The journey was long and arduous. It was eight hundred miles from the North African city of Cyrene in Lybia to Jerusalem. But the time, effort and expense would be worth it. No doubt this dark-skinned man, a Hellenistic Jew, named Simon, was eagerly anticipating the feast days. The Passover. The fellowship. The communion with other worshipers. An opportunity to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We don’t know if it was his first trip. Or his last. Or maybe he settled there. But we can know this. He never forgot it. And neither did his sons, Rufus and Alexander.
As he entered the city on that fateful Friday, he encountered a crowd going the opposite direction. There was commotion. A mob-like frenzy. “What’s going on?” he may have inquired of someone in the crowd. “We’re going to Calvary!” is the reply. “Three criminals are going to be executed!”
It would be normal for Simon to have been curious. Was he going to Calvary or not? The scripture doesn’t say. But as he possibly pondered this scene. The criminals come by. They are bearing their own crosses of execution. He could see their faces. I wonder what he saw? What he thought?
I can imagine the first two being hardened men. Defiant. Determined. Ready to die for their crimes. Exchanging jibes with the mob. But the third man is different. His face is not hard. His eyes are filled with sorrow. Pity. Pain. He’s the object of scorn from the crowd. Cries of derision fill the air. Ugly epithets and contemptuous ridicule are shamelessly hurled at this hurting man.
Then it happens. The beating has taken its toll. The loss of blood is too much. He staggers. His knees buckle. He’s crushed to the ground by the weight of the cross. Right in front of Simon. I can imagine he feels sympathy. Sorrow. Concern. But there’s nothing he can do. Then he’s awakened from his musing to feel the tap of a Roman solider’s spear on his shoulder and voice bellowing, “You! Make yourself useful! Pick up that cross! And get going! Now!”
The Bible writer Mark simply records, “ And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.” So, yes, he was there. Up close. Personal. Eye to eye with Jesus. Standing at the foot of the cross.
We’re not told anything more about Simon. But I believe this providential encounter changed his life. His boys became Believers, since they are mentioned by Mark and known to his readers. Paul greets a Christian named Rufus in Romans 16:13. There is an Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33.
What appeared to be a harrowing experience, resulted in a wonderful opportunity for Simon. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Before Simon met Jesus, he had religion and devotion, but after he met Jesus, he had reality and salvation. He did both a physical and spiritual ‘about face’ that morning and it transformed his life.”
I wonder if Simon saw the resurrected Jesus on Sunday? Or was he numbered in the 500 that witnessed Jesus alive again? Was he present on Pentecost? Did he die with Christ that day in baptism? We don’t know.
But this we do know. God can use us in unexpected ways. In unusual times. When we least expect it. He can take a cross we are compelled to carry and change it into an opportunity. He can take us in a different direction, change our plans and make the outcome better than we could ever imagine!
The cross that we once felt compelled to carry, can become a charge that we gladly keep. When we meet the crucified Christ on Calvary’s road, and come to the foot of the cross, we can receive the blessings of the risen Redeemer. And the Friday’s of our lives that take an unforeseen, unplanned detour, can result in the glory of resurrection Sunday!
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman