Criminals condemned to death today have months and sometimes even years to prepare for eternity. But Jesus was crucified the same day He was condemned. In fact, He was hurried straight from the judgment seat to the place of execution without any opportunity for preparation or farewells.
Today executions are carried out in private, usually inside the walls of the prison where the criminal has been confined. Years ago, however, they took place in public, and in some places the condemned man was even paraded publicly through the streets prior to execution, so as many people as possible could see him. This was the manner of Christ’s death.
One special indignity connected with the punishment of crucifixion, which Christ experienced, was that the condemned man had to carry, on his back through the streets, the cross upon which he was about to suffer and die. The weight was considerable, and to carry it on the back that had already been torn open with scourging must have been exceedingly painful.
Though Jesus bore His own cross out of the palace of Pilate, He did not carry it far. Either He sank beneath it on the road, or He was proceeding with such slow and faltering steps that the soldiers, impatient with the delay, decided that the burden must be removed from His shoulders. The scourging alone was sufficient to account for this breakdown. But other facts could have contributed as well, like a sleepless night with all of its anxiety and physical abuse, and prior to that, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Most cruel of all, however, was the shame Christ suffered. There was a kind of savage irony in making a man carry the very implement on which he was to suffer and die. Throughout literature this mode of punishment has been referenced as a means of savage derision.
To a noble person there is no punishment more severe than shame, and in weakness and helplessness Jesus had to bear His cross in the sight of thousands who regarded Him with scorn. He loved and served men so much He deserved to be honored by them. He had enjoyed days of unbounded popularity as a miracle worker, healer and teacher, but now His soul was filled with reproach. In His agony He made real these prophetic words of the psalmist: “I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake their head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him’” (Ps. 22:6-8).
Then as the soldiers led Jesus to His death, Simon was pressed into service to relieve Him and carry the cross to where He was crucified. To Simon, this cross-bearing may have seemed like an interruption, an annoyance, a humiliation. Yet it turned out be the gateway to new life for him and his family. Several Bibles cross-reference Mark 15:21 to Romans 16:13, suggesting that Simon’s wife and their son Rufus also became servants of the Lord.
Who cannot envy Simon for being allowed to help the fainting Savior by lifting the burden from His bleeding back? For all of us a day is coming when any service done for Christ will be rewarded. Then we shall wish that the minutes given to serve Him had been years, and that every cup of cold water and every kind word could be multiplied a thousand times. Until then, let us consider how our acts of worshipful service – to Him who died on that cross for our sins (Rom. 12:1) – may impact those around us.
By Ray Miller
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org