Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” … As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. [Luke 9:23, 23:26 (NLT)]
Although Jesus spoke of carrying your own cross, it was Simon of Cyrene who carried His. Cyrene was in Cyrenaica, a land just east of Egypt in what now is Libya. We don’t know if Simon had resettled in Judea or if he was there just for the Passover. We only know that Simon had just come into the city from the fields (or countryside) when the soldiers pressed him into service. Carrying a 75-to-125-pound cross-beam (patibulum) of a Roman cross certainly hadn’t been in Simon’s plans that day but one didn’t refuse a Roman soldier.
If we’re supposed to carry our own cross, why didn’t Jesus carry His? Perhaps because that cross was as much Simon’s as it was Peter’s and John’s and yours and mine. That cross weighed more than 125 pounds because it carried the weight of mankind’s sins. It was at Golgotha that Simon surrendered the weight of his (and everyone else’s) sins to Jesus. Not only did Simon carry his own cross but Luke tells us specifically that Simon followed Jesus as he did it!
When they impressed Simon into service, it seems as if the Roman soldiers finally showed some compassion on the man they’d so mercilessly beaten earlier that day. Kindness, however, may not have been their motivation. Not everyone condemned to the cross survived the soldiers’ scourging but they’d been told to crucify Jesus. If He died before getting to Golgotha, they’d have failed at their task. The soldiers may have enlisted Simon simply to keep Jesus alive long enough so they could inflict more torture on Him!
Whatever the soldier’s motive was for conscripting Simon, theologian John Piper posits that God put Simon there for Jesus. Let us remember that the man who healed the sick, turned water into wine, fed a multitude with a boy’s lunch, gave life back to Jairus’ daughter, and called Lazarus out of the tomb had the power to stop his suffering at any time that day. If we thought Jesus’ anguish was great the previous night while praying to do God’s will, His agony that day was far worse. If we thought Jesus’ temptation to yield to Satan was great in the wilderness, it was even greater as He stumbled toward Golgotha. Angels, however, ministered to our Lord in the wilderness and an angel strengthened Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the same way, did God have Simon carry the cross as a way of helping and sustaining His Son so that Jesus’ obedience would not falter?
God works in amazing ways and maybe Simon of Cyrene was placed on that roadside at just that time for just such a purpose! Could God have placed us somewhere today so that we can serve as one of His ministering angels?