After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.
Simon, a Cyrenian, traveled from his home country in Northern Africa to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday. It was a long and arduous journey for him, about 800 miles. A large Jewish community had settled in Cyrene some 300 years earlier. They had an established synagogue and often traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival.
Simon planned for months to make this journey and it was going to be a costly one for him in both time and money. He traveled in a Roman ship from Alexandria to Joppa to land in time to reach Jerusalem for the Passover.
How excited he would have been to be traveling to the Holy City to celebrate one of the holiest of days with Jews from all over the world. He walked at a brisk pace as his mind was on getting to the city in time to find a lamb to purchase for his Passover meal and sacrifice. He made his way into the crowded city and was unaware of the events that had taken place that day. He looks up ahead as he walks along the road into Jerusalem and notices a throng of people coming towards him out of the city. He hears shouting, screaming, and crying from the people coming his way. He sees a bloodied man with a cross slowly making his way along the dusty road. The man is surrounded by Roman soldiers who whip him whenever he stumbles. A crowd of people are following; women wailing in grief, men shouting obscenities, and others looking on with curiosity. Someone calls the man Jesus and says he is a criminal.
As Simon tries to pass through the crowds he stops near Jesus who is having difficulty walking. Jesus had already been beaten multiple times, flogged, had his beard pulled out, spat upon, clothes torn off, and a crown of thorns place on his head. Extremely emaciated from the torture he received at the hands of the Roman soldiers, Jesus struggles under the weight of the cross. The procession moves too slow for the Roman soldiers and they grab Simon as he passes by and “press” him into service, assisting Jesus with carrying the cross.
Simon wants to protest but cannot. The Roman soldiers have the authority to compel anyone into service they wish. Simon was simply passing through. He does not know this criminal and has nothing to do with the events which have transpired this day. We would say he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.'” Luke 9:23
Simon had the privilege of being the first one to bear the cross of Jesus. He walked in the footsteps of Jesus as he made his way to place where he would be crucified. Simon carried the cross of the one who would bear his sins for him; the Lamb of God.
Simon was not looking for a Savior that day. He was merely heading into the Holy City to do “religion” as usual. For Simon religion meant following the rules and regulations passed onto him through the Old Testament scriptures and his family. But Jesus interrupted his life and he found himself heading in the opposite direction and face to face with the Messiah. He looked into the eyes of his fellow sufferer and saw the face of God; not the God of rules and regulations, but the God of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
We do not know what happened to Simon after that day. There is no other mention of him in the Scripture. Tradition tells us that after his life was interrupted by the Lamb of God he became a devoted follower of Jesus.
Has Jesus interrupted your life or is it “religion” as usual for you this Easter season? The cross that Simon bore should have been his own; the death that Jesus died should have been ours. Simon looked into the eyes of Jesus, altered his direction and became a changed man. Have you?