Simon of Cyrene

Indulge me. And join me in some creative pondering.

Let’s go back to the day of Jesus’ execution.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country. (Mark 15:21)

Simon of Cyrene, as he’s become known, was a Jewish pilgrim, just arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

Any guesses where Cyrene was?

It was in what we know as Libya. 783 miles away. At least a 32-day journey. It is known that there was a large Jewish community in that part of North Africa.

Simon had travelled a long way to celebrate Passover.

Mark tells us that he’s the father of Alexander and Rufus. You might be wondering why he drops that bit of seemingly meaningless piece of information in. But Mark is writing about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, probably from Rome, and the implication is that his first readers would have known these two men.

Anyway, back to Simon.

For a moment, pause and consider what happened next.

Simon was there, amongst the throng of Jewish pilgrims, perhaps revelling in the excitement, the bustle…the goings-on. Mark tells us that Simon was passing by…most likely, he had recently arrived.

Suddenly, his life changes. In a moment.

Soldiers grabbed him from the crowd, and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.

From mere bystander to being caught up in the drama.

Imagine what he saw: the wounds on Jesus’ back; the blood; the ripped flesh; the crown of thorns piercing his skull.

Imagine what he heard: the crowd jeering; the whistling; Jesus’ words to the mourning women (Luke 23:28); the soldiers shouting at the crowds.

Simon was there at Golgotha. Did he stay and witness the brutal execution? We don’t know. But I think we can be sure that his life was changed that day. I think we can be sure that the sights, the sounds….the events…did not leave him. Ever.

Jump forward to Acts 2. And the day of Pentecost.

Pentecost was the second great festival, occurring 40 days after Passover. And we know that pilgrims would stay for both.

Again, the Jewish pilgrims were gathered. Masses of them. And more than likely, Simon was there amongst them. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them…and people hear each other speaking in different languages. Read how Luke records it: Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome… (Acts 2:8-10).

Do you see that? Amongst those gathered on the day of Pentecost were people from Cyrene!

Was Simon there? Let’s assume so.

If you know the story of Pentecost you’ll know what happened next. Peter gets up to preach. He explains what’s going on. He explains what has happened in recent days. About Jesus…his death and resurrection. And he calls people to respond in repentance and faith.

The result? About three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)

Was Simon one of those who responded and came to faith? Let’s assume so. It would make sense.

What happened next to Simon, we’re not sure. But again, let’s imagine.

In all likelihood, Simon returned to his home in Cyrene. And shared his story. Of carrying the cross. Of Jesus. Of his crucifixion. Of his reported resurrection. Of Pentecost. Of Peter. Of coming to faith.

Simon shared the good news of Jesus, the Messiah.

And his family came to faith. His sons, Rufus and Alexander. And his wife.

And they became instrumental in the establishment of the church in that part of North Africa. Perhaps even further afield. Maybe that’s why Mark refers to them by name in his gospel? They were known….it’s as if Mark is saying to his readers…”those two guys you know…Alexander and Rufus….who are hard at work in church ministry….you know who their dad was, don’t you? He was Simon…the guy who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross!”

Let’s go to one more place. Romans 16:13. Paul is finishing his letter that we know as Romans and he concludes with a long list of farewells.

Verse 13 says, Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me too.

Now…keep imagining.

I wonder, is this the same Rufus - son of Simon of Cyrene? Possibly. We don’t know for sure. And I guess it’s not that important.

But it could be. And it kind of makes sense when you think about Simon’s story. You can imagine how it could be so. How events might have progressed.

Pondering this story….Simon….Alexander and Rufus…makes me think of how God works. God works through people. Through breaking into people’s lives. Through transformation. And then, through those people, in turn, sharing their story with others…those closest to them…family…friends. And the gospel spreads. Seeps. Oozes. God works through ordinary people being willing to live their lives for him...being willing to share their stories…being willing to live out the new story they find themselves caught up in.

Simon Lang