Encouragement From The Word

Who do you want to meet?

I’m sure, like me, you have a long list of people you want to talk to when you get to heaven.  On my list is someone not everybody might put in their Top Ten.

It’s Simon of Cyrene.

In truth, I don’t even know if I will meet him in heaven, because we have no indication from Scripture – though we do from tradition – that he ever professed faith in Jesus.  I hope the tradition is right, and he did.

In Roman culture, it was common for one condemned to be crucified to carry the horizontal part of his own cross from the place of the trial to the dump outside the city where crucifixions happened; the long vertical poles would be left there for re-use.  

According to the Gospel account in Luke 23.26-27 (with parallels in Matthew and Mark), though, the soldiers who accompanied Jesus to Calvary commandeered Simon of Cyrene to carry this piece for Jesus, whom they deemed was already weak enough from the beating and scourging he had endured that he would not be able to carry it himself.

This is the only canonical (i.e., Scriptural) mention of Simon of Cyrene.  All we know about him from the Bible is that he was from Cyrene – a city in north Africa – and that he was appointed (by force, it seems, since he was “seized”) to carry Jesus’ cross for him.  Mark mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus.  But that’s all we know.

One assumes Simon was Jewish, because Jews came from all over the world, as they were able, to mark the Passover in Jerusalem.  But even that is an assumption.  There is a tradition that says that Simon of Cyrene returned to Africa and shared the gospel with the people of Egypt, but there is little to back this up, even if it is true.

But since the Lord is not into wasting words, we are left wondering why Simon of Cyrene even gets mentioned.  The Gospel writers simply might have said that a passerby was pressed into service, but the three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all mention him by name.

That’s why I hope to meet him in heaven.  The fact that he was mentioned by name piques my curiosity.  

I want to know what it was like to carry that crossbeam.  I want to know what he thought of the whole situation, how he beheld Jesus in such a weary and beaten state.  I want to know if he stayed at Calvary to watch Jesus die, to hear his last words, to see the sky go dark, to hear of the temple curtain torn in two.

Simon is perhaps the most literal illustration of Jesus’ exhortation to his followers:  “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Luke 9.23-24, NLT).

On this Good Friday, be inspired by Simon of Cyrene.  Take up your cross – not only today, but every day.

Encouragement From The Word

Today…with me…Paradise…

On this Good Friday, I thought I’d share some encouragement from a few years back. Take a look…

If you are a listener to sermons, it may help you to know that even preachers don’t always remember preaching entirely or exactly.  I have one vivid memory, three crosseshowever, of a sermon I heard one Sunday before Easter as a teenager, around the time I gave my life to Jesus.  I’ve never forgotten its basic message.

There’s so much of the Scripture that we hear on Good Friday and Easter Day that is rich and deserves deeper attention; I hope you’ll meditate on a passage such as Luke 22, 23 and 24 this weekend.  But I want to focus on just a few words from Jesus, uttered from the cross, to a criminal who was hanging on a similar cross on one side of him.  This criminal had a different stance than the other.  One of them insulted Jesus and, thinking of himself, tried to get Jesus to use his power as the Christ (which he willingly acknowledged!) to rescue the three of them from the death they were about to face.  The other criminal rebuked him and said, “‘Don’t you fear God,…, since you are under the same sentence?…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23.40-43, NIV).

This was the text of the sermon I remember so well.  It was a word of hope, a word of grace, a word of love.  Jesus could have chosen to feel sorry for himself as he hung on the cross, naked, bleeding, gasping for air, dying.  Instead, he chose to reach out to a sinner who recognized him and who repented.

Both criminals knew Jesus for who he was; even the insulting criminal averred, “Aren’t you the Christ?” (Luke 23.39b, NIV).  This man was willing to acknowledge that Jesus was who he claimed to be.  But he was not interested in what Jesus stood for, unless it was going to get him out of his immediate situation.

The other criminal, looking around Jesus, rebuked his partner in crime, saying that while they were getting what they deserved, Jesus had done nothing wrong.  Then he asked Jesus to remember him in his eternal kingdom.  And at that moment, when any normal human being might have ignored him, Jesus reached out.  His loving arms nailed to a cruel cross, all Jesus had with which to reach out were his words:  “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Can you imagine being that criminal?  Can you imagine having that assurance, right from the lips of the Saviour himself?  “Today!”  No delay.  “When you breathe your last, you’ll be with me,” is what Jesus said, in effect.

Of course, if the cross were the end, Jesus couldn’t have said what he did.  His death would pay the price for sin, but only when he broke the bonds of death on the third day would he open the gates for believers to receive eternal life.  And because that happened on that first Easter weekend, all who follow Jesus, everywhere, ever since, have had the promise of freedom from sin and new and everlasting life.

Think you’re not good enough?  Of course you’re not.  None of us is.  But it’s not our goodness that wins our salvation.  It’s faith.  That’s why a career criminal was the first to taste eternal life – at the invitation of the Saviour.

God’s best for your weekend – in sorrow at the cross, and in victory at the empty tomb!