Friday, March 30, 2012

An Encounter With The Full Grace of God

Simon. Bad place…bad time…bad Friday. Mark’s gospel calls him a “passerby,” just coming into Jerusalem from the countryside. [Mark 15:21] He was probably just arriving to celebrate the Passover when he encounters this bloody, chaotic mob scene. A roiling crowd is met by him, emerging from the city, pushing, shoving, shouting, cursing, with wailing women, and brutal soldiers hurling curses and insults, beating and urging on….”what is that?” It’s a man, so covered with blood and horribly beaten he can scarcely be recognized, but he looks familiar…he almost looks like that Jesus fellow that has been causing such a stir for the last three years or so. As he gazes at this horrifying spectacle, the tortured figure struggling to bear the weight of a roughly hewn cross, suddenly stumbles and lurching forward, falls face down in the dust of the street with the full force of his wooden burden dropping upon him with a sickening thud. With this the din of the crowd erupts with renewed fervor; some with glee and some with terrorized cries of pity and sorrow. Frozen by the sight, Simon hears from somewhere among all the yelling and crying, a slightly louder command, shouted with a distinctively Latin dialect, “Hey you! Come over here and pick up this cross!” His momentary hesitation is met by a strong grip on his arm and an unfriendly shove in the direction of the unfortunate fellow lying prostrate and bleeding beneath the instrument of his execution. The rapid downward glance that fell on the tip of a Roman broadsword was all the motivation he needed, and he quickly moved to take hold of the cross and with no small effort, lifted it from the man and onto his own shoulder. As he did his hands, his shoulder that bore the weight and his face that pressed against the splintery wood was immediately wet with blood and bits of flesh, and he fought against the nausea rising within him. It seemed an eternity before they got the owner of the cross to his feet, but as soon as they had, the grim processional continued toward the place that everyone knew as Golgotha. As they went Simon must have thought to himself a question that many before him and multitudes after him have thought….”What have I done to deserve such a thing as this?”

Simon the Cyrenian, is a picture of us all. He is a symbol of the suffering inflicted, often simply by circumstance and seemingly through no fault of our own, by living in this broken and sometimes brutally painful world. How could he have foreseen that on that day, what we now call “Good Friday,” he would encounter the suffering of the only One who was truly undeserving and innocent of the condemnation and death He was receiving. The image of Simon, sharing in the suffering of Jesus, is a crucial reminder to us that there is no level of pain, humiliation, betrayal, violence, grief or even death that is unfamiliar to our Lord. While he was on his way to Jerusalem that Friday, there is no way that Simon could have known of the privilege and the honor he would encounter by touching the blood and shouldering the weight that Jesus bore in innocence for the price of his guilt and sins…and ours. When he began his journey to the city that day from the countryside, how could he have known that he would be met there by the full magnitude of the grace of God? He probably thought he was bearing the weight for the crimes of another when in truth it was Jesus who was bearing the weight of sin for us all. I almost envy Simon! It makes me wonder with the upcoming Good Friday, if perhaps the Apostle Paul, may have briefly thought about Simon of Cyrene (as I have), when he wrote:

“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” – Philippians 3:10-11 (NLT)

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