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SIMON OF CYRENE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, February 21, 2010

“And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (Mark 15:21).


John tells us that Jesus “bearing his cross went forth” (John 19:17) from Pilate’s courtyard toward the place of crucifixion. We are indebted to John for telling us this. The other three Gospels say that Simon of Cyrene carried the cross, but John tells us that Jesus went out carrying it at the beginning.

Jesus was very weak by now. He had been awake all through the night. He had taken no food or drink since He ate the Passover meal the night before. He had prayed in the darkness of Gethsemane, sweating as it were great drops of blood, under the weight of human sin, in the hour of His agony (Luke 22:44). He had been arrested there, and dragged before the high priest, where they spit in His face and beat Him with their hands (Matthew 26:67). He had been brought before the Roman governor Pilate, then before King Herod, and then before Pilate again. He had been scourged by Pilate, beaten half to death with a cruel Roman whip that left His back torn to ribbons. The soldiers had crammed a crown of thorns down on His head, which must have caused Him inexpressible pain and torture. Then the soldiers spit on Him and beat Him on the head with a wooden rod (Matthew 27:30). It should not seem strange, after experiencing all that cruelty, that Jesus was completely exhausted. None of us can fully understand the love He had for us that made Him suffer so!

The Catholic Church tells us that Jesus fell three times on the way toward His crucifixion. Perhaps He did, but the Bible tells us none of that. Whether He fainted once, or twice, or three times, we are not told. The Scriptures do not say why the soldiers compelled Simon to carry His cross. We can only guess that, in all probability, Jesus was too weak to carry it any farther – for we can be sure that these cruel soldiers did not do this out of kindness, or any sympathy for the bleeding Saviour. In his weakened, and already dying condition, it seems that Jesus simply could not carry the cross any farther,

“And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (Mark 15:21).

It will be helpful for us to think for a while this morning about Simon, the man who carried Jesus’ cross.

I. First, Simon was brought into contact with Christ by an act
of God’s providence.

We are told in the text that he was a Cyrenian. That is, he came from Cyrene, a major city of Lybia, in northern Africa. A large number of Jews lived there, who had been there so long, with intermarriage between the Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism, that there is little doubt that Simon was a dark skinned African Jew.  Spurgeon thought he was a black man, and I think he was right (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, vol. XXVII, p. 562). He had doubtlessly scraped and saved his money to make the long trip up to Jerusalem for the great Passover feast and celebration at the Temple. The text tells us that he “passed by, coming out of the country.”

“And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country…” (Mark 15:21).

As Simon came into Jerusalem, he “passed by” the soldiers and Jesus fainting under the weight of the cross. It seemed like an “accident” that he thus came in contact with Christ. Dr. McGee said, “Simon was from Cyrene in North Africa. He… was attending the Passover in Jerusalem. It appeared he was picked out of the crowd by chance to help carry the cross” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, vol. IV, p. 231; note on Mark 15:21). But what “appeared” to happen by chance was really a work of God’s providence!

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Providence means that God controls the events of our lives. It is as Shakespeare put it, when Hamlet said to Horatio,

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
   (Hamlet, Act V, scene 2, lines 10-11).

Simon planned to come into the city and “pass by” the soldiers and the mob that followed Jesus to His crucifixion. He did not realize that his steps were being directed by an act of divine providence! God had guided him to be there, at just the right moment, to carry Jesus’ cross!

I am thinking about Mr. Griffith, who sang a moment ago, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (by William Cowper, 1731-1800). God moved in a mysterious way in Mr. Griffith’s own life. He came to this church on a motorcycle with a friend, who said to him, “Let’s go to that church and make trouble.” His friend fled when I started to preach, but Mr. Griffith stayed and was converted! He has been singing before I preach for over thirty years! Mr. Griffith came to our church by an act of providence!

And you are here by the providence of God this morning. Someone spoke to you. They invited you to come. And here you are! Perhaps thirty years from now you too will be able to say, with Mr. Griffith and Simon of Cyrene, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform.” At the time, Simon did not realize that his providential encounter with Christ would change the whole course of his life. Perhaps coming here and hearing the Gospel this morning will be life changing to you as well! How we pray that it will!

II. Second, Simon was compelled to carry Christ’s cross.

“And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (Mark 15:21).

Those Roman soldiers “compelled” Simon to bear Christ’s cross. The Greek word for “compelled” is very strong. It’s a military word. It means he was drafted or conscripted. It means he was literally “pressed” by the soldiers to bear the cross. He was not a disciple of Christ at that time. The soldiers “pressed” him to do it. They loaded the cross upon his shoulders! He probably tried to get away, but he couldn’t. He was “pressed” into carrying the Saviour’s cross.

It was then that Simon must have looked at Jesus for the first time. He had been jostling with the soldiers. When he saw he couldn’t get away from them, he started to bear the cross. Then he must have looked at Jesus. What did he see in the Saviour’s face? I can only say that he must have seen the greatness of His love. He must have heard about the wonderful things Jesus had done – the miracles, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, healing them that had need of healing. But now he must have seen the love of God in the very face of Christ.

The Saviour then went ahead of him, and Simon carried the cross behind. He was now resigned to do so. He thought, “All right, I will help Him get this cross to the top of the hill. But that’s as far as I will go! I’m out of here as soon as I get it up there.” These are only conjectures, but I think they are probable ones.

Now, as they reach the top of Mount Calvary, and he drops the cross, I can see him standing back, in front of the soldiers and the howling mob. He watches the soldiers drive the nails into Christ’s hands and feet. He sees them raise the cross into an upright position. He tries to pull himself away and “pass by” again, but somehow he cannot. His eyes are transfixed on Jesus, and he stands gazing at the blood-soaked Son of God dying on the cross. He hears Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). He thinks, “What kind of a man is this who prays for God to forgive those who crucify Him?” Tears must have come into Simon’s eyes, tears that spoke of his own heart, which was by now being torn apart by the love Christ showed toward the very men who tortured Him. He doubtlessly could have said with John Newton,

I saw One hanging on a tree
   In agony and blood;
He fixed His pain-filled eyes on me,
   As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never, till my latest breath,
   Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
   Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
   And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had spilt
   And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
   “I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
   I die that thou mayest live.”
(“I Saw One Hanging on a Tree,” by John Newton, 1725-1807;
     to the tune of “O Set Ye Open Unto Me”).

It was probably good that Simon was “pressed” into carrying Christ’s cross right away. I have observed that, very often, the best Christians are those who take Christ’s yoke upon them at the beginning – who seem (as the old Protestants and Baptists would say) to be “pressed” into salvation by “irresistible grace.” Jesus said,

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me… for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”
       (Matthew 11:28-30).

The greatest converts were often men who were under great conviction of sin – so when they came to Jesus they felt that His yoke was easy, and His burden light! Men like Luther, John Bunyan, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and C. H. Spurgeon felt so relieved when they were pardoned by Jesus that it seemed easy to bear His yoke. They went to work for Christ with all their might, and never let up as long as they lived!

We have seen this happen time and again in our own church. Looking at a photograph of the 39 original members of our church, I realized that most of them came, right away, into the work of the church. They didn’t have to be begged to come to evangelism or prayer meeting. They seemed to be “pressed” into the work by God Himself! For instance, Dr. Chan immediately went to several of his classmates and brought them in. Right away, he brought in Mrs. Sanders, Dr. Judith Cagan and Winnie Chan. Mrs. Hymers instantly became a phoner when she was converted. This year marks the 30th anniversary of her doing telephone evangelism every week without missing.  Mr. Griffith, and Mr. Song, and Mr. Mencia, and Mrs. Salazar all went to work in the church instantly. As I looked at the faces of the 39 people in that photo, I realized that I didn’t have to argue with them, or plead with them, to come to the meetings and do the work of evangelism. They immediately took Christ’s yoke upon them! They quickly found that His yoke was easy and His burden light! They did not argue with Jesus when He said,

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

But I have also found that those we have to beg and plead with, just to be faithful in coming to one service on Sunday, seldom turn out to be strong Christians. They usually fall away from the church when a holiday comes, or else they withdraw from the church after a while, or they go on their way when they are “choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). But Simon of Cyrene was not like them. Our text strongly implies that he became a real Christian. He was at first compelled to bear Christ’s cross, but he bore it willingly afterwards.

III. Third, Simon became a Christian.

“And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (Mark 15:21).

I am so glad that Mark was moved to record the names of Simon’s sons – for by hearing of them we learn of their father’s conversion, which otherwise we might not have known. Dr. Lenski said,

      Mark names his sons who, it is agreed, later on held prominent positions in the church. From [this] data the conclusion is drawn that this strange contact with Jesus led to Simon’s conversion and thus to the prominence of his sons in the church (R. C. H. Lenski, D.D., The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961 reprint, p. 1105; note on Matthew 27:32).

Dr. Lange says that Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus,

…must have been well-known persons in the then existing church, and they testify to the personal, lively recollection and originality of Mark…It is most natural to regard them as persons well known to the church at Rome (John Peter Lange, D.D., Commentary on the Holy Scriptures – Mark, Zondervan Publishing House, n.d., p. 151; note on Mark 15:21).

Dr. Ellicott adds,

      St. Paul speaks of the mother of Rufus as also being his mother [Romans 16:13] – i.e. endeared to him by many proofs of maternal kindness – and so we are led to the belief that the wife of Simon of Cyrene must…have come within the inner circle of St. Paul’s friends. This, in turn, connects itself with the prominence given to “men of Cyrene” in St. Luke’s account of the foundation of the Gentile Church of Antioch, Acts 11:20 (Charles John Ellicott, D.D., Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, 1954 edition, volume 6, p. 231; note on Mark 15:21).

And I feel I must also add the comments of C. H. Spurgeon on this subject:

      We are told [Simon] was the father of Alexander and Rufus…Surely Mark knew these two sons, or he would not have cared to mention them; they must have been familiar to the church, or he would not have thus described their father. It was their father who carried the cross. It is exceedingly likely that this Rufus was he of whom Paul speaks in the last chapter of his epistle to the Romans, for Mark was with Paul, and by this means knew Simon and Rufus. Paul writes, “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” [Rufus’] mother was such a motherly person that she had been a mother to Paul as well as Rufus…it would look as if [Simon], his wife, and his two sons all became converts to our Lord after he had carried the cross…Oh, what a blessing to a man to be known by his sons! Pray, dear Christian friends, you that have an Alexander and a Rufus, that it may be an honour to you to be known as their father (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Great Cross-Bearer and his Followers,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1973 reprint, volume XXVIII, pp. 562-563).

This has been an unusual sermon. I struggled in preparing it for two days, while I was sick last week. There is so little in the Bible about Simon of Cyrene. And yet he is mentioned by name in three of the four Gospels – and we are given additional information about his sons and his wife in the Scriptures. I have studied this very carefully for many hours – and I feel certain that this man Simon became an important person in the early church.  Dr. Morris said that Simon was possibly the same as “Simeon who is called Niger,” a preacher of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1; Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., The Defender’s Study Bible, World Publishing, 1995, p. 1199; note on Acts 13:1).  Dr. John Gill said that Simon’s sons are identified by some commentators as the “Rufus chosen in the Lord” in Romans 16:13, and the Alexander spoken of in Acts 19:33-34 (John Gill, ibid., note on Mark 15:21).  It therefore seems evident that Simon became an important early Christian.

May you follow the example of Simon of Cyrene – and become a real Christian. Brought into Christ’s presence by the mysterious providence of God, he was compelled to carry Christ’s cross, but afterwards took it up willingly when he was converted – resulting, not only in his own salvation, but also in the conversion of his wife and sons.

I pray that you will come to Christ, that you will take up His cross and follow Him no matter what it costs. For if you do, your life and destiny will be forever changed, as will the lives of many others that you influence.

Come to Jesus! Be washed clean by His Blood! Come into the church! Live for Him! God bless you! Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Mark 15:16-24.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
        “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (by William Cowper, 1731-1800)/
        “I Saw One Hanging on a Tree” (by John Newton, 1725-1807).


THE OUTLINE OF

SIMON OF CYRENE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (Mark 15:21).

(John 19:17; Luke 22:44; Matthew 26:67; 27:30)

I.   First, Simon was brought into contact with Christ by an act of
God’s providence, Proverbs 16:9.

II.  Second, Simon was compelled to carry Christ’s cross,
Luke 23:34; Matthew 11:28-30; 16:24; Luke 8:14.

III. Third, Simon became a Christian, Mark 15:21; Romans 16:13;
Acts 13:1; 19:33-34.