1998-04-30 - Simon's Passover
The Cross Series, Part 37
John 19:17 They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.
All three synoptic Gospel authors record the event with Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21; Matt 27:32). "Where is Cyrene?", you might ask. From Nelson's Bible Dictionary:
CYRENE - [sigh RAY neh] - a city on the north coast of Africa founded by Dorian Greeks about 630 B.C. Cyrene was later the capital of the Roman province of Cyrenaica (ancient and modern Libya). Midway between Carthage and Alexandria-- about 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of modern Benghazi-- the city was built on a beautiful tableland nearly 610 meters (2,000 feet) above sea level.
Simon had indeed traveled a tremendous distance, at a significant cost to come to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover celebration. He might not have even heard much, if anything, about this particular political prisoner that was about to be executed by crucifixion - this Jesus. John makes it clear that Jesus leaves the Praetorium carrying the cross. Whether this was simply the cross beam or the entire cross is immaterial. It was an object of scorn and humiliation. It was an instrument of intense, brutally cruel suffering and death. Jesus' back has been ripped wide open by the scourging. Blood soaks His clothes and runs down His back and legs to the ground. The cross is coated with Jesus' blood.
Suddenly, for reasons we are not told of here, a Roman guard grabs Simon and presses him into service. There would be no protest accepted by the guard or his spear. Too much protest would have dire consequences. As the cross is laid across Simon's back, he too becomes covered with blood - and therefore, ceremonially unclean. He can no longer participate in the Passover he has traveled so far to take part in at great expense. What must have been racing through his head? "Why God... why me?" Did Jesus speak to him? We won't know until we get home to Heaven and we can ask him. This Simon is believed to be the same Simon in Acts by many commentators. If so, Simon will be there.
And here again is the hand of God. Simon has traveled all this way and his plans are now thwarted. But Jesus had planned for this moment since eternity past. This seemingly chance encounter is not chance at all. Simon would carry this cross for a man who could only forgive his tormentors. Simon would watch as Jesus' beard was literally ripped out of his face, and hair out of His head as He was beaten beyond recognition. Did Simon see Jesus place His own hand on the crossbar for the executioner to nail down? Did he hear Jesus promise Paradise to the repentant thief? Did he see Jesus lovingly assign His mother to John's care? At some point when Simon remembered his Passover plans, he may have seen them as insignificant compared with God's plans for him.
Isa 52:14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.
Why was Jesus beaten so badly? What could have driven the guards and the mob to such a fury that Isaiah would note that Jesus would be beaten worse than any other man? The enemy surely knows the scriptures. They were the key to identifying the Messiah - his arch-rival. He tried at various times to turn Jesus from the plan of salvation- to take a shortcut. The sight of Jesus headed for Calvary must have been a chilling thing. If Jesus made it to the crucifixion, the war against Heaven would be lost. Jesus - the perfect, sinless Lamb of God - would become accursed for His creation. Salvation of the human race would be completed.
Deut 21:22-23 "And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
The guards and the mob may have been whipped to a frenzy by the enemy and his minions in a desperate effort to prevent Jesus from reaching the place of execution. If He did not die according to the plan, according to the prescription in Isaiah - victory could be saved. If Jesus were only a man the plan might have worked. Jesus was a man, but Jesus was also God taking our place. And so, one step after another was accomplished until the Lord arrived at Calvary. Simon was relieved of his cargo, and left with a load of thoughts to consider. Who is this man who could forgive so much? Who is this Jesus?
Lord Jesus - help us to see that, when things don't work out the way we wanted them to happen - that you might be doing something in our lives. In the face of even huge disappointment, there might be a silver lining worth all the pain and anguish. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Amen.
Grace & Peace,
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.