A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) —Mark 15:21 NLT
I am quite sure Simon did not expect his visit to Jerusalem would involve carrying a cross. For starters, he lived in Cyrene, a city near the Mediterranean Sea in northern Africa near Egypt. A large population of Jews still lived in this predominantly Greek city, where their ancestors had been sent a couple of centuries earlier by Ptolemy I. So, Simon was probably Jewish and likely visiting Jerusalem for Passover, but he was a stranger in the city and quite literally just passing by, when he was collared by soldiers and forced to carry Jesus’ cross. Jesus was exhausted from a torturous night, beatings and lack of sleep, and evidently no longer able to stand under the weight of the heavy cross. The soldiers certainly were not going to carry it for Him, and so they grabbed Simon. Imagine living in such a time when you could be randomly called into such horrific duty!
This is all we hear of Simon, the man who carried Jesus’ cross. One verse in one book in the Bible. However, we can draw some conclusions about him because of the reference in this verse to his sons, Alexander and Rufus. Mark refers to these two sons as if his readers would know them. It’s like Mark is saying, you know Rufus and Alexander? Yeah. Their father was the guy who carried Jesus’ cross the day He was crucified. His readers might have responded, Seriously? I didn’t know it was Rufus’ father who carried Jesus’ cross.
In the book of Romans, we have another tantalizing “peek” into Simon’s family. Paul sends greetings to his friends in Rome as he concludes his letter to them. “Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me” (Romans 16:13 NLT). The fact that Rufus is mentioned in two separate places in the New Testament with assurance that people will know him, reveals that this son of Simon’s was known in Christian circles, as was his mom, Simon’s wife. (Although we don’t know with absolute certainty, most Bible scholars believe the Rufus in Romans is indeed the Rufus mentioned in Mark.)
Based on these verses, it’s not hard to conclude that carrying Jesus’ cross was a monumental, life-changing experience for Simon. This accidental meeting yielded lasting fruit in his life and the lives of his family members. He walked beside our exhausted Lord and Savior, felt the weight of the cross, and most likely touched the blood Jesus had already shed on its beams from the scourging He had endured. We don’t know if Jesus spoke to him. We don’t know if Simon stayed and watched Jesus die. We don’t know if Simon witnessed Jesus forgiving those who had abused him and promising eternal life to a thief crucified beside him. But he might have. Likely he could never get out of his mind the calm, suffering man who stumbled beside him toward His death.
What we do know is that Simon’s wife and son were so near and dear to Paul that he felt like Rufus’ mom was a second mom to him. We know that at least two members of Simon’s family chose Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We can guess and hope that Simon and Alexander did as well.
When someone meets Jesus, whether through careful study or through an accidental circumstance, they can’t help but be changed. I have been amazed over the years listening to the testimonies of those who have met Jesus through dreams or found Him through difficult circumstances in their lives, knew He was real, and never looked back. The Jesus we worship as Risen Lord at Easter is truly the living God in flesh. He lives with us still through the Holy Spirit within us—and He continues to move human hearts today. No one who has met Him forgets the encounter.
As we move into Easter week, dear friends, let’s set aside time to be with this wonderful Lord and Savior in Bible study and prayer, in worship and song, in quiet and meditation. Let’s pray for those who have not yet met and been changed by the Glorious One. No other like Him exists. He is worthy of our time, attention, and praise. Let’s take that time to remember what He gave up for us when He shed His blood on our behalf. Let’s never, ever get over the awe of that greatest grace we first received when we encountered the cross and believed that Jesus truly took our punishment on Himself, freeing us from the death that we deserve.*
Father God, how I thank You for sending of Your Son! Lord Jesus, I bow in worship and awe, knowing You accomplished what You came to do, rescuing sinners like me from death and destruction and granting us the gift of eternal life and healing. Only You. May Your Name be lifted High this Easter in my heart and in my home. In Your Name I pray, Amen.
* If you have not yet made the decision to follow Christ and wish to know more,
please click on this podcast or read this blog. There is no time like Right Now
to come to the One who made you, loves you, and died for you.
You are loved,
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