Redemption Draws Near—the First Time Around
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
After the rich young ruler’s refusal to exchange his earthly priorities for those of his soul, Jesus followed up that disappointing discussion with His hyperbolical camel helplessly stuck in the grip of a needle’s eye illustration, prompting Peter’s concerns about who can be saved. After all, he and the others gave up everything to follow the Messiah. Jesus reassured them about God’s ability to save and the high value of focusing on eternity. So off they went, heading for Jerusalem on the final leg of their solemn march. But all was not lost. Zaccheus followed Jesus’ instruction to host Him at his house. There, a repentant rich, chief-tax gatherer did what the rich young ruler would not do: give to the poor. Plus, Zaccheus promised to restore four times the amount he had wronged others.
Compelled to Follow
“…a certain Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to bear His cross.” (Matthew 27:32).
Up to this point, those who chose to follow Jesus, did so willingly. But that all changed as Simon arrived at the gates of a restless Jerusalem set on edge by the imminent crucifixion of two criminals and Jesus. Simon had traveled nearly 800 miles from his homeland in North Africa to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But with no room to spare in the packed city, Simon stayed outside its walls at night. Each day meant entering through an open gate until Friday when he didn’t quite make it through the gate unnoticed. Wrong place, wrong time, he might have thought when the Roman soldiers drafted him into service, forcing him to carry the cross-beam section of Jesus’ cross from that point to Golgotha. Who can blame Simon if he was thinking “Why me?” Perhaps, nobody else in the crowd looked strong enough to bear the weight of the cross-beam on their shoulders. What a time to look fit. Coincidence? Hardly. It was all part of God’s plan for Simon of Cyrene.
Splinters from an Unforgiving Cross
“…and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26).
It’s very possible that Cyrenian Simon felt the burning pain of jagged splinters, broken off the rough cross-beam, gouging his flesh and skin when the soldiers hoisted it onto his shoulders or while its weight dug into his shoulders with each precarious step along the rest of Jesus’ arduous death march, or, finally, when it was unloaded at the crucifixion site. This version of crucifixion—Roman style—was built around inflicting as much punishing pain as possible. Simon’s unwanted job was more than just humiliating… it was physically devastating. But the soldiers had little concern for Simon’s comfort, let alone Jesus’ suffering. Jesus endured far worse searing pain throughout this excruciatingly slow execution process that had weakened His body to the point of needing Simon to follow Him with that heavy load on his shoulders. Words cannot describe it well enough for us to truly understand. But that is not God’s ultimate goal in all that took place at the Cross of Jesus. Faith in Christ Jesus is not built on feelings… good or bad. No one but Simon was called to carry Jesus’s literal cross, during that time of celebration inside a city ignoring the unsightly activities occurring outside its walls. The city chose to ignore Jesus’ warnings of what would happen to them, though His concern was so deep for those people that it prompted Him to weep over the doomed city when He first reached sight of it.
There are no remnants of Jesus’ wooden cross remaining—no splinters on display in some museum. Likewise, our faith in the risen Savior Christ Jesus doesn’t hang on artifacts like Noah’s wooden ark, religious icons, charismatic leaders nor attempts to retrace the route Jesus took through Jerusalem’s streets until the cross-beam was hoisted unceremoniously onto Simon’s shoulders finishing this suddenly awkward relay race tothe cross so that Jesus could finish His work on the cross. Instead, our faith in the risen Christ rests upon that finished work: “It is finished!” (John 19:30) and ultimately upon Christ Himself, His word and ongoing relationship with Him. Jesus said, “…If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31).
Don’t Slow Down in Sight of the Finish Line
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
But before we leave this horrific scene behind us, one last interaction with humanity remained for Jesus. One of the criminals hanging on a cross of his own, became a believer before it was too late. No preformulated words sprang from the dying man’s parched lips, no boxes were checked and no religious hoops jumped through. Yet, the man realized his need for God, believed Jesus was the Son of God and knew that Jesus was innocent. Jesus was the object of the man’s faith—proving to be more important than the amount of that faith. The man acknowledged that he deserved his punishment, and was helpless to save himself—not only from execution, but from what was waiting for him afterward. So, while rebuking the other criminal’s defiance toward Jesus, the repentant man spoke from a contrite heart, saying simply, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). Jesus knew the man’s heart, the place God sees, and replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43).
John’s gospel confirms that Jesus physically died (John 19:33-34) and that He died before either of the two criminals, who still breathed until the soldiers broke their legs (John 19:32). Thus, the repentant criminal, followed Jesus into Paradise.
May we never gloss over this interaction between Jesus and one of His creation. Help us Lord to never grow callous or cynical to Your purposeful example here to not give up on anybody’s soul, as long as we or they—have breath.
Now, we have opportunity to remember Him, the One who remembered us in our most desperate moment of need, whenever we celebrate His resurrection at Easter, during communion with fellow followers or through a prayerful personal relationship with Christ—the risen Savior and fulfillment of God’s New Covenant.
Alan Summers, GBC Elder
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB)