“Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.” (Luke 23:26)
In the early centuries after Christ, there was a sect that denied the true humanity of Jesus. They did not accept what the four gospels say of Jesus, that He had a human body and that He suffered and died. They taught that Jesus only appeared to have a body and only seemed to suffer and die. To account for the crucifixion, some of them went so far as to claim that Simon of Cyrene–the man who was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus–had been crucified in place of Jesus.
This is not only wrong, but the exact reverse of the truth. Simon of Cyrene was not crucified in the place of Jesus. Jesus was crucified– suffered and died–in the place of Simon and all sinners. He carried the full weight of the sin of mankind.
Isaiah wrote of the suffering Messiah: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6). The apostle Paul likewise taught that when Jesus suffered on the cross, God the Father made Him “to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
When we hear the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, we know that the entire weight of our guilt has been taken off our shoulders. For the sake of Jesus we have been declared not guilty and our faith in Him is accounted as righteousness.
Bearing His Cross
And yet Jesus says: “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Lk. 14:27). Simon of Cyrene, walking behind Jesus, carrying the cross, is the picture of Christian discipleship. There is a burden, there is a weight, to discipleship, as Jesus also taught when He said: “Take my yoke upon you” (Mt. 11:29).
We accept the burden of the cross when we publicly confess our faith in Jesus as our Savior, saying that we are not ashamed to be known as disciples of Christ, the crucified. We take up our cross when we follow Christ and willingly expose ourselves to the contempt of the world, the same contempt that the enemies of Christ showed for Him when they rejected Him as their Savior and nailed Him to the cross. For the world considers us fools for following a man who was crucified, for humbling ourselves before Him and confessing our sins, for giving money for the spread of His gospel, for believing in the resurrection to eternal life.
The cross sounds like a heavy burden, for no one wants to be an object of contempt. For many Christians the cross has meant severe persecution, loss of property, and even death.
But Jesus calls even this a light burden and an easy yoke. The cross that we bear as Jesus’ disciples is light, because He carried the heavy burden of our sins and of God’s wrath. That burden has been carried away forever.
Our role is like that of Simon of Cyrene–carrying a cross that feels heavy and rough but does not crush us. And we carry it only for a short distance. Soon we will lay it down forever, and join our Savior in the perfect joy and glory that He has won for us.
–Pastor John Klatt