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Watching from a distance

. . .

and then pressed into service.

But first~

It was June 2008. I was contacted by two businessmen who wanted their company to ‘count for the Kingdom’, a noble pursuit to be sure. ‘Well then, tell me about your own lives—how are you personally growing closer to God?' I asked. 'Tell me about your study of the Bible, your prayer time, where you worship on Sunday with your families…’

‘Well, that would be great,’ one said, ‘I think we both want that,’ and his partner nodded, ‘but we are always on airplanes!’ I prayed with them, asking that God would lead and direct them in their efforts to honor him, and we parted company. Within a few weeks, I became part of the equation, and started writing “Morning Briefings” – teaching straight through the little book of James to start, just a few verses at a time, emailing the biblical inspiration out—for just two men, friends, business partners. Never dreaming it would continue and multiply, it has--going out to 140+ countries. You see, PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW GOD, they just don’t know how to find Him without the Church. And THE CHURCH? Well, that’s complicated. For some, they’ve been burned, for others in Nigeria and other African countries, parts of India, and many other places, going to church could get them thrown in jail or fired from their job. Yet somehow technology has gotten these Morning Briefings into their hands. Only God.

Meanwhile, my task, my calling is to be faithful to the Bible text. But here’s the thing—when I write on that which is difficult to read, Americans hit the ‘unsubscribe’ button. Three people did so after the last briefing, more will do so after this one. Why? We do not want to read the unpleasant or that which we consider boring. Where we are in Mark chapter 15, reading about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is not easy, but it is vitally important. For instance, some of my Muslim readers believe that Jesus was a prophet, but they do not believe he was crucified or resurrected. But the historical accounts show that both occurred. These scripture verses do not lend themselves to just an inspiring little devotional to ‘go forth and prosper’; no, it is so much bigger than that. In the gospel records, through the death of Jesus Christ, we see the unfathomable love of God on display.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ painful journey to the place where he was crucified includes some puzzling details. Simon, who carried the cross—actually, just the patibulum, the cross bar weighing about 75 pounds, to Golgotha, is further described as being from Cyrene, which is modern-day Libya. Mark tells us he had two sons named Alexander and Rufus, to which Paul would later refer in Romans 16. Huh, did these African men become followers of Jesus because their dad had been the one pressed into service by the guards? I mean, talk about a front row seat! Simon became part of the crucifixion story, walking alongside a battered, bleeding, weakened Jesus. When he handed over that crossbar, Simon was right there and saw what came next. . . read with me~

“A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it.

Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. A sign announced the charge against him. It read, “The King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take him down!”

Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome. They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there.” Mark 15.21-41

Where was Simon standing when Jesus died? Surely he would have watched, pressed into service as he was. Why was an African man in Jerusalem anyway? Oh yes, it was Passover time. Likely a Jew, he too came to observe Passover, commemorating God’s faithfulness to the Israelites when he them free from the captivity of harsh Egyptian rulers. Little did Simon know when he made the journey, that he would play a small part in meeting the One who would set all people free from that time forward. Hmm...

You have just seen the death of Jesus up close once more, through the retelling of Mark. Stripped naked, nailed to the cross, suffering, yet people nearby continued to mock him… how can that be?! That disturbs me to my core. It also leaves me and you with a choice. Do we turn and walk away, making Jesus' death of no value? Or do we press in, ask forgiveness for our sins that nailed him to that rugged wooden cross, and follow him daily? Hmmm…

There can be no doubt that Simon of Cyrene believed he had carried the cross of the Messiah. He was never the same. But then, no one who truly meets Jesus ever is the same.

May his death not be in vain today,


following his footsteps in the gospel of Mark, #51

p.s. I’m not a fan of Amazon, but sometimes it is unbelievably efficient and unbeatable. Consider this. Wanting to get a Bible to a young man who just moved to start a new job in Florida, I wanted also to write encouragement in its cover. So I ordered “The Everyman’s Bible” about 8.30 pm Thursday, and it was delivered about 7.30 the following morning. I grabbed it off my porch, personalized and dated it with a word about why the Bible holds the answers for all of life—meaning, purpose, origin of life, and the afterlife too—and mailed it by 9.30 a.m. Why? Because there is no greater gift to put in anyone’s hands. In its importance and value, the Bible stands alone, containing the truth we all crave.

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