And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:26-49)
Following Jesus is to be Simon of Cyrene. We are exiles from a different land, and the world lays upon us a cross of burdens and persecutions. We are hated because of Jesus and following him leads us to pain and suffering.
Following Jesus is to be the Daughters of Jerusalem. We mourn an lament for our savior. He comforts us by telling us that we should be weeping for ourselves, because the trials of the world increase and inflame. Following Christ is mourning.
Following Jesus is to be the thief on the cross. We shun the world, we understand the truth, we repent, and we ask Christ to remember us. He rewards us by taking us to paradise with him.
These are difficult and depressing things! Who wants to carry a cross? Who wants to mourn all the time? Who wants to be penitent? Well, not to worry! Because we fail at each of these three things. We don't carry our crosses, we rarely mourn, and we are far from penitent. Listen to this verse from Johann Heermann (1630): "Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, has undone thee. 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee."
Let's back up. Are we Simon of Cyrene? Are we the Daughters of Jerusalem? Are we the thief on the cross?
No, we are "they."
And as THEY led him away, THEY seized one Simon of Cyrene. We are THEY. We lead Jesus away. We seize the sojourner from another land. We lay upon him Christ's cross. We force him to carry the cross behind the Lord.
We are THEY. We will begin to say to the mountains, "Fall on us," and to the hills, "Cover us." When Christ returns we will be so frightened, because we have abused the lives that he has given us, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We were the green wood, and we are the dry wood. We are the evil that killed Christ.
We are the thief on the cross, yes, but we are the FIRST thief. We are the thief who challenges Jesus to save himself and us. We try to tempt him. We ridicule him. We put ourselves first and try to get Jesus to do our bidding.
Is then no one saved? No. Christ transforms us into Simon of Cyrene. He transforms us into the Daughters of Jerusalem. He transforms us into the second thief on the cross. But we are never originally those three to begin with. As Paul tells us in Ephesians, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—" (Ephesians 2:1-5)
We only become Christians when Christ saves us and not one moment before. Our deeds are evil until Christ changes our hearts, until he forgives us. How does he forgive us? That is exactly what he did on the cross. He shed his own blood to forgive the debt that we owed God. It was the only possible transaction. It is the only forgiveness possible.
Read Luke's passion narrative further. "Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, "Certainly this man was innocent!" This Centurion had a hand in crucifying Christ, and the moment Jesus died, he was forgiven. He immediately took on the attributes of the second thief on the cross: "this man has done nothing wrong." The centurion will now begin to carry his cross like Simon of Cyrene. He will begin to mourn for the world like the Daughters of Jerusalem. He will begin to be penitent like the thief.
The great news is that this forgiveness is free. Jesus bestows it upon us freely. There is nothing we can do to earn it. We receive it by faith alone. Realize that you crucified Christ and have faith that he has forgiven you.
Following Jesus is to be forgiven.