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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on August 6, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, August 6, 2017 from Genesis 15:11

Theme: To bear the cross of Jesus is to bear His shame while on the way to share His glory.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

Early one morning, there was a man who had just begun to walk the streets of Jerusalem.

His name was Simon; and he was from the city of Cyrene—situated along the northern coast of the African continent in Libya—just west of Egypt. His hometown was a Gentile city—one that was very Grecian in culture. But since there was a large Jewish community there, and since he had a Jewish name, I am taking it that he himself was Jewish man who had come that day to celebrate Passover.

If indeed he was a Jewish man who had just traveled into town from far away Cyrene, then to come to Jerusalem for the feast would have been a part of his duty before God. But I am suspecting that it would also have been welcomed by him as a chance to get away from the daily grind of life and to come to the center-place of his people. It would have been—in the truest sense—a ‘holiday’. Some believe, however, that he had just come in to town from some kind of labor out in the fields. The Bible simply tells us that “he was coming out of the country and passing by.” But in any case—however it was that he came to be in town—he was probably looking forward to spending the next few days commemorating this all-important occasion.

But as he stepped out from the country-side, and on to the streets of the city, he would have encountered a shocking scene. There were many people lined up along the streets—some shouting, some weeping. And in the midst would have been Roman soldiers escorting a condemned man to His execution. It was not an uncommon-sight in those days; a criminal being forced by the Roman authorities to bear a cross to the place of his death. But it might be that Simon had never seen a criminal like this! The Man who was staggering under the weight of this cross was covered with blood. His back had been lacerated from having been brutally scourged; and His face, neck and shoulders were stained from having been beaten, and from being heavily spat upon, and from having a painful wreath of thorns cruelly jammed down upon his head. He would have looked like He had been tormented to the very edge of human endurance. And as Simon watched the Man fall to the hard ground in exhaustion under the weight of the heavy cross, he must have wondered, “What in the world could it have been that this Man had done?”

Now; as Simon gazed in wonder, he would have been startled to feel a strong hand grabbing him by the shoulder and shoving him toward the condemned Man. He would have turned around to see that it was a Roman soldier; and the impatient soldier was barking out the command to him, “You! Go and take up that cross and start carrying it!” That was something that the occupying Roman government had the power to do in those days—to ‘conscript’ any non-Roman, at any time, for whatever task they wanted done. But Simon had just come into town for a holy day. He didn’t want trouble. His immediate temptation might have been to argue; but there was really no arguing about it. Whatever plans he had made for this holy day were suddenly interrupted; and he was now being forced to bear a heavy cross, along a long road, up a hill, to a gruesome place of death. When he had started out on his journey to Jerusalem, he certainly never dreamed that he’d arrive to be made to do such a thing as that!

As he was escorted up next to the Man on the ground, I’m wondering if Simon could hear the Man panting and gasping. And perhaps he could also see Him too—up close. He might have thought, “This Man’s visage has been marred more than any man’s!” But Simon didn’t have much time to think further about it; because Roman soldiers suddenly dropped the heavy cross upon him. The cross was not only heavy; it was also a cursed and shameful thing—a thing on which to hang the worst of criminals. No Roman soldier would dishonor himself by carrying it on the criminal’s behalf. And in this case, it was also filthy—having already been stained with the scourged Man’s blood. As Simon pressed himself against the cross to get a better grip, I wonder if his clothes were getting stained with that blood, and if he could feel his own face and neck and arms and hands being made slimy with sweat and spittle. The soldiers lifted up the condemned Stranger and made Him stand on His feet again. And as they made their way along the road together, Simon might have felt as if he was being humiliated along with Him.

Now; living in the times that he lived, Simon would have probably witnessed such sad parades as this before. But he had never been an actual part of one. And I am suspecting that he would have never heard such things being said about a criminal either. Some standing along the way were shouting that He should be crucified. Some where mocking Him for saying that He was a King. But some others had their faces in their hands and were weeping in sorrow over Him. Along the way, this condemned Man had turned to some of the women who were lamenting over Him and said to them;

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:28-31).

Would Simon have heard those words? Would he have thought about them and asked himself, “Was this Man actually saying that His presence was the ‘green wood’ season of Israel? Was He actually making prophecies to the women of Israel about the future?” Perhaps Simon would have thought, “Could this be the Man Jesus—the miracle-working Prophet of Nazareth—that I have heard others talking about over the past few years? Why was this being done to Him? What great crime could such a one as He have committed?”

As Simon followed behind the steps of Jesus as they made their way up the hill Golgotha, and as the soldiers finally lifted the heavy cross from off of Simon’s shoulders and as he straightened himself, perhaps he would have looked down and seen that his hands, his arms, his shoulders, and his clothing, were all stained with Jesus’ blood, and with grime and sweat, and with some of the spit of Roman soldiers that had been cast upon Him. His own back was sore, and his own shoulder scraped and bleeding. Simon had carried Jesus’ cross; and now, it might have been that he himself was covered, as it were, with the shameful treatment Jesus had received.

And I wonder even further: Would it too much to believe that Simon might have remained on Golgatha as they stretched Jesus out on the cross that he had carried for Him, and watched as they nailed Him to it, and saw as they hoisted the cross upright and allowed it to drop into the hole in the ground? Would Jesus have looked down at Simon? And if so, would it be that Simon had seen love in Jesus’ eyes for him?

Perhaps Simon would have heard the priests and the scribes jeering at Him, and taunting Him, and saying, “If you’re the Son of God, then come down from the cross! Look! He saved others, Himself He cannot save!” And would Simon have heard Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”? Would he have been there to hear one of the criminals say to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom”; and then to hear Jesus say to the dying man, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise”? Would Simon have heard Jesus cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”—in the very words that begin Psalm 22? And would Simon have then realized that everything in that psalm that was prophesied about the suffering Messiah was being fulfilled right before his very eyes?

Would Simon have remained there to see the sky grow dark, and to hear this Man Jesus on the cross cry out in a loud voice, “It is finished!”, and to watch as He commended His spirit to the Father and die? Would Simon have felt the earthquake? Would he have seen the centurion who guarded the cross look up at Jesus in wonder, and hear him exclaim, “Truly this Man was the Son of God”?

And when it was all over, would Simon have then looked down again at his own hands and his own clothing, and seen the blood of Jesus covering him? Would he feel as if he had been brought, somehow, into a close identity with the shame of this Man on the cross? Would all of this have been on his mind as he slowly descended the hill with everyone else, and as he went back into town, and as he commemorated the Passover—that remembrance of God’s command for every family in Israel to slay a lamb, and paint the blood of that lamb on the doorposts of their home, and trust God to pass over them in His just wrath for sin?

These are things that I have thought about as we come to our passage this morning. It’s found in Mark 15:16-21; and it tells us of what happened after Jesus was sent away by Pilate 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 (Mark 15:16-21).

* * * * * * * * * *

As I have studied this passage last week, I couldn’t help having much of my attention on Simon. You might be able to say that he was incidental to the story. But even so, I can’t help but think of him as a vivid illustration of something that Jesus had said to His own disciples earlier in this Gospel. In Mark 8:34, He told them,

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).

That was certainly what Simon did—whether he intended to be a ‘follower’ of Jesus or not. And I couldn’t help putting Simon’s act of taking up the cross against the backdrop of all the shameful things that Jesus had suffered just before then.

‘Taking up Jesus’ cross’ can mean many things. It doesn’t necessarily mean the thing that people often make it out to mean, though—that is, as a reference to some general matter of suffering in life. People often talk about their family struggles, or their health, or some job they don’t like; and say, “Ah well; that’s the cross I must bear.” But to be honest, I think that trivializes the idea. To take up the cross of Jesus and follow Him doesn’t mean I just take up any ol’ suffering. Rather, I believe it means I take up His suffering; and that I identify myself with Him in it. It means that I walk behind Him in the path of suffering He trod for me; and that I place my feet in His bloody footsteps. It means that I take up His death as my own; and I die with Him to my own sinful and selfish ways. And most of all, I believe it means that I willingly share with Him in the shame and reproach that was cast upon Him in this world as He took up His cross for me. I allow myself (if I may put it this way) to be smeared with the spit and shame that was cast upon Him in this world—knowing the promise of God’s word; that if I suffer with Him, I will also reign with Him.

I believe that Simon’s story helps to illustrate this to us. It shows us that to bear the cross of Jesus is to bear His shame while on the way to share His glory.

* * * * * * * * * *

Please go back with me through this passage; and consider the shame Jesus suffered. And please know that it was for you and me that He willingly condescended to endure it.

So; what shame did He endure? Mark tells us in verse 16 that a mob of cruel soldiers gathered against Him. He writes, “Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison.” The context shows us that they were gathered together in order to mock Him. Considering the size of such a garrison, it is possible that over two-hundred Roman soldiers were gathered together against Him—perhaps more. What a frightening, threatening mob! This would be like what King David wrote prophetically about Jesus in Psalm 22:12-13;

Many bulls have surrounded Me;

Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.

They gape at Me with their mouths,

Like a raging and roaring lion (Psalm 22:12-13).

When we feel the pressure of this world against us—when we feel that friends turn against us for following Jesus, and that the people of this world are hostile toward us for taking up His cross and following Him—we should always remember that He knew what that felt like.

Then, they began to mock Him horribly. This was something unusual. Historians tell us that such cruel mocking of a condemned criminal was not the ordinary policy of the Roman government. The devil, no doubt, was taking over the hearts of men and leading them to do what they did. First, as verse 17 tells us, they placed a mock robe of royalty upon Him. The Jewish leaders accused Him of calling Himself a king; and so, looking around and finding a robe, they had some fun and draped it upon this supposed King.

They did it as a joke; but they didn’t realize how close their joke was to the truth. Revelation 19:13 describes the day when this same Jesus would one day return to the earth; and this is the description that the apostle John prophetically gave of Him:

He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God (Revelation 19:13).

They also thought, “Well; shouldn’t a King have a crown?” And so, verse 17 goes on to tell us that they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head. It would have been dreadfully painful; because you can be sure it wasn’t put on gently. The thorns would have been forced down upon Him; and they would have pierced and tore at His skin, and would have caused blood to run down His face and neck.

And whenever I think of this, I can’t help but think back to the story in the Old Testament of Abraham—when he was called upon by God to sacrifice his own beloved son Isaac as a test of his obedience. Abraham’s son asked his father where the lamb for the offering was; and Abraham told him,

God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8).

God stopped faithful Abraham from offering his own son; and when Abraham turned and looked, there was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. That was God’s provision. And don’t you think that, in the passage we’re looking at this morning, we once again see God making the provision of His lamb for the atonement of our sins?—His head once again caught in thickets?

As we read on, we find that the Roman soldiers gave a false salute to Him. Verse 18 tells us that they “began to salute Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” It was a joke to them, of course. The chief priests had accused Him of saying that He was the King of the Jews; and Pilate even presented Him to the people as their King. And now, even the soldiers mocked Him as the King of the Jews.

But that’s who He truly was. One day, as Revelation 19:16 tells us, He will return as “King of kings and Lord of lords”. They had no idea—even as they mocked Him—how true their words to Him were!

Then, Mark tells us in verse 19 that when they were through with their pretended salute, “they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him …” In another Gospel, we’re told that they had placed a rod in His hand as a pretend ‘scepter’; and now—one by one—they took it out of His hand and struck Him across the head with it and spat upon Him.

We might marvel at why they would do such a thing. But we should marvel even more that He—the Son of God in human flesh—would submit Himself to it so willingly. Way back in Isaiah 50:6, these words are prophesied of Him:

I gave My back to those who struck Me,

And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;

I did not hide My face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 50:6).

We’re told that the soldiers even bowed the knee to Him in fake reverence. What a humiliating sight that must have been! People who reject Jesus do the same sort of thing today. They mock followers of Jesus by pretending to ‘worship’, and raise their hands, and exclaiming a phoney, ‘Hallelujah!’—and all with a cynical sneer or with a scornful laugh.

But this same Jesus has been raised from the dead and sits victoriously at the right hand of God on high; and the Bible tells us;

    Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

What these soldiers did in mock is what they will one day indeed do in truth—and so also will you, and me, and everyone else in this world—on the day of His glory!

And then, verse 20 tells us, “ And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him …” Taking that purple rob off Jesus’ lacerated back would have been unspeakably painful to Him; and the act of putting His own clothes back on Him would have been painful too. And then—as the greatest act of indignity and shame of all—they “led Him out to crucify Him.” Hebrews 12:2 urges us to look unto Jesus,

the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 13:12-14).

What shame He endured was for you and me! But it was so that you and I would be with Him throughout eternity. We are the ‘joy’ that was set before Him that motivated Him to endure the cross, “despising the shame”.

And please understand. It wasn’t the shameful treatment of mocking that Jesus received that saves us. We are not saved by the beatings He received, or the mocking He was subjected to, or the way they spat upon Him. Rather, it was His death that saves us. We are saved by placing our faith in His substitutionary death for us on the cross that followed after these horrible, shameful things. Nevertheless, He suffered shame and dishonor and disgrace for us in order to show us what it means to take up our cross and follow Him.

It was His death on the cross that saves us. But it was the shame He suffered on the way there that teaches us what it means for us to then take up His cross and follow Him.

And that leads us, at last, to this man who bore Jesus’ cross. Mark tells us in verse 21, “ 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 bear it he did—also bearing its shame.

* * * * * * * * *

How do you suppose this might have affected Simon? We’re told nothing more of his own personal history. But I have appreciated what some commentators have suggested about him.

They have pointed out that Mark’s Gospel—which Bible scholars tell us was written especially to reach Roman people—is the only one of the four that tells us the names of this man’s sons. It was as if the early church might not have necessarily known who Simon was; but that they would have known who his sons Alexander and Rufus were.

And many have suggested that one of these sons—Rufus—is mentioned at the end of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. In writing to Christians in Rome, Paul said,

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine (Romans 16:13).

If the man that Paul sent greetings to was indeed Rufus the son of Simon of Cyrene, then he would most likely had become a believer in Jesus Christ—“chosen of the Lord.” And what’s more, his mother—who would have been Simon’s wife—had also become very dear to Paul. And if this truly was Simon’s son and Simon’s wife, then might it be that they had been led to Jesus by Simon himself—and by the stories he had told them of how he bore the Savior’s cross with Him on the way up to Golgotha?

Well; we can’t know that for sure. We’re really left to only imagine how all this affected Simon. But we’re not really left to wonder at all as to how it is to affect you and me. The apostle Peter—a completely different ‘Simon’—put it this way:

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now

If the righteous one is scarcely saved,

Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:14-19).

I believe that’s what it means for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

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