Suddenly the front door burst open and a man rushed inside, his hair flowing down his back, a young man with a full beard and flashing eyes. He stood, pale and trembling. “Lazarus, what’s wrong?” cried out Martha as she rushed toward him. “It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus! They’ve got him-they are going to kill him!”
“But where is he?” Martha said, grabbing him. “I’m not sure exactly where he is at this moment but they are going to crucify him-it’s terrible.” Martha began to cry. Lazarus took her in his arms and held her. Mary remained where she stood, and Simon slowly walked toward the door, buckling on his sword.
“Lazarus, where can I find him? I have come a long way, I have met several of his followers, I spoke with your sister Mary about him all night, and now I must see him, no matter what the cost.” Simon’s words were strong and unswerving. Mary rose and stepped toward him. “I shall go with you Simon. I anointed his body for death; I must stand with him in his suffering. Let’s go. Martha, will you watch the two sons?”
“Yes,” she replied, wiping away her tears.
Then Lazarus spoke, gathering his emotions, “Let’s go by Simon Peter’s house. Most of his disciples are gathered there. Maybe they know more by now.” Then they moved out into the early morning freshness. The streets were already alive with people as they rushed through the streets. No one spoke a word as Simon’s mind was filled with ideas of how to bring about the escape of Jesus. He knew no way to form an immediate band of warriors to attempt the rescue except for the disciples, yet he wondered why they were here instead of in Jerusalem with Jesus. But also he remembered the words Mary had said about Jesus knowing he was to die, and wondered if Jesus wanted to be rescued or just what it was all about. Maybe when he met the disciples of Jesus he would know more. Soon they arrived at a home with every window closed. Lazarus beat on the door and called out his name. The door opened and a short heavy set man grimly said, “Come in… quickly.” Lazarus rushed in, Mary behind him, with Simon following. The huge room was dimly lit as everyone began to talk. Simon looked about at the crowded room. Everything and everyone seemed in a state of shock and absolute confusion. The men were weeping and in a state of depression such as he had never seen before. He soon realized that this was nine of the select twelve disciples that Jesus had personally chosen. He had spent three years training them and they all knew Jesus personally, but how could his followers be in such a state of despair? Where was their faith, such as he had seen in Beida, the tribesmen, Mary and others?
Simon was for the first time in his search for God almost totally overcome with a moment of hopelessness! Almost without thinking, he stepped out of the corner of the room and his voice sounded forth, “You fools… you fools.” The room was suddenly quiet, every eye turned to him and most took a step backward away from him as they looked at him with fear. “My name is Simon of Cyrene. I’ve been traveling a long time to see this Jesus Christ. I’ve met people along the way that have heard, believed in or seen Jesus and have become his disciples. Everyone of his believers were filled with assurance, a zeal like I’ve never seen and a real victory in death. I am crushed to meet you. I have longed for one look at Jesus… you have lived with him and now look at you… unbelief, fear, hopelessness… I’m sure whatever Jesus taught you, if he could see you now, he would consider his time a total waste. I don’t know about you but I must go and find him. I am not even a disciple of his, but I seem to have more faith in him than you do. Would someone please tell me where I can find him.”
No one spoke for what seemed like minutes. Then Simon turned to see a strong, tall but gentle man step toward him. “My name is John. Please forgive us. We do not today reflect to you the light of our Lord, but please sir, do not let our weakness detour your search for the true Light. Last night we sat at supper with him and he served us a memorial of bread and wine, then he washed our feet. Afterward he went out to the Garden of Gethsemane with us to pray.
He asked us to ‘watch and pray’. He said his soul was sorry unto death.” His voice broke with emotion as he struggled to continue. “Oh God, we failed Him! We slept-in his own hour of need, we slept. He awoke us and said, ‘The hour is at hand, the one that is to betray me ‘is here.’ Then we saw a great crowd coming toward us with swords. Among them were some of the elders and chief priests. They were led by Judas, one of our twelve disciples. They were carrying torches in the darkness. Jesus said, ‘Whom seek ye?’ They said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ‘I am he,’ Jesus said. And suddenly the whole crowd fell backward to the ground. Oh, the power of our Lord! Judas rushed forth and kissed him as a sign of betrayal. Oh, it was sick to see Judas, one of his own disciples, leading the band of wicked men. Judas had betrayed the Lord!”
“What then?” cried Simon.
“Well, Simon Peter, one of us, drew his sword and charged toward the crowd. He is a huge tough man. He swung his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the High Priest. It looked as if a big battle might break out, but Jesus stopped it. He said to Peter, ‘Put up your sword-all that take up the sword shall perish with the sword. If I prayed unto my Father, he would give me more than twelve legions of angels, but this is done that the scripture may be fulfilled!’ Then they took Jesus and bound him and led him away. All of us disciples ran into the darkness and came here. We are afraid that we too shall be taken and killed. Truly it is a dark hour.”
“But what about Peter?” said Simon. “Where is he?”
“Oh, he followed along behind the crowd to see was going to happen! We haven’t seen him since. They may have taken Peter also to kill him,” cried out another voice. “All is lost, the hope of Israel is lost if Jesus is killed.”
“No… no…” said Lazarus. “He called me forth from the grave. He has all power, as he said, ‘he could call twelve legions of angels’-but he refused. All is not lost, it is a fulfillment of the scriptures as he said.”
Simon started toward the door, “I’m on my way to see Jesus.” Then John spoke up, “I will show you the way; I must be with my Lord. I have hurt him already too much.” They stepped from the house and moved swiftly through the streets. Simon, John, Mary and Lazarus, dashed along the way toward Jerusalem. Simon was still shaken with the weakness of the hopeless disciples he had met. He was angered at them and it felt good to be again in the fresh air and along the busy road toward Jerusalem. It seemed as if everyone was going into the city. It was only a short walk to the splendid city before them with the huge temple sparkling before them. But as they reached the gate they met a huge man rushing toward them. “Peter… Peter,” cried out John. Then they all moved off the road and gathered around Peter.
“John… Mary…” Peter stammered. “I denied Jesus… I did… After you and the other disciples fled, the other disciple and I followed after Jesus. The other disciple went in with Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, but I stayed outside. Many of the people recognized me and said I was one of the disciples of Jesus. Oh, I was afraid! Earlier I would have fought for Jesus, but somehow I have become so afraid! Three times I denied I even knew Jesus! Oh, forgive me. I even cursed and swore as I warmed myself around the fire, denying I had ever seen Jesus.
Then the rooster crowed and I remember the words of Jesus that I would deny him three times before the rooster crowed! “Oh, my soul is exploding, oh, my, I have turned from my master…” He was broken in tears, and could hardly speak or even walk. They tried to comfort him but he charged away, stumbling and weeping loudly as he fled the Holy City of Jerusalem!
Mary said quietly, “Well at least one of the disciples is with him! Unless he, too, has forsaken Jesus by now. Let’s go find out Lord!” Just as they entered the huge gate, an old lady, small and drawn, grabbed Mary and pulled her aside and whispered in her ear, then slipped into the crowd. Mary grabbed Simon, John and Lazarus, “They have taken Jesus for trial before King Herod and also Pilate. He is condemned to die. The Roman soldiers are scourging him and he is being taken to Golgotha, the place of the skull, just outside the city, to be crucified!! We must hurry.” And she burst forth ready to run through the streets. John grabbed her. “Wait, I must get Mary, the mother of Jesus.” Lazarus said, “I’ll get Mary Magdalene: she will want to be there also. I’ll meet you all at Golgotha.” In a moment, Mary and Simon were running hand in hand through the streets. They were now in the center of the city and it was almost deserted. Thousands of people were lining the street and pushing their way forward toward the rocky hill beyond. There was the sound of laughter, screams and children playing. They pushed their way through the crowd to the small open path through the center of the street.
Mary grabbed someone and shouted, “Where is He?” They pointed toward the city and said, “Jesus is being scrouged at the Praetorium, the common hall. Soon he will pass by here on the way to die. Do you think he will pull off some big miracle?”
They turned and pushed along the crowded street but as they neared the Praetorium, they were stopped as they heard a deafening roar of voices. The crowd was screaming as people pushed and fought to get near the center of the street. Then Simon saw the top piece of a rugged wooden cross above the heads of the mad crowd. Dropping Mary’s hand, he wildly began to pull and tear his way through the crowd. People were screaming at him and some even hit him but nothing mattered now. At long last after hearing so much and seeking so long-he was near Jesus-it was as if there was nothing else in the world as he finally reached the small open path kept open by soldiers in full battle dress holding back the crowds.
Somehow Mary was at his side. “Jesus-it’s Jesus…” Simon whispered as he watched the man struggling forward. His hair was matted in cold, clotted blood as it hung toward his shoulders. His beard was also covered in blood and his body slumped beneath the heavy rugged cross. Yet his eyes were clear and his hands steady as he moved forward. When he grew near, Simon could see the hard, calloused feet that had carried Jesus through the rocky land preaching the gospel. His tanned, weather tough face was strong but pale from loss of blood, yet there was a tenderness about him, a look of compassion as he glanced at the crowd. Soldiers were all about him, cursing him and ordering him on at a faster speed. Simon could now see black bruises on the face of Jesus where he had been beaten. Then-Jesus tripped and stumbled to the ground, his face hitting the stones and the cross crushing his back. The crowds cheered and the soldiers cursed, grabbed him and stood him up. They again lifted the cross to the shoulders of Jesus and screamed for him to move on. It was almost too horrible to behold, but Jesus moved forward. Simon could tell that he had been beaten viciously and doubted that Jesus would live much longer. People were waving at Jesus crying, “Deliver yourself, let’s see a miracle.” Some were trying to hit him, others were spitting and screaming.
Then Jesus slumped beneath the cross-just at the feet of Simon! Simon stepped back in shock. He looked down at Jesus as he wiped the blood from his eyes and looked straight at Simon. His eyes were clear and sharp, yet bathed in love. He knew that Jesus knew him and all about his life and the feeling of guilt and shame filled him. A hand grabbed Simon’s arm. “Hey you, filthy rat.. you carry his cross!” And Simon was pulled into the open path as several soldiers grabbed him. He was looking into the face of Mark Augustine, the soldier whom he had met when he first entered Jerusalem. It was he who recognized Simon and pulled him into the street.
“You wanted to see him.. well, you can help him from here to Golgotha… I hope you find what you have searched for,” said the soldier, staggering from too much drink.
Simon slowly lifted the cross from off the back of Jesus and rested it upon his own broad shoulders. Jesus stood up and looked at Simon, then started forward. He walked slowly by the side of Jesus. Everything else was lost from him except that now he was with Jesus. Then he reached into his pocket and drew out the old piece of parchment with the writing from Isaiah 53 on it. He held it up with one hand for Jesus to see, then Simon said, “I was given this in the desert of Cyrene. I have read it eagerly every day since then. I know it must be about you. Is this what it is all about today-you, bearing our sins, carrying our sorrows, suffering for us?” He looked into the face of Jesus and no longer could Simon doubt. “Jesus… I believe.. You are the Messiah, the Way, the Truth, the Life. Oh, my Lord-remember me.”
It was like a fountain of living water had sprung up in him. He was crying, yet smiling-each step seemed lighter as peace flooded his soul. No longer was he troubled. He now knew God, the God whom he had searched to know had come to reveal himself on earth and bear his sins, and now he felt like Beida in the desert. He began to say out loud, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
“Wham”-Simon was struck from the side his head and another blow crashed into his face.
“Shut up.. you black worm, another word and you too shall die!” screamed a soldier. Blood was now pouring from his face and he almost dropped the parchment of Isaiah but he quickly put it in his pocket and walked silently on. He could feel the strength of Jesus with him and he prayed silently, “Thank you, Father, for the privilege this day to walk beside Thy Holy Son on this first day of my new life.”
It was only as they almost reached Golgotha that Simon realized two more things. There were two other men following behind that were also to be crucified and great crowds of people with many women following along behind weeping and loving Jesus. When they reached the place of the crucifixion there was a huge crowd of tens of thousands of people gathered about. The two thieves were nailed upon crosses and the crossed stood in their holes making the whole place eerie with death.
Just as they started to crucify Jesus, they put to his lips a drink, vinegar mixed with gall. This was always given to those awaiting death in order to ease the pain, but Jesus refused to drink it. Mary rushed up to wipe his face with a wet clean rag she had gotten somewhere but the soldiers grabbed her and pushed her away, throwing her to the ground.
Simon had stood holding the cross until they were ready to use it. Now he carefully laid it on the ground. Jesus had spoken not a word but Simon felt as if he had been with him all his life.
He knew Jesus was offering himself as the complete sacrifice for our sins as the soldiers prepared to drive the nails in his hands. There was no struggle as Jesus stretched forth his hands and gazed into the heavens. It was such a holy moment as Simon stood by the cross. “Here,” he whispered to Mary, “is the debt of sin paid for.”
“Yes,” she whispered, “The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”
Then there was a sharp ring of hammer against steel. The crowd mourners gathered nearby to weep loudly, but the ring continued as one hand was fastened with a nail to the crossbeam, then the hammer drove in the second nail, then the feet were nailed together. It was a sight Simon was never to forget as they lifted the cross high toward the heavens, put the end over the hole and let it drop with a thud! The cross was standing on the rocky hill with two crosses, one on either side. As the Blood of Jesus dropped on the ground, Simon remembered the blood of humans and animals he had sacrificed to please the gods; but now he knew-only the blood of the Holy Sinless Jesus can cleanse us from our sins and make us acceptable unto God!
The soldiers had stripped Jesus of all his clothing and now at the foot of the cross they began to cast lots, gambling for his clothing, especially for his coat, for it was without a seam. So around the cross the soldiers gambled and cursed, while the people looked on.
Suddenly Pilate arrived at the place of crucifixion. Soldiers surrounded him as he left his chariot and walked to the foot of Jesus’ cross. He began to write with his own hand and then a soldier was lifted to the top of the cross where he placed the inscription above the head of Jesus: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”-it was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Then the chief priest began to question and argue with Pilate, saying: “Don’t put ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews’-but write that Jesus said, “I am King of the Jews.’ “-But Pilate angrily said, “What I have written, I have written”-and turned, got into the chariot and left. Pilate seemed worried and exhausted as Simon studied his face. Already he had heard that Pilate didn’t want to crucify Jesus but that finally he had gone along with the public opinion and allowed it.
After Pilate left, the crowd grew more and more restless and wicked. The crowds began to scream, “If you be the Son of God, come down from the cross! You saved others, can’t you save yourself? He said he trusted in God; if he is the Son of God, then let God deliver him!” The chief priests, scribes and elders mocked Jesus as many shook their heads and laughed at him. Some of the crowd simply sat down and watched in silence as the soldiers joined in the fun and offered him vinegar to drink. Then Jesus looking out over the crowd said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His words were but expressions of his looks but few seemed to have even cared that he had spoken. Simon wondered how anyone could be so disinterested in the greatest words of love he had ever heard, yet no one seemed to care.
Simon and Mary moved toward the group of mostly women that now stood near the cross weeping and bowed in prayer. John was with Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary’s sister Martha, and Mary Magdalene. Zaccheus was there and a small group of other followers of Jesus. Then Jesus looked at them and saw his mother and the disciple he loved and said, “Woman, behold they Son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold thy mother.” And John whispered to Mary, the mother of Jesus, “I know Jesus wants me to care for you as my mother, so you will live with me in my house.” Then one of the two thieves began to mock at Jesus; but the other one said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom”-then Jesus looked at him and said, “I say unto you, today thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
As Simon stood gazing up at the cross everything else was unimportant, but soon he realized that darkness was falling over the land. For three hours there was deep darkness and silence. Everyone knew that something mighty had happened. Some of the crowd had begun to leave when the voice of Jesus could be heard, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Then in a moment he cried out, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. It is finished!!!” Jesus had died and Simon knew it. Then he remembered the night in his village when he had slain the child and offered its life and blood unto the spirits as an offering for the soul of a chief. Then he had gone alone outside the village and asked the question, “Is the life of a child for a chief enough?”-No-but the life of Jesus for a sinner-HIS BLOOD-Yes, this is enough!
At last, his search was ended, and a new life begun. Suddenly, the earth began to shake and the ground rolled as a wave on water. Simon had never felt anything like it-ever. It seemed to go on for several minutes as all the followers of Jesus huddled together and prayed. Simon looked to the side of the cross and saw Mark and the soldiers, standing there trembling. Then he walked to the foot of the cross, looked up and cried out with a loud voice: “Truly this was the Son of God” and he began to weep. Simon walked over to him, put his arm around him and led him over to where the women were. “Oh, Father, forgive me, please Jesus, I’m so sorry…” Everyone knelt about him and prayed as he continued, “It was awful-Pilate offered the people a choice-Jesus or the criminal Barabbas. They cried, ‘Release Barabbas and crucify Jesus’-so Pilate ordered us to scourge Jesus. I can’t forget it. We stripped him-put on him a red robe, a rod in his hand as a king, plaited a crown of thorns on his head-we beat him-we spit on him-and laughed at him-it was all mad-we were drinking and devil filled-we scourged him, beating his back until it was a bloody pulp. I helped drive in the nails… is there hope for me?”
“Yes,” whispered a voice as a lovely lady put her arm about him. “I’m Mary Magdalene. Once I was full of evil, possessed with seven demons, but Jesus set me free. Glory to His name, I’m free, I’m free! Believe and so shall you be clean!”
“Believe me, brother,” said another voice. “I was a leper, covered in filth and sores, but Jesus touched me and now I’m clean. Glory to God! You see, Jesus said you can be born again. You can have this now.”
The soldier bowed and softly said, “Lord Jesus, I believe in you, set me free and cleanse my soul.” He got up and said. “I’ll see you all soon in Bethany. I want to know more of his teachings.” He grabbed Simon and both cried in each other’s arms. He left as Simon said, “I’ll see you soon!” The soldiers came to break the legs of those crucified but finding Jesus already dead, they thrust a spear in his side and out flowed water and blood. Then Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, said he would got get permission to bury Jesus. Nicodemus, also a follower of Jesus, went to get some myrrh and aloes to anoint the body of Jesus for burial.
The rest of the day was almost a dream to Simon. He followed the few men and many women along to the tomb where Jesus’ body was wrapped and laid, and a huge stone was placed over the entrance way. Most of the people decided to stay in Jerusalem and it was late in the afternoon, just before dark when Mary, Lazarus and Simon arrived back at the house in Bethany, exhausted and grieved at the sadness of the day, yet rejoicing in the new life of Simon. They all knelt on the floor with Martha and the two boys, told the events of the day, prayed and fell into bed. Simon fell asleep with the knowledge that at long last his search had ended-but somehow he knew it was only the beginning of something far more than he had ever dreamed.