We all have our crosses we have to bear. Some have lingering illnesses or financial pressures. Others have relationship difficulties. In many ways we all have our crosses. At least that is the common understanding of cross-bearing today. For many today bearing a cross means you have something very difficult that you don’t really want to deal with, but you must do it anyway.
This morning we look at how Jesus carried his cross. I hope that we can see that bearing a cross is more than just enduring a trial or a difficulty. Bearing a cross, from a Christian perspective, is giving up yourself completely for our Lord. We have seen how Jesus, the innocent Messiah, has been sentenced to death. He has been horribly abused and mocked by the Roman soldiers. Now he is on the way to his death on Calvary. Let’s read Mark 15:21-26.
I. The scene is described in verses 21-22.
“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.” Jesus was first forced to carry his own cross to the site of execution. The route would go through the busiest streets in order to intimidate people. This very public procession carried the implied message: “This is what happens to those who don’t follow the laws of Caesar!”
Usually the victim would carry just the cross beam since the vertical part of the cross would already be in place. Weakened by his beating, Jesus was only able to carry it only a short distance. As they approached the city gate, the soldiers took a man who had just returned from the country to carry the cross for Jesus.
If anything, Simon is yet another subtle reminder of why Jesus came. Perhaps Simon is given here as an example that says that WE should have been carrying that cross instead of Jesus. But when it comes time for the crucifixion itself, only Jesus could do that.
II. The Crucifixion is very simply described in verses 23-24.
Before Jesus is nailed to the cross, he was offered wine mixed with myrrh. The women of Jerusalem would provide a narcotic drink to those condemned in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain. This comes from Proverbs 31:6 which says, “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish.” This reflects a local custom to bring some relief to the condemned. However, Jesus refused to take it. Why? Jesus chose to endure with full consciousness his sufferings. He would bear the sin of the world willingly and by being fully conscious.
The details of the crucifixion itself are reported with utmost restraint. The person would normally be stripped and hung naked, his arms outstretched and then tied or sometimes nailed to the cross beam. Crucifixion was basically death by exhaustion. The weight of the body hanging on the cross caused such a state of exhaustion that the person often died within hours in the heat of the day. If they wanted to hasten the death, the legs were broken so they couldn’t support their weight any longer. Neither Mark or the other gospel writers go into all the details of the crucifixion. Since crucifixion was very common, no further explanation was needed. But Mark may also be focusing not on a dying martyr but on a risen Savior!
After Jesus was nailed to the cross, the soldiers then split up his possessions. In Jesus’ case, it was only his clothing. The soldiers cast lots for these things fulfilling Psalm 22:18 - “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” This is the complete powerlessness of Jesus in his humiliation. What is striking about this scene is the contrast between Jesus and the soldiers. In their presence, the Lamb of God is taking away the sins of the whole world! And what are they doing? Entertaining themselves for their own meager gains.
It is easy to shake our heads at the soldiers, but how often do we miss what Jesus did? How often do we let the impact of Jesus’ amazing sacrificial love become dulled by our own little trivial pursuits for gain and success? A child once shoved his hand into the opening of a very expensive vase and then couldn’t pull it out again; something like this little boy in this picture. Parents and neighbors tugged but couldn’t remove his hand. Finally there was nothing left to do but to break the expensive vase. Then it became clear why the child had been stuck. His little fist grasped a penny which he had spied in the bottom of the vase and which he would not let go of. Sometimes we won’t let go of the trivial even though we are surrounded by the amazing love of God.
III. The charge against Jesus is stated in verses 25-26.
On the way to the site, the victim carried a board with his crime written on it. After the execution, this board was nailed to the cross above the head of the crucified. This was done to explain the offense and to again intimidate any passers-by. This inscription said, “The King of the Jews.” Jesus had been sentenced to death because he was a subversive against Rome. It was intended to show that any attempts at independence would result in this. Moreover, it would also be insulting to the Jews. In fact, the Jewish leaders protested that they wanted it to say that he claimed to be the King of the Jews. Pilate refused this request for he want to humiliate the Jews. What this does show is that Jesus went to his death as the true King and Messiah.
IV. As we consider our suffering Savior there are two things for us to think about.
Jesus suffered the curse of the sins of the world in order to be our Savior and Lord. He carried the full weight of our sins as he carried that cross through Jerusalem. But not just sin in the abstract but our very own and very personal sins. We cannot forget what forced Jesus to carry that cross was my sin and yours. But again remember that those very specific sins are now forgiven and gone!
The sign above his head proclaimed that he is indeed King and is now our risen and victorious King. This is not the description of the death of a martyr. This is the description of how Jesus became the victorious king over all. He is King and we are called to follow him as our King.
And with that in mind, let’s consider Jesus’ words in Luke 14:27. Let’s look at Luke 14:25-27. “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Following Jesus means we must be ready to hate or reject our family members for the cause of Christ. If it comes down to a choice between family and Christ, Christ must always win. But even more, Jesus says that a true disciple must hate his own life. In fact, so much so that he must be willing to carry his cross and follow him.
With what we have looked at, let’s realize the impact of what Jesus is saying here. It’s not just being ready to make a few sacrifices or endure some burdens and trials. Actually, this verse makes sense only after Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus carried his cross first to pay for our sins. Now Jesus expects us to carry our cross, which means that we are to now give up our lives completely for him.
However this is not what Jesus means when he says we are to be carrying our cross and following him. We are not to hold on to our own lives and our desires but be we are to be giving our lives over to him completely and continually because he is our Lord and King. In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We have been crucified with Christ!
And that means everything we do is carrying Jesus’ cross. We carry our cross following Jesus every single day. When we work, we carry the cross, denying ourselves and living for Christ. When we are at home or alone, we carry the cross, denying ourselves and letting Christ live in us. When we are doing business or going to the store or driving our cars, we are carrying the cross of Christ. We are to give up ourselves daily for the one who gave himself up for us. Are you willing to carry that cross this week as you follow our King?