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Simon of Cyrene

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Reading: Mark 15

If you come to John 19, you’ll find that John’s gospel record concerning the journey of Christ to Golgotha, doesn’t mention Simon of Cyrene, and I think there is a reason for that, because in John 19, John in fact puts it this way when he says this in v16:

Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: (Joh 19:16-17)

John is adamant in telling us that the Lord bore his own cross, whereas the other gospel records are going to tell us that Simon bore the cross of Christ. John says it was not so, but it was the Lord himself who bore the cross.

I think the reason why John omits reference to Simon of Cyrene is because his purpose is to draw attention to a different aspect of the Lord. Now what aspect might that be? I think the answer is when it says it John 19:17, “and he bearing his cross”, I think that what John would bid us to understand is that here is a parallel to the man mentioned in Genesis 22:6, when it says,

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. (Gen 22:6)

John’s gospel would bid us see in our Lord Jesus Christ a parallel to Isaac who bore the wood of his own sacrifice upon his back. United with his father in that work of sacrifice, twice in the Genesis record it says “and so they went both of them”, that’s the man of John’s gospel, a man who is united with his father and he who bears the wood of his own sacrifice, as another Isaac about to be offered.

When we come to Matthew’s gospel, Matthew becomes one of the synoptic records that does tell us about Simon of Cyrene and this is what is says in Matthew 27, it’s quite interesting really because each gospel has something a little bit different to say, a little something to add to the story.

And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, (Mat 27:31-33)

…and crucified him (v35). Note what v32 says, “as they came out”. You see the Law of Moses forbade judicial execution within the city walls. Num 15:35 said that it had to take place without the camp and so that’s what they were doing here, leading Jesus to Golgotha without the camp.

Now you see we’ve got a reconciliation of John 19 and Matt 27 because what we’re being told is that Jesus didn’t bear his cross, at least at the start of the journey as John says, but when he came to the gate of the city, as they were going out of the city beyond the city wall where the crucifixion would take place we’re being told at that moment of time Christ, who had been bearing the cross, now staggered under the weight as his strength failed him. It wasn’t the full cross by the way, it was just the cross beam that the condemned man bore and that itself was of such sufficient weight that some could not bear it as with the Lord on this occasion. The main stake would already be lying on Golgotha’s height, the hole dug and the stakes ready. The condemned man bore simply the cross beam and around his neck would hang a sign that said what his crime was. In the case of the Lord the sign simply said of course, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. Well even the cross beam to which he would be nailed was too much for the Lord to bear any longer when he came to the gate of the city.

V32 “as they came out they found a man”. Ask yourself this question. What was it that caused the Romans to single out and select this one man from all the people that lined the streets of Jerusalem on this day? Why did the centurion overseeing this event, choose Simon, a stranger in that city that day? Why of all men why did the centurion choose Simon? We shall find out perhaps as the events unfold why Simon was selected that day.

The record says that having found him (v32) him they “compelled”, and that word is the same word in Matthew 5:41, that says, “If a man was compelled to go one mile, they should go twain”, and the reference is to the power of the Romans who were authorised to order any Jew to perform some activity in the service of Caesar, and the Roman centurion on this occasion would have had that authority vested in him to compel any local citizen to a service in the activity of the Caesar of Rome, in fact the Latin word comes from the Persian and the literal meaning of the Persian word is to be “pressed into the service of a king” – and so he was! What Simon had not realised, not yet, is that the king into whose service he had been pressed this day was not the king of Rome, but the king of Israel. Simon bearing the cross that day would find the king he would serve for the rest of his life and this day would change Simon, singled out by the providence of God for an action, that he would not have wanted to have performed at all. Can you imagine the shame of having to walk behind a condemned man, bearing the burden of the condemned man, while all the taunts of the jeering multitude rained down, not just upon Christ, but upon Simon himself, obliged to carry the cross and we’re told the Romans made the journey as long as possible winding through as many streets and places as they could so all might see and fear the power of the Roman authority.

Something providential happened in Simon’s life that day!

Now come to Luke 23. Luke adds some more detail and it tells us this in v25,

And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will. And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. (Luk 23:25-26)

So Luke tells us that the entire cross beam was taken completely off the back of Jesus and laid upon Simon who bore it after him, and that word where it says he might bear it after Jesus, means literally behind, he walked behind the Lord bearing the cross of Christ. And as he walked (and only Luke tells us this), Simon walked that walk on that day he heard all the words of v27 and probably at least through to v34.

And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. (Luk 23:27)

… these thought Jesus was not worthy of death, perhaps the sick and the lame who had been cured by Jesus. He heard the amazing man say:

But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. (Luk 23:28)

All this at a time when Jesus might have wept for himself, but his concern was for the nation, for the people and their future. As he says v30…

Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. (Luk 23:30)

The Lord could see the calamity of AD70 coming upon his people and was more concerned about that than his impending death.

For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. (Luk 23:31-32)

It says in v33, when they were come to the place that was called Calvary….

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luk 23:33-34)

You see I think Simon would have heard that prayer of v33-34. When they came to Calvary, Simon would have knelt down and had the cross taken off his back and the cross beam would have then been laid across the main stake itself and the Lord laid upon it. As the nails were hammered through the hands and feet of Christ into the wood, Simon still there, heard a man, and in the Greek it’s in the present continuous tense, heard him say “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”…. and what Simon heard was the prayer of priestly intercession for others, that must have astonished him as he saw this man lifted up on high.

Only Mark’s gospel tells us that this was a life changing experience for Simon because, in Mark 15, our reading, Mark says something else which no other gospel mentions when it says this in v20.

And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. (Mar 15:20-24)

Did you notice what v21 said – “they compel one Simon, a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country” – only Mark tells us this, that Simon was passing by, and what Mark is telling us is that Simon was coming out of the countryside into the city of Jerusalem, but the Lord was travelling out of the city to a place without the camp and these two men were travelling in opposite directions on that day. Simon was coming in and the Lord was going out, and what were being told in Mark 15 was that Simon who was walking into the city, suddenly found himself turned around at the instructions of the centurion and finds his life walking in exactly the opposite direction and for Simon, meeting the crucified Christ was to turn his life completely around. His experience of meeting the Lord would utterly change his life to walk in the opposite direction, following in the footsteps of Christ himself.

It’s Mark’s gospel that will tell us in v28

And the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. (Mar 15:28)

By the way I think that Simon was a Jew, there was a large Jewish community in Cyrene and Simon was probably there to give the Passover. As a Jew he would have understood the significance of Isaiah 53, but perhaps after he had borne the cross that day he might have pondered the significance of these words, which said of the Lord, despite what Simon had done, “Surely he hath borne our grieves and carried our sorrows”, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”, “therefore I divide him a portion with the great and he shall divide the spoil with the strong because he has poured out his soul unto death, he was numbered with the transgressors and he bear the sin of many” (Isa 53:4,6,12)

Only later would Simon realise that the man he had walked behind, thinking all the while he had borne the beam was actually his saviour who had borne his iniquities and that very day, and whilst I can’t prove this because there is nothing in the record that says so, I can just imagine the first meeting as it were of Simon and the Lord in terms of the meeting of their eyes, because the Lord lay stumbled, perhaps fallen to the ground because of the weight of the beam, and the centurion who called out Simon to come and pick it up, as he looked at the eyes of Christ, the thing that would have impressed Simon is that he didn’t see the eyes of a guilty man, he didn’t see the eyes of an angry man, he didn’t even see the eyes of a defeated man. What he saw was the look of blazing determination of a man who wanted to go to Golgotha, a man who wanted Simon to bear the cross and help him to that destiny, a man who wanted to go there and perhaps when he got there don’t you think a smile and a quiet ‘thank you Simon’ from the Lord as the burden was lifted off Simon.

Simon would never ever forget that moment of contact with the Lord on Golgotha’s height, I think he was transformed by his contact with the suffering servant, and I think the record would suggest to us that that was so because you see what Mark goes on to say, “they compel one Simon a Cyrenian who passed by coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus”, only Mark tells us that. The father of Alexander and Rufus, and presumably the only reason that Mark mentions these names is because they must have meant something to the believers of that time. I think the indication is that the family of Simon had come into the faith and to those whom Mark is writing knew those names, knew those sons and this family was a family of believers now when Mark writes his gospel a little later on – the only reason why those names would be included. Mark of course writes for Romans and we will see the significance of that.

Now come to Acts 11, notice that a very unusual comment in this chapter and one often wonders why it is there, except perhaps now we know. In Acts 11 we have this interesting comment concerning the effect of the persecution of the ecclesia, v19

Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. (Act 11:19)

That was the way of it, the normal to preach only to the Jewish community.

And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. (Act 11:20)

The interesting thing about this particular episode in Acts 11, is that Antioch was the next great stage in the advance of the gospel from Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Samaria, and then lastly to utter most parts of the Earth; the first stage of the uttermost parts was Antioch. Antioch was the 3rd greatest city in the Roman empire and the interesting thing about what is going on in v20, when it says they spoke to the Grecians, is that they were not Jews, these were real Gentiles, they spoke to the Gentiles for the first time, they took the gospel to non-Jewish people in Antioch and in fact Antioch would become the first truly Gentile ecclesia, and now, who was to make this enormous advance in the preaching of the cross of Christ to distant lands? Why, says the record, men of Cyprus and Cyrene. Why do we need to know that? Why should we know that it was men of Cyrene that were included in that preaching work that had now advanced the gospel to another place?

Can you see the shadow of Simon here, v21, and the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord. Notice the word turned in v21, it’s the Greek word epistrepho which means to turn utterly around and face the other way, a complete transformation of one’s life to walk in the opposite direction, a reversal of all that one has done in the past, who better to teach people a dramatic change of life that utterly turns them around other than Simon of Cyrene who had experienced that very dramatic circumstance in his own life. The men of Cyrene took the gospel to the next stage to what became the great Antioch ecclesia. It’s interesting because if you come to Acts 13, I think we have reason to believe that Simon’s hand was involved in that advance of the gospel, because in v1:

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Act 13:1)

So firstly the prophets, Barnabas, Simeon and Lucius and then the Greek suggests the latter ones are teachers which were Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul. So we’ve got prophets and teachers, 3 prophets, 2 teachers. Notice the name of the first prophet, Barnabas. Where does Barnabas come from? He comes from Cyprus and now look at the 3rd name, Lucius, and where does he come from? He comes from Cyrene and Acts 11 says certain men of Cyprus and Cyrene had led the advance of the gospel on this occasion to Antioch, so of course the question is what about the name in the middle? The man between Barnabas and Lucius, whose called Simeon, that was called Niger? Now Simeon of course is another variation of the name Simon. One would assume that whoever this Simeon, or Simon was, he was either a man of Cyprus associated with Barnabas before him or a man of Cyrene associated with Lucius afterwards. Which one do we think he was associated with, Cyprus or Cyrene? I think we’re given a clue, we’re told his surname or other given name was Niger, and that word does mean ‘the black one’, Simon the Black.

If you go to a map and find where Cyrene is, it’s in one of those maps at the end of the Bible concerned with the preaching of the Apostle Paul, showing the whole of the Mediterranean area, and if you go to that map you’ll find that Cyrene is along the coastline of the African coast. If you come down from Israel and across the top of Egypt past Alexandria and finally along the coast to Libya and you’ll find Cyrenaica which is the whole region and the capital city of the area which was Cyrene itself. Cyrene is along the African coastline, in the region next to Libya. Who inhabited the land of Africa? Was it those of Shem? Or those of Japheth? Or those of Ham? The answer is of course the sons of Ham, the black skinned races, who inhabited the African continent, where Cyrene was. I think that Simon was a black man. He was partly Jewish because he was there to keep the Passover but he was black skinned because of association with the Hamite people of that area into which his family had married, and now perhaps we know why the centurion picked out one man on that day in Jerusalem. The black man standing in the crowd. Racial discrimination is not a new thing, it was practiced long ago as a man of Japheth singled out a man of Ham to bear the burden of that day on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ. The remarkable thing is that that very man chosen by the providence of God (probably against his will) now perhaps turns out to be one of the men that led the advance of the Gospel to its next great stage in Antioch, the first Gentile ecclesia, and Simeon that’s called the Black One, a man of Cyrene is there as one of the great prophets of our Lord Jesus Christ, and showing the way of crucifixion that we must follow.

A wonderful story of how a man called for a moment of shame is turned in the providence of God towards the dramatic triumph of the advance of the story of his son. That truth once it had began from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, to Antioch, it would never stop. That advance of the gospel would never stop until it had gone as far and wide as the reaches of the Empire itself, and the Roman Empire that thought that it had conquered found that the cross of Christ had conquered even the Empire itself ultimately and the mark of that conquest was that the gospel finally reached into Rome itself. In Acts 13:1, at Antioch, are Simon the Black One and Lucius, both we believe of Cyrene, and Barnabas of Cyprus but also amongst them dwelling at that time in the ecclesia at the end of verse 1, there is Saul, who is there as a teacher in the Antioch ecclesia in this first great bastion of Gentile believers. Saul is there, in company with Simon at the same time.

Now come to Romans 16. Simon was clearly at the forefront of the activity going on and the ecclesia at Antioch, but notice what it says there in Rom 16. At the end of the epistle, Paul has a number of salutations to bring to a number of people, v3 “greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus,” v5 “greet the ecclesia and their house,” v6 “greet Mary,” v8 “greet Amplius,” a whole list of people that will receive greetings from the Apostle Paul on this occasion. Then it says in v 13 “Salute Rufus, chosen in the Lord and his mother and mine.” That is the only other place that the word Rufus is mentioned apart from Mark 15; Simon the father of Alexander and Rufus. Was Rufus chosen in the Lord? Yes, by circumstance of the dramatic way his whole family had come into contact with the gospel. Here he is now in the very ecclesia of Rome. The record says v13 “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord and his mother and mine.” I don’t know how you read that but in various places in the ecclesial world there were sisters that brought a lot of comfort and succour to the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys. He talks about Phoebe and the ecclesia at Cenchrea in the same chapter, Priscilla who would minister to his needs in another place, and Lydia who would open her house of hospitality at Philippi. There were a number of good-hearted hospitable sisters who would look after the apostle in his time of need, and I think that when he says in Rom 16:13 “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord and his mother and mine,” says the apostle that he could remember many a happy time when that mother showed motherly care even for the apostle in his need, and fed them and housed them and gave them a bed to sleep in. “His mum and mine” says the apostle.

The time at which the apostle wrote Romans you realize he’d never been to Rome. He’d never visited the Roman ecclesia. So how did he know Rufus and more especially how did he know his mother so well, if he’d never been to Rome before? Unless the apostle Paul had already met that family and spent time with them on more than one occasion in their home, such as in Antioch when Simon that was called Niger was a prophet, and Saul was a teacher at the same time in the Antioch ecclesia. I think this is all the same family, except now Rufus and his mother are in Rome. It doesn’t mention Alexander, and so you wonder what happened to the other son.

Interestingly, in 1941, in the city of Jerusalem, a professor called Nahman Avigad who was famous for his association with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and who was the father of Yigael Yadin, probably Israel’s most famous archaeologist, Nahman Avigad in 1941 was excavating by careful design an ancient tomb in the Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem, and when they broke open the tomb which had been carefully blocked up they found that it was a burial tomb for a family and because of the pottery that was found inside, and because of the Herodian oil lamp that was found complete, they could date that tomb to its last use, which was in the first century A.D. They found a number of ossuaries. An ossuary is a little stone box, and inside are the bones of a person. They would lay the body out, and when the body had been picked clean and just the bones were there, they would collect the bones and put them in a little stone box and in this cave would be the burial bones of associated family members, they were private family burial tombs and this was one that they had uncovered. Now there were 12 names found on the particular ossuaries in the tomb and the interesting thing about them was that they were all in Greek apart from one which was in Hebrew, but the most interesting thing is that most of the Greek names that were found there were not common in Palestine. They were well known Greek names amongst the Jewish community in Cyrenaica on the coast of Africa where Cyrene was. On one of the sides of a box were these words, “Alexandros Simenos” which means “Alexander son of Simon” and on the lid of the box was a further inscription that said “Alexandros Querinay” and the inscription Querinay is regarded as short for “Cyrenaica”. So rare is the name Alexander in Jewish literature that the archaeologists came to the conclusion that this was the box and burial chamber of none other than the Alexander the son of Simon of Cyrene, who is mentioned in the gospel records. He’s buried there in Jerusalem, and they uncovered his burial box, and now perhaps we understand why he’s not mentioned in Romans 16. Alexander was in Jerusalem.

So now stop and think about the significance of this, now we’ve got a son in the truth we believe who was in Jerusalem, because he died there, and he was therefore presumably a member of the Jerusalem ecclesia so when Mark writes his gospel and refers to Alexander they would all know that he was a member of the Jerusalem ecclesia who died there eventually. We’ve got a father who we know was in Antioch, the third great city of the Roman world, and the first truly Gentile ecclesia, and that man was a prophet of the gospel, champion of the cross, preaching Christ. Perhaps Simon died in Antioch? There is no mention of him in Romans 16, but we do have the name of the other son and a mother, who were not only both in Rome but were members of the ecclesia there, but Rome is the very capital of the empire. Now do you remember what Christ had said, in Matthew 24. Acts 1 of course said, “you shall be my witnesses in the uttermost parts of the earth,” but in addition to that he said this in Matt 24. In v11,

And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Mat 24:11-14)

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the Roman world and here in this one family of Simon of Cyrene is the story of that triumph. A son in Jerusalem, a father in Antioch, a son and a mother in Rome, and through one man and his immediate family members, the message of the cross was spread from Jerusalem to Rome, in marvellous fulfilment of the Lord’s words in Matthew 24, “the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world”, and this one family did all this just by themselves. They became champions of the cross; who could have known how that story would unfold at the day that Simon was chosen in Jerusalem?

Now have a look at Heb. 13, because here the Apostle uses a special word that we’ve already come across in our study concerning the work of Simon of Cyrene. In v12,

Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. (Heb 13:12-13)

Now you see that word bearing in v13, that’s the same word in Luke 23:26 which says they “laid hold upon one Simon, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus”. That’s the same word the apostle will now use saying, “let us therefore go forth to him without the gate, bearing his reproach”, so we like Simon are asked to bear our cross and to follow him, in fact in the 1st century ecclesia you can imagine how important Simon would have become in a sense, because hadn’t the Lord said, “Whosoever shall follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me,”? The first man to have done that in a literal way was none other than Simon who took up the Lord’s own cross and bore the burden after the Lord and we’re all asked to bear our cross. Now bearing our cross doesn’t simply mean being patient or showing fortitude under trial, or accepting the burden of responsibilities, there was only ever one reason why a person bore a cross, and that was because they were going to their crucifixion. The very words for cross and crucifixion are the noun and the verb of the same words, so the question is how do we bear our cross after the manner of Simon? The answer is by accepting in the providence of God, those circumstances that come upon us that result in the crucifixion of the flesh. Those times in life when we’d rather not perform a certain task, when we feel the pain of the sacrifice that’s involved, when the matter involved requires a crucifixion of our own natural inclinations. That’s when we feel what it’s like to take up our cross and follow him, and that is the commitment that Simon made, the vow that we all avowed on our solemn joyful day of baptism that we would follow the Lord even to death. That’s the lesson we have to learn, or at least one of the lessons from the life of Simon, we’ve got to think of those things that we might be able to do in service, but might not come easily to us. There is no special merit in offering to God those things that we are already good at or capable of. What about something that we’re not suited for? Something we’re not naturally strong at? It may be in deciding that you’ll speak to someone about the gospel even though you feel naturally shy. It may be that you decide to throw open your house in hospitality even though you feel naturally private. It may be that you decide to accept new responsibility in ecclesial life even though you feel inadequate and scared to do so. Whatever it will be, it will be something where we’ll feel the pain and perhaps the shame the experience might bring upon us, and I think this is the lesson of Simon of Cyrene, that only when we have shouldered our cross and borne it aloft and felt its burden and looked up and seen Christ ahead and we following in his steps, then we will know the cross of Christ and that power to transform us and empower us and to lift us up, because at last we’ve suffered with him and followed him. We have to come to that moment in life that Simon came to, and Simon must have successfully instructed and enthused his family to come too. That they might all become fervent believers and preachers and followers of Christ.

Now think about the providence of God in all these things. In Gen 9, there was an interesting prophecy given by Noah at the time of his death.

And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. (Gen 9:25-27)

Of course Noah’s words uttered as an inspired prophecy on this occasion we believe revealed the destiny of his 3 sons, and the branches of humanity that emanated from them. The line of Ham was cursed through Canaan his youngest son, who was himself a youngest son, to emphasize the punishment related to his family destiny rather than to himself. In v26, the fact that God was the God of Shem indicates that Shem was already in a covenant relationship God and blessed by that association and in v27, the destiny of Japheth was to enlarge his seed and territory but yet a spiritual hope could only come by association with the tabernacle of Shem where a lone access to the deity could be found. Ham and the people of Ham would suffer tribute and servitude through service to Japheth, but they would also experience the prospect of release and acceptance through service to Shem. Can you imagine what depth of destiny there was in the oracle of Noah? Surely, it was in the providence of God that day that a centurion chose Simon out of all the people in Jerusalem that day, how could have that man known that his selection would bring the prophecy of Noah into sharp focus on Golgotha’s height? How could the centurion have known that his command to one man to bear the cross of Christ would bring together momentarily (though what a moment it was to be in history), on that one day, in that one place, a man of Shem – Jesus of Nazereth, a man of Ham – Simon of Cyrene and a man of Japheth – the Roman centurion. How could he have known that? The redemption for the man of Japheth lay in his readiness to accept that access to God lay in that man of Shem. How could he have known that salvation for the man of Ham lay in his willingness to become the servant and burden bearer to that same man of Shem? The destiny of Golgotha was written in those prophecies so many years before. In the providence of God, the centurion chose the one man in the crowd that would bring it all together. Well here is the spirit of our lesson; it’s in the words of a hymn:

We gave ourselves to thee o Lord, contented to be despised,
when we obedient to thy word believed and were baptized.
Then we avowed that we would die unto the world and sin;
and live for immortality and be forever Thine.
O never may our souls forget those solemn, joyful days,
which live in grateful memory yet and prompt our hearts to praise.
And he who owns his Lord today, O keep us true and pure;
May we Thy glorious grace display, and to the end endure.

Surely that was the spirit of Simon as he learned the lesson of that transforming day at Golgotha, when he was brought face to face with the man of Shem in whom salvation lay.

21 thoughts on “Simon of Cyrene

  • Cherie.K

    awesome and deep, plan on using this as a lesson for children’s church, and it was a lesson that struck a chord in my own heart. I was lead to this just because the words “Simon of Cyrene” jumped at me from my morning Bible reading and I googled that phrase….divine inspiration/intercession

    • William

      Good read. How did i end up reading all this? Well, I was curious why John didn’t write about Simeon of Cyrene. I wanted to know why. However, I’ve got more understanding that what I sought for. God bless you. The relationship with Noah’s prophecy is a thing I’ve never pondered. Thank you.

      I understand how Mark have more details on Simon of cyrene, John Mark visited Antioch (hope is the same Mark). So he probably knew the church and had personally met Simon, wife and family – Alex and Rufus. Maybe that’s why Matthew and Luke reported differently.

  • I am currently working here in Libya. And I am very glad to read this site about Simon of Cyrene although I am not yet reach this place, I am looking to visit this place in God’s will… Cyrene in Arabic word called Jabal Al Akhdar… U think Libyan people though all Muslim, live years ago living thier lives in away Simon of Cyrene thus.. and helped spread the words of God through son Jesus Christ?

  • Ron mandeville

    Wow! Thank you! What an amazing article! Thank you for your study, insight and help in seeing and understanding the depth and love of the God that placed all things in order.
    All I can add is;
    Because God is good–all the time!

    • cayetano q. marquez/ marquez tanz

      wonderful lines, this comes to my mind the immortality of memory to every follower of Jesus. Like Simon of Cyrene, in us is the identity of Jesus if we commit our life to Him, denying our self, take up the cross and follow Him. to God be the glory!

  • Ebenezer J Marampudi

    wonderful sermon
    Thank you

  • Really interesting and in depth study, thank you. I am not sure I agree with some of your suppositions, but it has certainly given me food for thought! Your threading of the passages across He gospels was really helpful.

    • Kathy Lingoni Luke

      I wanted to know more about “a man of Cyrene, Simon by name”. A man coming to Jerusalem on Pentecost, but chosen out of the multitude to follow in the footsteps of the true Lamb of God into His suffering. He had no idea that his life would change that day outside the gate as he carried the burden of this innocent Man.
      I wonder how long it took Simon to have a change of heart. Imagine being pulled out of the crowd because he was different than others being from Cyrene, identified as Niger. First the feeling of contempt, who knows how far he had just traveled as their paths crossed with Simon entering into the city. He possibly didn’t know what was all the commotion concerning this Man, was he evil? Did he deserve this sentence? Why was even the religious screaming “crucify Him”, yet a large multitude followed crying for him?
      Then the feeling of the weight this scourged Man had been forced to carry… identifying with His heavy load. The trip was not short, plus it was up hill. He had much time to think.
      Then realizing the weight of the Cross that Jesus bore was much more than physical weight. Coming to celebrate Passover, he was familiar with the scriptures. At some time during this event, Jesus must have locked eyes with Simon. We also know that the Lord will never put on us more than we can bear. We will never accuse the Lord that we did more than He did. But Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, Simeon called Niger, was chosen for such a time as this.
      It is possible that Simon had no knowledge of who Jesus of Nazareth was until this moment in time, but this changed his life, his family’s life and many others outside of Jerusalem because of his personal testimony with:
      As the first one in my personal family to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ; I am so thankful that though I was headed in a different direction, I was chosen to pick up His Cross and follow Him.
      Thank you for your research and knowledge of the scriptures and connection of history. Family trees always change direction when we come face to face with the KING of kings and LORD of lords.

  • Bravo! Surgically taken apart and properly put together. This is a great article for defending the faith concerning Christianity being a “white man’s” religion, or refuting the obvious presence of people of color in biblical history. All Nations, All tongues!!!

  • Sandra Anderson

    We had a teaching at church Thursday night that mentioned Simon of Cyrene, and it got my wheels turning, so I decided to do an internet search to see if I could find out more information.

    I have always wondered who Simon of Cyrene really was. Thank you for your in-depth study and sharing of God’s revelation on this. It is truly amazing how the Bible is all so intricately interwoven. It takes specially called and anointed people to be able to dig out all the connections and put it all together so well. Thank you for answering God’s call on your life to be one of those people. God Bless you.

  • Why Simon black man help Jesus?. there were so many fallowers and dasiples who seen their miricles, signs and wonders that would have helped Him instead.

    From Papua New Guinea, Black people society

  • Kelechi O Ukonu

    What an enriching piece of study and lesson. As a believer, I feel deeply encouraged and challenged on the task of spreading the gospel around us and everywhere we go, as did Simon of Cyrene along with his family. And as an African, I feel an indescribable sense of pride to be part of a race (supposedly originating from Ham ) included in the divine plan of the advancement and the triumph of the gospel of Christ, from Jerusalem, through Samaria, to every corner of the earth. I was greatly touched by the motivating theme of the lesson — achieving recognition and greatness through service .

  • Richard Tiscareno

    That was amazingly deep…blown away with that study…



  • Theresa Angeletti

    Matthew 11 where Jesus says to Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowely of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. Elizabeth elliott did a teaching about this verse and she emphasizes that we pull the yoke of Christ together with him – to get under the yoke and work with Him- to be willing to die in our wills and desires ….. wonderful article….very meaningful

    • Brent

      Powerful in real as well as symbolic value. Despised and scorned by the Romans but recognized, honored and redeemed by God, Simon temporarily held the cross, yet permanently God allowed him to destroy a stigma, reverse centuries of opprobrium, celebrate equality with his forebears’ brothers, and to enter forever the ranks of the chosen, on a par with the disciples and prophets, without ever preaching a sermon, writing a book or uttering a word!

  • ogbemudia iseyare

    you really are an expository teacher.. you open my eyes more to this simon of Cyrene.. God bless your knowledge.

  • This was a good read! A long term question and wonderful plan of the Lord to chose a person from a cursed race! God is GREAT!

  • Janice Bryant

    Only problem with this theory is that it is not compatible with Simeon of Niger – “Simeon” shows this person to be Hebrew/Jewish, not Greek as with Simon of Cyrene, and “Niger” points us to a country, not the color of skin, in which it is “what” is found in Niger (which is pronounced “Ni-jeer”); look there and you will find the answer…the name of “Lucius” (Luke) is the one that points to “Cyrene”; “Simon” is the Greek reference of the name and Cyrene of course again shows the Greek/Simon of Cyrene…

    • Michael T Ward

      THanks for the insight above. As it relates to Simeon, Acts 13:1 says he was “called Niger”. Which gives us clues. If Niger was simply the country he was from, the scriptures generally will say, such and such is “of … said country” Niger in our case. But the scripture states that he was “called Niger” which literally means black. The Louw-Nida lexicon explains the definition of the term Niger in this semantic domain. Niger was an additional name or we call it a surname. His surname was “black”. In some cultures, people get surnames based on physical traits such as “Red”.

      93.279 Νίγερ m: an additional name of Συμεών 4, the prophet—‘Niger’ (Ac 13:1).

      Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 828). New York: United Bible Societies.

  • Kabelo Edwin Mane

    Powerful that’s spiritual teaching, the deepest revelation of the word of God by the Holi Spirit. We are blessed indeed. It reminds me of Matthew 20. “the last shall become first and the first became last” Indeed God’s love is great all times. Amen ‘Let keep up the good fight of faith in Jesus Christ name.


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