What He Said Week 8

26  As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the
country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27  A large number of people
followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28  Jesus turned and said to them,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29  For the
time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and
the breasts that never nursed!’ 30  Then “they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills,
“Cover us!” 31  For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33  When they came to the
place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on
his left. 34  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they
divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:26-34
You can mourn the loss of your favorite team in the playoffs, but you’ll get over it. You can
mourn the loss of your youth in a mid-life crisis, but you’ll grow out of it. There is a deeper
mourning that can attach itself to your soul. To witness what human beings have done to God’s
world – from war and crime to corruption and environmental disasters, from injustice and
oppression to legitimizing immorality and rejecting God’s truth – that is a mourning renewed
with each newscast. To watch a loved one die of a horrible disease, while her children struggle
to go on with life, well, that is mourning that sticks to your soul. But there is a sadness each
Lenten season that summarizes everything worth crying over, a sadness that God the Father
shares with us as he watches his Son suffer and die for the sins of the world.
The processional from Pilate’s judgment seat to Calvary was marked by mourning. There were
Jesus’ followers, grief-stricken at their bloody Savior stumbling toward a horrific death. There
were residents and visitors to Jerusalem caught up in a story they couldn’t understand and crying
over the injustice of a good man executed by an occupying army. Jesus’ passion is worth
shedding tears over; and yet he redirects the mourning of the crowd toward the coming
consequence of rejecting him, their Messiah. That poses a question: what is worth crying over?
Simon was a Jew living in the North African city of Cyrene who had come to Jerusalem for the
Passover. Cyrene, in what is today Libya, was home to a large settlement of ex-patriot Jews.
Mark’s Gospel identifies Simon as the father of Rufus and Alexander, probably because his sons
were known to many in the early Christian community. In Romans 16:13 St. Paul greets Rufus
and his mother as dear friends. Simon was staying outside Jerusalem and coming into the city
when he became an unwitting part of the Passion story. While Christian art depicts Jesus and
then Simon carrying a complete cross, it is likely that the upright portion of the cross remained at
the place of executions while the crossbar was carried by the condemned. That beam could
weigh 40 pounds; and depleted by exhaustion and blood-loss, Jesus could not carry it up the hill.
Simon is a poignant reminder of Jesus telling his followers that they must take up their cross and
follow him. Our cross is whatever suffering we endure because we confess the Savior who was
Mourning was an element of Jewish culture. At the home of Jairus, Jesus encountered what
might be called “professional mourners” before he raised Jairus’ daughter to life. While the
large crowd following Jesus could not know the full significance of Jesus’ suffering and death,
they highlighted the tragic events that marred the Passover with their mourning. Should we
mourn for Jesus? He doesn’t ask us to mourn for him, rather to trust in him. He chose and
willingly carried out the suffering and death that were God’s plan for our salvation. Shed tears
on Good Friday, and every other day that your sins trouble you, because those sins are ultimately
responsible for Jesus’ suffering and death. But tears of gratitude are more appropriate, for Jesus
endured all this for us and our salvation.
There is an ominous warning in Jesus’ words to the mourners. Read Luke 19:41-44. Jesus wept
over Jerusalem because their rejection of the promised Messiah would mean unspeakable horrors
for the people of Jerusalem. In Matthew 23:37 – 24:2 Jesus again spoke of the coming
destruction of the city as Rome’s response to Jewish rebellion. These prophetic words would be
fulfilled in 70 AD by the Roman legions. People would starve in the besieged city. Children
would be killed. Many would hide in the caves of the central highlands, to no avail. Perhaps
some in Jerusalem would remember how the prophet Jeremiah foretold similar atrocities before
Nebuchadnezzar besieged and destroyed the city in 586 BC as God’s judgment on faithless
wickedness. (Jeremiah 16:1-4) Revelation 6:16 echoes the words of Jesus in a warning about the
terror of Judgment Day. Childlessness would be preferred in such times. A swift death would
be merciful. Some people in our day worry about having children in perilous times. Imagine
how much greater the anxiety when the world’s most powerful army is bent on your destruction.
“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This must
have been a proverbial saying at the time of Christ. Its meaning here may be: “If the Romans do
this to an innocent man (Jesus), what will they do when the nation is guilty of rebellion?” Or
perhaps it should be understood to say: “If you do this to your Messiah while he is with you,
what can you expect when he is gone?”
That Jesus was crucified between two unquestionably criminal men contrasts his innocence and
fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with
the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”
That the soldiers cast lots for his clothes was the norm at such executions, but more importantly,
it fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:18, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for
my clothing.” Read verses 39-43 of Luke 23 for Jesus’ words to the penitent criminal executed
beside him.
Golgotha in Hebrew means “place of the skull.” Calvary is the Latin word for skull. The name
may mean simply the place where executions take place, or it may suggest that the rocky
outcropping where Romans crucified looked from a distance like a skull. Visitors to the Old City
of Jerusalem can see from the city wall near the Damascus gate just such a quarried hill that
looks like a skull. (Tradition places Calvary inside today’s city walls.)
Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness can have a far wider significance, but in the moment he was
speaking about the Roman soldiers, who had no idea whom they were executing. Here is one
more suggestion that there are degrees of culpability before God. Ignorance is not an excuse for
sin, but it diminishes culpability. All are guilty of sin and deserving of eternal condemnation.
Those who knowingly reject God’s will and grace bear a greater degree of guilt. In the Lord’s
Prayer we ask God’s forgiveness “as we forgive those who sin against us.” Jesus here models
that prayer, as does the martyr Stephen in Acts 7:60.
In Matthew 5:4 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What is
the place of mourning in the Christian’s life? What is worth crying over? While Christians have
reasons to rejoice and ought not be miserable, the reality of sin in this world and the longing for
our eternal home with Jesus are reasons to mourn. If you have lost a loved one to death, how do
you mourn?
It is amazing how many aspects of Jesus’ Passion were foretold in the Old Testament. How does
this confirm your faith in Jesus and his Word? While most of these prophecies are Gospel
promises, there are also prophetic warnings of God’s Law. The judgment Jesus’ pronounced on
Jerusalem has a greater realization in the judgment on the last day. In Matthew 24, Jesus links
these two judgments. How do Christians respond to the warnings of Judgment Day?
Ask God to relieve the suffering of those in the Middle East and North Africa who are innocents
in the midst of terror. Ask him especially for courage, faith and steadfastness in the lives of
Christians caught in such misery.
Go to Youtube on the internet and search for “Watch the Lamb” by Ray Boltz. You should be
able to watch a music video of a song depicting the experience of Simon from Cyrene at Calvary
with his two sons. It is a moving experience.
Read Isaiah 53 and recognize how this “Old Testament Passion Story” explains the why as well
as the what of Jesus’ suffering and death.

One Response to “What He Said Week 8”

  1. Bonnie J Treloar says:

    Bill and I look forward to seeing these and reading them together. Keep them coming!

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