Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 23:26-31 – Cling To The Old Rugged Cross

Grace For The Journey

We are in chapter 23 of Luke’s Gospel.  In these later chapters we are studying the events surrounding the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  We have noted before how these events fulfill a very specific prophecy by the Prophet Isaiah who prophesied some 700 years before the events of Christ.  Especially in Isaiah chapter 53, we note these specific prophecies about the coming Christ, that He would someone “despised and rejected” … “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” the One, “Smitten by God and afflicted” … “wounded for our transgressions” … “bruised for our iniquities.”

It is a great prophecy 700 years before the events and we will be seeing in coming weeks the fulfillment of Christ’s being “numbered with the transgressors,” “bearing the sins of many, and Jesus’ being, “led as a lamb to the slaughter.”  We will be studying about that this morning as we pick up in verse 26, where it says that Jesus was “led away” to His crucifixion, led away as a lamb to the slaughter.

It’s only a few hundred yards from where Jesus was sentenced by Pilate to Calvary’s Hill.  If one were just casually walking along this path it would really only take a few minutes, but it will take Jesus much longer.  It will take much longer because He has been subjected to cruel trials and beatings.  It is very probable that He has been awake for the past 24 hours.  He has just been severely beaten by way of Roman scourging, an intense beating that sometimes resulted in death itself, so a man condemned to crucifixion might die before he is ever crucified, dying by the Roman scourging.  So, Jesus has just been scourged and He is now making His way to the cross.

There is a strange and morbid curiosity within man that causes him to slow down and gaze upon events of death and destruction.  We see it on the highway, a several-car-pile-up causes traffic to slow down as passersby by crane their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of what happened.  

There would have been some of that going on as Jesus made this journey along the street in Old Jerusalem, the path from His Roman scourging to Mount Calvary, a path in Latin called the Via Dolorosa, meaning, “the way of suffering.” He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.  Crowds of people had come out to watch the slaughter, to watch Jesus, along with two criminals, making their journey to Calvary’s Hill.  

Luke records for us in these few verses a couple of images that burn into our memories.  There are two encounters here in the text that Luke takes time to tell us about, one is a man named Simon who is forced to carry the cross of Jesus.  The other is a small group of women who are weeping for Him.

Let’s take a closer look at these few verses and these two encounters and then I want to share a couple of necessary responses to what we have studied.

Verse 26 tells us, “Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.”  Despite the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and the movie industry, the Bible never once records Jesus’s stumbling as He carries the cross.  He may well have, but the Bible do not tell us so.  They simply record that Jesus is led away and that on His way to His crucifixion, a certain man named Simon is forced to carry the cross of Christ.  In fact, the phrase in verse 26, “they laid hold of a certain man,” is probably better understood as, “They seized a certain man.”  The idea is that they grabbed this guy who was minding his own business, making his way into the city. They grabbed him and said to him something like, “You there!  Pick up his cross and carry it!” It was not a request, it was a demand.  Roman soldiers could do that kind of thing.

Now we do not know Simon was forced to carry the entire cross, a cross we think of in traditional terms, a cross with two pieces, or whether he was forced to carry only the crosspiece, the heavy crosspiece that weighed as much as 100 pounds.  It was probably the crosspiece that Simon carried, but the point is that the Romans grabbed Simon and, apparently in an effort to expedite things, ordered him to pick up the cross of Christ and follow behind Jesus as they all made their way to the hill.

The Bible tells us in verse 26 that Simon was, “coming from the country,” which suggests he was coming into the city for Passover, most likely a Jew from a place called Cyrene.  Cyrene is modern-day Libya in Northern Africa.  There is this Jewish community in Cyrene and Simon has left there and has come into the city, or at least he is trying to come into the city, when he is told to pick up and carry the cross of Jesus.

Now that is all we read about this brief encounter here, but Mark’s Gospel tells us a little more about Simon.  Mark tells us in Mark15:21 that Simon is, “the father of Alexander and Rufus.”  Think about that for a moment.  Mark, in his Gospel, is writing primarily to a Roman audience.  He is writing to Christians in Rome.  He mentions Simon in the passage and then he says, in essence, “You know Simon.  He is the father of Alexander and Rufus.”  Why would Mark identify Simon this way if he did not expect his audience to know who Alexander and Rufus were?  

It is almost certain that Simon came to know Christ personally either the day he carried Jesus’ cross or sometime afterwards because he is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And Mark takes time to tell his readers exactly which Simon he is talking about.  Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit some years later in his letter to the Romans, closes out his letter with a number of greetings to the Christians in Rome and he says, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and greet his mother too because she has been like a mother to me.” (Romans 16:13).

Following Christ is a decision that impacts your entire family.  We are not certain how all this played out for Simon but at some time he receives Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  His wife comes to know Christ and his two boys, Alexander and Rufus, come to know Christ and become leaders in the church at Rome.  Following Christ is a decision that impacts your entire family.  Men, you follow Christ and your family will almost certainly follow Him, too.

Think of God’s providence here!

Simon is on his way into the city, no doubt stirred emotionally by the scene unfolding before him, a dark scene of cruelty and horror.  Surely he is shocked and taken aback by this harsh command from a Roman soldier. Simon is grabbed and thrown toward the cross and told to pick it up and carry it.  Yet, through these dark events, God is working out a perfect plan in the life of Simon and in the life of Simon’s family.  Through what at first appears to be a senseless tragedy, God is at work in Simon’s life, working out a plan for Simon’s salvation and the salvation of his family.  To quote William Cowper, author of the hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” he writes,

“Behind a frowning providence

God hides a smiling face.”

God is in control . . . He loves Simon . . . He knows what He is doing.

Think about that application in your life!  There are so many things that at first seem senseless to us. “Why did this happen, God? Why did You permit this darkness, this evil, this pain, this health condition, this job loss, this breakdown of a friendship, of a relationship? Why, God?”  All we can see is “a frowning providence.”  Yet, hang in there.  Joy comes in the morning.  God is there.  He loves you and He knows what He is doing.

Verse 27 says, “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him.”  There is a small group of women there who are weeping for Him and what does Jesus do?  Verse 28 tells us, “But Jesus, turning to them, said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.’”  Jesus addresses these women as, “Daughters of Jerusalem.”  That is an Old Testament way of referring to the nation of Israel (cf. Zechariah 9:9; Micah 4:8; and Zephaniah 3:14).

Why does Jesus tell these women to weep for themselves and their children?  Verse 29 gives us some insight.  Jesus says, “For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’”  That must have sounded strange.  But within 40 years the siege of Jerusalem would begin under Roman Military Commander Titus, who would eventually become the Roman Emperor. The Romans would lay siege to the city of Jerusalem and years of famine and disease would follow.  Hardest hit by the siege would be women, especially women who had small children.  It would be such a terrible time, says Jesus, that people would not celebrate the birth of a baby, but rather celebrate the fact that a person had no children at all, thereby being spared the horror of an early death.

Jesus had wept before for the city of Jerusalem.  You will remember this back in Luke 19:41-44 where He first spoke of the coming destruction of the city of Jerusalem.  He mentions it again in Luke 21:23, where He said, “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.”  This will be a horrible time when death will be preferable to life.  

That is the point behind the phrase there in verse 30, “Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”  This Old Testament imagery from Hosea 10:8 illustrates what that day will be like when Jerusalem falls in AD 70.  People will prefer a quick death to years of suffering.  It is much like what will take place during the Great Tribulation in the end times.  You can read about that in Revelation 6:16-17, another time when people will cry out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  So, Jesus says, “Don’t weep for Me, weep for yourselves.  Within 40 years you will be facing a time of terrible judgment at the hand of the Romans. It will be so bad many will cry out to the mountains, ‘Fall on us and kill us, take us away from this suffering!’”  

Then verse 31, Jesus says, “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”  This is one of those verses you come across in your daily Bible reading and you are like, “Whatever does that mean?!” and then you move on.  But you know what it means intuitively, right?  You know this is not a good thing.  Jesus has just been talking about judgment and the Roman destruction of the city of Jerusalem and He says, “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”  In other words, “You ladies are crying for Me, but think about it: if the Romans are doing this now to Me, what will be done to you, what will be done to the city of Jerusalem?”  Put another way, “If this is how they burn green wood, just think how much greater will be the burning of that which is dry?”  If you have ever picked up sticks to burn in a campfire, you look for dry sticks because the green ones do not burn so well.  So, Jesus is saying, “If this is what the Romans do to the green wood, wood that is not ripe for judgment, think of how they will treat dry wood, wood that is absolutely ripe for judgment.”  If God has not spared His innocent Son from such tribulation (by permitting His crucifixion), how much worse will it be for a sinful nation when God unleashes His righteous wrath upon it (by permitting the Romans to destroy Jerusalem).

We come now to these two necessary responses.

In light of what we have just read . . .

I. We Must Die To Our Sin.

Judgment awaited the city of Jerusalem.  God will judge the city of Jerusalem for their refusal to repent and to trust God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  Judgment awaits all who reject God’s Son.  We must turn from our sin, which means to repent.  

We must turn from our sin

And turn to our Savior,

The Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it striking that these women are weeping, and Jesus says, “Don’t weep for Me. Weep for yourselves.”  Feeling sympathy for Jesus does not alone save.  We can cry and cry and have and show great emotion and still lack repentance.  We must look to Him as Lord and Savior. We must see that Jesus died in our place, bore our transgressions, and died for our iniquities.  Jesus says, “Don’t weep for Me, weep for yourselves. Judgment is coming. Don’t reject Me. Turn to Me.”

This is why feeling a certain way as we look at religious art does not alone save. Watching a film or a play about the passion of Christ does not alone save.  Even if we feel great sympathy for Jesus we are not responding properly to the Gospel if all we do is weep for Him.  If all we do is say, “What a terrible thing happened to Jesus when He was crucified,” and we fail to see that it is we who hammered the nails into His hands and feet, if we fail to see ourselves there at Calvary then we are weeping only for Jesus, feeling only sympathy for One who needs no sympathy, at all!  He is God.  He does not need our sympathy.  

He does not

Want our sympathy,

He wants our souls.

Jesus is say Do not weep for Me, Jerusalem . . . Do not weep for Me, whoever you are . . . Weep for yourselves.  Weep for your lost family members.  Weep for your lost co-workers.  Weep for the lost people in your community and across the world to the unreached people groups of the nations.  Weep for your sin, cry over your sins and come to Me and trust Me and receive Me and My righteousness.”

The Jews in Jesus’ day did not trust in the righteousness of Christ, but they trusted in their own righteousness.  They thought they could be morally acceptable in God’s sight by keeping the Law. That is how some of you think. “I can be a good person.  If I am good enough, God will accept me.”  But that is not true!  Weep for yourselves, repent, and come to Christ.  The Bible says in Philippians 3:9, “… not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

That is how we are saved from our sins and from the wrath to come. Judgment awaits all who reject God’s Son.  I must die to my sin.  I must admit, confess, and agree with God, that I am a sinner deserving nothing but judgment and the wrath to come.  I come to a point where . . .

I understand Jesus died for my sin,

Took the punishment I deserved

And I am weeping for myself,

Feeling conviction for my sin,

And turning to Christ as my Savior.

And when you die to your sin and trust Christ as Savior, you are saved forever.   You are accepted by God forever.  Just like the chorus to the song, “Wash in me in Your cleaning flow, now all I know, Your forgiveness and embrace.”  He embraces us and because you did not deserve your salvation, you can do nothing to “un-deserve” it.  Your salvation is, “by grace through faith in Christ alone.”  Paul asks in Romans 8:35. “What shall separate us from the love of God?”  Paul answers affirmatively in Romans 8:39, “I am convinced that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We must die to our Sin.  Secondly . . .

II. We Must Die To Our Self.

I think one of the reasons Luke tells us about Simon in verse 26 is because of the power of this imagery.  Here is Simon picking up the cross of Jesus and carrying it.  This is a powerful emblem of what it means to follow Christ!  We must die to our self.  Picking up the cross of Christ and carrying it daily is a picture of the Christian life.

Jesus had said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

We must die to our self.  Jesus asks in Luke 9:25, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”  He said in Luke 14:27, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Bearing the cross of Christ and following Him means we love Him more than anyone or anything else, more than we love even our own lives.

Simon’s actions here in the historical realm portray

Vividly what is true in the spiritual realm.

We must pick up our cross and “bear it after Jesus.”  We must die to our self.  That is what the cross means.  We die.  We die to our self.  We die to our self-interests, our self-centeredness, and our self-assuredness.

This is why the symbol of Christianity is a cross, because Christianity requires that we die.  

  • The symbol of Christianity is not a bumper sticker, or a style of dress, or a particular Bible translation, or a particular church we attend. 
  • We are not Christians because we have a fish on the bumpers of our cars or because we listen to K-LOVE on the radio.  
  • We are not Christians because we read books and download Christian podcasts.
  • We are not Christians because we post words of Christ on Twitter or Facebook.

We are Christians when we take up and carry the cross, “the emblem of suffering and shame.”  We “cling to that old rugged cross” more than we cling to anyone or anything.

Judgment awaits all who reject God’s Son.  The Bible says in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, “… When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grant us wisdom in these moments to die to our sins, die to ourselves, and accept the death of Jesus Christ as payment for our sins.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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