to Jerusalem.