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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Day 62: Matthew 27:24-44 & Psalm 63 - What if You Had to Carry Jesus' Cross?

Today's reading: Matthew 27:24-44 & Psalm 63

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What if You Had to Carry Jesus' Cross?

As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. 

They compelled this man to carry his cross. - Matthew 27:33, ESV


We know almost nothing about Simon of Cyrene for certain, other than the fact that he was forced to carry Jesus' cross up the hill to Golgotha. The fact that his name is recorded in the Gospel accounts is significant for two reasons: 

1. Simon probably went on to be a follower of Jesus and a member of the church. (Otherwise, his name would probably not be known to Matthew.) Cyrene, his hometown in Northern Africa, did become a major center for early Christianity. Was it Simon himself who brought them the Gospel? We can't know that for sure.

2. The inclusion of his name and hometown is just another specific, verifiable historical detail in the Gospels. These kinds of details show us that we're not dealing with myths and legends, but with real history, recorded within the lifetimes of the people who lived it.

The fact that he had to carry Jesus' cross shows us that Jesus was weak from exhaustion, hunger, dehydration and the cruel beating He received from the Romans. In fact, this whole section reflects accurately what was foretold of Jesus in Isaiah 53, 700 years before these events:

He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.(Isaiah 53:3-7)

But I've been thinking about a very personal question: What if you had been compelled to carry Jesus' cross? What if you had taken the bloody wood from off of His shoulders, looked Him in the eye, placed the burden on your own shoulders and walked up that hill to the place of death? How would that change you? Would it? 

We are called to pick up the cross of Jesus. That's what He meant when He said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24) This looks different at various times in our lives, but it usually means being rejected, mocked, ridiculed and even hated by the world. 

I'll confess that sometimes I don't want to carry the cross. At those times, I need to see the grace in such a task and let the grace compel me. Simon didn't necessarily want to carry the cross, but he was compelled to do so, and that made all the difference.  

Prayer: Psalm 63

This is a psalm that I like to pray almost word-for-word:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,

    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

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