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Summary: “The Cross!” Before Jesus the cross was despised, a symbol of the worse kind of cruelty and horrific barbarity imaginable... But, after Jesus, the cross became the symbol of unconditional love, such sacrifice and forgiveness that it came to represent the whole Christian faith.

Today’s sermon is entitled simply, “The Cross!” Before Jesus the cross was despised, a symbol of the worse kind of cruelty and horrific barbarity imaginable. Its sole purpose was to execute offenders in the most hideous and protracted means, producing the greatest amount of pain and agony over an extended time. Many a criminal hung for days or even a week before the ordeal, to which now was added thirst and starvation and delirium finally prevailed in death. Victims were executed publicly and often left upon the cross until their bodies literally rotted away as a ghastly sign to warn all who passed by. Most sensitive people would not even look upon a cross or mention it in conversation, such was the terror and shame it evoked. Cicero, the Roman lawyer and Senator referred to it as “most extreme form of punishment,” He called it “atrociously cruel,” not only in the physical pain it inflicts, but equally in the humiliation it brings to the man crucified. He said;

“The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed, not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not merely the actual occurrence of these things but the very mention of them that is unworthy of a Roman citizen or a free man.”

But, after Jesus, the cross became the symbol of unconditional love, such sacrifice and forgiveness that it came to represent the whole Christian faith. It went from an article of shame and reproach to pride and praise among the faithful. Where once people might not speak of it, Christ’s followers, like Paul would proclaim in Galatians 6:14;

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

And hymn writers like Issac Watts would pen;

“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died…”

Jesus brought change to the cross, from being despised to boasting, from shameful to wonderful. Far more was happening here than just a crucifixion. It was at once a battle scene, a judgement seat, a sacrificial altar, a vehicle of love, all in one.

Once again, Luke’s account tends to be short. We have other details provided in the other gospels. Matthew and Mark record the abuse by the Roman soldiers, the flogging and crown of thorns. It is after that scourging, which often was severe enough to cause death in itself, that Jesus is taken out to be crucified. Verse 26 begins;

“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.”

Executions were held outside the holy city of Jerusalem. It was custom for the criminal to carry their own means of death to the chosen spot, the last indignant act. It was either the entire cross or just the crossbeam carried across the shoulders. The scourging Jesus endured nearly killed him, as was the intent of such a beating. The damage to his flesh and the profuse bleeding weakened him. As Isa.52:14 predicted;

“Just as there were many who were appalled at him-his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness-“

Nearing collapse, the soldiers press into service, “seized” indicates grabbed hold of, one, Simon of Cyrene. We have only a little tantalizing information about this Simon. Because of this, many opinions circulate about who he is and what happened to him. He came from Cyrene which is on the northern coast of Africa in modern day Libya. For this reason some conjecture that he was black. The fact that it was an indignity to carry a cross might explain why Simon was seized out of the crowd if he was black perhaps thinking he was a slave. That is a possibility, but history shows not all blacks were slaves and that there was a very large Jewish community settled in that area for a long period of time. His children are mentioned elsewhere as in Mk.15:21;

“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus,…and they forced him to carry the cross.”

His sons names are Greek names, so he could have been a Jew making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. It is unusual to identify a man by mentioning his sons, unless his sons are better known than he. This is a possibility as well since Paul writing in Romans 16:13 states;

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

So Rufus may have been prominent in the church at Rome and his mother, which would have been Simon’s wife, extended some motherly care to Paul. Some contend that Simon took pity on Jesus and willfully accepted the cross, but the text states he was forced to carry it. Some claim he became a Christian through the incident of carrying the cross and went to Rome to join the church there. But as I said, these are interesting possibilities, we must leave them as possibilities only. The text continues;

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