As we consider the events of Holy Week - If you could ask God just one question, what would it be?
Lee Strobel, was doing research for his book, THE CASE FOR FAITH, and asked the Barna pollsters to conduct a survey to determine the one question most people would want to ask God if given the opportunity. The number one question turned out to be, “God, why do you allow pain and suffering in this world?”
We are experiencing world-wide suffering through the Virus Pandemic that is gripping the Nations. Why is God allowing this?
Just a few years ago, a church bus from a Baptist Church in Texas filled with senior adults returning from a retreat had just turned on to a 2 Lane Road. Approaching them was a young man in his 20s driving his truck and texting on his cell phone. A man following him saw that he was weaving from one lane to the other for several miles and called for law enforcement to come and take him off the road because it looked like he was going to kill someone in an accident. He approached the church bus with his eyes on his cell phone, crossed over into the oncoming lane, and hit the church bus head on. Thirteen of the senior adults were killed instantly and others were injured. The young man was injured and from his hospital bed confessed that he had been preoccupied with texting to a friend.
Why did God allow this? This was a church group, God’s people, on mission for him. They had prayed that morning for guidance and protection and yet this tragic accident claimed a vital portion of this church. Why?
Perhaps, if we take a fresh look at the crucifixion, we might find some answers. Let’s begin with a look at a man called Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene was located in northern Africa in eastern Libya. It was a settlement of Judean Jews who had been forced to go there during the reign of Ptolemy Soter from 323 – 258 BC. It was also a center of early Christianity.
Let’s try to reconstruct Simon’s story. I counted six books that online that bear his name. Some of what I am saying about him is imagination of what likely happened. We know the Biblical facts.
He was a Jew whose ancestors had been persecuted by removing them from their home in Judea to North Africa. It had been his lifelong dream to return to his ancestral home with his family to celebrate Passover in the Temple in Jerusalem. It probably took many years of savings to finance the journey. It also took several weeks of travel to get to Jerusalem. They arrive with excitement in seeing the holy city. Pilgrims from everywhere had made the journey for this Passover. Simon and his two boys, Alexander and Rufus, were not aware of what was happening in the Jewish and Roman trials of a man called Jesus. They were walking down the street in Jerusalem and see a group of Roman soldiers coming through with a man who is beaten and battered and scourged wearing a crown of thorns and struggling to carry the cross on his back. Simon and his sons are on the front row of onlookers viewing this event. The man carrying the cross stumbles and falls under the heavy load. A Roman soldier looks at Simon, taps him on the shoulder with his spear, and says, “You – carry the cross for this man.”
Suddenly, Simon finds himself involved in something he knows nothing about. But he is chosen to carry the cross. He thinks to himself, “Our lifetime plans to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem are ruined. I’ve got to carry the cross upon which this man will be crucified. This will spoil our dreams and plans for this visit of a lifetime.”
He tries to ask a question of the Roman soldier, “Where are you taking this man?” “Golgotha, the place of the skull, is the place of crucifixion.” He thought to himself, “That’s outside the city gates and I’ve got to climb to the top of that hill with this cross on my back.” But he notices the serenity in the man who has been so severely beaten. He begins to study him and realizes that there is something very different about this man.
Finally, they arrive on the top of Golgotha. The crowds have not thinned out but have followed the procession to the crucifixion event. Simon thinks to himself, “I want to get away from here as quickly as I can and get on with our plans.” But there is something that holds him there. He watches as the soldiers place the man on the cross and nail his hands and feet to the beams. Then the cross is lifted up and placed in its socket with a thud that tares at the flesh of the man and causes him to cry out in pain. Above his head attached to the cross is a sign that reads, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Simon could not believe the hatred demonstrated toward this man. They were mocking him and hurling abuse at him saying, “Ha, you said that you would destroy the temple and build it again in three days. Let’s see what you will do now. Come down from the cross and go to work. What a fool you are deceiving all of these peasants who followed you here from Galilee.”
This was distasteful to Simon. But there was something about this man as he looked at Simon and seemed to thank him for carrying
the cross and easing his burden on this terrible day. He sees this woman so broken by observing her son on the cross and he knows that this is his mother. Some of her friends are comforting her. So are several men doing the same.
Simon backs away a little from the cross and allows those who are grieving to come in closer. Then, something that went right to the heart of Simon causing in him a feeling that he had never had before happened. The man on the cross spoke as if he were praying to God. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This prompted Simon to stay a little longer for what he saw before him was a dramatic scene with a distinct difference with the man on the middle cross. On either side of him were two thieves being crucified also. One of the thieves spoke and said something very strange: “If you are the Son of God, save yourself and us.” The other thief rebuked him and said, “You and I deserve to be here for our crimes, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he said to the man on the middle cross, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then the man on the middle cross said, “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise.”
What? Simon blurts out loud, “Who is he to say this?” One of the men heard him and said, “This is Jesus. A man who could work miracles. We had hoped that he would be the Messiah of Israel.” Simon is stunned. Why would they crucify a man like this?
Then, Simon heard the man called Jesus ask the same question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Then came the darkness at noon. A terrible darkness covered the earth as if the sun had gone out. Then an earthquake shook the whole area under their feet. But for some reason Simon could not pull himself away from this scene. He stayed until he heard the man called Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my
spirit.” And he died about 3 o’clock. It’d been a long day – from before 9 o’clock to three in the afternoon – this terrible scene unfolded before him.
Simon felt drained of strength, but his mind was active in trying to understand all that he had observed. He follows the crowd back into the city and finds his sons Alexander and Rufus. He tries to tell them all that he has experienced. The next couple of days are filled with seeing the sights of Jerusalem and talking with people about the events that have just transpired.
Then the most amazing thing of all took place. On Sunday, the city was buzzing with the news that the crucified Jesus had arisen from the dead. The temple authorities were denying it. The Roman soldiers who had guarded the tomb were called in for questioning. The followers of Jesus were excited saying to one another, “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
What impact did this have on Simon and his sons?
We read in Acts 11:20-21, “But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” Could this be Simon and his sons? The fact that Mark mentions them, and his information mostly came from Peter. Luke mentions them, and Paul seems to be closely related to their family – all point to the conclusion that the Simon family from Cyrene became Christians and were active in spreading the Gospel.
We also read in Romans 16:13, “Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” Paul is commending this family and singling out Rufus and his mother saying that his mother had been a second mother to him.
Could this be the same family of Simon and his wife with Rufus and Alexander? We do not know for sure, but it is likely that they were active in the church at Antioch which was the church that sent Paul and Barnabas out on their first missionary journey. It is also likely that they were involved with spreading the gospel to Rome and were Associates of Paul in his mission work.
It is possible that the undeserved suffering that Simon went through when he was chosen to carry the cross of Jesus resulted in his family coming to know Christ and being involved in the expansion of the Christian message. They saw the undeserved suffering of Jesus and it transformed their lives.
John R.W. Stott is known as a worldwide preacher and evangelist. For many years, he served as Rector of All Souls Church in London. He said, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the Cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered Buddhist temples and stood respectfully before the statute of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, a ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I’ve had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.”
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
The suffering of Jesus was undeserved. So is much of the suffering that we as Christians endure. The apostle Peter wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in is much as you partake in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (First Peter 4:12-13).
Actually, for us, there is no such thing as undeserved suffering. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Even if you’re suffering is not directly related to your sin, it is related to somebody’s sin.
There is another truth that we must accept. Our sufferings are not uncontrolled for God – “Works all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Ephesians 1:11). God has his reasons for allowing a faithful Christian to suffer even if we cannot discern the reason at present. But we can “Rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ sufferings that when his glory is revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy. (First Peter 4:13).
Great Christians have suffered as they served the Lord. George Whitfield, the great evangelist of another day suffered from asthma and preached in the open to multitudes. Between sentences he would gasp for breath. Even so multitudes turned to Christ during his message.
Smith Wigglesworth, the great healing evangelist, was used of God to bring healing to many, but would go home after a service and roll in the floor with kidney stones.
Fanny Crosby, suffered from blindness brought on by the treatment of a doctor putting the worn solution in her eyes when she was a child, and yet she wrote hundreds of hymns expressing her faith.
Charles Spurgeon, preached to 5000 each Sunday at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, was plagued with depression on Mondays after the great Sundays. He died before he was 60.
Billy Graham has suffered from Parkinson’s disease during his latter years.
What can you do about your suffering? I suggest four simple things:
1. Adjust your attitude from “O pity me” to “I will rise above it in the strength of the Lord.
2. Believe that God will be with you “Through it all.”
3. Commit your suffering to the Lord.
4. Claim the strength and victory that is yours.
Suffering will be a part of our lives – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – until we reach that glorious promise of a new heaven and a new earth where “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; and there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!