The Face of Favor: Simon of Cyrene

 Tom Lowe

The Face of Favor: Simon of Cyrene

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: “So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.  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.” (Mark 15:15-25)



“Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” 

Simon of Cyrene was. 

He was one of the faces beneath the cross, and we will find that he was highly favored by God. 

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!

Now that the stage has been set for today’s message, the first thing I want to claim is that THE FAVOR OF CROSS-BEARING MAY BE HIDDEN.

Listen again to our 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).

No doubt Simon saw nothing good in the ordeal at first. 

At best he viewed it as an inconvenience. 

Bearing the cross took time away from other activities he had planned for this special day. 

He had not planned on such an interruption. 

Simon’s resentment probably went even deeper. 

Being treated like a common slave on what was to be the greatest day of his life was just too much. 

It hurt his pride.

He may have said to himself, “Would the people think that I am a disciple of Jesus, or would someone think it was my cross?” 

What if he met one of his friends on the way? 

Cross bearing never seems to be a favor at first.

What was your first reaction to cross-bearing? 

Were you surprised how others treated you simply because you were a Christian? 

How could anyone question your motives and accuse you wrongly? 

Jesus knew this would be a problem for his disciples, so he gave frequent and thorough instructions on the matter, exhorting his disciples to rejoice whenever they bore the shame of the cross.

The favor of cross-bearing may be hidden to the natural eye, but it is seen by those who walk in the Spirit. 

The apostle Paul describes such suffering as a “gift.” 

We are favored by the Lord when we suffer shame for Him.

The second thing that I want to claim is that THE FAVOR OF CROSS-BEARING SHOULD BE ACKNOWLEDGED.

It should be acknowledged in our public commitment. 

We are not told when Simon actually became a disciple of Jesus. 

The fact that his name is given here can be taken as proof that the story of his conversion must have circulated widely among the early Christians.

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.

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.


Simon of Cyrene translated this public commitment into active service. 

It is possible that he is the Simon who became a leader in the great missionary movement in Antioch. 

He continued to be identified with Jesus by aggressively seeking to make disciples for Him.

Are we holding back from this public identification with Jesus Christ? 

I must confess that there were times when I held my tongue, when I should have spoken-up for my Lord. 

But never again; I will never deny Him again.

I will gladly bear my cross for Him.

Have you ever been afraid of the consequences for bearing your cross? 

Do you ever consider the potential cost too high? 

Simon had no choice the first time he was identified with Him, but what he learned about Jesus made him a willing cross-bearer. 

He learned that bearing the cross of Jesus was actually a privilege. 

We also should make a public acknowledgement of our faith and if that causes us to suffer, that’s a cross that is a privilege to bear.

The forth thing that I want to assert is that THE FAVOR OF CROSS-BEARING CAN BE SHARED.

Simon of Cyrene led his two sons to be cross-bearing Christians. 

He shared the privilege with them. 

We are not given the details, but we are given the names of Alexander and Rufus. 

The inclusion of their names indicates that they had become well known among the early Christians.

It’s wonderful to be able to tell others about Jesus, but nothing compares to seeing your children and grandchildren come to believe in Jesus as Savior.

I have to believe that Simon was the one who led Alexander and Rufus to the Lord.

The Gospel of Mark was written to be used as a gospel tract in the city of Rome. 

When Paul wrote a letter to the Roman church, he sent greetings to Rufus and his beloved mother. 

He said, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine” (Rom. 16:13). 

Could his relationship to Rufus and his mother date back to Paul’s ministry with the church in Antioch?   

There is a tradition that Rufus became an effective church leader and that his brother Alexander became a martyr for the cause of Christ. 

And it all began with Simon bearing the cross.

At first Simon felt as though it was the worst thing that could happen to him, but it soon became his greatest blessing. 

It changed his life and the life of his family. 

If we bear the cross of Christ, we will influence others. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to influence our own sons and daughters, and even our grandchildren to bear the cross of Christ as well?



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 to 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?

Let me leave you with this true story I read about two faithful women, who were cross-bearers for Christ.

“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.

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)


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