Heavenly Father, your word tells me that everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened. I come to your word today in the light of Jesus Christ asking for wisdom, seeking knowledge, and knocking on the door of fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Draw me in to the words on these pages and let them awaken in my heart whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent and whatever is worthy of praise.
Today I’m looking at Mark 15:21. Just this one verse today. Read it in the context of the following verses if you like, but today this is the verse I’m contemplating.
“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.”
There he was, Simon from Cyrene, coming home from the country. We don’t know what he was doing out there, but we expect it was the end of the day. Perhaps he had been working as a laborer in a field. Perhaps he was a trader, bringing home the wares he was unable to sell. Perhaps he was out in the country visiting relatives. We don’t know. We only know these things about Simon from Cyrene: he had two sons named Alexander and Rufus, that he had some reason to be out in the country, that he had some reason to come into the city of Jerusalem, and that he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or in the right place at the right time, depending on how you understand the story).
He might have had other children—unnamed daughters. He probably had a wife. There is so much we do not know about this man. But, in addition to what I’ve just shared, we know one more thing about him: he was the person closest to Jesus at the very end. He enters Jerusalem ignorant of what has been going on for the last many hours, ignorant of the crimes of this bloodied and beaten man, ignorant of the fact that this same man is believed by some to be the Messiah and believed by others to be a criminal. He is merely a passerby, minding his own business, and suddenly he becomes a character in the greatest story ever told.
Simon joins Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering. He does not volunteer for this—the text tells us that the guards “compelled” him, the same guards who just beat Jesus to a bloody pulp and placed a crown of thorns on his head. Simon is no dummy—he sees those menacing faces and the weapons in their hands, and he thinks to himself, “You say jump, and I’ll say, ‘how high?'”
I want to get into Simon’s story for a moment. What did he see? Crowds. Guards. Jesus. What did he hear? The crowds shouting and jeering. The guards yelling sharp threats and commands. Jesus’s laborious breathing and grunting under the weight of the cross. What did he smell? Smoke from the fires set for people to warm themselves beside. Dung from donkeys and work animals that passed through the streets hauling carts and people. Sweat and body odor, urine, feces, and the sharp iron smell of blood covering Jesus from head to tow. What did he feel? The dirt in his sandals. The wood of the cross, not smooth, but splintery, with the stickiness of blood already covering the parts where it lay across Jesus’s back. What did he taste? The rancid savor of his own dry mouth, made so by fear.
He was walking home and happened upon this scene and suddenly was pulled in, compelled to get involved by carrying the cross of the criminal going to the cross. Simon from Cyrene is only mentioned in the Bible in this context—Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us the same basic details. He was a passerby coming in from the country and was compelled to carry the cross. The next sentence takes us to Golgotha, and Simon is mentioned no more.
But something about Simon is emblematic of a poignant message Jesus gave his disciples weeks, possibly months, earlier. First, Matthew’s account:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28, ESV)
And now Luke’s account:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23-27, ESV)
Jesus instructed his disciples to deny themselves and take up their crosses daily to follow him. He framed this instruction by saying that there is a trade off—an exchange we make with our wills. Giving up my life for Christ. Surrendering myself in order to receive Christ. Yet I find it interesting that on the day when Christ was carrying his cross, his disciples were no where to be found. Instead, a stranger, a passerby, was pulled in to carry the cross for Christ. Compelled by guards with weapons, not stepping up willingly to serve Jesus at this time of need.
As disciples, as followers of Christ, we are called to live sacrificially in order to embody the kingdom and serve willingly. We are to be compelled not by guards with swords, but rather by Christ’s love. Take some time to pray and consider: what is Christ’s love compelling you to give up for his sake, or for the sake of the gospel? In what way might God be asking you to deny yourself and take up your cross in order to follow Christ today?