And they impressed into service a man called Simon of Cyrene, who was passing by, on his way in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, and they made him carry his Cross. So they brought him to the place Golgotha, which means the place of a skull. They offered him wine mingled with myrrh, but he would not take it. They crucified him. And they divided out his garments, throwing dice for them to decide who should take what. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him was written on the Cross–“The King of the Jews.” With him they crucified two brigands, one on his right hand and one on his left.
The routine of crucifixion did not alter. When the cross was prepared the criminal had himself to carry it to the place of execution. He was placed in the middle of a hollow square of four soldiers. In front marched a soldier carrying a board stating the crime of which the prisoner was guilty. The board was afterwards affixed to the cross. They took not the shortest but the longest way to the place of execution. They followed every possible street and lane so that as many as possible should see and take warning. When they reached the place of crucifixion, the cross was laid flat on the ground. The prisoner was stretched upon it and his hands nailed to it. The feet were not nailed but only loosely bound. Between the prisoner’s legs projected a ledge of wood called the saddle, to take his weight when the cross was raised upright–otherwise the nails would have torn through the flesh of the hands. The cross was then lifted upright and set in its socket–and the criminal was left to die. The cross was not tall. It was shaped like the letter T, and had no top piece at all. Sometimes prisoners hung for as long as a week, slowly dying of hunger and of thirst, suffering sometimes to the point of actual madness.
This must have been a grim day for Simon of Cyrene. Palestine was an occupied country and any man might be impressed into the Roman service for any task. The sign of impressment was a tap on the shoulder with the flat of a Roman spear. Simon was from Cyrene in Africa. No doubt he had come from that far off land for the Passover. No doubt he had scraped and saved for many years in order to come. No doubt he was gratifying the ambition of a lifetime to eat one Passover in Jerusalem. Then this happened to him.
At the moment Simon must have bitterly resented it. He must have hated the Romans, and hated this criminal whose cross he was being forced to carry. But we may legitimately speculate what happened to Simon. It may be that it was his intention when he got to Golgotha to fling the cross down on the ground and hasten as quickly as he could from the scene. But perhaps it did not turn out that way. Perhaps he lingered on because something about Jesus fascinated him.
He is described as the father of Alexander and Rufus. The people for whom the gospel was written must have been meant to recognize him by this description. It is most likely that Mark’s gospel was first written for the Church at Rome. Now let us turn to Paul’s letter to Rome and read Rom.16:13. “Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” Rufus was so choice a Christian that he was eminent in the Lord. The mother of Rufus was so dear to Paul that he could call her his own mother. Things must have happened to Simon on Golgotha.
Now turn to Ac.13:1. There is a list of the men of Antioch who sent Paul and Barnabas out on that epoch-making first mission to the Gentiles. The name of one is Simeon that was called Niger. Simeon is another form of Simon. Niger was the regular name for a man of swarthy skin who came from Africa, and Cyrene is in Africa. Here it may well be that we are meeting Simon again. Maybe Simon’s experience on the way to Golgotha bound his heart forever to Jesus. Maybe it made him a Christian. Maybe in the after days he was a leader in Antioch and instrumental in the first mission to the Gentiles. Maybe it was because Simon was compelled to carry the Cross of Jesus that the first mission to the Gentiles took place. That would mean that we are Christians because one day a Passover pilgrim from Cyrene, to his bitter resentment at the moment, was impressed by a nameless Roman officer to carry his cross for Jesus.
They offered Jesus drugged wine and he would not drink it. A company of pious and merciful women in Jerusalem came to every crucifixion and gave the criminals a drink of drugged wine to ease the terrible pain. They offered this to Jesus–and he refused it. When Dr. Johnson was ill with his last illness he asked his doctor to tell him honestly if he could recover. The doctor said he could not without a miracle. “Then,” said Johnson, “I will take no more physic, not even opiates, for I have prayed that I may render up my soul to God unclouded.” Jesus was resolved to taste death at its bitterest and to go to God with open eyes.
The soldiers diced for his clothes. We have seen how the prisoner was marched to the place of crucifixion amid the four soldiers. These soldiers had as their perquisite the clothes of the criminal. Now a Jew wore five articles of clothing–the inner robe, the outer robe, the sandals, the girdle and the turban. When the four lesser things had been assigned, that left the great outer robe. It would have been useless to cut it up, and so the soldiers gambled for it in the shadow of the Cross.
Jesus was crucified between two thieves. It was a symbol of his whole life that even at the end he companied with sinners.
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