I was in Jerusalem with my family for the Passover. Although I’m from the north coast of Africa in Cyrene I’m a Greek-speaking Jew. When I woke up on that Crucifixion Morning, I had no idea what the day held in store for me. But, that’s life, isn’t it? Our lives can change in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. In fact, It was His eyes I’ll never forget.
I had heard of Jesus. I knew His teaching was considered radical by many. I knew the religious leaders weren’t happy with all of His talk of love and redemption. He had referred to Himself as Messiah. He was the One the prophets had told us would come. Tensions had mounted in religious circles and there was talk that something had to be done with Jesus. Yet, He had such a loyal following. I heard He was kind and gentle. He was knowledgeable in the Scriptures and He taught with authority. People flocked to hear Him teach and many lives had been transformed. I had heard rumors of miraculous things happening in His presence–physical healings, expulsion of demons, people being raised from the dead. It sounded so far out, but it didn’t sound like such a bad thing.
On Passover Friday I was astounded by the number of people on the streets. My sons, Alexander and Rufus, accompanied me into the city. I hung onto them for dear life so I wouldn’t lose them in the crowd. There was something about the atmosphere that day. Everyone was talking about Jesus. Condemned to die, He was to be crucified on Golgotha. I soon learned that we stood within the path of His death walk to the hill.
Before long, there was great murmur among the people. I could hear shouts in the distance, “Crucify Him! Hail Caesar!” As the shouts grew in volume I realized Jesus would be passing our way. I didn’t know whether to run and risk being trampled on in the crowd or stay where I was and hope that my sons would be able to bear the sight of a man being led to His death.
As He drew closer I caught a glimpse of Him. So badly beaten He no longer looked human. So weak and drained of all physical strength, He stumbled and fell, stumbled and fell. Every time He fell the guards would whip His already broken body. I couldn’t see how much longer He would be able to stay on His feet. His frail body was no match for the weight of the timbers He carried on His back. Every time His body plunged to the ground, it took Him longer to get back up.
Suddenly I felt strong arms pull me into the narrow street. A Roman guard spoke harshly to me, “You–carry His cross.” Fearful that if I disobeyed I, too, would be beaten with the strips of leather he held in I looked at my sons and said, “It’s okay. I’ll be alright. Just stay close.”
I got down on my hands and knees beside this man called Jesus. Cautiously and with great apprehension I turned to look at Him. We were face-to-face and His eyes bore into my very soul. I felt as if He knew me. What did I see there? Pity? Love? Compassion? It wasn’t so much the pain of physical torture but something else. The pain of rejection. The pain of love lost. The pain of death. It only took a moment for Him to look into my eyes and I knew that what I was about to do would change my life forever. I didn’t know how. I just knew it would.
I lifted the cross upon my back and groaned with the weight of it. Behind me I heard women sobbing and wailing. On both sides of the street rang cries of hatred. My face was pelted with the spit of angry men. I felt the sting of rocks hurled in contempt. I glanced at my sons, walking alongside me in great distress, anguish written all over their faces. They couldn’t possibly understand why I had been pulled at random from a crowd of thousands to carry a cross meant for another man.
I grew tired. My legs were giving way. I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want my children to see me fail. I didn’t want to felt the whip upon my back, but no matter how hard I willed myself, my knees gave way and eventually I fell to the ground. I heard Rufus cry out, “Father, get up! Carry the cross! Follow Him!”
At the sound of his words something began to stir in my soul. The crowd became a distant roar as I remembered what the prophet Isaiah had foretold. There would be a Redeemer. He would be despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. He would carry our sorrows. He would be pierced for our transgressions. He would be crushed for our iniquities. He would be oppressed and afflicted, led like a lamb to the slaughter. We were expecting a king to relieve us from the oppression of Roman rule, but this didn’t sound like the kind of king we were expecting. We weren’t expecting a simple man like this Jesus. Could He really be the One the prophets foretold?
I looked over again at my sons. With great conviction they encouraged me, “You can do it, Father! Be strong! Carry the cross! Follow Him!” I looked hard at Jesus. He was definitely fully man. Just like me in physical form, but there was something different about Him. I remembered the look in His eyes. It wasn’t the look of man dying in vain. It was the look of a man dying in love. Isaiah had written, “…they are my people…and so He became their Savior…in His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
With renewed strength and the sound of Rufus’ cries ringing in my ears I carried the cross of Jesus until we reached the place of the skull. The guards took the cross from my bruised back and I felt blessed relief. Rufus and Alexander ran to me and wrapped their arms around me. “Oh, Father. You were so strong and brave.” I let them cling to me, but I didn’t feel strong. I felt weak. I didn’t feel brave. I felt fearful. I watched them drive the spikes into Jesus’ battered body. There may have been relief for me, but there was no relief for Him. I saw them lift the cross to the sky and looked one more time at a man I had never known until that moment on the ground when our eyes met.
My sons and I turned back to the city and hand-in-hand we walked away. In silence, we put one foot in front of the other, but we walked in a daze. Heading somewhere but going nowhere. I couldn’t seem to get myself together. Finally, Alexander asked me “Father, who was that man?”
I replied, “I’m not sure, my son. I’m just not sure.” From somewhere deep within me, though, I knew. From somewhere deep inside I heard a voice speak ever so softly to me, “I poured my soul unto death for you.” How could I be sure? I wanted to be sure. For my sons’ sakes, I wanted to know for sure.
It wasn’t long before the sky grew dark. It wasn’t the darkness of a storm brewing, though. The sun literally stopped shining. It was an eery darkness. Nothing like anything I’d ever witnessed before. There was also an unsettling silence surrounding the city. For three hours the land was cover in this disturbing blackness. Then, without warning, the ground began to shake and rocks split in tow. The tombs opened up and I saw bodies raised to life walking the streets. In fear and trembling, I stood transfixed. Unable to move, I clung to Alexander and Rufus. They were crying out in fear, “Father, protect us! Father, what’s happening?!” Within moments, the darkness ceased and the earth stood still once again. There was no longer any doubt. I knew who Jesus was. Redeemer. Restorer. The Lamb led to the slaughter. Slaughtered for me. Slaughtered for my sons. He was the Messiah.
“Let’s go home, boys,” I said. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
That day, I carried the cross of Jesus. Later, I sat under the teaching of His apostles and they talked about taking up our crossed to follow Him. Rufus’ words still ring in my ears today, “Carry the cross, Father! Follow Him!” He couldn’t have known then just how prophetic his words would be. It was on that dark day that I led my family in a new faith. Three days after the Crucifixion Jesus was resurrected. He lives. It’s true. My family would later be baptized into the faith of born again believers in Jesus Christ. My sons would become pillars of faith in the new church, It wasn’t easy. There were many who still didn’t believe. Many Jews who refused to believe. There was persecution and hatred towards those who chose to follow Jesus. I believe I was chosen to carry His cross for a reason. Bent over with the weight of sacrificial wood on my back is a memory forever imbedded in the hearts and minds of my children. I’ve heard Alexander and Rufus say in encouragement to other believers,
“Carry the Cross! Follow Him!”
And I know they mean it.
~based on Mark 15:21 & Romans 16:13