Luke, the physician, had a keen eye for the details of Jesus’ life. He often recorded things he saw that the other writers of the gospel didn’t feel were of enough importance. And so on that Good Friday, as Jesus was trying to carry his cross to Calvary, the place known as “The Skull,” His steps began to falter because of the loss of so much blood after the horrific lashing He’d received with a whip that had small, sharp pieces of metal on the end. It was a beating that rendered most men completely helpless.
It was then that Simon of Cyrene was pulled out of the crowd and commissioned to carry His cross. We don’t know if Simon knew Jesus before that, but we know that Simon’s sons Alexander and Rufus became Christians at one point, because Paul later spoke of Rufus as “a choice man in the Lord.” In fact, Paul asked, in his letter to the Romans, that they would greet not only Rufus, but his mother and Paul’s own mother, inferring that the two were Christian sisters in the Lord.
But perhaps Simon didn’t yet know the Lord when he was pulled out of the crowd. Mark describes him as a “passer-by coming from the country.” It must have seemed to have happened by chance that day, but Simon was specifically chosen by God for such an incredible honor. And how many men throughout Jesus’ life, were given the opportunity to be so close to Him, particularly during His most agonizing moments? How could you not fall immediately in love with Him when you looked into His eyes, and saw His compassion, and His love for those who taunted Him?
And when Simon took the cross from Jesus, Jesus took the opportunity to teach the crowd, yet again, even as He headed to His death. He looked at the women who were weeping for Him, and said:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping 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 in the green tree, what will happen in the dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)
My commentaries state that Jesus is referring to 70 A.D., when the siege of Titus would destroy the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem would be so great that men would want the mountains to fall on them. But perhaps Jesus saw that and far more.
He is referring to Himself as the green tree…interesting that He would choose such a metaphor, considering that He had been carrying His cross, the product of a tree. In the actual Greek, He refers to Himself as the wet wood, and the other wood as the withered.
What He’s saying is that the fire of hell itself has come against Him, the wet wood, the Living Tree, and has done significant damage, but He will prevail. But what will happen when the fire comes upon those who are dry or withered wood…people who do not have the living water of Christ coursing through them? How will they stand when the fiery arrows of Satan are shot at them? How will they survive? They won’t, if they don’t become branches of the True Vine, because only the True Vine can withstand the fires of hell.
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:5-6)
Jesus was already looking ahead to the time when He would no longer be present among them. Many either didn’t know Him, or had taken His presence for granted. His heart yearned for them; He knew they would need to abide in Him, to attach themselves to Him, or they would dry up and wither. And then “they”–not He–would gather them and cast them into the fire.
Jesus knows each of us will have to go through fire of one kind or another. He experienced it; so will we. But He became the living tree that prevailed against the fires of hell for us, so that if we cling to Him as His branches, we will prevail. His living water will course through us, and through it all, we will stand.
Today, on Good Friday, praise our loving Lord for thinking of us, even as He bore His own cross, and the weight of the sins of the world upon Him.