Earlier today I was reading about a certain Simon who was a Pharisee and who invited Jesus into his home. I was intrigued by the story and wanted to know more about him. I wanted to know if he was the same Simon who took Jesus cross for him. Turns out…he wasn’t. However, in my research I ran across some really cool information about Simon of Cyrene – the one who carried Jesus’ cross for him. Now I don’t know anything about Mr. Jim Denison other than he is the Pastor of a Baptist Church in Texas, but he seems to have researched this and I do want to give him credit. Enjoy what you are about to read…
We’ve met Caiaphas, Pilate, and Barabbas, the central figures in the cast of Calvary. Let’s close with a supporting actor whose role may be the most fascinating of all. Our essay today will be a bit longer than usual, but the story is worth the telling.
The Bible records that “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” (Mark 15:21). This Simon was from Cyrene (Tripoli, Libya today) in northern Africa. No doubt he had traveled from that far off land for Passover, saving for years to come. This would be the highlight of his year, perhaps his life. He brought his sons with him for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Then he was pressed into Roman service. Palestine was an occupied country, so that any Roman soldier could tap an man on the shoulder with the flat of his sword or spear and make him do whatever the soldier wanted. What was it that Rome asked of this unwilling participant?
A man had been condemned to die by crucifixion. The convict was placed in a hollow square of four soldiers. In front marched the soldier with the board stating the man’s crime. They took the longest possible way, so that as many as possible would see and take warning. Then the man was crucified on the crossbeam he carried to his execution.
But this man could carry the cross no further. The convict began the procession carrying it himself (John 19:17), but had now collapsed under its weight. Why? He had been arrested the night before, dragged in chains before the Jewish Supreme Court, made to stand trial all night, condemned, and beaten by the Jewish guards. He was then dragged in the morning before Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate. Finally the Roman governor “had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15). His flogging must have been especially severe, since he could not carry the crossbeam to Calvary and would die in only six hours on the cross.
So Simon was forced into his place. He witnessed Jesus’ scourged and flogged body more closely than any who ever lived. He saw his tortured agony and bore his blood on his own clothes. What became of him?
Mark names him “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (v. 21). He tells us nothing more about them, indicating that his readers were so familiar with their stories that their names alone were sufficient to identify them. If I were to identify “Troy” or “Emmitt,” Dallas Cowboys fans would know them by their name alone. So with these sons.
Now the plot thickens. Mark’s gospel was written first for the church at Rome. In Paul’s letter to the same congregation in Rome he asks, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:13). Early tradition held that this was Simon’s son, a man who went on to be of remarkable significance to the church. And that Simon’s wife became Paul’s “mother,” giving him personal assistance and support in his ministry.
Acts 13:1 later lists prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch, among them “Simeon called Niger” and “Lucius of Cyrene.” Simeon is another spelling of Simon; “Niger” means a man of swarthy skin from Africa. Early tradition identified this man as Simon of Cyrene, here with Lucius (also from Cyrene), one of the leaders of the most significant missionary church in Christian world.
So what happened to the man who carried the cross of Jesus? It would appear that he chose to bear it the rest of his life. He found someone he could trust with his boys, his wife, his future and his eternity. He learned this simple fact: you can trust the One who died for you. You can trust his will for your plans, your possessions, your dreams. You can trust him with your life. And with your eternal life. Where will you start today?