With great anticipation, the Cyrenean approached the walled city. Business had brought him to the city of Jerusalem from his home, Cyrene, on the north coast of Africa. As he looked down upon Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, he somehow had a sense of great expectancy of what the day and the city would hold for him.
Jerusalem – the shining jewel of the Judean hills – how he had longed to see this famed city he had heard so much about. So much history lay within her walls. And now after so long a journey, he was finally here!
He had been a guest in a home in a nearby village. As he entered the city gates the Cyrenean was totally unaware of the tragedy which had been enacted there during the night. As he approached the market place he couldn’t help but be intrigued with the exotic wares hanging from the various stalls. Strands of music from harp and flute mingled with the intriguing aroma of spices, incense and stewing meat producing a festive atmosphere.
He took a deep breath and drank it all in. Yet, at the same time there was something very strange about the whole scene. There were a few of the merchants standing in a small group talking – but where were the crowds that usually filled the streets of most cities? What was this eerie silence?
Finally, his curiosity got the best of him. “Excuse me sir. Could you tell me what is going on today? Why is the market place so empty?”
Startled, the shopkeeper looked up from his work. “Oh – you haven’t heard? The people are over at the Roman Judgement Hall. There’s something special going on over there.”
“Special?” the African asked.
“Well, I don’t know if special is the word,” the shopkeeper looked down as he polished the brass kettle he was holding.
“Well, what is it, man, what’s going on over there?” the visitor persisted.
“It’s the Galilean Prophet they call Jesus. They are taking him out of the city to be crucified,” the shopkeeper replied as he kept rubbing the brass to a polished perfection.
“Jesus? Is that the teacher I have heard so much about? I must admit I had hoped to somehow get a glimpse of him myself when I came to Judea,” the Cyrenean confessed. “But , I heard that he healed the sick , opened the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind…. Why? Why are they crucifying him?”
“I don’t know. They say its blasphemy – that he claims to be God – says he’s the Jewish Messiah – the King of Israel, or something like that.”
Puzzled, the Cyrenean turned away and headed toward the Judgement Hall. The Romans were so cruel to crucify such a man. Somehow a great sadness began to come over him. As he approached the hall, the din of the crowd became deafening. They had already left the Judgement Hall and were walking down the street that led to the city gate.
Forcing his way through the dense crowd was relatively easy for this heavy-built African. His size and color and the hard labor of his country life had made him robust and muscular. At times like this he always had an advantage over the crowd. People stood aside with little resistance to let him pass and if they wouldn’t, it didn’t take much for him to move them out of the way. Soon he was standing at the edge of the crowd. Several Roman soldiers stood in front of him in an effort to keep people back but the Cyrenean’s height allowed him to look over their shoulders at the procession that was now coming closer. How soon that he himself would be taken into the heart of the tragedy he could not have guessed.
Roman soldiers wearing bright armor and helmets with brilliant red plumes carried swords and shields and were leading the procession. Their faces seemed determined and resolute. They were unmoved by the weeping, the pleadings, and occasional jeering of the crowd which from time to time would break through the ranks and surge forward to get one last glimpse at this strange and wonderful Person, now doomed to die.
There were three men all together. Two men dragging crosses followed on the heels of the Roman guard. They very obviously appeared to be criminals. Their faces were hard and seemingly as cruel as the soldiers they followed. As the mob jeered at them they shouted back obscenities.
Then there was a long gap in the procession. Searchingly, the Cyrenean looked as the figure of a Roman soldier in the distance prodded the third prisoner along. There evidently was some trouble. As the two neared the place where he was standing, the man dragging the heavy wooden cross staggered beneath its weight.
It was apparent that this man had been beaten severely. His garments were bloody and were stuck to his back by the streams of blood that had been flowing from the lashes of the whip that had cut his back into ribbons. Blood was flowing down his legs. On his head someone had placed a crown made from a thorn bush. It had been shoved down onto his head so cruelly that the sharp thorns had opened up more wounds, and soon blood was flowing down His neck and cheeks.
Speaking to a man that was standing at his side the Cyrenean asked. “Who is he? Who is the man with the crown of thorns?”
“It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” the man answered. “We had hoped that he would be the one who would save us from this Roman oppression. We thought he would deliver Israel. Now all our hopes are lost!”
“Why does he have those thorns on his head?” the African asked in disgust.
“The Romans mock him because Jesus said that he was the King of the Jews,” the Israelite replied.
Called Upon to Help
So this is Jesus, the Cyrenean thought to himself. He moved toward the street until there was nothing that could obscure his view. The only thing between Jesus and the African was the outstretched arm and spear of the Roman soldier who was holding back the multitude.
There was something regal in His bearing, though his crown was made of thorns. There was something about Jesus that was strangely king-like. He seemed so courageous, not like a captured criminal. Somehow He appeared through all the cuts and bruises and blood to look strangely victorious. As the African caught a glimpse of Jesus’ face, he could see that his countenance was different than the other prisoners who were walking ahead of him. There was no bitterness, no anger, no sense of revenge. His countenance was gentle and serene. As people hurled bitter accusations toward him, He did not answer back even a word. An unearthly peace surrounded Jesus that seemed to engulf the crowd as he passed by. Surely this Man has done nothing worthy of this death, he thought. Tears somehow began to well up within the eyes of the Cyrenean for this Man, Jesus, that he did not know.
As the Cyrenean looked past Jesus he could see the Roman soldiers who were bringing up the rear of the procession, and behind them it seemed as though hundreds of people followed. It was then that Jesus stumbled and fell. He struggled to get up, but the loss of so much blood was taking its toll. The soldier accompanying him realized the predicament, turned, and began to search though the crowd. The Cyrenean’s eyes had been so fixed on Jesus that he was startled by the rough hand and manner of the soldier who shook him and brought him back to reality. “You! What is your name?”
“I’m Simon from Cyrene, Sir. I just arrived in Jerusalem today.” Simon was a little uneasy as to what the soldier’s inquiry was all about.
“You will do. You look strong enough. Go out there and help that Man carry His cross,” the soldier ordered.
Before Simon could answer, he felt himself being pushed to the middle of the procession until he was suddenly standing beside Jesus who was still struggling beneath the cross’s heavy load. Slowly he knelt down and put his hand on the Man’s shoulder. As Jesus looked up into his eyes, Simon was captivated by the look of the pure and holy love that emanated from this extraordinary Man. For one moment time stood still. The people and the soldiers and the jeers and sobbings of the mob faded away and Simon was face to face with a compassion that rolled over him in healing billows of love and mercy. Those piercing eyes brought Simon into account for all of his misdeeds and yet forgave him all at the same time.
Simon lifted the cross from Jesus’ shoulder and helped him up with the other hand. The procession was on the move again as Simon the Cyrene walked with this, the King of Sufferers, side by side to Calvary. Where were all of the disciples who followed Jesus in this His greatest hour of trial and suffering? The Bible says that they followed at a distance because they feared for their own safety. None of those whom Jesus had personally chosen and shared His life with for three years rushed forward to volunteer to help their Master when He stumbled. None of those whom he had healed and delivered offered their aid. His closest followers were not near enough to assist Him. But a kindly and compassionate heart had won for Simon the Cyrene, a total stranger, an honor denied to kings and conquerors.
No man could interrupt or annoy the two – neither priests nor people. They were so close together that the cross seemed to be upon both of them as they went forward together under one cross – under one common disgrace!
That Jesus spoke to Simon as He had to few others in all His ministry can be little doubted. No one could render Jesus the slightest service without being instantly repaid. Simon had assisted Jesus in His worst extremity. What Jesus said to His substitute, Simon never told to anyone. But one thing is certain. In the heart of the tragedy, on the way to Calvary, Simon met Jesus!
Under the shadow of the cross the two walked out the city gate and began to climb the hill that led to Golgatha, the place where for generations the worst criminals had been put to death by crucifixion. By now the word had spread like wildfire throughout Jerusalem that Jesus of Nazareth, the beloved Teacher, had been arrested and condemned to death. The whole city was in shock. More and more people started running toward the route they knew that Jesus must follow.
As they nailed the King of Life upon Calvary’s tree, four Israelites stepped out from the multitude that thronged Golgatha hillside. To so identify with a crucified man could mean certain death, but to these four it didn’t matter any more. Standing now at the foot of the cross was Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary’s sister, Mary Magdalene and John, his beloved disciple. Stepping forward to stand near Jesus in this His greatest hour of suffering, these four experienced an agony, an ecstasy, an intimacy with Jesus that none of the other disciples ever knew. The memory of the cross and what it meant to Jesus, what it cost the Son of God to purchase man’s redemption, what overwhelming love it was that drove Him there could never be erased from their memory.
As His pain racked body looked down into the eyes of His dear mother and His beloved John, He committed the care of the dearest thing on earth, His mother, into the hands of His dearest friend. Saying in the few words that He could get out, but enough so they would understand, “Woman behold your son! Son behold your mother! “
The Way is Made Open
It was now almost three o’clock. It is the time for the slaying of the evening sacrifice of the Passover Lamb in the Temple. Darkness has surrounded the cross and is so dense that the dying man can scarcely be seen. Nature begins its convulsions as the Creator takes upon Himself the sins of the world.
Suddenly a voice rings out across the Judean hillside crying, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Only the four were close enough to see the great agony on his face as this the King of Lovers cries out in the agony of His broken heart. The most awful hour of the crucifixion has come. The terrible weight of the sins of all mankind presses down upon Jesus’ soul so that He feels cut off from His Father’s Presence. And then it is over. He speaks again crying in a loud voice, “It is finished. Father into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
As His eyes close in death and his head falls upon His chest the struggle is over. The victory is won, the price for man’s redemption has been paid. A rumble is heard. The ground begins to shake and roll. Great rocks are split from the mountainside and go rolling down into the valley. The dark sky is seared with lightning and echoes with peals of thunder as Creation mourns the death of its Great Creator.
There is wild confusion as people flee from the raging storm. Back in Jerusalem mayhem fills the temple as it reels under the quake. Inside the Holy Place a great rending sound is heard as the great veil that separates the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place splits down the middle, torn from the top to the bottom. Thus the Holy Spirit signified that the way into the very Presence of God was open to every blood bought child of God from that time on and forever more.
The King of the Jews is taken down from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. It is Friday and no one knew it then, but Sunday was coming. Over the weekend the disciples and others who followed Jesus closely didn’t sleep much. Their hearts were too stricken with their sorrow, loss and disappointment. The night wore on and midnight passed. Those who had gone to bed fell into a troubled sleep. Those who had sat up talking began to doze. Suddenly, a dull roar began to wake up sleepers one by one as the earth began to quake again.
At the tomb where Jesus lay buried in a garden near the foot of Calvary, the earthquake seemed to shake the whole mountain on which the three crosses stood. The Roman soldiers who had been ordered to guard the tomb leaped to their feet in great alarm. A moment later there was a brilliant burst of light which fell from heaven to earth and enveloped the tomb. Then a dazzlingly, beautiful angel appeared from nowhere, snapped the Roman seal as if it were paper, and rolled back the gigantic stone they had placed across the tomb’s mouth as though it had been a pebble.
“A Spirit!” cried the soldiers and fell on their faces unconscious as if they were dead men. At that very moment, Jesus the King of Life, walked forth from His tomb in Resurrection power and glory , and vanished into the night. The rest is history. For forty days after his Resurrection, Jesus showed himself alive to over 500 people by many infallible proofs and gave them a commission to go and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to the entire world.
The Indelible Effect of the Cross
As Simon had journeyed home that Friday evening, nothing was left as a reminder of the great tragedy but a few drops of blood on the ground. But that encounter with the strange and wonderful Person of Jesus left an indelible mark on Simon’s soul that was never erased. For a short while Simon had carried just a load of wood. In return Jesus had carried Simon’s sin, and that of his children after him. By the time that the Gospel was given to the world Simon was known as the head of a distinguished Christian house. He was a man honored by his sons, Alexander and Rufus whose names are recorded in the Scripture.
Since that time, the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples so many years ago still echo down the corridors of time, “If any man would come after Me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow after Me or he cannot be My disciple.” Just what that cross is and what it has meant to different people down through the ages can be discovered by a little investigative study into the lives of the saints of preceding generations. Those whose lives have been marked by the cross have been those who in the great Kingdom of God have loved God more than their possessions, their families, their wife, their husband, their children, and even than their own life. They have been those who have loved God more than others did.
A.W. Tozer writes, “We all know who they have been and gladly pay tribute to the depths and sincerity of their devotion. We have but to pause for a moment and their names come trooping past us smelling of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces.”
They were those who have been in the Presence regardless of personal cost and whose souls have gazed upon Deity. As a result they were men and women whose hearts were broken by the love of God,who carried about with them a taste of holiness and an essence that was impregnated with the life of another world. They did not speak with the hardened voice of the scribes who had their doctrines cemented in granite. They were men and women who had been in the Presence of God and reported what they had seen there.
Called Into Intimate Union
The church and the world waits not for the harsh voice of the eloquent orator, but for the tender voice of the saint who has entered into that which lies beyond the veil, and with inward eye gazed intently on the wonder that is God to bring His messages, and His love, and Presence to a lost and dying world. This privilege is available to every child of God, yet the majority of Christians decide to remain outside the Holy of Holies. Yes, they have heard the Bridegroom calling, but fail to draw near. The years pass and they grow old and tired in the outer courts of the tabernacle.
What is the main hindrance? It is all those sins of self that have never been to the cross. While Christ has rent the veil, the child of God hangs a veil there himself. It is the veil of the uncrucified self-life. It is all the self sins – self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion and a host of other things.
Tozer writes, “It is not too mysterious, this opaque veil, nor is it hard to identify. We have but to look in our own hearts and we shall see it there, sewn and patched and repaired it may be, but there nevertheless, an enemy to our lives and an effective block to our spiritual progress…. Self can live unrebuked at the very altar…. It can fight for the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern.”
We see it in Peter’s persistent confession that he will follow Christ unto the death and yet, before the night is over, with the cross looming on the horizon, Peter’s denial comes with oaths and cursing.
“Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. It can be removed only in spiritual experience, never by mere instruction. As well try to instruct leprosy out of our system. There must be a work of God in destruction before we are free. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgement. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering akin to that through which our Saviour passes when He suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
Removing the Veil
We see it foreshadowed in the life of Abraham, whom the New Testament writer points out as the father of all those who have true faith – whose steps we are to follow in order to receive his blessing. See him in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis as he receives the command from God, “Take thy son, thine only son, Isaac whom thou lovest and offer him upon the mount that I will show to thee.” The sacred writer spares us a close-up of the anguish that Abraham experienced during the night as he struggled alone on the slopes of Beersheba with God. “This was Abraham’s trial by fire and he did not fail in the crucible.” Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning Abraham resolved to go through with it. In the morning we watch Abraham with a chastened, broken, yet humbly obedient heart climb to the top of Mount Moriah. Steadfastly, surely, he walks with the idol of his heart beside him about to be sacrificed at the command of the God whom he had faithfully loved and served.
God has ordained that this man’s faith should stand forever for the strength and help of all God’s people to show that unfaltering faith will always prove the faithfulness of God for all people of all ages for all times to come. When Abraham had borne victoriously the uttermost test, the Lord Jesus spoke to him saying, “Now I know that you fear God.” and forbade him to lay a hand on the lad. It is as if God were saying, “It’s all right Abraham. I only wanted to remove Isaac from the temple of your heart that I might remain there unchallenged. You have trusted me to the uttermost. I will also trust you and you shall always be my friend, and I will bless you and make you a blessing.”
Tozer writes, “The old man of God lifted his head to respond to the Voice, and stood there on the mount strong and pure and grand, a man marked out by the Lord for special treatment, a friend and favorite of the Most High…. We must in our hearts live through Abraham’s harsh and bitter experience if we would know the blessedness which follows him. The ancient curse will not go out painlessly; the tough old miser within us will not lie down and die obedient to our command. He must be torn out of our heart like a plant from the soil; he must be extracted in agony and blood like a tooth from the jaw. He must be expelled from our soul by violence as Christ expelled the money changers from the temple. If we would indeed know God in growing intimacy we must go this way of renunciation. And if we are set upon the pursuit of God, He will sooner or later bring us to this test.”
“Abraham’s testing was, at the time, not known to him as such, yet if he had taken some course other than the one he did, the whole history of the Old Testament would have been different. God would have found His man, no doubt, but the loss to Abraham would have been tragic beyond the telling. We will be brought one by one to the testing place, and we may never know when we are there. At that testing place there will be no dozen possible choices. Just one and an alternative, but our whole future will be conditioned by the choice we make.”
Death on the Cross
When we speak of this rending of the veil it is often thought of as a poetically pleasant experience. We must never forget that it took death upon the cross to rend the veil. The veil in the human heart, spiritually speaking, is made of the stuff of which our whole being consists and to tear it away inflicts real pain and injury. It was so in the life of Abraham. To say that it is otherwise is to make the cross no cross at all and to make death to self no real death. Who could imagine for one moment it was pleasant for Abraham to reconcile the command of God to offer His dearly beloved Son in sacrifice and that it did not tear at his very heart.
The cross is rough and deadly, but it is effective. We must always remember that the victim does no hang there forever. There is a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that there is resurrection glory and power, the pain is forgotten for the joy that the veil has been taken away. We then find we have entered into actual spiritual experience of the Presence of the Living God, into an intimacy with Christ in experience that cannot be otherwise known.
The Apostle Paul understanding this wrote from the depths of his spirit, “That I may know him, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings being made conformable to his death….” It was not the Resurrection alone, but the Resurrection preceded by Calvary that counted. The place of humiliation, of prostration, has more often than not been the robing room for royalty.
Ask those illustrious saints from the past what was the spot where they entered into the Lord’s prosperity. Ask Jacob and he will point to the cold ground on which he was lying. Ask Abraham and he will direct you to the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Ask Joseph and he will tell you about the dungeon. Ask David and he will explain that his songs came from the dark nights of his soul. Ask Job and he will remind you that it was as he sat on the ash heap of total rejection and loss that God spoke to him out of the whirlwind. Ask Peter and he will point to the night outside the High Priest’s home where after his trice denial, Jesus looked into His eyes and the cock crowed and he went out and wept bitterly. Ask one more. Ask Jesus where He received His power to rule the world.
He will answer: “It was not from my forty days of fasting and yielding to Satan’s temptation to worship him. No it was from that night in Gethsemane when I struggled with the Father’s will until my sweat fell as drops of blood and I determined in my heart that the Cup which the Father had given me I would drink that His will might be done. It was on the ground of Gethsemane, where I was praying; I received my scepter there.”
The Resurrection Blessing
We have missed the meaning of human history if we have not seen that out of the shadows of suffering have sprung the greatest literature, the most inspiring paintings, the greatest civilizations, the most meaningful philosophies. All of these have sprung into full blossom out of the shadows of suffering. Where a great thought has been born, it has always been preceded by a Gethsemane. The one who wants only a face wreathed in smiles and a life that is akin to running through meadows full of spring flowers often reveals a heart that is dwarfed, undeveloped; that has never known the resonance of the deepest chords of joy.
Sometimes God’s promises wait for the pressure of pain to trample out their richest juice as grapes in a winepress. Only those who have experienced the cross and know the sorrow can know how tender is the “Man of Sorrows.” And likewise the saints of the ages have been ushered into an intimacy of that Presence which lies beyond the veil and have experienced the days of heaven upon earth, intimate friendship with a Holy God, and a lingering Presence of His Holy Spirit that nothing this earth could hurl at them could disturb or take away.
Andrew Murray writes, “Nothing but this fellowship can satisfy the heart of either God or man. It was this Christ came to restore: to bring back to God his lost creature, and bring back man to all he was created for. Fellowship with God is the consummation of all blessedness on earth as in heaven.”
Speaking of this intimate communion with God one saint writes, “To think of morning is to think of a bloom and fragrance which if missed, cannot be overtaken later in the day. The Lord stands upon the shore in the morning and reveals Himself to the weary, disillusioned men who had toiled all night and taken nothing. He ever stands upon life’s most dreary and time-worn shores, and as we gaze upon Him the shadows flee and it is morning!”
I met God in the morning
When the day was at its best,
And His presence came like glory
Of the sunrise in my breast.
All day long the Presence lingered,
All day long He stayed with me,
And we sailed in perfect calmness
O’er a very troubled sea.
Other ships were blown and battered,
Other ships were sore distressed.
But the winds that seemed to drive them,
Brought to us a peace and rest.
Then I thought of other mornings
With a keen remorse of mind.
When I too, had loosed the moorings
With the Presence left behind.
And I think I know the secret,
Learned from many a troubled way;
You must seek God in the morning
If you want Him through the day.
- Ralph Cushman
All quotes are from A.W. Tozer’s Pursuit of God.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved