Dropping the Burden
This morning I was reading the account of Jesus’ walk to the hill. The soldiers had beaten the Lord, mocked Him, made him a crown of thorns which they rammed onto His head. Then they gave Him the length of wood that they would use to crucify Him and herded Him through the streets toward Golgotha. Already weakened by the abuse He had suffered, He stumbled and fell.
No doubt the soldiers had a schedule to keep and despite the fun they might have been having by tormenting Jesus, they needed to get the job done. So they recruited someone to help Jesus carry the wood. His name was Simon. “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Mark 15:21). Luke writes that they “seized “ him and “put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26).
My mind immediately went back to something the Lord had said to His disciples during His ministry with them. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Of what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:23-26).
We’ve often heard this “taking up the cross” as a reference to the sufferings of life that we must learn to accept or the sacrifices we have to make to follow Jesus. But the context in Matthew suggests that this “taking up the cross” goes back further than that.
Simon was forced to carry the cross of Jesus. He didn’t realize at the time that this heavy hunk of wood he was carrying was representative of the burden of his own sin. His journey was reminiscent of another. In Genesis 22 we have the story of Abraham taking his son, Isaac, on a journey to Mount Moriah. Abraham had been instructed to prepare an altar and then to sacrifice his only son on that altar. When they arrived: “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife” (Genesis 22:6).
Isaac and Simon bearing their load.
Isaac asked his father where the lamb was that they would sacrifice. Abraham answered: “God himself will provide the lamb…” (22:8).
Simon didn’t ask any questions apparently because, having just come in from the country, he probably didn’t know what was going on. And, besides, who argues with Roman soldiers? So like Isaac before him, he carried the wood.
When they reached the hill, Jesus took the burden that Simon had been carrying. It was probably then that Simon began to ask questions. Who was this man whose cross he had been forced to carry? Somehow he found out about Jesus and discovered that the burden of sin he had been carrying, like that wooden crossbeam, could be lifted from his back and placed on the sin-bearer, Jesus. It is believed that Simon came to faith and became a follower of Jesus. Various verses in Acts tell how the gospel was spread by men from Cyrene (Acts 2:10, 11:20, 13:1) and at the end of the letter to the Romans, Paul greets Rufus, who many believe was the son of the Simon who carried the cross.
In the story of Isaac, God did provide the sacrifice to take Isaac’s place on the altar. Symbolically both Isaac and Simon carried the burden—a burden both were relieved of by an act of God.
In Matthew the invitation to take up the cross and follow him is clearly a reference to salvation. I imagine the picture. Jesus beckons and invites the Isaacs and the Simons to bring their burdens of sin to HIS altar, to HIS cross, and leave them there. We always think of these verses as verses only representing the sacrifice we make, forgetting that little phrase: “whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Released from the burden of our sin we find that the life we’ve lost is nothing compared to the one we’ve gained.
Follow Jesus to the hill with your burden of sin. Drop it there and let the sin-bearer release you to walk free and embrace the life that Jesus describes in Matthew 11:30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”