Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 Title: A Man Passing Through the Crowd

Text: “Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross” (Mark 15:21).

Scripture Reading: Mark 15:16-32

 

Introduction

Let me begin our lesson by reading verses 16-32 from the fifteenth chapter of Mark.  “Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison.  And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him.  And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.   Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.  And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.  Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it.  And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take.  Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him.  And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS.  With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left.  So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”  And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”  Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.”

“Where you there when they crucified my Lord?”  Simon of Cyrene was.  He carried the cross to Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. 

We will use our imaginations today to fill in some of the implied details and see his story as it may have been. Simon was born into a dedicated Jewish home in the North African city of Cyrene.  His parents expressed their faith at his birth by naming him Simon, the name of one of the famous sons of Jacob, the patriarch.

As Simon grew into manhood, he probably dreamed of going to the holy city of Jerusalem to observe a Passover.  Such a pilgrimage was the aspiration of all the faithful Hebrew people scattered across the world. In fact, it was a command of God that all Jewish men go to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Passover; but now most of the Jews lived outside of Israel and therefore could not make such a long journey. However, Simon was a faithful follower of the Jewish faith and he worked hard to accomplish his desire.

Finally, Simon of Cyrene was about to realize his dream.  We can imagine his heart beating with excitement as he entered the Holy City for the first time.  Now he would see with his own eyes the places which he had only heard about; the temple, the Mount of Olives, and the beautiful palaces. But something was wrong. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he found the city in an uproar. Everyone was talking about the teacher from Galilee.  Simon discovered that his name was Jesus and that He had a large following. The people that he met in the streets were sharply divided over Jesus’ identity.  Some felt certain that He was the long-awaited Messiah, but others considered him a false prophet.  There were reports that the leaders of the people were planning His death.

It was the day of the great Passover when Simon entered the city, and he stumbled upon a strange spectacle.  He saw a noisy crowd clustered around a band of soldiers.  In the midst of the soldiers was an obviously weary man bearing a Roman cross.  He was bleeding from a crown of thorns, and experience told Simon that He had probably been whipped with a scourge across his back.  It was impossible to make out the man’s features; He must have been hit many times in the face. 

Most of the crowd was heckling the condemned man.  Some spit on Him and occasionally He was pelted with stones. The soldiers were prodding Him to hasten His step.  Any observer could see that the man was about to fall beneath the weight of the cross.  When Simon saw what was happening, he decided to stay in the shadows. Just then the soldiers decided they had had enough of the slow pace of the tired criminal.  They wanted to finish their assignment.  They glanced around for someone to carry the cross, and their eyes fell on Simon. 

One of them grabbed Simon.  “You!”  He growled.  “You take this cross out to the hill.” Because he was a Jewish man, Simon was powerless to refuse.  Roman soldiers had the power to conscript any non-Roman anytime they pleased.  If Simon refused, he would receive the same fate as the condemned man.  So he shouldered the cross and followed the soldiers to Golgotha.

The only friends, which the criminal appeared to have, was a group of women who followed closely behind Him.  Their sobbing and expressions of love was the only kindness that the man received. Maybe it was the outcry of these women that caused Simon to take a second look at the condemned man. 

Somewhere along the way he became aware that he was bearing the cross of Jesus of Nazareth. It is easy for us to see that the soldiers unknowingly granted Simon a tremendous favor.  ANY OF US WHO KNOW JESUS WOULD HAVE BEEN GLAD TO CARRY THE CROSS.  Yet in a real sense the opportunity to bear His cross is always with us.  The cross symbolized all the shame and reproach that accompanied the life and death of Christ.  The cross was what it cost our Lord to do the will of His Father.  If we choose to walk in His ways, we too will bear His cross. 

This event changed Simon’s life forever.  What a favored man! Although Simon recoiled at the demand to carry Jesus’ cross, the experience led to a complete turnaround in his life.  Not only did Simon bring relief to the weak and emaciated body of Jesus, his walk to the place of the skull took him to the source of real life.

THERE ARE FOUR THINGS TO NOTICE ABOUT SIMON, AND THE FIRST IS, HE WAS A CYRENIAN WITH CHARACTER.

Cyrene was noted for its farming.  As a farmer, Simon was accustomed to hard work, and his body probably gave evidence of physical strength and endurance.  The soldiers did not have time to waste to lay the cross on a man unused to toil and hardship.  They no doubt picked Simon because of his obvious physical strength.

Our text says that Simon was “passing by”—going about his business.  No doubt he had begun the day early in the morning and he had big plans that day.  Simon was a marked contrast to the unruly mob moving from Pilate’s palace to Calvary.  They had been easily distracted from meaningful work and gave shouts of allegiance to anyone who could arouse their emotions.  This Cyrenian with Character was on his way to accomplish something.

NEXT, I BELIEVE THAT SIMON WAS CAUGHT IN THE CLUTCHES OF CIRCUMSTANCE.

Simon was an innocent sufferer, just like the One whose cross he was forced to carry.  His purposeful and determined journey was interrupted by circumstances not of his own choosing. He had another’s burden thrust upon him.  He was caught in the clutches of circumstance. 

Some of our failures and disappointments came as a result of our own selfish sowing, unwise decisions, or hasty judgments.  At other times we are caught in the consequences of another’s sin.  Simon typifies the suffering of good people throughout all time.  His experience illustrates the widening circle of influence that individual decisions have on others.  “No man is an island”—that is, it is not just my business what I do. Simon’s story is proof that when we are joined to Christ we become more than conquerors.  Simon’s experience is an assurance of God’s special concern for those who have to bear burdens they did not choose. 

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In Vietnam a grenade exploded near Max Cleland, causing the loss of both of his legs and an arm.  He courageously faced this tragic circumstance and in 1977 was made head of the Veteran’s Administration.  Cleland testified, “There is help available from God when we need it most.”  He closed many of his speeches and interviews with this prayer written during the Civil War by a Confederate soldier:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for—
But everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

With Christ we can conquer the circumstances of life.

HERE IS OUR THIRD POINT, AND IT’S A QUESTION, “WAS SIMON CONVERTED AT THE CROSS?”

Mark identifies Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus.”  These were men known to the readers of the gospel, and evidentially active in the fellowship of believers.  In Romans 16:13 Paul sends greetings to “Rufus chosen in the Lord.”  Is this the same individual—Simon’s son? Is this scriptural evidence that Simon was converted and established a Christian home that nurtured two Christian boys who became leaders in the church?  I think so.

It is likely Simon was born again on the Day of Pentecost.  I can say that because Luke reports that men from Cyrene were among the three thousand converts that day.  We can only speculate how Simon came to believe, but the manner in which Jesus died must have impressed him.  Jesus showed no fear throughout the ordeal but showed a remarkable peace instead.  The only times He said anything were to pray to God or to help someone.  He never appealed to the soldiers for mercy or accused them of injustice.

How was Simon changed by his encounter with Jesus?  Bitterness turned to belief; hatred became hope; shame moved to salvation.  He heard Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Simon saw Jesus willingly give Himself, and slowly the hope of the prophets dawned into reality—“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Jesus was crucified on Friday, but by Sunday the report of Jesus’ resurrection had been circulated through-out the city. 

Simon stayed on in Jerusalem and he had been thinking about the Man and His death for fifty days.  Then he heard Simon Peter, a disciple who had faltered during the ordeal because of fear, declaring boldly that this same Jesus is both Lord and Christ.  Then Simon of Cyrene was compelled to believe.  He stepped out from the crowd and willingly accepted baptism in water by one of the apostles, a public acknowledgement that bearing the cross was a favor.  He was ready and willing to bear shame for Jesus.

Conclusion

Arthur Blessitt, of Sunset Strip, California carried a ninety-pound cross across America and many countries of the world.  Speaking at a national conference, he related how he had carried the cross across the newly opened border between Israel and Egypt soon after the historic Camp David peace treaty was signed.  The Arab commander at the border asked for a piece of his cross.

Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” 

You may be passing by today—just a person in the crowd.  Maybe a jeweled cross hangs around your neck.  What does that mean to you?  Have you taken up the cross?  The way of the cross leads to forgiveness of sin, abundant life, and the defeat of death.  Simon of Cyrene, a man passing through the crowd, found this amazing hope in the cross.  So can you!

THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE IN THIS STORY THAT WE DON’T WANT TO MISS; IT IS THAT WE TOO ARE CALLED UPON TO BEAR A CROSS FOR CHRIST.

We sing a Hymn that says, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free?  No, there is a cross for everyone, and there is a cross for me.”  I read that there was another version of this hymn which says, “Must Simon bear the cross alone, and the saints go free?  Each saint of Thine shall find his own, and there is one for me.” 

Each one of us is called the bear the cross of Jesus. You find this place of favor willingly.  The cross will not be forced on you.  You must make a public commitment of your life to Jesus Christ.  You must be willing to bear any shame or suffer any loss in His service.  Will you join Simon of Cyrene beneath the cross?

“My God, why … ?” is not an unknown prayer among Christians.  We ask, “Why did she contract cancer?”  “Why was I fired?”  “Why does God seem to forget us?” Yet Jesus, after having uttered, “My God, why … ?” on the cross, then whispered, “It is finished,” signaling not only the end of his suffering, but the completion of his work.

Let me leave you with this true story I read about two faithful women, who were cross-bearers for Christ. Irene Ferrel graduated from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles with a burden for overseas missions. She found her place in the Congo, where for 10 years she taught school, shared Christ, and worked in a dispensary in the Kwilu bush. In 1964, Communist rebels mounted guerrilla raids to overthrow the government. Missionaries in the Kwilu Province were threatened. Irene and her co-worker Ruth Hege decided to evacuate from their station. A helicopter was ordered, and on January 24, 1964, the two prepared to leave. They packed essential belongings, and then gathered their Congolese workers for a final time of worship. The final songs died down, the last prayers were offered, and the women began anticipating the chopper’s arrival. When it didn’t come, they decided to retire and rise early to await it the next day. Shortly after midnight, young, intoxicated rebels attacked. The youngsters, some barely teenagers, were smoking hemp, smashing windows, and screaming for blood. Storming the house, they dragged the women from their beds and danced around them in wild circles in the moonlight. One youth shot an arrow into Irene’s neck. With her last ounce of strength she pulled it out, whispering, “I am finished,” and died. Ruth Hege, also struck by arrows, pretended to be dead, not even moving when one of the rebels jerked out a handful of her hair. Only after the attackers finally ran into the forest could Ruth crawl to safety. Many other Christians perished during the 1960s Congolese turmoil. It was a killing time.

Why was the helicopter late? Why do God’s servants sometimes perish? We’ll understand someday. Most likely, we will never be called upon to go through anything like these two wonderful women had to suffer. But each of us has a cross to bear for Jesus. Let’s bear our cross joyfully, and serve our Lord until we go to be with Him. Until then we trust Him, knowing that His kindness never fails.

Listen to these words from Lamentations, “I tell myself, ‘I am finished! I can’t count on the LORD to do anything for me.’  Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable.  That’s all I ever think about, and I am depressed.  Then I remember something that fills me with hope. The LORD’s kindness never fails.”  (Lamentations 3:18-22)

Amen.


 

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