Wonder of the Cross
CROSS OF CHRIST AND SIMON OF CYRENE
The execution of criminals on the cross (crucifixion) was one of the cruelest forms of executions man has ever invented. It was originally started by the Phonecians, adopted by Grecians and perfected and frequently practiced by Roman authorities. Cross is the symbol of Roman cruelty. It reflects the cruel and merciless mind of Roman rule. Daniel describes them as “dreadful and terrible beast”. It had great iron teeth devoured and broke in pieces their enemies and stamped it with iron feet. (Dan.7:7)
The sentence of the execution by crucifixion was pronounced only to deadly criminals. Roman citizens were exempted from crucifixion; they were generally beheaded. As per Christian tradition, Paul was beheaded being a Roman citizen, whereas Peter was crucified.
Impact of the Cross on Human Race.
Historically, the cross caused a more profound impact on the human race than any other discovery and invention. Whether saved or unsaved, no human being is exempted from the influence of the cross. The Love of God flowed from heaven into the Heart of man through the cross. God used the cross as a means to reconcile with sinful men. God demonstrated His power and wisdom through the cross. Cross of Christ became a stumbling block to Jews and unto Gentiles foolishness; but for us who are called, from among both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and wisdom of God (1Cor.1:23- 24). Hence Apostle Paul was boasting on the Cross of Christ. He said, ” I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal.6:14). Jesus Christ, before he was lifted up on the cross clearly predicted of this fact. He said,” And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” John.12:32
Anyone who examines the last two thousand years of human history, without prejudice and bias can easily confess the positive impact of the cross on humanity. It is the Cross of Christ that has illuminated the dark continent of Africa; transformed Nations and societies. Men eaters became lovers of human beings. Cross could influence rich and poor, literate and illiterate, young and old, criminals and civilians, men and women, dark and white alike.
On the mount of Calvary, we could see three crosses 1. Cross of redemption 2. Cross of repentance and 3. Cross of rejection. Sinless and perfect Redeemer, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was identified with the sinful men there on the cross. He was numbered with the transgressors (Isa.53:1).
The salvation of three men.
Let us examine the life of three distinct men who were drawn towards Christ on the day of crucifixion. These three men represent the whole humanity and thus fulfilled the words of Christ; “if I be lifted up… will draw all men unto me“.Those three men were
- Simon the Cyrene
- The Thief who repented on the Cross
- The Roman centurion who was in Charge of the crucifixion.
Simon was an African from the city of Cyrene, a place in North Africa, so he was belonging to the family of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. The thief, who repented on the cross, as belonging to the family of Shem. From his conversation with the Lord, his knowledge of Messiah and coming kingdom is ascertained. This indicates that he was a Jew and hence a semite. Roman centurion, who was in charge of crucifixion by virtue of his birth belong to the family of Japheth, the third son of Noah.
Today’s humanity is the children of Noah- Shem, Ham and Japheth and these three men represent the entire mankind. Thus cross could draw all men. This truth is further clarified in the scriptures. In the book of Acts- chs. 8, 9 and 10 we read the salvation of three men. In chapter eight, an African is saved, in chapter nine Paul’s conversion is recorded, a Semite and in chapter ten a Roman centurion, a Japhethite got saved. There is no partiality with the Lord, he saves all.
Simon of Cyrene
“And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus”. Luke.23:26
“And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross” Mat.27:32
“And they compel one Simon a Cyrene, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.” Mark15:21
Three of the Gospel writers narrate events associated with Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross of Jesus Christ. He was the first and the only one who carried the cross literally and followed Jesus Christ. That has brought a great blessing in his personal and family life.
Simon’s hometown was Cyrene in Libya, a North African country. The name suggests that he was a Jewish proselyte living in Jerusalem. Gospel description suggests that he was a farmer. On the day of crucifixion in the early morning, he was returning from the field. Early morning probably even before the sunrise, he might have gone into his field, outside the city of Jerusalem. Being the Passover day probably he hurried back to celebrate the feast with his family. While he was returning home, unaware he was caught up in the midst of commotion and confusion associated with the crucifixion.
Was it an act of sympathy??
Whilst carrying the cross, Jesus Christ almost collapsed and could not carry the cross forward, at that time soldiers found Simon the Cyrene, and compelled him to carry the cross. Simon being a foreigner and a poor farmer the soldiers found him as a good candidate for that job. Is it an act of sympathy from soldiers or from Simon? As soldiers who were in charge of crucifixion they were not supposed to show any sympathy to a criminal; that amounts to a breach of duty. Moreover, they noted the weakness and incapability of the victim to carry the cross. In the process of crucifixion, authorities are to make sure that the victim dies a slow death, or else, executioners are required to give an explanation in case of sudden death ( Mark. 15:44-45). Soldiers feared the death of Christ on the way to Calvary. Death on the way may amount to a ‘custodial death’. Probably this fear forced the soldiers to compel Simon to carry the cross. Even Simon did not carry for sympathy sake. It was clearly said the soldiers compelled him to carry the cross and follow after him.
Why soldiers had to compel Simon? Probably, being a proselyte he thought to celebrate Passover on that day, carrying the cross naturally will defile him and disqualify to observe Passover. (John.18: 28) So Simon was not willing to carry the cross. Because of the compulsion, he carried the cross, which brought a great blessing to him. Though he carried the cross and followed, there is no record when he returned the cross, scripture is silent on that fact. When we carry our cross and follow the Lord there is no way we will turn back and return it. Hymn writer rightly points out this fact, “I have decided to follow Jesus no turning back no turning back”.
Cross and its Blessings
During those days there was no burial place for strangers in Jerusalem. Being a stranger in Jerusalem, probably it was a matter of great concern for Simon the Cyrene. On that day evening, Simon received a good news, that the Temple council decided to purchase a piece of land as a burial ground for the strangers in Jerusalem. On inquiry he might have come to know that the price of the land was ‘thirty pieces of silver’ and that was the ‘price’ of one whose cross he carried. Lord is not a debtor to anyone, He compensated Simon for his service.(Mat. 27:6-10)
As residents of Jerusalem, they were members of the synagogue of Cyrenians. We were told that Cyrenians disputed with Stephen and that finally led to his martyrdom. However, at a later date, many Cyrenians became the followers of Christ and continued to be members of Jerusalem Church. Simon’s family was one among them (Acts 6:9). It was Cyrenian saints who were badly affected by the persecution followed by Stephen’s Martyrdom. They were scattered everywhere and traveled as far as to Antioch. In spite of severe persecution, they preached the Gospel to the people around them, especially to the Gentiles.( Acts 11:19-21). Simon the Cyrene and his family were probably prominent among them. These events finally resulted in the formation of the Church at Antioch(Acts.11:22- 26;13:1-2)
Antioch Church composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Simeon the Niger and Lucius of Cyrene were among the prophets and teachers of the Church. According to F F Bruce, Simeon the Niger ( Nigro) and Simon the Cyrene was referring to the same person. An unknown poor farmer from the city of Jerusalem became one of the first Bishops of the Church at Antioch. Not only that his two sons, both Alexander and Rufus were renowned among the early Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Most probably Paul during his early ministries at Antioch, resided with this family. Simon’s wife treated Paul as one of her sons. Probably after the home call of Simon this family might have moved to Rome. While writing to the Romans, without fail Paul sends his greetings to Rufus and his mother. “Greet Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine” (Rom.16:13). Here Paul reminds the grace of God that had chosen Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross and follow Him. His children followed the footprints of their father. There is no greater joy than to follow Jesus Christ. Amen.