This Week's Focus Passage

‘And they compel one passing by, one Simon of Cyrene.’

Focus Passage: Mark 15:21

‘And they compel one passing by, one Simon of Cyrene.’

Just who was this Simon of Cyrene? Is it not most interesting to read of those individuals that are mentioned but one time in the Word of God? Now we may argue that this Simon was mentioned, not once but three times, yet the three times are each accounts of the same incident in each of the synoptic gospels of Matthew 27:32 and Luke 23:26, along with that of our focus passage from Mark 15:21. Taking that those narratives each speak of the very same occasion, we count that Simon of Cyrene was spoken of but once, in that sense. We iterate the inquiry, just who is this Simon of Cyrene? We may learn from some sources that;

“Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in three of the four Gospels as the man impelled by the Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross out of Jerusalem. His place of origin has led many to wonder if he was of African descent (and therefore black), or if he was simply born there as were many others of Greek, Roman, and Jewish descent.

Cyrene was situated in modern-day Libya, on the northern coast of the African continent. Settled by the Greeks in 630 B.C. and later infused with a significant Jewish population, Cyrene was the capital of the Roman district of Cyrenaica at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. By then, Cyrene was home to a large number of Greek-speaking, or Hellenistic, Jews.

Many Jews from Cyrene had returned to their native Israel and were part of a community in Jerusalem called the Synagogue of the Freedmen comprising Jews from many other provinces including Alexandria (Egypt), Cilicia and Asia (Acts 6:9). Luke records men from Cyrene being among those converted at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). After the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7), believers from Cyrene were among the first to be scattered by the persecution in Jerusalem; arriving at Antioch, they preached to the Gentiles there (Acts 11:20). These believers were instrumental in the formation of the church at Antioch, where, for the first time, ‘the disciples were called Christians’ (Acts 11:26).

Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew alone records his name and place of origin (27:32), but Mark and Luke say that he was ‘on his way in from the country’ (Luke 23:36). Mark, uncharacteristically, provides the most information about Simon, adding that he was ‘the father of Alexander and Rufus’ Mark 15:21), men obviously well known to Mark’s readers. It is speculated that the Rufus mentioned here may be the same man Paul greets in his letter to Rome, whom he calls ‘chosen in the Lord’ and whose mother ‘has been a mother to me, too’ (Romans 16:13). Paul’s knowledge of Rufus’s family indicates that at some point they lived further east.

So does any of this indicate whether Simon was black? Ultimately, we don’t know for sure. There is always the possibility that Simon was an African who converted to Judaism, or that he was of mixed descent. However, considering that people of Jewish lineage lived throughout the Roman Empire, it is also possible that Simon of Cyrene was olive-skinned.”

Frankly, we don’t care whether he were olive-skinned, black-skinned, or white-skinned, or for that matter green or purple-skinned. The intriguing item here in this narrative, for us, is that God the Holy Spirit has seen fit to publish his name. It was only last month that we wrote of the fact that, in the lineage of Christ recorded in the account found in Matthew, that apart from Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, none of the names of the mothers has been left for us to know. And yet, in this very obscure part of the poignant scene of the crucifixion of our Lord, we are presented with the name of this individual who was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus as He was led to Golgotha to be executed in that horrible Roman fashion. Why indeed has it been considered relevant for us to know the name of this person?

We can simply point out a few suggestions. The Holy Spirit, who Himself inspired men to write the Scriptures for us, has not been pleased to present us with much information beyond what we find in this particular text. In point of fact, Mark grants us just a little bit beyond the accounts of Matthew and Luke. Mark has told us that this Simon was, not only from Cyrene, but also that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. And while there is no reason whatever to hold that the man spoken of by Paul once each in his first and second epistles to Timothy, was this man, there remains at least a possibility that the Rufus—alluded to earlier—made mention of in Paul’s closing remarks to the church at Rome (Romans 16:13) is this same Rufus of Mark 15:21, when the apostle asked his readers to Salute Rufus the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.

Is it important that the names of people be recorded in the Word of God? Certainly there are numerous occasions that warrant that it be so. In this case, because of no further mention of this man, Simon of Cyrene, along with others whose names are not recorded, we are led to understand that in many cases it has been deemed by Him who is Wisdom itself, to allow persons to remain nameless. What we are told is what the connection was between Simon and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Simon was, regardless of any real or supposed compulsion, regardless of any imagined gracious internal motives on his part, brought to this place at this time by the Providence of Almighty God to be one to carry the cross of Jesus Christ. While writers and movie producers can depict extra-biblical circumstances for their own purposes, we know, through faith, that God’s purposes were fulfilled through the actions of Simon of Cyrene, and He has left us his name as a reminder of this truth.

And whether we are given to know anything further about this individual, we know that he witnessed the ‘Via Dolorosa’ up close and personal as none of us have been able to do apart from reading the Word with the eyes of faith. We know very little of Simon; he may know nothing of us, but ‘The Lord knoweth them that are his.’

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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