Flogged and beaten, there came a point when Jesus could not go on. The soldiers “drafted” Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Him. Luke records, “As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.” (Luke 23:26 NLT) Considering all that Jesus had endured, it is not difficult to imagine Him falling under the load. But consider this: carrying the cross was a sign of guilt, and our Lord was not guilty!
Simon had travelled more than eight hundred miles from Cyrene in northern Africa, to celebrate Passover. But why did the Gospel writers include his presence? It might have been that this same Simon would later become well-known in the early church, adding further historical evidence to their writings.
Mark identified him as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mk.15:21), two men that Mark assumed his Roman readers would know. A Christian named Rufus was greeted by Paul in Romans 16:13; was he the son of Simon of Cyrene? Apparently, Simon and his two sons did become well-known Christians and were held in honour in the church. But, perhaps there were more reasons than just this for Luke’s inclusion of Simon. Consider:
- Jesus was served by a foreigner.
- Luke is the only one of the Gospels that says Simon carried the cross behind Jesus, not that he simply carried it. Perhaps Luke meant to project a graphic portrayal of what discipleship is. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”? (Luke 9:23)
- Simon walked onto the scene at just the right time to share in Christ’s sufferings. Having chosen to follow Jesus, we don’t always get to choose the moments of our suffering, sudden as they may be. They can be random, frightening, and painful.
- We might assume the Romans were being compassionate by drafting Simon to carry the cross. Yet it may have been their way to ensure the weakened and beaten Jesus did not die before arriving at the site. Forcing Simon to carry the cross was the very opposite of compassion.
Whether or not Luke intended one or all of these suggestions, what we do know is this:
- Simon was a foreigner who served Jesus in his final hour – a critical moment in history.
- Carrying the cross while following Jesus combines the pain and beauty of our call to discipleship. Intended or not, it is an apt image for disciples everywhere.
- Seemingly random calls to suffer for Jesus are often sudden and costly.
- Simon’s help was temporary. It ensured that Jesus made it to Golgotha and finished the course set before him by his Heavenly Father. In the end, the cross that Simon carried was the one upon which Jesus breathed his last.
Let us comfort ourselves with the thought that in our case and in Simon’s, the cross that we are called to carry belongs to Jesus. He calls us to faith in him and to godly living. It is for these that we suffer as he did. How delightful for us to carry His cross, in His name and for His glory. May our love for him and thankfulness to him grow from day to day.