He was on his way into the city from where he had been staying. His mind was preoccupied with plans for the day. As he rounded a corner, he unexpectedly found himself caught up in a crowd of spectators on their way to watch an execution outside the city wall. Suddenly Simon was conscripted by Roman soldiers to carry the cross for one of the condemned men. He had no choice but to obey. The soldiers placed the heavy cross beam on his shoulders.
This story from the gospel of Mark omits details such as Simon’s history, thoughts, and appearance. It does tell us he was from Cyrene, which was in North Africa. Since this was the time of the Jewish Passover, it is likely that he was a pilgrim in Jerusalem for the festival. He must have appeared to be a strong man, capable of carrying the load. But there is much more that we would like to know.
We do know what Simon saw. He saw the man Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns, his face swollen and disfigured, his back raw and torn from a cruel flogging. He had fallen to the pavement in weakness. The journey to skull hill was about a mile from the place of his trial and sentencing and he was exhausted from a sleepless night and the savage beatings had had already endured.
Simon saw religious leaders proceeding to the execution, clad in their vestments, prompting mockers who shouted derisive insults at Jesus. He saw huddled groups of mourners, women who bravely followed, and did not forsake Jesus in his last hours. He saw two condemned criminals also carrying the instruments of their death, as was the Roman custom. He saw a gathering morning crowd, at first awakened by curiosity, then revolted by the shocking scene before them.
If Simon had arrived one hour sooner or one hour later, he probably would have missed this interruption in his day. Was this an accident? Or was it providence that brought him to this exact time and place in history? What was the outcome for Simon?
Mark 15:21 says that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. He includes this detail because these two were well known to the Christian community for whom he was writing his gospel. In Romans 16:13 the apostle Paul salutes Rufus who was a member of the Christian assembly in Rome. Does this mean that Simon from Cyrene became a believer in Jesus and that he influenced his family to believe?
Acts 13:1 names leaders of the church in Antioch. One of them was Simon who was also called “Niger.” Was this the same Simon? Was he among the Christian men who migrated north to Syria from Jerusalem because of persecution? Acts 11:20 says some of them were from Cyrene. If he was among them, he became a strong witness who proclaimed the gospel to Gentiles and helped establish the great church in Antioch. We cannot be certain, but it is possible that Simon the teacher in Antioch was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus.
Did he remain at Calvary as the Lord was dying? Did he hear the Savior’s last words from the cross? Did he become a believer on Good Friday or later, with the thousands who believed through the preaching of the apostles? Surely he never forgot his part in the trauma and sorrow of that day when the Lord was crucified. If indeed he believed, as seems likely, then bitter experience resulted in eternal blessing for Simon and his family.
Pastor Randy Faulkner