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A. Cyrene and Family
My name is Simon. I am a Jew. I am from Cyrene that is a pleasant city off the southern coast of the Mediterranean sea. Today, you call it Tripoli, Libya. I have a faithful and devout wife. We have two sons, Alexander and Rufus.
I'm here this morning to tell you my story, which as you will soon see, is not my story at all.
B. Distance to Jerusalem.
My story begins with a dream. Not the kind of dream one has while sleeping, but the kind of dream that is a hope and a goal. It has always been my dream to eat the Passover in Jerusalem at the holy Temple.
For many Jewish men, this is a dream that comes true every year. But for men like me who live as far away from Jerusalem as Cyrene, we are lucky if we are able to realize our dream once in a lifetime.
C. The Passover
You may ask, what's so special about Passover? Let me explain. When the Israelites lived in Egypt under the harsh slavery of Pharaoh, God promised to deliver them and He sent a deliverer named Moses. The night before the deliverance, Moses instructed them to sacrifice a lamb to eat. They were told to mark the doorframe of their house with some of the Lamb's blood. That night, the Angel of Death killed every firstborn male in every house in Egypt except for those houses marked with the blood of the lamb. Even Pharaoh's first born son was found dead in the morning. But every house that was marked with the lamb's blood, the Angel "passed over," and everyone was spared.
The next day, Pharaoh ordered all of the Israelites to leave Egypt, and all of the Egyptians gave the lots of money and treasures to make sure they had all they needed to leave.
So, we celebrate the Passover every year as a reminder of God's great deliverance of His people from the Egyptians. But we also celebrate the Passover as a reminder of the deliverance that is yet to come. God He has promised a greater deliverance that Egypt and a greater deliverer than Moses. He will deliver us from sin and death and even the devil himself.
When that day comes, we will eat an even greater meal in remembrance of our greater deliverance.
By the way, I notice from the bread and wine set out on the table there, that you are expecting to eat a meal here today? I wonder what it is you are celebrating?
It would take a week to walk from Cyrene to Jerusalem. I would be in the city for a week during the festival of Unleavened Bread that ends with the Passover. And then it would take another week to return home again. Arrangements had to be made for my family who would remain behind in Cyrene. Supplies for the journey had to be accumulated. There was much discussion with other men who had made the trip before as to the best route to travel and the safe places to stop along the way. It took several years of saving whatever extra money I could put aside until finally, I was ready.
Early on the morning of the 3rd of Nisan, the year 30 AD, I left for Jerusalem.
II. The Journey to Jerusalem
A. Meeting others headed to Jerusalem.
The journey went well. As I got closer to the city, I met others who were going to Jerusalem for the same reason. As we walked we talked about many things. Like what it would be like to be in Jerusalem, the city of David and to eat the Passover at the Holy Temple where God was present behind the curtain, above the ark of the covenant over the mercy-seat.
Several of the men had made the trip before. They described the city and the Temple in magnificent terms. They told me that Jerusalem went from 50,000 people normally to over 250,000 people during Passover. For that reason, the Roman governor always came down from Caesarea to personally supervise security.
Everyone warned me that it was best to keep an eye on the Roman soldiers and to stay at least three arm lengths away. They had the right to enlist the nearest person into service whenever the need arose. Why three arm lengths I asked? Because they draw their sword and tap you on the shoulder with the flat part of the blade, which means you've been chosen. Three arm lengths puts you just out of reach.
It was late Friday night when I arrived at Bethany, a small village just outside of Jerusalem. I stayed the night there and because the next day was the Sabbath when no travel was allowed, I ended up spending two days there.
While I was in Bethany, there was a great deal of talk and excitement about a man named Lazarus who lived there. It seemed that Lazarus had died and had been dead for four days but had come back to life again. There was also a lot of talk about a man named Jesus. It seems that he was the man who brought Lazarus back to life and they were saying He did it just by calling his name. They said that Jesus just yelled into the tomb "Lazarus, come out," and Lazarus came walking out of the tomb, grave clothes still wrapped around him. Alive and hungry.
Many in Bethany were talking as if this Jesus may be the promised Messiah, the one who would bring about the great and final deliverance. I wanted to see if I could get a look at this man Lazarus, but I wasn't able to.
C. Palm Sunday
The next day was Sunday, the 10th day of the month. This was the day that Moses said that the Passover lamb should be selected. I wanted to get to Jerusalem early enough to choose a good one. I wondered what inflated prices the sellers would be getting for a lamb there and where I would have to go to exchange my foreign currency for local money.
My thoughts were interrupted by a great commotion and loud cheering up ahead. The road to Jerusalem
was lined with people all cheering something or other. They were cheering for a man riding on a donkey. I asked who this was. They told me it was Jesus, the one who had raised Lazarus.
He didn't look like a Messiah, whatever a Messiah is supposed to look like. I followed the parade all the way into Jerusalem and right to the Temple.
It was magnificent, greater than anything I had imagined. Huge stones, more gold than I have ever seen. In all the excitement though, I forgot to select a lamb for my Passover meal.
D. The Passover.
I spent the next several days touring the city, seeing the magnificent buildings and the sites where our ancestors had done the things recorded in the Bible. On Thursday evening, I ate the Passover at the Temple. My dream to eat the Passover in Jerusalem had come true at last.
III. Carrying the Cross of Jesus.
A. Impress of the Roman Soldier
I arose early on Friday morning. I wanted to get an early start on the trip home. Going down to the road leading out of the city called 'via del a Rosa' there was a huge crowd that seemed angry about something. When I asked what it was all about, I was told it had to do with some criminals headed for execution.
There were three of them. They were each carrying their crosses on the way to their crucifixion. I had seen this before in Cyrene and it was an ugly thing to watch that I personally had no taste for.
It was then, as I was ready to make my way through the crowd, not paying any attention to anything but heading home, that I felt it. It was a tap on the shoulder with the blade of a Roman sword. No! Not me. I've got to be on my way home. Don't ruin this dream of a lifetime.
I was directed to carry the cross of one of the criminals that they had obviously beaten more than they should have. He didn't have the strength to carry his own cross – and so because of the soldier's stupidity for getting carried away with the beating, and for whatever crime this criminal had committed – my day was going to be ruined.
I was shoved into the road and told to put my shoulder under the cross bar and carry it to the execution site. It was only then that I saw who the criminal was. It was Jesus, the same one who rode into Jerusalem on the donkey just five days earlier. His back was open and raw flesh. He head and hair were a mess of blood that ran down his face in dried lines. And yet, through the blood and matted hair, his eyes met mine. And I could not turn my eyes away from His. There was a compassion in his eyes that instantly melted all of my resentment and anger. He seemed to be more sorry for me than I should have been for him.
B. The Crucifixion
As we reached the execution site, I was told where to place the cross and told I could leave. But I couldn't go. I had carried His cross this far and now I felt as if I was a part of whatever it was that was happening here.
I watched as the soldiers hammered the nails into his hands and raised him onto the upright pole. Then the long, metal spike was nailed through both feet together. There was a great deal of blood and obvious pain but Jesus never cursed or swore the way the other two did who were crucified on each side of him.
In fact, Jesus spoke tender and kind words to the soldiers saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing." The man looked even less like a Messiah than he had on Sunday.
To the criminal crucified beside him he said, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."
He must have felt terrible alone, because at one point, in a horrifying voice he cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
It seemed as though this were His mission, His dream, if you will, and that He felt His dream had also been fulfilled. Gathering all the strength He had left in Him and with one last breath, He said, "It is finished." "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." And then he died.
My emotions completely overcame me and I wept like have never wept before. My dream of a lifetime no longer seemed as important as it had. It had been absorbed into something much greater than I didn't understand.
IV. Conclusion – The Trip Home
The trip home gave me time to think through a lot of the things that happened. Something happened in Jerusalem while I was there. You know how I told you that I had forgotten to choose my lamb for the Passover? Well, I think my lamb was chosen for me.
I believe that the real Passover Lamb is Jesus. I believe that He is the deliverer greater than Moses whose own blood delivers us not only from death, but also from our sin and the devil.
You ask why I would believe such a thing about such a man? Let me tell you. I have been told that this man whose cross I carried and whom I saw crucified and die, rose to life again three days after they laid Him in the tomb. And He's alive right now. And I believe that this is true.
I dreaded carrying that cross, it wasn't anything that I had planned on doing or wanted to do. And yet, it was as I carried his cross that I was somehow united to Him and my life was forever changed.
If you are ever called on to take up His cross and carry, do it. You won't like it and you won't want to do it. But do it. Because it is as you carry His cross that you come to know Him and knowing Him, you come to realize that His dream is to deliver you.