By Dr. Tim Shaver, HopeNet Board Member
Every year, as I teach my 5th Grade Sunday School class the crucifixion and resurrection story, a different truth stands out to me. This year, I was impressed with the account of Simon of Cyrene. You may recall that as Jesus was carrying the cross to the crucifixion site, He was physically exhausted, having been brutally beaten and interrogated by His captors all that previous night. Being fully human as well as fully divine and subject to human physical limitations, He stumbled along the way while carrying a beam on His back that would have weighed 75-100 lbs. Simon, apparently visiting Jerusalem for the Passover, is picked out of the crowd by the Roman soldiers and forced to carry the cross behind Jesus (Mark 15:21).
The soldiers likely chose Simon because he was dark-skinned (which most of those from Cyrene were), and he stood out as different. Cyrene was situated in the region of modern-day Libya. Their choice of this man to carry the cross perhaps suggests an element of racism. Regardless, this was obviously not how Simon had planned to spend his day, and it is likely that he may have resented being chosen for such a seemingly menial task. But how did this event influence him? Scripture doesn’t give us any clear details, but we can read between the lines. First of all, his sons Alexander and Rufus are mentioned in this verse. Why would the author have chosen to mention this? They would have likely been only children at the time. Well, perhaps it’s because Mark’s readers would have known them by the time this manuscript was in circulation. In fact, there is a church leader named Rufus mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13. Could this have been Simon’s son? Personally, I would like to imagine that the experience of following Christ on that road and carrying His cross left an indelible impact upon Simon, an impact passed on as a spiritual legacy to his children.
Taking up our cross
So how does this account apply to me and you? Like Simon, when Christ called me, I was minding my own business, following my own agenda, and I did not want to be bothered. The last thing I wanted to do was to change the direction of my life, sacrifice my self-centered priorities, and follow a Savior who would take me out of my comfort zone. Sure, no armed soldiers pulled me out of a crowd, but the call to follow a Lord that was this loving, forgiving, wise, and compassionate was so compelling that I was yanked, kicking and screaming, out of my way of life. Like Simon, I have never been the same. I suppose this is what Jesus meant when He stated – well prior to the account of Simon – that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, emphasis added).
Hard is what makes it great
Yes, this is a daily decision, and it is a challenge. If I follow Jesus, let His priorities be mine, let His character transform my flawed nature, and let myself be subject to the discomfort that such a commitment may bring my way, it will not be easy. But it will be more fulfilling than the self-imposed struggles that I face by stubbornly doing things my own way. Just as Christ faced His death while carrying His cross on that road, countless others have faced literal death by following Him through the years, and even those of us who can freely do so in a culture like ours must face a figurative death. This is a death to our old way of life, our old agendas, our old inclinations, and our old comforts. This is a journey upon which I have only begun and have certainly not lived up to the ideal Jesus established. In many ways, I fail at this every day. It’s not easy, but just as Jimmy Dugan said in the movie “A League of Their Own,”: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
I wish all of you a fantastic and profoundly meaningful Easter and challenge you to take up your crosses daily and follow Jesus, either renewing your commitments or perhaps committing for the first time. Trust me; it’s worth it.
Blessings to you all!