A Co-op Cross to Bear: When Jesus Needed a Partner (Luke 23)

I have professed my love of co-op gaming before, but there are games that are enabled for cooperative play and then there are titles that are BUILT for them, and while Donkey Kong Country can certainly be played by yourself the satisfaction of tag teaming this adventure is where the real fun lies.  Many of the most recent multiplayer titles split the screen to allow both players to progress independently of each other without frustration or they utilize an invisible tether that keeps the party in proximity while permitting exploration, but not Kong.  Donkey Kong takes the wonderfully bold and decidedly old-fashioned approach of demanding intensive coordination between both players as they share the exact same screen space, extra lives pool, and often times the same vine to swing on to safety.  While this can initially lead to a great deal of consternation, the requisite communication and tandem teamwork required to pull off some of the more challenging levels can feel like a well choreographed ballroom dance routine that leaves each participant both breathless and exhilarated.

Good ol’ Donkey Kong and his simian family can always be counted on for a challenge, and while I credit myself with slightly above average platforming skills I will confess that I have spent a great deal of banana based currency purchasing more balloons (extra lives for those who have not had the pleasure) as my wife and I have sent myriads of monkeys to their collective dooms down endless pits, into random spikes, or by simply failing to coordinate an end of level jump correctly (that one may or may not result in a banishment for DK back to the game shelf for a few months).

The bottom line is this is a very symbiotic relationship in which neither primate protagonist can succeed without the other’s direct support.

Since our fates are so directly intertwined, our ability to complete a level and move on requires a huge degree of teamwork.  There are times that one character must defer to another’s abilities, such as Donkey King smashing through an area with raw brute strength or Dixie Kong using her hair to float to an image vestibule ledge.  Other times it is as simple as one character holding a switch down so the other can advance and reciprocate.  The bottom line is this is a very symbiotic relationship in which neither primate protagonist can succeed without the other’s direct support.

The concept of a tag team partner has its roots in Scripture, but I’m not just referring to the marriage relationship or having Christian friends as a support structure although those are certainly valid and well-established themes.  No, I’m actually looking at something, or more appropriately SOMEONE who appears rapidly on the world scene during a critical moment in the history of the planet and just as quickly disappears after having completed his role, without so much as a last name to identify him. Today I am looking at the enigmatic Simon of Cyrene… The man who carried God’s cross.

Simon of Cyrene… The man who carried GOD’S cross.

I will start with dispensing with the formalities… I am sticking to the Biblical recording of what occurred here without acknowledging any unconfirmed traditions that have ascribed certain histories to our man Simon.  There can be exceptional value in adding context through reference works that were written by historical figures of that day and time, but I have observed in my experience that the annals of history belong not to the truth, but to the victor far too often to quote anything other that the Bible as authoritative.  So please forgive my relentless adherence to only what is recorded in the Word as we probe this incredibly unique moment in time and human history.

To do this justice first we must set the scene.  A beaten, bloodied, condemned man who has been up all night long is dragging His element of execution with the remaining strength He possesses.  Conservative estimates place the weight at approximately 125 lbs, as it was typical for the vertical portion of the cross to remain affixed at the crucifixion site with only the horizontal beam being carried by the prisoner.  If the entire cross was being carried the estimate balloons up to 300 lbs, but either way this would be an exhausting task for someone in optimal shape, and positively torturous for Jesus in His currently incapacitated state.  As we follow the passage, we find that Jesus has finally had enough.  His human strength has ebbed and He falls to the ground in exhaustion, stubbornly refusing to allow Himself the luxury of calling on His deity to sustain Him, even now, when no one would think less of Him or even know if He had.

It is here that the unexpected happens, as God lays deliberately helpless at the feet of His creation.

It is here that the unexpected happens, as God lays deliberately helpless at the feet of His creation. Through movies, books, songs, and church traditions there are many different versions of how Simon came to be in the position of carrying the cross of Christ, with some suggesting he volunteered to do so as a kindness, and others attributing his proximity to the situation to mean he was possibly a follower or disciple.  So let’s get to the facts as Scripture lays out the drama from 3 distinct but complimentary points of view that when placed together form a full portrait of what really happened on that day.

Luke 23:26 records it that the Roman soldiers laid hold of Simon and placed the cross on him.  The words “lay hold” are actually one Greek word in the original text which is translated as “to seize ” and implies a forcefulness, for example when Paul and Silas are seized and arrested or when Sosthenes is seized and beaten the same word is used.  Matt. 27:32 states that the Romans found Simon and “compelled” him to carry the cross.  The word “compelled” is a Greek word used rarely in the Bible and is best translated “to press into public service”, and it is the same word used in Mark 15:21  which captures that Simon was coming out of the country and was simply passing by when he was conscripted into service.  Adding all these together causes a very clear picture to emerge, namely that Simon of Cyrene was put into the position to carry the cross of Christ based on the decisions of others, and his interest or willingness to do so did not have any bearing on the fact that he was going to be forced to complete this task.

The role of the one who was destined to literally bear this burden for the King seems to have fallen to someone who had no interest or intention to become famous for this.

How interesting, that with all of the myriad of followers Jesus had, as well as a number of friends and disciples, that it was someone that Jesus seems to have never even met in His mortal life, someone who did not appear to have a dog in this fight, that would ultimately be the one that would assist Jesus in drinking the cup He had been given.  Neither James nor John, the fiery brothers who were ready to call down fire from heaven to defend Jesus from dishonor, nor Peter who had pledged to give his life just hours before were chosen to be the vessel of delivery here.  In a dramatic scene planned from the beginning of time, the role of the one who was destined to literally bear this burden for the King seems to have fallen to someone who had no interest or intention to become famous for this.  A co-op partner who was vital, necessary, but from all appearances “volun-told” to complete the course.

Most of us are familiar with passages of Scripture that encourage us to take up our own cross… But it is an entirely different thing to realize that we will be called upon unexpectedly to carry someone else’s cross, someone we may not even know, and at a time when it would be very unpopular to do so.  Jesus was at His lowest moment in many ways here, and being seen with Him right now was not an ideal photo op for someone trying to keep a low profile.  And yet this was what history placed in Simon’s lap… His destiny was to help the very Son of God across the finish line.  God doesn’t typically use angels to help us carry our crosses… He uses PEOPLE.  Simon wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t even necessarily willing, but he was chosen.  And if it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.

I will not always get to choose my co-op partners in life.  Sometimes I will be the one doing the heavy lifting, and other times God will deliver the right person into my life even if it is just for a short time to help me carry my cross to my next stopping point.  They may not be who I would have chosen, and they may not even be someone I want helping me, but God in His infinite wisdom chooses who will help each of us make it to our final destination.  At various times in our lives we will all be called upon to inhabit the role of co-op partner for someone, and at other times a “Simon” will be plucked from the crowd around us to help shoulder the load.

You don’t always get to choose whose cross you will be carrying. 

You don’t always get to choose whose cross you will be carrying, but rest assured that if He called you to carry it then it is imperative that you do so.  Because one time the entire fate of humanity rested on the shoulders of a man named Simon to deliver a cross, on a woman named Mary to deliver a child, on a fisherman named Peter to deliver a sermon… And on and on it goes as He uses each one of us to carry the cross just a little farther each day.  And when the cross isn’t yours to bear but He asks you to do it anyways, remember that the cross you help someone carry might be the one that leads millions to salvation.  Just ask Simon.  The cross He was asked to carry was the one that saved me, you, and hopefully him too.

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