3. The Men Around The Cross


So far in this series, we’ve looked at those who should have or could have been around the cross of Christ and the last time we were together we looked at the woman who was around the cross.

Now remember John was at the cross of Christ but for some reason he said nothing and so today we’re going to focus our attention on the other men who were around the cross.

A son is telling his dad a story that he had learned in history class. The father’s other child constantly interrupted his sibling’s story and so the dad had enough and told his interrupting child, ‘Stop interrupting! It’s not your story, it’s history.’

Have you ever had a conversation with someone, when someone else rudely interrupts your conversation?

Have you ever been planning to do something but something else happens that changes your plans?

Simon Of Cyrene

‘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

A day like that happened in the life of a man called Simon who was from Cyrene. When Jesus didn’t have the strength to carry His cross anymore, the Romans forced Simon to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like having my plans interrupted. But all so often God interrupts our plans because of a bigger cause.

Here, Simon’s life was very much interrupted for a bigger cause, to carry the cross of Christ. Simon has obviously travelled hundreds of miles to celebrate the Passover when all of a sudden, he’s commanded to carry a prisoner’s cross.

I can imagine him thinking, ‘hey, I’m only here as a visitor, I’m a simple Jew who just came to celebrate the Passover and I need to prepare for my journey home.’

Little did Simon know he was helping someone else prepare for His journey home. And here we are two thousand years later still speaking about what Simon did.

Simon had no idea he would still be known today after two thousand years. Whatever his thoughts and motives were, his name will forever be in the Bible as the one who helped Jesus, when Jesus barely had the strength to stand.

We often complain when our busy lives get interrupted and we often think, that when this is over, we’ll go back to normal. But I doubt very much if Simon’s life was ever the same again after the Lord interrupted his life.

In a sense, the cross of Christ became Simon’s cross and we all have our own cross to carry.

‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ Luke 9:23

Denying ourselves, taking up our cross and carrying it, means that we have decided to follow Jesus no matter what.

Billy Graham said, ‘In Jesus’ day, a cross wasn’t just a symbol of pain and suffering; it was mainly a symbol of death. What Jesus was telling them is that they needed to put to death their own plans and desires, and then turn their lives over to Him and do His will every day.’

Chief Priests And Jewish Leaders

‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way, the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe. Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” Mark 15:29-33

The chief priests and Jewish leaders were present at the cross of Christ and as Jesus hung there, they mocked Him and sneered at Him.

We can almost imagine them laughing and joking amongst themselves. ‘This guys claimed He saved others, but look at Him now, He can’t even save Himself. So much for being the Messiah, so much for being God’s Chosen One. The king of Israel, this guy is a joke.’

Oh, if only they knew that God so loved the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders, He sent His One and only Son to die for them so that they too may have eternal life.

If they had taken the time to look into the eyes of Jesus, they would have seen love and compassion. All they did was made fun of Him and even those who crucified Jesus heaped insults upon Him.

What about you, what would you have done if you were Jesus?

The Crowds

‘At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? ” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.’ Mark 15:33-36

Here we read how the crowds just ridiculed Jesus as He hung on the cross.

But why would they be thinking that Elijah would save Him?

‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.’ Malachi 4:5

The prophet Malachi had promised that Elijah would come first. The crowd, like many of the religious leaders, weren’t convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.

They had been taught by their leaders for centuries that Elijah was to come first and so, in their thinking, they thought that Elijah would come and rescue Jesus.

In other words, they thought He was calling upon Elijah but came to the wrong conclusion because they only heard the word ‘Eli’, which sounds similar to the name Elijah.

It never ceases to amaze me that in times of sorrow, it brings out the best of humanity like we see with the woman at the cross but it also brings out the worst of humanity.

We can imagine the crowds making fun of Him shouting, ‘look, He’s calling Elijah, He thinks that Elijah will help Him’. ‘This guy isn’t who He claimed to be, He’s not God, give Him some cheap vinegar to drink.’

Others appear to suggest that they just leave Him alone, after all, if He is calling for Elijah to help Him, I’m sure Elijah will show up and do so.’

What about you, what would you have done if you were Jesus?

Roman Soldiers

Now, remember what the Roman soldiers have already done to Jesus.

‘The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again, they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.’ Mark 15:16-20

It’s hard to imagine the ‘fun’ the soldiers had with Jesus here.

We can imagine them saying, ‘if He’s a king, let’s dress Him up as a king, let’s put a royal purple robe on Him and put crowns of thorns on His head as His royal crown’. We can imagine them making fun of Him, as they shout, ‘Hail, the king of the Jews’.

And after hitting Him with a staff, they spat on Him and knelt before Him, pretending to worship Him.

What about you, what would you have done if you were Jesus?

And now here is Jesus on the cross, with His body ripped to shreds from the flogging and nails in his hands and feet. And what do the Roman soldiers do?

‘When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.’ John 19:23-24

They start gambling for His clothes which was common practice for those who carried out a crucifixion.

‘They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’ Psalm 22:18

Now remember this was fulfilling Scripture, but did the soldiers know they were fulfilling Scripture? Well, just like Judas wasn’t aware he was fulfilling Scripture when he betrayed Jesus, these soldiers didn’t know either.

Don’t you find it amazing that even when Jesus was on the cross, God’s will was still being done by others without them knowing it? Everything which happened to Jesus, everything which happened whilst He was on the cross was all a part of God’s plan.

Yes, the soldiers may have stripped Jesus of His earthly possessions, but they couldn’t strip Him of His Father’s care. And as He hung on that cross and those soldiers gambled for His clothing, Jesus knew that God was in control. He knew that Scripture was being fulfilled right in front of His very eyes.

What about you, what would you have done if you were Jesus?

The Multitudes

‘A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.’ Luke 23:27

Luke, tells us that a large number of people followed Jesus, including women. And what did they do? They mourned for Him, they wailed for Him.

And so when we step back from the cross, we see the women at the cross who genuinely cared for Jesus. We see the Chief Priests, the Jewish leaders and the crowd mocking Him whilst He was on the cross.

We see the Roman soldiers adding insult to injury by gambling for Jesus’ clothes. We see all kinds of people gathered together, some of whom loved Jesus and some who couldn’t wait until He was dead.

What about you, what would you have done if you were Jesus?

‘To this, you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.’ 1 Peter 2:21-23

You see, we don’t have to wonder what Jesus would have done because Peter tells us what Jesus did. He didn’t retaliate, He didn’t make any threats, instead, He trusted God.

Peter says that’s the example we must follow when we suffer and people throw insults at us.

“Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9

Are Christians to return good for evil to the non-Christians who treat us badly? Yes, they do. Are Christians to return good for evil to other Christians who treat us badly? Yes, they do.

And that’s where it gets tough for us, doesn’t it?

A man who had hitchhiked from coast to coast and had walked many miles in the process was asked what he had found the most difficult to endure. To the surprise of his questioner it was not the steep mountains or the dazzling sun or the scorching desert heat that had troubled him, but, in the words of the traveller, ‘it was the sand in my shoe’.

You see I’ve found in my short time as a Christian that it’s the little things in life that make the practice of the Christian faith most difficult.

Somehow the great trials of life, those moments of crisis like serious illness or death and bereavement, have a way of raising us up and bringing us closer to the only source of spiritual strength we have, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

But those smaller trials, oh how they plague us don’t they? How they succeed again and again in causing us to fail and stumble.

Those little irritations in the home, those endless annoying moments at the shop or work, and those little rubs with the neighbours, those petty quarrels at church, those are the ‘sand in our shoes’, which wear our Christianity thin.

But, always remember being patient and kind does have its good side. Just think about Jesus Himself and what He patiently endured, and look at what the end product was.

“Who his own self bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”. 1 Peter 2:24-25

Peter says when you think about Jesus Christ Himself and how He patiently endured being treated badly for doing good all the way to the cross.

He says it was all worth it because we now have the forgiveness of our sins. He says it was all worth it because those who were straying away have now been brought back to their Shepherd.

And so following Jesus’ example can really have a positive effect for the good. Let me encourage you to think about Jesus and how He handled the insults and ridicules which were thrown at Him.

Let me encourage you to follow the example of Jesus when He suffered and trust God.