Eyes on the Cross: Simon of Cyrene

Simon carries the cross of Jesus

Then the soldiers led Him away into the courtyard (that is, headquarters) and called the whole company together. They dressed Him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and put it on Him. And they began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They kept hitting Him on the head with a reed and spitting on Him. Getting down on their knees, they were paying Him homage. When they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the purple robe, put His clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.

They forced a man coming in from the country, who was passing by, to carry Jesus’ cross. He was Simon, a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus. And they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means Skull Place).

– Mark 15:15-22

As they led Him away, they seized Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, and laid the cross on him to carry behind Jesus.

– Luke 23:26

Simon has traveled quite a distance to be in Jerusalem this day. Tradition tells us that he is Jew, and in the City for the Passover celebration. Though we don’t know if his family came along, we know Simon to be a dad, with sons named Alexander and Rufus.

Simon is just coming into the city from the countryside, and his vacation takes a very unexpected turn when he is grabbed by Roman soldiers. He finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I’m sure fear and adrenaline were pumping through his body as the soldiers lay the heavy wooden cross on his back.

Simon was trying to follow the Jewish law to be there to commemorate Passover, and now he is being treated like he is a criminal. Not only is he likely frightened he may bear the brunt of more Roman cruelty and accusation, he is shamed as he is forced to drag this rough cross through the crowded streets of Jerusalem, out of the city and up the hill to Golgotha. Even more, Simon has touched the blood of the man who was too weak to carry this cross, which means he has been made unclean and won’t even be able to take part in the activities he traveled all this way to attend.

Through the sweat and struggle to carry this cross, Simon also sees the man Jesus before him, struggling to walk towards His death place. Has he heard of Jesus before? In the caravan he may have traveled with was there talk of this Jesus, the miracle worker who claimed He was God’s son? As he neared Jerusalem and stopped to rest, were the crowds buzzing with how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and how he preached with authority and rendered the Pharisees and Sadducees silent? And, now here is this Jesus. Simon sees a man bloodied, bruised, wearing a crown of thorns. He hears women along the path wailing for Him, men shouting jeers and insults.

Somewhere along that cursed path, Simon also must have seen Jesus’s determination, His love in each strained step.

Because of this experience, it is thought that Simon believed and became a follower of Jesus. He saw Jesus in a way that no other man did. He literally carried the cross that Jesus would die on. When Mark records that Simon’s sons were Alexander and Rufus, he includes those details because the believers would have known who they were. In fact, the Apostle Paul mentions Rufus and his mother as believers, chosen in the Lord, in Romans 16:13. The cross changed Simon’s life and his entire family.

The words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 16:24-25 speak to us through Simon’s experience on Good Friday:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it.”

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