After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Mark 15: 20 – 22. (NASB)
Today sees the beginning of a series named “Encounters With The Messiah.” As you may guess by the title, it will be the accounts of people who met Jesus Christ, the Messiah. I am very excited by this project which came to me recently, from God in an inspiring moment. The first person that I thought of who met Jesus was Simon of Cyrene, his story has always fascinated me over the years.
Cyrene was a North African city which is now Tripoli in Libya. It had a large population of Helenistic Jews who spoke Greek, but still held to their forefathers faith. Cyrenian Jews would go on pilgrimage at least once in their life to Jerusalem. It was a ship journey across the Mediterranean of 900 miles, probably to the port of Joppa. Including a days walk to Jerusalem the whole journey would have taken several weeks. One can only imagine the emotions of the pilgrims as they had their first view of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley.
Simon’s arrival in the city before Passover coincided with a lively procession, which carried him with the surging crowd. He would not just see the excited crowd but also Roman soldiers driving three prisoners through the streets, each carrying a heavy cross beam for crucifixion. As he gaped in horror he was grabbed by a soldier and forced to carry the cross beam for one of the prisoners, who had fallen exhausted. He staggered up hill behind the prisoner who said nothing, he looked less like any prisoner that Simon had ever seen. They exited a city gate onto a hill where Simon was released from service, but he could not leave. There was something about this man before him that kept him there, he was disturbed as he watched the crucifixion of “The King of the Jews.”
Simon was a family man, he was married with two sons (Alexander and Rufus). We know nothing of his ethnicity or of his trade. As a Cyrenian Jew he would attend the Synagogue of the Freedmen while in Jerusalem. Considering the length of the journey he would stay in Jerusalem for sometime, and he may have been one of the Cyrenians in attendance at Peter’s Pentecost sermon. There is some possibility that Simon’s whole family in time came to faith in Christ, based on this one encounter (Romans 16:13).
As I read the scriptural account of the story I have questions in my mind. Did Simon touch Jesus at the moment he was pressed into service to help Him? Surely he stayed and watched the crucifixion, and also heard His voice? Did Simon experience a spiritual transformation/awakening at that dreadful scene? Although if scripture is to be believed, Simon certainly did become a follower of Christ.
Dear reader, I would encourage you to meditate on the story of Simon. Ask in prayer of your Father God that He would help you experience the scene firsthand in your spirit. Take time over it, putting yourself in Simon’s shoes.