Bystanders Day 8: Simon of Cyrene

By Jaime Sherman

  • Matthew 27:31-33
  • Mark 15:16-23
  • Luke 23:26-31
  • John 19:17

As Simon of Cyrene neared the gates of Jerusalem on the morning following the Passover feast, his route into the city was suddenly blocked by an angry crowd. Like a sheep dog corralling its sheep, the crowd pressed hard behind Roman soldiers who led a bloody and bruised man out of the city. The sickening scent of sweat and blood hung in the air, and the prisoner gasped for breath as he stumbled under the weight of a rough wooden beam. 

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Before he could skirt the crowd, Simon felt someone grab his arm, and he found himself in the throng of people, pressed into service by a Roman soldier. Why? He couldn’t be certain. Was it the color of his skin? Was it his appearance of strength? Was it simply that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a bystander to an event he knew little about?

This wasn’t someone you said “no” to, and Simon felt no power to resist the soldier. Someone slammed this prisoner’s blood-stained patibulum, or crossbar of crucifixion, upon Simon’s back and prodded him forward. His movements up a skull-capped hill were achingly slow, for this was one of the heaviest burdens he had ever shouldered.

In the cacophony of angry screams and weeping, Simon struggled alongside this man Jesus of Nazareth, who was limping toward his crucifixion. In a raspy voice of one struggling for breath, the man spoke to a group of mourning and lamenting women in a story-telling way. 

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:27-31, Hosea 10:8, Revelation 6:16-17).

In this man’s moment of agony, He was comforting and teaching, encouraging those in the crowd to not mourn for Him but to take seriously the pain of sin upon Him and the future judgment coming to the nation of Israel.

Eventually Simon was relieved of the patibulum, and we wonder if he stayed to watch Jesus suffer and witnessed the eerie hours at the cross when the sun refused to shine and the terrifying moments when the earth shook as Jesus breathed his last. Did he meet the disciples and the women who walked through ministry with Jesus? Or in fear, did he hasten to the city and hide among the holiday travelers? Could it be that Simon was one of those Cyrenians from northern Libya who heard the good news in his own tongue seven weeks later at Pentecost (Acts 2:10)? Was he the father of the Alexander and the Rufus mentioned in Acts and Romans whose mother was like a mother to the apostle Paul? While the gospel accounts don’t give us these answers, we trust God’s sovereignty, knowing Simon was in the right place at the right time that morning as Jesus struggled toward the cross. 

Take time today to thank Jesus for taking your place on the cross, for bearing the punishment your sins deserve.

For additional narratives in our Bystanders series, click here.