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Passover People – Simon the Crossbearer


Simon the Crossbearer

Mark 15:16-32 Esp.Mark 15:21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.

I wonder how many times it has happened – someone is just walking along a road, minding their own business, when they stop to look at something unusual happening, something that distracts them from the everyday events of life – and suddenly they find themselves caught up in an unexpected drama, – maybe even becoming an unwilling participant in a life-changing incident? That was what occurred to me when I read the story of Simon of Cyrene, – probably just an ordinary man, going about his ordinary business. One minute he was an unconcerned passer-by, a foreigner visiting Jerusalem for a religious pilgrimage, and the next he was suddenly thrust into the greatest drama ever, God’s eternal plan of redemption.


Think of the shock, – the shame. Simon was probably a Jew, so imagine a proud Jew being caught up in the proceedings of a crucifixion, forced to associate with criminals and slaves. Of course the Romans had given themselves the legal right to do whatever they wanted with citizens of their subjugated nations. Any Roman soldier could compel a Jew, for instance, to carry his pack, up to a maximum of one mile, and it was pointless to resist. The Romans ruled with an iron fist.

Yet, although Simon must have recoiled at this Roman order to pick up the cross of a condemned man the experience led to a complete change to his life, for not only did Simon have the privilege of providing some albeit temporary relief to the suffering saviour, on his way to the cross, giving some ease to his already mutilated body, – dragged out of the crowd that day, and a rough, heavy piece of wood placed upon his back, a piece of wood that was being carried by Jesus, now beaten and thrashed and scourged with metal-tipped whips until the skin was hanging off his back, a man so weak that he collapsed under the heavy burden of his load.  But we will learn in this short study that Simon’s tedious walk to Golgotha was a walk to eternal life!


But who was this Simon? Let’s not confuse him with Simon Peter, the fisherman who became a disciple of Jesus and an apostle in the church. This Simon was a Jew, probably a devout Jew, dedicated to his religion. In Acts 6:9, we read, Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.  There was a synagogue in Jerusalem, attended by people from Cyrene, and this was passover time, when Jews from all over the diaspora returned to Jerusalem for the feast. Foreigners were not welcome at these times, they were considered to be unclean, to be gentiles, to be less than dogs, – and national and religious sentiment among the Jews was running so high that foreigners were not safe on the streets. Groups like the zealots, – the knife men, Jewish terrorists, would be stalking the streets looking for victims. Outsiders were in extreme danger. Only Jews were in Jerusalem at this time.

But read the text carefully. This man, this Simon, was coming in from the country. Perhaps he was living in the farming area around the city. Cyrene itself was an agricultural area, and Simon may have set up a business in the Jerusalem hinterlands. Farmers in those days would have been accustomed to hard work and would have been muscularly strong. These soldiers had no time to waste placing a cross on the shoulders of a weakling.  So Simon was just passing by, just going about his business, coming in from the country, not part of that unruly mob who had clamoured for the death of Jesus, and many of whom were now following the execution procession. 

This is just so much like many people today. We are so busy, just innocent bystanders, people who think that the cross, and the crucified Christ is no concern of ours.  Lamentations 1:12 asks Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger


So let’s spare a thought for Simon, as he was caught up in circumstances not of his own making, that eventful day. It wasn’t his choice to be a cross-bearer. Sometimes in life that just happens. Sometimes we are the unwitting participants of other people’s problems. Sometimes too, we arrive at a difficult time in life because of illness, or relationship failure, or bad decisions. And sometimes difficulties come because of the consequences of sin in our own lives. No man is an island. The actions and decisions of others will affect us, and vice-versa.

Yet, in Christ we are more than conquerers. Our Heavenly Father is concerned for those who are bearing heavy burdens, – so much so that Jesus said to them, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” Yet he does warn that those who have come to him will, like Simon, have to bear his cross. Matthew 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

I wonder what effect did carrying the cross of Jesus have upon Simon of Cyrene? Let’s go back to our text in Mark 15:21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. It’s interesting that Mark identifies Simon by referring to his children, Alexander and Rufus. Obviously they were well known in the early church, perhaps well known among the Apostles and disciples. In Romans 16:13, Paul greets Rufus, – one chosen in the Lord, and I wonder whether it could be the same Rufus, the son of Simon? Of course there could have been many people called Rufus among the thousands of believers who made up the early churches, but an encounter with the Saviour, at the Cross…? Surely that must have had an impact upon Simon? You cannot meet Jesus, you cannot come to Calvary without being radically changes by that encounter. Even the centurion charged to supervise his agonising death, had to confess the sinlessness of Christ, in Luke 23:47 Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. Nothing happens by accident. Could it be that God had ordained that Simon be there that day, so that he could reach him with his saving grace, and rescue his soul from eternal loss?  Perhaps as he was compelled to lift that rough heavy wood, Simon fell under the compassion of the Lord, perhaps he come under the conviction of sin, realising that Jesus did not deserve to die, that it was he who deserved death for his sins that day. Perhaps he heard Jesus pray that his executioners be forgiven, and saw Jesus willingly give himself over to death, and realised that on that day, on that wooden cross that he had carried, the words of the prophet Isaiah had been realised…

Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  


If you were around in the 1970’s you might remember an American called Arthur Blessit. In California he had himself tied to a cross on the Sunset Strip in protest against the authorities closing down the only gospel witness in that awful place. Later he carried that cross all over the world. Jesus doesn’t expect you to walk around with a physical cross, but he does tell us that we are to deny ourselves, all our own ambitions, our hopes and plans, our own self-interests, – all of self must be crucified, nailed to the cross, and we are to take up our cross every day, and follow him. It refers to a life that is lived for Christ, and not for self. Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. In fact, if we are Christians, our old nature has already been crucified with Christ.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:6.  

You too might be an unconcerned bystander, like Simon of Cyrene, but the message of the gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ, is for you, as it was for him. There is room at the cross for you! 

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