“As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26).
We don’t know much about him.
He was just a bit player in the great drama surrounding the death of Christ. For a brief moment, he steps on the stage, plays his part, and then leaves, never to be mentioned again in the Bible.
We know his name: Simon.
We know where he lived: Cyrene, a city in northern Libya, not far from the Mediterranean Sea, about 115 miles east of Benghazi. It was 900 miles from Jerusalem.
It happened something like this. Having been sentenced to death, Jesus begins to carry his own cross to the place of execution. The crossbeam alone would weigh around 100 pounds with the entire cross being around 300 pounds. To carry even the crossbeam would be a staggering load for someone in Jesus’ condition.
The Romans assigned four soldiers to form a square around a man being crucified, while a fifth soldier walked in front carrying a placard naming the man’s crime. They intentionally made the criminal carry the cross through the main streets, by the city gates and the market square. They wanted to frighten the city by turning crucifixion into a gruesome spectacle.
What a contrast!
Five days earlier Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds cried out, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Gone are the cheering crowds.
Gone are the shouting children.
Gone are the palm fronds.
A few days earlier the whole city asked, “Who is this man?”
Now imperial Rome answers, “He is a condemned criminal.”
The same city that welcomed him now throws him out.
He will be crucified outside the city walls, consigned to the dung heap of history.
Bloody, beaten, more dead than alive, Jesus struggles to carry his cross. Step by step he drags the instrument of his own death toward Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Every step is agony. The crown of thorns presses upon his brow. He has been beaten so badly that his face is covered with bruises, welts and cuts. Human spit mixes with dirt, sweat and blood.
Seeing Christ stumble and fall, the soldiers realize that he will never make it to his own execution. So they grab a man from the crowd.
That man is Simon of Cyrene.
Luke 23:26 says that Simon was compelled to carry the cross behind Jesus. Surely this fact was meant to linger in our minds. Simon stands as a symbol for every believer. He shows us what Christ meant when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me."
This is what a Christian is. He is a Christ-follower.
This is what a Christian does. He takes up his cross and follows him.
Though we can’t be certain, tradition suggests that Simon and his family became followers of Jesus. If so, then this “accidental cross” became a saving cross for this man and his family.
Sometimes we find the cross.
Sometimes the cross finds us.
That leads me to ask two simple questions with eternal implications:
Have you ever found the cross of Christ?
Has the cross of Christ ever found you?
Simon has a message for you and me. If he could speak across the centuries, I think he would say, “I have found my cross. Have you found yours?”
Lord Jesus, may I never be ashamed and never hesitate to pick up my cross and follow you. Amen.